Category Archives: Italian Regional

GELO DI MELONE, a simple summer, Sicilian dessert

Gelo Di Melone  is pureed watermelon thickened with a little corn flour or rice flour with the addition of  some rose water, vanilla and a little sugar.  Once made and poured into the mould to set,  I add little jewels  of colour and flavours on top –  chopped dark chocolate, candied citron and roasted pistachio nuts. This is the basic, traditional recipe. Arab influenced?  Except for the chocolate, I think so.

But chocolate is also made in Sicily and those who have been to Modica  may be familiar with the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto where chocolate is made using the original methods in the style of the Aztecs and brought by the Spaniards in the 16th century – the Spaniards ruled Sicily at various times and foods from the “New World” (including cocoa beans) were introduced.

Gelo Di Melone is very simple to make, but it takes time to get the flavours right. Why?

The answer is simple. It all depends on the flavour of the melone (watermelon).

The puree is thickened with a little flour and stirred on heat like a custard. This time I used rice flour and I stirred it through a little melon puree to make sure it was not lumpy.

Add a little rosewater, vanilla essence and a little sugar, but then you have to taste it. Is it sweet enough? Does it need more rosewater? Shall I add a little lemon juice to lift the flavour?

Once you have decided that you like the taste, you could then experiment with the recipe.  For example I like to add roasted almonds through the thickened mix, a little cinnamon can also be good and if I have run out of citron peel, good quality orange peel does the trick.

On occasions instead of rosewater I have used  rose liqueur or violet liqueur. This is strictly not the traditional recipe, but if I am not making it for Sicilians I feel comfortable to experiment. And I have fun doing it.

I prefer to present the Gelo di Melone in little glass bowls, however, it doesn’t look bad in a large bowl and it takes up less room in the fridge.

The black bowl below is made of glass.

Once decorated they taste and look even more stunning.

RECIPES:

GELO DI MELONE (Jellied watermelon)

GELO DI LIMONE (Sicilian Jellied Lemon)

MODICA and HONEY and Sicilian biscuits called nucatuli

ARABS IN SICILY, some sweets, petrafennula

PETRAFENNULA also called PETRAMENNULA, a Sicilian sweet with possible Arabic origins

ZELTEN from the Trentino, Alto Adige region of Italy

I have never made traditional dishes for Christmas obligatory and my menu choices depend on the people I am sharing Christmas with. Last year it was fresh seafood – oysters, prawns and crayfish – simply served and delicious. This year main course is likely to be duck with cherries marinated in grappa. What comes before and after is to be yet decided.

When my parents were alive, our family Christmas meal was likely to be a combination of offerings from Sicily and Trieste, either a caponata or an insalata russa for the finger food, a good brodo  with tortellini for firsts, while the second course varied from year to year, and perhaps there was a cassata or a zuppa inglese for dessert. Only fish on Christmas eve was obligatory, but there was never a set Christmas menu, as there tends to be in many Australian or Italian households.

You won’t find me cooking turkey because it is too much like chicken, for me. As for dessert – I am not a fan of Christmas pudding and the only parts of pavlova I like are the berries and cream. I have made too many cassate (plural of cassata) and panforte on too many occasions to repeat them or appreciate them as I once did at Christmas.

This year, probably the only traditional Christmas dish I’ll be eating is Zelten, a typical sweet, fruit and nut bread/cake of the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy.

I’ve looked at numerous recipes and background information about Zelten and found that there are many variations in the recipes. Zelten began from humble beginnings, a bread dough enriched with the typical local dry fruit and spices, the quantity and quality of fruit being poor in some (as in Trentino) and extravagant in others (as in Balzano).

The numerous recipes I read varied greatly. For example, walnuts are the principal nut used in all the recipes, but some variations contain almonds and/or hazelnuts/ pine nuts. Apart from figs and dried grapes, there are recipes with dates and/or unspecified dried fruit. To me using dates and mixed fruit do not sound typical of Tyrol.

All recipes include flour, either wheat or rye (some use very little flour, other recipe have large amounts of dough, some use bread dough). There are varying amounts of eggs, butter, sugar, yeast, milk or none of these. The fruit can be steeped in rum, but some recipes specify grappa, so as you can see the recipes vary greatly and some are much more modern.

I can understand the many variations of Zelten in Tyrol and why the recipes differ from family to family and location. Tyrol (German: Tirol) is historically a multi-national region located in the heart of the Alps of Austria and Italy. It is segmented by the compass into North, East and South Tyrol. North and East Tyrol lie in Austria and South Tyrol is in Italy, it is also known as Südtirol or Alto Adige). Bolzano, is the capital.

I was in this region two years ago and enjoyed its many special features: stunning scenery especially in the Italian Alps and the Dolomites with their extraordinary mountainous and rocky peaks, the distinct architecture of cities and ancient villages where people speak German or Austro-Bavarian-German and Italian, and obviously, the culinary delights that reflect these cultures.

Zelten comes from the German selten and it means sometimes/on occasions, and as the name indicates it was only prepared on special occasions like Christmas, in winter with only dried fruit and nuts available.

I finally settled on making a version of a Zelten from South Tyrol and Bolzano, characterized by of large amounts of fruit – mainly figs and a selection of other dried fruit, pine nuts and almonds. I conducted some research into the fruit that is grown in the region and omitted apricots, peaches or plums because these stone fruits are more recent additions to the orchards. I used dried apples, pears, sultanas, strawberries (there are wild strawberries in the woods), a few dried plums and only a little orange peel as I did not imagine citrus to be very common in the area.

I chose grappa rather than rum, and plenty of it to soak the fruit and to moisten the cake once it was made.

I used no butter, eggs, milk or yeast and I used rye flour because wheat does not grow well in wet and cold climates. I used honey and not sugar.

I divided the mixture and baked two round cakes.

Eventually, I combined a couple of recipes and came up with:

750g dried fruit – 400g were figs, the rest as described above
350g nuts – 120g walnuts, the remainder almonds and pine nuts
200g honey
grappa – about ½ litre to soak the fruit and another ½ litre to soak into the baked cake
ground cinnamon, cloves, grated lemon peel
rye flour

I combined coarsely cut fruit and chopped nuts in a large container with a cover, added the grappa and left it for four days, stirring it occasionally.
I added the honey and spices and gradually mixed in as much rye flour as it would absorb. The principal recipe suggested to use 5% of the total weight of the ingredients, I calculated this to be about 230g. I mixed a teaspoon of baking powder to the flour as the only leavening, there was no leavening mentioned in the recipes that I sighted that used rye flour.
I lined two round baking tins with brown paper and baking paper. The recipe did not specify heat or time, but I baked them at 200 degrees for 60 minutes. Although my cakes are round, my understanding is that in different parts of Tyrol oval or heart shapes are also common.

I wrapped the cakes in  calico( pudding cloth) and I have been dousing it  with more grappa daily.

I took a cake to friends last night and we cut it. It is heavy, not sweet and steeped in grappa. It does taste good.

Back goes the calico wrapping. With all that alcohol and  fortress -like wrapping, the Zelten will last for a long time.

Grappa is made with grape skins. The wines and grappa from this region is unique.

Recipes of food mentioned in this post.

ZUPPA INGLESE, a famous, Italian dessert

CASSATA Explained with photos

SICILIAN CASSATA and some background (perfect for an Australian Christmas)

CAPONATA Catanese (from Catania) made easy with photos

INSALATA RUSSA (Party time; Russian salad)

 

MAIALE AL LATTE (Pork cooked in milk)

A winter dish you could say!

Not so.  Even if it is pork, MAIALE al latte is a light, delicate and sweet tasting dish, a classic recipe from the Veneto region of Italy.

This is one of the easiest and most delicious recipes for cooking a lump of pork, either the loin or the neck. I prefer it not to be a fatty piece of meat and I trim most of the fat off.

