Category Archives: Italian Regional

CARCIOFINI SOTT’ OLIO (Preserved artichokes in oil)

If you live in the Southern hemisphere (as I do in Melbourne, Australia,) you may have noticed small artichokes for sale. Carciofi  is the word for the normal sized artichokes and carciofini are the small ones. Carciofini are also the baby artichokes that never develop to full size and grow at the end of the plant’s growing season (photo of carciofi spinosi taken at Palermo Market)

These small artichokes (that never develop to full size) are considered too small to cook and are customarily preserved in oil and eaten in the non-artichoke season. I realize that this may be difficult for some of us to imagine because we appear to be able to purchase artichokes, asparagus and tomatoes all year round in Australia, but being Italian and having been brought up with respecting and celebrating local, seasonal produce, I go without. (I ask myself how far away some of this produce is coming from and how long ago was it picked.)

The carciofini are first poached and then preserved under oil. Usually I only preserve very small quantities (they get eaten very quickly), but for each kilo of artichokes,

INGREDIENTS
small  artichokes, 1 kilo
acidulated water – 2 lemons
For the poaching liquid
I use 4 cups of white wine vinegar, a cup of white wine and about one teaspoon of salt for the poaching liquid. They need to poach in sufficient liquid otherwise the bitter taste becomes concentrated and they could be unpleasant.
For the oil mixture:
Sufficient extra virgin oil to cover the artichokes and
1 tablespoon of whole black pepper corns, 5 bay leaves and about a tablespoon of dry oregano.
PROCESSES
Use artichokes that look closed and firm (when the leaves start to open, the choke has started to develop and this can happen even to small artichokes if they have been left on the plant too long).
Strip back the leaves (you just want the tender heart) and kept them whole. Soak them in the water and lemon to stop them from browning.
Drain the artichokes and leave them upside down while you make up the vinegar/wine mixture. Use a stainless steel saucepan with a lid (to cover the artichokes as they cook).
Place the artichokes in the boiling mixture, cover and poach them gently in the mixture until cooked but not soft – still firm in the centre, but the outer leaves should have softened. The time for cooking varies (my last batch took 12 minutes).
Drain them of as much vinegar as possible and when cool pack them carefully into sterilised glass jars, pressing them down gently and trying to prevent as many gaps as possible. (Rather than a large jar I use smaller sized jars so as to minimise possible spoilage once opened).
Add flavours and cover with oil. To allow any trapped air to escape leave them for about 3 hours before sealing. During the resting time the level of the oil may be reduced, top with more oil and ensure they are well covered (some use an inverted small saucer on top as a weight to help keep the artichokes submerged but make sure that you sterilise the saucer).
Seal the jars and allow them to steep in the oil for at least 10 days before you eat them. Because I make small quantities and live in an apartment with little storage space, I keep them in my fridge, but they can be stored in a cool, dark place for about 6 months.

 

I never add fresh herbs or garlic to any preserves, as these are likely to go off, release gas and spoil the whole preserve.

When ready to use, remove the quantity of artichokes from the jar, drain them of some of the oil, add garlic slices and finely chopped parsley and a dash of lemon juice.

After each jar is opened, it is best to use the artichokes quickly. Add extra oil to the remaining artichokes to keep the contents submerged.I always keep opened jars in the fridge.

POLLO ALLA MESSINESE (A cold chicken dish similar to Vitello Tonnato from Messina)


I bought a book called Le Ricette Regionali Italiane by Anna Gosetti della Salda in the 1980’s; this large and heavy book was the first of many books which I transported back from Italy over my many visits.

In the Sicilian section of this book, there is a recipe for Pollo alla Messinese, a dish which is well suited when inviting guests, particularly in the hot weather (and in Melbourne we have recently experienced some unusually hot temperatures). It can also be served as an antipasto.

Pollo alla Messinese could well be called Pollo Tonnato and is made with chicken instead of veal. The recipe suggests cooking a whole chicken in broth, but I use large chicken breasts – it is easier to cut the breasts into thin slices and then to layer them with tuna mayonnaise. I use organic chicken (estimate one chicken breast per person) and canned yellowfin tuna, dolphin-safe. I always use greater quantities of anchovies and capers in the mayonnaise than the recipe suggests (recipe below is my adaptation).

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I would liked to have had presented information about the origins of Pollo alla Messinese and although there appear to be many recipes, they are usually pieces of chicken stewed or braised in tomatoes or wine and sometimes with olives .

INGREDIENTS
chicken breasts, 6
bay leaves, 2
carrots, 2 halved length wise
onion, 1, cut into quarters
celery stalks, 1 halved length wise
parsley, 2 stalks and leaves
basil, 2 stalks and leaves
peppercorns, 4-5
salt to taste
stock or water to cover
mayonnaise, made with 2 egg yolks extra virgin olive oil, juice of 1-2 lemons and salt and pepper to taste
anchovy fillets, 6
tinned tuna (300 gm)
capers, 3 tablespoons

PROCESSES
Place the whole breasts into a large pot and intersperse with bay leaves, carrots, onion, celery, parsley, basil, salt and black peppercorns. Cover the breasts with hot stock or water.
Bring slowly to boil, turn down heat, cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes .
Leave the chicken in the stock to finish cooking.
Cool and leave the chicken in the stock till ready to use (I usually cook the chicken the day before).
When cold, drain well and slice the meat thinly. Keep the broth for another time and discard the vegetables.
Make a thick mayonnaise with the egg yolks, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning. I use my blender.
Drain the tuna and separate it with a fork before adding it to the thick mayonnaise.
Add chopped anchovies and capers. Briefly pulse the mixture in the blender or use a fork to incorporate these ingredients into the mayonnaise – the mixture should be relatively smooth.

The recipe says to place the slices on a large platter and to spread a thin layer of sauce over each slice. I prefer to line a container with foil and beginning with a layer of mayonnaise, make 3-4 layers of chicken slices and mayonnaise.
Cover with more foil and store in the fridge till ready to present.
Turn out the chicken from the container, sprinkle with capers, cut into portions and serve.
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CICORIA (Chicory)

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I bought some chicory at the Queen Victoria Market this morning – it is a winter vegetable but obviously still around and in good condition, even in November. As you can see in the photo this particular type of chicory has scarlet stalks.

Well, I call this chicory. There is so much confusion about chicory; it gets confused with endives, escarole, radicchio (especially the green coloured radicchio, often called radicchio biondo or radicchio di Trieste) and even witlof. They all have a distinctive bitter taste, but to me chicory is this one, the one with the long serrated leaves.

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I have found puntarelle salad in some Italian restaurants in Australia. These are chicory shoots of a variety of chicory called catalogna. The shoots are either picked while the plant is very young and tender but more commonly when the plant is going to seed and sends out shoots. The word puntarelle (from punta) means small shoots or points.

 

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I cook the outer leaves as I do leafy greens – softened before I braise them in oil, garlic and a little chilli .(see CAVOLO NERO).

The tender lighter coloured green leaves from the centre (or the sprouting shoots at this time of year) I use in salads, either as part of a green leaf salad, or to contrast a sweeter tasting ingredient, for example, beetroot, borlotti beans or fennel and orange.

A favourite way to use the centre is to use it like Sicilians use cicorino (chicory, often wild and found in spring in Sicily and also called la prima – the first). Pino Correnti, a respected food authority about Sicilian food thinks that this salad is eaten in Troina, in north – central Sicily.

INGREDIENTS
chicory (see below for amounts and type)
extra virgin olive oil
lemon juice
vinegar
salt and pepper
hard boiled eggs
anchovies

PROCESSES
Wash and cut into small pieces the chicory.
Make the vinaigrette with the oil, vinegar, lemon and seasoning.
Add a few chopped anchovies to the dressing and dress the salad.
Add hard-boiled eggs cut into quarters.

