A SOUP MADE WITH SICILIAN VEGETABLES and where to buy the seeds

This soup tastes magnificent, but unless you have a Sicilian friend whose mother grows tenerumi you don’t have a chance!

I have only been lucky once and I was able to buy tenerumi from a Sicilian grower who was selling them at a Farmers’ Market. This was a rare and lucky find!

The tenerumi are only part of that soup and they are the green leaves that you can see in the soup and in the photos below. They are the leaves (together with tendrils in the photo) of a long,  snakelike squash (Cucuzza) plant that is grown on trellises. It is a seasonal summer plant.

I have inserted links at the bottom of this post so that you can see what the plants look like and where you can purchase some seeds.  Maybe you can plant them in time for next summer!

The other components for the soup are easily identified: ripe tomatoes, garlic and zucchini. There is also fresh basil in the soup, but somehow I have omitted  them in the photo.

This time, my Sicilian friend did not bring me the Sicilian Cucuzza but she brought me two types of zucchini that  she is growing in her garden and that I have not encountered before – Zucchini Costata Romanesco and Zucchini Tromboncino.

The Zucchini Costata Romanesco are the two at the front of the photo above and in the photo below.

In the main photo, the one behind the Zucchini Costata Romanesco is a Zucchini Tromboncino (means small trumpet in Italian), and you can see why.

And this Zucchino (singular of Zucchini) tasted amazing! It was much longer when my friend brought it but we nibbled away at it raw in salads. It is much sweeter tasting and not at all as watery as the standard Zucchini. It grows on a vine!

Then there was the broth. Interestingly enough adding broth or stock or wine to cooking is not necessarily a common procedure for Sicilian cooking. The broken spaghetti are added to the soup last of all and I need to add, in greater quantities.

So, some links to recipes first. When you read the recipes you will notice that the Tenerumi do not necessarily have to be cooked with the Cucuzza or zucchini, but on this occasion I combined the two.

Tenerumi and Sicilian Zucca

You will need to have, sufficient broth/water in the pan if you intend to cook the pasta in the soup (this is the usual method). I cooked the pasta separately and then added to each dish last of all. Some like more pasta, some do not…. unheard of in Sicily!

A drizzle on top of good extra virgin olive oil, is always a good thing, on any dish!

Each of the recipes below are different versions of the same soup:

ZUCCA LUNGA SICILIANA  long, green variety of squash

MINESTRA DI TENERUMI (Summer soup made with the tendrils of a Sicilian squash)

TENERUMI (and I did not have to go to SICILY to buy it). The Melbourne Showgrounds Farmers Market

KOHLRABI and TENERUMI, shared between cultures of Sicily and Vietnam

MINESTRA ESTIVA CON ZUCCA LUNGA SICILIANA, Sicilian Summer soup made with the long, green variety of squash

Now for the seeds:

For Zucchini Tromboncino and Zucchini Costata Romanesco look them up in:

https://www.diggers.com.au

Zucchini 'Costata Romanesco'

Zucchini 'Tromboncino'

And for the Cucuzza:

https://veggiegardenseeds.com.au

Squash Cucuzza | X 10 Seeds

 

 

 

 

THE MANY VERSIONS OF CAPONATE

Any cooking and eating is greatly influenced by the variations in weather especially the temperature and the available seasonal produce. Abundant in summer are eggplants, tomatoes, zucchini and peppers/capsicum and at this time of year I like to use this produce as much as possible. Summer is also a time for grilled food.

I particularly like grilled sardines but strangely enough, for the past three weeks at the Queen Victoria Market where I shop, there have not been any,  however they seem to be abundant on restaurant menus.

Squid has been available and tastes fantastic grilled, the charring adds so much flavour and character.  The tentacles are good too and apart from having a more intense flavour they offer a different texture. Squid will not need much cooking, especially if it has been marinading beforehand for an hour or so: cook the squid quickly – about 5 mins on one side, flip it over and cook the other side for less. The marinade can be as uncomplicated as a little extra virgin olive oil, salt and a few herbs of your choice. To the marinade this time, I also added a splash of white wine.

A simple drizzle of good, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice could be sufficient as a finishing dressing, especially it you are accompanying the squid with some flavourful side dishes.

As for the accompanying dishes, I made two different Sicilian caponate (plural of caponata) and a green salad. Not many guests cook caponate themselves and they especially appreciate the different versions of caponata .

Caponate taste better if cooked days before. They are presented at room temperature, so take them out of the fridge about 30 mins before serving. Caponate also make good starters.

I cooked one of the caponate in the oven and used eggplants, onions, celery and peppers/capsicums. To make it different,  apart from baking the vegetables, I also added fennel seeds, plenty of basil and garlic as well as the customary green olives, capers, sugar, vinegar and pine nuts. I definitely prefer the traditional method of sautéing  of each of the vegetables in hot oil. Although I roasted the vegetables at high temperatures, they released far too many juices that I had to evaporate and fiddle excessively with the flavours. In the end it did taste good, but the flavour took far too long to fix.

Place the basil and toasted pine nuts on the caponata at the time of serving and stir them through the cooked ingredients.

The caponata in the photo below is made with celery. This caponata is much quicker to cook and the addition of sultanas accentuate the sweet taste. The vinegar (present in all caponate) provides the sour taste and this cooked salad tastes very much like a pickle.

This celery caponata has the addition of toasted almonds rather than pine nuts.

The celery caponata is very easy to cook because the celery and onions are the only two vegetable ingredients and they can be sautéed in the same pan at the same time. Once they are slightly softened, add the drained and plump sultanas that have been soaking in water for an hour or so.  Add a little sugar and once the sugar begins to caramelise, add a splash of vinegar and evaporate.

The next caponata I intend to present to friends will be a chocolate version. Pieces of dark chocolate are added in the final stages of cooking the eggplant version of caponata that is characteristic of Palermo and its region. The caponata that includes peppers is typical of Catania and its region.

GRILLED CALAMARI (CALAMARI ‘NTA BRACI (Sicilian) – CALAMARI ALLA BRACE (Italian)

*The recipe for squid also has recipes for two accompanying,  Sicilian green, traditional sauces  –  Salmoriglio and Zoggiu

CAPONATA FROM PALERMO (made with eggplants)

CAPONATA Catanese (from Catania) made easy with photos

CAPONATA DI NATALE (Christmas, winter caponata made with celery, almonds and sultanas)

For more recipes for different versions of Caponata, use the search button.

DELICIOUS ITALIAN SUMMER FAVOURITES

November and December are my least favourite months, they are always very busy and although much cooking gets done there is not the time to take photos or to write about it.

Although I am not one to stick to particular traditional, festive foods over the Christmas period there were some occasions where I was asked to make a particular dish.

 Zuppa Inglese and Caponata Catanese must have made such a favourable impression on many friends because there are the preferred requests.

 

The Zuppa Inglese for one of the shared Christmas lunch this year was topped with Chantilly cream, preserved cherries soaked in Maraschino and bits of Torrone with pistachio. Instead of  sherry  traditionally used in English trifle,  Alchermes/Alkermez is the traditional, ancient Florentine liqueur drizzled over the Savoiardi biscuits. I spooned egg custard between the layers.

Recipe for Zuppa Inglese:

ZUPPA INGLESE, a famous, Italian dessert

LONG LIVE ZUPPA INGLESE and its sisters

ALCHERMES/ALKERMES (The liqueur used to make Zuppa Inglese)

The essential ingredients of my Caponata Catanese, a Sicilian caponata from Catania, are eggplant, red and green peppers, celery and onion with green olives (I also added capers). Each of the vegetables in the caponata are separately cooked in olive oil and not mixed together until some sugar is caramelised before adding white wine vinegar that is evaporated and finally some tomatoes that are cooked till reduced to a cream.

Caponata is eaten cold.

I scattered this one with fresh leaves of basil, pine nuts and breadcrumbs toasted in some extra virgin olive oil. The breadcrumbs added the crunch.

Recipes for Caponata:

CAPONATA Catanese (from Catania) made easy with photos

A MOUNTAIN OF CAPONATA  two days before Christmas

CAPONATA SICILIANA (CATANESE  Caponata as made in Catania)

Home-made egg mayonnaise and  Zogghiu, a garlic, mint and parsley green dressing are others; both sauces are fabulous for almost anything, the green sauce is particularly good for grilled food.

Both were excellent with crayfish and the green sauce was particularly good with grilled squid.

Recipes:

ZOGGHIU (Sicilian pesto/dressing made with garlic, parsley and mint)

GRILLED CALAMARI (CALAMARI ‘NTA BRACI (Sicilian) – CALAMARI ALLA BRACE (Italian)

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

I do like a meat broth and one dish I had not made for a very long time was  Stracciatella, so quick and easy and so delicious.

Stracciatella can refer to a Roman soup, a soft and creamy, fresh cheese from Puglia, or a gelato flavour that originated in Lombardy.

The soup is named for the beaten eggs, which look like little straccetti (shredded little rags). The centre of the cheese also has straccetti – heavy cream with shards of soft, fresh mozzarella type cheese.

It is simply meat broth with eggs, chopped fresh parsley, grated nutmeg and Parmigiano.

To prepare, bring the meat broth to a boil.  Using a fork beat the eggs with chopped parsley, nutmeg and grated Parmigiano and add the mixture to the broth over low heat, whisking constantly. You can make the soup as thick as you like.

Although the Christmas period is over, all of the recipes I have provided are summer recipes.

I hope that you enjoyed your Christmas period.

VITELLO TONNATO MADE WITH GIRELLO (cut of meat)

Vitello Tonnato was a festive dish in my childhood home and it has remained so in mine.

