PARMIGIANA, uncomplicated

When I first came to Australia with my parents (1956), eggplants (aubergines/ melanzane in Italian) were non-existent commercially in Adelaide and probably in the rest of Australia.  I remember friends moving to Canberra in the 80’s and they had to order eggplants from the Sydney markets.

Like so many vegetables that were unfamiliar in Australia, it took a few seed smugglers some time before eggplants were grown in home gardens, and even more years before they were found in produce markets and green grocers’ shops.

Now of course, there are many types of seeds that have been imported legally into Australia and sold in many Italian produce stores.

There are Asian varieties of eggplants as well as the Mediterranean ones in Australia. Trade and migration has made eggplants a typical Mediterranean plant, but they originated from the south-east Asia and in particular from India and China.

Eggplants come in different shapes and sizes – long, thin, wide, round, small and large and they cam be grown commercially as well as successfully in most home gardens . (The eggplant above is grown in my son’s home garden in Adelaide).

The colour of eggplants range from the traditional dark purple types through to violet, lavender, pink, green and creamy-white varieties. There are also variegated types.

When I think of eggplants, I think of Sicily where the most intense cultivation takes place in Italy.

Sicily has the highest numbers of eggplants in terms of cultivation and production; they are available at all times of the year because they can be grown in serre (greenhouses) in all seasons especially in the Ragusa area, where my father’s relatives are based.

And Sicily is where some of the most famous recipes for Italian eggplant dishes initiated, for example:  Eggplant Caponata from Palermo, Pasta alla Norma from Catania and Parmigiana di Melazane (Eggplant Parmigiana) with some slight variations from all over Sicily.

Parmigiana is now one of the best-known and widespread dishes of Italian cuisine but its origin is disputed between the regions of Sicily, Campania and Emilia-Romagna. However I have always believed Parmigiana to be Sicilian. Since I was a young child I have eaten many servings of Parmigiana cooked by family and friends, in homes and in restaurants all over Sicily and I support the theory that it is a Sicilian specialty.

Parmigiana is what I am going to write about in this post.

Recently a friend (and an excellent home cook) prepared Yotem Ottolenghi’s Aubergine Dumplings Alla Parmigiana, from the book Flavor. It was a marvellous dinner and I enjoyed eating these vegetarian meatballs very much.

The ingredients for Ottolenghi’s recipe are cubed eggplants, roasted till soft and caramelized, then mashed and mixed with herbs and spices, ricotta, Parmesan, basil, bound with eggs, breadcrumbs and flour. While the mixture rests, a tomato salsa needs to be made, the dumplings are fried and then baked in the tomato salsa.

When I looked at Ottolenghi’s recipe, I was amazed at just how many steps have to be covered compared with the time it would take to cook the traditional Parmigiana. A few days later a friend came to dinner and I made a simple Parmigiana.

I baked the eggplants this time rather than fried them..

Made the tomato salsa.

Proceeded to layer the salsa, eggplants, grated cheese and because the Ottoleghi recipe had ricotta, and because ricotta seems to have become an addition to the traditional Parmigiana recipe all over the web, I also added ricotta between the layers.

What it looked like before I placed it in the oven.

And I presented the Parmigiana with roast peppers and a green salad.

I don’t know how long my version took, but it tasted good.

Parmigiana can also be made with fried zucchini.

Parmigiana can also be made with fried zucchini. It is worth cooking it.

**** I  first wrote a post on my blog in 2009 about how the name of the recipe originated and recipe of a traditional Parmigiana. The recipe is also in my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking.  The background information about Parmigiana is  fascinating. The post is worth reading:

EGGPLANT or ZUCCHINI PARMIGIANA

CAMPING AND COOKING IN W.A.

For me, it is very important to eat well, wherever I am.

I have recently returned from a nine week trip in Western Australia. It was in a very simple campervan with a basic pull out stove, but as always, I manage to eat well even if some supplies were difficult to purchase.

I realize that the range of vegetables I am accostomed to where I live (Melbourne and previously Adelaide) were not to be found even in the larger towns I visited.  Supply and demand is important and I consider myself lucky to live in cities where the the different ethnicities have contributed to what is grown and available.

