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.
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!
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 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 the ‘Ndrangheta.
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:
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)
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.
As usual, I look forward to reading Richard Cornish’s regular column Brain Food in The Age on Tuesdays and today he is writing about Kohlrabi (September 7, 2021).
Just as listening to music has the power to bring up memories, reading about produce brings up memories of recipes for me.
When Richard chose to write about Sardines in his weekly column (August 24, 2021) I wrote about PASTA CON SARDE, an iconic Sicilian dish more common in Palermo then elsewhere, but now cooked in different regions of the island with local variations.
Below are recipes from my blog that use Kohlrabi quite differently to the chefs that Richard mentions in Brain Food including David Moyle, the creative director of Harvest Newrybar near Byron Bay, and Rosalin Virnik from Anchor Restaurant in Melbourne’s Elwood.
Here’s my bit about Kohlrabi and a couple of recipes below.
Just to be perverse, Kohlrabi are called cavoli in Sicily and in Italian it is cavolo rapa.
In Italian cavoli are cauliflowers, cavolo verza is a cabbage.
Just to confuse things even further, Sicilians call cauliflowers broccoli.
As well as the purple coloured Kohlrabi roots there are light green ones; the root is always sold complete with the leaves and the whole plant is eaten.
One way Kohlrabi is eaten in Ragusa (Sicily) where my father’s family is from, is boiled as a vegetable side dish with a dressing of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, but the preferred way is to cook it with pasta, as a wet pasta dish.
I have not made a Risotto al Radicchio Rosso for a long time.
So, why now?
First of all, I had some red Radicchio in the fridge. It is more or less a regular staple which I use mainly for salads. However, I do enjoy it cooked as well .
Secondly, I had some freshly made chicken broth. I received an email from my brother who lives in Adelaide beginning with:
I read that your lockdown has been extended for another 7 days. I am so sorry. There is not much that one can say to provide comfort.
So, I wrote back an email beginning with:
You could make me a good chicken broth and send it over… broth always fixes things.
And with that, I took my own advice and made some chicken broth for myself.
Thirdly, a friend left a jar of Radicchio sotto aceto pickles on my doorstep – it literally translates as radicchio under vinegar. This revived my interest in the versatility of radicchio.
We ate some of the radicchio pickle with the boiled chicken and it was all very good. As I often do, I then boiled the bones from the cooked chicken to make some more stock which I added to the left-over broth and stored it in the freezer. P.S. Using cooked chicken bones to make stock, is not an Italian thing.
Although I am very familiar with how to make Risotto di Radicchio (or Risotto al radicchio rosso), I wanted to tap into my bookshelves to see what recipes I had. Radicchio grows in Northern Italy and the recipes are Northern Italian.
I found recipes by Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer (remember that they both spent time in Tuscany), Sky Mc Alpine (with a nice addition of gorgonzola), Tessa Kiros, Jamie Oliver, Jennifer Mc Lagan (Jennifer sweetens the risotto with pumpkin), Diana Henry (she adds borlotti; radicchio and borlotti go well together and I have cooked many dishes with these two ingredients), Marcella Hazan (very traditional and simple), Jacob Kennedy (Barolo and bone marrow), Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, Charles Nardozzi (he added pink grapefruit).Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, who is closer to the origins of risotto and radicchio, adds bacon. This is acceptable as her birth place is close to Trieste in Pola, just before the city was assigned to Yugoslavia in September 1947.
I particularly liked Risotto with red wine in Joanne Weir’s : From Tapas to Meze. She specifies the wine – Amarone from Veneto or Barolo from Piedmont – and adds some radicchio. She also adds nutmeg. Radicchio is bitter, nutmeg adds sweetness, which I think is a good addition, much like Jennifer Mc Lagan’s in Bitter where she suggests adding pumpkin to the risotto, also a sweetener.
