Take cover – it’s a panzarotti!

IMG_1104 Loraine and Saverio at Urban-Ita 04-05-2018 14-31-04 04-05-2018 14-31-04

Lorraine and Saverio at Urban-Ita

MY wife takes a knife to cut the panzarotti – a sort of deep-fried Italian calzoni which looks like a pregnant Cornish pasty – on our sharing plate at the new Italian Urban-Ita cafe on Sheffield’s Abbeydale Road. She’s aiming to cut it precisely in two.

Unbeknown to her the little blighter, its insides bubbling hot with tomato and cheese, is also taking aim in a desperate rearguard action.

As she cuts a jet of sauce shoots out towards her from one end. Luckily it misses. Well, mostly.

This is cucina with attitude and what’s more it tastes good as well. You feel that if you could swap the view of Abbeydale Road for owner Saverio’s native Sorrento the food would be the same.

IMG_1094 Buono misto and that Panzarotti at Urban-Ita 04-05-2018 13-16-38

The panzarotti is at the front

“We get a lot of Italians here,” says his missus Lorraine Dixon, bringing us cups of excellent crema-topped coffee after our meal. In that case it has to be good.

I’ve met them both before. The first occasion was reporting on a Slimming World Italian evening for the Sheffield Star at their old restaurant Dino on London Road some years since.

The second time was a couple of years ago when daughter Kym opened the Italian takeaway Italia Uno on Ecclesall Road. I recall being tickled pink hearing she turned vegan after wearing bearskins and butchering a deer for the Channel 5 series 10,000BC.

Urban-Ita makes a thing about offering veggie, vegan and gluten-free dishes (it’s not hard to be a Italian veggie if you don’t dodge dairy) but meat eaters needn’t feel excluded. There’s plenty for them. As it was, most our lunch turned out to be veggie or vegan but that was more by accident than design.

The premises used to be Bardwell’s, an electrical shop for half a century, but you wouldn’t know it. Saverio, who also runs a small building company when he’s not cooking or designing menus for other restaurants, converted it himself. I’m impressed.

The wooden floor has been cleaned up, walls stripped back to reveal wood cladding, an alcove constructed, a bar designed, kitchen and toilet installed and decking built for tables outside. It looks like it’s been that way for years instead of three months.

There’s also a tiny deli section and a mini library of cookery and travel books.

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Melanzani Parmigiano

We shared a plate of nibbles (buono misto, £10.50) across the menu for starters, the highlights being that panzarotti and a spinach and chickpea polpette, full of flavour. The focaccia (and flatbreads) is homemade here. I was a little surprised it came toasted with chilli jam but we soon got oil to dip it in.

My last meal on earth would probably include melanzane parmigiana ( £5.95) and if I had it here I wouldn’t feel cheated. It looked a little rustic but the aubergine was silkily good, bathed in rich tomato and mozzarella. My wife’s calamari special (£5.50) was light and crispy.

We ended with cake and coffee and one of Saverio’s homemade cakes, a moist Victoria sponge.

When they sold Dino Lorraine said no more restaurants but here they are again. It’s really more of a cafe, opening for breakfasts and lunch and now running through until 9.30pm with a trattoria-style slate of pizza, pasta, chicken and salmon. It’s not licensed but if you feel you need a drink with your pasta then BYO is £2.

I recommend the panzarotti but stand well back!

288 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield S7 1FL. Tel: 07305 181 890. Web: www.urban-ita.co.uk

*This blog settled the bill in full.

IMG_1107 Urban-Ita exterior 04-05-2018 14-35-58

The café on Abbeydale Road

Help, I’ve (almost) become a veggie!

Dried mixed beans - 10 different kinds

Dried mixed beans – 10 different kinds

This won’t make happy news for butchers but I’m not eating so much meat these days. It’s not been a conscious choice. It has just sort of happened. I don’t think that meat is murder (unless it’s halal). I have not become a born again vegetarian: I like my bacon sarnie as much as the next man. But, little by little, life has become a lot less meatier.

Instead of thinking first of chops, a stew, corned beef or mince or any kind of meat and two veg I’m planning a meal of pasta, beans, lentils, rice, vegetable curries and cashew nut stir-fries and any of a hundred other ways to make pulses and vegetables entertaining. After all, most of the world has to do it.

Now I love a chilli con carne but these days it is more often made with beans than meat. Look at those little jewels above this post, dried beans, rinsed and waiting to be cooked. Don’t they look beautiful?

They are black turtle beans, butter beans, red kidney beans, rose cocoa beans, black eyed beans, dublia beans, haricot beans, lima beans, pinto beans and mung beans. Reading the names off the packet on the shelf in Waitrose was like a poem.

A packet is far, far cheaper than a tin of mixed beans, which don’t have the same meaty texture when you cook dried beans yourself and, in any case, have to be rinsed clean of that gooey, sweet tomato sauce. And 120g of beans (for two) is cheaper than a pound of mince and you’ve got lots left in the packet for another day. Or two.

Yes, but you just have to get the mince out of the fridge, I hear you say. With beans you have to soak them overnight, then cook them the next day before you even begin your chilli. Not if you cook them, cool them, then pop them into portions in bags and freeze them until needed, is my answer. And I got that tip off the internet.

I’ll have cooked them until almost done before freezing and they defrost pretty quickly. Only trouble is they don’t look half as pretty as above when cooked! But mixed with vegetables in a chillied-up tomato sauce they don’t half taste good. After all, a proper chilli con carne is cooked with kidney beans.

I’ll still be down at the butchers for my bacon, sausage, pork belly and new season’s lamb chops – a couple of steaks if we’re feeling really flush – but not quite so often. It’s just that I’ve got another option in the larder and that can’t be a bad thing.