Kohlrabi, can be green or purple. it is a root vegetable with dark green leaves that shoot out from the top. All parts of the kohlrabi can be eaten, both raw and cooked.
In Ragusa where my father’s family is from, they make a wet pasta dish. In the days when fresh pasta was made at home and when my elderly aunt was still alive they use to make a short pasta shape called causineddi. The younger members of the family sometimes make this pasta on special occasions.
I bought two kohlrabi recently and ate the green leaves braised and mixed with kale . I later regretted this because when I decided to make the wet pasta dish I had to substitute kale for the green component.
Under the circumstances may be forgiven for substituting kale or cavolo nero for the green kohlrabi leaves , however I also used a strong chicken stock instead of the pork rind for flavouring ….I cannot therefore call this a Sicilian traditional recipe.
The drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil as the finishing touch makes this dish very fragrant and tasty.
Let’s make the most of simple, healthy food. Let’s not panic about not having fully stocked pantries.
There are always chickpeas and other pulses in my pantry and freezer. I soak pulses overnight, change the water and then cook them on low heat. Once cooked, I transfer the surplus into glass jars and store them in my freezer. Easy, nutritious and on hand.
Here are two things that I cooked recently using chickpeas.
Pasta with cauliflower, short pasta and chick peas:
The other, chickpeas, saffron, mushrooms and eggplants:
I really enjoy making the most of the ingredients I have on hand. This is one of the reasons why I like camping or preparing a meal in Airbnbs in fabulous parts of the world….You do not have everything…cannot pop into a particular store to buy things so you have to be creative and use what you have.
The pasta dish was very simple. In the photo you see chickpeas, passata, herbs and chillies. The herb I used is nepitella that grows on my balcony and is ultra plentiful at the moment. You may have oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram or just plain parsley on hand.
The vegetable is common, white cauliflower…easily available, keeps well in the fridge for a long time. I like to use spring onions, rather than onions, but the choice is yours. There is garlic and stock. Stock is always in my freezer. Like I cook and store pulses, there are jars of broth or stock on hand.
The method is nothing novel. Most of my cooking begins with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, onion (if using both), sautéed. Add main ingredients. In this case cauliflower, sauté again, add stock, herbs, seasoning and passata (not much, just to colour). Cover and cook. Very Italian.
I cooked the short pasta separately, but I could have added more stock and cooked the pasta in the cauliflower concoction. You can tell by the photos that I intended this dish to be a wet pasta dish.
Now for the other. I cannot call it anything because I had no background for this recipe. Once again it was making use of what I had in my fridge. It tasted great and I may not make it again, but if I do it could be different. It all depends what you have on hand.
A spring onion, sautéed. Add mushrooms, I left them whole. Sautéed once again. Add chickpeas, eggplant (I cut it lengthwise) saffron, herbs, seasoning and the chickpea broth. The chickpeas are stored in their cooking liquid, and this is the broth. I used marjoram as the herb this time (the plant on my balcony needed trimming) and decorated the dish with fresh mint.
Is it regional Italian?
Certainly the basic cooking methods and ingredients could be Italian or Mediterranean at least. Like all of us, as a cook we rely on our experiences and knowledge of particular cuisines. Is it something that my mother would have made? Maybe the cauliflower pasta has common roots.
Being creative in my kitchen gives me much pleasure.
Baccalà Mantecato is a Northern Italian specialty and when I make it I poach the baccalà in milk.
So what to do with the left over milk?
I made a risotto.
I had two jars of baccalà flavoured milk, far too much to make a risotto, so I reduced it to concentrate the flavour, and this worked well.
I used this antique gadget given to me a very long time ago by a friend. it is called a milk saver. She used to find all sorts of treasures at the Stirling dump in the Adelaide Hills and this was one of them. It does work!
Just using the milk would not be enough to flavour the risotto. I wanted texture and more flavour and I had some Mantecato left over in the fridge.
Ingredients: extra virgin olive oil, carnaroli rice, spring onions, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, grated lemon peel, Baccalà Mantecato and roasted almonds to spring on top.
Method is nothing out of the ordinary when making risotto.
Check the taste of the milk to see if it is salty and you may not need to add any more seasoning.
Saute the spring onion in the extra virgin olive oil, add the rice and coat it in the oil -at this stage you may like to add a little white wine and evaporate it. Add thyme and bay leaves and gradually add the milk in stages, just as you would add stock when making a risotto. If you do not have sufficient milk you may need to add a little water. Remember that rice is supposed to be presented “all’onda”, as Italian would say. “Onda” means wave….all’onda is wavy, therefore the risotto should be moist, with waves on top and not solid.
Add the parsley, grated lemon and the Mantecato last of all and stir through. The Mantecato will make the rice very creamy.
Sprinkle with roasted almonds when ready to serve.
There are several recipes for baccalà on the web and also for risotto.
Andrea Calogero Camilleri, a Sicilian director and author, born 6 September 1925; died 17 July 2019.
The entire nation is in mourning: RAI 1 news, the state broadcaster, dedicated 80 per cent of its time slot to this news; writers, intellectuals and the highest representatives of the Italian state have expressed their condolences. Even his arch-enemy, Matteo Salvini, minister of the interior and leader of the xenophobic Northern League party — with whom Camilleri had several heated exchanges over the years — has paid tribute to the popular Sicilian writer.
The paragraph above is from an article published in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald on July 20. It is written by Barbara Pezzotti, a lecturer in Italian Studies at Monash University. She is the author of three monographs dedicated to Italian crime fiction and has extensively published on Andrea Camilleri.
Camilleri perhaps is best known for his Montalbano novels and has become one of the most-loved crime fiction writers in the world. Camilleri’s books have been published worldwide and translated into 32 languages, including Catalan and Gaelic. The highly successful TV series, inspired by Montalbano’s books became an international success and was broadcast in Australia by SBS. I am sure that the scenes of beautiful Sicily in the series have encouraged many travellers.
There have been many items from around the world in praise of Camilleri and the character Inspector Montalbano, who not only fight the Mafia and solves crimes is also a lover of good food and when Andrea Camilleri died last week, one of my relatives in Ragusa, Sicily sent me an article from Ragusa News, an on-line publication that covers news and interest stories from the Ragusa Province and nearby towns – Vittoria, Modica, Comiso, Scicli, Pozzallo and Ispica.
The article is called Domenica a pranzo onoriamo Camilleri con la pasta ‘Ncasciata (On Sunday for lunch let us honour Camilleri with pasta Ncasciata).
Sunday lunch is still an important family occasion in Sicily and pasta ‘Ncasciata is an Sicilian, oven baked pasta dish and one of Montalbano’s favorite things to eat. It is prepared for him by his housekeeper, Adelina. (Place above is where Montalbano lives in the TV series.
Camilleri in his Montalbano series of books describes almost every dish Montalbano eats. And every dish is traditionally Sicilian.
There are many versions of pasta ‘Ncasciata in Sicily, with different combinations of ingredients but the most noteworthy one is from Messina and the recipe in this article appears to be the Messinese version and is made with commercial, short shaped pasta in layers dressed with tomato meat sauce, mortadella or salami, fried eggplant, caciocavallo cheese, salami and hardboiled eggs. Although I have eaten pasta ‘Ncasciata, I have never liked the sound of this dish and have never made it.
Apart from Pasta ‘Ncasciata, Montalbano has other favourites and obviously I like them too as I have written them in my blog and my first book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking.
In Bologna I visited where Filippo Tommaso Marinetti hung out with his futurist friends and discussed the evils of eating pasta. I did not expect to find it to be part of a grand hotel.
Cafe’ Marinetti is located in the Grand Hotel Majestic “Gia Baglioni”. It is an 18th-century palazzo across the street from the Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro and only a 5-minute walk from the Towers of Bologna.
The hotel is decorated with Baroque details, expensive paintings and photographs of famous visiting celebrities….Frank Sinatra, Eva Gardner, Princess Diana, Sting, Bruce Springsteen and others.
The hotel is very luxurious…when I was there there was a Bentley Ferrari and a sports BMW out the front collecting and dropping off guests.
Cafe’ Marinetti is frequented by well heeled guests as I imagine it was then during Marinetti’s time.
But who was Marinetti?
And really why would I expect someone who had such strong views about pasta to be anything else but part of the well heeled set?
It is interesting to see that pasta features on the menu at Cafe Marinetti and there is no risotto.
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, one of the founders of Futurism in the early 1900:
My mother used to add cream rather than milk, and a little grated nutmeg.
300g of beef mince 85% fat
150g of pork mince
50g of unsalted butter
50g of onion finely chopped
50g of carrot finely chopped
50g of celery finely chopped
125ml of red wine
30g of tomato paste, triple concentrated
125ml of whole milk
salt to taste
black pepper to taste
Place a large thick-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. Add the minced pork belly to the pot and cook until all the liquid from the meat has evaporated, then add the minced beef and cook until golden, stirring frequently. Transfer the meat to a bowl and set aside.
Add the butter to the saucepan and place over a medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook until the onions are very soft and translucent. Finally, add the tomato paste and sauté for 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally.
Return the meat to the saucepan, turn up the heat and pour in the red wine. Cook over a high heat for 2 minutes, then cover the pan and turn the heat down to low
Leave the ragù alla Bolognese to simmer very gently for at least 3 hours. The meat must not be excessively dry. Pour in the whole milk and cook for a further 40 minutes just before serving
Ragù alla Bolognese is very tasty when just cooked, but is even better the next day. Reheat the sauce over a very low heat with a little bit of milk and use it to season pasta.
In a restaurant in Modena we met a beautiful elderly woman who was the mother of one of the three chefs of a fabulous restaurant in Modena and her daughter is the owner. It is often the case that mothers and skilled mature women are responsible for making stuffed pasta in restaurants. They are after all very skilled and practised in this area having made it over many years at home.
La signora comes the restaurant each morning to make the stuffed pasta – tortellini and tortelloni (the squares of pasta are cut much bigger). Both are closed and folded in the shape of a navel. The traditional fillings are usually made with ricotta, spinach and Parmigiano Reggiano and covered with a melted browned butter and sage dressing.
In Bologna the stuffing the for tortelli and tortelloni is likely to be made of prosciutto, mortadella, roast veal and Parmesan.
More often than not, stuffed pasta is dressed with a ragù….today one of us had a ragù made with a mixture of …selvaggina, wild meats – boar, rabbit, maybe pheasant.
Tortelloni di Zucca have mashed cooked pumpkin filling. Nutmeg, crumbed amaretti and mostarda mantovana – pickled fruit in a sweet mustard syrup. I ate Tortelloni di Zucca in Ferrara. But you may be surprised to know that in Ferrara they called these Capellacci….little hats…..Capelletti like tortellini, are the smaller version and these are usually cooked in broth (brodo).
And there are Ravioli.
The pasta for all stuffed pasta can be white (egg, flour and water) or can be green (spinach).
In a restaurant in Bologna we ate ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach but in a restaurant in San Giovanni in Marignano the variation in the stuffing was ricotta and marjoram and the dressing was made with asparagus. It is after all spring in Italy, even if it is raining now in Bologna.
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 or rape (rape is plural of 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 rapa 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: