Category Archives: Pasta, Soups and Rice

SENAPE, a new type of mustard green vegetable

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:

EDIBLE WEEDS: Orecchiette e Broccoletti Selvatici (and cime di rape)

SICILIAN EDIBLE WEEDS and Greek VLITA

CIME DI RAPE (or Rapa) with pasta, anchovies and lemon peel

ONE OF MY FAVOURITE VEGETABLES ; Cime di Rape

ORTICHE – NETTLES in Risotto, Fresh pasta and Frittata

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
butter, 40g
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.

Other recipes:

NETTLES (Ortiche), Culinary uses and gnocchi

RISOTTO AL RADICCHIO ROSSO

RISOTTO AL TALEGGIO,  risotto made with Taleggio cheese

CAMPING, Pumpkin risotto

RISI E BISI (Risotto with peas)

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

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:

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

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

LEFT OVERS, opportunities to be creative

For me, the term left-overs has negative connotations, something that is unconsumed, unused and maybe discarded.

Not so in my household. No food wastage.

For those times when I cook more than we can eat, leftovers are never wasted.

If the amount of leftovers seems too small to save, they are eaten there and then. (I know overeating is not necessarily a good thing). If there are slightly bigger amounts of a dish uneaten, they are saved as a snack for lunch. More substantial quantities are either frozen for another time or – even better – reconstituted and transformed into something else.

This is something that I really enjoy doing. I like the challenge of compounding the ingredients, devising new flavours.

The easiest ways for using leftovers are in a soup, or making a frittata (as above).

I like making what the French call a salade composée, ie a made up salad, using a number of ingredients – usually a mixture of cooked and raw ingredients. The photo below is of mixed salad leaves, mayonnaise, olives and left over rabbit.

Here are other ways I have  recently used left overs creatively.

Pasta Con Il Cavolo Coppuccio Rosso, Pasta With Red Cabbage.

Below is a composition using leftover braised red cabbage.  All I did was sauté some pancetta (or speck), added the left over braised cabbage that had been a contorno – a side dish cooked with a mixture of red onions,  a splash of red wine and red vinegar, bay leaves, salt and black pepper. The odd Juniper berry or caraway seed doesn’t go astray either. On this occasion  I used wholemeal pasta, if I had some rye pasta at home I would have preferred this, this being in keeping with the braised red cabbage that is especially common in the very north of Italy.

I had some left over pork and fennel Italian sausages intended to be stuffed in a bread roll, but I  changed my mind when  I found some vegetables that looked like tiny red kale. The quantities were too small to use on their own so I combined them with the sausages to make a pasta dish.

The  vegetables are called kalettes. I was interstate when I bought these and hopefully I will be able to also find some in Melbourne.

From the web: Kalettes taste slightly nutty, milder than kale and less earthy than Brussels sprouts. Unlike kale, which has big, wide leaves, Kalettes’ leaves are small and curly with green sprouts. They are high in vitamins C and K.

Once I sautéed the kalettes in some extra virgin oil and some garlic I also added some fennel seeds, a splash of red wine and while the wine evaporated the vegetables softened. If they had been too crunchy I would have added some water and covered them with a lid while they softened. Some toasted pine nuts and pecorino to finished off the pasta dish . Of course the kalettes could have been  substituted with broccoli or cime di rapa.

And this is what I did with some left over humus that I had when friends dropped in unexpectedly.

In the fridge I also had some left over cooked chickpeas. After covering the humus with  the chickpeas I surrounded  the  centre piece with green leaves –  watercress, nasturtium  and some red lettuce leaves, a little chopped spring onion, a vinaigrette  and some feta.  They thought it was pretty good.

What about the leftover chicken breasts I cooked with mustard sauce for Bastille Day?

I braised some fennel with parsley, garlic, butter, stock and white wine and covered the contents with a lid until the fennel was cooked. I added the chicken and served it with creamy mashed potatoes and parsnips.

I have some beef spezzatino (braise/stew) cooked with bay leaves and white wine in the fridge from a couple of nights ago and I have yet to reinvent this.

We ate the carrots so there are none in the leftovers. I may braise some mushrooms with parsley and garlic and once they are cooked I  could add the left over meat and present it with polenta.

Or maybe to the meat I will add some cooked, cannellini beans sautéed with garlic and parsley, or perhaps borlotti and speck.  There will not be leftovers.

 

 

RIGATONI CON RAGU D’ANATRA (duck ragout)

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).

SEE:

PAPPARDELLE (Pasta with Hare or game ragù)

SLIPPERY JACKS AND OTHER MUSHROOMS

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.

Washing too.

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.

Pretty good.

Other wild mushroom recipes:

WILD MUSHROOMS, I have been foraging again

WILD MUSHROOMS  Saffron Coloured, Pine Mushrooms and Slippery Jacks

PASTA WITH MUSHROOMS ; Pasta ai funghi

FUNGHI AL FUNGHETTO (Braised mushrooms)

There are other recipes on my blog for mushrooms. If interested use the search button.

EGG PASTA WITH ZUCCHINI FLOWERS, ZUCCHINI, PINE NUTS and STRACCIATELLA (egg drop)

Zucchini are coming to the end of the season but in home gardens there still seem to be flowers.

A friend gave me some zucchini flowers; they are delicate and fragile and always a pleasure to receive.

The flowers have to be used quickly.

As you can see from the photo above I decided to make a quick pasta dish using zucchini and pine nuts. I have plenty of young rosemary twigs that are soft enough to chop finely.

If I had some stracciatella (a soft, fresh cheese) at home I would have added it after incorporating  the pasta with the zucchini. I  improvised and stirred 2 eggs with a fork and used this instead,  after all , the word means little, torn rags or shreds and  ‘Italian egg drop soup,’  is also called stracciatella. In this Roman soup , egg is stirred into the hot broth forming strands.

The  free range eggs were very fresh and yellow.

I used butter for the cooking, because butter would brown the zucchini more effectively. I also like the taste of butter in cooking.

I used egg ribbon pasta and because the pasta cooks quickly I put on the pasta to cook while I finished the zucchini component.

Once the zucchini slices were coloured I added the pine nuts to toast.

I quickly added the zucchini flowers; they soon softened in the heat and did not need any further cooking.

I also added the stirred eggs  and a ladle of  the cooking water from the pasta. The heat, plus the water will cook the eggs and make them creamy.

Drain the pasta and incorporate the two together.  I always add a blob of butter or a good drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil to any pasta I make.

The fresh taste of the ingredients is what I wanted and it was not necessary to add  parmesan cheese, however, each to their taste!

See:

STUFFED ZUCCHINI FLOWERS

PASTA CON ZUCCHINE FRITTE (Pasta and fried zucchini)

 

PESCE SALATO in SIcilia (Salted Fish in Sicily)and BOTTARGA revisited

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 CON BOTTARGA ( Pasta with Grated Bottarga)

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.

‘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)