Accompany it with bread.(I like it as a first course as well. For this option I add more eggs and whole anchovies).
FEATURE PHOTO Puntarelle with  soft drained ricotta. Creamed goats’ cheese would be OK as well.

MINESTRA DI TENERUMI (Summer soup made with the tendrils of a Sicilian squash)

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When I was in Palermo last September there were bunches of tenerumi on sale at the markets – these are the stems, leaves and tendrils of those long, twisted green zucche (squashes) that grow in Sicily and Calabria. The long serpent like squashes are called zucche serpente and you can guess why.

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Those of you who have travelled to Sicily in summer may have seen these very unusual vegetables and perhaps not known what they were. Both the squash and the greens are eaten and are considered rinfrescanti (cooling and refreshing for the body). The zucca (singular) and the greens are a Sicilian summertime specialty and I have not seen this type of squash growing in Australia yet.

The greens are usually made into a wet pasta dish and, unfortunately, it is not a dish you will find in a Sicilian restaurant. It is a typical, home-cooked, soupy dish with the flavours of summer: red summer tomatoes, garlic, basil, thickened with broken spaghetti and enhanced with a drizzle of good, extra virgin olive oil.

I first ate this soup in Augusta and it was cooked by one of my cousins, Lidia. In her version, Lidia used both the zucca and the greens. My relatives in Ragusa do not cook minestra di tenerumi very often – it is considered to be a dish typical of the regions of Palermo and Catania. (My mother’s side of the family originally came from Catania).

I was very pleased to eat minestra di tenerumi again recently when I visited a friend’s home in Bosco Falconeria, close to Castellammare (on the north coast, west of Palermo). I appreciated this simple, flavoursome dish for many reasons. Firstly, it was all produce picked fresh from Mary’ Taylor Simeti’s own garden. This included the olives used to make the fragrant, extra virgin olive oil and the organic wine we drank made by her husband, Tonino. Photo above is  the soup and how  Mary presented.

Mary Taylor Simeti is one of my heroes – I think that sometimes it takes a “foreigner ‘ with a passion to rediscover and tease out the history behind the food ( not that she is a foreigner, she is part of Sicily, having dedicated so many years to  writing about it in numerous books and articles).

Secondly, I was very pleased to be presented with such a simple dish. In my normal diet I eat a lot of vegetables and when I travel and eat in restaurants and trattorie, I crave freshly cooked vegetables – I can’t wait to get back to friends and relatives. Besides, these are not the typical vegetables or cooking found in Sicilian eateries and Mary, our host, knew that some of us who had been invited to eat at her table would never have eaten this. We all loved it. Mary presented this simple dish with small cubes of caciocavallo – a special DOP Sicilian cheese (cascavaddu in Sicilian) produced mainly in the province of Ragusa.

I once used the very young shoots of the zucchini plants (complete with the flowers and young zucchini) to make this soup – different, but nevertheless, rinfrescante and a celebration of summer.

Although we may not be able to buy tenerumi in Australia at this stage, we may not have long to wait.

I was fascinated to see one of the episodes of Sean Connelly’s Family Feast on SBS. It featured the food of a family of Africans from the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are living in the Western suburbs of Sydney and are growing African leaf vegetables; on the program the family were harvesting and eating tendrils very like tenerumi. These tendrils were the shoots from a different type of squash plant, but would probably taste very similar to the Sicilian variety.

As in all Sicilian food, there are local variations. Some substitute the garlic with finely chopped fresh onion, others add anchovies, but personally, if it is to be rinfrescante – refreshing, anchovies are not suitable. Here is a recipe which suits my tastes for making minestra di tenerumi (excuse me Mary if this is different to your recipe).

The wet pasta dish is cooked very quickly.

