FENNEL CAPONATA (Sicilian sweet and sour method for preparing certain vegetables).

Fennel is still looking really good at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne.

Select the round specimens when you can – these are known as the male bulbs. The female ones are flatter and reputed to be not as tasty because their energy is going into sprouting and going to seed – this is why they are not as round.

Usually when I make caponata I fry the vegetables separately to best preserve the flavour of the individual vegetables and accommodate the different cooking time each vegetable needs, but because the celery and fennel have similar textures I  generally cook them at the same time.

All caponate (plural) have an essential agro-dolce (sweet and sour) sauce that makes caponata what it is.

INGREDIENTS
1 medium sized fennel
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tender celery stalk and some pale green leaves, finely chopped
¼ cup green olives, pitted and sliced
¼ cup capers (if salted, rinsed and soaked)
1 ripe tomato, peeled and chopped (or canned)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbs wine vinegar, white
salt and pepper to taste

PROCESSES
Prepare the fennel:
Remove any outer layers of the fennel that look damaged, trim the base and discard.  Keep any young, soft fennel fronds to add to the caponata.
Slice the fennel bulbs in half vertically and then into quarters. Continue to cut the fennel into thin slices keeping them attached at the bottom.
Place extra virgin olive oil in the pan and when it is hot add the onion, fennel and celery and sauté until they begin to colour.
Add the olives, capers, tomato and salt. Cover and simmer gently until the fennel has softened (10-15 mins).
Remove the contents from the pan, add sugar to the same pan and stir over medium heat, When it begins to caramelize add the vinegar and evaporate. This is the essential agro-dolce (sweet and sour) sauce.
Return all the contents back into the pan and stir through.

Caponata is presented cold.

Other Fennel Recipes:

Fennel – male and female shapes

Tortino di finocchi (fennel flan)

Fennel and orange salad

Fennel and Potato soup

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SICILIAN ROMANCE AT HOME Epicure, The Age

Epicure, The Age

A friend suggested I share this with readers.

http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/restaurants-and-bars/sicilian-romance-at-home-20120716-225h9.html

Sicilian romance at home

Date July 17, 2012
Jane Holroyd

 Sicilian Seafood Cooking cover

Marisa Raniolo Wilkins, author of Sicilian Seafood Cooking.

Why did you start a blog at the age of 60? My long-time friend Janet Clarkson (of blog The Old Foodie) suggested blogging as a way of promoting myself and my Sicilian manuscript. I was thrilled when the blog reached 20 readers in the first week. Now I have more than 1000 hits every day.

My mother always told me … That my father’s family knew nothing about cooking. There was always rivalry between the two families. My mother was from Catania (mid-eastern coast of Sicily) and my father from Ragusa (south-eastern Sicily). Although Sicily is not a big island, there is a lot of regional variation in its cooking.

On inner-city living … In South Australia, I lived very close to the Adelaide Central Market and as a child growing up in Trieste I also lived in an apartment near the market. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I like to have a strong rapport with market vendors.

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Favourite stalls at the Queen Victoria Market? For Italian greens and lesser-known vegetables, Gus and Carmel’s, Stall 61-63 B shed; The Green Generation, I shed, especially for mushrooms and fresh herbs; Mick’s in H shed for fun and Australian produce; Happy Tuna Seafood; Nifra Poultry. For good-quality meat (Black Angus, Wagyu ) try the Greek butcher in the meat hall, first on the right from the Elizabeth Street entrance.

Best 10-minute meal? Salad, soup, pasta or frittata made from leftovers. My fridge is never empty and in my freezer you will always find jars of broth and pulses. Right now I’ve got cooked pine mushrooms collected from the Mornington Peninsula and some bottarga (tuna roe), ready for that moment.

Blogs are great as … A springboard – sharing ideas, sharing recipes for seasonal produce or writing about something unusual that I’m cooking and think others may enjoy. It doesn’t pay. I do it because I always have something to share.
Your greatest inspiration? Mary Taylor Simeti is an American living in Sicily. I’m inspired by how well she has written about its culture and history. I always recommend her books to travellers, especially On Persephone’s Island.

Most underrated ingredient? I’m cooking a lot of artichokes, cime di rape (similar to broccoli) and cardoons.
Favourite ingredient? Whatever is freshest. And I like the taste and colour of saffron.

Fat – love it or loathe it? I like duck fat for roasting potatoes and butter for mashed potatoes, finishing off sauces and making pastry. If lard was easier to get, I would use it for making pastry. Extra-virgin olive oil is also a fat, and I use heaps of this. I also like the taste of oily fish.

