Category Archives: Queen Victoria Market

NETTLES (Ortiche), Culinary uses and gnocchi

You may have noticed that use of nettles in culinary dishes are gaining popularity. Some Melbourne restaurants have included nettles and there were bunches for sale at the Queen Victoria Market a couple of weeks ago (Il Fruttivendolo – Gus and Carmel’s stall). Gus and Carmel have not been able to procure any nettles for the last couple of weeks so maybe demand by restaurants has increased.

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Nettles (ortiche in Italian) are part of the assortment of wild greens –  considered unwanted weeds by many and appreciated edible plants by others. Wild greens in Italian are referred to as piante selvatiche (wild plants) or a term that I find very amusing: erbe spontanee (spontaneous herbs).

Nettles are high in nutrients such iron, magnesium and nitrogen and can be eaten in many recipes – I ate them not so very long ago incorporated in the gnocchi dough in a trattoria in Cividale del Fruili, a lovely little town in the Province of Udine, part of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northern Italy.

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Once back in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago I enjoyed them on several occasions as a sauce for gnocchi at Osteria Ilaria and at Tipo 00 nettles have been part of a risotto since it opened– both excellent eateries are owned by the same team.

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Matt Wilkinson, of Brunswick’s Pope Joan has also been a fan of nettles for a long time.

Nettles are easily found anywhere where weeds can grow. If you have ever touched nettles you would know that they sting, cause redness and itching so use rubber gloves when you harvest them. Nettles need to be cooked before eating and because they reduce significantly when cooked, you will need a large amount of them.

Remove the stems and choose the best leaves – the tender young leaves from the tips are best; wash and drain them as you do with any other green vegetable. Blanch a few handfuls of the leaves in a pot of boiling water for minute or so – this softens them and removes the sting and you will end up with a dark green soft mass which you may choose to puree even further to gain a smooth, soft paste. Drain and use them – once cooled they can be included in a gnocchi or pasta dough or in a sauce to dress the pasta or gnocchi.  Incorporate them as part a soup – great with cannellini or chickpeas. Mix them with eggs and a little grated cheese to make a frittata. For a risotto either use the already softened nettles or sauté the leaves with whatever ingredients you are using for the risotto and then add the rice and broth.

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On my recent travels to Northern Italy I ate gnocchi with nettles in a trattoria in Cividale dei Fruili. The cheese used to top the gnocchi is smoked ricotta.

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You will find many recipes for making potato gnocchi and I generally use about 500 grams of boiled potatoes, 150 grams of softened/ blanched cold nettles, 1 egg, 150 grams of flour.

You could also try gnocchi made with bread.

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Bread gnocchi

Equal amounts of nettles and bread, i.e.
300 g of nettles, blanched and drained
300 g of good quality white bread (crusts removed and preferably 1-2 days old)
milk to soften the bread
1 large egg
seasoning – salt, pepper, grated nutmeg
about 2 – 4 tablespoons plain flour to bind the mixture (try to use as little as possible) and
grated parmesan can also replace some of the quantities of the flour

N.B. Spinach instead of nettles can be used in the recipe.

Dampen the bread with some milk and squeeze any moisture from out before using. Mix the cooled nettles with the bread in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, add the egg and knead well. Add the flour gradually and make small balls with the dough. Flatten them slightly with a fork. Boil in salted water until they float to the top.

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A simple sauce can be some lightly browned melted butter with sage leaves and a good sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

Walnuts, garlic, seasoning, olive oil and butter can be blended till smooth and will make a great dressing. Or try the classic Genovese walnut pesto made with marjoram. See: PESTO DI NOCI (Walnut pesto/ sauce for pasta)

In my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking I have written about wild greens in Sicily.

Posts about Sicilian wild greens on my blog are:

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

SICILIAN EDIBLE WEEDS and Greek VLITA

Use the search button to find recipes for other foraged vegetables, i.e. Wild Fennel, Chicory, Wild Asparagus, Malabar spinach, Purslane, Mushrooms.

