MINESTRA from Trieste – borlotti, pearL barley, Sauerkraut

Borlotti beans, pearl barley and sauerkraut.

These are three of my favourite ingredients  and combined make a  fabulous soup: Minestra d’orzo e fagioli con “capuzi garbi’ (sour cabbage as called in Trieste – sauerkraut)

What more would you want  on a cold Melbourne winter’s day with many people who may need cheering up?

I have all of these ingredients at hand because I like pulses and barley as components in salads or soups.  I usually cook them separately and store them in containers in their juice in my fridge and in my freezer.  There are always jars of sauerkraut in my pantry – this comes from having lived in Trieste as a child.  The combination of mixing the cooked ingredients to make a last-minute soup can be even easier.

Like the majority of the way Italians cook, the quantity of ingredients is only an estimate…use more or less of any ingredient to suit your taste.

There are variations for making this soup in Trieste – not everyone adds sauerkraut, but very popular is the addition of lard and /or potatoes which will thicken the soup. I prefer my soup with more liquid and therefore omit the potatoes.

I generally do not have Lardo in my fridge but I can easily purchase it if I wish. Lardo does make a big difference if used – it will enrich the taste and the texture of the soup.

What is Lardo in Italian?

In this case, the Lardo is Lardo Affumicato – Smoked Lard –  Speck.

Also called Lardo is an Italian salume that is eaten (sliced very thinly) and widely used in Italian cuisine especially in northern Italy; it is made from the thick layer of fat from the back of a pig and cured with a mixture of salt, herbs, and spices;  the most esteemed Italian Lardo is aged in the warm, fresh caves in the area of Carrara (famous for its marble) and no additives or preservatives are used.

Pork fat, or rendered pork fat is also called Lardo in Italian and is lard in English.

I have nothing against canned beans but pulses are so easy to cook that I do not buy any, but if you do, cook the barley and add the drained beans to the barley. You will need to add some stock to this combination because you will not have the “bean broth” – the water the beans have been cooked in.

If you wish to add potatoes, do this at the same time as you put the barley to cook.

Borlotti Beans, dry 250g
Pearl Barley, 250g
Garlic, 1 – 3 cloves
Salt and pepper
Parsley, a handful, chopped
Bay leaves, 2 – 4
Extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle on top of soup when it is ready to serve

Optional:

Lardo/Smoked/Speck,  80 -100g, cubed into very small pieces
Potatoes, 2 – 3 cubed
Sauerkraut, 150 – 200g, drained and squeezed

Soak beans and barley overnight separately in plenty of water.

Drain the beans, replenish with plenty of cold water, add bay leaves, garlic and cook them for about 30 minutes. Add the soaked barley, seasoning and parsley and cook until the beans and barley are soft…. probably about 20-30 minutes longer.

If adding sauerkraut or potatoes add these at the same time as the barley.

Lard, both the rendered fat and Speck are very popular in the food of Trieste and if you wish to use it put it in at the same time as the beans. I prefer to drizzle some good quality, extra virgin olive oil on top and some freshly ground, black pepper.

Formaggio all’Argentiera (pan fried, fresh cheese, Sicilian)

I had forgotten how much I particularly like Formaggio Fresco, pan fried with a sliver or two of garlic in a smidgen of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled with a little dry oregano and de-glazed with a little red vinegar and a pinch of sugar (optional). This is how Sicilians like it.

Formaggio Fresco = Cheese Fresh….Fresh Cheese.

This  Sicilian recipe is called Formaggio all’Argentiera.

Why All’ Argentiera?

An argentiere in Italian is a silversmith.

All’argentiera means “in the style of…as an argentiere would cook it”.

Why this name?

An argentiere can afford the price of meat, a poor person cannot, however, the poor can afford to buy and cook cheese and pretend that he is eating meat. The lovely smells dissipating from the windows of the poor will give passers-by the impression  that just like a silversmith he can afford to eat meat. It is all to do with the making a bella figura syndrome.

The recipe is quick and easy, the difficulty could be finding what is called Formaggio Fresco. What is ‘fresh cheese?’

Some producers call Formaggio Fresco,  Fresh Pecorino,  but they are  both young cheese (aged typically 15- 45 days depending on the manufacturer). It is a white, semi soft, smooth and milky cheese,  good for slicing and for partially melting.

Pecorino is made from the milk of a pecora, (sheep), however, most Pecorino Fresco or Formaggio Fresco, especially in Australia  is made from cows’ pasteurized milk, salt and culture (usually rennet).

Aged Pecorino, whether Romano (Roman), Sardo (Sardinian), Toscano, or Siciliano is the firm, salty and sharp cheese we are familiar with and used for grating – you can eat it too.  In Italy they are DOP cheeses and made in the place of origin.

Stores that have Italian Produce are likely to have Formaggio Fresco  but I have also seen some in a few good supermarkets.

In Melbourne I can buy Formaggio Fresco made by these manufacturers: That’s Amore cheese, they call it cacciotta  and Pantalica make Bacio and Pecorino Fresco.

In Adelaide the manufacturers are: La Casa Del Formaggio and La Vera. I have seen La Vera sold in other Australian cities as well.

 

Formaggio all’Argentiera

A little extra virgin olive oil to fry the cheese.

Also: 1 large clove of garlic (cut into slivers), pinches of dried oregano,  1-2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a pinch of sugar.

I prefer to use a non-stick fry pan.

Heat the oil; use medium heat.

Add the garlic, the slices of cheese and lower the heat. Sprinkle the cheese with some of the dry oregano.

Cook that side of cheese until golden in colour, turn the cheese over and repeat with the dry oregano….cook for as long again.

Add the vinegar and sugar ( I sometime do) and deglaze the pan.

See also:

SICILIAN CHEESE MAKING. A VISIT TO A MASSARO (farmer-cheese maker) IN RAGUSA. Formaggio all’argentiera

Sicilian Cheese and more cheese

Polenta and its magic

This post is in praise of polenta, a simple and versatile  accompaniment for many moist braises. It is particularly popular in the north eastern regions of Northern Italy – Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto. However, this is not to say that some polenta is also appreciated in Piedmont, Valle d’Aosta,  Tuscany and Lombardy.

The most common polenta is coarsely ground yellow corn and it is simply cooked in water and salt.  Polenta taragna is a mixture of cornmeal and buckwheat, a popular grain in Italy’s Alpine region, especially in the Valtellina in Northern Lombardy.  Because wheat is difficult to cultivate in the northern regions like Val d’ Aosta and Trentino-Alto Adige, buckwheat is grown and mixed with wheat flour to make  pasta (called pizzoccheri) and in gnocchi . Buckwheat is called grano saraceno , this is because the Etruscans and Saracens introduced the buckwheat grain to Italy. I visited this region last year and particularly enjoyed this combination.

Once cooked, I prefer to spread the polenta in a pan suitable to go into an oven, I drizzle it generously with olive oil and bake it .

The polenta can then be cut into slices and served with a wet dish.

I prefer to bake the polenta, it allows it to form a  delicious crust. I am not one for last minute preparations….there is enough to fuss about once friends arrive.

Polenta does not have to be baked, it can just be scraped onto a board and cut at the table prior to serving. In fact, this is how my aunt in Trieste always presented polenta after she cooked it in her heavy bottomed copper pot.

Here are a few dishes that can be enjoyed with polenta:

Polenta is perfect with braised mushrooms.  First sautéed at a high temperature with onion and /or garlic and then finished at at a lower temperature (covered with a lid) with some flavoured  liquid – I like  to use stock and wine. Herbs are a must.

This is a saucepan of my beef Goulash.…  a favourite dish served with polenta and as cooked in Trieste, once part of the Austrian- Hungarian Empire.

Polenta is excellent with baccalà. There are many regional recipes for baccalà , for example: alla Vincentina (from Vicenza),  alla Triestina (from Trieste), alla Veneziana ( from Venice)  and various other cities in Northern Italy.
The recipes are not too dissimilar and basically are “white” with no or little tomato (tomatoes in the cooking of Southern Italy).

Baccalà  Mantecato is a creamy spread popular in the Veneto and around Trieste in Friuli Venezia Giulia. Baccalà  Mantecato is often presented  on crostini di polenta – cooked polenta cut into batons or croutons and then either baked or fried.

The baccalà is poached in milk, the flesh removed from the bones and whipped with extra virgin olive oil and garlic.

Polenta with sauerkraut, very popular in Trieste where I lived as a child. The photo below is of Ponte Rosso and the Canal Grande in Trieste. The statue is Nino Spagnoli’s  James Joyce and placed on the bridge over the Canal Grande. 

Sauerkraut  can be cooked slowly as a side dish for meats.

Sauerkraut and pork sausages are very popular in Trieste.

Polenta is also popular with pork sausages cooked in a tomato sugo. I also like pork sausages braised with borlotti beans.

There is nothing like seppie – inkfish braised in white wine, parsley and garlic and served with polenta. Sometimes white polenta (made from white corn and called polenta bianca ) is favoured with fish, rather than the polenta gialla (yellow, made from yellow corn).

Below in the photo are two typical dishes of Trieste, seppie in umido (on the left)  and some iota.

Below is a photo of an ink fish. Inside will be a sac of ink that once removed can be used to flavour the dish.

It is not always obvious that they are ink fish, in Australia they are also often sold as squid.  Not all of them will have a sac of ink; this photo is in a market in Venice….  you can tell that they are ink fish.

Here is a photo of polenta as an accompaniment to tripe I relished in a Trattoria in  Sienna, Tuscany….it was only last year.

Polenta makes a fabulous accompaniment for pan fried or char grilled red radicchio . This used to be a favourite way to serve polenta by my mother.  A little tomato salsa on the char grilled version is very tasty.

And this is polenta with broccoli (or broccolini) with bagna cauda . I first ate it in a restaurant in Hobart and it was presented on a bed of soft polenta – called polenta concia in Italy; this version of polenta is cooked in milk, sometimes stock and has butter and Parmesan cheese added to it once it is cooked. It does not have to be Parmesan, various local regional cheeses are used – Asiago from Trentino and the Veneto, Fontina from Valle d’Aosta, Taleggio from Lombardy and the Italian Alps, etc. Bagna cauda on polenta is not a traditional dish, but I did enjoy this innovation and replicated it at home, .

Polenta is also good with sarde in saor. The sardines are fried then left to marinate with onions and vinegar. Sometimes raisins and pine nuts are added. Although I have made this many times, I do not have many photos. This is often the case with other things I cook. Sometimes I am just too busy to take a photos  before I present food or I forget to do it.

Also common is polenta pasticciata (sometimes spelled pastizzada as in the Veneto dialect and it means messed up/ fiddled with) . Layers of cooked polenta are alternated with flavourings. The most common is with sugo (tomato and meat braise) or  braised mushrooms or salame, pancetta, and various cheeses …..or whatever you like to fiddle with.

The version above is with Fontina,  Gorgonzola and some braised button mushrooms cooked in white wine – I was just dealing with leftovers, not a traditional dish, but tasty.  The layers of polenta are then baked: it is very much like a baked lasagna.

Polenta is easily found and it does not have to be imported from Italy.

Cooking polenta is easy.

1 polenta – 4 water ratio, salt.

Bring water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan; pour polenta slowly into boiling water, whisking constantly until all polenta is stirred in and there are no lumps. I use a whisk.

Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until polenta starts to thicken, about 5 minutes.  This is where I swap the whisk for a long handled, wooden spoon; the polenta will begin to bubble and can spit so the long spoon or an oven mit is necessary.

Stir the polenta regularly , at least every 5 to 6 minutes. Polenta is done when the texture thickens and is creamy and it begins to pull away from the sides of the saucepan. It may take up to 30 minutes.