In my childhood home, it was presented as an entrée when we had guests.

Nowadays, of course, very few of us have definite first and second courses. Anything goes! I am smiling as I write this – doing away with some conventions isn’t a bad thing. But years back, I would never have ordered a risotto, soup or pasta as my main course! Never.

When my mother made Vitello Tonnato, she always pot roasted the veal. The veal was cooked slowly with the usual broth vegetables – an onion cut in half, a carrot and a stick of celery. There were also herbs – bay leaves, a bit of rosemary and mainly sage. Sage always with veal and pork, my mother said. The moisture was supplied by some white wine and stock, or a little water and a stock cube. The vegetables were blended into a little home-made ,egg mayonnaise, some of the very flavourful and naturally jellied gravy/sauce, 2-3 hard boiled eggs, capers and some anchovies. This was the Tonnato sauce; tonno is ‘tuna’ in Italian.  My mother did not use a Girello because she thought that cut of meat would be too dry. She preferred a boned leg of veal. This was yearling beef in Australia.

The finely sliced meat was placed in 4 to 5 layers, each topped with some of the sauce and placed into a serving dish with sides. On top there was a layer of the yellow egg mayonnaise with some sliced hard-boiled eggs and maybe some giardiniera a colourful decoration of Italian garden vegetables pickled in vinegar, that added texture and sourness. Sometimes there were anchovies or capers, or sliced carrot as was one of an earlier versions of Vitello Tonnato.

And it always tasted very good.

Vitello Tonnato originates from Piedmont, but it has become a widely eaten Italian dish.

If you have eaten Vitello Tonnato in an Australian restaurant, you may have had it in a single layer with the tonnato sauce on top. My taste buds and sense of smell are pretty sharp, but rarely have I tasted complex flavours in the Tonnato sauce. There have, however, been a few good ones.

There are many recipes both in the Italian language books/web and many available in English. In most recipes the meat is what I would call boiled or poached. The cut of meat suggested in recipes is mostly Girello, the long, round, nut or eye cut of silverside that is extremely lean that is perfect for slicing. It is found outside of the rear leg.

Even though you may poach the Girello in liquid it can be dry. My mother was sometimes right.

But there is a way to keep it moist, and that is to poach it on a gentle simmer rather than on medium or high heat. The other trick is not to cook it for long and then leave it in the poaching liquid to finish off cooking. If you follow this process, the meat will remain pink and firm. I leave the meat in the poaching liquid to keep it moist until I am ready to slice it.

These days I do use a Girello and I like to sear the meat lightly before I poach it to add colour and taste. Interestingly enough, I have not found many recipes that sear the meat first and perhaps it is why I like and identify with the recipes for Vitello Tonnato from Guy Grossi and Karen Martini. Even Ada Boni just poaches it.

Most recipes add anchovies to the poaching liquid, but I prefer to add them to the Tonnato sauce.

The Meat

1.5k – 1.8k veal/yearling Girello,

1 onion, 1 carrot, 2 celery stalks and some of the tender light green leaves, all thinly sliced,

6 fresh bay leaves, a few sage leaves and whole peppercorns and if you wish, add about 3 juniper berries, or cloves or a teaspoon of fennel seeds and a little salt,

600 ml dry white wine, 250 ml (1 cup) white wine vinegar, 250 ml (1 cup) of chicken stock: this quantity should just cover the meat when it is poaching. Add more of the liquid if necessary.

Extra virgin olive oil for searing the meat and the vegetables.

The Tonnato sauce

4 anchovy fillets, 4 hard boiled eggs, 2 tins (each 425g) of drained good quality, tinned tuna in oil, 2 tablespoons of capers (in this case I don’t mind using the pickled capers), 200 ml of extra virgin olive oil, the juice of one lemon.

Sear the meat on all sides in some oil, remove from the saucepan and sear the vegetables by tossing them around in the pan for about 5 minutes.

 Add the wine, vinegar and stock, herbs, pepper and spices and bring to the boil.

Add the meat, make sure there is enough liquid, and simmer over low heat. Cook it for about 15-20 minutes. Switch it off and leave the meat to keep on cooking and cool in the liquid.

Store the meat in the liquid until you are ready to slice it and assemble it but remove a cup of the poaching stock to reduce to about ¼ of a cup. This is added to the Tonnato sauce.

For the Tonnato sauce, blend the tuna, anchovies, drained capers, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, the reduced liquid and hard-boiled eggs. I also like to add some of the drained celery leaves and sage. I nearly always have some home-made egg mayonnaise in the fridge and also add some of this if the sauce is too thick, otherwise use a little more of the poaching liquid. The sauce needs to be the consistency of mayonnaise.

Slice the veal thinly across the grain. I like to make little mounds of meat for each person, spreading each slice of meat with a little sauce and repeating the process. Depending on the width of the meat each mound will have 2-4 slices.

Top each mound with more sauce. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to serve it. Bring the Vitello Tonnato to room temperature and arrange some sliced boiled eggs and capers on top. A little bit of greenery around it is also good.

YEARNING FOR VITELLO TONNATO

VITELLO TONNATO

 

WILD ROCKET, IT WAS THERE FOR THE TAKING

I love travelling in the country and always, I look for wild produce wherever I am.

This time, while in Eyre Peninsula I found wild rocket. So strong tasting and spicy and very different from garden rocket.

I made the most of it. When one is camping, fresh produce, especially foraged produce is a highlight.

I first found it on a walk in Port Lincoln and as we drove inland there were fields of it, little dark green bushes in the landscape. Amazing!

Wild rocket is not always available to buy, but rocket is. I hesitate to call the leaves that you buy as sweet rocket, because that can taste quite peppery to some palates. Those of you who grow rocket know that once you have it, it can be unmanageable, but the leaves can be used in cooking and you too can make the most of it. You probably already do!

Here are some simple ways I enjoyed the wild rocket. I jazzed up some iceberg lettuce that in some places in the country was the only lettuce available. The contrasts between sweet and peppery worked very well. On another occasion I added feta.

I always take feta that I marinade in extra virgin olive oil with me on camping trips. I also add dried oregano,  fresh bay leaves, anise or fennel seeds and pepper corns .

I had some kale and pumpkin. Both keep well on camping trips and I cooked them with some rocket.

Easy stuff. I always braise or sauté vegetables rather than steaming them. Italians tend to steam vegetables when they are feeling poorly so braising is the way to go.

I also found a few mustard greens that I added to the concoction. Whenever I sauté greens I like to use at least a couple of varieties of greens, indivia/ endives or cicoria/ chicory add bitterness, and  kale / cavolo nero add mustard tastes to sweeter tasting greens like spinach/ silverbeet/ beetroot leaves. Contrasting tastes do wonders! I use extra virgin olive oil, garlic and sometimes chillies.

I sautéed the pumpkin with harissa , also a staple I make to take with me on camping trips. The version I take has dried chilli flakes, caraway seeds, salt and extra virgin olive oil.  I soak the chillies and caraway seeds in some hot water till they swell and then add salt and oil to preserve the harissa. It is fine out of the fridge and suitable for camping as long as you add enough salt and keep on topping up the oil. I do not add garlic in this version or fresh chillies because the fresh ingredients encourage the growth of mold.

Back to the recipe. Once the pumpkin and harissa and some garlic is sautéed in extra virgin olive oil add the greens. Sauté, put a lid on and let soften. Done.

I also found field mushrooms around the Southern Flinders Rangers! Amazing at this time of year, but the weather was wet.

The soil was wet and given a little spring sunshine, there they were!  I added garlic and wild rocket to them and sautéed them in some oil, then added a splash of white wine and evaporated some of the moisture. Pretty good!

I poached some eggs in these mushrooms. The farm fresh eggs were free range and they came on the way to Venus Bay/ Ceduna.   They were free range, I checked! Mind you I did have some Kangaroo Island eggs already in the van and they were cheaper in SA than in VIC.

I also added wild rocket to a Minestra/ Wet Pasta dish made with borlotti beans. I usually cook borlotti beans at home, freeze them and take them with me, but tins of course are OK and for some, more convenient. The kookaburra above was never far away.

Once again, easy stuff. Sauté some onion and garlic in oil, add finely cut rocket, wilt it, add the beans with some of their water. Cook the pasta. Drain it. Add it to the semi liquid beans concoction …and there you have it.  I always drizzle some of my best extra virgin oil on top. The rocket does reduce in mass when cooked, but this was also the last of the rocket. I would have used more if I had it.

Talking about the wild, a highlight was seeing a baby owl/ owlet  in country Victoria.

Other recipes:

HARISSA (A hot chilli condiment)

Harissa made with fresh Chillies

SENAPE, a new type of mustard green vegetable

PASTA E FAGIOLI (Thick bean soup with pasta)

BEING ELDERLY, TRAVELLING and COFFEE

We have been travelling for the last four weeks around parts of Victoria and South Australia. Along the way we have stopped in cafes that looked like they served a good coffee. And I admit we’ve been pretty selective. It’s obvious to any of us who’ve driven around country Australia the number of cafes, pubs and bakeries serving coffee are flourishing, but not all of them make good coffee.

And at a once great railway town south of Port Augusta, we took a chance on one when there was no other option. We have recently bought a modest VW campervan with a homemade conversion that comes with some compromises. For example, to boil a kettle or brew a coffee, you slide out the stove top through the cargo door, which means it’s open to weather. This day, it was raining heavily, blowing a gale, we were cold and we liked some of the buildings in the town and so we pulled up.

There were two people serving and three people who were waiting for takeaways. When one of the staff asked who was next another assistant said:  “That elderly couple over there.”