 

 

RICCI DI MARE – Sea Urchins

What are they?

Sea urchins and they are now available (July) at the Queen Victoria Market at George The Fish Monger.

They are called ricci in Italy (di mare means from the sea) and are considered a culinary delicacy – the two most common ways to eat them are very fresh and raw with a squeeze of lemon juice (like oysters) or in a dressing for pasta. The roe (the edible part) is never cooked directly – it is much too delicate in flavor and consistency. In the pasta dish it is the hot, cooked pasta that warms (and ‘cooks’) the roe – flip and toss the roe over and over until all of the ingredients of the pasta sauce are evenly distributed.

I have written a previous post about sea urchins and a recipe for preparing spaghetti SPAGHETTI CHI RICCI – SPAGHETTI CON RICCI DI MARE (Spaghetti with sea urchins). This recipe is also in my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking.

 

Ways to cook leafy green vegetables. Purslane and Malabar spinach

I have just returned from being away over Christmas and New Year and am pleased to find that purslane plants have sprouted in my various pots on my balcony. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a weed in Australia. It grows in many parts of the world including southern Italy and is very much appreciated in various cuisines especially in The Middle East, Greece, Crete and Mexico.

I rescued a purslane plant from the roadside last summer and planted it in a pot; it soon grew from a single taproot and formed a large, thick mat of stems and leaves. Throughout hat summer I collected the small, fleshy leaves and the most tender parts of the stem for various salads and I also sprinkled leaves on top of cold soups – this added flavor, texture and colour.

The raw leaves are succulent and crisp and have a tart and lemony flavor. Taking notice from some of the Greek traditional recipes I liked them mixed with ingredients such as tomatoes, basil and feta. Recipes are meant to be broken and of course I added my own touches and various ingredients. I also like mixed green leaf salads. Below rocket, purslane, fresh mint leaves, pine nuts, extra olive oil  and lemon juice.

Towards the end of summer the plant had grown far too large and woody and I pulled it out. It is a seasonal plant and by then the mature plant had obviously scattered its small black seeds in my other pots.

I think that if I had a garden I would find Purslane very invasive, hence appropriately called a weed in this part of the world that does not have a long continuous history of foraging. The culture of foraging in Australia has been largely disregarded over the past 200 years. For tens of thousands of years and before European settlers the Aboriginal people foraged native flora and there is also historical evidence pioneers and explorers ate wild greens.

Purslane can also be cooked on its own or added to other greens;I rather like the mucilaginous gel-like consistency it adds to food (like Okra) but many people do not.

This climbing plant above is growing in one of my friend’s back garden in North Adelaide. (The potted plants below are his too.). The plant is Basella rubra, commonly known as Malabar spinach, Vine spinach or Ceylon spinach. This creeping vine is the variety of Basella with purplish-stems and deep-green leaves with pink veins.

Basella is a popular tropical leafy-green vegetable native to south Asia and eaten widely in Asian countries where it is known by a variety of local names, for example and to name a few, it is mostly known as saan choy in China, mong toi in Vietnam, pui saag in parts of India, remayong in Malaysia and alugbati in the Philippines.

This photo above is  Basella alba – unlike my friend’s plant in Adelaide the stems are green and the plant will have a small white (alba) flower rather than crimson (rubra). I bought this bunch with its deep-green, oval to heart-shaped leaves a from the stall where I usually buy my Asian greens at the Queen Victoria Market

Like spinach Basella alba and Basella rubra it is a very versatile vegetable. The young leaves can be eaten raw and the larger leaves are cooked and depending on the regional cuisines it can be added to soups, in stir fries, curries etc. Like purslane the leaves are fleshy and thick, they remain crisp and taste of citrus when raw and when cooked the leaves soften and taste slightly mucilaginous. Basella doesn’t wilt as much as spinach.

Basella leaves remind me very much of Warrigal Greens. (Tetragonia tetragonioides ) is a leafy groundcover also known as Botany Bay spinach, Cook’s cabbage, kōkihi (in Māori), New Zealand spinach,. Although I have cooked this green many times before I do not have any photos.

