DELVING INTO EGG PASTA

The diversity of Italian regional cuisine, continues to inspire me and in this post I am unraveling some of the intricacies of Italian egg pasta, from tagliatelle to tortelli.

I really like the texture and taste of pasta made with eggs; the number of eggs in the dough can significantly influence the texture, with a higher egg count often resulting in a firmer bite.

When we think of egg pasta, what may immediately come to mind are the classics: tagliatelle, pappardelle, fettucine, and lasagne. These are all variations on the theme of ribbons or squares or rectangular sheets of pasta, each with its own story and preferred accompaniments.

 

Pappardelle, slightly broader than tagliatelle, and are widely used in Tuscan kitchens. They’re frequently paired with strong meaty sauces – usually tomatoes and herbs slow cooked with beef, pork or lamb. Celebrated across the region of Tuscany is the classic dish of pappardelle with cinghiale (wild boar) and in season, pappardelle with porcini mushrooms.

Fettucine are more narrow than tagliatelle. Both tagliatelle and fettucine are usually sold as nidi (nests). These delicate ribbons are more fragile than their broader counterparts and the strands are coiled in the shape of small nests and nestled snugly in their packaging.

Tagliatelle are from the cuisines of somewhere from Bologna or Modena (Emilia Romagna), or in the Marche region. The dough is generally made with less eggs. Ragú alla Bolognese is the renowned dressing for tagliatelle but once again traditionally there were meat based sauces but this is now changing.

Small shapes or thin strips of egg pasta are also excellent in broth – take the very fine egg noodles called fillini (fili means threads) and tagliolini are fine strips of pasta (or tajerin in Piedmontese). Quadretti/quadrini are little squares and this shape is popular all over Italy. It is usually made with the bits of fresh pasta that are left over from making pasta ribbons and lasagna rectangles. Oddly cut pasta is also popular.

Cannelloni, like lasagne, are made with rectangular shaped cuts of pasta, with the pasta folded over the filling.

But egg pasta isn’t only cut into ribbons and sheets; it’s also about the crafting of the varieties of pasta ripiena (filled/stuffed pasta) usually filled with a combination of meat, cheese and/or vegetables. Each variety, with its distinct shape, character and sauce, tells a story of the region where it is made.

There are many shapes of filled pasta mainly from the regions of Emilia Romagna, Lombardy, Liguria and Piedmont. The most widely known type of filled pasta are the ravioli, mainly from Liguria. Ravioli come in various sizes and are made with various fillings and are common all over Italy.

Depending on how familiar you are with eating in various parts of Italy or eateries in your home country that have regional Italian, stuffed pasta specialties, you may be familiar with tortellini, tortelli, (larger version), cappelletti cappellacci (larger version) anolini/agnolini and agnolotti (larger version).

And as you would expect, there are regional variations in the shapes, size and fillings.  For example, the classic filling for tortelli in Parma and Piacenza (Emiglia Romagna) includes ricotta and herbs, but you can also find them filled with meat. In Mantua (Lombardy) it is pumpkin, with amaretti and mustard. Most of these tortelli are the usually formed by cutting a circle of pasta,  placing the stuffing on one side and folding the other half of pasta over the stuffing. I call this moon shaped. But in Maremma (Tuscany) the tortello is square shaped and larger than ravioli, and stuffed with ricotta, spinach, nutmeg and cheese. In Mugello and Casentino (Tuscany) the usual filling is potato, parmesan and nutmeg and is dressed with a strong meat sauce.

In the very norther region of Val D’Aosta the tortelli are square or rectangular and stuffed with spinach or minced veal, but in the Marche region the filling is a combination of mountain herbs.

The one tortello that sticks in my mind is the very unusual Cremasco tortello:(Republic of Venice) filled with amaretti (almond biscuits) and mostaccini (spiced biscuits) egg yolk, raisins, candied fruit and grated cheese. This makes so much sense to me because Venezia was the centre of the spice trade. These Venetian tortelli are dressed with brown butter and sage dressing.

In South Tyrol, schlutzkrapfen are traditionally made with a mix of barley or rye flour and stuffed with a mixture of spinach and ricotta or with turnips and potatoes, depending on availability. Sometimes smoked pork is added.  It is not a big surprise that the region has an Austrian culinary influence.

Although most of these stuffed pasta types I have mentioned are found in Northern Italy, I will include the ricotta ravioli as made in the southern east corner of Sicily. My zia Niluzza who lived in Ragusa made the best traditional, large ravioli filled with ricotta and served with a strong tomato and a pork based sugo. The ravioli are also exquisite dressed with black ink sauce.

Culurgiones are from Sardinia and their filling consists of boiled potatoes, onions and mint, some also add pecorino others ricotta.

Except for the small tortellini that are cooked in broth (capon, beef, chicken), all of the filled pasta shapes are cooked like pasta in boiling water and dressed with various sauces typical of the region where they originate.

The possibilities for sauces are many, for example there are various combinations that could be based on cheese, cream, butter, ham/prosciutto,  peas, mushroom, brown sage butter, walnut or simple tomato/ tomato and meat sugo, including pork sausages.

There are stuffings made with fish, fish and vegetables: crab is popular. And of course there are light fish sauces to dress the fish stuffed pasta, these are usually butter and fish fumet based. Black ink sauce is marvellous.

And what is still interesting that in Italy, a local would respect and mostly protect the tradition, even though in recent years, there’s been a shift towards lighter vegetable-based sauces that are so popular now in modern cuisine.

One very simple sauce that is  very common in dressing egg pasta of all shapes and packages is the brown butter and sage sauce.

Some of you may know brown butter sauce as the traditional beurre noisette (hazelnut butter), a French sauce made simply by heating unsalted butter (salted butter tends to foam more and has more sediment).

Brown butter has a rich, nutty flavour and with the addition of fresh sage, it is used to dress egg pasta in northern Italy. It is a popular autumnal dressing that complements ingredients such as mushroom, pumpkin and potato.

Brownt butter and sage dressing for egg pasta (4 people):

50 g of butter

15-20 sage leaves

Melt the butter over low heat in a pan. Add the sage leaves letting them sizzle gently for a few minutes. Ensure to constantly stir the butter being careful not to burn it.  When you have done this, take the pan off the heat and transfer the butter to a separate bowl. This will ensure that it doesn’t burn due to residual heat.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain the pasta, empty the pot and put the pasta back inside. Remove some of the leaves from the butter (optional) before dressing the pasta.

Stir gently to coat the pasta. At this stage I also like to add black pepper.

Grated Parmesan is a must.

One of my aunts was Piedmontese and was an excellent cook. Her daughter (my cousin Rosadele) and my Sicilian uncle lived in Genova (Liguria). The two women were champions for making Piemontese and Ligurian specialties especially stuffed pasta – agnolotti in soft fresh cheese sauces and pansoti in walnut and marjoram pesto were two favourites.

My parents and I visited the relatives in Genova every year on our habitual yearly summer trip from Trieste to Sicily. We ate very well.

Having lived in Trieste and with relatives spanning from Piedmont to Sicily (Ragusa and Augusta, quite different cooking), I count myself lucky to have this culinary heritage that I enjoy exploring  .

PESTO DI NOCI (Walnut pesto/ sauce for pasta)

SWEET MARJORAM AND WALNUT PESTO

RICOTTA RAVIOLI and STONE GROUND FLOUR

TORTELLI DI ZUCCA (Large tortellini stuffed with pumpkin) Ristorante Cartoccia in Mantova

PAPPARDELLE (Pasta with Hare or game ragù)

PAPPARDELLE Continued…..

SQUID BLACK INK sauce: Montalbano’s pasta with black ink sauce

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

TORTELLINI, how made in Bologna

EMIGLIA ROMAGNA and their love of stuffed pasta

MUSSELS IN TRIESTE and Mussel recipes

In the Italian language mussels are known as cozze. Those of you who have travelled to Italy or like Italian food would know that mussels are enjoyed in all regions of Italy.

Trieste, Ponte Rosso

In Trieste, mussels are called pedoci in the Triestino dialect.

The people in Trieste have a sense of humour, because pedoci (slang for the Italian word pedochi) in English are lice/parasites. The Venetians must have also shared the joke because in the Veneziano dialect they call them peoci.

As a child I was always amused by this term because parasites (head lice) were only found on those who did not bathe. Because they were contageous, all had to keep away.

In the 50 years before World War I, Trieste was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and because of’ its seaside the location it was the empire’s only international port. Following the 1954 London Memorandum, Trieste was appropriated by Italy and since 1963 it has been the capital of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

Mussels have been bred in the Gulf of Trieste for a very long time and were an offshoot enterprise from a successful and profitable international oyster trade. Some archaeological evidence shows that oyster farming and the exploitation of natural oyster beds were distinct features of the Roman era in various parts of the empire. Trieste was under Roman control from the 2nd century BC until the collapse of the empire.

The success of the modern oyster industry motivated the Austrian Marine Fishing and Fish Farming Society to develop new oyster cultivation systems. This indirectly increased the abundance of mussels and well before the end of the nineteen century, mussels achieved significant, economic importance.

The location of Trieste on the northern most shores of the Adriatic meant the city was always a rich mix of Mediterranean cultures along with peoples from Central Europe and the Balkans. This blend of cultures and cuisines influenced the culinary popularity of both oysters and mussels in Trieste.

Mussel farms are still abundant and popular in Trieste and in the nearby municipalities of Muggia and Duino-Aurisina. Muggia is the first town on the Istrian peninsula and the last coastal town before the border between Italy with Slovenia. Duino is a picturesque settlement on the steep Karst cliffs of the Gulf of Trieste and is famous for its castle.

I have been thinking about why the Triestini and Veneziani referred to mussels as lice/parasites. and thought that perhaps it was because early fishermen were successful in implementing the growth of mussels on poles in the seabed where oysters were bred. So, figurately, the mussels are like lice/parasites freeloading on the expanding oyster beds. The fact that mussels are also considered to be unattractive and to spread very easily, added to the impression of being like parasites.

In Trieste the most common way to cook mussels is to steam them with a little white wine and, as you would expect, parsley and garlic. What I find unusual and appetising in this regional recipe is the addition of fresh/day-old breadcrumbs to the juices to thicken the sauce. Trieste has a few old recipes that add breadcrumbs to soups as a thickening agent. I remember my mother making pappa di pane (bread soup) when my brother was a baby.

When you open mussel shells and look inside some will be orange or yellow. Orange is the female specimen, yellow is a male. Usually, the females are the tastiest mussels. It is true of fennel, too.

So why was I suddenly inspired to cook mussels?

I saw an article recently about the mussel industry in Victoria and I was excited by what I read. The mussels came from the Queen Victoria Market from Happy Tuna and are from Mount Martha.

The article was written by Benjamin Preiss and is from the May 4 issue of The Age Digital Edition.

Here are a few quotes from the article:

They sow crops over vast areas and harvest when the size and season is right. But these farmers work the sea, not the soil, feeding Australia’s growing appetite for fresh and locally grown mussels.

Thirty-five years ago this industry was tiny, with few Victorians interested in eating the shellfish. But now the industry is poised for further expansion. Some mussel farmers say they need more room to grow as the government prepares to release additional areas within existing aquaculture reserves.

Phil Lamb, managing director of the Victorian Shellfish Hatchery and partner of Sea Bounty mussel-growing company, said: ‘‘Portarlington mussels are renowned in Victoria. I’d like to see them gain a similar reputation internationally.

Lamb said the mussel sector had been increasing steadily for the past 20 years. ‘‘ It was a cottage industry, and it’s been slowly growing every year.’’ He said local mussels compared ‘‘ very favourably’ ’ to those regarded as the best internationally, including those grown in Spain and France.

Michael ‘‘Harry Mussel” Harris began working in the industry in 1993 and later started his own farming business in the water off Flinders on the Mornington Peninsula.

He described mussels as a superfood — healthy to eat and environmentally friendly to grow. ‘‘They’re the canaries of the sea,’’ he said. ‘‘If the waters aren’t good enough for the mussels and bivalves to grow, it’s not good enough to swim in either.’’

In total, there are more than 2480 hectares of area reserved for aquaculture in Victoria — most of that in Port Phillip Bay, although there are sites in Western Port and some on land.

Victorian Fisheries Authority aquaculture manager David Kramer confirmed 330 hectares of vacant water within aquaculture reserves would be released for tender in coming months.
Kramer said the authority expected the mussel industry to grow between 10 per cent and 20 per cent in coming years.
He said the government had committed to grow the industry. ‘‘We want to do everything we can to allow that industry to grow.’’

Melbourne University honorary fellow, John Ford, who specialises in sustainable seafood, said mussel farming required little physical infrastructure — all of which could be removed. ‘‘Mussel farming tends to be a win for pretty much everyone, the environment included,’’ he said.

Mussels in Trieste are cooked in simple home recipes. As a child I remember stalls that sold mussels and mussoli (other type of molluscs) on street corners, just like roasted chestnuts used to be sold.

I have several books on the cooking of Trieste and there are some small variations in the ingredients and cooking procedures, but all are cooked plain with garlic, parsley and breadcrumbs.

I like the use of bread to lightly thicken the juices. Some recipes omit the breadcrumbs and just mop up the juices with slices of bread, but I am in favour of this very ancient way to thicken liquids (rather than using flour). Some recipes do not add wine, but wine has always been popular in my cooking. I also found some recipes that suggest adding a tablespoon of tomato paste, but this does not resonate with my memories of eating mussels in Trieste. Also tomato was introduced much later in the cooking of Trieste as they were grown Southern Italy.

In some recipes the name of this dish is Pedoci a Scotadeo, (cozze alla scottadito), ie burn your finger… cooked quickly, eaten hot.

As I said, it is a very simple recipe. Adjust amounts of ingredients to your liking.

Ingredients for 4 people (two of us comfortably ate 1.5 kg)

 2 kg of mussels

4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, a couple of handfuls of parsley, 2 cloves of chopped garlic, black pepper, 75-100 ml of white wine

2 handfuls of grated bread – fresh or from the day before, no crusts, in fine/small pieces to give it a chance to break down

lemon wedges/juice (optional)

Remove the beards and wash mussels quickly.

In a large pan over medium heat, add about half of the extra virgin olive oil with the garlic. Stir it until it is slightly fragrant but be careful not to burn it. Add the wine and bread. Stir a couple of times to mix everything together, the wine will partly evaporate.

Add the parsley and black pepper, then the mussels .

Cover with the lid and bring to the boil. The mussels should open in about 5- 8 minutes. Don’t overcook them because no one likes rubbery mussels. Some mussels take longer to open. These are fresh healthy mussels, cook them until they too open.

Lift the mussels out and put them into a serving bowl. Check the sauce to see if the bread has broken down in the liquid. If you would prefer it to be more softened bring the liquid to the boil and stir it a little longer.

Pour the liquid over the mussels. Drizzle with the remaining extra virgin olive oil and toss well.

They need to be hot (remember? Pedoci a Scotadeo). Sprinkle a little lemon or some lemon cut into quarters.

You can see I like Mussels:

MUSSELS, three ways: in brodetto, with spaghetti and in a risotto with saffron

MUSSELS (Cozze) IN BRODETTO (Mussels in a little broth)

SPAGHETTINI E COZZE; Spaghettini with mussels

MUSSELS WITH CHICKPEAS

MUSSELS (Cozze) IN BRODETTO (Mussels in a little broth)

COZZE CON SAMBUCA (Mussels with Sambuca- anice flavoured liqueur)

COZZE (Mussels) GREEN LIPPED MUSSELS WITH TOMATO AND CANNELLINI BEANS

SAFFRON RISOTTO WITH MUSSELS (Risu cu Zaffaranu e Cozzuli is the Sicilian, Riso con Zafferano e Cozze is the Italian)

MUSSELS WITH FRENCH FLAVOURS (Provencale)

 

LASAGNA OR LASAGNE? RECIPE FOR LASAGNA AL RADICCHIO

This post contains details about the use of the term Lasagna and Lasagne. In this post there is also a recipe for a Lasagna al Radicchio.

In Italian, baked pasta can be Pasta al forno, Pasta imbottita (stuffed pasta), Lasagna/ Lasagne or Pasticcio, (as it was called where we lived in Trieste, in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region.)

When my parents and I came to Australia we used to invite guests for Sunday lunch. Often on the menu, the finished baked dish was a Lasagna Bolognese. It consisted of layers of cooked green or white sheets of pasta (lasagne), interspersed with a slow-cooked ragù, béchamel, and Parmigiano.

But the Emilian Romanian people where the Bolognese version of this baked pasta dish originates, refer to the finished dish as Lasagne Bolognese.

A single, wide sheet of pasta is called a lasagna, the plural is lasagne. When we speak about the type and shape of pasta, it is always in the plural – spaghetti, penne, rigatoni, fettuccine etc. so lasagne is no different.

So, when we refer to the cooked dish, is it Lasagna or Lasagne?

 Recently I made a Lasagna from the Veneto region (stuffed with red radicchio, béchamel, ricotta and parmesan) and I intended to use the correct grammar. I have completed quite a bit of reading to research this issue.

It appears that over the centuries, the two usages have always alternated, but the plural (Lasagne) was more common. There are many theories about where the term comes from. There are various theories about the word lasagna and how it originated, one common and simple explanation is that it could have derived from the course Latin lasanum for cooking pot, or the ancient Greek and Roman laganum, the name for their flat pieces of dough.

Dictionaries are more likely to use Lasagne and because of this, recipes on the web also use Lasagne. Modern publishers because of the dictionary use of the term also prefer Lasagne, unless they are publishing traditional regional recipes from menus of local restaurants that have called their dish Lasagna. There appear not to be any set rules about the lexicon. This is confirmed in my three comprehensive Slow Food Editions of traditional, regional dishes that in total has 2,260 recipes from the Italian Osterie (local eateries).

Pellegrino Artusi has no references of Lasagna or Lasagne. His book is about home cooking and this baked form of pasta was rather lavish and not considered an everyday cooking dish. His book L’Artusi was first published in 1910, my edition is from 1978.

When I looked at the numerous books I have about Italian cuisine both in the Italian and English language I did not find many recipes for either Lasagne or Lasagna, but then I realized that when we are discussing traditional recipes of baked pasta from different regions (either layered or not) they use a variety of shapes of pasta and not sheets of lasagne and therefore cannot be called Lasana/Lasagne.

For example, some traditional Sicilian recipes for baked pasta are (language -Sicilian/ Italian / English):

Maccarona di zitu astufati/ Maccheroni di zite stufate/Baked pasta made with the zite shaped pasta.

Maccheruna au furnu amuricana /Maccheroni al forno alla modicana/ Baked pasta from Modica made with short shaped pasta.

Ncasciata/Pasta incassata/Pasta that has been encased.  This is a favourite dish of Montalbano. There are different versions of this dish, as the most popular versions are as made in Messina, Ragusa and in Palermo. In Messina and Ragusa the maccheroni could be short pasta such as rigatoni, ditali, zite or penne, while in Palermo the pasta are anelli or anellini (ring shapes). Montalbano would be eating the one fro Modica.

In my Sicilian texts there are also recipes for:

Timbale/Timballo that is also made with maccheroni but encased in slices of fried eggplant (derived from the word drum, encased/shaped like a drum).

Gattó, derived from the French word gâteau, (food baked or served in the form of a cake) and used by the Sicilian monsu (derived from the French word monsieur –chefs who embraced the French cuisine in the homes of the well to do).

All of these Sicilian recipes of baked pasta mentioned above use short pasta shapes, a strong sugo and a variety of extras, for example – meatballs, salame, boiled eggs, eggplant and cheese. These combinations of various ingredients could also just as likely be called a Pasticcio (Greek Pastitsio) from pastiche – mixed styles, a mess. The names and combinations of ingredients are explicable as they fit with the cultural and culinary history of Sicily that was settled by various cultures – Greeks, Arabs, French, Spaniards.

In the more comprehensive collection of regional Italian recipe texts there are a couple of recipes that are referred to as Lasagne but they are made with lasagnette – narrow strips of pasta larger than fettucine; some types of lasagnette have curly edges.

And then there are recipes for Lagane/Laine, the traditional wide pasta strips  in Basilicata, Campania, Calabria and Puglia. It is traditionally served with legumes, mainly chick peas.

In my more modern Italian texts there are very few Lasagne recipes, but there are a few that are the Open Lasagne/ Lasagne deconstructed, i.e. the layers are constructed on the plate and and are not baked. Obviously the traditional Lasagna was out of favour.

My research tells me that in America, Lasagna is the more common usage, but in the UK the preferred usage is Lasagne. Once again I checked my books/web resources and this appeared to be true.

I also found it interesting that some references indicated that In Northern Italy the most common lexicon is Lasagne and in Southern Italy the preferred usage is Lasagna, but not so, the books/web resources I used did not reflect this. Although, every time I found the baked pasta from Napoli (in southern Italy), it was always called Lasagna, but one reference/example cannot apply to all of southern Italy.

After all of this (I am a sucker for punishment, it took me several days to research it), I can assume that the two forms are both still used and are equally correct. The terminology, whether in speech or in writing refers equivalently to the same thing:

Lasagna or Lasagne are both acceptable alternatives.

Lasagna al radicchio

*Cooked radicchio is much more intensely bitter than fresh radicchio. If you do not like bitter tastes don’t make this Lasagna.

The béchamel sweetens the taste and this is why I also used Ricotta. Nutmeg, for me, always adds a delicate sweetness to the taste, especially when used with milk.

I can only buy the round Radicchio at the Queen Victoria Market (Chioggia) and this is what I have used. Trevisano or Tardivo radicchio is used in Italy, both have narrow long leaves. All three are red radicchi (plural of radicchio).

I used a commercial pasta this time.

250 g lasagne. (9oz) fresh or dried

1 onion, chopped

2 -3 heads of radicchio,  cut into quarters and then sliced thickly

150g grated Parmesan and 350g of ricotta

Salt and black pepper to taste

4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and 3 tbs butter

100ml white wine

a few fresh bay leaves

For the béchamel:

110g butter

80 g corn flour

1litre whole milk milk, approx. 4 full cups (have some more on hand just in case the béchamel becomes too thick

 a little nutmeg, grated

Cook the radicchio

In a large frying pan, heat the extra virgin olive oil and butter, sauté the onion until it begins to soften. Add the radicchio and bay leaves and cook for about 10 minutes over gentle heat. Add salt and pepper and wine and evaporate the liquid. If there is too much liquid in the pan use tongs to pull out the radicchio and evaporate the wine further. (I like the taste of wine and therefore am prepared to use this process). Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Make the béchamel (white sauce)

Heat the milk but do not boil. Put the butter in a pan over a low heat, melt it, add the flour and mix until it forms a thick paste (roux). Remove it from the heat and slowly add the milk stirring continuously. Try to prevent lumps. Place the pan on heat and keep stirring constantly until it starts to thicken. It will take about 5 mins. If it is too thick add more milk (cold is fine as you won’t need much). Add grated nutmeg, add some salt. You may wish to taste it especially if you have used salted butter.

Pasta

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water. You may wish to cook half of the sheets per time to keep them from sticking together. Cook them till just before they are at the al dente stage as you will be baking them. Drain them and plunge them into cold water so that they do not stick together.

To Assemble

Begin the layering process in a baking tray.

Select a baking pan that will accomodate the contents. I played around with the baking trys i have and decided on one that was:  35x 25x 7 cm. Aim for 3 layers:  a little béchamel, a layer of pasta, radicchio, distribute some grated cheese, ricotta in small pieces. Begin again with the pasta, radicchio etc. Finish with a pasta layer and top with a little bechamel, some grated cheese and ricotta in small pieces. Grate more nutmeg on top.

Bake at 200°c degrees.

Cook for the first 20-25 mins covered with foil. Remove the foil and continue cooking for another 10 mins uncovered until the top is crisp, bubbly and golden on top). Remove from the oven, allow to rest for about 10 mins and serve.

COOKED RADICCHIO

RISOTTO AL RADICCHIO ROSSO

EMIGLIA ROMAGNA and their love of stuffed pasta

MONTALBANO’S FAVOURITE DISHES

 

MINESTRA MARITATA, 2

Minestra Maritata is from Calabria. Maritata in the Calabrese/Calabrian dialect means married.

It is an odd name for a soup and as Danielle Alvarez says in the introduction of her recipe, it has nothing to do with marriage. I was very happy to see a version of Danielle Alvarez’ s recipe for Minestra Maritata in The Age (March 30/2024 ). Not many people have written about this recipe and what Alvarez has written adds yet another layer to this mysterious traditional recipe. Alverez has added meatballs (polpette) and this seems appropriate and the version I ate in Adelaide a number of years ago was also presented with polpette that were served separately.

I too have written about Minestra Maritata after I ate it in a small restaurant called Minestra in Adelaide and I enjoyed researching it. Mine is more  based for a peasant culture and is different, but then again there are bound to be local variations in all traditional recipes.

The article and recipe from: Danielle Alvarez, The Age (March 30/2024 ).

ALSO KNOWN as “minestra maritata” , this soup actually isn’t served at weddings; instead, its name refers to the beautiful “marrying” of flavours contained in the meaty broth, savoury meatballs, sweet vegetables and, of course, the pasta. Traditionally, this dish is made by first concocting a flavourful broth using chicken, beef and/or pork bones, then adding very small meatballs, pasta and endive (escarole) towards the end. If you’re short of time, use bought stock but remember to brown the meatballs before poaching them to provide the umami kick that store-bought stock sometimes lacks. If you can’t find endive, just use spinach. You’ll be making this on repeat throughout winter.

SERVES 4 FOR THE MEATBALLS

250g pork mince 250g beef or veal mince 1 egg

cup grated parmesan cheese,

plus more for serving 1 tsp dried oregano ½ tsp fine sea salt 2 garlic cloves, peeled and

grated on a microplane ½ cup dried breadcrumbs black pepper

FOR THE SOUP

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 1 onion, peeled and diced 2 celery stalks, finely diced 3 large carrots, peeled and finely diced 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped ¼ tsp dried chilli flakes (optional) pinch of salt ½ tsp fresh or dried rosemary leaves, finely chopped 1.5 litres chicken stock 1 parmesan rind ½ cup dried ditalini or orzo pasta 1 head endive, leaves separated and washed, or 280g baby spinach salt and black pepper

First, make your meatball mix by combining all the ingredients and mixing well. Use a teaspoon to scoop the mix (each ball is about a heaped teaspoon’s worth, so they’re quite small). Shape into balls and line up on a baking tray or large plate and keep shaping until all the mix is used up.

Heat a large soup pot or enamel-lined Dutch oven over medium/high heat. Add the olive oil and brown the meatballs on all sides. You will need to do this in a couple of batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. Remove the meatballs and set aside.

Next, add the chopped onion, celery, carrots, garlic and chilli flakes (if using). Add a good pinch of salt and cook over medium heat until the vegetables have softened and the onions are translucent (about 10-15 minutes). Add the rosemary and sizzle for a minute longer before you add the stock and parmesan rind. Bring to a simmer, then return the meatballs to the pot. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the dried pasta and cook until al dente (check the packet). When the pasta is al dente, add the endive or spinach and allow that to wilt into the soup (about 2 minutes). Discard the parmesan rind and check seasoning; adjust if necessary.

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve hot with extra grated parmesan cheese on top.

Marisa Raniolo Wilkins, All Things Sicilian and More, Post: Minestra Maritata, Date: 20/6/ 2018

Minesta in Italian means soup. But it does not stop there – minestrone is a thick soup and minestrina is a more delicate or thin soup.  All minestre (plural) may or may not have pasta (or pastina) or rice or grains added to thicken them.

Then there is zuppa and this Italian word shares the common root with soupe (French), suppe (German) and sopa (Spanish and Portuguese).  These days the differences between a minestra and a zuppa are probably interchangeable and there are always regional and cultural variations (as the Calabrese minestra below), but a zuppa relies on an accompaniment of a slice of bread; usually this is placed in the bowl and the zuppa is ladled on top. The bread soaks up the juice and therefore no pasta, or rice, or grains (barley, wheat) are needed.  Traditionally, a zuppa has a broth base, whereas the liquid in a minesta is more likely to be water and relies on the vegetables, pulses, fish, meat (or smoked meat) for flavour. In modern times, recipes for minestra may include the addition of water, stock or broth as the liquid base .

So why am I taking such an interest in the specific Calabrese minestra?

I was recently in Adelaide and ate at Minestra, a small home style eatery in Prospect (Adelaide) and ordered minestra with my pork and veal and eggplant polpette.

The minestra in this case was presented less soupy and more like a side for the polpette, but it could also be ordered unaccompanied as a one course dish – with a little more liquid and more a like soup.

Minestra in Calabria takes on a different significance and is a traditional, peasant dish suited to the people who were used to working very hard on the land.  And it does not use pasta in this dish … the Calabrese have a reputation for being different (I say this as a pun). This Calabrese minestra has a certain degree of austerity about it, it is not sophisticated or complicated and it is made from simple frugal ingredients – wild greens if possible, and if one was lucky, perhaps a little pork. It also contains beans – dried broad beans or borlotti or cannellini. Hence the description of this minestra being maritata (married in Calabrese dialect) – several green vegetables and the beans (and bits of pork) are ‘married’ or combined to produce a very thick, stew like soup.  Some variations include potatoes and as for the pork, it can be fresh meat ribs or rind. I have also seen a recipe that includes the rind of grating cheese (pecorino) for flavourings.

In Calabria, as in Sicily, wild foraged greens are much appreciated and not just due to necessity (as they once were). In Australia we may not be familiar with the range of edible plants available or have access to as many, but we do have some very good, green, leafy vegetables that provide contrasting and strong flavours.

A mixture of three or four of seasonal, green, leafy vegetables, is sufficient –  I am using  endives (or escarole) and chicory, that are both bitter, cime di rapa (a brassica) for the mustard taste and sow thistle that was sold to me as milk thistle and tastes mild and grassy.

Endives:

Cime di Rapa, Chicory, Sow Thistle:

Wild fennel, amaranth, nettles are also wild greens that could be accessible to you or you may be growing borage in your garden.

I am going to be Italian when I write this recipe. There are no measurements for the ingredients but my photos can give you an indication and it is ‘cucina povera‘- peasant cooking – that is, use what you can get, make it to your taste, add as much liquid as you wish, but keep it thick.

Use a variety of green leafy seasonal vegetables – whatever you can get – go for combinations of taste – bitter, sweet, peppery, grassy, aniseed taste (as in fennel).

RECIPE for Minestra

Soak, cook pulses (borlotti, cannellini, dried broad beans) … or buy tinned beans if that is what you do. In my photo you will see that Ii have used black-eyed beans – this is not an Italian bean, but it is what I had on hand at the time and I do not think that my breaking of tradition mattered. Drain the pulses you intend to use. Keep the liquid (broth) in case you want to add it as the liquid for the minestra.

Clean the greens, separate them from any tough stems but keep the softer ones.

Soften the greens – boil them in as much or as little salted water as you cook all your green leafy vegetables. Drain them but reserve some liquid for the minestra. I did not have to discard any because I did not use much water to cook my greens.

Chop garlic ( I used quite a bit), sauté the drained greens, add  beans. My ratio was about 2/3 greens and 1/3 beans. 

Add chopped chilli at the same time as the garlic if you wish or serve chopped chilli or chilli paste separately (Calabresi a fond of pepper paste). 

Add as much liquid as you wish, dish it up, drizzle some extra virgin oil on it and eat it with some good bread.

This post about Minestra Maritata was written much earlier and has more information, but mainly about the restaurant called Minestra. Unfortunately the restaurant is no longer there.

MINESTRA MARITATA, peasant soup from Calabria

Below, photo taken in Sicily and I was speaking to the gentleman collecting wild greens.

Collecting Sicilian edible wild greens in Agrigento

See recipe for the Sicilian Maccu – another of those peasant soups and this one has even more traditions than the Calabrese minestra.

This post has photos of wild greens in Sicily:

SICILIAN EDIBLE WEEDS and Greek VLITA

TORTA PASQUALINA?

I would not blame you if you thought that Torta Pasqualina could be a cake called Pasqualina or made by a woman called Pasqualina.

But a torta in Italian isn’t just the word for a torte or cake that’s associated with a dessert, it can also be used to describe a tart or a pie.

A torta is very often baked with a pastry shell and can be filled with sweet ingredients, but however, it is more likely to be filled with savory ingredients and mainly with vegetables. Sometimes to differentiate a savoury pastry/ torta from the sweet it is called a salty torta – torta salata. The torta may have an enclosed pastry lid or it may have a lattice top pastry covering. A small torta is called a tortino.

Now that I have the torta issue, I am going to introduce you to another complication. Tarts in Italy are also called crostata . Think of a jam tart – crostata di marmellata (jam in Italian) or an apple tart. This tart consists of a filling over a pastry base with an open top or covered with a pastry latticed top. Crostata is the Italian word, and galette is the French.

I usually think of a torta as having a more substantial filling than a crostata. Picture the huge ornate pies served during the Renaissance banquets, that could be filled with live birds, hares and other creatures. Remember the nursery rhyme about four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie? Once the live creatures were released and the entertainment was over, there was an edible torta encased at the bottom that the guests feasted on.

There are even more different names for baked pastry relating to particular Italian regions, each with their own food culture and titles for particular dishes. And within each region there would be local variations both of the dish but also the local name of that particular dish. For example, I am familiar with the particular covered pastries in Sicily that are called impanate. An impanata is a wrapper of dough that contains a lamb meat filling. It is popular during Easter (Easter spring lamb). The Impanata is especially popular at Easter in Ragusa, an Iblean city in Southern Sicily, where my relatives live.

Sicily had Arab settlers and later French and Spaniards. These cultures have meat and/or vegetable filled pastries. Think empanadas (South American /Spanish speaking countries) and pastilla or bastilla (Morocco and countries with Arab influences) and the fine pastry made by the French. The Sicilians used the term monsù cuisine for a fusion of refined French food with agriculturally-based Sicilian produce and recipes. Monsù is derived from the word monsieur – a French or French-trained male cook employed in the homes of the wealthy in Sicily (and southern Italy) during the 18th and early 19th centuries.

There are more savoury pastries in Ragusa. My relatives make and eat Scacce for Easter. A Scaccia consists of two or more layers of leavened dough around a filling – vegetables, especially eggplant and tomato and ricotta and sausage.

By now you may have guessed that Pasqua means Easter, so a Torta Pasqualina is an Easter pie. It is also a Torta di Verdura/Verdure (vegetable/vegetables). There are many variations of these torte cooked all over Italy. They are usually made with a variety of green leafy vegetables – spinach, cavolo nero, endives, chicory etc. The vegetables are braised first and then bound with eggs. Some may have a little cheese, placed into a pastry base and fully or partially covered with pastry. All these pies are very regional and with variations. The Torta Pasqualina is a variation of a Torta di Verdure that comes from Liguria. Genova is in Liguria and some call the Torta Pasqualina, a Torta Pasqualina Genovese.

This regional specialty differs from the usual Torta di Verdure because apart from containing eggs to bind the vegetable filling there are also whole eggs (or whole egg yolks) embedded in the centre of the filling and baked inside the pie. Torta Pasqualina becomes more spectacular than a Torta di Verdure and sometimes even more so when the ricotta that is part of the filling is placed in a layer on top of the green vegetables rather than being mixed in with the greens. The greater visual display is due to the eggs embedded in the white ricotta layer. When the pie is cut you will see the egg sliced through the middle. It is after all Pasqua, a festive occasion.

The original recipe for Torta Pasqualina contained artichokes with or without green leafy vegetables – silverbeet/chard, spinach. The pie is now usually made with puff pastry made with extra virgin olive oil or a mixture of butter and oil. In the past it was made with thirty-three sheets of very thin pastry, one for every year of Christ’s life. Many recipes divide the dough into seven pieces and roll it into seven layers, each layer coated with oil before the next layer is placed on top. Usually there are four layers on the bottom (needs to be thicker than the top to hold the filling) and three on top. You could try using Phyllo pastry, but I would use more than seven layers of pastry especially if the filling is substantial.

What I particularly like in the Torta Pasqualina is the use of sweet marjoram, a herb that is quite common in Liguria, especially in Genova. Nutmeg compliments ricotta and spinach, so add this as well. I have seen many recipes that do not use either marjoram or nutmeg and I dismiss those recipes.

I usually don’t weigh ingredients when I cook but if you use the following quantities for a base and pastry, you will be OK.

It will not matter if you make the pastry before the filling. Thy both can be made in advance and rest.

The filling:

1kg of silverbeet/chard/ spinach green leafy vegetables – washed cut into small bits and well drained as you don’t want too much moisture when sauté them.

8 eggs – 2 to bind the greens and 6 to place inside for a visual effect chopped sweet marjoram – to taste but is like it and use about 8 sprigs one onion and a little garlic to taste – all finely sliced/chopped.

80g grated parmesan

700g of ricotta (not from a tub)

salt, pepper, a little nutmeg

extra virgin olive oil (½ cup) and a good sized lump of butter to braise the greens – I am always generous but you don’t have to be.

Cooking the filling:

Sauté the onions and garlic, add the greens and marjoram, some salt and pepper and braise them until they wilt – 15 – 20mins

Make sure that they are not wet or the pastry will be soggy. Either evaporate the liquid while cooking the greens or drain the vegetables and then evaporate the liquid.

Leave to cool.

When ready to assemble the pie combine the vegetables with ricotta, two eggs,  nutmeg and parmesan. Check the seasoning.

For the pastry:

I like to make my own pastry, but you may prefer to use a commercial variety. I also enjoy using my fingers, however food processors work well.

In this recipe I have used standard cup measurements and approximate weight, but let your intuition guide you and vary the amounts as needed. Different flours will absorb differing amounts of liquid I have estimated the approximate amount of water which could be used. Pastry making is also influenced by the weather, use cold water, and rinse your hands to cool them under the cold-water tap and keep the pastry in a cool place when you allow it to rest.

The pastry should be compact and may not need any extra liquid, but if you feel that you will not be able to roll it out, add more oil or a little water.

400g/3 cups and 1 tbsp ’extra.

quarter teaspoon of salt, to taste

4 tablespoons good quality virgin olive oil plus a few tablespoons for  glossing the top of the torta

half a glass of water

Process:

Sieve the flour into a big bowl and mix in the salt.

Make a well in the flour and add the oil and cold water gradually.

Stir till the pastry comes together (adding a little more liquid or flour depending on which is necessary).

Knead very quickly to make a light elastic ball of dough but don’t overwork.

Cover in clingfilm and let it rest half an hour in the fridge.

I also have satisfactory results with the recipe for Pasta Frolla Fatta Con Olio (Short pastry made with oil). This is a much richer pastry and it contains eggs. Link is at the bottom of this post.

Assembling the pie:

I like to sprinkle some breadcrumbs (fresh bread is OK) to help absorb some of the moisture from the vegetables.

Cover the pastry base with the filling. Dig 6 holes in the freshly placed filling at equal distances from each other, crack an egg into each hole and on each yolk add a pinch of salt and a dollop of butter.

Gently fold the edges of the pastry and seal the pie. Paint the top of the pie with oil (or some beaten egg). Score a pattern on the top of the pie with a sharp knife. You could also consider placing a mark on the pastry where the eggs are embedded so that when you cut the pie you will be successful in cutting through the baked egg.

Cook at 180° degrees for about an hour.

The pie is either eaten warm or cold. It makes fabulous picnic food., perhaps on Pasquetta – literally “little Easter,” but is taken to mean Easter Monday.

***The link below is for a Torta di Verdura with a mix of green leafy vegetables. It also has  the recipe for the short pastry.

TORTA DI VERDURA (A vegetable flan or pie)

SCACCE (focaccia-like stuffed bread)

‘MPANATA (A lamb pie, Easter treat)

 

SWEET MARJORAM AND WALNUT PESTO

This is Sweet Marjoram plant growing in a self-watering planter box on my balcony. I particularly like to use this herb to make PESTO DI NOCI (Walnut Pesto).

This is my Oregano plant in the same planter box and although it is difficult to see the differences in the photo (below), the Oregano is much darker, and the leaves are larger and firmer. The Sweet Marjoram leaves are softer, smaller and a lighter green. Both herbs are so similar, it is understandable that the two are often mistaken for each other.

Sweet Marjoram is difficult to find in plant nurseries and nurseries often label and sell Golden Oregano as Marjoram causing confusion with buyers.

Golden Oregano has golden chartreuse coloured foliage and is an attractive plant. It is a version of standard Oregano, but it does not taste anything like Sweet Marjoram. Because of its attractive colouring it is a popular plant in a flower garden. Many people use it in cooking, but to me it tastes grassy.

The confusion could be that Marjoram and Oregano are species of the genus Origanum. They are both fragrant with velvety, green leaves and are frequently used in Mediterranean dishes. Origanum, the dark Oregano, has been cultivated for thousands of years, including by both the ancient Romans and Greeks. So it is understandable it is now very common in Italian and Greek Cuisine.

There is a big difference in the taste of Sweet Marjoram and the Oregano plants and Marjoram is not called sweet for nothing. The herb has a milder flavour and a stronger scent. It’s warm and only slightly sharp.

Similarities between Marjoram and Oregano have caused identification problems and confusion for centuries. To avoid confusion with Oregano and Golden Oregano that is also labelled as Marjoram, true Sweet Marjoram should always be referred to as Knotted or Sweet Marjoram.

In Italian Marjoram is called Maggiorana and Oregano is Origano. There is no confusion.

Marjoram has a lot of different uses; it can be used in both savory and sweet dishes. I associate Marjoram with German cuisine, some French and some northern Italian. Having said this, one of my Sicilian aunts used it when making ricotta ravioli. It is most often associated with meat stuffing, meatloaf or sausages. I mainly use it when cooking white meat (chicken, pork and fish) to complement delicate flavours, simply braised vegetables and especially in dishes where I use nuts. I also like it in tomato-based sauces, it has a lighter taste than Oregano, and in tomato salads and in salads containing fruit.

Sweet Marjoram is also used in sweet dishes – especially in custards and fruit-based desserts. I use Sweet Marjoram when it is not likely to be overpowered by other flavours; say, with apple desserts and sometimes when using nuts. Most often, when I have used herbs in desserts, Think ‘pleasurable’ tastes, especially when topped with a spoonful of ricotta as a topping; it adds more sweetness and delicacy.

I have generally favoured Lemon Verbena, Lemon Balm, Lavender and Rose Scented Geraniums in custards and Thyme and Basil when making Granita. I shall need to experiment further.

My favourite dish using Sweet Marjoram is in Ligurian Pesto made with walnuts – PESTO DI NOCI.

These are the ingredients to begin with: Sweet Marjoram and parsley, walnuts, extra virgin olive oil and garlic. I made these amounts for 2 people to dress a short-shaped pasta. The bit left over I used to dress cooked green beans.

When I am making larger quantities, I use my larger food processor. I have included a link to a much older post at the end of this one that includes quantities and more detail.

Chop the nuts, add the herbs and garlic. You can see a cup of extra virgin olive oil on the side. Add this gradually and blend it till you have a creamy consistency. I like to taste and feel ‘bits’ in pesto, so I never blend it till it is totally smooth.

I also add nutmeg (complements the taste of nuts and contributes to delicate, sweet tastes), and a little salt and pepper.

And there it is. It is ready to use to dress the pasta. Top it with a generous spoonful of fresh ricotta.

A note about ricotta. The one sold in a small tub does not taste anything like ricotta should taste. Ricotta is sold in Delis in 2-3k rounds. It should be creamy and freshly made. Fresh ricotta spoils in a few days!

On occasions I have added butter and cream to the pesto, especially when I do not have fresh ricotta at home.

Top with some extra virgin olive oil if you intend to store the pesto in the fridge (safely for a couple of weeks) or in the freezer for a longer time.

 It is portable and this jar came in handy on my last camping trip.

RECIPE, story and quantities:

PESTO DI NOCI (Walnut pesto/ sauce for pasta)

RICOTTA RAVIOLI and STONE GROUND FLOUR

 

 

 

 

 

Rationale – CULINARY TRADITIONS

We cannot expect recipes to remain exactly the same, but there are some culinary traditions when it comes to Italian food. These may influence our thinking.

Just like food has evolved in Australia (and elsewhere) cooks are influenced by new ingredients, the wide exposure to the cooking of others (media, travel, migration/immigration, eating away from home) and perhaps the wider acceptance of not sticking to the rules, except perhaps as do the nonne (plural of nonna) and in my case, it was also the zie (plural of zia=aunt).

One simple example of how traditional recipes have evolved is to consider the range of toppings with Pizza. Once, there was Margheria, Marinara, Quattro Stagioni, Napoletana and Pugliese (if you were lucky.)  Modern combination of ingredients are now extensive and I consider some to be excellent and keeping with my tastes (ingredients like – stracciatella, gorgozola, roquette, roasted pumpkin etc), but somehow I can’t come to accept a BBQ PIZZA as described on the web (with smoked cheese, diced chicken breast, peppers, onions, baby plum tomatoes and barbecue sauce) or a TIKKA MASALA PIZZA (spiced chicken, green peppers, natural yogurt, mango chutney and coriander).

My knowledge about Italian cuisine and ingredients just doesn’t allow it.

I like to experiment in the kitchen, but I tend to stick with ingredients that I think are acceptable within tradition and regional culture. I base my cooking of my knowledge and experience. For example, I have seen recipes suggesting fish sauce as a substitute for anchovies in Italian recipes (by chefs and not necessarily Italian). And why not? But not me. Part of me still sticks some culinary regulations.

The following is an account of my thinking before I cooked dinner on a week night (not special).

I had some fennel and some zucchini in the fridge that needed using.

I needed to make some culinary decisions.

I felt like making a pasta dish but knew that I needed to add something else to these vegetables to pep up the flavour. I consider both these vegetables sweet tasting, and because my sweet marjoram plant is doing extremely well on my balcony, I decided to add this, too. Parsley always pairs with both vegetables as does a splash of white wine or/and stock. I could sauté either onion or garlic before adding the vegetables and I could cook them in butter as well as extra virgin olive oil; I would add a large amount of grated Parmesan at the end. Perhaps also a grind of nutmeg which would complement the marjoram and the sweet tastes of the vegetables. This set me thinking about adding a few walnuts too (influenced by the Ligurian pesto made with marjoram and walnuts). Such a recipe would result in a dish with northern Italian flavours.

If I wanted something spicier, I would need to add some of the following ingredients: olives (either black or green), capers, chilli, anchovies, tomatoes or better still tomato paste. Red wine is stronger than white wine and Pernod would complement the fennel in the ingredients.Either Italian pork sausages (with fennel or chilli,) or pancetta would be good, too. Borlotti or cannellini beans would enhance the taste and textures and add protein to the dish. Adding a contrasting bitter tasting vegetable could also work – radicchio, if I wanted to keep with northern Italian influences, chicory or endives, perhaps, would be more southern and wild fennel would be Sicilian or Calabrese.

I decided on anchovies, olives and a dash of white wine.

With strong flavours Pecorino is better than Parmesan. I always have feta marinating in my fridge (in extra virgin olive oil, fennel seeds, dried oregano, fresh bay leaves and peppercorns) and this would be suitable too. Ricotta would be a sweet contrast to the stronger flavours, but perhaps it would be better as a topping to the milder northern Italian influenced version. And least we forget pan fried dry breadcrumbs as a topping, popular in Sicily and Calabria.

Once I decided on the ingredients, cooking was simple.

INGREDIENTS

4 zucchini (in cubes), 1 head of fennel (cut into smaller cubes), 1 onion (sliced) – I only had a red onion, but because of the strong colour I would have preferred a white/ brown one), about 8 – 10 chopped anchovies (to taste), olives (mine were a mixture of green and black), cut parsley and marjoram and a splash of white wine. I used no salt because of the anchovies and olives. Extra virgin olive oil for the cooking.

Different shapes of pasta hold the sauce and ingredients in a different way. An oily, creamy, thin sauce sticks better to long pasta, whereas a short pasta shape is more suited to a sauce where the bits of meat or vegetables can nestle within, for example, shapes that have a hole (penne, rigatoni, shells) or a ridge or twists (farfalle, casarecce, spiralli) I opted for short casarecce pasta to go with this sauce.

METHOD

Work out at what stage of cooking the sauce, you will need to cook the pasta. This will depend on your speed as a cook.

For the sauce: Dissolve anchovies in a saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil, then add the onion and sauté until it has wilted. Add the fennel and the anchovies and at the same time as sautéing the ingredients try to dissolve the anchovies. The darker colour in the photo above is red onion.  Cook for about 5 minutes until the fennel has softened.

Add zucchini, chopped herbs and olives. Sauté again and perhaps cover with a lid until the vegetables have softened to your liking (I didn’t have to)

Add a splash of white wine to deglaze.

Dress the pasta. Present with grated cheese. I selected Pecorino.

And I wasn’t to miss out about Radicchio and Borlotti, so I made a salad. I used celery rather than fennel because I had used fennel in the sauce, used spring onion and aa vinaigrette dressing.

Some examples of recipes that may have influenced my thinking:

PESTO DI NOCI (Walnut pesto/ sauce for pasta)

PASTA CON FINOCCHIO (Pasta and fennel; preferably wild)

PASTA WITH BREADCRUMBS, anchovies and fennel (Pasta cca muddica)

PASTA CON LE SARDE (SARDINES)

RADICCHIO and Borlotti salad 

AND BORLOTTI SALAD and BRAISED FENNEL WITH TAPENADE

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

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.

OVEN COOKED KID (capretto)

I am writing about kid, not goat. Unlike goat, there was very little fat and the meat did not exude that characteristic, heavy smell of game that is present when cutting goat and mutton.

Capretto, Italians call it and it is a meat that is not cooked regularly, but is often cooked on special occasions. I bought it from an Italian butcher. I went in to buy  some pork sausages but when I saw what the Italian customers that were lining up at the counter were all buying, I did the same. I bought capretto.

The Italian word for goat is capra and like mutton, goat is not generally eaten in Italy.

I marinaded it overnight with extra virgin olive oil, red wine, fennel seeds, bay leaves, rosemary, onion and sage. As you can see in the photo there is plenty of marinade; I wanted the meat to be quite well covered and intended to use the marinade in the cooking.

Nothing is wasted, the herbs are discarded and replaced with fresh herbs. This is because I have herbs growing on my balcony and I can afford to do this. I added garlic when i ws ready to cook the meat.

The important thing to do in this recipe is to cook the usual soffritto base that is omnipresent in Italian cooking – onion, carrot and celery – in extra virgin olive oil and make sure that the soffritto vegetables are caramilised before combining it with the drained marinaded meat.The meat does not need to be browned before hand making the cooking process easier and quicker. I have a cast iron baking pan that is very convenient for putting directly onto the stove.

The soffritto took about 15 minutes to soften and caramilise the vegetables ad this process adds a much enriched flavour to the dish. A dash of passata or some peeled red tomatoes also adds to the taste and colour to the braise.

Once you have drained the meat  and removed the old herbs use the marinade to the capretto. Add fresh herbs and some stock. As you can see in the photo there is enough liquid to almost cover the meat.

Cover the pan with some foil or a lid and leave it to cook in a slow oven. Mine was set at 170C degrees  and because I have two similar baking trays the spare one made a good lid.

Remove the foil after an hour. Move the meat around and add more broth or water and cook it uncovered until the meat is separated from the bones. I baked mine for about two hours without the foil, but made sure that if I needed to add more liquid, I had some stock to use.

The results were delicious. The vegetables almost melted, the meat was easily detached from the bone, it smelled great and tasted even better. And yes, it was a special meal.

I presented it with baked potatoes and braised endives sautéed with anchovies.

The kid weighed 2 kilos. as you can see there was very little fat.

This is not the first time I have cooked capretto – kid/goat

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

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

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

SPEZZATINO DI CAPRETTO (Italian Goat/ Kid stew)

KID/GOAT WITH ALMONDS (SPRING IN SICILY, CAPRETTO CON LE MANDORLE)

SLOW COOKED LEG OF GOAT WITH HOT MINT SAUCE

SICILIAN SEAFOOD COOKING, ITALIANICIOUS and READER’S FEAST Bookstore. Recipe for Slow cooked goat in Nero D’Avola