First food memory? In Trieste, I remember kraffen, which are like jam-filled doughnuts.

See Wilkins’ blog at allthingssicilianandmore.com

The article in Epicure says that I was born in Trieste. This is not the case, but it is very easy to assume this.

My parents met and lived in Trieste (North Italy). 10 days before I was born they caught the train to Ragusa (Sicily) and I was born in my grandmother’s bed and the same bed my father was born in.

10 days after I was born my parents caught the train back to Trieste, their home and my home. I spent my childhood in Trieste before going to Adelaide. About 10 years ago I moved to Melbourne.
Marisa

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Epicure, The Age

Epicure is the longest running weekly food and wine guide in Victoria and one of the most popular sections for both Age readers and those in the hospitality industry.
Published every Tuesday, Epicure appeals to ‘foodies’ (those who make food, wine and entertaining central to their lifestyles), casual or ‘big occasion’ diners and also those looking for information about fresh produce or new wine to try.
Written and edited by noted food and wine writers and columnists, Epicure features everything from industry news and restaurant, bar and wine reviews to recipes, the latest kitchen gadgets and topical food related feature articles.

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La Trobe University- Ancient Mediterranean Studies, Conference: South Italy, Sicily and the Mediterranean at COASIT

la trobe

The Ancient Mediterranean Studies Centre at La Trobe University conference: South Italy, Sicily and the Mediterranean.

Hosted by the Centre for Greek Studies and the A.D. Trendall Research Centre for Ancient Mediterranean Studies at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, this conference will focus on the movement of people and interactions of culture in the region of Southern Italy and Sicily from antiquity until the present. The conference will run from 17th to the 21st July 2012.

Cooking demonstration for this Conference was held at COASIT  in Carlton, Melbourne (A non-profit organisation for Italians and Australians of Italian descent).

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South Italy, Sicily and the Mediterranean: Cultural Interactions conference.

Greek and Roman Cultural Interactions: Teacher Professional Development Day

Sicilian Cooking Workshop’ – presented by Marisa Raniolo Wilkins, author of the book Sicilian Seafood Cooking. Sicilian cuisine has been shaped over centuries by Greek, French, Arab and Spanish influences. In this class, participants will cook fish in the traditional Sicilian. Marisa will share her experience in the kitchen and love of Sicilian cuisine so that participants learn about Sicilian culture while they cook a delicious meal to share after the class.

This conference has been convened by La Trobe University’s Centre for Greek Studies and the A.D Trendall Research Centre for Ancient Mediterranean Studies and will be held at the Museo Italiano in Carlton. On the last day of the conference a professional development day has been integrated into the program which will be of particular relevance to teachers of Italian, Greek, History, Ancient History, Philosophy and Classics. The conference and the professional development day both seek to explore the connections between Roman and Greek cultural and ethnic identity and the movement of people in the Mediterranean region of Southern Italy and Sicilian antiquity until the present.

During the morning participants will attend lectures delivered by academics on the cultural interactions between ancient Greece and Rome. After lunch participants have the option to either attend a material culture workshop or a Sicilian cookery workshop.

The menu for this worshop included:

Baked ricotta
Marinaded sardines
Olive salads and marinaded olives
Crostata di sarde
Pasta with cime di rape and pecorino/ salted ricotta.
Trigle (red mullets) in marinade, cooked on BBQ and presented with salmoriglio
Stuffed artichokes
Baked fish with anchovies
Baked fish with meat broth
Edible weeds
Green salad with Italian leafy greens

 

 

 

N’ZALATA VIRDI in Sicilian – INSALATA VERDE in Italian (Green leaf salad)

In my fridge you will always find some green vegetables that can be used in salads. I grow herbs on my balcony but regretfully do not have room for salad greens. My history of eating salads goes back a long way.

salad different lettucesDSC_0084_2

The best salads that I ate as a child in Italy were made from green leaves. In Trieste, it was made with very young leaves of different types of radicchi (plural of radicchio) especially the radicchio biondo triestino, together with mataviltz (the lamb’s lettuce) and rucola (aurugola/rocket/roquette). These were sold by the handful in the Trieste market and wrapped in cones of brown paper.

My father grew these greens in Australia, a friend having smuggled seeds inside of his coat lining on one of his trips back from Trieste. You will be pleased to know that these seeds are now widely available in Australia.

When I used to visit Sicily as a child we talked about the different green leaves we ate in Trieste, but the relatives were not familiar with these.

