I have not had time to do much writing as I have been travelling quite a bit , both in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia and not like some of my friends who have been travelling overseas.
I only take my iPad when I travel and writing posts is not something that I find easy on this device.
I am finding that inserting links to recipes that are already on the blog, pretty impossible and if you are interested in some of the recipes, for example about cockles or sea urchins use the search button. I am hoping that the photos are sufficient, but maybe not.
Below are some of the things I have cooked or prepared lately. When one is ‘on the run’ one does not have the luxury of ingredients from home:
Mushrooms braised with saffron, white wine, tomato paste and parsley.
Goolwa cockles cooked with parsley, garlic and a splash of white wine. Parsley yet to be stirred through.
Braised red cabbage cooked in red wine and bay leaves and some smoked pork with whole meal spaghetti .
King George Whiting braised with with lemon slices, fennel seeds and white wine. Fried capers till crisp added at last minute.
Sea urchin roe bought in brine and cooked with braised fennel, anchovies, garlic and chillies in wine, parsley, roe grated lemon rind and lemon juice added right at the very end.
Burrata with basil mayonnaise, soft boiled eggs and a salad of avocado, lettuce, asparagus and baby tomatoes.
The Italian word senape, is mustard in English, therefore it is very appropriate that this green, leafy vegetable is called Senape.
A few weeks ago I bought one bunch from Il Fruttivendelo, Gus and Carmel’s stall in A shed at the Queen Victoria Market. Unfortunately, they have not been able to source any since.
I did some research and apparently – sinapis arvensis – grows wild and around Ragusa in Sicily where my father’s relatives live. More research tells me that these leafy, mustard greens are also common around Etna and the Madonie Mountains.
I remembered that I encountered Senape (also called Sanapu and Sinàpi) in the Market in Syracuse in 2007 and now realise that I also have a photograph of this wild green in my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking.
The bunch I purchased at the Queen Victoria Market is obviously the cultivated variety of Senape and it tastes very much like one other mustard tasting, leafy green of the Brassica tribe, Cime di rapa (broccoli raab, also known as rapini),
Recently, I was away camping for a couple of weeks and i do enjoy forging. apart from wild lettuce I picked two varieties of wild Brassicas. One variety, I am quite familiar with and I have written about this one many times; it looks and tastes like canola plants, the wild version. I notice that several Australian references call them ‘Wild Cabbage’. Sicilians may call them amareddi or cavuliceddi, rapudda, rapuzza, sanapuddhi and many more local terms.
The photo below demonstrates how in this plant’s advanced stage this variety looks so much like broccolini.
The other variety of wild green I foraged had an intense, fiery mustard taste with a hint of bitterness (photos below).
They tasted fabulous and after some research I think that in Australia these are referred to as ‘Mustard Greens’ and they could be related to the cultivated Indian mustard plant.
Both types have tiny, yellow flowers and unopened buds, similar to the distinctive flowers in broccoli heads, the same as the Cime di rapa, or the bunch of Senape that I hope to be able to purchase again.
In the wild I foraged and collected the tips – the soft leaves and flowers of both of these wild plants.
In some places there were plenty around and I made the most of them.
I cooked one harvest with Italian pork sausages and pasta, other yields with cannellini beans and plenty of shaved pecorino and another pasta dish with anchovies and feta.
It is a common practice to cook Cime di rapa or wild greens from the Brassica family by boiling them in plenty of salted water and once cooked they are drained before sautéing in the oil, garlic and chilli. I always omit the pre-cooking phase and sauté the greens directly with the flavourings.
One disadvantage perhaps of not boiling the greens first is that I cannot use the drained water from the greens to cook the pasta, this being popular with Sicilian cooks. The pasta takes on a green hue and some of the flavour of the vegetables, but I prefer sautéed greens that still have some bite in them.
I cooked the bunch of the Senape (about 500 gr) I bought from the QVM with ossocollo (smallgoods/cured pork neck), 3 cloves of chopped garlic, about 4 tbs extra virgin olive oil, salt and chilli flakes (or use fresh chilli). Speck or pancetta is also a good substitute for ossocollo, I chose this because I had some in my fridge.
Unlike the preferred quantity of 100g of pasta for each person, I think that 300g of pasta is sufficient for 4 people, however you may disagree.
Clean the green vegetables.
Fry the garlic and chilli, add the ossocollo and leave to lightly brown in a pan.
