I have been away from home recently, and what I really enjoy is coming up with a dish using ingredients that I have…and need using up. This must be one of the reasons I enjoy camping and we always eat so well.
I had ‘nduja (a soft chilli-laden, soft salame from Calabria), a bunch of cime di rapa and some small and fabulous, pure pork sausages that I had cooked in some tomato salsa the day before. We had eaten most of these with polenta and these were left over.
What I did was simple. I braised the cime di rape in some garlic and extra virgin olive oil as I do when I cook cime di rapa with pasta. Once cooked, I added the ‘nduja….probably too much, I love chilli but do others like it as much as I do? I could have used a half of the quantity and it still would have tasted great. The ‘nduja melts with the heat and coats the vegetables.
Next, I added the sausages and only a little of the tomato salsa. I was making a pasta sauce and not a soup a , so I needed just a little liquid.
I had rigatoni on hand, and some Sicilian pecorino pepato.
You will need to accept that it tasted vey good. So much so, Squid, that I did not have time to take a photo – it was gobbled up far too quickly by my two guests.
Just a quick post about this easy to make Sicilian soup…..if you can get the ingredients. It is easy if you have a friend called Mariana whose father grows tenerumi in his garden.
It is a summer dish and red tomatoes, a little garlic (optional) and basil are also added ingredients. Broken spaghetti are used to thicken the soup…when in Sicily you are unlikely to eat soup without pasta.
There was no zuccalunga but I had a few zucchini and the soup tasted just fine.
You take the long, hard curly tendrils off and use the soft tendrils and soft leaves.
zuccalunga (or zuccaserpente) is a long, pale green marrow. The tendrils and green leaves are from this plant.
There are the greens boiling away. Add a little salt and the broken spaghetti.
The tomatoes are fried and softened in a little extra virgin olive oil with some garlic and basil – it is just tomato salsa and the tomatoes are left cut in half.
Add the tomato mixture on top of the pasta. Drizzle on some good extra virgin olive oil, more basil leaves and some chilli flakes if this is your want.
You will find more photos (including the zucca lunga) and information about this recipe and ingredients on previous posts:
An important ingredient for making Pasta con le sarde is wild fennel. The season for wild fennel has well and truly passed and all you will find at this time of year are stalky plants, yellow flowers/ seed pods and no green fronds.
What we call Florentine fennel is also going out of season and you will find for sale specimens with very small stunted bulbs. If you are lucky, your greengrocer may sell them with long stalks and fronds attached – perfect to use as a substitute for wild fennel and I certainly would not go near these stunted specimens otherwise.
Sardine fillets are easy to find. I use the paper that my fishmonger has wrapped the sardines to wipe dry the fish.
Remove the small dorsal spine from the fillets. Once again the paper comes in handy to wipe fishy fingers.
Prepare the ingredients:
Sardine fillets, chopped spring onions, the softer green fonds of the fennel, saffron soaking in a little water, currants soaking in a little water, fennel bulb cut finely, toasted pine nuts and chopped toasted almonds, salt and ground black pepper (or ground chili).
The preferred pasta shape are bucatini, but spaghetti or casarecce are good also.
You will also need some breadcrumbs (made from good quality day- old bread) toasted in a pan with a little oil. Add a bit of sugar, some cinnamon and grated lemon peel. toss it around in the pan so that the sugar melts and the flavours are mixed. This is the topping for the pasta. I have seen this referred to as pan grattato – this would not be my preferred tag – in Italian pan grattato is the term for plain breadcrumbs, but I accept that over time the terminology has evolved. The traditional Sicilian breadcrumb topping would not have had/ does not have the cinnamon or grated lemon peel.
The larger fennel fronds and stalks are used to flavour the water for the cooking of the pasta. Place them into salted cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for at least 10 minutes – you can leave the fennel in water as long as you like. The greenery can easily be fished out with tongs before the pasta goes into the boiling water to cook.
And then it is a very simple matter of cooking the ingredients.
Sauté the spring onion in some extra virgin olive oil. Add the fennel and chopped fronds and sauté them some more.
Depending on the quality of the fennel (degree of succulence) you may need to add a splash of water or white wine, cover it and continue to cook it for a few minutes more.
Add salt and pepper and put the sautéed vegetables aside.
Cook the pasta.
Fry the sardines in a little extra virgin olive oil – they will cook very quickly and begin to break up. Combine the sardines with the cooked fennel, add saffron and drained currants and mix to amalgamate the flavours. Add the almonds and pine nuts.
Dress the cooked pasta with the sardine sauce.
Put the dressed pasta in a serving platter and sprinkle liberally with the toasted breadcrumbs – these add flavour and crunch to the dish.
For a more conventional Sicilian Pasta con le Sarde:
A duck ragù is nothing new, but it always seems to be special. Pappardelle is the pasta of choice for game and duck.
I bought a whole duck, dismembered it and trimmed away the obvious fat. I cooked the duck for the ragù over 2 days because ducks can be very fatty and I wanted to remove some of the fat.
I left the cooked duck overnight and the liquid jellied (in the meantime the flavours also intensified) and the fat rose to the top making it easier for me to remove most of I with a spoon. I used some of the duck fat to sauté the mushrooms.
for the soffritto: 1 onion, 1 carrot,1 stalk of celery
fresh rosemary, bay leaves
½ cup of diced tomatoes or 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
2 cups dry red wine
3 cups chicken stock
salt and black pepper
250g mushrooms…on this occasion I used brown mushrooms.
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
fresh thyme and parsley
Wipe the duck pieces to dry them as much as possible.
Heat a heavy based casserole and over medium heat add the duck skin-side down and fry until browned and fat renders (6-9 minutes).
Drain most of the fat. Turn and fry until browned (2-3 minutes), then set aside.
To the same saucepan add onion and soften slightly before adding the carrot and celery and sauté until vegetables are tender (5-8 minutes).
Return the duck pieces to the pan, add the wine, stock, tomatoes, seasoning, bay leaves and rosemary.
Cover and cook slowly for about 1¾-2¼ hours, until the meat looks as it will be easy to separate from the bones.
Leave to cool. The fat will rise to the top making it easier to remove.
Reheat the duck braise very briefly, just sufficiently to melt the jelly.
Remove the duck pieces and set aside. When they are cool enough to handle remove the the skin and strip the meat from the bones in chunks. Discard herbs and the bones.
Drain the solids from the liquid and add these to the duck. Place the liquid from the braise (i.e. that is yet to be reduced) in a separate container.
Wipe the pan and use some of the fat to sauté the mushrooms and garlic. Add parsley and thyme and some seasoning.
Deglaze the pan using about a cup of liquid and evaporate most of it. Repeat with the left over liquid until it has reduced.
Add the duck, a couple of twists of nutmeg and the ragù is ready.
Combine the cooked pasta with the duck ragù and serve.
Minesta in Italian means soup. But it does not stop there – minestrone is a thick soup and minestrina is a more delicate or thin soup. All minestre (plural) may or may not have pasta (or pastina) or rice or grains added to thicken them.
Then there is zuppa and this Italian word shares the common root with soupe (French), suppe (German) and sopa (Spanish and Portuguese). These days the differences between a minestra and a zuppa are probably interchangeable and there are always regional and cultural variations (as the Calabrese minestra below), but a zuppa relies on an accompaniment of a slice of bread; usually this is placed in the bowl and the zuppa is ladled on top. The bread soaks up the juice and therefore no pasta, or rice, or grains (barley, wheat) are needed. Traditionally, a zuppa has a broth base, whereas the liquid in a minesta is more likely to be water and relies on the vegetables, pulses, fish, meat (or smoked meat) for flavour. In modern times, recipes for minestra may include the addition of water, stock or broth as the liquid base .
So why am I taking such an interest in the specific Calabrese minestra?
I was recently in Adelaide and ate at Minestra, a small home style eatery in Prospect and ordered minestra with my pork and veal and eggplant polpette – the minestra in this case was presented less soupy and more like a side for the polpette, but it could also be ordered unaccompanied as a one course dish – with a little more liquid and more a like soup. It is not only the food that I like at this eatery where the daily menu is chalked on a black board, and when they run out of a dish, they erase it. The other exciting change to the menu is that it can feature produce the locals bring in … YES, like the sign below says: locals are invited to bring in their produce.
Minestra’s owner and head chef is Sandy Cenin (as you can see by the surname there is a bit of northern Italian in him) and his grandmother is Calabrese.
Inspired by Sandy’s minestra, once home in Melbourne, I was determined to conduct some research and to make it.
Minestra in Calabria takes on a different significance and is a traditional, peasant dish suited to the people who were used to working very hard on the land. And it does not use pasta in this dish … the Calabrese have a reputation for being different (I say this as a pun). This Calabrese minestra has a certain degree of austerity about it, it is not sophisticated or complicated and it is made from simple frugal ingredients – wild greens if possible, and if one was lucky, perhaps a little pork. It also contains beans – dried broad beans or borlotti or cannellini. Hence the description of this minestra being maritata (married in Calabrese dialect) – several green vegetables and the beans (and bits of pork) are ‘married’ or combined to produce a very thick, stew like soup. Some variations include potatoes and as for the pork, it can be fresh meat ribs or rind. I have also seen a recipe that includes the rind of grating cheese (pecorino) for flavourings.
In Calabria, as in Sicily, wild foraged greens are much appreciated and not just due to necessity (as they once were). In Australia we may not be familiar with the range of edible plants available or have access to as many, but we do have some very good, green, leafy vegetables that provide contrasting and strong flavours.
A mixture of three or four of seasonal, green, leafy vegetables, is sufficient – I am using endives (or escarole) and chicory, that are both bitter, cime di rapa (a brassica) for the mustard taste and sow thistle that was sold to me as milk thistle and tastes mild and grassy.
I bought this mixture of greens from my regular fruttivendolo at the Queen Victoria Market (see photo below). If I had foraged for dandelions (bitter taste) or wild broccoletii (wild brassica) I would have used these instead of the more conventional chicory, escarole (bitter) or cime di rapa (mustard).
There are many brassicas that could be suitable – kohlrabi (root and leaves), cabbage, kale (not Italian, but who cares!), cavolo nero, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts (not a Calabrese vegetable)and cabbage.
Wild fennel, amaranth, nettles are also wild greens that could be accessible to you or you may be growing borage in your garden (photo below).
I am going to be Italian when I write this recipe. There are no measurements for the ingredients but my photos can give you an indication and it is ‘cucina povera‘- peasant cooking – that is, use what you can get, make it to your taste, add as much liquid as you wish, but keep it thick.
Use a variety of green leafy seasonal vegetables – whatever you can get – go for combinations of taste – bitter, sweet, peppery, grassy, aniseed taste (as in fennel).
RECIPE for minestra
Soak, cook pulses (borlotti, cannellini, dried broad beans) … or buy tinned beans if that is what you do. In my photo you will see that i have used black-eyed beans – this is not an Italian bean, but it is what I had on hand at the time and I do not think that my breaking of tradition mattered. Drain the pulses you intend to use. Keep the liquid (broth) in case you want to add it as the liquid for the minestra.
Clean the greens, separate them from any tough stems but keep the softer ones.
Soften the greens – boil them in as much or as little salted water as you cook all your green leafy vegetables. Drain them but reserve some liquid for the minestra. I did not have to discard any because I did not use much water to cook my greens.
Chop garlic ( I used quite a bit), sauté the drained greens, add beans. My ratio was about 2/3 greens and 1/3 beans.
Add chopped chilli at the same time as the garlic if you wish or serve chopped chilli or chilli paste separately (Calabresi a fond of pepper paste).
Add as much liquid as you wish, dish it up, drizzle some extra virgin oil on it and eat it with some good bread.
See recipe for the Sicilian Maccu– another of those peasant soups and this one has even more traditions than the Calabrese minestra.
Sometimes, it is easier to tell a story and describe a recipe by photos.
Goat or kid if you can get it has been available for a while this season (Autumn in Australia). The mint on my balcony is doing well, celeriac is in season, the last of the red tomatoes also and there is a glut of carrots in Victoria at the moment. And all of these ingredients, cooked on low heat and for a long time made a fabulous ragout (ragù in Italian). On this occasion I used the braise as a pasta sauce. Good quality Pecorino cheese is a must.
Goat cut into cubes – you can tell that it is not an old goat by the pale colour of the meat. It is trimmed of fat.
The usual onion , part of the soffritto in most Italian soups and braises.
Add a chopped carrot and instead of celery I used some celeriac and some of the inner leaves of the celeriac.
Remove the soffritto, add a little more extra virgin olive oil and brown the meat.
Add the herbs and spices. Recognise them? Salt and pepper too.
A couple of red tomatoes.
Top with liquid. I added a mixture of chicken stock (always in my freezer) and some Marsala, to keep it in the Sicilian way of things. On another occasion I may add white wine or dry vermouth.
Cover the pan and braise slowly.
It does not look as good as it tasted…the perfume was fabulous too.
Serve with fresh mint leaves and grated Pecorino.
N.B. Real Pecorino is made from pecora (sheep)..i.e. sheep’s milk. I used a Pecorino Romano. See how white it is in colour?
I recently made Pasta alla norma and although this post was first posted on May 4, 2012 and I am posting it again on 25th April 2018. Ripe tomatoes and eggplants continue into autumn and although the basil may have finished, fresh mint leaves add an interesting fresh taste to the dish.
Pasta alla Normaisone of those dishes Sicilians are extremely fond ofespecially in late summer when the tomatoes are ripe, the basil is abundant and the eggplants are at their best.
There are some summer pasta dishes which call for uncooked, ripe tomatoes and when possible I try not to substitute tinned tomatoes for Pasta alla Norma.
All it is = a salsa of fresh tomatoes, short pasta (caserecce are good) and fried eggplants – usually cubed and added to the pasta once it has been dressed with the tomato salsa. Ricotta salata tops it all off. Easy stuff. Failing ricotta salata, use a strong pecorino cheese… both these cheeses are preferred by Sicilians; parmigiano is the preferred cheese in Northern Italy.
The dish originates from Catania, the city that my mother’s family comes from. Many presume that the dish is named after the opera, La Norma, by the composer Vincenzo Bellini who was born in Catania (1801-1835), but there are others who think that the expression ‘anorma’ (in Sicilian)was commonly used in the early 1900s to describe food that was cooked true to form (i.e. as normal, as it should be) and according to all the rules and regulations specified in the recipe.
I ate a version of Pasta alla Norma in a seafood restaurant in San Leone (on the coast, near Agrigento). The tagliatelle were presented on top of half an eggplant, (that had been cut in half and then fried). The sauce also contained a few currants and a few anchovies, thin slices of bottarga (dry, salted tuna roe) and cubes of ricotta salata on top. It does look very spectacular, but if you intend to do this, and are using a large round eggplant, cut the eggplant horizontally and remove a slice from the centre of it to make it thinner – the eggplant will cook more evenly. Follow the recipe below and to the salsa, add a tablespoon of currants and a couple of chopped anchovies. In Sicily bottarga is salted, cured fish tuna roe rather than bottarga made with grey mullet as common in Sardegna (Sardinia).
I have used casarecce, 500g
eggplants, 500g or more
extra virgin olive oil, 1 ½ cups ( ½ cup for the tomato salsa,1 cup to fry the eggplant)
garlic, 3 cloves
ripe tomatoes, 1k, peeled and chopped
salt (a little) and freshly ground black pepper to taste
basil, fresh leaves (10-15) some for the salsa and some for decoration
Remove the stem end of eggplant and without peeling and slice or cut into cubes. I do not usually salt my eggplant; sometimes I briefly soak it in salted water so that the eggplant does not absorb as much oil. Pat-dry the eggplant and fry in 1 cup of olive oil until golden. Drain on paper towels.
Make the tomato salsa: place the tomatoes in the pan with garlic, oil, salt and some basil leaves: cook uncovered on medium heat till it is thick.
Cook pasta and drain.
Mix the pasta with the tomato sauce, place in a large serving bowl and top with the eggplants and the remaining basil (or mint).
Present with grated cheese, preferably ricotta salata.
‘Nduja– a spicy, spreadable, pork salame originating from Calabria is sold in places that sell Italian smallgoods.
I have mainly presented ‘Nduja with some fresh bread (like Pâté) or I have used ‘Nduja as an ingredient in sauces for pasta –an excellent ragù (a meat-based tomato sauce), sautéed with cime di rape and Italian pork sausages and I oftenadd it to squid either for a sauce for pasta/polenta/rice or on their own.
As you can see by the photos, this is a very simple recipe and it is cooked very quickly – onions, ‘Nduja, squid and olive oil. Most of the time I also add finely chopped parsley at the same time as the squid.
Use small to medium sized squid.
1,5 kg of Squid, 150g ‘Nduja, ½ onion, extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice at the end.
Sauté onion in olive oil on medium low heat. Add ‘Nduja, it will dissolve, release some fat and fragrance.
Add squid, a little chopped parsley and stir fry it until it colours (about 10 minutes).
Sprinkle with lemon juice, more chopped parsley or mint and present it.