Italians do like their alcohol in sweets!!
Foraging is a buzz activity lately (in Melbourne) and foraging for wild mushrooms has increasingly become very popular. In the last two years the frequency of groups that are conducting wild mushroom hunts have increased significantly and so too have the number of cooking classes or special menus in restaurants and wineries; Mornington Peninsula in Victoria seems to be where wild mushrooms are found in large quantities.
Unfortunately for me, this may mean finding less wild mushrooms for myself, but over the years I have been extremely spoilt with the number of wild mushroom feasts I have had. During my latest foraging experience a couple of weeks ago my partner and I collected as much as we wanted of saffron coloured, pine mushrooms( photos above of the bag full and a small selection). We also could have collected slippery jacks but chose not to – we much prefer the taste and texture of the saffron coloured, pine mushrooms. If the slippery jacks are picked young and there has not been rain, they are firm and compact and very pleasant to eat.
|Photo = Slippery jacks|
I was speaking to a friend who had attended a class on wild mushrooms recently and she showed me photos of two other edible fungi – unfortunately I am not familiar with these as I am always open to new tastes. Like many others who had tasted the slippery jacks, my friend was saying that she finds this variety rather mushy and slimy to eat. I used to collect the slippery jacks in South Australia and dried them (I moved to Melbourne about 10 years ago). This is very easily done: wipe them dry, cut them into slices, spread them out on wooden trays lined with paper and old tea towels and leave them to dry in a warm room. Turn them over a couple of times. They stored well and were certainly very edible; I used them as I would if they were dry porcini – not as strong in taste but certainly worth eating.
The only problem with collecting the saffron coloured, pine mushrooms is that they bruise very easily and they really need to be cleaned and cooked as soon as possible.
I turned this lot of saffron coloured, pine mushrooms into a pasta sauce (saffron coloured, pine mushrooms = First photo). If you do not collect your own you can buy them in The Queen Victoria Market at the Fresh Generation, for $40+ per kilo. I have also seen slippery jacks on the odd occasion at Gus and Carmel’s stall (61-63) .
These colourful beans are fresh borlotti; their pods look even more amazing. They are not in season in Victoria, they are coming from Queensland, but I bought some last week at Stall 61-63 in The Queen Victoria Market – this is where I buy all of my Italian vegetables. In Italy, when the fresh beans are available they are considered to be a treat.
Probably every region of Italy has a version of pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) or minestra (soup) di fagioli. It is called pasta e fasoi in Trieste, pasta e facioli in Calabria, pasta ca fasola in Sicily and mnestra di fasö in Piedmont; the list goes on.
There may be a slight difference between the two dishes in the amount of liquid used, but they are both thick soups, and in fact so thick that they are also referred to as wet pasta dishes.
This version of the recipe is pretty universal all over Italy, but probably the greatest variation is that in various parts of Italy the cook places sufficient liquid in the soup to cook the pasta in it, whereas in other regions the pasta is cooked separately, drained and dressed with the cooked beans. Rice instead of pasta is more commonly used in the north of Italy.
Not every greengrocer sells fresh borlotti nor are they always in season but dry borlotti (soaked overnight)are also widely used for this dish. Do not add salt to the water when cooking dry pulses – it makes them tough.
Fresh borlotti beans do not need to be soaked, but lose their colour when cooked. Soak beans in cold water overnight – they will swell so it is important to put them in plenty of water.
I love eating vegetables and a meal without them is unimaginable. The photos in this post are of some of the produce I bought last Saturday at my regular vendors stall in The Queen Victoria Market. I did not bother to put in potatoes, celery, carrots, herbs and the other fruit that I bought – I wanted to show in the photos the seasonal produce I am buying now and very much enjoying.
Vegetables have always been an important part of the Italian diet. There may be several reasons for this and without going into too much detail, Here are a few of them.
Culturally Italians have cooked vegetables in interesting ways: braise, grill, fry, boil and dress, roast, etc. whereas Anglo-Australians tended to primarily boil, steam, roast.
Historically Italians have cultivated and eaten a large variety of vegetables. The following vegetables are relatively new in Australia: fennel, chicory, broccoli, zucchini, eggplants, peppers, leafy vegetables for salads e.g. radicchio, romaine lettuce. When I arrived in Australia the only common vegetables were cauliflowers, cabbages, carrots, pumpkins, peas and string beans.
Italians are very health-conscious. The Romans learned a great deal from the Ancient Greeks. Illnesses and other health problems were treated with herbal remedies and there was an interest with what one ate and when, the combination of foods and its effects on the body. This interest has continued and Italians are still very particular about their health especially the digestive system.
Economically vegetables are cheaper to grow than meat, which means they are also cheaper to buy and many Italians in years gone by could not afford to eat large quantities of meat; although fish was cheaper, some could still not afford to eat fish, either. Australia is said to ‘have ridden on the sheep’s back’ – by the late 1830’s there were sheep in every colony and raising and eating meat is embedded in the Australian culinary culture.
Increasingly, ethical dilemmas and health concerns have caused many people to become vegetarians and I have many friends who are. I have had many conversations with people who are making an effort to eat less and less meat and I too, seem to be cooking meat less frequently – not that we have ever eaten very much meat in my house.
For a variety of reasons and perhaps coincidence being vegetarian is also getting some attention in the media and at events. As part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, I attended an event at the Melbourne Town Hall where six speakers debated the topic Animals Should Be Off the Menu. For the proposition: Peter Singer, Philip Wollen, Veronica Ridge. Against the proposition: Adrian Richardson, Fiona Chambers, Bruce McGregor. Those who attended were able to vote to decide the outcome of the debate and perhaps not surprisingly, the side arguing that animals should be off the menu, clearly won.
IQ2 Debate: Animals Should be Off the Menu:
A few weeks after the debate Richard Cornish, a well-respected Melbourne journalist held in high esteem for his integrity, announced in The Age Epicure (Tuesday publication of The Age Melbourne newspaper) that he had given up eating flesh and had lost an incredible amount of weight. A photo of his healthy-looking face and beaming smile accompanied the article and said it all.
The Old Foodie also published a post on her blog about a picnic held by The Vegetarian Society of New York in June 1899. I do not think that the journalist who reported the event in The New York Times was in favour of vegetarians – I found this amusing and I hope that some of these views about vegetarians have changed.
There are many posts on this blog about vegetables, how to clean and how to cook them, but far too many to list here.
Use the search buttons to find recipes for: artichokes, broadbeans, cardoons, cavolo nero, chicory, cime di rape, celeriac, fennel, indivia (escarole, endives) kohlrabi, salad greens – frisee, romaine, radicchio, radish etc.
Let’s not forget summer vegetables: eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini….
My friend John bought these little beauties around to my place when I invited him for dinner recently. I love the little silicon cups: this was the first time that he had used them; the cups not only look attractive and are functional, but they are also ‘cup’ cakes. And like his mother he placed a teaspoon of flavour inside each one – a teaspoon of apricot jam or sweetened passionfruit.
Like his mother he cut the top of each cake, placed a dollop of whipped cream on top, divided each top in half and returned the two halves to the cake: these looked like wings. Being Australian she appropriately referred to them as called them Butterfly cakes or Fairy cakes and it is easy to see why. These cakes were very popular at children’s parties and were never called Cup cakes (cupcakes), this perhaps is an American or British term. Cupcakes is what we call them in Australia now. Have they lost their wings?
John asked me if Sicilians make cupcakes and they do not, but there is no reason why his very simple recipe cannot be infused with Sicilian flavours.
This is how John’s mother wrote the recipe. The mixture is simple and very Anglo:3 oz butter 3 oz sugar 2 eggs 4 oz SR flour 1 tbs milk essence of vanilla bake 475 for 15 minutes.
Because the above only makes a small quantity, the following recipe could be more useful. John also found that his cup cakes were a little dry, so we have reduced the amount of flour in the following recipe.
To make Sicilian type cup cakes, I would add the following ingredients:
150 g of chopped pistachio nuts or blanched almonds (both are grown in Sicily and very common in sweets).
Use sour cherry jam (sour morello cherries are popular in Italy/ Sicily).
If the cake appears too dry after it is baked, sprinkle a little Maraschino liqueur on the top (adding liqueur to moisten cooked cakes is definitely Italian/ Sicilian).
Instead of whipped cream, use ricotta whipped with a little vanilla flavoured sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon. Add a little cream if the mixture is too dry.
I would also place a sour cherry or a pistachio on top.
Presto, Ecco, Fatto… Here they are. Bake them in tea cups, call them Dolcetti fatti in tazza (small cakes made in cups) and they do sound exotic!.
I ate at a friend’s house recently and she cooked one of my fish recipes from Sicilian Seafood Cooking; she apologized for using tinned tomatoes instead of fresh and asked me if it had altered the taste of the recipe. There was no need to make an apology – the fish tasted great and I told her that I only use red, fresh tomatoes in cooking when they are sold ripe and at a reasonable price; the tins of whole, peeled tomatoes I buy are a perfectly suitable substitute, and quick too. I try to buy Australian tomatoes.
There are some summer pasta dishes which call for uncooked, ripe tomatoes and I would never substitute tinned ones for this recipe – Pasta alla Norma.
Pasta alla norma is one of those dishes Sicilians are extremely fond of especially in late summer when the tomatoes are ripe, the basil is abundant and the eggplants are at their best.
All it is = a salsa of fresh tomatoes , pasta and fried eggplants added last of all – usually cubed. Ricotta salata tops it all off. Easy stuff – see recipe below.
The dish originates from Catania, the city that my mother’s family comes from. Many presume that the dish is named after the opera, La Norma, by the composer Vincenzo Bellini who was born in Catania (1801-1835), but there are others who think that the expression ‘a norma’ (in Sicilian) was commonly used in the early 1900s to describe food that was cooked true to form (i.e. as normal, as it should be) according to all the rules and regulations specified in the recipe.
I ate a version of Pasta alla Norma in a seafood restaurant in San Leone (on the coast, near to Agrigento). The tagliatelle were presented on top of half an eggplant, (which had been cut in half and then fried). The sauce also contained a few currants and a few anchovies, thin slices of bottarga (dry, salted tuna roe) and cubes of ricotta salata. It does look very spectacular, but if you intend to do this, and are using a large round eggplant, cut the eggplant horizontally and remove a slice from the centre of it to make it thinner – the eggplant it will cook more evenly.
Recipe for Pasta alla Norma
I have used casarecci, 500g
|Fresh spring rolls, pomelo salad with prawns, seared tuna (long tail).|
|Long tail tuna.|
|Before cooking – fresh pieces of mango, wrapper in lattice rice paper.|
|Mango rolls dipped into batter made with coconut milk, rice flour, sugar, chocolate powder and then deep fried.|
|Buying prawns at the Hoi An market|
|Son buying herbs.|