Add the Senape and sauté it. I added some salt, a splash of white wine, put the lid on and cooked it till I was satisfied with the degree of done-ness.
Dress the drained pasta. I always like to drizzle some fresh extra virgin olive oil on the finished dish to add fragrance and accentuate the taste.
No grated Parmesan on pasta in Sicily, leave that to the northern Italians!
Parmesan can only be called Parmesan if produced in the neighbouring historical regions of Parma and Reggio (in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna). It is given the DOP label by the European Union (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta/Protected Designation of Origin). The DOP label guarantees that the product is “authentic,” or made in the original town or region with proper ingredients and process.
Use Pecorino, a strong-tasting alternative for a strong tasting dish. Pecorino is made from sheep’s milk and Pecorino cheeses that have DOP protection are the Pecorino from Sardinia, Lazio and the Tuscan Province of Grosseto and Pecorino Toscano from Tuscany, and from Sicily.
Other Posts about wild greens:
This post is about using nettles in a risotto, fresh egg green pasta dough and a frittata.
It is also a celebration for the stall called IL FRUTTIVENDOLO in the Queen Victoria Market. This is where the nettles were purchased.
The information about nettles that I have included in this post is by Richard Cornish from the 2022 August 16 issue of The Age Digital Edition. I have included his text in italics. The article was published a couple of days after I made my frittata and it has greatly facilitated my writing about nettles.
What is it?
The botanic name for the stinging nettles genus is Urtica, coming from the Latin ‘‘ to burn’’ . These annual wild plants have deeply serrated leaves and hairs or trichomes on the leaves and stems that break off and shoot a little homegrown hypodermic under the skin. Packed with chemicals such as acetylcholine, histamine and serotonin, they cause temporary stinging and swelling. Those hairs disappear with washing and cooking, rendering the plant both harmless and delicious.
The nettle plant is called ortica. Nettles are called ortiche in Italian, and the stinging hairs do disappear very easily.
For making any nettle dish, wear rubber gloves and clean them by stripping the leaves from any tough stems, but I kept the soft tips.
Why do we love it?
Sydney edible wild plant expert and author Diego Bonetto, author of Eat Weeds, says stinging nettles have been eaten in Australia for tens of thousands of years. ‘‘We have three species of nettles in Australia – one with long, narrow leaves is a native. The other two are exotic.’’ They are a source of minerals such as magnesium and have a lot of linoleic acids, which help lower LDL cholesterol. ‘‘ Tea made from stinging nettle is known as a blood tonic in many cultures,’’ says Benotto. Victorian chef Glenn Laurie would tramp through native stinging nettles on fishing trips with his dad in Gippsland. ‘‘I didn’t learn how delicious they were until I started cooking with them at The River Cafe in London,’’ he says.
‘‘They were cooked into the risotto, where they added bright green, a fresh note and luscious texture to the rice.’’ At La Cantina at Freshwater Creek, near Anglesea, nettles have sprung up where the compost was.
I too have made risotto with nettles and if any of you have made a spinach risotto you will have the process for making it under control. Here is a simple recipe with nettles. The same recipe can also be used substituting English spinach. I think that 300g of rice is sufficient for 6 people but use more if you wish.
carnaroli rice or arborio, 300g
nettles, 1 bunch or anything from 250-400g nettles
extra virgin olive oil
white wine, 1 cup
vegetable or chicken stock, 1 litre, heated
onion or leek, 1
salt and pepper to taste
Parmigiano, good quality, grated to taste
Clean the nettles, wearing gloves; wash the leaves under cold water.
Make a nettle purée . Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in a pan, add the nettles and wilt them by covering with a lid. Add about a cup of stock and cook them till they are soft. It will not take long, depending on the quantities of the nettles, for about 5-10 minutes. Once they are cooked, blend the nettles and make a purée.
Make the risotto: Sauté the onion or leek with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, add the rice and toast it by mixing it for a few minutes. Add the white wine and evaporate it. Add some of the stock and continue cooking it by adding more stock until the rice is nearly cooked. Add the nettles and finish cooking. Risotto should never be dry. Italians say – all’onda (like waves).
Stir in the butter just before serving and present it with grated cheese. I also like to grate a little nutmeg on the risotto, especially when I am making it with spinach.
‘‘We make pasta with a puree of cooked leaves. You need to get as much of the moisture out [before mixing into the dough] because it will affect the ratio of flour and liquid,’’ Laurie says. He loves serving nettle puree enriched with extra virgin olive oil alongside seafood.
