A MIXED MEAT TERRINE

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My mother would often say that I was ‘fissata’….fixed, almost obsessed….and I guess I am at the moment with making terrines and pâtes. And the many I have made lately are turning out just fine. (I have made three terrines and two pâtes in two weeks – all taken to friends’ places)

I think that one of the many things I like about making the above is that weights and measurements are not important. You can have a rough idea about the meats you want to buy, the herbs you would like to use, the alcohol you wish to use as a flavouring,   texture you wish to achieve (layered strips of meat, shredded,  minced, mousse) and off you go.

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For the terrine above I used minced chicken, minced pork and twice the amount of yearling beef (low fat – I hate beef fat!) – all free range and preservative free. At times, I have used my food processor to mince different meats. Quantities were roughly 450g of pork, 450g of chicken and about 800g of yearling.

The herbs are fresh thyme and sage.

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The alcohol was white wine and brandy. The only type of brandy I had at home was Vecchia Romagna, too good to cook with, but never mind.

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I used nutmeg and salt and ground black pepper. I added pistachio nuts and more thyme.

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I mixed it all up and left it overnight, but is OK to macerate just for a few hours.

Bacon is an important ingredient in terrines – moisture and fat. I trimmed the bacon and lined the terrine with the strips. My bacon rashes were not long enough to hang over the side, but this did not matter as I used other bacon strips to cover the terrine

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I added the minced meats on top.

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And placed more bacon to cover it. I used baking paper and a lid from my other terrine mold and placed it in a baine -marie, i.e. a hot water bath – mine was made with a roasting pan large enough to hold the terrine and deep enough for the water to come at least half way up. The purpose of cooking food via a bain-marie is that it creates a gentle heat around the food and results in a uniform cooking process.

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I cooked it on 195C for two hours.

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When you take off the lid and paper you will notice that the terrine has shrunk and there will be liquid around the meat. All good news – the liquid will turn into very flavourful jelly and the meat will need to be pressed. This is easily done by putting a wight on top.

I used a new piece of paper and an another terrine pan filled with water to press it. At other times I have used bricks and stones – be adventurous (another reason why I like making them).

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Leave it overnight  in the fridge for the flavours to mature (longer if you wish). When you are about to serve it, run a knife  around the edges, turn it upside down and WOW.This one was taken to a holiday house at Balnarring Beach, Terrines are just so portable!

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OK, it may not be Sicilian butI think that Sicilians would like it. if you wish to make a Sicilian Terrine see Gelatina:

GELATINA DI MAIALE. Pork Brawn

CHIARAMONTE in South-Eastern and the best butcher in Sicily (he also makes smallgoods)

CHICKEN AND VEGETABLE TERRINE

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Those of you who have been around as long as I have and were making terrines in the 80’s may be familiar with using finely minced chicken (mousseline) as a binder for layering vegetables.

My bible at the time for making terrines was Terrine, Pâtés & Galantines. It is one of many books in this Time Life Books, The Good Cook.

I had not used this book in years as terrines and pâtés have dropped out of vogue  in Australia but I was in France the year before last and particularly in Paris terrines were very much still eaten and I have wanted to make a terrine or pâté ever since. Today was my chance and I am taking this one to a friend’s place to eat on her balcony while we celebrate Christmas eve – terrines are very portable, great for picnics too.

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When I looked at this book I also found a number of magazine cut outs with recipes inserted between the pages and on one of them was this very same recipe (published 1981), but it was accredited as being a recipe from Fanny’s restaurant in Melbourne (opened in 1960 and closed in 1993). There was no mention or credit given to the origins of this recipe. The original recipe is called Chicken and Vegetables Terrine and is as cooked in the three star restaurant Les Frères Troisgros, in Roanne, France.

I used chicken fillets for making the mousseline. Cut them into chunks. Place in a food processor and blend until broken down and smooth. Egg and flavourings are added to the pureed chicken; it is the main component of the terrine and used as a binder for the vegetables.

The original Les Frères Troisgros recipe is in six layers. The vegetables are parboiled for a few minutes and cooled. The chicken puree is divided into 3 bowls – in one bowl the carrots are added (cut into batons); in the other the green beans and the third is plain.  The vegetable mixtures are then placed in layers – plain, carrot, beans, a thin layer of black olives in a row in the centre, plain, carrot, beans.