INGREDIENTS
tenerumi, equivalent to a large bunch, 500g
garlic cloves , 3-4 chopped finely
ripe tomatoes , 300g seeded and cut into dice (I think Mary used cherry tomatoes)
fresh basil leaves , torn, about 15
spaghetti , broken into small pieces, 200g
extra virgin olive oil, to taste
hot chilli (optional)
grated pecorino cheese (optional)

PROCESSES
Prepare the shoots and tendrils, discard the tough stems, separate into small bits.
Add the tenerumi to boiling, salted water and bring to the boil again (estimate 3 cups of water per person).
Add the pasta and cook.
While the pasta is cooking, toss the tomatoes into a hot frying pan with about 3 tablespoons of the oil, add garlic and chilli, salt and some of the basil and heat through for a few minutes.
When the pasta is cooked, check that you have the correct consistency – it should be like a very thick soup and you may need to drain some of the liquid.
Add the warm tomato mixture and more basil.
Drizzle with your best extra virgin olive oil and serve.

Cheese is optional. I prefer it without and appreciate the fresh taste of the dish.

FAVE ( Broad beans)

Fresh broad beans are only available for a short season in Spring, but walking around the Melbourne Victoria market in the last two weeks I have only seen them in a few stalls.

In spite of my love for broad beans I do not always buy them unless the pods are fresh, bright green in colour and most importantly they must be small or medium sized. Unfortunately most of the broad beans you see for sale are the puffy, larger broad beans, the most mature pods.

In Sicily these large pods are shelled and the beans are dried. Beans this size have to be soaked before cooking and each bean has to be, individually, peeled.

The size of the beans inside the pod determines how you prepare them.

Sicilians eat the tender, young broad beans (about the size of a fingernail) raw. Sadly, you are not likely to find these for sale – you will have to grow them yourself.

Broad beans are sold in their pods and they have to be shelled. And if you look at the photos you can imagine that the process takes time and you need to buy a large quantity of bean pods to get a decent feed. I paid $7 for these ($4 per kilo) so they are not exactly cheap.I ended up with less than 500 g.

When I bought my broad beans I was amused to see that the vendor had placed a packet of shelled broad beans on top of the bean pods. She said her daughter had shelled some because some people do not know what’s inside the pods and that they have to be shelled before eating.

Others may not know that the larger beans need to be skinned again (double-peeling or twice-peeled beans). They have a thick, outer skin, which can taste slightly bitter. Double peeling beans is a very time consuming process, which I try to avoid by selecting the smallest pods I can. (I like to select my own).

There are different brands of frozen broad beans and some brands are double peeled
(you can usually find them in Asian food shops). Although frozen beans are quite acceptable, the fresh ones certainly taste better. Think of the differences in taste and texture between frozen peas and fresh, young peas.

Broad beans are not difficult to cook. My favourite cooking method is to sauté them in a little oil and a little chopped onion, parsley and a little salt and pepper. To finish the cooking add a little liquid, cover and braise them until softened (cooked in umitu in Sicilian and in umido in Italian).

RECIPE:

Broad beans with mint

If the beans are not too big (or have been double peeled), a very simple way is to cook them in boiling water till softened (I do not cook them for long), drain them and dress them with a little good quality extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and a few leaves of mint. Mint is tender and lush at this time of year. If you do not have mint, dried oregano is always a good Sicilian choice.
See my other posts about broad beans: Cannulicchi a la Favuritaa – pasta,

Maccu – soup, made with dry broad beans

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PESCE CON FINOCCHIO E ROSMARINO (Fish with fennel and rosemary)

Wild caught sea barramundiI want to make the most of the fennel while it is in season and have chosen a very simple fish dish using wild caught barramundi.

Rosemary is one of the few herbs which does well in winter and compliments the sweetness of the fennel.

Those of you who shop at the Queen Victoria Market (Melbourne) may recognise the face of the Happy Tuna vendor where I always buy my fish (see earlier post: Seafood – where I buy my sustainable fish ).

One of my favourite fish is wild caught barramundi, often on sale at this stall.

Barramundi is an Aboriginal word meaning river fish with large scales. It can be a truly wonderful, tasting fish and is extremely versatile (it has medium to firm texture and medium oiliness).

Most of the barramundi in Australia is farmed both in sea aquaculture farms and in fully-closed systems in land-based ponds. Some is imported from fisheries and aquaculture farms in Asia. But there are marked differences in taste between fish that has been wild-caught, grown in sea-cages or in land based systems. Of equal importance to me is whether I am buying a fish that is sustainable. The methods of farming and fishing determine the degree of sustainability and the cost.

The David Suzuki Foundation has adopted the definition of sustainable seafood as:
‘Originating from sources, whether fished or farmed that can maintain or increase production in the long term without jeopardizing the structure or function of affected ecosystems’.

Not all fish vendors label the fish to inform consumers of the sources, and for a clearer conscience and better tasting fish, it is important to ask about its source.

For all barramundi grown in sea-cages or imported from fisheries and aquaculture farms in Asia – say no.
Some fully-closed systems (land-based ponds and small-scale tank or pond aquaculture), are sustainable (better choice) but unfortunately I find the fish from land-based aquaculture lacking in character and in texture, and I never buy it.

A small proportion of barramundi are wild-caught and as you’d expect, it is the most expensive, but in my opinion this is by far the better tasting fish. I particularly like the gelatinous skin, which is very distinctive in the wild-caught fish. The wild caught barramundi are from Queensland and the Northern Territory and legislation in each state imposes closures during certain seasons.

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Wild-caught barramundi, especially in small-scale operations, is a better alternative, but in the Australian Marine Conservation Society publication it is (think twice). Some accredited, line wild-caught barramundi is available and is (better choice).

My fish vendor told me that unlike the species grown in cages, the wild caught barramundi has a yellowish tail (look at the photo).

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PESCE CON FINOCCHI

I never go to the market to buy one specific type of fish and for this particular dish there are other fish apart from burramundi which can be used.

Sustainable fish:
Use small whole fish or fillets of the following fish: garfish, whiting and flathead, bream, trevally and Murray cod (great if you can get it) are (better choice).
Blue-eye trevalla, snapper and mackerel (think twice) are also suitable. Blue-eye travella and snapper are (better choice) if line caught.

Fillets of fish benefit from scoring (as do whole fish) – slash the side of the fish that formerly had the skin – a thin layer of membrane remains, and unless it is scored, it can curl during cooking.

INGREDIENTS
fish, (estimate 1-1.2 kg for 6 people)
fennel, 2 large
water or white wine, 1 cup
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
salt and freshly ground pepper,
rosemary, fresh sprigs

PROCESSES
Clean the fish: scale, gut and wipe dry (my fish vendor always does this for me). Use a sharp knife to make shallow cuts in the outside of the whole fish – slash the fish but leave whole This helps the seasonings and flavours of marinade (herbs, oil etc.) to penetrate the flesh. The only time I do not score the skin is when I bake a fish in salt crust because I do not want the salt to enter into the flesh.
Insert little sprigs of rosemary in the slashes, pour on a little oil, cover and set aside.

Prepare the fennel:
Remove the fennel tops from the bulbs and discard. Trim away any bruised or discoloured portion of the bulbs. Cut the bulbs length-wise (vertically) into thin slices less than 1cm thick.
Add the sliced fennel to a pan with hot olive oil and sauté for 5-10 minutes before adding seasoning and about a cup of water or wine.
Cover the pan and cook on a low to medium heat for about 20 minutes or until the fennel is wilted and soft. You may need to add a little more liquid as it cooks.
Increase the heat to evaporate any liquid left in the pan – this will result with the fennel cooking in the left over oil and turning a deep gold colour.
Add freshly ground pepper, turn the heat down to medium and push the fennel to one side to make room for the fish in the pan.
Put the fish in the pan, sprinkle with a little more salt and freshly ground pepper, and spoon some of the oil in the pan over it (or add a splash of fresh, extra virgin olive oil).
Add more rosemary, cover and cook for 6-7 minutes, turn the fish once and baste again. Cook for another few minutes or so, depending on the thickness of the fish.
Transfer the fish to a serving dish, remove the rosemary and place the fennel and juices over the fish and serve.

sandi's fish plates

Barramundi Dreaming

The barramundi – a highly prized source of food for Aboriginal Australians – plays a large part in Dreamtime mythology. There are several Aboriginal legends about barramundi as told by the different tribes in the Northern Territory. This is one of them.
How the barramundi came to have spines on its back.

This is a very moving legend and tells of two young lovers. The girl was betrothed to an older man (according to traditional law) and so they escaped while the tribe was engaged in a corroboree. The young couple took many spears to use on their pursuers while they ran through the countryside to the sea and succeeded in eluding them for a long time, but eventually ran out of spears. Knowing that their followers would spear them, they threw themselves into the sea, where they turned themselves into barramundi. Some of the spears, however, struck them as they fell, and that is how the barramundi comes to have spines on its back.
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CARRUBA (Carob) and its uses

 

This is a carob pod- dark brown and leathery and they range in length between 10-30cm in length.
There is also a carob pod in old Sicilian plate with the lemons in the feature photo.

The photo of carob trees was taken in the province of Ragusa (south-east of Sicily and where my fathers relatives live). The area is abundant in beautiful carob trees – a protected vegetable crop in Sicily. In Italian the word for carob is carruba. The stone walls are characteristic of the area.

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Now to the other side of the world!

I have friends in Seymour and others in Euroa (Victoria, Australia) and I visited them last weekend. My friends who make excellent, award winning wine (Rocky Passes Winery) introduced me to Palmanova extra virgin olive oil (also from the same region) and I have been buying this for couple of years. Last Sunday I went to the market in Avenel (a small, interesting town in between Seymour and Euroa) to collect my bottles of oil and was delighted to find a number of other stalls selling local quality produce – organic vegetables, eggs, mushrooms, preserves and craft.

At this market, I was very surprised to find a stall selling carob and carob syrup – the couple who are growing and processing it live in Longwood Victoria. We do not have much of a carob growing and processing interest in Australia; I only know of one established plantation and industry in Burra, South Australia.

Last time I was in Ragusa (December 2007) I arrived there via a very cold Venice. I had a sore throat and a croaky voice, and Zia Niluzza who has a natural cure for every ailment, wasted no time in preparing for me a sciroppo di carruba. This syrup was made with a huge amount of carob powder and a little water, it was stirred in a pan to boiling point, and then allowed to rest for a short time so that the sediment of the carob powder settled). Carob is naturally sweet, but honey also has beneficial properties, and a spoonful was added to this brew.

I gargled and swallowed the elixir, and the next morning I was amazed (and thankful) – the potion worked.

Carob, (kibble) has a high sugar content and can be used as a flavouring in drinks, confectionery, cakes and biscuits. Carob seed is used to make a thickener for ice cream as a feed additive for stock. The kibble can also be used to make stock feed.

Especially in the province of Ragusa, carob is made into flour and when combined with a proportion of wheat flour, it is made into pasta and biscuits. Modica is another very beautiful, baroque city, very close to Ragusa and there carob is added to make chocolate products – chocolate manufacturing is a thriving industry with a tradition passed on from the Aztecs to the Spaniards and then to Sicilians (Sicily was controlled by the Spanish from the 13th to 15th centuries).

Zia Niluzza also makes a liqueur from carob and biancomangiare (blancmange – corn flour, water, carob and sweetening) .

If you live in Adelaide, there are some beautiful carob trees in the parklands next to the Children’s Hospital in North Adelaide
( I have collected many carob pods from those trees).

The couple from Longwood told me that carob is also known as St John’s bread – it is said that carob nourished St John in the desert. The references in the new testament are for locusts and wild honey. Wild honey is thought to be the carob. The tree is also known as the locust tree – the carob pods, because of their sweetness attract many insects and birds to it.

I almost feel like ending this post with a blessing!

CIME DI RAPE (A winter green)

This is an other one of my favourite winter greens. And it is not a bad bunch!!

In Italian they are called cime di rape – literally translated as turnip tips (cime di rapa is the singular). They are sometimes also called broccoli di rape and are characterised by their strong bitter taste. They are deep green with small yellow flowers.

Cime di rape are certainly a very popular green vegetable and cooked all over Italy. It is particularly associated with the region of Puglia where the traditional classic pasta dish, orecchiette con cime di rape originates (orecchiette meaning little ears).

Cime di rape are members of the brassica or mustard family group. This diverse group includes plants whose leaves, flowers, stems and roots are cooked and eaten. For example popular brassicas include broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, cavolo nero. Some of the roots are kohlrabi, radish, swede and turnips. (By the way, I eat all of the green tops when I can get them and one of my favourite stall holders at the Queen Victoria Markets know this only too well).

A number of Asian greens are members of the brassicas and the Chinese broccoli and mustard greens are very similar in taste to broccoli di rapa.
As far as I know this vegetable can only be found at my favourite stall – Carmel and Gus’s Stall 61-63- in The Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, but it may also be available in suburban areas where the greengrocer is of Italian heritage.

In Adelaide many of the green grocer shops and vegetable growers are Italians and when I was living there, cime di rape seemed more readily available.  The seeds are easily found especially in shops which sell Italian food – my son and a number of my friends grow them successfully in their Adelaide suburban gardens.

Strangely enough, I came across a patch of luscious looking cime di rape at Heronswood (Digger’s Seeds, Victoria). It is marketed as one of the Green Manures, a bio fumigant crop for soils.

The cime di rape can be eaten as a contorno (side dish of vegetables) and cooked in the same way as Italians cook most greens – wilted and then  tossed around in oil and garlic (I use lots), salt and pepper or chilli, and cooked till softened. If the vegetable is cut small enough, there is no  need to wilt them first.
This is also the way of making a strong pasta sauce for orecchiette.  If you do not use orecchiette, casarecci (right -hand side of photo) or a small tubular pasta which can trap the sauce is suitable.

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Clean and prepare the cime as you do broccoli – leaves, flowers, stems and stalks. The tough, fibrous outer layer covering can be stripped from the large stalks (see photo above with the fibrous outer layer peeled back – remove this layer entirely).

See: EDIBLE WEEDS: Orecchiette e Broccoletti Selvatici

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SEDANO RAPA (Celeriac and how to eat it)

What do you do with it?

Other purchasers usually ask me this question when I am standing at a stall at the Queen Victoria Market buying a celeriac. I am usually asked the same question when I buy cavolo nero, kale, artichokes and fennel – but not as frequently for fennel these days.

Sedano rapa (celeriac) is more common in northern Italy and here are a few ways that it is eaten.

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In Trieste, we used to eat it bollito e insalata – peeled, cut into quarters, boiled in salted water and then dressed with a simple drizzle of oil and lemon (or vinegar) and extra seasoning.

In Verona celeriac is made into a soup with borlotti beans, onion, carrot, beef or veal stock and fresh pork sausages.

In Piedmont (close to France) it is made into a much lighter soup, once again using broth, but it is served over slices of good quality bread topped with grated cheese.

In Australia, I do make a celeriac soup and I also like to eat it cooked with a dressing, but I particularly like it raw in salads.

Peel it first, to remove the knobs – it becomes quite attractive peeled, it is dense and fragrant.

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Because celeriac discolours easily when cut, I leave handling the celeriac till the last minute and eat the salad soon after. I cut the celeriac ‘julienne ‘ and dress the salad quickly. (Dressing made with extra virgin olive oil salt, pepper and lemon juice). I usually like to add apple. Watercress is also a favourite.

I also like to present celeriac raw as one of the vegetables for bagna cauda –a dip of anchovies, butter, garlic, and olive oil. It is served warm as an appetizer with fresh vegetables . This is a recipe originating from Piedmont also.

See TASMANIA, FOOD, ART, HOBART and Bagna Cauda

I always buy my celeriac with leaves – an indication of how fresh the bulb is. And besides, I use the leaves in soups and the small, tender, centre leaves in salads. “Us Italians’ (or at least this Italian), does not throw much away.
My father who spent his youth in Ragusa (Sicily) before moving to Trieste, said that his mother boiled celeriac and then dressed it with a drizzle of olive oil. Apparently my grandparents grew it in their mulino (a water mill) close to Ragusa Ibla. There are quite a few mulini in the region of Ragusa which were used to mill wheat. The family kept their dogs there and grew a few vegetables. As a child I visited Sicily every summer and we used to go there often; it was a place to go especially in summer when their apartment in the city was too hot. A couple of these mills have been turned into restaurants. In fact, in one of the Moltalbano episodes he goes to one of these restaurant and I thought I recognised it as the one my grandparents used to own. My relatives in Ragusa disappointed me when they told me that that it was not the one – I have since visited this restaurant.

During my last trip to Sicily I visited an old water mill that has been revived to grind organic wheat into high quality flour.

 

CARCIOFI IMBOTTITI (Stuffed artichokes)

There are two words for carciofi in the Sicilian dialect, cacocciuli. and carcioffuli.
The Italian word for artichoke is carciofo and carciofi is the plural. And were would Italian cooking be without artichokes?

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My favourite way of cooking artichokes is the simple way that my mother has always cooked them. My maternal grandmother Maria (originally from Catania but who lived in Trieste for about 20 years) also cooked them this way. She used the same mixture to stuff sardines, tomatoes and artichokes. I researched Sicilian recipes for stuffed artichokes and found that they are all braised in the same way, but there are regional variations in the stuffing, for example in some parts of Sicily they add mint, others include eggs, some minced onion, or more cheese and even salame.

In Australia, although artichokes are now widely available, they are still thought of as exotic and possibly difficult to prepare. Exotic? Yes, maybe – for their unique taste and appearance, but once you know how to prepare them, they are simple to cook. You may need to tell your friends how to eat them (most will attempt to eat artichokes with a knife and fork).

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Selecting good artichokes is important. Time and time again I have chosen not to buy artichokes as they have been picked too late (too mature). I suspect that some of the inexperienced growers may think that big is better, however this is not necessarily the case (some of the green coloured ones can be large but also tender). And as with all vegetables, I never select ones that are bruised, blemished or withered

INGREDIENTS AND PROCESS
Select and clean the artichokes carefully (as described in my previous post, Carciofi – artichokes and how to clean them). Cut the bases off flat so that they can stand up in a saucepan. Select the size of the saucepan carefully – you do not want them falling over, the artichokes should be close together. Do not forget to include the cleaned stems to add to the braise and keep the artichokes in acidulated water as you work.

Carciofi hero

INGREDIENTS

I include one artichoke per person and each artichoke only needs 2-3 teaspoons of stuffing.

STUFFING: Combine the ingredients for the stuffing in a bowl. This ratio is good: 1 tablespoon of fresh breadcrumbs (made of good quality bread), 1 teaspoon of each – chopped parsley, extra virgin olive oil and grated cheese (you can use parmesan, but generally pecorino is traditionally Sicilian) and some chopped garlic to taste.

Drain the artichokes, spread the leaves (especially in the centre) and sprinkle salt and pepper in between the leaves. Push the stuffing mainly in the centre and if there is any left over, between the leaves. I use my fingers.

Arrange the artichokes standing upright in a pan, put the stems between them and drizzle well with more extra virgin olive oil. Add enough cold water to reach to about 1cm below the artichokes. Cook slowly with a lid for about an hour. Having lived in Trieste, I always add a splash of white wine and sometimes a little stock or a good quality vegetable stock cube to the poaching liquid.

If you are adding peas, broadbeans and/or potatoes just add them to the poaching liquid. The potatoes can go in at the same time, the peas and broadbeans about 15 minutes before the artichokes are cooked. ‘Those Italians’ would cook them all at the same time –they like their food overdone, but maybe they are right and there is more flavour.

I like to present carciofi as a single course – they are too fiddly to eat as an accompaniment to a main course.

Fabulous!!

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