My partner and I burst out laughing but I do not think anyone got the joke. I explained with humour how we were indeed elderly and were not offended in any way by the comment, but that elderly people did not necessarily see themselves as being of a certain older age and being called that, may take them by surprise. I said this and meant it to mean that we knew the joke was on us.

But wait, there was still more to come.

I ordered coffees for both my partner and myself. I asked for two caffé e latte. The woman (who we assume to be the owner of the café) took issue with my order. Raising her voice so she could share her proprietorship with her two staff and the three customers waiting for their takeaways, she exclaimed: “What do you want? Oh, caffe lattes?” She emphasised.  “We make lattes here. We don’t have fancy names like you city people.” More added emphasis. “You want two lattes? Is that what want?”

My partner meekly said that we would like two lattes. I felt the need to explain that as a person born in Italy, I don’t abbreviate the order to just latte because if you did this in Italy you would be ordering a drink of milk. I even apologised. Then she said that I was in Australia and needed to fit in with Australians if this was my home.

But wait for it, the performance went on. She said that all the tables inside were booked and we had to sit outside. We looked at the weather and tables under the kerb-side veranda. We meekly said that was OK. But where were these customers, when were they arriving, wouldn’t we finish a cup of coffee before they arrived? However, we didn’t challenge the wet-weather option, we knew we were in dangerous territory here and just turned the other cheek.

The coffee took ages to arrive, the assistant who carried it out to us spilled it in the saucers. She said that she was sorry about this and that we would have to sip it from our saucers. Once again we chose to be agreeable and said that we did not mind it being spilled.

By the way, the coffee was nothing like a caffè e latte, no froth whatsoever and very little taste of coffee or milk. We drank it quickly in spite of it being almost undrinkable and exchanged looks of unbelief between us.

I was in shock and made my way to the car. Not only were we elderly but were from the city and I was a foreigner. When my partner went to pay she was going to charge him for a mug sized coffee rather than a cup. He did mediate and pointed out that we had the smaller size.

I looked up the information on the web about this township and was greeted with the description of it being a friendly, peaceful town, a great place to live and visit.

This experience was worlds away from the experience we had when we ordered caffè e latte in Horsham at the Farmhouse Providore & Cafe which was packed with locals and travellers. The café had been recommended by another brilliant roadside stop in Keith, Henry & Rose. The attendant at the Farmhouse did not blink an eyelid when I asked for caffè e latte and asked how we wanted our coffees. Did we want more coffee than milk or the other way around because she knew people had preferences and she wanted to satisfy each of their customers.

I nearly hugged her!

I take making  coffee and tea very seriously.

These are the camping coffee pots and teapot:

See post:

Do I take making coffee at home too seriously?

I sure do.

COOKING ‘ON THE ROAD’

I have not had time to do much writing as I have been travelling quite a bit , both in Victoria, New South Wales and  South Australia and not like some of my friends who have been travelling overseas.

I only take my iPad when I travel and writing posts is not something that I find easy on this device.

I am finding that inserting links to recipes that are already on the blog, pretty impossible and if you are interested in  some of the recipes, for example  about cockles or sea urchins use the search button. I am hoping that the photos are sufficient, but maybe not.

Below are some of the things I have cooked or prepared  lately. When one is ‘on the run’ one does not have the luxury of ingredients from home:

Mushrooms braised with saffron, white wine, tomato paste and parsley.

Goolwa cockles cooked with parsley, garlic and a splash of white wine. Parsley yet to be stirred through.

Braised red cabbage cooked in red wine and bay leaves and some smoked pork with whole meal spaghetti .

King George Whiting braised with with lemon slices,  fennel seeds and white wine. Fried capers till crisp added at last minute.

Sea urchin roe bought in brine and cooked with braised fennel, anchovies, garlic and chillies in wine,  parsley, roe grated lemon rind and lemon juice added right at the very end.

Burrata with basil mayonnaise, soft boiled eggs and a salad of avocado, lettuce, asparagus and baby tomatoes.

SENAPE, a new type of mustard green vegetable

The Italian word senape, is mustard in English, therefore it is very appropriate that this green, leafy vegetable is called Senape.

A few weeks ago I bought one bunch from Il Fruttivendelo, Gus and Carmel’s stall in A shed at the Queen Victoria Market. Unfortunately, they have not been able to source any since.

I did some research and apparently – sinapis arvensis grows wild and around Ragusa in Sicily where my father’s relatives live. More research tells me that these leafy, mustard greens are also common around Etna and the Madonie Mountains.

I  remembered that I encountered Senape (also called Sanapu and Sinàpi) in the Market in Syracuse in 2007 and now realise that I also have a photograph of this wild green in my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking.

The bunch I purchased at the Queen Victoria Market is obviously the cultivated variety of Senape and it tastes very much like one other mustard tasting, leafy green of the Brassica tribe, Cime di rapa (broccoli raab, also known as rapini),

Recently, I was away camping for a couple of weeks and i do enjoy forging. apart from wild lettuce I picked two varieties of wild Brassicas. One variety, I am quite familiar with and I have written about this one many times; it looks and tastes like canola plants, the wild version. I notice that several Australian references call them ‘Wild Cabbage’. Sicilians may call them amareddi or cavuliceddi, rapudda, rapuzza, sanapuddhi and many more local terms.

The photo below demonstrates how in this plant’s advanced stage this variety looks so much like broccolini.

The other variety of wild green I foraged had an intense, fiery mustard taste with a hint of bitterness (photos below).

They tasted fabulous and after some research I think that in Australia these are referred to as ‘Mustard Greens’ and they could be related to the cultivated Indian mustard plant.

Both types have tiny, yellow flowers and unopened buds, similar to the distinctive flowers in broccoli heads,  the same as the Cime di rapa, or the bunch of Senape that I hope to be able to purchase again.

In the wild I foraged and collected the tips – the soft leaves and flowers of both of these wild plants.

In some places  there were plenty around and I made the most of them.

I cooked one harvest with Italian pork sausages and pasta, other yields with cannellini beans and plenty of shaved pecorino and another pasta dish with anchovies and feta.

It is a common practice to cook Cime di rapa or wild greens from the Brassica family by boiling them in plenty of salted water and once cooked they are drained before sautéing in the oil, garlic and chilli. I always omit the pre-cooking  phase and sauté the greens directly with the flavourings.

One disadvantage perhaps of not boiling the greens first is that I cannot use the drained water from the greens to cook the pasta, this being popular with Sicilian cooks. The pasta takes on a green hue and some of the flavour of the vegetables, but I prefer sautéed greens that still have some bite in them.

I cooked the bunch of the  Senape (about 500 gr) I bought from the QVM with ossocollo (smallgoods/cured pork neck), 3 cloves of chopped garlic, about 4 tbs extra virgin olive oil, salt and chilli flakes (or use fresh chilli). Speck or pancetta is also a good substitute for ossocollo, I chose this because I had some in my fridge.

Unlike the preferred quantity of 100g of pasta for each person, I think that 300g of pasta is sufficient for 4 people, however you may disagree.

Clean the green vegetables.

Fry the garlic and chilli, add the ossocollo and leave to  lightly brown in a pan.

Add the Senape and sauté it. I added some salt, a splash of white wine, put the lid on and cooked it till I was satisfied with the degree of done-ness.

Dress the drained pasta. I always like to drizzle some fresh extra virgin olive oil on the finished dish to add fragrance and accentuate the taste.

No grated Parmesan on pasta in Sicily, leave that to the northern Italians!

Parmesan can only be called Parmesan if produced in the neighbouring historical regions of Parma and Reggio (in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna). It is given the DOP label by the European Union (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta/Protected Designation of Origin). The DOP label guarantees that the product is “authentic,” or made in the original town or region with proper ingredients and process.

Use Pecorino, a strong-tasting alternative for a strong tasting dish. Pecorino is made from sheep’s milk and  Pecorino cheeses that have DOP protection are the Pecorino from Sardinia, Lazio and the Tuscan Province of Grosseto and Pecorino Toscano from Tuscany, and from Sicily.

Other Posts about wild greens:

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

SICILIAN EDIBLE WEEDS and Greek VLITA

CIME DI RAPE (or Rapa) with pasta, anchovies and lemon peel

ONE OF MY FAVOURITE VEGETABLES ; Cime di Rape

ORTICHE – NETTLES in Risotto, Fresh pasta and Frittata

This post is about  using nettles in a risotto, fresh egg green pasta dough and a frittata.

It is also a celebration for the stall called IL FRUTTIVENDOLO in the Queen Victoria Market. This is where the nettles were purchased.

The information about nettles that I have  included in this post is by Richard Cornish from the 2022 August 16  issue of The Age Digital Edition.  I have included his text in italics. The article was published a couple of days after I made my frittata  and it has  greatly facilitated my writing about nettles.

What is it?

The botanic name for the stinging nettles genus is Urtica, coming from the Latin ‘‘ to burn’’ . These annual wild plants have deeply serrated leaves and hairs or trichomes on the leaves and stems that break off and shoot a little homegrown hypodermic under the skin. Packed with chemicals such as acetylcholine, histamine and serotonin, they cause temporary stinging and swelling. Those hairs disappear with washing and cooking, rendering the plant both harmless and delicious.

The nettle plant is called ortica. Nettles are called ortiche in Italian, and the stinging hairs do disappear very easily.

For making any nettle dish, wear rubber gloves and clean them  by stripping the leaves from any tough stems, but I kept the soft tips.

Why do we love it?

Sydney edible wild plant expert and author Diego Bonetto, author of Eat Weeds, says stinging nettles have been eaten in Australia for tens of thousands of years. ‘‘We have three species of nettles in Australia – one with long, narrow leaves is a native. The other two are exotic.’’ They are a source of minerals such as magnesium and have a lot of linoleic acids, which help lower LDL cholesterol. ‘‘ Tea made from stinging nettle is known as a blood tonic in many cultures,’’ says Benotto. Victorian chef Glenn Laurie would tramp through native stinging nettles on fishing trips with his dad in Gippsland. ‘‘I didn’t learn how delicious they were until I started cooking with them at The River Cafe in London,’’ he says.

‘‘They were cooked into the risotto, where they added bright green, a fresh note and luscious texture to the rice.’’ At La Cantina at Freshwater Creek, near Anglesea, nettles have sprung up where the compost was.

I too have made risotto with nettles and if any of you have made a spinach risotto you will have the process for making it under control. Here is a simple recipe with nettles. The same recipe can also be used substituting English spinach. I think that 300g of rice is sufficient for 6 people but use more if you wish.

carnaroli rice or arborio, 300g
nettles, 1 bunch or anything from 250-400g nettles
extra virgin olive oil
white wine, 1 cup
vegetable or chicken stock, 1 litre, heated
onion or leek, 1
butter, 40g
salt and pepper to taste
Parmigiano, good quality, grated to taste

Clean the nettles, wearing gloves; wash the leaves under cold water.

Make a nettle purée . Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in a pan, add the nettles and wilt them by covering with a lid. Add about a cup of stock and cook them till they are soft. It will not take long, depending on the quantities of the nettles, for about 5-10 minutes. Once they are cooked, blend the nettles and make a purée.

Make the risotto: Sauté the onion or leek with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, add the rice and toast it by mixing it for a few minutes. Add the white wine and evaporate it. Add some of the stock and continue cooking it by adding more stock until the rice is nearly cooked. Add the nettles and finish cooking. Risotto should never be dry.  Italians say – all’onda (like waves).

Stir in the butter just before serving and present it with grated cheese. I also like to grate a little nutmeg on the risotto, especially when I am making it with spinach.

‘‘We make pasta with a puree of cooked leaves. You need to get as much of the moisture out [before mixing into the dough] because it will affect the ratio of flour and liquid,’’ Laurie says. He loves serving nettle puree enriched with extra virgin olive oil alongside seafood.

Once again, the process of making fresh, green pasta with nettles is the same as when using spinach.

Suggested ingredients and amounts: 300g durum wheat four, 2 eggs, 90g of pureed spinach.

Wilt the spinach, leaving some of the water retained by the leaves and cook till softened. Drain them, squeeze them as much as possible. This is when some muslin or a cotton cloth could come in handy to squeeze out the liquid.  Blend them and cool before using. In a bowl, combine the flour and eggs, add the spinach puree and start working everything, use a fork at first to mix the ingredients. Continue by hand to knead well and depending on the size of the eggs  and moisture in the spinach you may need to add a little flour water to have the right consistency. Rest it for about an hour, covered with a tea towel  Roll it and cut it to shape.

How do you use it?

While Italian nonnas appear to handle nettles with impunity, it’s best to wear rubber gloves, handling the plants from the base of the stem, and wash them in a sink of cold water to remove grit. Blanch in boiling water for a minute then refresh in iced water.

A nonna is not likely to purchase a bunch of nettles,  she or a family  member would  collect them from the wild.  I have collected nettles on many occasions, armed with scissors, thick rubber gloves and large plastic bags.

After cleaning and washing the nettles,  you can blanch them but I put them in a small bowl and I poured a kettle of boiling water on to them. That was enough to wilt them sufficiently to make my frittata. (looks like I made myself a cup of tea at the same time).  Drain them.  I do not see the need to refresh them under cold water.

The Brits have made nettle and veg soup for millennia but sometimes cook nettles in rich stock thickened with cream. The Spanish mix nettles with prawns and eggs to make a tortilla, while the Greeks make a pie, a bit like spanakopita, which they call hortikopita (wild weed pie). Nettles cooked with butter, shallots and cream make a smooth, unctuous puree as a bed for succulent seafood like scallops.

I like the idea of the puree as an accompaniment to many meat, fish and egg dishes and not just scallops.

Where do you get it?

Not in the supermarket. Some specialty greengrocers carry nettles but you’re more likely to find them at a farmers’ market. Or you could forage in the ’burbs or the country. Take a reference picture and look for disturbed soil or around trees where farm animals sleep.

On this occasion my partner saw them and bought them from Gus and Carmel from the Queen Victoria Market from their stall, now returned to its original location in the newly renovated shed close to Peel street.

The Fruttivendolo ( fruit seller/ green grocer) is by far the most attractive and well stocked stall in the market and this is where you will find  vegetables and fruit of Italian origin in abundance.

Their produce is superb! They are only open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Now back to making the FRITTATA with nettles.

Ingredients: I bunch of nettles, 6 eggs, 3-4 spring onions or a leek, some cheese – I used feta but ricotta or grated Parmesan is also good. Extra virgin olive oil and butter, salt and pepper.

Clean the nettles (see above) and wash in cold water. soften the nettles by pouring boiling water on to them or plunging them into a pan of hot water and boil for a few minutes.

Drain the nettles.

Saute some spring onions  or a leek (softer tasting than onion) or a small onion in some butter and extra virgin olive oil.

Add the drained nettles to the sautéd onion and continue to sauté the ingredients for a few minutes. Remove the ingredients from the pan and let cool.

Lightly beat some eggs with a fork.

Add  the sautéd ingredients, salt and pepper into the eggs and gently stir through. On this occasion I used some cubed , mild  tasting feta, on other occasions I have used ricotta, formaggio fresco, or grated Parmesan cheese.

Re – oil the frying pan if necessary, heat it and gently pour in the mixture.

Press it around to try and cook as much of the mixture as possible.

Invert  the frittata onto a plate to flip to the other side. Return it to the frypan and  cook it.

Other recipes:

NETTLES (Ortiche), Culinary uses and gnocchi

RISOTTO AL RADICCHIO ROSSO

RISOTTO AL TALEGGIO,  risotto made with Taleggio cheese

CAMPING, Pumpkin risotto

RISI E BISI (Risotto with peas)

BRAISED KID (capretto) in a simple marinade of red wine, extra virgin olive oil and herbs

Marinating is an effective way to add flavour, moisture and to tenderize meat before cooking. I do this with all the large pieces of meat that are going to be slow cooked. Even steak, pork fillets and some fish get a short session of marinade, even if it is just a splash or rubbing of extra virgin olive oil with seasoning, garlic and/or herbs. For most of my large pieces of meat,  I often use an acid , like, wine, citrus juice or vinegar. This component of the marinade helps to tenderise the meat.  The herbs and spices enhance the flavour. Good olive oil has a multi-purpose function.  It adds a distinct taste, melds the different flavours of the marinade together and, after the meat is drained from the marinade , some of the oil that has adhered  to the meat assists in the browning process.

For this braise, I bought 3 legs of kid (capretto) and deboned it. This amounted to roughly 1.5 kg. The same marinade can be used for goat, lamb or sheep and would also be good for beef.

There were four of us for dinner and there were some leftovers that I converted into a Sardinian-flavoured sauce for gnochetti by adding a few, common Sardinian ingredients.

1.5 kg of kid, cubed
Marinade: 750g (1bottle) of red wine,1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, herbs – bay leaves, rosemary, sage, thyme, juniper berries
Leave meat in marinade for about 8 hours.

The meat is drained from the marinade before browning and braising.

For the soffritto: 1 onion, 2 carrots,1 stick of celery, all finely chopped.
Stock is added during cooking to ensure that the meat remains moist.

Pancetta or speck, about 50g bought as a whole piece and cut into small cubes, 
extra virgin olive oil to brown the meat,
salt to taste,
fresh herbs, peppercorns and juniper berries (as above) to replace the spent herbs and flavourings from the marinade.

Make the marinade, add the cubed pieces of meat and leave it to marinate for 8 hours.
When ready to cook, drain the meat, save the marinade and remove all of the herbs, peppercorns and juniper berries.

Use a heavy based saucepan for cooking.

Brown the meat, a little at a time. Do not overcrowd the meat. Remove the meat and set aside.

Sauté the pancetta or speck in extra virgin olive oil.

Add the onion first and  stir it around the hot pan to soften. Next, add the carrots and celery and slowly sauté the ingredients. This is the soffritto.

Add the browned meat.

Add the marinade, fresh herbs, seasoning and flavourings. Add some stock during the cooking process as the meat dries out. I added about 1 cup of stock. It is always easy to evaporate excess liquid at the end of cooking rather than cooking meat in too little liquid.

Cover the pan and braise slowly.

The meat I cooked must have been quite tender because it cooked in two hours.
Remove the meat and evaporate some of the liquid.

I presented the meat with braised Brussel sprouts, sautéd mushrooms and roasted, squashed potatoes. Baked polenta would have been good too.

What did I do with the leftovers?

Lamb and goat are often used in Sardinian dishes.

For the Sardinian style pasta, I sautéd a little onion in some olive oil, a added some saffron that had been soaking in stock, a little tomato paste and the meat with its leftover juices.

I used gnocchetti sardi – shaped pasta. I added shards of pecorino cheese when I presented the pasta and emulated Sardinian ingredients and flavours .

Other kid or goat recipes:

RAGU` DI CAPRETTO – Goat/ kid ragout as a dressing for pasta

RICETTE per capretto (e capra) – Recipes for slow cooked kid and goat

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

%d bloggers like this: