Category Archives: Italian Regional Italian

ANTIPASTO – GRILLED SUMMER VEGETABLES AND A SCOOP OF SALADS

You really cannot beat a plate of grilled vegetables, especially when eggplants and peppers are so prolific at this time of year.

Zucchini, although not in this selection are also a good choice.  Grilled vegetables are perfect as an antipasto but they can just as easily be part of a main course.

The vegetables can be grilled on a BBQ or Grill press or in the oven.

To the array, throw in some of the cooked green beans, asparagus or broccolini (that perhaps are left over from the night before), add a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil, some chopped garlic, a little parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice.

You could also add to the cooked vegetables different textures with a bit of crunch – some of that celery, fennel, cucumbers and apples that are probably in your fridge. Or it could be tomatoes, celery, spring onions and fresh basil leaves, once again a drizzle of that good olive oil that will add fragrance as well as taste.

So easy, so simple.

Just recently, in two different restaurants I ordered versions of grilled vegetables and they both were presented with Romesco sauce dolloped separately on the side of the vegetables.  In one of the restaurant it was grilled asparagus, topped with fried breadcrumbs. In the other it was eggplant. This had been grilled and rather than presenting it in slices it was pulped to a medium texture. Bread is a perfect accompaniment for scooping up the eggplant and the Romesco sauce. A drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil is a must.

Recipes in earlier posts:

 

PEPPERS WITH BREADCRUMBS- PIPI CA MUDDICA – PEPERONI CON LA MOLLICA

SALSA ROMESCO (Romesco sauce, this recipe is made with roasted peppers, tomatoes and almonds)

In this version of this sauce almonds are added to the the vegetables (garlic, peppers and tomatoes). These are roasted/chargrilled on a BBQ or Grill press:

Roast/chargrill the peppers whole, peel, remove seeds and break them into strips. If using fresh tomatoes cut them into pieces. If you are roasting / chargrilling the peppers do them at the same time.
*Click on above link to see a list of ingredients and how to make it.

A different Recipe for Romesco sauce made with hazelnuts

This recipe uses hazelnuts instead of almonds. Also the vegetables are roasted. in the oven rather than grilled.

Use the same ingredients as the recipe above, substitute the hazelnuts for the almonds, but roast the vegetables:

Place the tomatoes, peppers and a whole head of garlic in a roasting tray with a little oil and roast in a 190C oven. Take the vegetables out as they become soft, i.e. the tomatoes will take about 10 minutes,  the peppers and the garlic could take about 30-40 minutes..

 

Ways to cook leafy green vegetables. Purslane and Malabar spinach

I have just returned from being away over Christmas and New Year and am pleased to find that purslane plants have sprouted in my various pots on my balcony. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a weed in Australia. It grows in many parts of the world including southern Italy and is very much appreciated in various cuisines especially in The Middle East, Greece, Crete and Mexico.

I rescued a purslane plant from the roadside last summer and planted it in a pot; it soon grew from a single taproot and formed a large, thick mat of stems and leaves. Throughout hat summer I collected the small, fleshy leaves and the most tender parts of the stem for various salads and I also sprinkled leaves on top of cold soups – this added flavor, texture and colour.

The raw leaves are succulent and crisp and have a tart and lemony flavor. Taking notice from some of the Greek traditional recipes I liked them mixed with ingredients such as tomatoes, basil and feta. Recipes are meant to be broken and of course I added my own touches and various ingredients. I also like mixed green leaf salads. Below rocket, purslane, fresh mint leaves, pine nuts, extra olive oil  and lemon juice.

Towards the end of summer the plant had grown far too large and woody and I pulled it out. It is a seasonal plant and by then the mature plant had obviously scattered its small black seeds in my other pots.

I think that if I had a garden I would find Purslane very invasive, hence appropriately called a weed in this part of the world that does not have a long continuous history of foraging. The culture of foraging in Australia has been largely disregarded over the past 200 years. For tens of thousands of years and before European settlers the Aboriginal people foraged native flora and there is also historical evidence pioneers and explorers ate wild greens.

Purslane can also be cooked on its own or added to other greens;I rather like the mucilaginous gel-like consistency it adds to food (like Okra) but many people do not.

This climbing plant above is growing in one of my friend’s back garden in North Adelaide. (The potted plants below are his too.). The plant is Basella rubra, commonly known as Malabar spinach, Vine spinach or Ceylon spinach. This creeping vine is the variety of Basella with purplish-stems and deep-green leaves with pink veins.

Basella is a popular tropical leafy-green vegetable native to south Asia and eaten widely in Asian countries where it is known by a variety of local names, for example and to name a few, it is mostly known as saan choy in China, mong toi in Vietnam, pui saag in parts of India, remayong in Malaysia and alugbati in the Philippines.

This photo above is  Basella alba – unlike my friend’s plant in Adelaide the stems are green and the plant will have a small white (alba) flower rather than crimson (rubra). I bought this bunch with its deep-green, oval to heart-shaped leaves a from the stall where I usually buy my Asian greens at the Queen Victoria Market

Like spinach Basella alba and Basella rubra it is a very versatile vegetable. The young leaves can be eaten raw and the larger leaves are cooked and depending on the regional cuisines it can be added to soups, in stir fries, curries etc. Like purslane the leaves are fleshy and thick, they remain crisp and taste of citrus when raw and when cooked the leaves soften and taste slightly mucilaginous. Basella doesn’t wilt as much as spinach.