Now that I am looking at the original recipe I am wondering why I am giving you all this information – mine is quite different, but let us give credit where credit is due and it did provide inspiration and brought back fond memories of making terrines.

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I used my Le Creuset, Enamelled Cast Iron Pâté Terrine w/ Lid that I bought in the 80’s, and is still being produced by Le Creuset. If you do not have one of these pans, use a loaf pan (roughly 20cm/x10cm).

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What I did.
*my addition

5-6 chicken fillets cut into chunks
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
5 spring onions sautéed in a little oil (original recipe used shallots)
1 tablespoon white wine or champagne vinegar * I used sherry vinegar (softer tasting)
1 egg
salt
a handful of green beans, parboiled for 1-2 minutes and cooled, (*I dressed them with a little vinaigrette)
a handful pitted black olives (*mine were marinaded In fennel seeds, oregano and extra virgin olive oil)
*a handful of pistachio nuts
*juice and grated peel of ½ lemon
*ground nutmeg,
* ground pepper (I used pink peppercorns)
*fresh marjoram
*fresh sage leaves to line the bottom of the pan
* ½ cup almond or hazelnut butter = grind nuts into meal with oil to make a paste (I used this for taste but also because my friend is allergic to diary)

Sauté chopped spring onions in a little oil and cool.

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Mince chicken fillets in a food processor. Add ¼ cup of the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Add cooked spring onions, egg, lemon juice and peel, marjoram, almond or hazelnut butter and puree until very smooth.

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Oven to 180C

Lightly grease the pan you will use. Place fresh sage leaves on bottom for visual impact and taste. Sage and marjoram are doing well in my planter box and marjoram goes well with chicken, however other herbs, e.g. thyme, rosemary, tarragon will also be suitable.
Divide puree into 3 lots.

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Place first lot on top of the sage leaves and spread it with a spatula to cover entire bottom surface. Place green beans keeping the beans in straight lines going in the same direction. Then cover with a layer of chicken mixture.
Place olives on top, add pistachio nuts. Then cover with a layer of chicken mixture.
Place pan in a larger pan filled with enough boiling water to reach about ½ to ¾ of the way up the sides of the pan. Set in oven and bake for 35 mins.

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Remove the pan from the oven and let the terrine rest for about an hour in the pan. or until it is cooler. Run a sharp knife between the terrine and the pan to loosen it and carefully turn it upside down on a plate to catch any juices.  Wrap in with baking paper, place a weight on top ( I used the lid of the Le Creuset pan) and let it cool in fridge for at least 3 hours or overnight to set.

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The original recipe presents the terrine with a tomato vinaigrette. I made some egg mayonnaise – easier to transport.

Zeally Bay Sourdough Panettone

A present from the bakers from Zeally Bay. It came unexceptionally in the mail:

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Panettone is traditionally eaten during the Christmas and New Year holiday period in Italy. Christmas is close. The best eat before date is 20th February so you will have plenty of time to eat it if you are lucky enough to buy one in Melbourne.

It is made with the best ingredients, and it is organic.

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Zeally Bay were experimenting with making Panettone last year but they were not happy enough with the mixture in time for Christmas 2017. But this year – perfect.

Thank you Zealy Bay, I shall enjoy mine.

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‘Like many great things, sourdough requires time, skill and patience’

The above quote is from Zeally Bay’s website.

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Good luck to those of you who live in Victoria, and enjoy it if you are able to purchase one.

About Zeally Bay bakers and sourdough panettone:

ABOUT PANETTONE AND SOURDOUGH

 Zeally Bay website:  https://zeallybaysourdough.com.au/

 

CAN I CALL IT PANFORTE?

I almost always like to experiment with traditional recipes, often by including ingredients that traditionally are not tolerated by purist Italians. I persevere with my variations because I usually like the end result. It is a little like the situation with Sangiovese produced in Tuscany and the wine from Sangiovese grapes grown in Australia. I once had a lengthy discussion with a lovely wine bar owner in Firenze who could not believe that we would dare call our wine Sangiovese because Australia could not possibly have the traditional characteristics of the Tuscan region, the terroir and the climate. But how important are the skills of the winemaker and the subtle variations of in an aged old tradition?

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I make panforte every year for Christmas. In traditional panforte recipes the most common nuts are almonds and hazelnuts. In recent times pistachio nuts, walnuts and macadamia have become common, especially in Australia.

We have also taken liberties with what we do with the nuts – whole or chopped nuts, skin-on, blanched or toasted? This time I used blanched almonds and hazelnuts with their skins – I blanched and toasted the almonds and toasted the hazelnuts and rubbed some of their skin off.

I like black ground pepper and plenty of it; traditional recipes do not add as much as I do, but then again I also like to add black pepper to my fruitcakes. The common spices are cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Some add coriander, and I too have done so in other panforte I have made.

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I added cocoa powder and chopped dark chocolate pieces. I wanted colour, richness and a slight bitterness, a contrast with the sweetness of the fruit. I also thought that the chocolate would melt and once cool would solidify (like in a Florentine biscuit) and make the panforte texture less candied. I used citron and orange peel, figs and ginger (in syrup, but I drained it). I have also eaten panforte with cranberries, cherries and pineapple. Where does one draw the line?

Could I still call what I made panforte? Not likely.

Zenzero (ginger) is not common in Italian cuisine and is not found in panforte, nor are dark chocolate pieces included in the traditional mix.

I used  equal amounts of honey and sugar – the sugar, like toffee makes it brittle, the honey adds flavour and gives the panforte a softer, less brittle consistency.

A little flour and a little butter – the more flour you add, the firmer the texture of the panforte; the more butter the richer and shorter the mixture. I used the chocolate and too much of it and because of the chocolate’s fat high content I should not have used. the butter. My panforte did not end up as chewy as the classic variety of panforte.

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I ended up with a fabulous tasting concoction – how could it not be with all of those good ingredients and flavours. The ginger and pepper makes it very more-ish. But is it panforte?

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I enjoyed making it and shall enjoy eating it and sharing it with friends but not call it a panforte – an experiment perhaps, so that I could make use of all of the ginger in syrup that I had in my pantry.

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A friend went overseas and left me with an incredible amount of  candied ginger. I made a syrup and turned the candied ginger into moist ginger in a very flavourful syrup with the texture of honey.

370 g of nuts – almonds, hazelnuts

370 fruit – figs, citrus, lemon and orange peel

4 tsp ground black pepper

2 tsp ground spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, less quantity of cloves
150g plain flour
4 tsp cocoa powder

150g chopped dark chocolate

1 tsp butter (I used 1 tbs and this was too much)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup honey

Roughly chop the figs, place then into a bowl with the peel and drained ginger
In a different bowl put in the nuts.
Into a large heatproof mixing put in the flour, cocoa and spices. Combine these and stir in the fruit and the nuts.
Heat the oven to 200C
Line containers with baking paper.
Put the white sugar and honey into a pan and gently heat until it bubbles. Keep it on the gentle heat for another minute. Place in the butter.
Work quickly and stir the hot liquid into the other ingredients until well combined, then scrape into the prepared tins and press down. Bake the small ones for about 15mins and larger shapes about 30 minutes. They harden as they cool.
Cool the panforte before turning out. Wrap them in more baking paper until you are ready to gift wrap them in cellophane and sprinkle with icing sugar.

Previous posts about panforte:

PANETTONE AND PANFORTE for an ITALIAN CHRISTMAS

PANFORTE again and again

A SAVOURY COEUR À LA CRÈME to accompany a summer fresh tomato salad or summer vegetables

It is summer and time to celebrate a good tomato.

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I like making tomato salads like my parents used to make – with tomatoes, celery, fresh onion, basil or oregano, salt and good extra virgin olive oil.

And as the mood takes me, I sometimes like to accompany a tomato salad with one of the following simple dairy trimmings, like: bocconcini or mozzarella,  treccia,  ricotta, straciatellaburrata or marinaded feta or a panna cotta made with feta or gorgonzola.

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Including the protein makes an excellent starter …..or as my parents did – eat a tomato salad with ricotta or bocconcini for lunch almost every day of summer.

I was in Gippsland yesterday and visited Bassine; they make a range of cheeses on the premises.

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I have been there before and have purchased various cheeses, but yesterday I came home with some quark and thought that would experiment and make a savoury coeur à la crème. 

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Coeur à la crème is usually served with berries but I thought that I could accompany my savoury coeur à la crème with a tomato salad. Alternatively roasted (or charred) peppers or  slow roasted baby tomatoes would also be great… or fried red peppers (peperonata) or lightly sautéed  zucchini and mint could be terrific…I could go on.

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You need muslin and a mold or container that allows drainage. I used a traditional ceramic, heart shape dish for making a coeur à la crème, but any container that is perforated with holes to drain off the excess moisture of the cheese or a colander can be used as an alternative.

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I used the following ingredients:

250 gm each quark, 1 cup of Greek yogurt, 100g of marinaded feta, fresh thyme leaves ground pink peppercorns, 1 peeled clove of garlic, ½ cup pf milk, ½ cup good quality olive oil.

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In a small sauce pan warm the milk over low heat. Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes and then strain out.

Combine cheeses and yogurt – you want the mixture fairly smooth so use a food processor or work it with a spoon.

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Add the thyme,  ground pink peppercorns and infused milk. 

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Line the mould with muslin (enough to cover the mold) and sprinkle with olive oil.

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Put cheese mixture into the mold, sprinkle with more olive oil and cover it with the left over muslin.

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Place the mold into a container or tray to catch the whey (liquid that drains away). Stand overnight in the fridge.

Carefully turn the mold out onto a serving plate.

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Serve with a tomato salad or anything thing else that catches your fancy.

Next time I make a ‘Coeur,’ I may try ricotta and herbs – no feta, no yogurt.

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Recipes of summer vegetables:

PEPERONATA – PIPIRONATA (Sicilian) Braised peppers

FRIED ZUCCHINI – ZUCCHINE FRITTE (Zucchini are called CUCUZZEDDI in Sicilian)

PUMARORU CA CIPUDDA (Tomatoes with onions). INSALATA DI POMODORO (Tomato salad)

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

ANTIPASTO – GRILLED SUMMER VEGETABLES AND A SCOOP OF SALADS

BURRATA, MOZARELLA, STRACCIATELLA

Coeur a la Crème made with Labneh

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CARCIOFI ALLA ROMANA

Carciofi alla romana are cooked upside down.

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Globe artichokes, if stuffed, are cooked upright.

I love globe artichokes and I usually stuff, braise them and eat them hot or cold. If peas or broad beans are in season, they too are added to the braise. A mixture of fresh breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic and grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese is probably my most frequent stuffing, but at other times I have used minced meat, or added black olives and anchovies, or for a delicate stuffing I have used ricotta and almond meal. Each globe artichoke is likely to hold about ½ cup of stuffing and some of the larger artichokes hold more.

Once stuffed, the globe artichokes are placed upright and packed tightly into a pan and braised in white wine and/or stock. Extra virgin olive oil is an essential ingredient and it is used liberally.

Small artichokes are ideal to cook alla romana – as the Romans do.

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The artichokes (carciofi) that are available and that are still in season in Melbourne are these little, purple, spiny ones. The globe artichokes that were in season prior to these have nearly finished, but there are still some of the baby ones around – those that will never develop into full size (like tomatoes at the end of the season that never ripen). These baby artichokes (carciofini) are usually preserved under oil.

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For carciofi alla romana, use the smallest artichokes you can find, but the small, purple, spiny ones would be my preference. In this recipe, the artichokes are also stuffed, but lightly …about a teaspoon of stuffing for each.

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For the stuffing for the number of artichokes I had (9) I used 1 large clove of garlic, ½ cup fresh parsley finely chopped, ½ cup fresh mint finely chopped, salt and pepper and all mixed with a little extra, virgin olive oil.

Carciofi alla romana are also braised, but they are placed upside down and I use greater amounts of oil in the braising liquid – a mixture of water and a little white wine, but  the  aim is to have very little, concentrated and flavourful liquid at the end of cooking, and this will be mostly oil.

Clean and prepare the artichokes as you would the globe artichokes. Use acidulated water (1 lemon). Peel off the tough outer leaves until you get to the softer paler leaves. The stems of my artichokes were not worth peeling, but it they are peel the outer layer of the stem and as is usually the way with this recipe, keep the stems attached to the base if you can. Cut approximately 1/3 of the top of the artichoke to remove the spiny leaves. Using your fingers ease the leaves apart in the centre of each artichoke to form a space for the stuffing.

Mix the garlic, parsley, seasoning and mint together with 1 tablespoon of oil. Stuff the artichokes with this mixture.

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Place about 1 cm of olive oil in the bottom of a narrow pot and arrange the artichokes close together and side by side…. but upside down. Add a little white wine and enough water to reach about 1/3 from the top of the height of the artichoke. Add salt and pepper, cover and simmer over low heat until the artichokes are soft and can be easily pierced with a fork.

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Check them occasionally and if they are too dry add a little water if necessary in small amounts.

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When the artichokes are cooked, remove the lid, turn up the heat and evaporate the liquid until you have mainly oil.  Remove the artichokes from the pot, drizzle the liquid over them and serve them at room temperature.

There are a number of recipes on my blog about artichokes and accompanying  photos. Artichokes are not difficult to prepare and cook, and they are delicious. To find other recipes, use the search button on my blog and key in Artichokes.

 

FLAVOURED BUTTER TO DRESS AND ENHANCE TASTE

I hesitate to write recipes that are just so simple, but recently I was reminded how a simple herb butter can enhance simply grilled or steamed fish, meat or vegetables, bread etc. Grilled vegetables seem to be the pick of the month – enhance them with a flavoured butter.

While in South Australia I ate and drank very well in a number of restaurants, most had unusual combinations of excellent South Australian produce, others like Skillogalee Winery Restaurant in the Clare Valley had simple fare, more conventional and perfectly geared to the wide range of people who visit wineries and can enjoy a relaxing afternoon.

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Our group of four sat in the garden and one of the dishes we chose to share was Port Lincoln whole sardines served with lime and parsley butter with bread. We ordered 2 serves of these sardines.

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So modest, but so delicious. Sometimes we forget how something so quickly and simply made can really enhance a dish.

Some of you may remember the craze for the Beurre Maître d’Hôtel, also referred to as Maître d’Hôtel butter or Compound butter – It is simply butter combined with herbs, pepper and lemon juice and typically formed into a cylinder and sliced.  A circular disc of Maître d’Hôtel butter was centrally plonked on top of a grilled steak –  a technique used by many high-end steak houses in the eighties and early nineties…. people in Adelaide may remember The Arkaba Steak Cellar.

With a little imagination, different herbs instead of parsley will impart different flavours and grated lemon or lime peel will boost the citrus taste.

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To make lime and parsley butter sufficient for 4-6 sardines and bread begin with 1 cup unsalted good quality butter at room temperature, 1-2 teaspoons of lime zest, 2 teaspoons of fresh lime juice, 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley chopped very finely and a little salt and pepper to taste.

Use a fork to beat the butter in a bowl until smooth and creamy. Mix zest, juice and gradually add parsley salt, and black pepper into the butter until thoroughly combined.

Taste it and if it is necessary to alter it add more of any of the ingredients to make it to your taste. Rest in the fridge to return consistency and enhance the flavour.

If you wish to store it and give it that 1980’s shape, wrap it in foil or in baking paper keep it in the fridge until ready to use.

All grilled fish and not just sardines can be used, as all meat and vegetables.

Instead of parsley, add different herbs – rosemary, thyme, sage, dill, basil, fennel fronds, tarragon, chives, oregano, marjoram, coriander are simple examples.

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Garlic, ginger, horseradish, paprika, pink pepper, spices….need I go on?

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Only to say that I rather like finely chopped anchovy fillets combined in butter – begin with 1 tablespoon of chopped anchovies to 1 cup pf butter and add more if it is not to your taste.

For miso butter – begin with 1 tablespoon of white miso and proceed as above. Red or brown miso can also be used.

Recently I also tried mixing some chopped lavender leaves into butter to present with scones. Not too much lavender  or it could taste medicinal.

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PRODUCE IN GIPPSLAND – Campside Eating

If you are ever in Gippsland (Victoria) I recommend seeking out Oak and Swan sourdough made by Betsy and Greg Evans. Their produce is fabulous and their range is extensive for such a small, home bakery.

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Oak and Swan Sourdough is a small, wood fired organic bakery in Mardan, South Gippsland. They mill their own flour from organic Victorian grain and bake their sourdoughs in their wood fired oven. Now that is Special!.