I cooked the leaves of the Basella alba and sautéed them in extra virgin olive oil with garlic. On this occasion, I wanted a conventional green vegetable side dish to accompany a main of fish. If however, I had wanted to cook them in a Chinese way, I may also add spring onions, fresh ginger, chili, sesame oil, oyster or soy sauce. Maybe for a Japanese recipe I would add mirin or miso. Although I am typecasting some ingredients you will understand what I mean.

And would I have fed these vegetables to my mother?  No way…. but maybe if I had used some typical way of cooking Italian greens she may begin to appreciate them.

Here are some conventional ways of cooking greens the Italian way:

Boiled

Bring a small amount of lightly salted water to boiling Add the greens. Cover the pan and cook until tender or to your liking.
Optional: Cook the greens using only the water still clinging to leaves; cover, and cook until wilted, stirring halfway through.
Drain the greens well in a colander.
Dress with some extra virgin olive oil, adjust the seasoning if necessary (add pepper is optional) and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Sautéed

Heat some olive oil, add the garlic, (chillies and the anchovies are optional).
Add the vegetables sauté for a few minutes until they begin to wilt.
Add white wine (if liquid is needed), cover and cook till softened. (Some cooks pre-cook the greens and then sauté them – this may not be necessary).

Optional: chillies to taste, and /or a few anchovies can be added at the same time as the garlic.

With pine nuts and currants

Soak some currants in a little warm water to plump them (about 10 mins). Drain before using. In a small pan toast pine nuts by tossing them around until light golden. They burn easily, do this quickly. Set aside.
Heat some olive oil, add some garlic, add greens and sauté until wilted. If necessary, drain off any liquid.
Return the greens to the pan. Add currants and pine nuts and sauté a few minutes more.

Optional: add cinnamon or nutmeg and/ or grated lemon peel.
Cook in butter instead of oil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SORREL, Italians call it acetosa

I once lived in Adelaide and I successfully grew and cooked sorrel.

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I used it liberally in hollandaise and egg mayonnaises (wilted or raw and cut very finely). I loved these sauces with asparagus, beans and potatoes. I added young leaves to mixed-leaf salads, cut leaves into chiffonade to decorate and add an intense lemony tang to raw and cooked foods. I added it to soups and braises, fish, veal or pork stews and sautéed it with other vegetables. It was great in frittata, too. Because of its intense, sharp flavour you only need small amounts of leaves and when they’re cooked, the bright green spinach-like leaves melt to a yellow-green, mushy purée. It may not sound appealing but it is.

I eat extremely well when I visit South Australia both in restaurants and in homes. During my recent trip I encountered sorrel at three different times at different friends’ houses.

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I was delighted with a sorrel Granita by one friend in her house in Eden Hills (a suburb of Adelaide). It was presented with a sorbet made of elderflower cordial (she made this), golden caster sugar and water syrup and St Germain elderflower liqueur.  what you see in in the photo above are the Granita and sorbet, plus elderflowers (from her garden). These were topped with Prosecco. Amazing!

This was not dessert – it was presented as a palate cleanser in between courses. It could easily double up as a dessert- a  very simple solution is to pair it with vanilla ice cream rather than an  elderflowers sorbet….not every cook is as skilled as this friend.

See recipe for the sorrel Granita at end of post.

Friends in North Adelaide offered me potato and sorrel soup for lunch. I had  enjoyed this before at their house and it can be eaten hot or cold.

I also visited friends in Ardrossan (a coastal town on the Yorke Peninsula about 90 minutes from Adelaide) and found red sorrel growing in their garden. This friend presented some of the attractive young leaves in a leafy salad. She also wilts it like spinach and has made a quiche with some of the leaves.

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I told her I knew nothing about red sorrel. I thought that maybe Bunnings had made a mistake (she found it in the Herbs section of this store). Was it really a culinary herb or an ornamental plant? My friend, now concerned and thinking that she should sue Bunnings found a link on the web, and sure enough, red sorrel leaves are considered edible…. despite my misgivings.

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The story doesn’t stop there. Now back home in Melbourne I found a small bunch of red sorrel at my regular supplier of green vegetables – Gus and Carmel’s stall in The Queen Victoria Market, called IL FRUTTIVENDOLO . I stored it in the fridge in a container  partially filled with water. I store asparagus in the same way.

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Believe it or not there is a lot of information on the web about sorrel that is considered to be at its best in Spring. There is the French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) with distinctly small, bell-shaped or arrow-shaped leaves; English sorrel (Rumex acetosa) with broader leaves- both of these have leaves with a smooth texture. Red sorrel (Rumex sanguineus) is  very attractive and has tapered light green leaves with dark maroon veins and stems. Not surprisingly it is also called Bloody Dock. When cooked, it bleeds like beetroot leaves (which I eat). First discard the bottom tough part of the stalks and then wilt the leaves as you would silver beet or spinach.

Both French sorrel and English sorrel are used interchangeably. It is also sold interchangeably and usually just labelled as ‘Sorrel.’ The French variety with the smaller arrow shaped leaves is hard to find . Both sorrels have very similar tastes – the flavour is tangy and pleasantly acidic. This is not surprising as sorrel is related to rhubarb, recognized for its tartness that comes from oxalic acid. Some texts advise to use sorrel sparingly and warn that it can be toxic to animals. The red sorrel has been primarily grown as a decorative foliage but can also be eaten. The taste is not as sharp and sour as the French and English sorrels and the larger leaves are tougher and slightly bitter rather than tangy., however when cooked they do break down considerably.

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Sorrel has been used as a culinary ingredient by the early Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It was used during medieval and in Tudor times in England and France and it is still popular in French cuisine.

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Italians have many words for sorrel. They call it acetosa and acetina, acetosella, ossalina or erba brusca. There are even names for sorrel in dialect. It is known as pan e vin in Friuli, Veneto and Treviso regions. The Sicilians call it aghira e duci or agra e duci. The list of the various regional Italian names for sorrel can be found on a site by the Dipartimento di Scienze della Vita, Università di Trieste. The culinary uses in Italian cuisine suggested in the texts that I have seen are the same as in other cuisines: the young leaves are served raw in salads and the cooked leaves accompany fish, meat or eggs and in cream sauces and soups.
Sorrel is also found in some Asian cuisines for example in Vietnam it is known as rau chua (sour herb) or rau thom.  It is not surprising that in Vietnamese it translates as sour herbfrom old French surele, from sur, sour. I had one quick look for a Vietnamese recipe that uses sorrel and ‘sour soup’ seems to be popular.

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Notice that my bunch is just  called ‘Sorrel’. So unfair for those who are not familiar with the other sorrels!

And what did I do with my small bunch of red sorrel?

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There were no leaves in the bunch that I considered ‘small’ so I did not add them to a salad. I  added the leaves to some hot extra virgin olive oil and garlic, added the leaves and wilted them. I then added some cooked Puy lentils. I was pleased with the results and presented and made a nice accompaniment to fish cooked with with tarragon and vermouth , cauliflower and baked tomatoes.

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My friend’s recipe for  Sorrel Granita

Equal weight of French sorrel leaves (with that lovely sour taste) and simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water). The sorrel must not be cooked. Just blitz the leaves with the syrup and then strain through a fine strainer. Add a squeeze of lime juice and a pinch of salt to taste and then pour into a container and put in the freezer. About every 30 mins or so I stir it to move the ice crystals that evenly through it. When it is completely frozen (and it isn’t rock hard anyway) I just scrape it with a fork to break it into crystals.

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TONNO AL AGRO DOLCE – Sweet and sour tuna, Sicilian – ALBACORE TUNA

In Australia we have different types of tuna: Albacore, Bigeye, Southern Bluefin and Yellowfin tunas. Bonito and mackerel as well as tuna are part of the same family (Scombridae).

Albacore tuna is sustainable, cheap in price and much under-rated in Australia. It is not sashimi grade so the Asian export market does not want it and I think that this is the reason why in Australia we tend to undervalue it. It is denser in texture but excellent for braising (lightly or cooked for longer).  Generally it is sold as a wheel but I have also been able to buy it as a fillet – perfect for  baking and braising  in one piece.

When I see Albacore tuna I grab it. It is caught in winter on the coast of Southern New South Wales but unfortunately not many fish vendors stock it.

Michael displays albacore right #1

This is Mike holding one of the Albacore tuna at his stall in the Queen Victoria Market. He looks very noble in this photo.

In this recipe the tuna is lightly braised and has slivers of garlic and mint studded throughout the pieces of fish. The rest of the ingredients and cooking style are Sicilian through and through.

I prefer to use a large round piece of Albacore tuna for this dish, which can be separated into 4 portions.

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The following recipe is for 4 people

INGREDIENTS and PROCESS

fish, 4 pieces
onion, 1 chopped thinly
garlic, 2 cloves, cut into halves (or thinner)
fresh mint, 4+ leaves (or sage leaves in winter because mint is not doing well)
4 anchovies
green olives, 8 -10
extra virgin olive oil, ¼ cup
salt and chilli flakes to taste
red wine vinegar, 1 splash – about 1 tablespoon
sugar, ¾ tsp
orange, 4 slices , these are optional and a modern take on this recipe. If you are going to add them sauté them before you add the sugar and vinegar
 
Cut the 4 portions of tuna from the round piece. Discard the skin around the outside.
Use a thin, sharp knife with a long blade and make 2-3 deep, regularly spaced slits into each hunk of fish (I made 3-4 slits in the biggest pieces of fish).
Insert into each split half a clove of garlic and in another a mint leaf.
Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a pan large enough to accommodate the fish in one layer.
Sauté the fish, turn once (until it colours), remove and set aside.
Sauté the onion in the same pan until it becomes golden and soft.
Add the anchovies and stir them around over moderate heat – they will dissolve.
Add olives and the seasoning. Add the orange slices (optional). Add the sugar, watch it melt (still over medium heat) then add the vinegar and evaporate it.
Return the tuna to the pan it and cook gently until it is cooked to your liking – this will depend on the size of your fish and how you prefer to eat it. For my tastes I return the tuna to the sauce mainly to reheat it as I do enjoy my tuna fairly underdone (this is in comparison to how Italians generally eat tuna).

I have also cooked the slice of tuna whole.

 

CHATHAM ISLANDS BLUE COD, cooked in cartoccio (in a bag in English or en papillote in French)

Blue cod on sticks

I bought this fish at the Queen Victoria Market. What motivated me to buy it was the sustainable label. My fish vendor does not usually label his fish as sustainable and I was quite impressed. In fact I shook his hand.

I chose to ignore the fact that it comes from New Zealand – flown in daily the vendor said.  Unfortunately it is not exactly local. It was $32.00 per kilo. It weighed one kilo.

He always asks me if I want whole fish filleted. I always say no.

‘Best steamed’ he said. So I chose to bake it in baking paper – in cartoccio – it keeps in the moisture.

I wanted to taste the fish not drown it in flavours so I chose simple flavours: caper berries, slivers of garlic and some parsley and fresh rosemary and bay leaves to stuff the cavity of the fish.

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You will notice that the fish is greenish-blue to blue-black in colouring. It is a white fish with medium texture and the flesh remained very moist.The Blue Cod are caught sustainably because potting is used – The pots are baited and once the fish is inside they are trapped. Each pot is set at a size that allows younger undersized fish to escape and any by-catch is released unharmed.

If I want sustainable fish I have to be prepared to pay for it and you can see why the price is high.

Either use 2 sheets of baking paper or use one sheet of baking paper on top of some metal foil. The two layers will help prevent the paper from breaking when you put it in a serving dish.

 

INGREDIENTS
1 fish, 1k – I used Chatman Islands Blue Cod
fresh rosemary and bay leaves to insert in the stuffing
3 large garlic cloves, cut into slivers
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
caper berries, about 10
½ cup of chopped parsley

PROCESSES
Preheat oven to 220C
Make sure the cavity of the fish is very well cleaned and stuff it with the rosemary and bay.
Place 2 large sheets of baking paper on a baking tray, sprinkle it with salt, pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle a little parsley some garlic slivers and some capers on the paper and place the fish on top.
Repeat what you did on the bottom of the fish on top of the fish.
Wrap the fish completely in the paper and place it in a baking pan, then bake in the oven for 25- 30 minutes. (I prefer my fish not to be overcooked). Remove the pan from oven and leave the fish wrapped up in the paper for an extra 10 minutes.

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Take it out of the paper and keep the juices as the sauce. Drizzle a little extra olive oil on top and some more freshly ground black pepper – I cannot help being Italian!

SICILIAN SEAFOOD COOKING, ITALIANICIOUS and READER’S FEAST Bookstore. Recipe for Slow cooked goat in Nero D’Avola

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This is the cover of the January – February issue of 2012 Italianicious magazine.
It is a beautiful bi-monthly publication about food and wine, Italian regional recipes, travel stories and features on Italian restaurants and chefs and cultural events both in Italy and Australia. The photos are also stunning.
The current editor, Danielle Gullaci, is continuing to develop the quality and look of the publication established by previous editor, Jane O’Connor. In the January-February issue Danielle has written a feature about me.
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FUELLED BY PASSION
And these are the two beginning paragraphs:
Although Marisa Raniolo Wilkins spent most of her early childhood in Trieste before moving to Australia with her Sicilian parents, a love for Sicilian food and culture has remained close to her heart. Her first book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking, represents eight years of hard work and a lifetime of culinary experiences.
Despite the fact that her parents both hailed from Sicily, Marisa says that she was born on the Italian island “by accident”. Marisa’s mother had lived in Catania, Sicily, before moving to Trieste in northern Italy with her siblings; and her Sicilian father (from Ragusa) was stationed in Trieste during the war, learning to be a tailor. “ 

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I was also featured in Italianicious magazine in the November-December issue when Mary Taylor Simeti and I discussed a Sicilian Christmas at Dolcetti, Melbourne’s little gem of a pastry shop. Naturally Pastry Chef Marianna Di Bartolo contributed to the discussion and we ate some of her delectable sweets. The editor was Jane O’Connor (now group editor of all Prime Media magazines), the three camera shy women and the photographer Patrick Varney of Raglan Images all had a grand old time.
Mary Taylor Simeti is one of my heroes – I think that sometimes it takes a “foreigner ‘ with a passion to rediscover and tease out the history behind the food ( not that she is a foreigner, she is part of Sicily, having dedicated so many years to it.).
Mary and I talked to Gus about his produce at the Queen Victoria Market.
The time before that Italianicious published an article and my recipe for Caponata, that was in December 2009 – February 2010 and the editor was Glynis Macri now Director/Editor of The Italian Traveller – Food, Wine and Travel Consultant.
Marisa in kitchen 3
Caponata recipe:
Italianicious also has recipes on line. This one is one of Mister Bianco’s:
Here are the ingredients for one recipe. It is from the October 2011 issue. I have seen goat available at The Queen Victoria Market recently and the recipe uses Nero D’Avola – that marvellous Sicilian red wine.
If you want the full recipe:
Slow cooked goat in Nero D’Avola
Serves 4
2kg goat consisting of shoulder cut into 150g pieces and 4 shanks
1.5 litres Nero d’Avola wine
3 onions, chopped roughly
200ml red wine vinegar
3 carrots, chopped roughly
3 celery sticks, chopped roughly
1 garlic clove, peeled
200g prosciutto fat
5 whole tomatoes, chopped
2L reduced beef stock
20 crushed whole peppercorns
3 bay leaves
For the garnish:
12 baby carrots, peeled and roasted with olive oil, garlic and rosemary
4 potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters, then roasted with olive oil, garlic, sliced lemon and rosemary.
Reader’s Feast Bookstore
 
The other nice thing that happened this week is that I went into Reader’s Feast Bookstore. Sicilian Seafood Cooking has been featured in their Summer 2002 Book Guide and has been written by Helen.
Helen is only one of the helpful, knowlegable and personable staff who has been working with Mary Dalmau at Reader’s Feast for a very long time.
“Our bookstore will be a place of interest and enjoyment, peopled by committed and enthusiastic staff, who present a range of books to suit all visitors” Mary Dalmau, 1991
Finally my cookbook of the year is Sicilian Seafood Cooking by Marisa Raniolo Wilkins.
This incredibly substantial cookbook takes
us on a culinary odyssey through Sicily; It is
a book of love celebrating seasonal produce,
traditional recipes, methods and techniques
while providing us non Sicilians with suitable
alternative ingredients. The food is delicious
and the advice is such that you are never
alone while preparing these recipes. It’s as if
the grandmothers and aunts are beside you.
Happy Holiday Reading and Feasting.
Helen

MA2SBAE8REVW

Vegetables in Season- winter, Melbourne, Victoria, September

In Melbourne (Queen Victoria Market Stall no 61-63)
 
Some Links to Previous Posts 
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Make the most of:
Fennel = many posts on All Things Sicilian and More
Artichokes = many posts on All Things Sicilian and More
Witlof
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Get ready for Spring: 
 
Asparagus
 

 

CARDOONS, What are they? (Cardoni or Cardi in Italian)

The featured photo was taken in a market in Paris but cardi are sold in every market in all regions of Italy..

The photo below is not a photo taken in one of the markets in Italy – it was purchased from Gus and Carmel’s stall in the Queen Victoria Market (Carmel is holding the plant, she was reluctant to pose).

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It is a cardoon (called cardone or cardo in Italian) a close relative of the artichoke with light green to white stalks ribbed like celery. Cardoons (cardoni or cardi) are fibrous; the stringy fibres run lengthwise and need to be removed. Only the stalks are eaten and they the plant is young can be eaten raw when young.

I am very excited by this because it is the first cardoon I have ever seen for sale and cooked in Australia.

I was in Chanti two years ago and travelled through Tuscany when cardi were in season and I must admit that I have never seen cardoons as gigantic as the one anywhere in Italy. The other photo (see bottom of this post) showing a darker variety of cardi was taken in the market in Catania, Sicily and this is the size (not necessarily the colour) that I remember my mother buying when we lived in Trieste.

Cardoons are a winter vegetable and appreciated in all parts of Italy. I know that there are a number of varieties of cardi but they can be grouped into two sorts. One grows straight and long (60 to 150 cm), and I guess that this is what I have (it is 110cm tall, and the top leaves have already been trimmed); the other cardi are curved and in Italy are known as the gobbi (hunchbacks).

The best cardi are grown blanched. This is like the blanching of some celery – the plant is tied together and paper or boards are used to block out the light and shade the stalks. When the light source of celery is blocked out the plants lack green colour, the stalks are generally more tender and are sweeter in taste. Apparently the best cardi are grown in total darkness; to blanch the gobbi, the plants are bent on one side and covered with earth; this contributes to the typical arched shape.

When my family settled in Australia we missed our cardi and my mother cooked the ivory stalks of silver beet the same way, i.e. gratinati – au gratin (part boiled and then baked with béchamel and parmesan cheese). She also part boiled them, crumbed and fried them (called impanati). My mum has never worked and was particularly bored when we settled in Australia, where in fact she developed her best cooking, even if she did not have the range of ingredients. We knew that the silver beet stalks would never taste like they should (similar to artichokes), but they looked good when we were having guests.

Gus is Calabrese and the fruit stall next door is also run by Calabresi. They tell me that one of their favourite ways to eat cardi  are when they are preserved in extra virgin olive oil. They are boiled first in acidulated water, drained well and like when preserving carciofini (small artichokes) are then covered with oil, salt and perhaps some dried oregano.

In Tuscany the cardi are often recooked in chicken or veal stock and in Piedmont they are precooked and then presented with bagna caoda (a warm dip of anchovies, garlic, and olive oil, usually served with fresh vegetables as an appetizer).

To clean cardi, take off the outside leaves and any that are discoloured or soft until you reach the inside of the plant. As you can see in the photo the plant was significantly reduced in size and looks very much like the centre of a celery. With a sharp knife strip off the coarse, outer, stringy layer of fibres – some people use a potato peeler to do this. I do the same with artichoke stalks and like artichokes they need to be placed in lightly acidulated water as you are cleaning them. The cardoons are then cut into 5-6 cm pieces and are partly boiled to remove more of their bitter taste, and then recooked. A good squeeze of lemon juice added to the cooking water will also help to prevent them from darkening. Do not think about reusing the cooking water as stock – it is bitter.

INGREDIENTS

cardoons, cleaned and cut into pieces (I ended up with only 20 pieces)
lemons, the juice of 1- 2
béchamel, (white sauce made with butter, flour, milk salt, white pepper and some nutmeg and I used 2 cups)
parmesan cheese, grated.  I used 120g
butter, extra

 

PROCESSES

Clean and cut the cardi to size, place them into boiling, salted water and lemon juice and cook till softened. The cooking liquid should completely cover the vegetables. My cardi remained slightly crunchy and I cooked them for 35-40 mins. Some cardi can take a long time to soften and some of the recipes I read suggested a couple of hours cooking time.
Drain well. If you intend cooking them later keep them in the cooking water till you are ready for the next cooking stage.
Preheat the oven 200°C.
Grease a wide, shallow ovenproof dish with butter and place a layer of the cardi in it (there will be two layers). Cover with some of the béchamel (besciamella) and half of the parmesan.
Continue with the second layer of cardi, followed by the béchamel and cheese. At this stage you can decide if you would like to sprinkle some coarse breadcrumbs made with good quality bread (sourdough or pasta dura) on the top of the cheese and dot the crumbs with some bits of butter.
Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes or until the surface has turned a golden brown. Serve at once.

See other Cardi Recipe: CARDOONS (Cardoni or CARDI Sicilian recipe)

 

 

ALL ABOUT FRISÉE (Insalata riccia)

Carmel is one of the favourite stall holders at the Queen Victoria Market where I buy most of my Italian vegetables. Apart from the usual range of vegetables she has the unusual greens that I cannot buy elsewhere:  cime di rape, batavia lettuce, chicory, endive/escarole, kale and vlita (see previous posts for descriptions and recipes). They also have frisée and last week she suggested that I write about it because she has lots of customers who would buy it, if only they knew what to do with it.

Is frisée endive or lettuce?

Frisée (also called curly endive, frisée lettuce) belongs in the chicory family,(endive/escarole, radicchio, witlof, cichory) so it has a slightly bitter taste. Frisée has long, narrow, curly leaves and I use it as a salad green . The outer leaves and the tips are a darker green and the centre inner leaves are paler, milder and more tender.

Frisée is called insalata riccia in Italian and it is more available in the north than in the south of Italy.

To make a green salad I prefer to buy a variety of green leafed vegatables and mix my own – I never buy a salad mix and if frisée is available I always purchase this.

I much prefer frisée to any of the lettuces. It has more taste and texture and lends itself well to mixing with other ingredients( see earlier post Salad Composee)
RECIPES FOR DIFFERENT SALADS using frisée… and there is no reason why you would not present the following as an Entrée.

As well as being a principal component in a mixed leaf salad, I particularly like frisée with:
  • hard boiled eggs, potatoes, green beans and anchovies
  • tomatoes black olives and slivers of pecorino cheese (formaggio fresco is good as well)
  • apple or pear with walnuts
  • feenel, black olives and orange
  • beetroot, walnuts and a sharp cheese like feta.

I have never cooked frisée, but I cannot see why it couldn’t be gently wilted (same method of braising escarole but only cooked for a shorter time) and I believe that this is a common way to eat in France.

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