Basella leaves remind me very much of Warrigal Greens. (Tetragonia tetragonioides ) is a leafy groundcover also known as Botany Bay spinach, Cook’s cabbage, kōkihi (in Māori), New Zealand spinach,. Although I have cooked this green many times before I do not have any photos.

I cooked the leaves of the Basella alba and sautéed them in extra virgin olive oil with garlic. On this occasion, I wanted a conventional green vegetable side dish to accompany a main of fish. If however, I had wanted to cook them in a Chinese way, I may also add spring onions, fresh ginger, chili, sesame oil, oyster or soy sauce. Maybe for a Japanese recipe I would add mirin or miso. Although I am typecasting some ingredients you will understand what I mean.

And would I have fed these vegetables to my mother?  No way…. but maybe if I had used some typical way of cooking Italian greens she may begin to appreciate them.

Here are some conventional ways of cooking greens the Italian way:

Boiled

Bring a small amount of lightly salted water to boiling Add the greens. Cover the pan and cook until tender or to your liking.
Optional: Cook the greens using only the water still clinging to leaves; cover, and cook until wilted, stirring halfway through.
Drain the greens well in a colander.
Dress with some extra virgin olive oil, adjust the seasoning if necessary (add pepper is optional) and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Sautéed

Heat some olive oil, add the garlic, (chillies and the anchovies are optional).
Add the vegetables sauté for a few minutes until they begin to wilt.
Add white wine (if liquid is needed), cover and cook till softened. (Some cooks pre-cook the greens and then sauté them – this may not be necessary).

Optional: chillies to taste, and /or a few anchovies can be added at the same time as the garlic.

With pine nuts and currants

Soak some currants in a little warm water to plump them (about 10 mins). Drain before using. In a small pan toast pine nuts by tossing them around until light golden. They burn easily, do this quickly. Set aside.
Heat some olive oil, add some garlic, add greens and sauté until wilted. If necessary, drain off any liquid.
Return the greens to the pan. Add currants and pine nuts and sauté a few minutes more.

Optional: add cinnamon or nutmeg and/ or grated lemon peel.
Cook in butter instead of oil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

COTECHINO AND LENTILS -NEW YEAR’S EVE and CHRISTMAS

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It is hot in Australia at this time of year and I am certainly not going to cook this popular and traditional Italian, New Year’s Eve dish – Cotechino e lenticchie – but some of you who are steeped into tradition may consider cooking this in hot or cold weather. If you do, make sure that as you dig into that sausage, you make a wish for the new year (it must be before midnight).

I cooked it last winter. Perfect for the cold weather. I first published this post on Dec 9th 2015 and it is time to publish it once more.

Cotechino is rather a large sausage which has a proportion of it made with some of the gelatinous meat from the pig trotter.  Lenticchie are lentils- the ordinary green lentils. Cotechino e lenticchie is a dish that is more common in the north of Italy. I do not think that it is very common in Sicily, however as a result of media and recipe books and travel, food habits change, recipes evolve.

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Just as we have adopted Panettone and Panforte at Christmas time in Australia, I gather that it is fairly hip to cook Christmas Pudding in Italy. So what do we think of that!
You will ned to visit an Italian delicatessen or butcher to buy a Cotechino sausage. If you live in Melbourne I go to Fairfield or Carlton. If you live in Adelaide Marino Food and Meat store at the Central Market. I know about and have visited Eataly in New York and they would definitely have it.

Cooking Cotechino and Lentils is very simple, and delicious. The onion, carrot and celery are the Italian usual suspects when making broth or a soffritto (from soffriggere – to lightly fry – the soffritto refers to the sautéed vegetables that are the basis for most braises, pot roasts and soups.)

This is definitely one of those dishes where you can add 1 kilo of lentils if you wish – it depends what proportion of lentils to cotechino that you prefer. Have a look at my photo and decide.

1 cotechino sausage
700 g of lentils
1 onion
1 stalk of celery
1 carrot
¼ cup olive oil
2-3 peeled tomatoes
2-3 bay leaves – I always prefer fresh, but i have a bay tree growing in a pot on my balcony  – you may not be as lucky.

Soak the lentils in water for 30 minutes.
Sauté the chopped celery, carrot, onion in the hot oil till golden. Drain the lentils and add cold water to cover them well.
Add peeled tomatoes and bay leaves, cover and cook them and cook over low heat until cooked.
In a separate pan add the sausage to cold water- sufficient water to cover the cotechino, bring it to the boil and then simmer it until it is cooked but not split – say 50 minutes.
Skim some of the fat off the broth, cut the sausage into thick slices, add them to the lentils with as much of the broth as you wish and serve.

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The flavours will intensify over the next few days so appreciate the leftovers – you could add more of the broth (from the cotechino) and eat it as soup. Great stuff, especially for those who are living in a cold climate!

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I have mentioned Panforte ( sweet). For recipe see:

Other Christmas recipes for sweets:

Fish for Christmas (especially Christmas Eve):

Meat and other Christmas specaialties:

My family always had brodo at some stage on Christmas day:

And there are so many other seafood, meat, vegetables and pasta recipes on my blog.

 

 

SAUCES for meat, fish and vegetables to brighten up your Christmas

Because one of the books that I have written is called Sicilian Seafood Cooking and because my blog is called All Things Sicilian And More many of my readers assume that at Christmas I will be cooking Sicilian food.