I bought two loaves of sourdough bread – the Sifted Wheat and the Khorasan – and currant buns from the Foster Farmers Market – on the 3rd Saturday of every month from 8am until 12 noon in the Foster War Memorial Art Centre gardens. The buns had a hint of sweetness, you could smell and taste the yeast and they had a great texture.

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Each Saturday Betsy also sells their bread at one of the Farmers Market in the area, in Koonwarra , Coal Creek and the Prom Coast. If you cannot get to one of these Saturday Farmers Markets in this beautiful and lush part of Victoria, there are other stockists in Gippsland. A few local restaurants also include this exceptionally good bread in their restaurants.

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I like to buy 100% Spelt or Rye and did not know about Khorasan, an ancient variety of golden, coloured wheat, that has been largely unchanged by breeding over the last several hundred years. It takes its name from a historical region lying in northeast of Greater Persia, including part of northeastern Iran, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. It is being grown by various certified organic farmers from central Queensland to northern NSW. Khorasan wheat is distinctive and is about three times larger than most modern wheat.

The taste of well-fermented, natural sourdough matures and both loaves kept their texture and tasted great over the of six days that they lasted us – my partner and I mainly camped so we weren’t necessarily taking as much care of the bread as we would at home, but we did store it in a fabric bag so that it would not sweat.

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Wherever I travel, I buy local as much as possible and I was not disappointed – the organic pork was great (Amber Creek Farm), the extra virgin olive oil (Golden Creek Olives) as was the two cheeses we were able to purchase (Riverine Blue made with Buffalo Milk and Pangrazzi. camembert).

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I also purchased field mushrooms and I cooked them with the pork. When one is cooking in the bush, flavours seem to intensify – these mushrooms were big in size and flavour, rich and meaty. Once again, sautéed in extra virgin olive oil, garlic and a dash of good balsamic vinegar or wine.

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Most wineries are only open on weekends and this time we were not able to visit some of the wineries, however we drank and bought some Gippsland wine from the Fish Creek Bar/ Pub.

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A winery I would recommend is Waratah Hills, located on the road to Wilsons Promontory National Park.

We collected watercress from the Tarra River and we had a cabin Tarra Valley Caravan Park “Fernholme”. We had it in salads and there was so much of it that I also sautéed it with extra virgin olive oil and garlic.

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Oak and Swan Sourdough have a good informative website:

http://oakandswansourdough.com.au/

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BITTER GREENS and AMARI (Aperitivi and Digestivi)

When I was a child and had a tummy ache my mother used to give me an infusion of chamomile – and I bet that many other Italian children experienced the same remedy. I was also given it when I could not sleep and she rinsed my hair with chamomile – it was supposed to keep it fair and make it shiny. Chamomile was a magic herb.

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My father asserted that a canarino (canary) was better. It is made by boiling lemon peel in water. This concoction was another multi-purpose panacea used for tummy aches, nausea, insomnia, colds, coughs, sore throats and fevers when you felt cold and shivery. He also would share hi Dutch salted liquorice with me – aniseed and fennel are renown for assisting digestion.

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Carob tree near Ragusa

My father’s sister who lives in Sicily is a great advocate for the healing and nutritive properties of carob. She claims it cures respiratory tract infections and it treats diarrhoea.

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Ingredients for a simple salad- red radicchio,frisée and chicory

I was told that the more bitter the green, the better it was for my liver; the stimulation of bile flow was important to break down fats.

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My family always ate large quantities of bitter greens – all the  different types of radicchio (we lived in Trieste where it was plentiful). The photo above: radicchio Triestino – a very small leafed variety of radicchio.

There were different types of chicory, Belgium endives (whitlof), rocket, escarole, cardoons and globe artichokes. Vegetables that have strong sulphur smells like cime di rapa or cime di rape, Brussel sprouts and radishes were also favourites.

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When we visited Sicily, our relatives made sure to feed us edible weeds (erbe spontanie) – matalufo, agghiti (in Ragusa’s dialect), bitter chicory, different varieties of mustard greens and brassicas, wild rocket, puntarelle, wild fennel fronds and wild asparagus – the two types of wild asparagus are particularly bitter. Photos below and above: wild greens in Sicilian markets.