They ate salads made from young, wild cicoria (chicory) or cicorino (the ino signifying small) and indivia (escarole/endives), Roman Batavia, curly endive and frisee lettuces were also popular – these lettuces are available in Australia. Roman Batavia has frilly leaves – it is crunchy and maintains its crispness. I have also seen it labelled as Roman lettuce, and this is confusing because cos is often called by this name. Frisee has a spiky and firm leaf, which is mildly bitter – it is a form of chicory.

In Ragusa where my father’s family come from, the inside leaves of green cabbage are torn into bite-sized pieces and dressed with oil, salt, pepper and lemon. I did not experience this elsewhere in Sicily.

I making the most of the wonderful winter greens and use their centre in salads and braise their outer leaves (first wilted/ steamed in a little water then tossed in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt and chilli).

Photographer Graeme Gillies, food stylist Fiona Rigg. Both worked on my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking

INGREDIENTS and PROCESSES

Select a variety of greens. Combine sweet, subtle, or bitter flavours, and different textures – the tender light green leaves found in the centre of chicory, or endives and escarole, different types of lettuces, the young, pale-green stalks found in the centre of celery. I do use fennel as well.

I like to include young Nasturtium leaves and flowers, (which are around at this time of year) or watercress (crescione d’acqua), but once again, this is not traditional, although my father told me that the women in Sicily who took their washing to the river ate watercress – this is another instance of Sicilians enjoying and using what the land provides.

A single leaf salad made with chicory (slightly bitter taste) and slices of sweet oranges are a good alliance and an acceptable modern Sicilian combination.

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DRESSING, VINAIGRETTE

Toss the salad when ready to serve with a dressing made of quality extra virgin olive oil, wine vinegar, salt and pepper (one-third vinegar, two-thirds oil).

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ACETO DI VINO FATTO IN CASA (Home Made Wine Vinegar)

A friend of mine has just returned from a holiday in France. For some of the time she stayed in Aix en Provence and caught up with her old pen friend who makes her own vinegar. I think I would like this woman.

I too used to make wine vinegar years ago – it is really quite easy and I did not buy a special culture.

The best vinegar I ever made was when a friend who had been to a wine tasting of good quality French wines brought all these partly filled bottles to my house. We drank and I used as much as I could in cooking and with the rest of it (there was far too much of it) I made vinegar. I used a clean crock-pot (the old fashion type used by many to store flour) and in it I emptied all of the left over red wine – there may have been the equivalent of four wine bottles. To this I added about a cup of good wine vinegar and a piece of good bread – the sourdough variety (provides the yeast). I covered it with the lid and basically left it in a cool place. It then formed ‘the mother’- a thick gelatinous mass of jelly-like consistency that completely covered the top. I once did some reading on ‘the mother’ and I think that it is called that because it gives birth to the vinegar.

I left it for a couple of months undisturbed and then removed the vinegar very carefully (I used a ladle) by pushing the mother to one side.  I removed about one wine bottle worth per time. I always made sure that I left about 3 cups of vinegar in the crock – pot and then added left over wine and the mother did the rest.

It is not  just people in the South of Italy that make vinegar. My aunt in Trieste always made vinegar by leaving an open, filled bottle of wine (about ¾ full) by the side of her stove. I cannot remember what her vinegar tasted like but when I tried to make vinegar this way I had to deal with the vinegar flies and the smell.

My Sicilian friend says that her brother makes vinegar, he inherited his father’s old wooden wine vat and he pours the dregs of left-over wine into it. That’s the only technique he uses and has never added anything else to it since his dad’s death.

I am going to try to make some more. It is time to resurrect that old crockpot where I now store onions. I will wash it with very hot water before I tackle the vinegar.

 

CARCIOFI (Artichokes)

We are now well into autumn and the green artichokes have been in season for a few weeks now in Victoria (see photo above) and soon we will also have the purple tinged ones – all Victorian produce.

artichokes

Good news for carciofi lovers. They can be eaten in so many ways. Here are some of the ways that I have enjoyed eating artichokes:
• raw, as a salad, the centre of young, tender artichokes, sliced very thinly and dressed,
• thin slices of raw artichokes dipped in batter (or in egg and then breadcrumbs) and then fried,
• small ones preserved in oil,
• boiled and dressed in a salad,
• cooked and almost disintegrated in a pasta sauce,
• grilled over hot coals,
• as the principal ingredient of a caponata,
• in a frittata,
• an ingredient in a tart or pie,
• boiled and once cooked, leaf by leaf is dipped into a dressing (one’s teeth extracting the soft part found at the bottom of each leaf)
• stuffed in a variety of ways, then baked or braised.

There are many ways to eat artichokes, but when friends come they always ask me for stuffed artichokes. During artichoke season I seem to be stuffing artichokes very often . See recipe:

CARCIOFI IMBOTTITI (Stuffed artichokes)

Photo below: Photographer Graeme Gillies, food stylist Fiona Rigg. Both worked on my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking.

My brother who lives in Adelaide uses egg and no cheese in his bread and herb stuffing so when I visit him I am pleased that they are a little bit different. Last time I ate artichokes at his house he added peas (which I often do) and we had the peas, stalks and juice as a pasta dressing and the stuffed artichoke as a second course.

I have written recipes about artichokes on this blog before. See:

CARCIOFI (Artichokes and how to clean them)

CANNULICCHI A LA FAVURITA – CANNOLICCHI ALLA FAVORITA (Pasta with braoadbeans, peas and artichokes alla favorita)

 

artichokesMelbourneblog-300x201

Cardoons will also be in season in winter.

CARDOONS (Cardoni or Cardi in Italian)

CARDOONS/CARDI continued

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GNOCHETI DE GRIES (as called in Trieste), GNOCCHETTI DI SEMOLINO (Italian), SEMOLINA Small GNOCCHI.

When I lived in my parent’s house we ate brodo (broth) once per week. Sometimes it was made with chicken, sometimes with yearling beef and at other times it was a mixture of the two meats; a few bones were always included.

We always had brodo as the first course and the boiled meat as the second course, and this was always accompanied with salsa verde.

Brodo is popular all over Italy and is considered essential when a member of the household is feeling unwell. It is seen as a restorative food in many other cultures as well.

Often we would have tortellini in brodo, but at other times, my mother added pastina (small pasta); these were either capelli d’angelo (angel’s hair) or thin egg noodles or stelline (small stars) or quadretti (small squares). Most of the time we had or favourite: gnocchetti di semolino floating in our brodo – these are small gnocchi, a specialty from Trieste. Because I spent my childhood there I became an expert gnocchetti maker from an early age.

Lately, with winter colds I have been making brodo and last week I also made gnocchetti. Although making them was second nature to me but next time I make them I will use a coffee spoon to make them smaller.

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To make brodo, see:  BRODO DI GALLINA
INGREDIENTS (4- 6 people)
brodo (broth),
50 g of butter,
1 egg,
100g of semolina,
pinch of salt,
grated Parmesan cheese (1 tbs in the mixture and some to present at the table)
PROCESSES
Make the brodo:
Beat softened butter and egg with a small wooden spoon until soft and well mixed. Use a small jug, milk saucepan or a bowl with steep sides.
Add the semolina and grated cheese slowly and continue to mix vigorously until perfectly smooth.
Bring the broth to the boil.
Use a wet teaspoon to shape the gnocchetti. Take small quantities of the mixture and slip small oval shapes off the spoon into the boiling broth. Keep the broth on a gentle boil.

Continue shaping the gnocchetti and poaching them until the mixture is finished. The gnocchietti rise to the surface when cooked (about 5 minutes). If cooking large quantities of gnocchetti, to prevent over cooking, take the cooked ones out with a slotted spoon before slipping in the new ones, but with the above amounts this will not be necessary.

Ladle broth and a few gnocchetti into each bowl and present with grated cheese.

NB

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The pasta I use is commercially made, but when I eat brodo in Sicily at my zia Niluzza’s (my father’s sister) makes fresh quadrettini (little squares) – she cuts the fresh pasta amazingly quickly.

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BUDINO DI PANE, An Italian version of Bread And Butter Pudding

My partner loves bread and butter pudding. Most of the time he makes it with a good quality fruit loaf – sourdough with plenty of fruit.
I found two small ponettoni (plural) in my cupboard (90g each). These are uneaten presents from Christmas and need to be used up and were used for this pudding. The characteristic smell of panettone brings back many memories for me – as a child I used to dunk it into hot chocolate.

It is a simple recipe and pretty standard in the UK and Australia. Sometimes  he makes it with bread and he also adds a little vanilla and some good home made jam between the layers of bread.

 

INGREDIENTS
panettone, 180g cut into slices
butter, 50g spread on the panettone slices
milk, 1 litre (full cream)
eggs, 3
sugar, 2 tablespoons
PROCESSES
Preheat the oven to 160C
Grease a casserole dish with a little butter. Layer the slices of pannettonein the casserole dish.
Mix together the eggs, milk and sugar with a fork – use a jug.
Pour the liquid mixture evenly over the layers of panettone.
Bake for 30- 35 minutes until set.
Budino Di Pane

I inherited a recipe book called Millericette from my mother (A thousand recipes Aldo Garzanti editore, published 1965). I found a recipe for budino di pane – literally translated aspudding of bread.
INGREDIENTS and PROCESSES
Use 400g soft bread crumbs; soak in 1 litre of milk. After a couple of hours rub through a sieve, add 250g of sugar, 6 beaten eggs, 500g of sultanas and raisins, 1 cup full of orange peel chopped finely and 1 glass of rum.  Mix well.
Transfer contents to a well buttered mold or one lined with buttered paper. Bake in a moderate oven for 30 mins.
Serve with orange sauce.
 
Notice that there is no butter in the Italian recipe. ( I think that I would add 50- 75g.)
 
Orange sauce:
Use orange jam (sweet orange marmalade), press the jam through a sieve, add a couple of spoon fulls of boiled water and sugar, add gin or Grand Marnier and mix well.


Italians do like their alcohol in sweets!!

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SBRISOLONA, SBRISOLOSA OR SBRISOLINA (Biscuit- like crumble cake)

This has to be one of the easiest and fun desserts that I have made in a long time.
It is so incredibly simple and you can make it with your fingers if you want to. It reminds me of making shortbread, simply and gently combining the basic ingredients of flour, butter and sugar and gently pressing it into shape. Sbrisolona has polenta in it as well, and it was once made with lard instead of butter. Modern recipes like this one, include egg yolk, lemon peel and coarsely chopped almonds. I am liking the new season’s Victorian walnuts and used these instead.
When you hear or see the word polenta you know that this means Northern Italy and in fact we are talking about peasant food of Montova and Cremona.
What I like about it is that it is not cut, it is broken into pieces so it becomes a talking point at the table.

 

Sbrisolona, Sbrisolosa or Sbrisolina is all the same thing, just different names and written in dialect. Sbriciola is the Italian word and it comes from sbriciolare, to crumb.
INGREDIENTS
finely ground polenta/ cornmeal, 1 cup
plain flour, 2 cups
sugar, 1 cup
butter, 225 g
almonds are traditional, I used walnuts , coarsley chopped, 1 cup
egg yolks, 2 large
grated lemon zest from 1 large lemon
salt, ½ teaspoon (if using unsalted butter)
pure vanilla extract, to taste
PROCESSES
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Butter a 28 cm springform pan or line it with baking paper – the paper will make it easier to remove from the tin and help it not to break.
Combine flour, cornmeal and salt.
Rub in butter, either by hand or in a food processor/ with pastry hook.
Add sugar and mix through.
Mix the egg yolk, lemon zest and vanilla together and add it to the dry mixture. Combine it gently; it will resemble coarse meal. Do not to over mix.
Add the chopped nuts.
Place the crumbs loosely into the baking tin and help it to stick together mostly around the edges by pressing it very gently.
Bake for 40-50 minutes or until it is golden brown on top.
Transfer to a rack and cool completely before taking it out of the tin. Handle carefully, but if it breaks just reshape it.
It not cut like a cake. Break it into serving pieces or guests can break it into pieces themselves.
It’s pretty good served with a glass of liqueur or sweet wine.

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WILD MUSHROOMS – Saffron Coloured, Pine Mushrooms and Slippery Jacks

 

Pine mushrooms

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.

Pine mushroom haul

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) .

INGREDIENTS
500 g of mushrooms are sufficient for 500 g of pasta and in my household it is sufficient for 6 people as a (primo) first course
garlic, 2 -3 cloves
parsley, ½ cup finely chopped,
white wine,½ cup or dry marsala,
fresh bay leaves and some marjoram  to taste
a good quality stock cube,
grated nutmeg, a pinch
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste,
tomato paste, 1 tablespoon
cream or butter, ½ cup at the end of cooking
Parmesan cheese to grate on top
PROCESSES
Clean the mushrooms, scrape away any bad bits or patches that are too discoloured. Strangely enough the discoloured patches do fade during cooking. Watch out for bugs that like to live in the stem. Slice each mushroom into thick strips.
Heat the extra virgin olive oil, add the mushrooms garlic and the herbs and sauté over medium heat for about 5-7 minutes.
Add wine, nutmeg, seasoning, stock cube (dissolved in about ½ cup of hot water) and tomato paste. Add more water or wine if the mixture looks too dry.
Cover and cook over low heat for about 5-7minutes. Add cream or butter at the very end to enrich the sauce.
Use this sauce as a dressing for cooked pasta. Add grated cheese at the table.

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