And what is the norm in Italy  or Sicily for Christmas?

As many have stated before me, there is no point in restricting the menu to a few common dishes because the food in Italy is very regional and depending where you live is likely to determine what you eat on Christmas day. When I was celebrating Christmas in Trieste (in Northern Italy), Brodo (broth) was always the first course on Christmas day. When I celebrated it in  Sicily I had entirely different food – home made gnucchiteddi ( small pasta gniocchi) or Ravioli di ricotta  were the norm.

See:
RAVIOLI DI RICOTTA
GNUCCHITEDDI

Sicily is relatively a small island, yet the food in Sicily is also very regional. All you need to do is look at the posts that I have written about Christmas food in Sicily to see that. For example when I celebrated Christmas in Ragusa, they always made and continue to make scacce,( baked dough with various fillings) and they make these during other festive occasions as well. Are Sicilians living in Australia likely to have scacce for Christmas? Not likely. They may be part of Christmas fare for those Sicilians coming from Ragusa and  the province of Ragusa,  but the menus from any Sicilian  living in Australia is going to be influenced by other offerings of either Sicilian or Italian origin and by Australian culture and the  Summer climate.

SCACCE

As I have already stated in my last post QUADRUCCI IN BRODO, Squares of home-made Pasta in Broth:

Time and time again I am asked what am I cooking for Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. The answer is that I do not know yet.  I can say is that on Christmas eve I like to eat fish as is traditionally observed in Italy and on Christmas day I usually cook something that I do not normally cook or have not cooked for a while, for example for first course I may cook Spaghetti/ Pasta with sea urchin (ricci) or bottarga or squid with black ink or crayfish or crab.

So for this Christmas fare post, I am going to provide links to some of my posts which highlight sauces and dressings. This is because, irrespective of whether you are presenting a seafood salad, baking a turkey, or using a BBQ for fish or meat you can always vary the sauce you present a- Let’s face it, sauces can make a lot of difference and if you wish, you can enliven any food with a new sauce.

Here are some sauces. that are suitable for Savoury food.

SALSA D’AGRESTO

It was a sauce which dates pre-Renaissance time and went out of fashion because lemons became popular in cooking and superseded the use of green grape juice. The recipes suggested that the juice of the green grapes can be extracted by using a mouli or a juicer. It is very good for any hot meat. Verjuice can be used instead and white wine works as well.

Walnuts and almonds are blanched to remove as much skin as possible. My sources indicated that there may have been more walnuts used than almonds in these sauces.

Onions, garlic and parsley and a few breadcrumbs are pounded together with the nuts. Add a bit of sugar, some chopped parsley and sufficient grape juice to make the amalgamated ingredients soft – like a paste.

Heat these ingredients and add a little broth as the sauce will thickened because the bread crumbs.

SALSA VERDE – ITALIAN GREEN SAUCE

Salsa verde can be used to jazz anything up – vegetables, roasts, cold meats, smoked fish, crayfish etc. I sometimes use it to stuff hard boiled eggs (remove the yolk, mix with salsa verde and return it to the egg). It is mainly parsley, anchovies, capers, green olives.

SARSA DI CHIAPPAREDDI

There may be times when an accompanying sauce for steamed, baked, grilled or fried fish will bring you greater compliments.

The sauce is called sarsa di chiappareddi in Sicilian and it is made with capers and anchovies.

For me it is most essential to use quality, extra virgin, olive oil. This is especially important for cold sauces, – when the cold sauce hits the hot food, the fragrance of the oil will be strongly evident.

 BAGNA CAUDA

Bagna Cauda, translated as “hot bath,” is a dip for any combination of firm vegetables- cooked or uncooked. I would not have it on roast potatoes and can enliven many vegetables.

It is a hot sauce mainly of garlic, anchovies and butter.

SALAMURRIGGHIU – SALMORIGLIO (salmorigano)

Such a simple Sicilian dressing made with extra virgin olive oil, lemon and oregano that will make an enormous difference to any grilled or BBQ food- whether fish meat or vegetable.

HOME-MADE MAYONNAISE OR SAFFRON MAYONNAISE OR TUNA MAYONNAISE

Excellent for any cold meat, fish, eggs, vegetable dishes.

See:
MAYONNAISE  and SAFFRON MAYONNAISE
INSALATA RUSSA
CHICKEN LAYERED WITH TUNA AND EGG MAYONNAISE
VITELLO TONNATO

 SALSA ROMESCO

Salsa Romesco is said to have originated from Tarragona, a town close to Barcelona in north-eastern Spain. It is an old Roman town so I can understand why you might think the sauce originated from Rome.

This sauce is usually associated as a condiment for shellfish and fish. It is also good with grilled and roasted vegetables (especially cold, left over ones that need dressing up the next day). Recently, I have been to two restaurants and this sauce was presented with cold asparagus. Garlic, red peppers, almonds and paprika are the main ingredients.

SALSA SARACINA (Saracen sauce)

Does a combination of green olives, pine nuts, sultanas and saffron appeal to you? It is a cold Sicilian sauce, especially suitable for fish but I use it for many other hot or cold food.

ANATRA A PAPAREDDA CU L’ULIVI

Last time I roasted a duck I made a special sauce for it and it tasted great –  green anchovies, parsley, the pale centre of a celery, garlic, stock and wine added to the roasting pan made an excellent gravy.

HOT MINT SAUCE

This is a recipe from Sam and Sam Clark’s Casa Moro, The Second Cookbook. I had this sauce at a friend’s house accompanying roast goat. It is made mainly with mint, cumin and garlic and red vinegar (or balsamic).

*There are many other posts for Christmas food.

BUON NATALE 

QUADRUCCI IN BRODO, Squares of home-made Pasta in Broth

Time and time again I am asked what am I cooking for Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. The answer is that I do not know yet.  I can say is that on Christmas eve I like to eat fish as is traditionally observed in Italy and on Christmas day I usually cook something that I do not normally cook or have not cooked for a while, for example for first course I may cook Spaghetti/ Pasta with sea urchin (ricci) or bottarga or squid with black ink or crayfish or crab.( SEE links to recipes at the bottom of this post.)

Traditionally my immediate family always ate brodo (broth) on Christmas day and lately I have been thinking about something that I have not made since 1984. I know it is this date because the recipe was in a book which was published in 1984 andI bought it the year it was published = Giuliano Bugialli, The Taste Of Italy.

And so the other night when I pulled out of my freezer some strong duck broth, I decided to experiment with making some home-made pasta cut into squares  with parsley embedded in the centre. I had made it many years ago on several occasions . Only my daughter was coming for dinner, so if the results were not satisfacory, it did not matter so much. I am always in a hurry (I once had a friend who used to call me (Ms sempre in fretta – always in a hurry) and had no time to find the recipe. Besides I could not remember what the recipe was called or in in which Bugialli book would I find it, so I just went ahead and made it.

Because there were just the three of us eating the brodo I only wanted to make small amounts and use a rolling pin; there was no way I wanted to get out/ dirty/ and clean my pasta rolling machine….I was in a hurry.

And it was great. How could I go wrong? It is just homemade pasta with whole parsley leaves added to the dough. The parsley pasta is then cut into squares. The thinly rolled pasta with the whole parsley leaves are very attractive and resemble embroidery.

I had some asparagus (now in season) and I wanted to add a light summery feel to the brodo. Perfect for an Australian Christmas?

I found the recipe and not surprisingly Bugialli calls them Quadrucci – small squares. A quadro is Italian for square.

In Bugialli’s recipe, he suggests making the broth with Turkey- meat and bones.  My duck stock was made with the carcase/carcass of a duck – I had removed the breast and legs for another dish.

WHAT I DID

  • good meat broth, fat skimmed off, solids passed through a fine mesh strainer,
  • sprigs of Italian parsley (I also tried some with basil leaves),
  • home-made pasta = *1 large egg per 100 grams of hard flour (like unbleached, bread making flour, high in protein) is sufficient for 3 persons. Double or triple accordingly.

Sift the flour and place it in a large bowl or on a bench (depending how you like to mix flour to make into a dough).

Make a well in the centre and add the egg and a little salt.

Begin to knead with your fingers; I begin by adding flour from the edges into the centre. Mix everything well. At this stage you may need to add a little bit more of flour if the mixture is too wet or a tiny bit of water if it is too dry. This is because of the differences in the size of the eggs and the absorbency of the flour. Work the dough till the pasta feels elastic.

Shape the dough into a ball, cover it (cloth or plastic wrap) and leave it for about one hour.

Using a rolling pin (or a pasta machine especially if making greater quantities) roll/ stretch the pasta quite thin.

Place whole parsley leaves on top of half the length of the layer of pasta. Fold the other half of the layer of pasta over the parsley, and press the layers together.

Roll it again until it is very thin and you will see the parsley through the top layer of the pasta – sandwiched in the centre and looking like embroidery. I also used basil leaves for some quadri (squares).

Cut the pasta into squares ( like ravioli). These do not need to be of regular size and shape. trim off irregular bits of pasta.

Bring the broth to a boil and add the pasta squares. Cook for 1-3 minutes- they will rise to the surface when cooked.

Once I added the pasta to the broth I added the asparagus. The ingredients were cooked in a very short time.

This is what my version looked like:

I did find Bugialli’s recipe and he adds grated Parmigiano and black pepper to his pasta dough. He also says that this is a representative dish from Puglia. Bugialli is from Florence.

Here is Bugialli’s recipe:

FOR THE BROTH:

900g/2lbs dark turkey meat, with bones
1 medium-sized red onion, peeled
1 stick celery
1 medium-sized carrot, scraped
1 medium-sized clove garlic, peeled but left whole
1 cherry tomato
4 sprigs Italian parsley
3 extra large egg whites
coarse-grained salt

FOR THE PASTA:

40g (1 1/2 oz) (1/2 cup) freshly grated Parmesan
5 eggs
pinch of salt
6 twists black pepper
450g (1 lb) (3 1/2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
30 sprigs Italian flat-leaf parsley, leaves only

Prepare the broth: put the turkey, coarse-grained salt to taste, the whole onion, celery, carrot, garlic, tomato, and parsley sprigs in a large stockpot. Cover with cold water and put the pot over medium heat, uncovered. Simmer for 2 hours, skimming off foam from the top.

Remove the meat from the pot and reserve it for another dish. Pass the rest of the contents of the pot through a fine strainer into a large bowl, to remove the vegetables and impurities. Let the broth cool, then place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight to allow the fat to rise to the top and solidify.