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So, as you can see, because of my history and my Italian culture I had my digestive health covered.

As an adult, I had an inherent appreciation of bitter flavours and much appreciated an Amaro, not just because I liked the taste but because I believed that it aids digestion.

Amaro (Italian for “bitter”) is usually drunk as a digestive before a meal (an aperitivo) or after meals (a digestivo). There are many local and regional versions of these alcoholic beverages – examples of some well-known Amari are Aperol, Averna, Cynar and Fernet-Branca.

These bitter, alcoholic beverages are usually referred to as being herb based, but they are made of various and numerous vegetables, fruit, berries, bark, flowers, herbs, roots and spices macerated in alcohol diluted with water to obtain the desired gradation. They are also sweetened and range from bittersweet to intensely bitter.

The oldest recipes for herb-based beverages were usually formulated by pharmacists, botanists, and enthusiasts, many in monasteries and convents. The recipes have been developed over time by wine and spirit companies and the alcohol content of Amari varies between 11% and 40%.

Restaurants in Italy may offer a dozen selections of Amari, especially after a meal, but unfortunately, Amari are not beneficial aids to digestion – the beneficial properties of the herbs are reduced or eliminated and the higher the alcohol content, the slower the breakdown of food.

If you want to eat more, it makes sense to drink an Amaro as an aperitivo – the bitter flavours may stimulate the taste buds and increase the secretion of saliva and gastric juices.

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Aperol has an alcohol content of 11%—less than half that of Campari. Averna is considered an excellent digestive liqueur, but the alcohol content is 29%, Ramazzotti is 30% and Fernet is 40%.

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Wild fennel in Catania market

Aniseed liqueur is distilled from the fruit of the green aniseed plant along with other aromatic ingredients – but Sanbuca is 48% alcohol.

If we really wish to help our digestion after a meal, we may be better off with the simple home-made infusions. Popular home-made infusions, apart from chamomile, often contain fennel seeds, peppermint, sage, ginger and rosemary.

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Kale 

I still enjoy my bitter greens and since living in Australia I have broadened the range of bitter greens that I eat – watercress, dandelions, the wide range of Asian mustard greens and varieties of kale and frisée.

Posts and recipes for bitter greens:

SICILIAN EDIBLE WEEDS and Greek VLITA

NETTLES (Ortiche), Culinary uses and gnocchi

EDIBLE WEEDS: Orecchiette e Broccoletti Selvatici (and cime di rape)

CIME DI RAPE (A winter green)

MINESTRA MARITATA, peasant soup from Calabria

INSALATA DI FRISÉE ( Composite Salad made with frisée)

CICORIA (Chicory)

CICORETTA CON SALSICCIA (Chicory with fresh pork sausage)

KALE SALAD with Italian Flavours

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CARCIOFI (Artichokes)

CARCIOFI (Artichokes and how to clean them and prepare them for cooking)

CARCIOFI IMBOTTITI (Stuffed artichokes)IN PRAISE OF WINTER VEGETABLES

IN PRAISE OF WINTER VEGETABLES

CARRUBA (Carob) and its uses

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SEA URCHINS – how to clean and eat them (RICCI DI MARE)

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Sea urchins are messy to clean and you may feel cheated when find that not all of them are as endowed of gonads as the others, but they are worth it.

Use scissors and place the sea urchin face up.

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To extract the gonads (this is what we eat), enter through the mouth and cut around the top of the urchin with scissors. Wear thick gloves.

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The gonads of both male and female sea urchins are usually referred to as ‘roe’ or ‘corals’ and they can vary in colour from yellow- orange to light brown.

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Lift off what you have cut and do not be put off by the amount of “black gunk”.

Pour out the black liquid and discard. Use a small coffee spoon or tweezers to extract the roe. Use the tweezers to pluck any residue black matter.

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I like to eat them with a sauce on some bread. It is the same sauce that I use to make Spaghetti con Ricci – Spaghetti with Sea Urchins.

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See:

RICCI DI MARE – Sea Urchins

SPAGHETTI CHI RICCI – SPAGHETTI CON RICCI DI MARE (Spaghetti with sea urchins)

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Special emphasis on Sicilian recipes within Italian regional cuisine in an Australian context