Once again, the process of making fresh, green pasta with nettles is the same as when using spinach.
Suggested ingredients and amounts: 300g durum wheat four, 2 eggs, 90g of pureed spinach.
Wilt the spinach, leaving some of the water retained by the leaves and cook till softened. Drain them, squeeze them as much as possible. This is when some muslin or a cotton cloth could come in handy to squeeze out the liquid. Blend them and cool before using. In a bowl, combine the flour and eggs, add the spinach puree and start working everything, use a fork at first to mix the ingredients. Continue by hand to knead well and depending on the size of the eggs and moisture in the spinach you may need to add a little flour water to have the right consistency. Rest it for about an hour, covered with a tea towel Roll it and cut it to shape.
How do you use it?
While Italian nonnas appear to handle nettles with impunity, it’s best to wear rubber gloves, handling the plants from the base of the stem, and wash them in a sink of cold water to remove grit. Blanch in boiling water for a minute then refresh in iced water.
A nonna is not likely to purchase a bunch of nettles, she or a family member would collect them from the wild. I have collected nettles on many occasions, armed with scissors, thick rubber gloves and large plastic bags.
After cleaning and washing the nettles, you can blanch them but I put them in a small bowl and I poured a kettle of boiling water on to them. That was enough to wilt them sufficiently to make my frittata. (looks like I made myself a cup of tea at the same time). Drain them. I do not see the need to refresh them under cold water.
The Brits have made nettle and veg soup for millennia but sometimes cook nettles in rich stock thickened with cream. The Spanish mix nettles with prawns and eggs to make a tortilla, while the Greeks make a pie, a bit like spanakopita, which they call hortikopita (wild weed pie). Nettles cooked with butter, shallots and cream make a smooth, unctuous puree as a bed for succulent seafood like scallops.
I like the idea of the puree as an accompaniment to many meat, fish and egg dishes and not just scallops.
Where do you get it?
Not in the supermarket. Some specialty greengrocers carry nettles but you’re more likely to find them at a farmers’ market. Or you could forage in the ’burbs or the country. Take a reference picture and look for disturbed soil or around trees where farm animals sleep.
On this occasion my partner saw them and bought them from Gus and Carmel from the Queen Victoria Market from their stall, now returned to its original location in the newly renovated shed close to Peel street.
The Fruttivendolo ( fruit seller/ green grocer) is by far the most attractive and well stocked stall in the market and this is where you will find vegetables and fruit of Italian origin in abundance.
Their produce is superb! They are only open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Now back to making the FRITTATA with nettles.
Ingredients: I bunch of nettles, 6 eggs, 3-4 spring onions or a leek, some cheese – I used feta but ricotta or grated Parmesan is also good. Extra virgin olive oil and butter, salt and pepper.
Clean the nettles (see above) and wash in cold water. soften the nettles by pouring boiling water on to them or plunging them into a pan of hot water and boil for a few minutes.
Drain the nettles.
Saute some spring onions or a leek (softer tasting than onion) or a small onion in some butter and extra virgin olive oil.
Add the drained nettles to the sautéd onion and continue to sauté the ingredients for a few minutes. Remove the ingredients from the pan and let cool.
Lightly beat some eggs with a fork.
Add the sautéd ingredients, salt and pepper into the eggs and gently stir through. On this occasion I used some cubed , mild tasting feta, on other occasions I have used ricotta, formaggio fresco, or grated Parmesan cheese.
Re – oil the frying pan if necessary, heat it and gently pour in the mixture.
Press it around to try and cook as much of the mixture as possible.
Invert the frittata onto a plate to flip to the other side. Return it to the frypan and cook it.
Marinating is an effective way to add flavour, moisture and to tenderize meat before cooking. I do this with all the large pieces of meat that are going to be slow cooked. Even steak, pork fillets and some fish get a short session of marinade, even if it is just a splash or rubbing of extra virgin olive oil with seasoning, garlic and/or herbs. For most of my large pieces of meat, I often use an acid , like, wine, citrus juice or vinegar. This component of the marinade helps to tenderise the meat. The herbs and spices enhance the flavour. Good olive oil has a multi-purpose function. It adds a distinct taste, melds the different flavours of the marinade together and, after the meat is drained from the marinade , some of the oil that has adhered to the meat assists in the browning process.
For this braise, I bought 3 legs of kid (capretto) and deboned it. This amounted to roughly 1.5 kg. The same marinade can be used for goat, lamb or sheep and would also be good for beef.
There were four of us for dinner and there were some leftovers that I converted into a Sardinian-flavoured sauce for gnochetti by adding a few, common Sardinian ingredients.
1.5 kg of kid, cubed
Marinade: 750g (1bottle) of red wine,1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, herbs – bay leaves, rosemary, sage, thyme, juniper berries
Leave meat in marinade for about 8 hours.
The meat is drained from the marinade before browning and braising.
For the soffritto: 1 onion, 2 carrots,1 stick of celery, all finely chopped.
Stock is added during cooking to ensure that the meat remains moist.
Pancetta or speck, about 50g bought as a whole piece and cut into small cubes,
extra virgin olive oil to brown the meat,
salt to taste,
fresh herbs, peppercorns and juniper berries (as above) to replace the spent herbs and flavourings from the marinade.
Make the marinade, add the cubed pieces of meat and leave it to marinate for 8 hours.
When ready to cook, drain the meat, save the marinade and remove all of the herbs, peppercorns and juniper berries.
Use a heavy based saucepan for cooking.
Brown the meat, a little at a time. Do not overcrowd the meat. Remove the meat and set aside.
Sauté the pancetta or speck in extra virgin olive oil.
Add the onion first and stir it around the hot pan to soften. Next, add the carrots and celery and slowly sauté the ingredients. This is the soffritto.
Add the browned meat.
Add the marinade, fresh herbs, seasoning and flavourings. Add some stock during the cooking process as the meat dries out. I added about 1 cup of stock. It is always easy to evaporate excess liquid at the end of cooking rather than cooking meat in too little liquid.
Cover the pan and braise slowly.
The meat I cooked must have been quite tender because it cooked in two hours.
Remove the meat and evaporate some of the liquid.
I presented the meat with braised Brussel sprouts, sautéd mushrooms and roasted, squashed potatoes. Baked polenta would have been good too.
What did I do with the leftovers?
Lamb and goat are often used in Sardinian dishes.
For the Sardinian style pasta, I sautéd a little onion in some olive oil, a added some saffron that had been soaking in stock, a little tomato paste and the meat with its leftover juices.
I used gnocchetti sardi – shaped pasta. I added shards of pecorino cheese when I presented the pasta and emulated Sardinian ingredients and flavours .
Other kid or goat recipes:
Making a duck ragout/ragù with minced duck is not much different from making a good bolognese sauce.
It is the same cooking method, they are both slow cooked and have the same ingredients: the soffritto made by sautéing in extra virgin olive oil minced / finely cut onion, carrot and celery.
I use the same herbs and add a grating of nutmeg.
Wine and good stock are very much staples in my cooking, in this case I add white wine with the duck because it is a pale meat.
In this case the vegetables for the soffritto are not as finely cut as I would have liked, however my kitchen helper was in a hurry. I say this in a light tone, the sauce could have looked a little better, but it tasted good.
There are few little things that are different from making a bolognese and a ragù d’ anatra (duck ragout) to dress pasta:
The addition of a little milk or cream that is usual in the bolognese; this is because the duck is fatty. I watched the seller place whole duck breasts into the mincer so the fat is to be expected.
Because of this abundance of fat I also skim some of the fat off the surface once the ragout is cooked.
I add is less tomato paste. When I make a ragout with duck or game, I make a brown sauce rather than red.
Sometimes, I also may add a few dried mushrooms to enhance the taste. The liquid also goes in.
And there you have it:
Rigatoni con ragù d’ anatra (duck ragout).
It is mushroom time again. This time, I only found Slippery Jacks, tiny compact ones.
They are slimy and they take a bit of cleaning.
And them drying them with old tea towels.
I cooked them with onions, garlic and herbs, braised them in extra virgin olive oil and a splash of white wine.
In spite of being dried with a tea towel and very compact they released their juice and as expected, because I had cooked them before, the juice is as slimy as when you cook okra.
I then placed the mushrooms in jars and saved them for another time.
It was always my intention to mix the Slippery Jacks with other mushrooms.
And dried porcini to add strong flavour.
I drained the cooked Slippery Jacks. If I wish, I can use the liquid for another dish.
I then proceeded to cook mushrooms as I always do…. as in Funghi al Funghetto.