Use a metal spatula to remove the solidified fat then clarify the broth. Pour 4 tablespoons of the broth into a small bowl and mix it with the egg whites. Pour the broth and egg white mixture into the rest of the cold broth and whisk very well. Transfer the broth to a pot and place it on the edge of a burner. Bring to the simmering stage, half covered, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the egg whites rise to the top with the impurities, and the broth becomes transparent.

Meanwhile, place a clean, wet cotton tea towel in the freezer for 5 minutes. Then stretch the tea towel over a colander and strain the broth through it to clarify it completely. The broth should be absolutely clear.

Prepare the pasta with the ingredients listed, placing the grated Parmesan, salt, pepper, and eggs in the well in the flour. With much care and patience, gradually work the eggs into the flour until you have a slab of dough. Shape this into a ball and leave under a towel or in cling film (plastic wrap) to rest.

Stretch the pasta as thinly as possible by hand or with the pasta machine. Place the whole parsley leaves on top of half the length of the layer of pasta. Fold the other half of the layer of pasta over the parsley, and press the layers together. Continue to roll out the layer of pasta until it is very thin. Using a scalloped pastry cutter, cut the pasta into squares of about 5cm/2in.

Bring the broth to a boil and add the pasta. Cook for 1-3 minutes, depending on how dry the pasta is. Serve hot, without adding cheese, which would spoil its purity.

This is what Bugialli’s  pasta looked like. With a little more effort and a pasta machine, mine will look like that too.

Other recipes mentioned in this blog.

For first course I may cook:

SPAGHETTI CON RICCI DI MARE

PASTA CON BOTTARGA

SPAGHETTI WITH CRAYFISH OR CRAB

PASTA WITH BLACK INK SAUCE

 

SORREL, Italians call it acetosa

I once lived in Adelaide and I successfully grew and cooked sorrel.

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I used it liberally in hollandaise and egg mayonnaises (wilted or raw and cut very finely). I loved these sauces with asparagus, beans and potatoes. I added young leaves to mixed-leaf salads, cut leaves into chiffonade to decorate and add an intense lemony tang to raw and cooked foods. I added it to soups and braises, fish, veal or pork stews and sautéed it with other vegetables. It was great in frittata, too. Because of its intense, sharp flavour you only need small amounts of leaves and when they’re cooked, the bright green spinach-like leaves melt to a yellow-green, mushy purée. It may not sound appealing but it is.

I eat extremely well when I visit South Australia both in restaurants and in homes. During my recent trip I encountered sorrel at three different times at different friends’ houses.

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I was delighted with a sorrel Granita by one friend in her house in Eden Hills (a suburb of Adelaide). It was presented with a sorbet made of elderflower cordial (she made this), golden caster sugar and water syrup and St Germain elderflower liqueur.  what you see in in the photo above are the Granita and sorbet, plus elderflowers (from her garden). These were topped with Prosecco. Amazing!

This was not dessert – it was presented as a palate cleanser in between courses. It could easily double up as a dessert- a  very simple solution is to pair it with vanilla ice cream rather than an  elderflowers sorbet….not every cook is as skilled as this friend.

See recipe for the sorrel Granita at end of post.

Friends in North Adelaide offered me potato and sorrel soup for lunch. I had  enjoyed this before at their house and it can be eaten hot or cold.

I also visited friends in Ardrossan (a coastal town on the Yorke Peninsula about 90 minutes from Adelaide) and found red sorrel growing in their garden. This friend presented some of the attractive young leaves in a leafy salad. She also wilts it like spinach and has made a quiche with some of the leaves.

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I told her I knew nothing about red sorrel. I thought that maybe Bunnings had made a mistake (she found it in the Herbs section of this store). Was it really a culinary herb or an ornamental plant? My friend, now concerned and thinking that she should sue Bunnings found a link on the web, and sure enough, red sorrel leaves are considered edible…. despite my misgivings.

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The story doesn’t stop there. Now back home in Melbourne I found a small bunch of red sorrel at my regular supplier of green vegetables – Gus and Carmel’s stall in The Queen Victoria Market, called IL FRUTTIVENDOLO . I stored it in the fridge in a container  partially filled with water. I store asparagus in the same way.

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Believe it or not there is a lot of information on the web about sorrel that is considered to be at its best in Spring. There is the French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) with distinctly small, bell-shaped or arrow-shaped leaves; English sorrel (Rumex acetosa) with broader leaves- both of these have leaves with a smooth texture. Red sorrel (Rumex sanguineus) is  very attractive and has tapered light green leaves with dark maroon veins and stems. Not surprisingly it is also called Bloody Dock. When cooked, it bleeds like beetroot leaves (which I eat). First discard the bottom tough part of the stalks and then wilt the leaves as you would silver beet or spinach.

Both French sorrel and English sorrel are used interchangeably. It is also sold interchangeably and usually just labelled as ‘Sorrel.’ The French variety with the smaller arrow shaped leaves is hard to find . Both sorrels have very similar tastes – the flavour is tangy and pleasantly acidic. This is not surprising as sorrel is related to rhubarb, recognized for its tartness that comes from oxalic acid. Some texts advise to use sorrel sparingly and warn that it can be toxic to animals. The red sorrel has been primarily grown as a decorative foliage but can also be eaten. The taste is not as sharp and sour as the French and English sorrels and the larger leaves are tougher and slightly bitter rather than tangy., however when cooked they do break down considerably.