But maybe I am expecting far too much.

I need to acknowledge that much of the produce I bought was in small, often remote communities and, as in the rest of country Australia, what was mostly available was limited to pumpkins, iceberg lettuces, carrots, cauliflower, cabbages and tomatoes (not the greatest). Potatoes, onions and sweet potatoes were everywhere. Beetroot, sometimes – but without their leaves. the sort of vegetables that my family was able to purchase when we first settled in Adelaide and I was eight years old.

In some places I found broccoli, green beans, spring onions and sometimes boc choy and red cabbage. On rare occasions there was asparagus and, if I was lucky, there were good bunches of silverbeet. I made sure to buy bunches of this leafy green vegetable wherever I could and cooked it in various ways: braised with chillies and anchovies, sautéed  in butter with a final dash of lemon juice, sautéed and deglazed with vinegar and a bit of sugar, or mixed with other vegetables.

Sometimes, I found curly Kale, but never Tuscan Kale, the Italian Cavolo Nero. Having said that, I acknowledge that growing seasons may be different in the West, especailly the North West, but if there was Kale there was never Cavolo Nero/Tuscan Kale which grows in the same season. I saw and bought Brussel sprouts in a few places but they were extremely expensive.

Capsicums/ peppers were pretty abundant, especially red ones.

In the larger cities produce was more varied. One of the things that I found quite perculiar is that zucchini were were exceptionally large and old singly. I only once found small zucchini (the size they should be) which was in Albany and I bought all they had. Green grocers seem few and far between and people shopped in supermarkets, but perhaps, on reflection supermarkets don’t necessarily have a wide range  .

The produce in the Fremantle market was certaily fresh and excellent in quality and i stocked up there as much as I could. Occasionally, we’d pass through a place that had a Saturday Market but most of the stalls had a limited range, usually more of the same. On one rare occasion I found a market stall that had broadbeans and English spinach, fresh bunches of basil, coriander and parsley. Heaven! I’m an opportunistic shopper and while I do pine for leafy green vegetables, I know I can always make a meal of whatever I have in the pantry. The occasional tin of  borlotti, canellini or black beans came in very handy as a mixer.

Whenever I saw red, teardrops tomatoes, as I did in the market in Fremantle and Saturday Market in Carnarvon I bought plenty.

I made many salads using what vegetables I had. In one supermarket in Denmark I found a celeriac. I teemed this with beetroot and dressed it with a mustard vinaigrette.

I  bought fennel in Fremantle and on another occasion radicchio in Albany. As well as salad I braised some with leeks and chicken breasts. Pretty good with mashed potatoes.

I bought a 2k tub of bocconcini and a burrata in Margaret River.

That was a real find!

My pantry in the campervan is always well stocked with extra virgin olive oil, vinegars, capers, olives, nuts, anchovies and a farly generous supply of spices including different types of pepper. The only dry herb I use is oregano. I am a big consumer of fresh herbs and I picked fresh rosemary wherever I saw it and kept it fresh in a container in the small fridge in the van. In some places I was able to buy fresh basil. I make harissa – strong and fragrant and take this with me.

For camping trips, I also marinade feta in extra virgin olive oil, bay leaves and black peppercorns and store it in the fridge. Feta is very versatile and when it is marinaded it lasts for a long time. I add this to salads, dress pasta with it and spread it on bread.

I also use wine or one of the vinegars (cider,wine, balsamic, chinese brown) for deglazing.

I bought fish wherever I could and even made fish stock for a risotto with the crayfish shells.

Meat was pentiful and there was some grass fed and organic in the larger places. I even braised a whole chicken. And there was stock.

And with stock, there is risotto.

Pulses are also plentiful in my camp kitchen as are different types of rice and pasta of various shapes. I have quinoa and couscous as well.

So as you can see, not much is impossible to cook when camping and I do enjoy making do with what I have.

Harissa made with fresh Chillies

HARISSA (A hot chilli condiment)

CAMPING and COOKING

GLAM COOKING ON THE ROAD; Camping

EATING WELL, Camping in Tasmania, BBQ chicken-Pollo alla Diavola

 

PEPERONATA(SICILIAN SWEET AND SOUR PEPPERS)

When it comes to making a Peperonata I become a testa dura (a hard head, someone who resists change).