Many like to prepare a pork dish for Christmas. Pork braised in milk could make a pleasant  change!

I always use full cream milk. The milk separates into flavourful and creamy curds that can be gently strained out and served on the side or under the succulent, cooked meat that has been sliced. The meat juices and whey are the fragrant sauce.

Fresh sage, garlic and lemon rind are the flavours. I  also like to use quite a bit of black pepper.

I used a boneless loin of pork. Ingredients for 1k.500g:

extra virgin olive oil and butter to seal the meat and brown
1 small head of  garlic,  cloves peeled and halved
salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh sage,  about 10 large leaves
full cream  milk, a sufficient amount to cover up to three quarters of the meat.
lemon peel from one large lemon cut into thin, wide strips – use a potato peeler.

Trim the fat off the meat, rub salt and pepper all over the pork and leave for about 10 mins.
Use a heavy-bottomed pot that is large enough to hold pork and milk that will almost cover the pork.
Brown the pork on all sides in some oil and butter. Use medium-high heat. Add pork and cook until well browned on all sides.
Add garlic and sage and milk. Bring to a boil, add lemon zest, reduce heat to medium-low.
Cover and gently simmer the meat. Resist stirring. Turn over the meat a couple of times and cook for about 3 hours.  The milk will have reduced and golden curds would have formed. It will smell like caramel.

Transfer meat to a cutting board and let it rest while you lift off the curds gently and separate them from the liquid. The garlic will have dissolved into the sauce. Remove the lemon peel and the sage leaves. Skim off any fat (I did not need to do this as my meat was pretty lean).

Slice the meat.  Serve  on a bed of curds and the caramel meat juices poured on top.

Present with asparagus for a taste of summer.

MAKING RICOTTA, Paneer or curd cheese

I think I have fallen in love with rich Jersey milk.

It is so easy to make the curds  to make ricotta.

All it takes is full cream milk and some lemon juice. The only other things you’ll need are a slotted spoon and a colander lined with cheese cloth (muslin) to strain the curds.

You may have a ricotta basket handy – if you buy ricotta it is often sold in a plastic basket and you can use it to drain the curds and shape the ricotta.

A slotted spoon will be handy to gently scoop out the curds.

Making ricotta is very simple.

I used 3 litres of milk, two lemons and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Bring the milk almost to a simmer on medium heat, add some salt and wait till little bubbles form close to the edge of the pot before you add the lemon juice; stir it in gently. The milk should separate into clumps of curds, and the whey will be thin and watery. If not enough of the milk has separated, reheat it and add a little bit more lemon juice and once again stir it gently. Once it has separated leave it undisturbed for about 10  minutes; stirring will make the curds dense.

Gently scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon – do not pour – into a large ricotta basket or a colander lined with cheese cloth that you have placed over a bowl to catch the whey.

A culinary specialty and a way of serving ricotta in Sicily (especially in the Ragusa region) is to ladle the curds with the whey into a bowl and to eat it with a spoon and bread.

** See post, A visit to Massaro,  link below.

How long you let the curds drain or how firmly you press them down will determine how solid the curds will be. If the curds are too solid you may need some whey to mix back into the curds. But if you think of how many recipes suggest that you drain the ricotta before using it for making cannoli, cassata, frittata, ravioli, baked ricotta, ricotta salata, scacce,  having firm ricotta is advantageous.

There are many recipes using ricotta on my blog that can easily be found by using the search button.

Traditionally, ricotta is made by heating the left-over whey from other cheese-making. The curds are worked to make and shape cheeses like mozzarella, trecce, fior di latte, bocconcini, and reheating the whey produces the fine-grained curd that traditionally makes ricotta – ri-cotta, translated as re-cooked/twice cooked. Usually more rich milk is added to the whey to make a full cream ricotta.

The curds can also be formed to make quark, cottage cheese and paneer. When I make paneer I do not add salt to the milk and I drain the curds or press them for longer.

however, the three links below are about making ricotta. The photo above is how ricotta is shaped and sold in Sicily .

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

RICOTTA how to make it (using rennet)

RICOTTA and FRIED PEPPERS (Peperoni fritti). The Butter Factory at Myrtleford

The whey has many uses especially for baking. My partner bakes bread, flatbreads and cracker biscuits). I have not yet used whey for marinating meat, but I do braise pork in milk – a Bolognese specialty. The milk separates and forms a caramel when heated slowly at a low temperature for a few hours. I will write a recipe for this in my next post.

 

‘NDUJA, was considered peasant food in Calabria

I am not Calabrese, and not being Calabrese means that I only discovered ’nduja late in life, as it was very much a regional and local food. I may have been late, but I did discover ’nduja much earlier than those living in Australia, who are now celebrating its use in a big way. Better late than never, because ’nduja is a fabulous salume (smallgood).

Featured photo is Tropea, Calabria.

So what is ’nduja?

We can thank Richard Cornish for his full-flavoured description of it in his Brain Food column in The Age on 10 November: A fermented sausage, originally from Calabria in Italy, that has a texture like sticky pate and a spicy kick on it like an angry mule. Pronounced en-doo-ya, it is a mixture of pork fat (up to 70 per cent), pork, salt, spices, culture and chilli peppers, which are ground together until smooth, wet, unctuous and deep red. It is stuffed into large-sized natural animal skins and slowly fermented and air-dried. The lactic acid bacteria in the culture ferments the sugars in the mix, making the ’nduja acidic enough to keep it safe from bad bugs. The name is Calabrian slang and is said to derive from the word for the smoked French sausage andouille.

Is it nduja or ’nduja? You will find that in certain references the spelling will be without an apostrophe.

The apostrophe before the nd (as in ’nduja), does not appear in the Italian language and I spent some time looking for the why it is spelt that way. It appears that in Calabrese, nd is proceeded by an apostrophe. Think of ‘Ndrangheta, as the mafia is referred to in Calabria, and ‘ndrina, the different families or clans, usually made up of blood relatives that are part of theNdrangheta.

Like most Calabresi, I usually spread ’nduja on fresh bread (like pâté) or I have used it as an ingredient in pasta sauces – it can fire up a tame ragù (a meat-based tomato sauce). I have also added ’nduja to sautéed cime di rape and Italian pork sausages, and to squid or octopus for a pasta sauce or on their own to be mopped up with bread.

I first encountered this spicy, spreadable sausage about forty years ago in the home of a Calabrese family who used to slaughter a pig and make smallgoods. They covered all of the smallgoods with chili. To their taste, food without chilli seemed flavourless, but also that the coating of chilli acts as a barrier, repelling flies (and bad bugs as Richard says) and is therefore a powerful and natural preservative. It’s the chili that gives this soft spreadable ’nduja salame its distinctive red colour.

Years later (about 23 years ago), I had some ‘nduja in the Sila mountains in Calabria, but I did not know then, that this peasant food product was to become the taste-sensation outside of Calabria that it is now.

My addition of ’nduja to seafood came much later in my cooking after I tasted a pasta dish of squid and fried breadcrumbs spiced with ’nduja, in a restaurant in Marin County, in California in the northwestern part of the San Francisco Bay Area of the U.S).  Years later, I had a similar dish in a London restaurant. Both blew me away.

Probably the first dish I tasted with ’nduja in a Melbourne restaurant (Baby octopus with ’nduja) was at Tipo 00 when it first opened and later at Osteria Ilaria.

Originally, ’nduja was considered peasant food. It was first made by contadini (farmers/ workers on the land) who raised and butchered pigs and being poor, would sell the prime cuts of pork to upper-class families who could afford them.  as is the way of the frugal, offal, excess fat, and off- cuts of meat were blended together, seasoned intensely with chilli, stuffed in a casing and transformed into a soft salame that tasted good and did not spoil easily.

These days ’nduja is probably made with better fats and cuts of meat and with its popularity, the price has also risen. ’Nduja originated in the Vibo Valentia province in Calabria, and much of it still comes from the town of Spilinga but it is now showing up as an ingredient all over Italy and in many restaurants in UK, US and in Australia – imparting a chilli kick on pizza, in pasta dishes, seafood dishes, burgers and even with Burrata; I would have thought that fresh cheeses are far too delicate to go with the strongly flavoured and spicy ’nduja. However each to their own. ’Nduja is no longer just found in specialist supermarkets and specialty butchers, but also in some fairly ordinary supermarkets. I have liked some varieties much more than others, so it is worth experimenting.

For those who like chillies, recipes that include ’nduja on my blog:

‘NDUJA, a spreadable and spicy pork salame from Calabria

PASTA with ‘NDUJA, CIME DI RAPA and PORK SAUSAGES

‘NDUJA with SQUID, very simple

‘NDUJA and CALAMARI as a pasta sauce

‘NDUJA, SQUID, VONGOLE AND PAN GRATTATO with Spaghetti

 

PASTA e FAVE (Pasta with broad beans – a wet or dry pasta dish)

Pasta e fave (broad beans) is a spring-time, Italian, rustic dish.

There are many Italian, regional combinations of pasta e fave, some add chicory or wild fennel, or tomatoes. Guanciale is an Italian cured meat made from pork’s cheek (guancia – cheek) and it is also a favourite flavouring. Thick bacon can be substituted, but somehow this is not produce I associate with  fresh spring  flavours and I always omit it. In keeping with the theme of spring, on this occasion I added a couple of zucchini. Fresh mint leaves can be added  at the time of serving the pasta.

Peas are also in season in spring and the same dish can be prepared with peas or a combination of broad beans and peas.

Depending on which part of Italy you favour, you can add Pecorino or Parmigiano, but once again, I prefer to keep the taste “clean” and the drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, fresh mint and freshly ground black pepper is enough for me.

Short to medium sized pasta that is suitable for zuppa or minestra (soup) is used in this dish and the pasta can be presented with the broad beans, served either wet or dry. You can choose whether to obtain a rather dry or slightly brothy dish – I always like it wet, just as I like a wet pasta e fagioli (borlotti beans).

I like to cook my pasta in with the beans, however, the pasta can be cooked separately, drained and then added to the beans. If this is your preferred method, cook the broad beans for 20-30 minutes, until soft, cook the pasta until al dente, then drain and dress the pasta with the broad beans and the broth.

1.5 kg fresh broad beans

2 spring onions
1 or 2 fresh garlic cloves
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and to taste pepper to taste
2 zucchini (optional)
chopped parsley
1 litre or more of chicken or vegetable broth (or water)
short pasta, a couple of handfuls or more, depending on how much pasta you prefer
your best and fruitiest, extra virgin olive oil to drizzle on top

Heat extra virgin olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic.
Add the shelled beans, zucchini and parsley and sauté briefly. Add broth, season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes. Make sure that the liquid is boiling  before adding the pasta. Add more hot broth or water if needed.

When the pasta is , turn off the heat and serve, but remember to drizzle your best extra virgin olive oil on top….it will be very fragrant!

Add more black pepper and/or fresh mint leaves when serving.

Grated cheese is optional.

Other Recipes with broad beans:

FAVE ( Broad beans)

Two Sicilian favourites:

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

FRITTEDDA (A sauté of spring vegetables)

And for those of you in the Northern hemisphere, a Sicilian specialty:

MACCU (a thick, broad bean soup, made at the end of winter to celebrate spring)

SPRING PICNIC – Frittata with artichokes and asparagus

Melbourne residents who have been in COVID lockdowns are now able to catch up under limited circumstances with friends.

Restrictions have been lifted:

Social gatherings are permitted outdoors between two people from a maximum of two households. Up to five people can socialise outdoors (excluding dependants), from two households, if every person over 18 years is fully vaccinated.