Links to some of the recipes:

GULASCH (Goulash as made in Trieste)

CHICKEN GOULASH (Gulasch di pollo from Trieste)

SEPPIE IN UMIDO CON POLENTA (Cuttlefish or Squid With Black Ink And Polenta from Trieste)

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

PIEDMONTESE favourites  (bagna cauda)

TASMANIA, FOOD, ART, HOBART and Bagna Cauda

MARINADED FISH and a recipe for PESCE IN SAOR – PESCE IN SAOR

FUNGHI AL FUNGHETTO (Braised mushrooms)

WILD MUSHROOMS; Saffron Coloured, Pine Mushrooms and Slippery Jacks

Savarin and citrus flavoured liqueurs

Once upon a time, about 20 years ago when people had dinner parties and cooked for days to prepare a four -five course meal,  I sometimes used to make Savarins, 2-3 per time and I kept them in the freezer till I was ready to use them. Savarins took care of the dessert component for different guests on different occasions.

The dough is easy to make.

Savarins and Baba au rhum (as called by the French) are made of the same dough – a rich yeast cake or sponge made with eggs, flour, milk and butter saturated in syrup made with alcohol, usually rum, and sometimes filled with pastry cream.

A Savarin is a bigger version of a baba au rhum, and it is baked in a ring mold (with a hole in the centre) instead of a dariole mold and like a baba,  it is soaked in rum syrup .

Although the traditional alcohol to use is rum, there is no reason why other alcohol and liqueurs cannot be used. For example, you could have a good time matching fruit with various  types of alcohol:

Citrus flavoured liqueurs , e.g.  Cointreau,  Grand Manier,  Curacao, Mandarino,   Limoncello , Strega and Galliano  with citrus fruit,

Armagnac with prunes,

Maraschino with cherries,

Bacardi with berries,

Southern Comfort with peaches,

Apricot brandy with apricots etc.

I have three different sized Savarin tins and on this occasion I used the smallest tin:

Placed in the hole in the centre of the Savarin could be one or more of the following: pastry cream, Chantilly creme,  poached or fresh fruit.

Raisins, sultanas or currants may be included in the dough.

I decided to soak my Savarin with Cointreau a French liqueur with flavours of of sweet and bitter orange peel.

I poached mandarin segments in some sugar syrup –  2  cups  water and caster sugar.  I used less  than 1 cup, but this depends on how sweet you wish to have the syrup and traditionally  the ratio can be 3 cups of water to 2 cups of sugar.  Use a little vanilla too –  I keep my caster sugar in a large jar with plenty of vanilla pods.

I drained the mandarins from the syrup, added 1 cup Cointreau and used this to soak the Savarin. 

This amount of syrup was sufficient for the size of my Savarin.  I used the smallest Savarin tin I have =18cm, see photo above.

I kept the Savarin in the tin until i was ready to use it,  pricked it all over with a skewer and then added the hot syrup slowly – the Savarin needs to be saturated with the syrup.

Turned it out on a plate.

I  warmed a little apricot jam with a tiny bit of Cointreau and glazed   the dough. then filled the hole with pastry cream and decorated it with the mandarin segments.

See recipe and information about Baba and Savarins:

Babà al rum, Baba au rhum, Rum Baba and Savarin ; facts and legends

The baked Savarin dough, kept in the mold (baking tin) keeps well  in the freezer.

we all have our own way to store foods in our freezers. If you wish not to use plastic, wrap it tightly in a tea towel or in a couple of layers of  paper and then place it in a re-purposed plastic bag or glass or metal container (with a nice snug fit) and keep it in the freezer until ready to use it.

Babà al rum, Baba au rhum, Rum Baba and Savarin – facts and legends

 Go to Naples and eat Babà al rum. Neapolitans will claim them as their own.  But are they?

While I was looking for my Moulinex, a seldom used appliance in my top cupboard, I found other infrequently used appliances, like Baba and Savarin molds.

A Baba au rhum (as called by the French) is a rich yeast cake or sponge made with eggs, flour, milk and butter saturated in syrup made with alcohol, usually rum, and sometimes filled with pastry cream.

A Savarin is bigger version, baked in a ring mold and soaked in rum syrup and usually placed in the centre could be one or more of the following: pastry cream, Chantilly creme,  poached or fresh fruit. Raisins, sultanas or currants may be included in the dough.

The Neapolitan Babà al rum are usually made as mignons (small shapes) but the larger Savarins are also popular in Naples.

My partner has been experimenting and baking mainly with sourdough but also with fresh yeast. He bought too much yeast. I am not one to waste ingredients, so I suggested that he makes some rum babà – a very easy process but with enjoyable results. I gave him a few recipes and suggested that he may also like to look at how the French made them as well as the Neapolitans.

Before his bread baking sessions, my partner likes to find bakers/chefs demonstrating how they make the bread on YouTube, and he did the same this time when he was preparing to make the babà. Among the many YouTube videos he found, he showed me a very amusing one that had a highly reputed Italian pastry chef pinching up pieces of baba batter and twirling around his fingers to almost flick the very elastic batter into molds. Another YouTube demo featured Rita Chef who introduced her lesson on make babà with stories, about the origins and the legend of babà. Both chefs in these YouTube sessions speak in Italian so my partner didn’t quite understand Chef Rita was saying.

Chef Rita, does mention France and Poland but the account of the origins of babà is slightly twisted.

Chef Rita tells us that a sovereign who lived in Poland did not enjoy what his chefs had made as a dessert … a dry cake. The angry sovereign forcefully pushed the cake to the end of the table. And guess what?

At the end of the table was a bottle of rum and when the cake hit the bottle, the rum was spilled on the cake. In Chef Rita’s version of events the sovereign and his courtiers at the table were ‘inebriated’ by the combined fragrance of the cake and the rum and so the cook was given a reprieve and ordered to experiment with the ingredients and perfect the making of a rum-soaked cake.