For me, like so many other Sicilian recipes, I never include tomatoes or passata.

My maternal grandmother from Catania used to make it and I always remember her adding some water. You may find this strange, but it does soften the peppers and this water does evaporate.

The other thing I like to include in my Peperonata is vinegar and a little sugar. This also makes it an agro-dolce dish.

Yellow and red peppers are common in a Peperonata, simply because they are sweeter in taste. The multi coloured peppers add visual impact.

On this occasion I just used red peppers becausein South Australia red peppers are still abundant, they were firm and fresh specimens. 

There are variations to making Peperonata, and this will not surprise you one bit.  For example, apart from adding tomatoes, some add black olives or cubed potatoes.

But not me!

In some parts of Sicily, the Peperonata is topped with toasted breadcrumbs (good white bread, coarse crumbs tossed in a frypan with hot extra virgin olive oil). I must admit that the breadcrumbs (as the cubed potatoes) do soak up some of the juices and add a different texture.

But not me… well, not always!

I like to present it as an antipasto with good bread.
I always serve it cold.

Peperonata is relatively easy to make, you just have to make sure that there is sufficient liquid in the pan so that the peppers don’t stick.

Obviously, you can also imagine this dish paired with baked ricotta or burrata. Because of the vinegar and the sugar, and just like a pickle, it pairs well with some small goods – breasaola, lomba, ossocollo…those lean thin slices of meat.

It is delicious as a stuffing for a panino or for a bruschetta…not that I ever make bruschetta, it is far too trendy!

3 white onions, 1 clove of garlic chopped finely

6 peppers of mixed colours, but the red and yellow peppers are sweeter

 ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons of white or red wine vinegar

salt and black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoons of sugar, to taste

Slice the onions finely. Core the peppers and cut them into strips.

Heat the oil, soften the onion and then add the peppers and the garlic and sauté the ingredients.
Cover with a lid and continue cooking for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent onions and peppers from sticking to the bottom.

When the peppers start to soften add about 1/4 cup of water. Stir to coat all the peppers well.

Cover with the lid again, add salt and pepper and continue cooking them on slow heat for about 10 minutes. Remove the lid, turn up the heat, add the vinegar and the sugar. Turn up the heat, stir the ingredients to coat them and evaporate some of the liquid.

Add fresh basil leaves or fresh oregano. Place into a container and leave the peperonata for at least 4 hours for the flavours to intensify. I like to leave it overnight in a covered container in the fridge.

Serve at room temperature.

At the time of serving you may wish to remove the spent oregano / basil and replace it with fresh leaves.

PEPERONATA; PIPIRONATA (Sicilian) Braised peppers

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

 

SEASONAL WINTER VEGETABLES in Melbourne, Australia

I really like winter vegetables, the variety is immense, the quality outstanding.

Winter vegetables include: artichokes, Asian greens, avocado, beans, beetroot, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cardoons, carrot, catalogna, cauliflower, cavolo nero, celeriac, celery, chicory, cime di rapa, cucumber, daikon, endive, fennel, kale, Kohl Rabi, lamb’s lettuce, leek, lettuces, mushrooms, okra, onion, parsnip, potato, pumpkin, radicchio, radish, rocket, shallots, silverbeet, spinach, spring onions, swede, sweet potato, turnip, watercress and witlof.

When I look at the above list of vegetables I know that I have not included recipes on my blog for the following vegetables: daikon, okra, parsnip, shallots, swede and probably turnip. This is not to say that I don’t use these vegetables, but   I tend to write more about Mediterranean vegetables.

My blog is called All Things Sicilian and More and I have written many recipes for winter vegetables. Although the “and More” in the title of my blog is supposed to imply that I cook more than Sicilian food, I tend to write about Italian cooking because this is my background, the cooking of my childhood and the basis of my cooking.

I use Asian greens in my cooking as well, and I particularly enjoy mustard greens, that I have cooked as I cook cime di rapa with pasta. I cook Chinese green leafy vegetables as I cook European leafy greens: stir fried in extra virgin oil and garlic. Sometimes I add anchovies and sometimes chillies.

During this season, I will revisit some recipes that include winter vegetables and the vegetables I have chosen to begin with are two chicories: Cicoria and Catalogna.

Cicoria – Chicory

Catalogna is a variant of cicoria. In Italy is also called Puntarelle or cicoria di catalogna or cicoria asparago: asparago means asparagus and this name is very appropriate as the plant looks like a head of shoots.

Catalogna (Puntarelle) has leaves that look like large leaves of chicory and dandelions, but more pointy and narrower; its leaves and shoots have the same bitter taste. And I love bitter greens.

Like chicory, the young and tender shoots of Catalogna can be eaten raw in salads. It is common to soak the puntarelle shoots in ice water for a while so that they curl. and then to dress them with a vinaigrette with anchovies and garlic. They are delicious.

Dressing with anchovies: 500g- 1 kilo puntarelle, 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil, 1tbs of vinegar, 3-4 anchovies, 1 clove of garlic. Pound the anchovies and garlic, add the oil and vinegar.

I have been writing about cicoria and puntarelle for a very long time.

This post was published on Nov 9, 2009 and it is worth looking at:

CICORIA and Puntarelle (Chicory)

There are other posts with recipes and information about chicory:

CICORETTA CON SALSICCIA (Chicory with fresh pork sausage)

WANT NOT WASTE NOT- Chicken livers and chicory, twice

 BITTER GREENS and AMARI (Aperitivi and Digestivi)

 

 

 

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.

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

SLIPPERY JACKS AND OTHER MUSHROOMS

It is mushroom time again. This time, I only found  Slippery Jacks, tiny compact ones.

They are slimy and they take a bit of cleaning.

Washing too.

And them drying them with old tea towels.

I cooked them with  onions, garlic and herbs, braised them in extra virgin olive oil and a splash of white wine.

In spite of being dried with a tea towel and very compact  they released their juice and as expected, because I had cooked them before, the juice is as slimy as when you cook okra.

I then placed the mushrooms in jars and saved them for another time.

It was always my intention to mix the Slippery Jacks with other mushrooms.

And dried porcini to add strong flavour.

I drained the cooked Slippery Jacks. If I wish, I can use the liquid for another dish.

I then proceeded to cook mushrooms as I always  do…. as in Funghi al Funghetto.

Garlic, parsley sautéed in extra virgin olive oil and butter.  Add fresh mushrooms and toss them around in the hot pan. I also added some fresh rosemary and sage and some thyme.

When the mushroom had well and truly sweated and softened, I added white wine and a little stock and evaporated some of the liquid before adding the Slippery Jacks.

This time, I used  the mushrooms as a topping for rice cooked in chicken stock. I could have used them as a dressing for pasta or as a vegetable side dish.

Pretty good.

Other wild mushroom recipes:

WILD MUSHROOMS, I have been foraging again

WILD MUSHROOMS  Saffron Coloured, Pine Mushrooms and Slippery Jacks

PASTA WITH MUSHROOMS ; Pasta ai funghi

FUNGHI AL FUNGHETTO (Braised mushrooms)

There are other recipes on my blog for mushrooms. If interested use the search button.

CAMPING and COOKING

When I go camping I enjoy cooking just as much as when I cook at home. I like to go camping as often as possible.

I particularly enjoy the challenge of undertaking of cooking with limited resources – few ingredients, simple cooking methods and equipment. Each meal is further restricted by what ingredients and produce has to be used first.

Camping meals also have to be easy, quick to cook and as flavoursome as I can make them. The basics are extra virgin olive oil, good quality wine vinegar or balsamic, anchovies, capers, mustard, fresh herbs from my garden, some spices and anything else that is in my home fridge and that I have room for in my camping fridge/ cooler box, for example any of the following: harissa, egg mayonnaise, tapenade,  preserved lemons, left-over cooked food and sauces…these will enrich the flavours of what I am to cook.

Above: kale sautéed with garlic, anchovies and chillies is accompanied with saganaki.  Like when cooking FORMAGGIO ALLA  ARGENTIERA I always add a sprinkling of  dried oregano while it is cooking.

Above: braised mushrooms will be used to dress pasta or  may accompany pork sausages or used to make a frittata.

Above: eggs poached in some tomato salsa and sprinkled with fresh basil leaves.

Above: braised red radicchio with pan-fried salamino (or chorizo).

Above: cauliflower cooked with rosemary and saffron and some creamed feta. This too could be used as a pasta sauce.

Above: pork sausages are pretty much staples for camping. They can be crumbled into dishes or cooked whole with tomatoes, sauerkraut, lentils or beans.

Above: pork sausages with lentils.

After 30 years of  using a blue gas stove I now have a yellow one.  This one lights more easily and generates more heat.

Sautéed  green leafy vegetables with chilli.

This is a common Italian method to cook any green leafy vegetables , such as : kale,  cavolo nero, spinach, chicory,  endives,  cime di rape, brassicas. Italians, like my mother would blanche or cook the leafy greens in boiling, salted water before sautéing , however because I prefer my vegetables not to be overcooked I omit the precooking.

I like to add a substantial amount of anchovies, but I am careful about adding salt to the greens when I sauté them in  extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and chilli.

Sauté the anchovies, The anchovies have to be cut finely and tossed about in some extra virgin olive oil to dissolve/ melt. This happens quickly.

Add some chopped garlic and chillies and toss for a couple of minutes before adding the washed greens and sauté until cooked to your liking.

Other posts about camping:

CAMPING, Pumpkin risotto

EATING WELL, Camping in Tasmania, BBQ chicken-Pollo alla Diavola

EATING AND DRINKING IN THE GOLDFIELDS in Victoria

PRODUCE IN GIPPSLAND ; Campside Eating

Below: The Otway National Park, Victoria, my last camping trip.

ARTICHOKES and how we love them – CAPONATA DI CARCIOFI

This week, Richard Cornish’s regular column is about artichokes. (September 21, Brain Food in The Age). His commentary has certainly provided me with an excess  amount of food for thought – artichokes are one of my very favourite vegetables and I have written many recipes for artichokes on my blog.

Artichokes in Acireale Sicily

I have included some recipes in this post and more can be found on my blog. In Italian artichokes are called carciofi, in Sicilian they are cacocciuli. As Richard says, artichokes are thought to have originated from Sicily, and therefore Sicilians have had plenty of time to appreciate their versatility and have come up with some excellent recipes for artichokes cooked in many interesting ways.

This is not to say that the other regions of Italy don’t have their own local recipes for artichokes, but Sicilians seem to have the lot.

Artichokes in Italy are eaten as appetizers, contorni (sides), first and second courses, and stand-alone dishes. Artichokes can be stuffed with a wide variety of fillings, fried whole or sliced, and crumbed before being fried, sautéed, boiled, baked, braised and stewed, roasted in ashes, used in frittate (plural of frittata), pasta and risotti (plural of risotto).

When they are young, they are sliced thinly and eaten raw in salads. They are canned commercially and, at the end of plant’s life, the last of the artichokes that will never mature but will stay small and underdeveloped, are conserved, mostly in olive oil. When they are old, they are stripped of all the leaves and the bases are eaten.

CARCIOFINI SOTT’ OLIO (Preserved artichokes in oil) 

It is spring in Australia now and the very best time to celebrate artichokes when they can be combined with other spring produce such as broad beans, peas, asparagus and potatoes.

A couple of recipes in my blog make a special feature of spring flavours:

A QUICK PASTA DISH for Spring: asparagus, artichokes, peas

CARCIOFI IMBOTTITI (Stuffed artichokes)

ASPARAGUS and ARTICHOKES PASTA ALLA FAVORITA (Pasta with artichokes, broad beans, peas alla favorita)

FRITTEDDA (A sauté of spring vegetables)

Different varieties of artichokes are also available in autumn, but somehow pairing them with spring seasonal produce, deserves extra applause.

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

In his Brain Food column about artichokes Richard says that artichokes contain a compound called cynarin which inhibits your tongue’s ability to detect sweetness. You don’t notice it until you have a bite or a drink of something else: the cynarin gets washed off the tongue, and suddenly, your brain tells you that what you have in your mouth is sweet, even when it is not!

Hence Cynar, one of the many Italian bitter alcoholic drinks (of the amaro variety) and made predominantly with artichokes. Cynar is classed as a digestive and it is said to have stomach-soothing qualities and cleansing and restorative properties for the liver. It can be drunk as an apéritif or after dinner drink.

BITTER GREENS and AMARI (Aperitivi and Digestivi)

Richard mentions how Richard Purdue, executive chef at Margaret in Sydney’s Double Bay, beams when the word artichoke is mentioned. ‘‘One of my favourite dishes is one I picked up in Sicily, where the artichokes are cooked in a kind of caponata – tomatoes, celery, pine nuts, currants, red wine and sugar.’’ So to finish off here is a recipe adapted from my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking for a caponata made with artichokes.

The recipe in my book suggests using 9 -10 artichokes and I intended the amount to be for 6 -8 people. Caponata di Carciofi (Artichoke Caponata) can only be made with young artichokes. It is also worth noting that you will need to remove the outer leaves and only use the tender centre, therefore reducing the amount of artichokes significantly.

CAPUNATA DI CARCIOFFULI – Caponata Di Carciofi  (Artichoke caponata)

I sauté each of the vegetable ingredients separately as is the traditional method of making caponata (as in a well-made, French dish Ratatouille). Frying the vegetables together does save time, but the colours and the flavours will not be as distinct. However, I have provided this method as a variation (see bottom of this recipe). Remove the outer, tougher leaves of the artichokes by bending them back and snapping them off the base until you come to the softer, paler leaves.

  • Prepare artichokes for sautéing. The artichokes need to be sliced thinly and vertically into bite size pieces. Keep them in acidulated water as you work. The cleaned stalk is one of my favourite parts of the artichoke and will add flavour to the caponata. Trim the stalk with a small sharp knife to pull away the tough, stringy outer skin (just like the strings of celery) and leave the stem attached to the artichoke. This will expose the light-coloured, centre portion, which is very flavourful and tender and much appreciated by Italians.
  • Drain the artichokes from the acidulated water and squeeze dry (I use a clean tea towel).
  • Select a large, shallow, saucepan to sauté the artichokes. They should not be crowded and if you do not have a large enough pan, sauté them in batches – you want to create as little liquid as possible.
  • Place some of the extra virgin olive oil in the pan and sauté the artichokes on low heat until they are tender. This may take up to 10 minutes or more depending on the freshness and age of the artichokes (add a little water or white wine if the ingredients are drying out).
  • Remove the artichokes and set aside.
  • Add a little more, extra virgin olive oil to the pan (and/or you may be able to drain some from the sautéed artichokes) and sauté the other vegetables in the same pan, separately. Proceed as follows:
  • Sauté the onion until it begins to colour, remove from the pan and add to the artichokes.
  • Add a little more extra virgin olive oil and sauté the celery.
  • Add the olives, capers, salt and tomatoes to the celery. Simmer gently for about 5-7 minutes. Add a little water if needed (this mixture should have the consistency of a thick sauce.)
  • Remove the mixture from the pan and add it to the sautéed artichokes and onions.
  • To make the agro dolce (sweet sour) sauce:
  • Add the sugar to the pan and caramelise the sugar by stirring it until it melts and begins to turn a honey colour.
  • Add the vinegar and swirl it around to collect the flavours of the sautéed vegetables and evaporate it (2-3 minutes).
  • Place all of the sautéed vegetables and artichokes into the pan with the agro dolce sauce and gently toss the ingredients, as you would do a salad.
  • Simmer on very gentle heat to amalgamate the flavours for about 3-5 minutes.
  • Place caponata into a sealed container or jar and store in the fridge. Leave it to stand at least a day but preferably longer.

Now, for the easier version:

  • To make caponata, where the ingredients are not fried separately, proceed as follows:
  • Prepare and sauté the artichokes as in the proceeding recipe.
  • Add a little more extra virgin olive oil and heat it. Add the onion and the celery and sauté until they begin to colour.
  • Add the olives, capers, sugar, salt, vinegar and tomatoes. Cover and simmer gently until tender (5-10 minutes or more depending on the freshness and age of the artichokes).