There were other recipes in some of my cookery books written in Italian, all very simple and traditional recipes and using mostly white wine. There were also a few recipes for Risotto Rosso or Risotto all’ Amarone . None of the red wine recipes included radicchio.
Amarone is a full-bodied wine that tastes rich and fruity. Barolo is more floral and earthy, but both are strong tasting wines with a high alcohol content. I was interested to read on the web that both wines go well with dark chocolate, a bitter taste.
In the end my preferred recipe was one by Julia Della Croce in Veneto –Authentic recipes from Venice and Italian Northeast.
Did I vary the recipe?
I never weigh ingredients and I always vary recipes to suit my tastes. I did not vary from Julia Della Croce list of ingredients very much and maybe this is why I liked her recipe. The ingredients I have at home is also a factor. For example, I can see how red onions would add to the colour, but I only had white onions.
I added nutmeg; used a white onion instead of a red one; red wine instead of white, and used more than a 1/2 cup; added thyme and bay leaves. I only used 1/2 a large radicchio. I thought that the walnuts were a good addition as once again, they provide a contrast to the bitterness of the radicchio.
I did vary the process slightly, but only slightly. This is what I did:
I sautéed the onion and garlic in the oil and butter, then added the radicchio and removed it once it was softened.
I toasted the rice in butter and oil.
Once the rice was toasted, I added seasoning , the red wine and some stock. Once the liquid was evaporated I returned the radicchio to the pan with a couple of bay leaves and thyme.
I continued to cook the risotto by adding stock a couple of ladles at the time and stirring it until the rice was ready… loose… ie cooked all’onda (like waves, not dry and gluggy).
When the rice was cooked, I added freshly ground nutmeg , dished it out, sprinkled a few walnuts and grated some Parmigiano Reggiano on top and ate it.
This is the photo (below) as used in the book. My photo (above) did not do the dish justice! Come to think of it, this photo doesn’t either. It is over decorated … I see walnuts, but it is hard to see the riso.
There are other recipes with cooked radicchio on the blog and I can assure you they are good combinations or radicchio and other ingredients.
It is the season to demonstrate again my recognition and enjoyment for Cime di rape (Cime di rapa is the singular). Also known as Rapini or Broccoli Rabe in some other parts of Italy and of the world. This exceptional, slightly bitter, mustard tasting, green vegetable is a brassica and a winter green and I make the most of it while it is in season.
I cooked a bunch last night of “Cime ” as they are generally called, with anchovies for a pasta dish.
Cime di rape are not easy to buy, for example there are only three stalls that sell it at the Queen Victoria Market and you cannot rely on all three having it, but if it is available, it comes home. Some good green grocers also sell Cime di rape, especially those businesses with Italian heritage or that are in locations where Italians shop.
The flower heads are green at the moment, but they will have yellow petals later in the season as demonstrated in the photo below.
Cime di rape, are traditionally cooked with orecchiette (little ears shaped pasta) originating in Puglia, but these green leafy greens are also grown extensively in the Italian regions of Lazio and Campania and further south; they are not as traditionally popular in northern Italy.
I cook the greens as a pasta dressing or as a side dish to gutsy dishes of meat or fish or pulses. They are not a delicate tasting green and therefore need strong flavours – garlic, chillies, strong tasting cheese.
As a pasta sauce they can include the flavours already mentioned and / or be enriched by the addition of pork sausages, a few slices of a strong tasing salame or ‘Nduja (a soft, spreadable, pork salame originating from Calabria and with a high content of chilies.)
Another strong taste to add are anchovies. I like to add a substantial amount, but I am careful about adding salt to the greens when I sauté them in strong tasting extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and chilli.
The whole bunch can be used and not just the leaves and flowers. Like when cleaning broccoli, the tougher stems/stalks can be stripped of their tough, green layer. There is little wastage.
When I made the orecchiette with Cime di Rape last night I also added grated lemon peel. A friend had just picked some very fresh lemons from her friend’s property. They were so fragrant, I could not resist them.
The anchovies have to be cut finely and tossed about in some extra virgin olive oil to dissolve/ melt. This happens quickly.
The melted anchovies can either be added to the sautéed greens after the pasta and greens have been tossed together and are ready to serve, or at the beginning i. e. sauté the anchovies, add the garlic and chillies in the oil for a couple of minutes before adding the greens and cook.
Use strong tasting grating cheese like pecorino. Last night I used some Aged GoatGouda cheese instead. Sometimes I top the pasta with feta, this is not traditional, but it is good to experiment.
The lemon peel can be added either during cooking or at the end.
There are other posts with information and recipes on my blog about Cime di rape. I hope that you too will enjoy them :
The recipe for this pasta dish is from my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking (now out of print).
In the Sicilian language the recipe is called : Pasta chi brocculi arriminata. In Italian = Pasta rimestata coi cavolfiori.
Rimestata, seems like a fancy word, but it just means stirred.
In English, I have described this as Pasta with cauliflower, sultanas, pine nuts and anchovies.
In Italian the word for cauliflower is cavolfiore. Just to be different, the Sicilian name for cauliflower is brocculi.
In Sicily coloured cauliflowers are the most common (unfortunately most of the colour fades when they are cooked). As well as the familiar white or cheddar (pale yellow) varieties, there are beautiful purple ones (cavolofiore viola in Italian) that range in colour from pink through violet to dark purple. A friend in Australia is growing a variety called purple cape cauliflower and one that is light green and pink called cavolfiore romanesco precoce.
There are also the bright, pale green ones and a sculpted, pointy pale green variety called Roman cauliflower; I have seen these in Rome and throughout Tuscany.
Every time I cook this pasta dish, there is great applause from guests.
Over time recipes evolve and each time I make it I may vary it slightly, mainly by increasing the amounts of some of the ingredients, for example: I tend to use more bayleaves (or rosemary), pine nuts, anchovies (for people who like them and remove them for those who do not).
I also like to add some fresh fennel (at the same time as I place the cauliflower into the pan) and a little stock and white wine.
I present the pasta with both pecorino cheese and breadcrumbs. Sometimes I add cubes of feta or ricotta whipped with a little pepper. Feta is Greek, but I like it as it adds creaminess to the dish.
The ingredients and the method of cooking the pasta with cauliflower below is how the recipe appears in the book. The recommended amount of pasta is 100g per person. In our household this is far too much and 500g of pasta is OK as first course for 6-8 people. As with all recipes I hope that you vary it to suit your tastes.
500g dry, short pasta
2 tablespoons sultanas or currants
1 medium cauliflower
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4–5 anchovies, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 small teaspoon saffron soaked in a little warm water
grated pecorino or toasted breadcrumbs
salt and crushed dried chillies to taste
Soak the sultanas or currants in a cup of warm water. To prepare the cauliflower, remove the outer green leaves and break the cauliflower into small florets.
In a frying pan large enough to accommodate all the ingredients, saute the chopped onion in the olive oil. Add the anchovies and let them melt in the oil, stirring with a wooden spoon. Then add the cauliflower florets, bay leaves and the fennel seeds. Stir gently over the heat to colour and coat the vegetable with oil.
Add the pine nuts, the saffron (and water) and the sultanas or currants with the soaking water, salt and crushed chillies.
At this stage I add a splash of white wine and a little stock). Cover, and allow to cook gently for about 20 minutes, until the florets are soft.
Cook the pasta. Drain and toss with the cauliflower sauce. Coat the pasta evenly and allow to absorb the flavours for about 5 minutes. Serve with toasted breadcrumbs or grated pecorino cheese.
The breadcrumbs add texture and flavour. Over time, instead of tossing coarse breadcrumbs, (100 grams made with day old, quality bread – sourdough/pasta dura) lightly fried in some oil, I also add grated lemon peel, a little cinnamon and sugar to the breadcrumbs while they are being toasted.