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Sorrel has been used as a culinary ingredient by the early Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It was used during medieval and in Tudor times in England and France and it is still popular in French cuisine.

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Italians have many words for sorrel. They call it acetosa and acetina, acetosella, ossalina or erba brusca. There are even names for sorrel in dialect. It is known as pan e vin in Friuli, Veneto and Treviso regions. The Sicilians call it aghira e duci or agra e duci. The list of the various regional Italian names for sorrel can be found on a site by the Dipartimento di Scienze della Vita, Università di Trieste. The culinary uses in Italian cuisine suggested in the texts that I have seen are the same as in other cuisines: the young leaves are served raw in salads and the cooked leaves accompany fish, meat or eggs and in cream sauces and soups.
Sorrel is also found in some Asian cuisines for example in Vietnam it is known as rau chua (sour herb) or rau thom.  It is not surprising that in Vietnamese it translates as sour herbfrom old French surele, from sur, sour. I had one quick look for a Vietnamese recipe that uses sorrel and ‘sour soup’ seems to be popular.

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Notice that my bunch is just  called ‘Sorrel’. So unfair for those who are not familiar with the other sorrels!

And what did I do with my small bunch of red sorrel?

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There were no leaves in the bunch that I considered ‘small’ so I did not add them to a salad. I  added the leaves to some hot extra virgin olive oil and garlic, added the leaves and wilted them. I then added some cooked Puy lentils. I was pleased with the results and presented and made a nice accompaniment to fish cooked with with tarragon and vermouth , cauliflower and baked tomatoes.

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My friend’s recipe for  Sorrel Granita

Equal weight of French sorrel leaves (with that lovely sour taste) and simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water). The sorrel must not be cooked. Just blitz the leaves with the syrup and then strain through a fine strainer. Add a squeeze of lime juice and a pinch of salt to taste and then pour into a container and put in the freezer. About every 30 mins or so I stir it to move the ice crystals that evenly through it. When it is completely frozen (and it isn’t rock hard anyway) I just scrape it with a fork to break it into crystals.

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Coeur a la Crème made with Labneh

Sometimes, when I do not have much time to make a dessert I prepare something very simple…below, savoiardi with rose liqueur and whipped ricotta (ricotta , honey, vanilla  and cream).

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for example something layered and made with savoiardi soaked in liqueur and crème anglaise or whipped ricotta (the real thing or a take on Zuppa Inglese and Cassata, like the deconstructed cassata below).

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Most times, I like something wet, like  poached fruit (nearly always poached with some sort alcohol) and present it with homemade mascarpone.( Stuffed peaches with amaretti with homemade mascarpone).

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These may be easy desserts but they are always enjoyed. (See links below for  some recipes)

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Another easy dessert is Coeur a la Crème (French for heart of cream) either made with cream cheese or with Labneh, an ingredient which over time has become a staple in my fridge. Labneh is a fresh cheese with the consistency of a cream cheese popular in the Middle East made by straining yoghurt.

Ten years ago I would have said that Italians would not have known about Labneh, but food culture evolves and some Italians are familiar with it. However, the Italian recipes that I have seen primarily suggest using Labneh as a savory dish dressed with extra virgin olive oil and herbs or spices such as fennel seeds, parsley, mint or paprika. In Australia because of our multi-cultural population we are more familiar with Labneh and with the spices we use.

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To make Labneh I use Greek yoghurt and the tubs of yoghurt I buy are sold in 1k containers.
I always buy what I consider to be good quality yoghurt without flavouring or added sugar and with descriptors such as: pot set, no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, live and active cultures, biodynamic, organic…. the more of these the better the yoghurt.

1 tub full-fat Greek-style yoghurt and a colander with one layer of muslin.

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Line a colander with one layer of muslin and place the colander on top of a bowl so that the whey of the yogurt can drain. Empty the carton of yogurt into the lined colander and leave to drain 6-8 hours or longer. I usually place mine (covered) to drain in the fridge. You can use the drained yoghurt then or you can store the yoghurt in the muslin in a container in the fridge – it will keep for about 1 week and you may be surprised that wrapped in the muslin it will keep on draining.

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Different types of yoghurt will drain more liquid than others depending on their water content.  I weighed my last batch of Labneh and 1 kilo was reduced to 820g.

Coeur a la crème

Labneh 700g
250 gm cream cheese or ricotta or 200 ml double cream.
100 gm pure icing sugar or honey (to taste)
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped or pure vanilla essence or concentrate
grated lemon rind from 1lemon

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Coeur a la crème is made in a heart shaped special mold with a perforated bottom that allows the mixture to drain and compact properly.

A heart shaped baking tin lined with muslin will also keep draining but you will need to remove the liquid more often.

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Place all of the above ingredients in a bowl, incorporate the ingredients by hand before using an electric mixer to blend it till smooth (it will not take long). Taste it to see if you prefer it sweeter and adjust accordingly.
Line heart shaped mold with muslin and spoon the creamy mixture into the mold.  Cover the mixture with plastic wrap and place the mold into a container – it will drain some more. I usually place my mold in a large container with a lid so that I do not need to use plastic wrap.
Chill at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.
Unwrap mold, invert onto a serving plate.
Surround it fruit of your choice and serve (fresh and macerated with a liqueur or poached fruit).
On this occasion I presented it with blood oranges (they have been in season)

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4 blood oranges
3 tbs honey
2- 4 tbs orange liqueur (I used Cointreau)
Fresh mint sprigs, for garnish (optional)
Work over a bowl to reserve any juice,  use a sharp knife to remove peel and as much pith as possible. Cut the top and bottom of the orange, slide your knife between the membrane and the segment, and then cut the segment out. Repeat with each segment and each orange.
In a saucepan, combine honey with 1tbsp of water and boil it vigorously till it looks caramelized.
Add oranges and reserved juice and cook (low heat for about 4-5 minutes). Add orange liqueur, and cool/ chill.

Garnish with mint sprigs (optional).

Other recipes:

CASSATA DECONSTRUCTED

ZUPPA INGLESE, a Famous Italian dessert

LABNEH and Watermelon salad

HOME MADE MASCARPONE

COSTOLETTE DI VITELLO (Veal chops – baked)

I really like the gristly bits around bones, for example I like to chew around the ends of Chicken bones, shins and I particularly like pork hocks. Rather than gristle, perhaps it is collagen – the bit that connects muscle tissue together and breaks down with cooking and turns semi-transparent and tender. I think it is flavourful, but many do not.

Veal chop bones are great for chewing so when I saw veal chops at the Queen Victoria Market I bought them.

Living in Australia when I say ‘veal’ I do not mean the ‘white veal’ as in Europe, i.e. calves 18-20 weeks old, reared in small pens indoors and fed only milk. This Australian veal was quite pink – evidence that as in accordance with Australian regulations it should have been reared in open pens and fed a diet of milk and grass or grain and produced from dairy calves weighing less than 70kg or beef calves weighing up to 150kg.

Veal can be bland so the most usual way to cook veal with bone is to make a spezzatino –a braise or stew. Veal benefits from the added liquid (could be from stock/ wine/ tomatoes) and herbs for flavour.

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I chose to bake my veal chops but unlike lamb or goat (kid), veal has little or no fat so it needs oil if you choose to bake them.

I marinated the chops overnight in a bowl and baked them the next day.

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Meat and Marinade

For 4 people:

1.5k veal chops (there is little meat on them)
2 garlic cloves, sliced
½ cup dry Marsala or white wine
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
rosemary sprigs and bay leaves

Marinate the meat with the above ingredients for at least 2+ hours (can be done overnight). Drain the meat and solids from the marinade when you are ready to cook it. Reserve the liquid.

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For Cooking

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, cut into large slices
salt
pepper
4 large potatoes
more rosemary (or sage )

Prepare the potatoes and cut into large pieces. Put them in a bowl and dress with half the oil, add seasoning and more rosemary.

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Heat the oven at 180C.

Place a little more oil in a baking dish. Position the meat in the tray, arrange the slices of onions and between the meat. Add seasoning and drizzle the rest of the oil on top of the meat.

Bake the meat for 15 minutes. Turn the meat and add the potatoes (with the oil). Cook for about 40 minutes then add the drained marinade – try to pour it over the meat rather than the potatoes. Bake for another 15-20 minutes till the potatoes are cooked and the meat is coloured.

If you are wondering what the green blobs are on top of the baked veal in the main photo, they are spoons of chopped parsley which I keep in the fridge topped with extra virgin olive oil…… more for decoration, but it is also flavourful.

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I guess everyone liked them.

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See recipe:  VITELLO ARROSTO (Roast Veal)

TASMANIA, FOOD, ART, HOBART and Bagna Cauda

One week ago today  I was having lunch in Templo, an Italianate, very small restaurant in Hobart.

Duck Polenta. On the side some pickled red radicchio.

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Twelve days before that I was in Berlin.  Four days before Berlin I was in Rome and before that Sicily, and prior that London and Nottingham.

And why  go to Tasmania three days after I returned to Melbourne after seven weeks in Europe?

Tasmania had been arranged before Europe because our friend Valerie Sparkes was part of an exhibition curated by Julianna Engberg called TEMPEST at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG). It was part of MOFO. Two whole walls of this type of imagery – wallpapers.

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I  ate well in Tasmania, but I manage to eat well wherever I go.

I work hard at it – researching via books and web (I do not take much notice of Trip Advisor), taking note of restaurants I pass that look as if they may suit and looking at menus displayed, but most of all taking advice from others whose opinions I think I can trust (strangers as well as friends).

I feel that I should start with Nottingham, my first destination, but I have decided to start with Tasmania – my most recent experience.

View from Mt. Wellinghton.

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The evening before I had lunch at Templo in Hobart, I was at Aloft, that has an Asian inspired menu and is a totally different dining experience to the Italian-ate Templo.

I am not a food critic and as you may have noticed in my posts I do not elaborate or philosophize about what I eat, but I will say that although I enjoyed the ambiance, service and some of the food in Aloft, I often thought that some of the dishes were overwhelmed by strong, salty flavours, whether  they were garnishes, pickles or sauces.

I like robust flavours and certainly I had some at Templo but the flavours were well rounded….  the various tastes are balanced. Check the wine list too!

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The food originated from humble beginnings – regional Italian on this occasion – but was adventurous, modern in taste and presentation. And not at all fussy – whether in name/ description or presentation.

Templo is a very small restaurant with only one engaging  waiter – very personable and knowledgeable . As you can see by the menu on the board, there is little choice.

Below,  Broccoli and Bagna Cauda. (Recipe below for Bagna Cauda).

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This was described as Beef, celeriac…. I picked what type of cut the beef was as soon as I cut it and put it in my mouth – heart!!! Fantastic stuff… lean,  great taste, all muscle. Waiter was impressed that I knew what it was. My father used to cook it for me- how could I forget!

We ate other stuff but how many photos can I include!

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I  love Tasmania – the scenery and the bountiful produce.

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I did eat and drink well at other places in Hobart and on Bruny Island.

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And, as on any trip I cooked in the places I stayed in , in Tasmania.

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I appreciate the high-quality fresh produce along with the locally-produced meats, cheeses and  fish.

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I ate so much cheese.

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And there is MONA. I could go on and on.

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Bagna Cauda  (it is Piedmontese)

I am amazed that I do not have a recipe for Bagna Cauda on my blog.

Bagna Cauda, translated as “hot bath,”  is a dip for any combination of firm vegetables- cooked or uncooked.

A fondue-style fork will help. Slices of quality bread can be held underneath to catch the drippings and eaten also, if liked.

Here is a very simple recipe:

2 heads of garlic – separate cloves, peel
enough milk to cover garlic cloves in a small saucepan
about 25 anchovy fillets in oil, drained
300g unsalted butter, cut into pieces
300ml extra virgin olive oil
about 1 tablespoon double cream

Place the garlic cloves into a small pan, cover with milk. Gently simmer on very low heat until the garlic is soft.
Crush/mash the garlic into the milk (I use the back of a spoon), add the anchovies and dissolve them in the milk and garlic over gentle heat, stirring all the time. Add the butter and olive oil, bits and slurps slowly and stir gently to combine (without boiling).Take off the heat and mix in the cream.
Pour the mixture into a fondue dish or similar container that can be kept warm over a lighted candle or an appropriate burner.

I use this. I have a choice of two containers.

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Place in centre of the table and dip in the vegetables.

Link to post CELERIAC (Sedano Rapa)

SPAGHETTI with ‘NDUJA, SQUID, VONGOLE AND PAN GRATTATO

In a restaurant in London recently I ordered a plate of Spaghetti alla Chitarra – square cut spaghetti that was cooked with some very spicy pork sausage.  Square cut spaghetti are especially widespread in Abruzzo, but also in Molise, Lazio and Puglia and obviously can now be found elsewhere in the world.

It reminded me how, about a year previously in one restaurant  in Marin County I ordered Rustichella d’Abruzzo Chitarra with Manila clams, Pacific squid and ‘Nduja with anchovy and breadcrumbs. The Italian square-cut spaghetti were originally rolled over a box strung with guitar strings to create its straight edges.

There is a little bit of Italian regional fusion in this dish:  The pasta is from Abruzzo, ‘Nduja from Calabria,  and anchovy and breadcrumbs are very Sicilian.

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I do not have a recipe for Rustichella d’Abruzzo Chitarra with Manila clams, Pacific squid,  ‘Nduja and anchovy and breadcrumbs, however, I have a pretty good palate and a sharp sense of smell.

I am also able to discern flavours and identify ingredients. I know about cooking methods and this is my interpretation of this recipe. Obviously there may be many differences in the way they would cook this dish, for example in my recipe for simplicity, I have cooked Part 2 and 3 separately and I have then joined the components together. This is not to say that the next time, I would cook this in the same way. I always adapt and experiment with recipes and I am pretty lucky that the majority of times the food tastes OK.

Clearly, this is on my estimation of amounts and is based on my tastes and preferences.

Recipe for 6 people

300 g spaghetti. Use good quality durum wheat spaghetti for example the recommended amount is 100 g per person. I always think that this is far too much- 50g per person is fine in my household but adapt amounts accordingly.

Part 1. Breadcrumbs, anchovies and garlic mixture (often called pangrattato in Italian) is used to sprinkle on top of the dish instead of cheese.

  • 1 cup bread crumbs made from 1-2 day old good quality bread
    ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more if needed
    12 anchovies, chopped
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, chopped finely

In a fry pan (I use a non stick one) heat the oil. Add garlic and toss them around for about 30 seconds before adding the anchovies. Stir over medium heat until fragrant. Add breadcrumbs and continue to stir them until they are golden and toasted. Remove from the pan when they are ready otherwise they will continue to cook.

Part 2

  • 5-6 tablespoons of’ ‘Nduja per person
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 red onions, sliced thinly

In a frypan sauté the onion in the olive oil. When it is soft and golden add the ‘Nduja and stir gently on low heat until it is dissolved. You may need to use a little water.

Part 3

  • Estimate about 150g of both squid sliced into small pieces and vongole or clams (without their shell) per person – adjust to your tastes. In the restaurant version there were tiny baby squid and octopi used, just as they do in Sicily. This makes me think that in the US they must be allowed to fish for baby fish.
  • 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • a little salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons of passata

Sauté the fish in the oil until it is golden. Add the passata, stir over medium-low heat until you have the consistency of a thick tomato sauce. You may need to add a little more liquid if necessary.

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Complete Part 1.
Prepare the ingredients for Part 1 and 2.
Cook the pasta and while it is cooking make part 1 and part 2 using different saucepans.
To the fish mixture add the ‘Nduja mixture.
Drain the pasta and dress it with the sauce.
Dish it out into separate plates or into a large serving plate, top with the breadcrumb mixture and serve.

I have written about ‘Nduja in an earlier post. See: Nduja, A Spreadable and Spicy Pork Salame From Calabria