At the time, this Polish sovereign was reading and enjoying the Arabian classic, A Thousand And One Nights. You can guess what’s coming … he called the dessert Ali Baba.

In a further twist to Chef Rita’s story, the Polish sovereign was later exiled to France. There the French chefs refined the recipe and soaked it in a syrup with alcohol of some sort, but it was only when it came to Naples that the Ali was dropped from Ali Baba and rum was added.

The Neapolitan chef’s story is very amusing, but there seem to be more realistic accounts about babà. Here are some:

  • Poland and Ukraine have a tall, cylindrical yeast cake called babka meaning “old woman” or “grandmother” and in most Slavic languages; babka is a diminutive of baba.
  • There are many similar versions to the Babka in Eastern Europe but also the Gugelhupf of Alsace Lorraine, France.
  • The deposed King Stanislas Leszczynska was exiled from Poland and came to France in the 1600s because Stanislas’s daughter married King Louis XV.
  • King Stanislas Leszczynska either returned from a trip to Poland with a Babka cake or he found a Gugelhupf version in the area. The alcohol he added to sweeten and moisten it may have been Hungarian sweet wine.
  • Stanislaus’ daughter’s pastry chef, Stohrer, went with her to Versailles and he added rum for the first time. Later he opened a pastry shop in Paris, Patisserie Stohrer and the Rum Baba became famous and claimed the French it as their own.
  • Rum Babà was brought to Italy by visiting French pastry chefs.
  • The legends vary in different texts but this one seems the most popular: Stanislas found the French cakes too dry and dipped them in rum. The chefs then experimented using brioche dough, and some added raisins.
  • In Larousse Gastronomique it says that a Parisian Maitre Patissier omitted raisins from the dough, giving the cake another shape and soaked it with a syrup made with secret ingredients and created and called it the Brillat-Savarin (celebrated French gourmet and writer on gastronomy), which later became simply savarin.
  • Alan Davidson in the Oxford Companion says that in the 1840s one of the Julien family of Parisian pastry-makers, set his mind to experimenting with the baba recipe and he named this rich and tasty dessert in honour of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826).

My partner used a combination of recipes but in the end this is what he did:

The recipe is for 6 babas and one small savarin, or 8 small babas

220g flour, 12g fresh yeast, salt, 50g sugar, 2 eggs, 70ml milk 100g butter

Stir the yeast, a little sugar in the warm milk together into a mixer bowl (to use with a dough hook in your electric mixer) and allow the yeast to dissolve and froth (about 5 minutes).

Mix in 25g of flour, place in a warm place until double in size.

Once the dough has risen, slowly start mixing the dough and gradually add the remaining flour, sugar, salt in a bowl and then add eggs, one at a time, blending after each.

Progressively add butter and beat it until the dough then increase speed to high speed and beat it until it is smooth and glossy and almost coming away from the sides.

Cover the dough with a tea towel and allow to rise in a warm space for about 30 mins.

Divide dough among 8 greased dariole moulds, cover with a tea towel and set aside to prove until dough reaches tops of moulds. Use 180 C oven and bake until golden.

Turn out to cool completely, prick them all over with a skewer then place them in a large airtight container until required.

All of the recipes use an incredible amount of sugar (400g per litre), we used 2 litres of water 400g sugar 400ml rum and we found that sweet enough.

For the rum syrup, in a saucepan mix water, sugar, lemon zest from1 lemon and juice from 1/2 lemon and over medium heat stir until sugar dissolves, then simmer until syrupy (5 minutes). Add the rum and gently place the babas in the syrup, turning lightly until soaked through.

Drain them and leave until ready to serve.

I presented them with poached pears and egg custard.

To Make Custard:

3 egg yolks, tablespoons caster sugar infused with a vanilla bean, a pinch of salt 2 tablespoons of cornflour, 400 ml of milk, rind of 1 lemon, and a cinnamon stick.

In a saucepan, mix the egg yolks with the sugar and slowly add the flour, salt and a little milk to make a smooth paste – a whisk could be useful. If you do not have sugar that has been infused with a vanilla bean, use a little vanilla essence (not artificial).
Add the rest of the milk and incorporate to dilute the mixture evenly.
Using a vegetable peeler remove the rind in one piece from ½ lemon. Add this to the milk mixture. Add the cinnamon stick.
Use low – medium heat, stir it constantly with a whisk or a wooden spoon and slowly bring it to the boil- the custard should have thickened.
To make a creamier pastry cream, add a few pieces of room temperature butter while the custard is warm. Add a bit at a time, and whisk until well blended.
Cool before using. To prevent a skin from forming, I place a piece of baking paper or butter paper on its surface.
You may like this Italian dessert:

ZUPPA INGLESE, a famous, Italian dessert

Moulinex for making vellutate (veloutés), baby food and Pappa al Pomodoro

The husband of a friend of mine recently had surgery to repair a hiatus hernia. His convalescence requires him to be on a special diet, starting with simple liquids until the inflammation subsides. He can then move on to purées for two weeks, followed by two more weeks of mushy food.

But it does not have to be too bad. Below is a photo of some Borsch I made using the lighter coloured beetroot.

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The gradual progression of the density of food and the complexity of ingredients seems very much like what babies experience when they are introduced to solids.

I was eight years old when my brother was born and I can remember how much my mother enjoyed cooking for my baby brother. She apparently had cooked the same things for me when I was his age and years later, I cooked the same things for my two babies.

Starting with simple, mainly liquid minestrine (light soups with simple ingredients) and pappe (pap made with bread), next came the purées and pastine (small shaped pasta), followed by semolina in brodo (broth). She also added puréed chicken or veal liver or finely minced chicken breast or white fish to broth and some overcooked white rice. She made vellutate (velouté, velvety soups), a chicken or veal broth with 1-2 puréed vegetables enriched with an egg yolk rather than cream, as cream was considered harder to digest. At an early age we were introduced to a dash of extra virgin olive oil and/or finely grated parmesan were introduced.

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My mother used a Moulinex (Mouli) rotary vegetable mill for making purées. This was perfect for making baby food. The Mouli was also used for us older folk (father, mother and me and guests also) to make vellutate, not just with vegetables, she also used pulses – dried peas, lentils and chickpeas. The mushroom vellutata was pretty good.

Pulses were considered too difficult for babies to digest. They had to wait until they’d grown up a little. Basically, you can turn  any left over vegetables into a good looking, tasty vellutata.

My mother was pregnant when she left Italy and may have brought the Mouli with her from Trieste (where we lived before we came to Australia), but maybe these made in France appliances were available in Adelaide in 1956 when my brother was born. Unlike food processor or a blender which blend the whole vegetable a Mouli purées the vegetables, leaves the skins behind and it’s the skins that are considered more difficult to digest. It is perfect for making Passata di Pomodoro.

Semolina cooked in meat broth was also a household favourite, with a bit of parmesan, of course. A light soup, a minestrina, made by puréeing one or two vegetables, beginning with the ones that were considered to be the easiest to digest at first – zucchini, green beans, carrots, pumpkin or potato.

A little spinach came later, but always, the minestrina was finished off with a little drizzle of oil. As a variation and for health – fish was supposed to help develop intelligence, she used to make minestrine using white fish, which also contained either puréed potatoes or tiny pastina shapes – stelline (little stars).

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I still have my Mouli tucked away in the cupboard where I keep appliances that I seldom use, but keep just in case I ever need them again, alongside my potato ricer and a vintage Bialetti electric pasta machine designed to mix the flour and eggs to form the dough and extrude the pasta through plastic dies of various shapes.

The potato ricer can also be used for squeezing other soft, cooked vegetables like carrots or pumpkin.

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There are various cake tins for making kuglof, panettone, savarin, pâte or terrines that are lined with pastry,  ornate copper jelly or ice cream molds.

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And what about the metal rods to shape and fry the cannoli shells – a Sicilian specialty – and some conical rods to make cream horns, the shape that Neapolitans use? There is a pastry and piping bag just in case I wish to make and fill cream puffs and an icing bag. Both bags are complete with nozzles of different sizes and shapes.

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Probably the least used object in that space is a jelly strainer bag made of very fine calico designed to strain the solids from meat or fish broths. The clarified liquid can be used to make clear jelly, such as in pork pies or glaze a terrine. And it is very useful for making fruit jelly… cook the fruit, strain out the pulp, skin and seeds and use the liquid to make the jelly. The bag rests in a stand and can strain overnight to get the maximum amount of liquid. I am guessing that it could be used to  drain cheese curds or yogurt, but I use a colander lined with muslin for that. The jelly bag was a present many years ago from a dear friend who brought it back from Copenhagen.

My brother and my son Alex both loved pappa di pane when they were babies but my daughter always preferred broth with pastina.  The broth was made with meat and a carrot and a piece of celery, but not onion – this is too heavy for babies. The carrot and celery were puréed once they were cooked and returned to the broth.

The pappa may not  sound very tasty or nutritious, it consists of white bread soaked in water and boiled till it becomes a smooth pap. But this is where the magic comes in. The pappa di pane was enriched with a little extra virgin olive oil and when the baby was a few weeks older a tiny bit of grated parmesan could be added.  The bread could also be boiled in a clear meat broth instead of water and when the baby is older by a few weeks  a little stewed tomato was mixed into it , maybe cooked with a basil leaf…. and the Mouli was used again to remove the skin and release the pulp.

You can see why Italian babies develop a palate – a taste for flavour!

Adults never seem to lose the taste for pappa especially if  they come from Tuscany. In a Pappa al Pomodoro (tomato), the soup is thickened with stale bread, and though this is a rather simple recipe, you can find various versions of it across Tuscany and some other regions of Italy.

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Italian food is all about good produce – good quality white bread, fresh basil, fragrant tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil. The best pappa is made with ripe, full-flavored tomatoes, but it can also be made with good quality canned, crushed tomatoes. Whether you leave the tomatoes as they are our use your Moulinex is up to you.

Ingredients:

1 medium sized onion, finely diced, 2-3 garlic cloves finely chopped

extra virgin olive oil to stew the tomatoes, plus extra for drizzling

1k of fresh peeled and chopped tomatoes or a can (800g, good quality)

200g of 1-2 day old bread, crusts removed and cut into small chunks

2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock or water

salt and pepper

fresh basil

 

Heat some oil in a large saucepan and sauté the onion and garlic until softened and fragrant.

Add the tomatoes and simmer until thick and most of the liquid has evaporated (like making a salsa).

Add the stock, the bread, seasoning and some basil and cook on low heat for about 10 more minutes, stir regularly to break down the bread into pappa.

Serve the pappa warm or at room temperature topped with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil leaves.

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Do I take making coffee at home too seriously?

Here is a photo of the coffee-making equipment I have at home.

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In times before the Corona Virus lockdown, when a group of us went to gym classes at the Melbourne City Baths we would go for a coffee and a chat after our session. Now that we are socially isolating, the same gym group catches up for a chat on Zoom.

During one of our Zoom sessions I brought out the coffee making equipment pictured above on a tray and I staged a performance of having made a coffee for each of us. There were the expected laughs but one person said that it looked as if I was hording. That was the end of that. I kept on thinking about this and wondering if I did have too many coffee makers.
I do not know if my friend  knew just how important is a ritual making coffee at home.

As an Italian – I take making and drinking coffee seriously. I’m glad I have macchinette da Caffè of various sizes: 1 cup 2 – 4 – 6 cups. I do not have a 3 or a 5 cup macchinette but, if I have three people wanting coffee, I use  both my one cup and my two. If I’m making coffee for five, I use my one and my four. If I think that someone may like more than one cup of coffee, I ask before I make it, and make coffee in one or more of the large macchinette.

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I grind my coffee beans just before I place the ground coffee in the chosen macchinetta because freshly ground coffee is likely achieve the best flavour and aroma. If I am making coffee for one, it has to be in the one cup macchinetta, for two people, it has to be in the two cup, etc. Usually Italians are happy with just the one coffee per time and they only make the right amount because, after all, it needs to be freshly made and never rewarmed. I have had that grinder for about 30 years old.

Any left-over coffee can be saved to make a caffè freddo in summer or a granita di caffè.  The left-over coffee can also be kept if there is someone in the household who mixes left over coffee with milk to eat with bread,  broken into pieces and dropped in. This is no different to the French doing the same thing. My father used to have this for breakfast. Of course, he did not do this when we lived in Italy – there he would go to the bar on his way to work to have a quick coffee and a chat with the barista at the counter.
No lingering. (Crem Caffè in Piazza Goldoni, Trieste). His Tailoring business was a couple of doors to the right and upstairs and our apartment was just around the corner.

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There was no way that my dad could continue this ritual in Australia when we came to Adelaide from Trieste in 1956.

Lucky for us, times have changed and those who wish can do this. You will not see Italians carrying takeaway coffee or sipping it as they walk along and I find it difficult to appreciate those who sit in a coffee place for a long time, chatting and having only one coffee or reading their papers or writing on their laptops. Especially if it is a small business. Some beliefs are difficult for me to dismiss. Maybe it is to do with the coffee place having a  relatively quick turnover so as to make a living.

If we (father, mother and I and perhaps friends) wanted a leisurley coffee and luxurious cakes we would go to  Caffe degli Specchi in Piazza Unità on the waterfront.

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Our Napoletana coffee-maker travelled with us to Australia.  At the time it was the top domestic extraction coffee-maker available before the stovetop espresso macchinette became popular. This is not a photo of what we had. This piece of equipment was discarded years ago. We also brought with us a little milk eating saucepan to heat the milk. I have memories of inviting one of our Australian neighbours for coffee. I can remember the man’s face and irrespective of the amount of warm milk we poured into the coffee, it was was much too strong. He was used to Chicory Essence.
We tried.

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The Napoletana has a tank for the water, the ground coffee holder and filter, a small hole for steam to escape and the server.

Once it is assembled, the part that holds the water is put on the heat to boil and once it has boiled and the steam begins to come out, the pan is flipped upside down and the boiling water trickles through.

Now back to my macchinette da caffè and do I have too many? I do not think so.

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There are the macchinette I use at home (as above) but we also have some that travel with us. We never travel overseas with out taking these. They are very light weight. These are much more modern than all my other caffettiere, the little blue Bialetti used to be my mum’s – I cannot get rid of that! Coming to think of it, that little blue Bialetti must be at least 15 years old.  The ones in the photo above were made by Alfonzo Pupplieni e figli (and sons) and I notice that my research indicates that they are classified as “Vintage” and are in high demand. Good things last.

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This one (photo below) is heavy.  It comes camping with us and gets taken when we go and sleep at friends’ houses or Airbnbs or rental holiday accommodation.
We like our “proper” coffee.

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Fortunately, none of our friends drink instant coffee … or at least they do not let us know. Some friends have plunger coffee … this is not the coffee I like to drink. My partner drinks plunger coffee if he has to, but prefers coffee from the macchinetta that travels with us. He even prefers this to the coffee made from electric Coffee Machines – pod or automatic so it gets included in our luggage.

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But he doesn’t like strong coffee in the morning, so he uses the distinctively designed Atomica, which makes two large cups. I never drink coffee from the Atomica. It is far too weak for my taste. This vintage coffee maker can also froth milk to make cappuccino or caffè latte.  The Atomica was designed by Giordano Robbiati in 1946 in Milan Italy. I do not know the age of my Atomica but just like our car, it goes in for a regular service. This used to belong to a friend and was given to me many, many years ago.

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I want to make special mention of this macchinetta. It was a gift from one of my Sicilian aunts. With this heavy macchinetta, I can make coffee for four people or six; this macchinetta must also be getting to be elderly.

I  had a taste for coffee when I was pretty young. My mother made me “caffé col’uovo sbatutto” (coffee with beaten egg) for breakfast.
If it wasn’t a “uovo sbattuto” it was “un uovo all’ ostrica”…this was an egg yolk with a squeeze of lemon juice, just like having an oyster.
This with a cup of hot chocolate was breakfast.

Caffè col’uovo sbattuto

Beat an egg yolk with a few teaspoons of sugar until foamy, then pour in a little good strong coffee, and mix it up. The coffee deletes the sweetness. If I had been an adult, more coffee would have been added.

If I am going to have good coffee at home, I do want proper equipment…. and I take pleasure remembering.

 

PORCINI in ADELAIDE, Yeppee

Should I move back to Adelaide?

I moved to Melbourne in 2002 but after receiving photos of Porcini gathered in the Adelaide Hills, I am tempted to return.

Pocini clump

Yes, Porcini, the large family of wild and meaty mushroom with a rich flavour. Porcini belong to the Boletus genus and there are about 12 different species. When I was living in Adelaide I did collect wild Mushrooms, but never Porcini.

I knew that Porcini were in the Adelaide Hills, somewhere secret.

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I  had bought and still have a very scientific publication, a handbook of Flora and Fauna of South Australia printed by the South Australian Government in 1976 : Toadstools And Mushrooms and Other Larger Fungi of South Australia, by John Burton Cleland MD.

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Dried Porcini have been available  from specialised stores for a long time in Australia and are most commonly used to make mushroom risotto. As you’d expect mushrooms have an intense flavour and fragrance when dried. My mother use to add dry porcini to enrich a strong, slow cooked sugo (ragùragoût). My polish friend wouldn’t dream of making sauerkraut without some dry mushrooms; her Pierogi  stuffed with sauerkraut are marvellous. Dry mushrooms added to a fresh mushroom braise make a fabulous topping for polenta.

These latest photos were sent by Adelaide friends who wish to make me jealous. and entice me to move back to South Australia.

This Porcino (by the way, porcino means ‘little pig’) and it is easy to see why … weighed about 425g. Now, how many would you need to make one risotto?

Porcini and wine glass

Italians are very enthusiastic about Porcini and they can be found in all regions of Italy. I have been in Paris and in Tokyo when the Porcini mushrooms first hit the market – a very exciting time for locals … I must like to travel in Autumn!

A few years ago I visited Calabria and the host, a family friend, took me to a restaurant  in the Sila, a National Park whose woods are a fertile mix of conifers, interspersed with larch pine, beech, chestnuts and white fir trees. In this particular restaurant every dish featured mushrooms as the main ingredient … pickled, raw and cooked. Marvellous.

Local produce, local food. On that particular day I ate more than mushrooms….there  are chestnut trees growing in the Sila.  I ate dark bread made with chestnut flour.  Pasta is also made with chestnut flour. There are cinghiali  –  wild pigs/boars and deer in these mountains, too. Just the thing to get the cacciatore’s pulses racing. I ate the chestnut bread with a prosciutto made from the wild boar. And we stopped on the side of the road and drank fresh (freezing) water from a spring on the side of a mountain.

In Adelaide, the Porcini are being sold at the Adelaide Central Market and other places, one friend reported seeing them at his local greengrocer.

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My daughter works at an eatery called Minestra that specialize in using produce that locals offer to the eatery… I call it an eatery because it is more like a trattoria than a restaurant and they had Porcini on their take away menu last week. Lucky them and how generous was one of their patrons!

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I am a lover of the saffron coloured pine mushroom and do not mind a Slippery Jack or two, especially when they are picked young. Slippery Jacks are fantastic when dried. Easy to do, slice them if they are too large or you wish them to dry quickly,  Place them on a cloth near a heater … but not too close, you do not want them to cook…. turn them once or twice and when dry, store them in a jar.

And do not worry, my friends will be respectful and not trample and destroy the  mushroom habitat…unfortunately, non-professionals collecting mushrooms can damage the beds.

Below are some pine mushrooms also collected in the Adelaide Hills.

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There are a number of recipes for mushrooms on my blog.

WILD MUSHROOMS – Saffron Coloured, Pine Mushrooms and Slippery Jacks

MORE AUTUMN PRODUCE… lemons and quinces, wild mushrooms and homemade pasta

WILD MUSHROOMS, I have been foraging again

PASTA WITH MUSHROOMS – Pasta ai funghi

NORTHERN ITALY, pasta made of rye or buckwheat flour and PIZZOCCHERI

Last year (2019) I stayed and travelled through parts of Tuscany, Emilia Romagna, Liguria, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino Alto Adige and a few places around Mantova (Mantua) in Lombardy. I loved it all, but I particularly enjoyed spending time in some parts of South Tyrol I had not ever visited – South Tyrol is an autonomous province and part of the two that make up the region of Trentino-Alto Adige.

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A few years before this trip I stayed and travelled around Bergamo, Brescia, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore and also parts of Piedmont.

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And years before this, I travelled through from France to Trieste, stopping in many places on the way.

And just because all these places may be described as being in Northern Italy, you will find the food from place to place is vastly different.

Never skiing, always looking, appreciating, drinking and eating.

Those of you who have travelled through Northern Italy may notice that the further north you go, the more corn (polenta), barley, rye, and buckwheat you will find in local dishes, especially in the array of dark breads, cakes and pastries.

I particularly like buckwheat polenta and rye or buckwheat pasta.

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Rye and buckwheat are popular in Eastern Europe where, in particular, the climates are cold. Cold weather brings deep winter snow and the jaggered peaks and mountains increase the isolation, especially in earlier times when transporting produce was much harder than today. The food in this particular part of Lombardy is unique because of its isolation in the past.

Italian food is all about locality – unique heritage, local produce and local food.

For example, Valtellina is a long narrow valley bordered by mountains in northern Lombardy, north of Lake Como and it is recognized for Pizzoccheri – a buckwheat pasta that is cooked with cabbage and potatoes – vegetables associated with hearty food – suitable for cold weather terrain. The  distinctive flavour of this dish is enhanced by the alpine cheeses such as Bitto and Valtellina Casera (DOP cheeses – Protected Designation of Origin) which the region is renowned for producing. 

Rye and buckwheat, especially, are widespread and prominent in the region and used in the local cuisine. Rich pasture is plentiful, and this region is also renowned for dairy produce. Sage is a hardy perennial and garlic (lots of it) add flavour. The garlic may also be there to boost health – in many countries, garlic has been used medicinally for centuries.

The use of rye or buckwheat creates a darker, chewier and more flavoursome pasta. Obviously, it does not go with all sauces, but I particularly like it with nut and herb based dressings and cheeses.

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Pizzoccheri is not a dry pasta dish and commonly the ingredients are drained before they are dressed with the butter and the cheeses, but I much prefer it as a wet pasta dish, so I suggest you read the whole recipe before you decide to make it.

The ratio of using buckwheat flour to white flour varies, but I like 300g of buckwheat to100g 00 white. No eggs are used in this type of pasta, just water, however, once again, occasionally I have added 1 egg to the mix.

Some cooks use more potatoes than cabbage, I like to use more cabbage than potato, say approximately 300 g potatoes to 400 g cabbage.

The cheese Valtellina Casera may be difficult to find, so you may wish to substitute it with Fontina or Gruyère, Emmental, Edam, or Gouda, especially if the cheese is aged.

To make rye pasta use the same amounts and procedure as described in this recipe, but substitute the buckwheat flour with rye flour and add three eggs. When making rye pasta I usually add some caraway seeds, or fennel or anise to the dough when kneading. At times, I have also done this when making buckwheat pasta.

Once again, the amounts are only guides. When my relatives make/ made pasta (or I make pasta for that matter) I use an estimation of judgement. I can remember my mother saying:

“One fistful (un pugno) of flour per egg, and ½ eggshell of water if it needs more liquid”

Having grown up with this, I still use this measure.

300 g buckwheat flour

100 g 00 flour

300 g butter

200 g cheese (see above)

6 cloves of garlic, a few sage leaves

salt and pepper

Parmesan, grated, at time of serving

Place the 2 flours and a pinch of salt in a bowl and mix. Make a well in the centre, pour in some water, a little at the time. Use your fingers to mix liquid with the flour, until everything is combined. Knead it to make one smooth lump of dough (for 5-8 minutes).

Follow the procedure as for rolling and cutting as in the previous post: MORE AUTUMN PRODUCE… lemons and quinces, wild mushrooms and homemade pasta.

Once you have cut the pasta into the width of pappardelle, cut each strip diagonally into pieces roughly 1 cm long.

Cut the potatoes into cubes – I like waxy potatoes and leave the skins on, Italians peel them.  Remove the core from the cabbage and cut into strips about 2 cm square.

Put the potatoes into some cold water, sufficient to make a thick soup like consistency when all of the ingredients have been added and cooked.

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The pasta will swell a bit and need more water than the vegetables; it needs liquid to cook so estimate sufficient water. You can also always add more boiling water to the dish as the pasta cooks if you think it needs more liquid.

When the potatoes come to the boil add the cabbage and add the pasta. I do not think it matters if you use a lid or not while it cooks. If I have too much liquid, I tend to leave the lid off to allow some evaporation. Cook until all is cooked and keep the pasta al dente.

Cut the garlic cloves into thin slices, add some sage leaves and gently cook them in the butter but prevent them from browning. 

Cut the cheese into small cubes.

Now, this is where you need to decide if you drain the solids and dress it or eat it as a wet pasta dish. My preference is for a wet pasta dish and to remove some of the liquid if it is too wet… save it for making another  and different soup.

Sometimes, I have cheated. When i do not have time to make fresh pasta, I have used commercially made  pasta. As you can see these are spiralli. San Remo makes both buckwheat and spelt spiralli. Both good. NOT traditional.

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MORE AUTUMN PRODUCE… lemons and quinces, wild mushrooms and homemade pasta

The old autumn favourites are back.

I have bought Cime di rapa, sautéed them with Italian pork sausages (chilli flavoured) and ate them with orecchiette and grated, strong, pecorino cheese.

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There were artichokes, fennel and even chicory for sale, and because of the colder weather the heads of red Radicchio seemed firmer than two weeks ago.

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This week one friend dropped off a bag of  fresh lemons from her father’s tree. A generous amount. and a welcome gesture.

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I had a couple of quinces left over from last week and I added  slices of four large lemons when I baked them.  Yet again, I baked the quinces with different flavours. Honey as the sweetener and Tuaca from Livorno –  this is a sweetish, golden brown liqueur, and the ingredients include brandy, citrus essences, vanilla, and other secret spices – probably ordinary simple cinnamon and nutmeg .

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I included quite a few black peppercorns, cinnamon quills and star anise in the mix.

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The lemons turn out like marmalade, only crispy at the edges…I like the texture and intense taste.

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I also added a dash of Vanilla and some water. It is not necessary to use ample amounts of alcohol unless you want to, but probably if you did, the taste would be superb.

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Another surprise, another gift from different friends who live in Red Hill. On their morning walk they collected some saffron coloured, pine mushrooms (Lactarius deliciosus), also called  saffron milk caps and red pine mushrooms. He who works in the city on occasions let me know that he had some for me. The small mushrooms look fabulous left whole and perfect for showing off and the bigger ones get sliced… they are very meaty.

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Holly,  the Cocker Spaniel loves  any opportunity to have her photo taken. She is like Photographer William Wegman’s photographic,  Weimaraner dogs.

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I cooked the mushrooms with garlic, parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary and nepitella and a dash of white wine.

The mushrooms made a flavourful pasta sauce and went well with the home made egg tagliatelle.

Making pasta is easy – 100g of flour per egg. I use hard flour (durum wheat, high protein, the same as I use for making bread).

I used 300g of flour and 3 eggs and this fed two of us with a small bit left over for a snack the next day.

Place the flour in a bowl. Make a well in the centre, crack the eggs into it, add a bit of salt and stir the eggs with a fork.

Use your fingers to mix the eggs with the flour, incorporating a little at a time, until everything is combined.

Knead to make one smooth lump of dough.

You can also make your dough in a food processor –  put everything in, mix with the paddle attachment until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs, then remove the attachment and use your hands and bring the dough together into one lump.

I then divide the large ball into 3 smaller lumps, wrap them in film and put it in the fridge to rest for about 1 hour or so. The approx. 100g quantities balls makes it easier when you roll out the pasta or feed the pasta through the rolling machine. Flattern the ball before you feed it through, do this several times before you use the tagliatelle cutting section of the pasta machine.

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During the week I also made some pasta made with rye flour and with a rolling pin flattened each ball between two pieces of  baking paper. Cut into strips.

Very simple.

Mushrooms and home made Pasta:

WILD MUSHROOMS, I have been foraging again

PASTA WITH MUSHROOMS – Pasta ai funghi

WILD MUSHROOMS – Saffron Coloured, Pine Mushrooms and Slippery Jacks

QUADRUCCI IN BRODO, Squares of home-made Pasta in Broth

GNUCCHITEDDI (Making small gnocchi shapes using my great grandmother’s device)

Pasta with cime di rapa (rape is plural):

ONE OF MY FAVOURITE VEGETABLES – Cime di Rape

PASTA with ‘NDUJA, CIME DI RAPA and PORK SAUSAGES

CIME DI RAPE (A winter green)

About Nepitella:

STUFFED BAKED MUSHROOMS with Nepitella

Quinces:

AUTUMN FRUIT and baked quinces

A Tale about QUINCES

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