Garlic, parsley sautéed in extra virgin olive oil and butter. Add fresh mushrooms and toss them around in the hot pan. I also added some fresh rosemary and sage and some thyme.
When the mushroom had well and truly sweated and softened, I added white wine and a little stock and evaporated some of the liquid before adding the Slippery Jacks.
This time, I used the mushrooms as a topping for rice cooked in chicken stock. I could have used them as a dressing for pasta or as a vegetable side dish.
Other wild mushroom recipes:
There are other recipes on my blog for mushrooms. If interested use the search button.
A plant with happy looking, golden yellow flowers that look very like sunflowers produces these clusters of knobbly tubers that can be eaten raw or cooked in many different ways – boiled, baked, sautéed, braised or steamed.
This one plant was grown by my son and as you can see the number of tubers are prolific.
In Italy the plant and tubers are called topinambur.
In Australia and the UK, these tubers are usually called Jerusalem artichokes. In the US they seem to be more commonly referred to as sunchokes. They are actually native to Canada and North America where they were cultivated and known as sunroots before the arrival of Europeans.
Like a potato plant, the topinambur roots produce tubers that turn into these delicious, knobbly mouthfuls. They have a taste like an artichoke.
My son and daughter in law tell me that the flowers attract many bees.
They can be scrubbed before eating or peeled, or you can remove the skin once cooked. This is especially advisable for those people who may have a reaction from eating them; they have a high fibre content and are high in inulin and both of these factors can cause gastric upsets in some people.
Many gardeners grow girasoli (sunflowers), and apart from growing them for looks, sunflowers are mostly used for their seeds that grow in the centre of the flower. The giant variety can grow over 3.5m tall and produce flowers up to 50cm wide.
Interestingly enough, there are a variety of sunflowers in Italy (some grow wild) and they vary in size and colour.
In Italy, they are mostly called topinambur, but other local names exist and the most common are: la rapa tedesca [German turnip], il carciofo di Gerusalemme (Jerusalem artichoke), il girasole (sun flower), taratufolo (cane artichoke) and la patata del Canada (Canadian potato). In Germany, topinambur, is considered to be one of the most exceptional tubers.
Some have assumed that the Jerusalem part of the name may have morphed come from girasole. I am more likely to associate the Jerusalem part with the culinary skills for cooking artichokes of the many Jews who settled in Italy. Carciofi alla Judea is a famous Roman dish and once the artichokes are cooked they look life flowers – from Judea comes Jerusalem. Interestingly enough, in Leaves from a Tuscan Kitchen by Janet Ross and Michael Waterfield and first published in1899, Jerusalem artichokes are referred as Carciofi di Giudea.
I do have a very large collection of cookery books celebrating cuisines from different parts of the world and written in English or in Italian and wanted to find just how popular Jerusalem artichokes are in my collection, but I have found very few recipes, especially from Italy . Those that are come mostly from the UK. Scouring through them, I found references and recipes in Jane Grigson’s Vegetable book published in 1980 and Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking (Penguin edition 1964). There are recipes in Leith’s Fish Bible, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers River Café – Italian Kitchen.
Jerusalem artichokes seem to have become much more popular in recent years and you only have to look at recent, modern cookery books or websites from the UK to see they are used creatively often combined with game especially pigeon, venison, partridge and strong tasting meat like mutton. Previously, the tubers were more likely to be combined with potatoes or artichokes. You only need to look at the most recent books of Claudia Roden, Yotam Ottolenghi, Diana Henry, Nigel Slater and a great number of other notable chefs represented in The British Chefs Series.
Modern cooks are also presenting them raw in salads, peeled or scrubbed, sliced thinly and tossed in salads with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice they provide taste and crunch. I particularly like a simple salad made with a combination of rocket leaves, walnuts, Jerusalem artichokes and vanilla persimmons sliced thinly (they are not the squishy ones and therefore more suitable in a salad) with a dressing made from extra virgin olive or walnut oil and lemon juice.
There are recipes in my collection of Time-Life, The Good Cook Series, but on close inspection the recipes are either from the UK, Germany or France (called topinambours).
I found some recipes by Massimo Bottura, Marcella Hazan and Clifford A White (who writes about Mediterranean food). In Australia, recipes for Jerusalem artichokes are included in some of Stefano Manfredi’s collections and those from Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer. I am not saying that there aren’t others, but these are what I have found in my cookbook library.
Jerusalem artichokes are likely to be eaten more in the north of Italy, mostly in risotto and pasta dishes. In Piedmont they are often boiled in milk or mixed with potatoes with butter. Often , they are one of the vegetables to be dipped in a bagna cauda – a dip/sauce made with butter, olive oil, garlic and anchovies.
When they are in season, I particularly like Jerusalem artichokes scrubbed, sliced thickly, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and fresh herbs – rosemary and thyme are my favourites, then placed in a single layer on a baking sheet and slow roasted (165C) for about one hour. Toss them around halfway through. They taste intense!
Look up Hank Shaw’s recipe on the web for Pickled artichokes. This is similar to Stephanie Alexander’s recipe in The Cook’s Companion. I do not like sweet pickles (Italian pickles are always sour) and both these recipes contain a fair amount of sugar, but one may be able to adapt. What is interesting in Hank Shaw’s recipe is reading the readers’ responses and suggestions.
When I go camping I enjoy cooking just as much as when I cook at home. I like to go camping as often as possible.
I particularly enjoy the challenge of undertaking of cooking with limited resources – few ingredients, simple cooking methods and equipment. Each meal is further restricted by what ingredients and produce has to be used first.
Camping meals also have to be easy, quick to cook and as flavoursome as I can make them. The basics are extra virgin olive oil, good quality wine vinegar or balsamic, anchovies, capers, mustard, fresh herbs from my garden, some spices and anything else that is in my home fridge and that I have room for in my camping fridge/ cooler box, for example any of the following: harissa, egg mayonnaise, tapenade, preserved lemons, left-over cooked food and sauces…these will enrich the flavours of what I am to cook.
Above: kale sautéed with garlic, anchovies and chillies is accompanied with saganaki. Like when cooking FORMAGGIO ALLA ARGENTIERA I always add a sprinkling of dried oregano while it is cooking.
Above: braised mushrooms will be used to dress pasta or may accompany pork sausages or used to make a frittata.
Above: eggs poached in some tomato salsa and sprinkled with fresh basil leaves.
Above: braised red radicchio with pan-fried salamino (or chorizo).
Above: cauliflower cooked with rosemary and saffron and some creamed feta. This too could be used as a pasta sauce.
Above: pork sausages are pretty much staples for camping. They can be crumbled into dishes or cooked whole with tomatoes, sauerkraut, lentils or beans.
Above: pork sausages with lentils.
After 30 years of using a blue gas stove I now have a yellow one. This one lights more easily and generates more heat.
Sautéed green leafy vegetables with chilli.
This is a common Italian method to cook any green leafy vegetables , such as : kale, cavolo nero, spinach, chicory, endives, cime di rape, brassicas. Italians, like my mother would blanche or cook the leafy greens in boiling, salted water before sautéing , however because I prefer my vegetables not to be overcooked I omit the precooking.
I like to add a substantial amount of anchovies, but I am careful about adding salt to the greens when I sauté them in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and chilli.
Sauté the anchovies, The anchovies have to be cut finely and tossed about in some extra virgin olive oil to dissolve/ melt. This happens quickly.
Add some chopped garlic and chillies and toss for a couple of minutes before adding the washed greens and sauté until cooked to your liking.
Other posts about camping:
Below: The Otway National Park, Victoria, my last camping trip.
I always look forward to Richard Cornish’s Brain Food column on Tuesdays in The Age. For his first article this year he has kicked off with Bottarga (January 25 issue).
What a great start!
He says that we love bottarga because it has the power to enrich and enhance dishes, much the same way as Parmesan cheese improves pasta and jamon makes everything more delicious. I always think of anchovies and how widely they are used not just in Sicilian cooking but in Italian cooking generally an dhow much they enrich the taste of many dishes.
The bottarga that Richard is writing about is Bottarga di Muggine: ‘the salted, processed and sun-dried mullet roe that is pale orange to yellow in colour.”
Having roots in Sicily, I am more accustomed with Bottarga di Tonno, made from tuna. In comparison to the mullet roe, bottarga from tuna can be darker in colour and more pungent in taste.
I bought this lump of bottarga (in the photo below) from Enoteca Sileno in Melbourne. Mullet bottarga is easier to find.
In Sicily bottarga has been used for millennia and is only one of many parts of the tuna that are salted.
Many years ago, when bottarga would have been next to impossible to purchase in Australia, I purchased many packets of plastic wrapped bottarga and various salted parts or the tuna from a vendor in the Market in Syracuse who specialised in salted and dried fish. I brought them back to Australia in my suitcase. I declared them, but because they were sealed securely I was cleared through customs.
In my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking, I begin the section of the book PESCE SALATO (Salted Fish) by saying:
Salted fish has been greatly valued and an important industry in Sicily. During medieval times the standard Lenten diet was based on pulses and dried salted fish. Still popular in Sicily, salted fish were popular with the ancient Romans. Anchovies, which still flavour many dishes, probably replaced the gurum used widely by ancient Romans.
Gurum was made by crushing and fermenting fish innards. It was very popular during Roman times, an import from the Greeks. It was a seasoning preferred to salt and added to other ingredients like vinegar, wine, oil and pepper to make a condiment used for meat, fish and vegetables – much like the fish sauce used in some Asian cuisines.
Two early cookery books, The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery Book by Martino of Como and On Right Pleasure and Good Health by Platina, praise the taste and quality of salted tuna (particularly the middle section of tuna called tarantellum or terantello). Salted tuna (sometimes called mosciam in Sicily) was introduced by the Arabs (who called it muscamma) in about the 10th century. It has firm, deep red-brown flesh that needs only paper-thin slicing and is mainly eaten softened in oil with a sprinkling of lemon juice.
Salted tuna is also produced in southern Spain; they refer to it as air-dried tuna or sun-dried tuna and Mojama tuna.
Bottarga (called buttarica or buttarga in Sicilian) are the eggs in the ovary sacs of female tuna. These are pressed into a solid mass, salted and processed. The name bottarga is thought to have evolved from the Arabic buarikh or butarah – raw fish eggs, once made made by dipping the sac in beeswax and leaving it to dry. Making bottarga is a much more complicated process now and is only produced in Favignana. It is grated to flavour dishes, or sliced finely and eaten as an antipasto.
I have eaten bottarga mainly grated over pasta dishes and eggplant caponata, but in Syracuse I enjoyed baked eggplant stuffed with seafood and topped with grated bottarga.
Richard Cornish says :
‘Grated bottarga is sensational over buttered pasta. You need nothing other than a glass of wine to complete the dish. Try it grated over spaghetti with tomatoes and a little chilli, or on hot flatbread drizzled with oil as an aperitivo. Make a delicious salad of finely sliced fennel and radicchio topped with bottarga. Grate bottarga into aioli to make a dressing for a Caesar salad. Make softly scrambled eggs, grate over 50g of bottarga and enjoy on hot buttered sourdough’.
Sounds good and I am looking forward to trying some of these.
I have a post on my blog for the recipe:
PASTA ALLA NORMA and a variation (Pasta with tomato salsa and fried eggplants; and currants, anchovies and bottarga) …photo, as eaten on the coast near Agrigento.
Gremolata or gremolada is made of chopped parsley, lemon zest, and chopped garlic and is the usual accompaniment to Osso Buco Milanese, (braised, cross cut veal shanks). The freshness of the gremolata adds a zing to the rich taste of the slow cooked meat that is braised with white wine, tomatoes and a soffritto base. The marrow in the bones is also eaten. Risotto Milanese is also traditionally served with Osso Buco and it is made with the enticing spice, saffron.
Obviously gremolata can also pep up other food and it makes and easy and tasty accompaniment for many dishes, and not necessarily just in Italian cuisine.
I remembered first making a different gremolata years ago and using preserved lemon instead of fresh lemon peel. I re-found the original recipe in one of my many cookbooks – Arabesque.
Greg and Lucy Malouf’s recipe also contains another enticing spice, sumac . Ancient Romans used sumac as a souring agent and to add a sour tang to dishes. Sumac a common ingredient in Middle Eastern Food.
I particularly like this version of gremolata with simply seared tuna.
I also like it with the fried cheese Saganaki (refers to the pan used to make a variety of Greek appetizers, most famously the fried cheese dish).
The recipe in Arabesque:
My preserved lemons are in salt brine (and not preserved with added honey), but if you like the idea of adding a little sweetness to the recipe add a little honey.
On the odd occasion, instead of sumac, I have used saffron. and sometimes I have added a few almonds (or almond meal). Both are interesting additions and variations.
This version does contain almonds. Add 1/2 cup of blanched or whole almonds (natural or roasted ) to the specified ingredients.
Recently, I presented the gremolata made with preserved lemon with fish.
Mix the ingredients together.
- 3Tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1 Tbsp freshly grated lemon zest
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced