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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Pork Hock, Polish Wedding Sausage, Borlotti and Sauerkraut =IOTA (a lean version)

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Iota (also Jota) is always a delight to eat and to talk about with friends, many of them surprised to discover that it is a regional and traditional Italian  dish from Trieste, a town in the region of Fruili Venezia Giulia and north of Venice.

The fat content in Iota can be high, but there are ways to make Iota less fatty.

Borlotti beans, soaked overnight and then cooked.

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Pork Hock, placed in cold water and simmered until soft and used to make broth. Add potatoes about 30 minutes before the end of cooking.  Remove the lean meat and use this for the. Skim the fat off the pork hock broth.

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Use the broth to cook the sauerkraut . When the sauerkraut is cooked add half the borlotti beans and potatoes and with a potato masher mash the contents.

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Add more whole beans the rest of the potatoes (cubed) the pork hock meat and the Wedding Sausage (I like this because it is lean meat).

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And there you have it – a lean Iota.

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There are other posts for making Iota and these include quantities of ingredients:

IOTA (Recipe, a very thick soup from Trieste) Post 1

IOTA FROM TRIESTE, Italy, made with smoked pork, sauerkraut, borlotti beans – Post 2

YEARNING FOR VITELLO TONNATO

Now and again I feel nostalgic for the “old” food. From my childhood, I often hanker for Vitello Tonnato. It is eaten cold, can be easily prepared beforehand and is a perfect dish as a starter or as a main meal. Left overs make a perfect panino.

There is an earlier post with the recipe for Vitello Tonnato,  but this time I will let the photos guide the cooking.

I used a grirello – the eye round steak. The vegetables are onion, celery, carrots, garlic and herbs. I have tied the herbs (bay, rosemary, thyme) with string so that they can be easily removed at the end of cooking. Usually I like to include sage, but I have none growing at the moment.

I insert slices of garlic into the meat.

Some recipes indicate that the vegetables and meat can be boiled. I do not always repeat what my mother did but like her I lightly brown the vegetables and meat and this does add to the taste.  I used a fish kettle for the cooking.

There is a bottle of white wine and some chicken stock ready to add. I added about 1 cup of wine and 2 cups of stock.

The liquid will add flavour and keep the meat moist. I always evaporate the juices at the end to concentrate the flavours of the sauce. Add seasoning.

Cook the meat to your liking. My mother always cooked it till it was very well done – that is how the older generation cooked meat in those times. My meat is lightly pink, but could have been rarer –  on this occasion I had guests who prefer their meat well done.

Cool the meat and slice thinly.

Now for the sauce: egg mayonnaise, drained tuna (packed in oil), capers, anchovies and some of the vegetables that were used in the cooking of the meat. If the reduced sauce has cooled and jellied, add a little of the sauce.

Blend  the ingredients. before adding the mayonnaise.

Add the mayonnaise and this is the sauce.

Build the layers – slices of meat, topped with the sauce. I made it the day before I served it. The sauce penetrates and softens the meat.

I have had modern versions of this dish in a number of places, both in Australia and Italy and the preference seems to be to place the sauce on top of some slices without covering each layer of meat.

I  like the meat to be smothered with the tuna sauce.

Decorate it as you wish. This time was not my best, I used the left over carrots, topped them with strips of anchovies, stuffed olives cut in half and pink peppercorns. My mother probably would not have approved.

SEE:
VITELLO TONNATO

CHICKEN LAYERED WITH A TUNA AND EGG MAYONNAISE,  A cold Chicken dish

INSALATA RUSSA (Party time – Russian salad)

PESCE IN BIANCO (Plain fish). MAIONESE (Mayonnaise)

POLLO ALLA MESSINESE (A cold chicken dish similar to Vitello Tonnato from Messina)

 

GREAT ITALIAN CHEFS’ RECIPES, 10 best Sicilian dishes

This site, Great Italian Chefs, is worth looking at. It is part of the Great British Chefs website and on this site you will find information about  some of the different regions of Italy and regional recipes.

The recipes are ‘great’ and are by professional chefs.

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I too have posted many of these recipes on my blog and a passatempo – pass-the-time, a diversion, you could compare their recipes with mine.

10 best Sicilian Dishes:

https://www.greatitalianchefs.com/features/10-best-sicilian-dishes

I have written about them before:

GREAT BRITISH CHEFS, GREAT ITALIAN CHEFS, Feature articles by Marisa Raniolo Wilkins

PESCE CRUDO, raw fish dishes in Sicily

ALSO10 MUST-TRY DISHES WHEN YOU ARE IN SICILY

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LUGANIGHE CON CAPUZI GARBI – Sausages and sauerkraut, and yes, it is Italian regional cuisine

As a child, I lived in Trieste with my parents, and Ragusa, Catania and Augusta were the towns in Sicily where my Sicilian relatives lived. Both Trieste (located at the head of the Gulf of Trieste in the  region Friuli-Venezia Giulia) and Sicily are at the extreme ends of Italy, and as you would expect, the cuisines are very different.

I grew up with both cuisines and appreciate them both for very different reasons.

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Capuzi garbi  (or crauti/krauti) is sauerkraut in Triestino (the Triestine dialect) and it is a very popular ingredient in Triestine cuisine especially when mixed in Gulash (made with pork or beef), or with a lump of smoked pork, or luganighe (Triestine) – salsicce di maiale in Italian, and pork sausages for us mere mortals in the English speaking world.

When you look at a map of Italy, it is easy to see why this part of Italy has common roots with the cooking of Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Istria.

I have German and Polish friends and they too are fond of sauerkraut, and like my relatives and friends from Trieste, they tend to overcook it; my mother also did this when she cooked capuzi garbi.

But as we know, cuisine evolves and some of us have taken on new methods of cooking traditional foods.

In my kitchen, I cook sauerkraut for about a quarter of the time as the traditional method and at times, I also like to add a little fresh cabbage to lighten the taste and to add a different texture.  A little flour  browned in a little oil is added to the sauerkraut towards the end of cooking, but not me, and unlike my Triestine contemporaries I also add caraway seeds, bay leaves and a dash of white wine.

The ingredients are: pork sausages, sauerkraut, bay leaves and caraway seeds. Onion, extra virgin olive oil and pepper (the sauerkraut could be sufficiently salty). Fresh cabbage and a dash of white wine are optional.

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Drain the sauerkraut and squeeze out the moisture. Soften some onion in a little oil (in Trieste lard is also common and added to the oil).

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Adding a little white or savoy cabbage is optional.

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And with the cabbage also add the sauerkraut and the rest. A dash of white wine will keep it moist while it cooks.

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Cover and cook for about 15- 20 minutes on low heat until the sausages are nearly cooked and the flavours have had a chance to meld.

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Remove the sauerkraut and slightly brown the sausages – only for appearance.

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A few of the other recipes from Trieste:

MARINADED FISH and a recipe for PESCE IN SAOR

IOTA (Recipe, a very thick soup from Trieste) Post 1

IOTA FROM TRIESTE, Italy is made with smoked pork, sauerkraut, borlotti beans-Post 2

Traditional Easter Sweets in Trieste in Friuli Venezia Giulia

INSALATA RUSSA (Party time – Russian salad)

APPLE STRUDEL (TRIESTE: Strucolo de pomi)

GULASCH (Goulash as made in Trieste)

PATATE as a contorno (Two recipes for ‘squashed’ potatoes).