TRADITIONAL FOOD – Festive Season

It is far too late to write about traditional recipes for the upcoming festive season.

I have to admit that usually my month of December is just so busy that I don’t have time to investigate new recipes. I tend to rely on old favourites that I can cook with my eyes closed. Some of these old favourites are:  Pasta Con Le Sarde; baccalà cooked in various ways;  a risotto or pasta with squid and black ink with green peas; mussels; tuna steaks also cooked in different ways: Insalata Russa; grilled seasonal vegetables like zucchini, peppers and eggplants; and for dessert, there is either Zuppa Inglese with Arkemes (Alchermes) or a Sicilian Cassata., made with ricotta.

You will find all of these recipes on my blog.

This year I am in Adelaide for Christmas. I had given my family in Adelaide some options of what I could cook  for Christmas Eve, but they all asked for two old favourites –  Baccalà Mantecato and Caponata Catanese as part of the antipasti….. same old, same old.

The Baccalà Mantecato is from the Veneto region in Italy and something that was very common in Trieste (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) where my parents and I lived when I was a child.  The baccalà is soaked in water for 3 days, then poached in milk, bay and a couple of garlic cloves, drianed and creamed with extra virgin oilve oil. It is spread on crostini – bread brushed with oil and toasted. The crostini my mother made were toased in a frypan and never in the oven. Crostini made with polenta are also favourites… but who has the time?

In the photo below is the soaked baccalà.

The Caponata Catanese is from Catania in Sicily.  Unlike the Caponata from Palermo that is made with eggplants. This version is made with peppers as well as eggplants and the usual caponata ingredients of green olives, celery, a bit of tomato paste and the agro-dolce, (a sweet and sour sauce). This is topped with pine nuts and basil.

So let’s just share a recipe for Christmas, but remember that at this time of year it is hot in Australia (because it is summer), if it is winter where you are, you may not even consider cooking it. It is braised lentils cooked wit Cotechino…..Cotechino con le lenticchie.

Although I would never serve this at midnight as was customary in some parts of Emilia-Romagna where the dish originates, it is an interesting choice. The Cotechino is a rich seasoned pork sausage that I poach with the lentils. The thick  sausage is then sliced and served on top of a bed of braised lentils.

The green lentils that resemble the shape of coins are intended to bring you prosperity in the New Year.

COTECHINO AND LENTILS; NEW YEAR’S EVE and CHRISTMAS

New Year’s Eve Baccalà Mantecato

BACCALÀ MANTECATO, risotto

CAPONATA recipes:

THE MANY VERSIONS OF CAPONATE

CAPONATA Catanese (from Catania) made easy with photos

CAPONATA FROM PALERMO (made with eggplants)

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

A MOUNTAIN OF CAPONATA: two days before Christmas

Photos of the caponata cooked in Melbourne and brought to Adelaide. Once again I used my heavy large wok to cook each of the vegetables separately.

HOW ONE FISH RECIPE CAN EVOLVE INTO A DIFFERENT DISH

Somehow, I ended up eating fish for most of the week, and part of the first recipe lead into the second, and part of the second led into the third, but each dish was unique.

Of course there were also left overs.

I made Baccalà Mantecato on the weekend. The baccalà has to be soaked for a couple of days before it is poached in milk with some bay leaves and a clove of garlic. It is a dish that comes from the Veneto region and is also particularly popular in Trieste (Friuli Venezia Giulia).

Cooking the garlic in milk softens the taste and once blended with the baccalà and extra virgin olive oil, the taste of the garlic is less aggressive.

I always save the poaching liquid whether I poach the baccalà in milk or in water, and I did this a couple of days later when I made Baccalà Mantecato for a friend who is allegic to diary.

I cooked fish again. I bought some fish cutlets, slices cut horizontally, each steak usually has four distinct fleshy segments and each segment can be studded with a different flavour. Below is a photo of what I expect when I buy this cut of fish that I use regularly. I have included a link to a full recipe at the end of this post.

The photo below shows the four distinct segments of fish that surround the central spine, each receptive to a different flavour. It looks like on that occasion I studded the segments with cloves, oregano, fennel and garlic. At other times I have used sage, cinnamon, dill, thyme, rosemary or tarragon. The flavours I use for the stuffing will also determine what use to deglaze the pan after I have sauteed the fish, for example on various occasions I have used dry marsala (especially for Sicilian cooking), vermouth, Pernod and a variety of white wines that impart different flavours to the fish. Lemon juice or vinegar is also good.

When I opened the parcel and was ready to stud my fish, I noticed that only one slice was as I expected (cut from the tail end of the fish), but the other slices included what I call ‘flaps’, the often long and bony sides of fish encasing the gut of the fish.

It is part of the fish’s anatomy, but what I objected to was that the slices in the display cabinet were all the same size. These slices were not at all suitable for inserting with four different flavours; they were also difficult to fit into the frypan comfortably.

I cut the flaps off and only used two flavours to stud into the flesh of the fish – garlic and thyme.

I pan fried the fish, added some herbs – fresh fennel fronds and parsley. I deglazed the pan with a splash of white wine, evaporated it, added a little of the stock from the baccalà, added some capers.

What to do with the flaps?

The next day I poached the flaps in water flavoured with some onion, whole peppercorns, bay leaves, a little celery. This gave me some extra fish stock as well as an opportunity to remove the flesh and discard the skin and bones. I discarded the greenery.

I had the makings of a fish risotto.

Making a risotto is easy. I decided to add peas, frozen at this time of year and herbs of course, as in all of my cooking.

I softened one chopped onion in butter and extra virgin olive oil, added 1 cup of rice to the pan and toasted the rice. A splash of white wine, evaporated it, added 1 cup of peas and some chopped parsley and fennel. Tossed them all in the hot pan, added a little salt and then proceeded to add the milk stock from the baccalà and the stock used to poach the flaps of the fish to cook the risotto.

I added the fish pieces to the risotto when it was nearly cooked (to warm it), the grated rind and juice of a lemon and at the very end some butter and black pepper.

There was enough for lunch the next day and the evolving fish meals stopped there!

FISH STUDDED WITH SICILIAN FLAVOURS

BACCALÀ MANTECATO (Creamed salt cod, popular in the Veneto region and Trieste)

New Year’s Eve Baccalà Mantecato

BACCALÀ MANTECATO, risotto

 

IOTA recipe for SBS ITALIAN (a thick soup from Trieste)

Those who read Italian can tap into the link below for SBS Italian. The link also allows anyone who would like to listen to me discussing the recipe briefly with the SBS Presenter Massimigliano/Max Gugole). This is also spoken in Italian.

Recipe and podcast SBS Italian:

https://rb.gy/50uxy

The following is a rough translation of what is on the SBS Italian website and what Max and I discussed.

Jota /Iota is a very ancient preparation much appreciated in Trieste (Friuli-Venezia Giulia), a territory with a complex history, it was first part of of the Austrian Empire and later of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

When you look at a map of Italy and find Trieste, you see that the location of this city is close to Slovenia, Croatia and further north is Austria and the cuisine of Trieste has been influenced by these countries.

This thick soup is made with borlotti beans, “capuzi garbi” (the local name for sauerkraut), potatoes and smoked pork. For the latter component, sausages or a piece of cooked ham can be used. For meat on the bone, you can use ribs, a hock or ham on the bone.

It is a typical winter dish, rustic and full-bodied, which is eaten as a stand alone dish.

Jota is typical and is eaten not only in Trieste but throughout Friuli.

Like all ancient recipes, every family has its own recipe and there are many variations. Some put barley, polenta or a soffritto of a little oil sautéed with a little flour to make it thicker. Many also add a teaspoon of German cumin seeds (caraway seeds in English) and not to be confused with what we call cumin.

Experiment with this recipe. Feel free to add more meat or more beans or more sauerkraut, depending on your taste! And with a few more potatoes, the soup will be even thicker.

Ingredients (6 people)

400g sauerkraut, drained
400g of dried borlotti beans
400g of potatoes
4 – 6 bay leaves
2 cloves of garlic
Smoked pork: 2-3 sausages or a whole piece of cooked ham (about 400g), or a hock (about 1k) or ribs, or bone-in ham
extra virgin olive oil or lardpepper and salt to taste2 tablespoons flour (optional)

The night before, put the well-covered beans in a bowl to soak in cold water.

The next day, cook the beans in a saucepan with 2 bay leaves over low heat for about 40 – 50 minutes. Peel and cut the potatoes into pieces, add them to the broth with the beans and continue cooking for 20 – 30 minutes until everything is cooked.

Place half the potatoes and beans in a bowl with the broth, reducing everything to a puree/ mash. Then add the rest of the whole beans and pieces of potatoes.

In another pot, brown the crushed garlic cloves in a little oil or lard. When they are golden, add the sauerkraut and cover them with water. If you want you can add some bay leaves and/or caraway seeds.

Add the hock and/or smoked meat on the bone, and when it is almost fully cooked, add the whole sausages and cook for another 15-20 minutes. Remove the sausages and meat from the pot and slice everything, removing the bones.

Combine the vegetable broth with the beans and potatoes with the sauerkraut, the sliced ​​smoked meat and its broth.Season with salt and pepper to taste.

OPTIONAL: In a small separate pan put two tablespoons of oil or lard, adding a little flour. Stir to avoid lumps. Once the flour has been toasted, add this sautéed mixture to the rest of the soup, mixing carefully.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

This soup should be quite thick. Add more broth or water if it is too thick.

It is even better if prepared a day in advance.

The beans and potatoes can be cooked days beforehand and kept in the fridge.

 To cook a Jota with less fat you can cook the broth with the smoked meat in the water and the bay leaves. When the meat and the broth are cooked, if you have used meat on the bones, remove the bones and when the broth is cold remove the fat.

Sauerkraut can be bought either in jars or glass jars in delicatessen shops and supermarkets.

Smoked meat is part of German, Polish, Hungarian, Russian, Slovenian and Croatian gastronomy.

Pork hocks, ribs and cooked ham are readily available and can be found in supermarkets. Sausages can be bought in produce markets, some continental delicatessens and butchers or food specialty shops. In some supermarkets you can find commercial sausages: Polish sausage, Kramsky, Cabonossi and Kabana. I keep away from those wrapped in plastic.

Commercial cooked bacon if cured and smoked properly is cooked first and then smoked, but unfortunately, some manufacturers inject the meat with liquid smoke. (Use a reputable brand).

 N.B. There are smoked products that are made with free-range pork and smallgoods/charcuterie manufacturers that use no artificial additives or preservatives.

There are other recipes for making Iota on my blog. For the SBS recipe I thought that I would simplify the recipe and write it  more in keeping with the many variations of how to cook Iota in Trieste, so I suggested using two saucepans, one to cook the beans and potatoes and in the other the sauerkraut and pork.

Other recipes on All Things Sicilian and More blog:

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

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

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

 

 

PUTIZA, from La Cucina Tipica Triestina

One of my readers has asked for this recipe and because she does not seem to be very familiar with the English language, I am providing a screen shot of the recipe from one of my books about La Cucina Triestina.

Trieste, Ponte Rosso

It is from this book:

The recipe is for Putiza. It is described as a Panettone ripieno (filled).

Putiza is called Potica in Slovenia.

It is a delicious, rich, yeast bread dough stuffed with walnuts, chocolate, pine nuts and  sultanas soaked in rum. It can be made at home, but is easily found in many pastry shops especially during Easter and Christmas.

There are no photos in the book, but this is what it looks like:

See also:

PRESNIZ and GUBANA (Easter cakes in Trieste)

Traditional Easter Sweets in Trieste in Friuli Venezia Giulia

In memory of Zia Licia, my aunt from Trieste – recipe for Fritole

My last surviving aunt, Zia Licia, died last week. She died in Adelaide and the funeral was a couple of days ago, but because I live in Melbourne I was unable to attend.

I was visiting friends in Pambula, on the south coast of NSW when my brother rang  last week to give me the news about Zia’s death and since her death, I have been remembering many things.

Zia Licia was from Trieste and was married to my mother’s brother, Pippo.

My mother’s family moved to Trieste from Catania, Sicily, when my mother was five years old.  She lived in Trieste till my father, mother and I come to Australia. I was eight years old but my memories remain strong.

I consider myself very lucky to have roots in Trieste, Sicily and Australia.

Just like my Sicilian aunts, Zia Licia liked to cook.

 

 

When we came to Adelaide we shared a house for a while with my  Zia Licia and her husband, Zio Pippo.

My mum did not cook much in Trieste, my parents went out to eat or  Zia Renata, my other aunt in Trieste would often cook.

When we came to Australia, mum and Zia Licia cooked together. It was a form of entertainment… what else could you do in a new country when things were so different? Of course my uncle also enjoyed cooking and because he worked on weekdays, he joined in on weekends. There were the three of them on a Sunday morning cooking up new things for the guests we often invited for Sunday lunch.  Those lunches were special, and I was required to help in the kitchen.

Maybe that is where my love of cooking comes from?

My Zia Licia had a good sense of humour and a way of laughing that brought fun into any situation; as expected we all  laughed a lot during these cooking sessions.

One of the very first things that I can remember really enjoying  was the making of Fritole (Frittole in Italian, from fritto, fried).

So what are they?

Fritole are fragrant  and flavourful balls of sweet dough. Once fried they are  coated in granulated sugar (and cinnamon, optional); the spoonfuls of batter were once most likely fried in lard but in recent years, olive oil.  Some may use vegetable oil but I think that olive oil has a special fragrance that enhances the taste of Fritole.

The batter is made with flour, yeast, milk, eggs, sugar, lemon zest,  raisins or sultanas soaked in sufficient dark rum (sometimes in grappa) to rehydrate the raisins. In most recipes  pine nuts are also added, but not always.

Frìtole are also a well established sweet in Venezia, especially during  the Carnevale. The Venice Carnivale takes place each year in February. It begins around two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras in French or Martedi Grasso in Italian).

Trieste and Venice are neighbours, so sharing this recipe is not surprising, but in Trieste Fritole are popular at Christmas time. Bakeries, pastry shops and Christmas street markets all have Fritole and they are also made at home.

We had no recipe for Fritole, so we relied heavily on Zia Licia’s memory of making Fritole because Zia  would have helped her mother make them in her Triestinian kitchen. Having eaten them very frequently in Trieste we also relied on our collective memories of how Fritole should look, taste, smell and feel…and always eaten warm and fragrant – so important when it comes to reproducing recipes.

I cannot remember how the adults felt about the Fritole, but I remember enjoying them very much as a child.

In those days we did not add pine nuts to our Fritole; we had no access to them and it was a nut not familiar in Australia at that time.

I found various recipes for Fritole in the large number of books about the cooking of Trieste (in Friuli Venezia Giulia) and in the Veneto regions of northern Italy and  the recipe below is probably  the closest to what we would have made. The instructions in the ancient Italian recipe I’ve chosen, are not very specific because it is assumed that cooks would know what steps to follow, so I  will spell them out.

Ingredients: 3eggs, 30g fresh yeast, 400g plain flour, cinnamon, milk, 50g sugar, lemon peel (grated), rum, 50g raisins (or sultanas), 40g pine nuts.

To the above, add a little salt to the batter. If you wish to use dry yeast, 10g should be sufficient. As for the milk , you will need at least 2 cups, but maybe more – the mixture should be like a thick batter.

Place the raisins or sultanas in a small bowl and pour some dark rum or grappa over them (to cover). Set aside for a few hours or overnight.

Place about a cup of warm milk in a mixing bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Mix well to incorporate the yeast into the milk. Add about half of the flour and mix it in gently. Cover the bowl with a cloth and set aside to rest for half an hour. The mixture will bubble as the yeast activates.

Drain the raisins or sultanas and reserve any rum in a small bowl. Toss them around in a little flour to coat lightly; this will prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the Fritole as they fry.

When the yeast mixture has risen, use a wooden spoon or spatula to incorporate all the ingredients  – the remaining flour, raisins sugar,  egg, lemon zest, rum and pine nuts (if using).  Add more warm milk as necessary to ensure that the mixture is like a thick batter. Cover the bowl with cloth again and set aside in a warm and draft-free area for at least 30-45 minutes to rest – it should double in size and the batter should be bubbly and airy.

Use a heavy-bottomed pot to heat sufficient oil (for the batter to swim/float in). The oil needs to be hot. Use a spoon to carefully drop the batter into the hot oil. It is better to fry a few Fritole at the time and not overcrowd them in the pan.

Once fried, drain the Fritole  with a slotted spoon or tongs and place them on paper towels to absorb any excess oil. Roll them in sugar and cinnamon.

In the last few days I  have  found myself bursting into old Triestinian songs…like Le Ragazze di Trieste and Trieste Mia. I will need to stop myself otherwise i will drive my partner mad!

I have returned to Trieste on many occasions and the photos  of Trieste have been taken over a number of years .

 

 

 

 

COOKING WITH GRAPPA, cosce di gallina (chicken upper thighs)

I use alcohol in my cooking very frequently. Cooking with alcohol enhances the taste and smell of many dishes.

In savoury foods I mostly add wine or wine-based beverages and spirits. Liqueurs are mostly for desserts, although I rather like the orange taste in Cointreau for pan fried duck breasts, duck or chicken livers and pork fillets. When I want a taste of fennel or anise, as for example in fish, Pernod is a favourite.

Using different herbs and spices are also very apparent in my cooking to impart different flavours and aromas.

One of the most common and simplest ways I use alcohol is to deglaze the pan after pan frying or sautéing meat, fish, vegetables or fruit. For example when cooking chicken or duck livers, once cooked, I remove the contents from the pan, pour in the alcohol and start scraping the sides and bottom of the pan – this dislodges all the tasty, caramelized bits ….I evaporate the liquid and the result is a very flavourful sauce.

Generally my most common types of alcohol for deglazing are wine, vermouth, brandy, Marsala Fine or Cointreau. Each of these beverages will add different flavours.

I need to say that my Sicilian relatives do not use much alcohol in cooking.

This brings me to my use of Grappa in cooking adding a subtle complexity to food. It is equally effective in savory and sweet dishes. Worth doing.

Grappa, the Italian spirit is produced from distilling the skins, seeds and stalks of grapes after making wine. It  is drunk and used widely in cooking in the northern regions of Italy.

In Trieste it was a favourite drink for many Triestines and it was a common ingredient when making pastries and sweets like frittole, crostoli and apple strudel.

When my family arrived in Australia there was no Grappa, but we soon met some people from Trieste and found that they were using hot water units with copper piping to distil Grappa in their homes. A very slow process, but how ingenious.

Illegal of course, but we were able to buy flagons of Grappa from these people.

Being interested in my roots  – Northern Italian and Sicilian –  I have recently reintroduced Grappa in some of my cooking.

Here is a simple recipe:

You can see  from the photo, the ingredients are what they call Lovely Legs (chicken), Italian pancetta, sage, rosemary,  Grappa, extra virgin olive oil and butter, and although Juniper berries go well with gin, I thought they would be good with Grappa as well.

The process is very simple.

Marinade the chicken legs (there were 5) in some oil, herbs, juniper berries and pancetta cut into smaller bits for about 2 hours or longer.

Add butter to a pan, place the marinated legs and contents in the pan and  gently brown the contents. Add a splash of  stock or water, cover and cook until the chicken is cooked.

Remove the contents, add a liqueur glass (about 2 tablespoons) of Grappa. Scarpe the solids from the sides and bottom of the pan and let it bubble for a minute or two to amalgamate the liquids.

Place the contents back in the pan to coat  them with the flavourful sauce, and there you are.

 

ALL ABOUT MAKING FRITTATA and Podcast with Maria Liberati

I was very surprised when one of my friends said that she had baked a zucchini frittata following a recipe in Ottolenghi’s Simple. I opened my copy of the cookbook to see if Ottolenghi really had baked a frittata. Afterall he has Italian heritage! It is not called a frittata for nothing!(I am joking here – I really like and respect Ottolenghi – but all jokes aside, if I were to bake a mixture of zucchini and eggs, I would call it a Zucchini Bake.

Fritta, means fried (feminine) and fritto, as in Fritto Misto is fried (masculine) and misto means mixed. I would enjoy continuing with a lesson in Italian grammar, but this post is about frittata.

Recently I was contacted by Maria Liberati and invited to participate in an interview about Frittata, for a podcast. So there I was  from Melbourne in lockdown chatting to Maria Liberati in Pennsylvania.

Maria asked me to speak about frittate (plural), she found of a post I had been invited to write by Janet Clarkson’s very popular blog called ‘The Old Foodie’. The post was called An Authentic Frittata (December 2008). I had forgotten that I had written it, but what I said then still stands.

Apart from discussing frittate in general and providing a  Sicilian recipe for frittata I made a comment about Claudia Roden. She is one of my heros,  but I disagreed with what she must have said at some stage:” Frittate are common throughout Italy but not Sicily and Sardinia’.

But just how popular are frittate anyway? When do we eat frittate? and could it be that frittate are such ordinary fare that they do not appear in cookery books very often?

In An Authentic Frittata, my first sentence is:
‘Every National Cuisine has certain rules and customs.’

Baking a frittata in Italy is not one of them.

But I can understand why frying a frittata is scary.  This is a simple zucchini and cheese frittata. It is spring in Melbourne and we had some new season’s zucchini tossed quickly in a frypan with some extra virgin olive oil, a little parsley and garlic. I turned the leftovers  and some grated pecorino cheese into a simple frittata. 

Frittata is cooked on one side before being inverted onto a plate and then slid into the frypan again  to cook on the other side. It is not that scary.

Pour the mixture of beaten eggs (a fork will do),  zucchini, salt, pepper into hot oil. Use the spatula to press the frittata gently on top and lift the edges tilting the pan. This allows some of the runny egg to escape on the side to cook. when there is no more egg escaping you are ready to turn it over.

As Maria said in the interview, perhaps cooks could try this with a smaller pan. I think it is worth it.

When making frittata, using a round frypan makes sense, and not making it a huge frittata makes it more manageable.

Depending on the quantities of the other ingredients to be added to the frittata, I think about 8 eggs is the maximum.

Maria and I certainly agreed about how the cooking of Italy is very regional and how this may also apply to frittata. I grew up in Trieste (the north eastern Italian cooking of Friuli Venezia Giulia is similar to the Veneto and Trentino Alto Adige) but I also have a Sicilian heritage.

Cuisine is localised , each region has prepared specialities based on their produce and cultural influences. Sicily was an important trade route in a strategic location in the Mediterranean and was settled by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians,  Arabs, Normans, French, Spaniards. Trieste was a very important port  for much of that north eastern part of Italy that  were part of the Austro – Hungarian Empire. Surrounding countries that influenced the history and culture were Austria, Switzerland, France, Germany,and Croatia are not too far away.

Here are some basic differences  between the making of frittate in the north and the south , some are no longer hard and fast rules, for example:

  • butter or butter and oil is used for frying in the north, oil in the south,
  • use of local produce in both – I have had quite a few frittate with ricotta in Sicily and made with fruit in the north, especially with apples,
  • because left-overs are good ingredients for a frittata, you may see more vegetable based frittate in the south and more smallgoods based ones in the north, e.g. prosciutto, different cheeses,
  • breadcrumbs are common additions to a frittata in the south (to soak up liquid from vegetables), a little flour and even a dash of milk is evident in many northern recipes,
  • a little grated cheese is common in all frittate, Parmigiano in the north, pecorino or aged caciocavallo or ricotta salata in Sicily.

Like language, cooking evolves and when I cook, I do not invent or modify recipes without knowing what came first – what is the traditional recipe?  What are the ingredients and how was it cooked? Experimentation can only come after respect for the ingredients and method of cooking that traditional recipe, and accepting that although the recipe may have been right for the time, there are changes that i would like to make. When I modify a recipe I ask myself if modifying it will improve it, is it a healthier way to cook it, quicker? And this applies to all traditional recipes.

A very simple example is how my mother always overcooked her vegetables, but she found my sautéed vegetables very undercooked. She either used onions or garlic, never the two together, meat and fish in the same recipe? Never.

Using Warrigal Greens (Australian bush tucker,  like English spinach). Do not even think about that, I am definitely breaking the rules. These are growing on my balcony.

I am looking forward to using other spring produce to make frittate , especially artichokes, spring peas/snow peas, zucchini and zucchini flowers.

Maria and I talked amicably about many things, and there were many details that I had intended to say, but we ran out of time.

Thank you Maria for giving me this opportunity.

Below is a frittata I cooked with  wild asparagus.

Some links:

  • Recipes on my blog for making Frittata:

ASPARAGI DI BOSCO and FRITTATINA (Wild Asparagus continued, and Frittata)

WILD ASPARAGUS IN SICILY AND TUNIS (ASPARAGI SELVATICI)

BOOK SIGNING OF SICILIAN SEAFOOD COOKING AT READINGS (and Fennel Frittata)

FRITTATA: SAUSAGE and RICOTTA

The recipe I provided in this post is a version of Giuseppe Coria’s but variations of this same recipe are in a couple of Sicilian cookbooks written in Italian. I do wonder if that recipe is still made now.

Podcast: A Sicilian Frittata Story
 54 mins

This week Maria discusses the power of food to take us to new places – this time, to Sicily – where we’ll enjoy a simple frittata. Joining her today is Marisa Raniolo Wilkins, a passionate food writer, blogger and recipe developer from Sicily.

To hear this podcast, click HERE

 

 

 

 

 

 

MINESTRA from Trieste – borlotti, pearl barley, Sauerkraut

Borlotti beans, pearl barley and sauerkraut, but it is rather a brothy soup.

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 is 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.

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

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.