So that is what 4 of us did!

It is spring, and although the weather has been unpredictable it was a sunny day.

We ate well. The two households shared different things – Vitello Tonnato, Fior Di Latte (fresh mozzarella), Jamón. fennel withTapenade, home baked bread, a green salad (nasturtium leaves, herbs, frisée lettuce and other green leaves) and a frittata with artichokes and asparagus.

I often make frittata for various occasions.  Frittate (plural) are easy and laudable for all occasions – passed around at a celebration, breakfast, lunch , starter or dinner: they are extremely portable, excellent as a filling between bread or a picnic A frittata can be eaten hot, warm or cold. You can begin with raw or cooked ingredients and frittate are ideal for using cooked leftovers. I prefer frittate made of vegetables, but adding cooked meat or fish, smallgoods, cheese, cooked pasta or potatoes will make them more substantial.

On this occasion I wanted to celebrate spring produce and I used asparagus and artichokes.

I could have added other spring vegetables: new peas, broad beans, green beans, snow peas, zucchini and their flowers, but I did not. I kept it simple.

It is very common to add a little grated parmesan to a vegetable frittata, but one friend is allergic to diary produce so I did not use any on this occasion. This frittata  minus a little cheese did not suffer and if anything, the individual  tastes of the two vegetables was more distinct.

I sautéed my vegetables and cooked them separately. This makes the frittata tastier. The cooked, cooled ingredients are then added to the beaten eggs.

Ingredients: 8 eggs. 600g asparagus, 2 spring onions sliced thinly, 2 young artichokes, chopped parsley, salt and pepper, 1 clove of chopped garlic, extra virgin olive oil, white wine and a little stock.  A bowl with water and the juice of 1-2 lemon is necessary to immerse the artichokes as you work to prevent the artichokes from discolouring.

Use the same frypan to sauté the vegetables and the frittata.

The artichokes will take the longest to prepare. For the artichokes:

Remove the stems, strip off the rough fibrous outer and immerse them to a bowl with water and lemon.

Remove the tough outer leaves until you reach the softer and paler heart of the artichokes. cut the tip off each of the artichokes (on the tip of each leaf there is a thorn). Some types of artichokes can have large thorns!

Cut the artichokes in half and remove the internal beard with the help of a knife or a spoon, (looks like fluff). Cut the artichokes into thin slices and immerse them in water and lemon.

Drain the artichokes well when you are ready to cook them.

Heat some extra virgin olive oil, add garlic and as soon as the garlic begins to fry, add the artichokes and sauté on high heat.

Add a splash of white wine and evaporate. Add the parsley and a splash of stock (or water), cover with a lid and allow to cook. Set aside to cool.

Asparagus come in various  shapes, colours and sizes.

For the asparagus:

Remove the woody part of the stem and cut the bottom part of the asparagus into slices. Cut the top part into larger pieces – the top half of the asparagus is generally  more tender.  Sauté the spring onions in a little extra virgin olive oil, add the asparagus, a pinch of salt, toss them about in the hot pan, add 1-2 tablespoons of water and cook for a couple of minutes. Leave the asparagus slightly crunchy and set aside.

Place the eggs into a large bowl, add a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Beat vigorously with a fork until the egg mixture is homogeneous.

Add the cooked artichokes and asparagus to the eggs and mix well.

Heat some extra virgin olive oil in the same frypan and when the oil is hot, pour the mixture into the frypan and cook over medium heat.

Use the spatula to press the frittata and to lift the edges so as to encourage even cooking.

Turn the frittata when it is ready to flip.

**For more detailed instructions and photos of how to handle cooking and flipping a frittata see:

ALL ABOUT MAKING FRITTATA and Podcast with Maria Liberati

I wrapped my frittata in some foil and then a tea towel . we did not travel far and we ate it warm. You can also transport it in the frypan. covered with foil.

Other Recipes for Frittate:

FRITTATA: SAUSAGE and RICOTTA

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

Artichokes, general:

ASPARAGUS and ARTICHOKES

CARCIOFI (Artichokes)

THE AMAZING ARTICHOKE

Artichokes recipes. There are many. Use the search button and type in artichokes.

ARTICHOKES and how we love them – CAPONATA DI CARCIOFI

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

Artichokes in Acireale Sicily

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

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

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

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

CARCIOFINI SOTT’ OLIO (Preserved artichokes in oil) 

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

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

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

CARCIOFI IMBOTTITI (Stuffed artichokes)

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

FRITTEDDA (A sauté of spring vegetables)

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

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

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

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

BITTER GREENS and AMARI (Aperitivi and Digestivi)

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

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

CAPUNATA DI CARCIOFFULI – Caponata Di Carciofi  (Artichoke caponata)

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

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

Now, for the easier version:

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

KOHLRABI, as eaten in Sicily

As usual, I look forward to reading Richard Cornish’s regular column Brain Food in The Age on Tuesdays and today he is writing about Kohlrabi (September 7, 2021).

Just as listening to music has the power to bring up memories, reading about produce brings up memories of recipes for me.

When Richard chose to write about Sardines in his weekly column (August 24, 2021) I wrote about PASTA CON SARDE, an iconic Sicilian dish more common in Palermo then elsewhere, but now cooked in different regions of the island with local variations.

Below are recipes from my blog that use Kohlrabi quite differently to the chefs that Richard mentions in Brain Food including David Moyle, the creative director of Harvest Newrybar near Byron Bay, and Rosalin Virnik from Anchor Restaurant in Melbourne’s Elwood.

Here’s my bit about Kohlrabi and a couple of recipes below.

Just to be perverse, Kohlrabi are called cavoli in Sicily and in Italian it is cavolo rapa.

In Italian cavoli are cauliflowers, cavolo verza is a cabbage.

Just to confuse things even further, Sicilians call cauliflowers broccoli.

As well as the purple coloured Kohlrabi roots there are light green ones; the root is always sold complete with the leaves and the whole plant is eaten.

One way Kohlrabi is eaten in Ragusa (Sicily) where my father’s family is from, is boiled as a vegetable side dish with a dressing of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, but the preferred way is to cook it with pasta, as a wet pasta dish.

The pasta is homemade and is called Causunedda.

See recipe and photos:

A WET PASTA DISH WITH KOHLRABI

I have also seen Kohlrabi in markets in Vietnam

KOHLRABI and TENERUMI, shared between cultures of Sicily and Vietnam.

Not Sicilian, but a good salad:

KOHLRABI, FENNEL, CELERIAC AND DAIKON MAKE A GOOD SALAD (AND OTHER RECIPES)

PASTA CON LE SARDE recipes:

PASTA CON LE SARDE, Iconic Sicilian made easy

PASTA CON LE SARDE (Pasta with sardines, from Palermo, made with fennel, pine nuts and currants)

PASTA CON LE SARDE, an iconic Sicilian recipe from Palermo. Cooked at Slow Food Festival Melbourne

RISOTTO AL RADICCHIO ROSSO

I have not made a Risotto al Radicchio Rosso for a long time.

So, why now?

First of all, I had some red Radicchio in the fridge. It is more or less a regular staple which I use mainly for salads.  However, I do  enjoy it cooked as well .

Secondly, I had some freshly made chicken broth. I received an email from my brother who lives in Adelaide beginning with:

I read that your lockdown has been extended for another 7 days.
I am so sorry. There is not much that one can say to provide comfort.

So, I wrote back an email beginning with:

You could make me a good chicken broth and send it over… broth always fixes things.

And with that, I took my own advice and made some chicken broth for myself.

Thirdly, a friend left a jar of Radicchio sotto aceto pickles on my doorstep – it literally translates as radicchio under vinegar. This revived my interest in  the versatility of radicchio. 

We ate some of the radicchio pickle with the boiled chicken and it was all very good.  As I often do, I then boiled the bones from the cooked chicken to make some more stock  which I added to the left-over broth and stored it in the freezer.  P.S. Using cooked chicken bones to make stock, is not an Italian thing.

Although I am very familiar with how to make Risotto di Radicchio (or Risotto al radicchio rosso), I wanted to tap into my bookshelves to see what recipes I had. Radicchio grows in Northern Italy and the recipes are Northern Italian.

I found recipes by Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer (remember that they both spent time in Tuscany), Sky Mc Alpine (with a nice addition of gorgonzola), Tessa Kiros, Jamie Oliver, Jennifer Mc Lagan (Jennifer sweetens the risotto with pumpkin), Diana Henry (she adds borlotti; radicchio and borlotti go well together and I have cooked many dishes with these two ingredients), Marcella Hazan (very traditional and simple), Jacob Kennedy (Barolo and bone marrow), Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, Charles Nardozzi (he added pink grapefruit).Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, who is closer to  the origins of risotto and radicchio, adds bacon. This is acceptable as her birth place is close to Trieste in Pola, just before the city was assigned to Yugoslavia in September 1947.

I  particularly liked Risotto with red wine in Joanne Weir’s : From Tapas to Meze. She specifies the wine – Amarone from Veneto or Barolo from Piedmont – and adds some radicchio. She also adds nutmeg. Radicchio is bitter, nutmeg adds sweetness, which I think is a good addition, much like Jennifer Mc Lagan’s in Bitter where she suggests adding pumpkin to  the risotto, also a sweetener.

There were other recipes in some of my cookery books written in Italian, all very simple and traditional recipes and using mostly white wine. There were also  a few recipes for Risotto Rosso or Risotto all’ Amarone . None of the red wine recipes included radicchio.

Amarone is a full-bodied wine that tastes rich and fruity. Barolo is more floral and earthy, but both are strong tasting wines with a high alcohol content. I was interested to read  on the web that both wines go well with dark chocolate, a bitter taste.

In the end my preferred recipe was one by Julia Della Croce in Veneto – Authentic recipes from Venice and Italian Northeast.

Did I vary the recipe?

I never weigh ingredients and I always vary recipes to suit my tastes. I did not vary from Julia Della Croce list of ingredients very much and maybe this is why I liked her recipe. The ingredients I have at home is also a factor. For example, I can see how red onions would add to the colour, but I only had white onions.

I added nutmeg; used a white onion instead of a red one; red wine instead of white, and used more than a 1/2 cup; added thyme and bay leaves. I only used 1/2 a large radicchio. I thought that the walnuts were a good addition as once again, they provide a contrast to the bitterness of the radicchio. 

I did vary the process slightly,  but only slightly. This is what I did:

I sautéed  the onion and garlic in the oil and butter, then added the radicchio and removed it once it was softened.

I toasted the rice in butter and oil.

Once the rice was toasted, I added  seasoning , the red wine and some stock. Once the liquid was evaporated I returned the radicchio to the pan with a couple of bay leaves and thyme.

I continued to cook the risotto by adding stock a couple of ladles at the time and stirring it until the rice was ready… loose… ie cooked all’onda (like waves, not dry and gluggy).

When the rice was cooked, I added  freshly ground nutmeg , dished it out, sprinkled a few walnuts and grated some Parmigiano Reggiano on top and ate it.

This is the photo (below) as used in the book. My photo (above) did not do the dish justice! Come to think of it, this photo doesn’t either. It is over decorated … I see walnuts, but it is hard to see the riso.

 

There are other recipes with cooked radicchio on the blog and I can assure you they are good combinations or radicchio and other ingredients.

BIGOLI NOBILI (Bigoli pasta with red radicchio, borlotti and pork sausages)

COOKED RADICCHIO

Pan fried radicchio with pickled pears, walnuts, beetroot and gorgonzola

RADICCHIO (Treviso) with polenta and tomato salsa