Category Archives: Recipes

PICNIC FOOD – Potato salad with smoked fish, asparagus and green beans

Coronavirus Restrictions have eased in Melbourne recently and with it comes the freedom to see friends by having picnics. It sure beats Zoom.

Easy and transportable food include smallgoods, smoked fish, cheeses , good bread, and as always vegetables –  made with  raw or cooked vegetables.I have made the occasional frittata, either with  zucchini or asparagus (in season ) and asparagus with homemade mayonnaise or sautéed with capers. Dips and spreads are also convenient – beetroot is always a favourite. All easy stuff!

What is good about picnics is that the  friends also bring food and a simple picnic turns into a feast. There have been hot quiches and Spanakopita, Pâtés and fresh fruit.

THis is a version of a salad  I used to make many years ago when I lived in Adelaide with  laschinken a dry-cured, cold-smoked pork loin. The butchers in the Barossa Valley where many of the settlers  were German or of German origin. I was also able to purchase it at the Adelaide Market. It is interesting how foods made in the long distant past resurface.

The following is a simple salad I made with smoked fish –  hot smoked, cold smoked, gravlax or fresh cooked fish.

Below, in the photo , you see the ingredients: salad greens (I used endives), cooked green beans and asparagus,  chunks of smoked fish, potatoes, spring onions, homemade mayonnaise, capers and herbs – I used parsley, tarragon and some of the light green tops of celery.

Slice the potatoes, the spring onions and chop the herbs.

Line the salad bowl or container with the green leaves and place the sliced potatoes on top.

Begin by distributing the herbs and spring onions and capers throughout the potato layer(s).

Insert the green beans and asparagus in between the potatoes and on top.  Lightly salt the ingredients (if you wish) and remembering that the mayonnaise and smoked fish both contain salt.

This is what I carried to the picnic. I took the mayonnaise and and the chunks of smoked fish separately .

Dress with the mayonnaise and place the chunks of fish on top when  ready to eat it.

There are many types of fish  that have been smoked and you do not have to use Atlantic Salmon and Ocean Trout.  The most commercially available smoked fish in Australia is from Tasmania and I am not a great fan of fish farmed in sea cages.  Imported farmed Atlantic Salmon and Ocean Trout is available in Australia. For more information on imported product, look for country of origin labelled on the packaging and refer to seafood guides produced in that country.

Rainbow trout is caught in rivers, dams and lakes (land based) and is sustainable.

For other recipes:

Frittata:

ALL ABOUT MAKING FRITTATA and Podcast with Maria Liberati

FRITTATA: SAUSAGE and RICOTTA

ASPARAGI DI BOSCO and FRITTATINA (Wild Asparagus continued, and Frittata)

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With Mayonnaise:

CHICKEN LAYERED WITH A TUNA AND EGG MAYONNAISE ; A cold Chicken dish

YEARNING FOR VITELLO TONNATO

ITALIAN RUSSIAN SALAD, no beetroot

COOKING WITH GRAPPA, cosce di gallina (chicken upper thighs)

I use alcohol in my cooking very frequently. Cooking with alcohol enhances the taste and smell of many dishes.

In savoury foods I mostly add wine or wine-based beverages and spirits. Liqueurs are mostly for desserts, although I rather like the orange taste in Cointreau for pan fried duck breasts, duck or chicken livers and pork fillets. When I want a taste of fennel or anise, as for example in fish, Pernod is a favourite.

Using different herbs and spices are also very apparent in my cooking to impart different flavours and aromas.

One of the most common and simplest ways I use alcohol is to deglaze the pan after pan frying or sautéing meat, fish, vegetables or fruit. For example when cooking chicken or duck livers, once cooked, I remove the contents from the pan, pour in the alcohol and start scraping the sides and bottom of the pan – this dislodges all the tasty, caramelized bits ….I evaporate the liquid and the result is a very flavourful sauce.

Generally my most common types of alcohol for deglazing are wine, vermouth, brandy, Marsala Fine or Cointreau. Each of these beverages will add different flavours.

I need to say that my Sicilian relatives do not use much alcohol in cooking.

This brings me to my use of Grappa in cooking adding a subtle complexity to food. It is equally effective in savory and sweet dishes. Worth doing.

Grappa, the Italian spirit is produced from distilling the skins, seeds and stalks of grapes after making wine. It  is drunk and used widely in cooking in the northern regions of Italy.

In Trieste it was a favourite drink for many Triestines and it was a common ingredient when making pastries and sweets like frittole, crostoli and apple strudel.

When my family arrived in Australia there was no Grappa, but we soon met some people from Trieste and found that they were using hot water units with copper piping to distil Grappa in their homes. A very slow process, but how ingenious.

Illegal of course, but we were able to buy flagons of Grappa from these people.

Being interested in my roots  – Northern Italian and Sicilian –  I have recently reintroduced Grappa in some of my cooking.

Here is a simple recipe:

You can see  from the photo, the ingredients are what they call Lovely Legs (chicken), Italian pancetta, sage, rosemary,  Grappa, extra virgin olive oil and butter, and although Juniper berries go well with gin, I thought they would be good with Grappa as well.

The process is very simple.

Marinade the chicken legs (there were 5) in some oil, herbs, juniper berries and pancetta cut into smaller bits for about 2 hours or longer.

Add butter to a pan, place the marinated legs and contents in the pan and  gently brown the contents. Add a splash of  stock or water, cover and cook until the chicken is cooked.

Remove the contents, add a liqueur glass (about 2 tablespoons) of Grappa. Scarpe the solids from the sides and bottom of the pan and let it bubble for a minute or two to amalgamate the liquids.

Place the contents back in the pan to coat  them with the flavourful sauce, and there you are.

 

Staples in my fridge – olives, capers, anchovies and nuts

In my fridge you are likely to always find green and black olives, anchovies, capers and nuts, especially almonds, pine nuts, pistachio, hazelnuts and walnuts.  I consider these as staples and frequently add these ingredients, common in Italian cooking, to much of my cuisine.

In my freezer you will always find jars of stock and pulses of some kind, usually chickpeas, borlotti, cannellini or even black-eyed beans. I say “even” because they are not considered a common bean in Italian cuisine.  I do not bother storing frozen lentils  because they cook so quickly and don’t need  soaking.

I have not mentioned how important fresh herbs, spices and extra virgin olive oil are in my cooking – but they are.

What  you will also find  in my fridge are some jars of homemade  pastes  – always harissa and maybe a couple of jars of other pastes  that contain a combination of three or more of these ingredients: olives, anchovies, various fresh herbs, capers or nuts.

For most of this year, my partner has been doing the shopping. Perhaps he enjoys having this time on his own and to chat with his favourite stallholders at the Queen Victoria Market.

Someone once asked me if I trusted him with the shopping.  I do, but sometimes he buys too much….  last week it was too much squid, this week he came home with two large freshwater trouts.

There is no inviting friends around! We are in lockdown in Melbourne.

We eat a lot of vegetables and I can easily turn excess vegetables into soup or pickles. Meat I can freeze, but I do not  like to freeze fish, so we had trout for two nights in a row.

The first night I simply fried  the trout in butter and a substantial amount of  fresh sage. Good, but ordinary.

In my fridge I had a jar of a combination of ground toasted walnuts, hazelnuts, nutmeg, black pepper and Za’atar.

You could say it was a version of dukkah that I had used for something else and I sprinkled some of this on the trout once  the trout was filleted at the table.

The second night I cooked the trout on a bed of  sautéed shaved fennel and parsley and  at the very end of cooking I added some green olive paste. I had this in the fridge. The sauce was plentiful and went beautifully with the braised lentils and endives.

And once again I was able to add a different taste to something that was pretty good in the first place but was made even better.

I do not measure ingredients when I am making a paste, but for the sake of the recipe, I have made an estimation of  the ingredients.

My combinations of ingredients vary, but for this particular green olive paste I used:

200g of pitted green olives,
100g capers, either drained if in brine or soaked and rinsed a number of times if using the salted capers,
100g of toasted almonds,
4 anchovies,
1 garlic clove,
grated orange peel from one orange,
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
½ cup of chopped parsley
juice from half a lemon.

Making pastes is dead simple. Blend all of the ingredients together except for the olive oil that you can add at the very end….slowly… until you have a paste to your liking. You can make it as smooth as you wish; I prefer some crunch.

Place in a clean glass jar, top with some more extra virgin olive oil and keep it in your fridge.

This is the first time that I have taken a photo of inside my fridge, but you can see what I mean!

Kohlrabi, Fennel, Celeriac and Daikon make a good salad (and other recipes)

Not a bad salad.

In season are celeriac, kohlrabi, fennel and daikon. Mint and parsley, red onion, no worries. Radicchio and rocket, seem to be around always. Daikon is not an Italian vegetable but in this case it goes.

To cut  the root vegetables I used my Borner Original VSlicer that I have had for over 30 years. The blades are still sharp. Shredding the vegetables can make a difference – easier to eat, quicker to cut, good on the eye and the  small batons accept a greater amount of dressing…. If you want it.

A much better looking and tasting salad with some colour!  A combination of flavours – sharp, bitter, sour, fresh and mustard.

On this occasion to dress the salad, I began with a vinaigrette made with extra virgin oil, salt, a little vinegar and lemon juice and then topped it with some egg mayonnaise.

Using just mayonnaise would have made the salad heavy.

Below, celeriac and kohlrabi to the left.

Recipes with kohlrabi:

A WET PASTA DISH WITH KOHLRABI

KOHLRABI and TENERUMI, shared between cultures of Sicily and Vietnam

KOHLRABI with pasta (Causunnedda )

Celeriac:

SEDANO RAPA (Celeriac and how to eat it)

Fennel:

STUFFED BAKED FENNEL WITH PANGRATTATO – FINOCCHI RIPIENI

FENNEL CAPONATA (Sicilian sweet and sour method for preparing certain vegetables).

FENNEL; male and female shapes

Mayonnaise:

PESCE IN BIANCO (Plain fish). MAIONESE (Mayonnaise)

ITALIAN RUSSIAN SALAD, no beetroot

VITELLO TONNATO

 

A special Birthday menu for my friend, in the cloud

It is one of my friend’s birthday today and I am wishing him well, there in the cloud. I have cooked him some of his favourite food.

I hope that he will enjoy the homemade pappardelle dressed with a duck ragù.

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I was not able to buy him boar (cinghiale) or hare (lepre) as you can in Greve from that butcher who has a stuffed boar in front of his Macelleria. But I know that he is quite fond of duck; he will be just as pleased.

I have kept some of the dough from the pasta to fry and make into crostoli.  I will sprinkle them with caster sugar. We can crunch on these later.

Now he’s no longer unwell, he can once again enjoy the Barolo and the Amarone I have selected for this occasion. I know that he is fond of Sicily and I have a bottle of Nero d’Avola. Perhaps we could have a little of this with our cheese?  We will try to drink in moderation. I can return the wines from the decanters to bottles and put stoppers in them…I will be happy to drink them tomorrow.

I was able to find some early spring produce and I have stuffed some zucchini flowers with some stracchino, rather than the ricotta I usually use,  a little egg with a few fresh breadcrumbs to bind the stuffing, and some fresh marjoram ... not chervil, I am afraid, as it is not in season, this being  his favourite herb.  He particularly liked it on scrambled eggs.

I almost forgot!  I was able to order a great bottle of Riesling from the Barossa. Peter Lehman’s son – David Franz – Makes it. I love his wine and I am very fond of David’s colourful labels. I think my friend shared a bottle of this wine when I last saw him. This will be a perfect accompaniment for the zucchini flowers.

I have a bottle of Cynar for when he arrives and a little Averna for those who wish, right at the very end. 

There will be no second course, the pasta will be enough. The ragù smells fabulous and will be quite rich. Perhaps a little Mâche , or matovilc as we called it in Trieste…. lamb’s lettuce for others.  I can add some thinly sliced fennel too – this could be the palate cleanser before the dessert.

My friend does like a good Zuppa Inglese. I think that it’s the savoiardi soaked with Alchermes that he likes, although the delicate egg custard is also a winner. He will understand that I was unable to get the gooseberries or the greengage plums that he is so fond of. They are out of season. My friend was able to buy these for a very limited time of they year from one stall in the Adelaide Market. Gosh, that was a few years ago! The stall holder was a gentle and kind Sicilian man who used to grow most of his produce. I will never forget when the stall holder found out who my father was, he almost hugged me. My dad was liked by so many people my friend was popular too, and liked a chat or two. 

Idid find some Josephine pears at the Queen Victoria Market today, so I have purchased some to present with some cheeses I selected ripe, juicy pears, just as he likes them. He always expressed his dissatisfaction about fruit that was picked too green.

I have not forgotten the cheese to go with the pears. He is fond of a little cheese. Walnuts too. He likes to crack his own. I know he quite likes a little aged Parmesan with pears and I was also able to buy a good selection of  Italian and French Cheeses, some are quite smelly and I had to put them out on my balcony overnight.


Bob has baked some bread, my friend prefers to eat cheese with bread. I do too,  perhaps I learnt this from him.

So my friend, up in the cloud, I hope you enjoy what I have prepared for you. Happy Birthday from all of us, here below. We all remember you fondly and miss you.

PAPPARDELLE (Pasta with Hare or game ragù)

ZUPPA INGLESE, a famous, Italian dessert

STUFFED ZUCCHINI FLOWERS 

SALAD GREEN: matovilc, also called lamb’s lettuce and mâche

ALCHERMES/ALKERMES (The liqueur used to make Zuppa Inglese)

LONG LIVE ZUPPA INGLESE and its sisters

MUSSELS, three ways: in brodetto, with spaghetti and in a risotto with saffron

Victorian fresh mussels are always fabulous and they go a long way. There are two people in my household and we usually buy 2kilos. Sometimes we eat them all and at other times I use the left over mussels to make something else. There is usually some mussel broth left over and I store this in a glass jar in my freezer.

My partner likes to do the shopping and off he goes with his list, his bag and his mask and shops at the Queen Victoria Market. This time he cam home with 3kilos.  We are in lockdown here so no inviting someone to join us.

I really like mussels and from a 3kilo batch my partner and I had  three meals. Very frugal, but by the third day we were a little sick of mussels.

For the first meal, I cooked the mussels steamed in their own broth. In Italian this is called  In brodetto.. brodo is broth.

I begin with a soffritto of chopped carrots, celery, onion and garlic, with the help of a little white wine, then add the mussels, put on a lid and let them steam open and I sprinkle a little chopped parsley towards the end. We ate these with good quality, home baked bread, rubbed with oil and garlic and toasted in the oven.

On the second day we made some home made egg spaghetti. I made a salsa, first by dissolving a few anchovies in a little hot extra virgin  olive oil, then I added a can of chopped tomatoes, a whole clove of garlic, a sprig of fresh oregano (because there is no basil growing on my balcony in this cold season) and a little of the mussel broth. I let it cook with no lid, to reduce and thicken. I added the cooked mussels to the sauce just to heat up and dressed the pasta. I keep the garlic whole so that I can remove it, this is my preference but maybe not yours.

Next day, a risotto, and very simple once again.

This time I used a fresh fennel and some of the left over mussels out of their shells that I kept in a jar in the fridge with yet again some of their broth. But this time I also used some mussel broth I had in the freezer from the time before. That mussel broth comes in handy and there always seems to be plenty of it.

There are three types of rice you can use for making risotto. Arborio is the most common and easily available in Australia, but carnaroli  has more starch as does vialone nano; these two varieties make a risotto creamier. However, when I make a seafood risotto I prefer to use aborio because with seafood I like the risotto to be less gluggy. Don’t let this confuse you… all three varieties are suitable and it is just personal preferences. Perhaps I like to taste the flavour of the sea. Perhaps this is also why I do not  generally add butter to a seafood risotto.

You may be remembering that you have read many recipes that indicate that you stick to the stove while you cook risotto. Sicilian rice dishes are interesting.  I have watched  my Sicilian aunties cook rice and have read numerous recipes where some stock is added, the lid is put on and it is left to absorb for about 5 minutes or more,  then more stock is added and once again it is not continually stirred. The stirring happens in the last 5-7 minutes.

Making risotto is so simple, quick and easy.

I used 2 thinly sliced spring onions, 2  chopped cloves of garlic and once again began the cooking process by tossing it around in some extra virgin olive oil in a hot pan.

Then I added a finely sliced fennel and some parsley and tossed this around,  added 1.5 cup of rice (this is sufficient for 2 people but you can add more). Toss it around to coat, add a splash of  white wine. I added saffron, a generous pinch soaked beforehand in a little bit of water.

Keep on adding hot fish or mussel broth as you cook the rice until it is nearly cooked. This is when you add the shelled mussels. Cook the risotto until it is cooked all’onda…till the risotto looks wavy like the sea, and still moist.

I do not wish to eat mussels again for a couple of weeks.

 

 

 

Melbourne – August: Winter Artichokes in risotto and stuffed

Fresh  produce is very important to me and I am fortunate to live in an apartment block very close to the Queen Victoria Market and good, fresh produce is not hard to get.

Pre-lockdown restrictions, I also shopped  at various Farmers’ Markets, but this option is not available for me at the moment.

These artichokes were bought last weekend  at the QVM and I was surprised by their very green colour. This variety of artichokes are local and are in season; they are different in appearance to the three other varieties I am familiar with available earlier in the season.

During the week I bought these baby artichokes. These babies are from the artichoke plant when it has reached the end of its season. The plant does not have the energy to produce  the full type variety and produces these little offshoots. Usually they are used for pickling. Notice that this variety is tinged with purple, unlike the bright green variety of artichokes in the photo above.

You may ask what is the bunch of greens next to the baby artichokes? Cima di rapa (or cime di rape, plural). These are at the end of the season and I was surprised to find them  in such good form.

This is what I did with the big artichokes:

Stuffed with fresh breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan, garlic, parsley and extra virgin olive oil and braised in white wine, stock and extra virgin olive oil and with potatoes. I often use potatoes to hold the artichokes upright in a pan; the liquid should reach below the top of each artichoke. The potatoes are delicious as they soak up the flavours of the artichoke braising liquid.

Artichokes that are stuffed should fit tightly in a pan and in this case I have used the stems to keep the artichokes secure:

Or with potatoes once again used to keep the artichokes propped up:

And what did I do with the baby artichokes?

I braised them once again in stock, white wine and extra virgin olive oil and once cooked I used the braising liquid  from the cooked artichokes in the risotto.

For the risotto:

Sauté garlic and onion in extra virgin olive oil. Add the rice and toss around in the pan till well coated. Drain the stock (braising liquid from the artichokes) from the artichokes and add it warmed  -gradually and intermittently as you would for making any risotto.

Add parsley about half way through cooking. Add the artichokes and a lump of butter at the final stages  and when the final  absorption of stock is occurring. Do not forget, that a risotto should not be dry… present it all’onda…meaning that the finished product should ripple like waves.

Present it with grated Parmesan, if you like.

Sometimes  I prefer to taste the natural flavours of  the dish and grated cheese can be overpowering.

Carciofi are artichokes in Italian.

Carciofini are baby artichokes.

Recipes on my blog for artichokes are many and here are just a few:

CARCIOFI IMBOTTITI (Stuffed artichokes)

CARCIOFINI SOTT’ OLIO (Preserved artichokes in oil)

CARCIOFI (Artichokes and how to clean them and prepare them for cooking) 

CARCIOFI FARCITI (Stuffed artichokes: with meat and with olives and anchovies)

There are also recipes on my blog for Cime di Rapa.

MINESTRA from Trieste – borlotti, pearL barley, Sauerkraut

Borlotti beans, pearl barley and sauerkraut.

These are three of my favourite ingredients  and combined make a  fabulous soup: Minestra d’orzo e fagioli con “capuzi garbi’ (sour cabbage as called in Trieste – sauerkraut)

What more would you want  on a cold Melbourne winter’s day with many people who may need cheering up?

I have all of these ingredients at hand because I like pulses and barley as components in salads or soups.  I usually cook them separately and store them in containers in their juice in my fridge and in my freezer.  There are always jars of sauerkraut in my pantry – this comes from having lived in Trieste as a child.  The combination of mixing the cooked ingredients to make a last-minute soup can be even easier.

Like the majority of the way Italians cook, the quantity of ingredients is only an estimate…use more or less of any ingredient to suit your taste.

There are variations for making this soup in Trieste – not everyone adds sauerkraut, but very popular is the addition of lard and /or potatoes which will thicken the soup. I prefer my soup with more liquid and therefore omit the potatoes.

I generally do not have Lardo in my fridge but I can easily purchase it if I wish. Lardo does make a big difference if used – it will enrich the taste and the texture of the soup.

What is Lardo in Italian?

In this case, the Lardo is Lardo Affumicato – Smoked Lard –  Speck.

Also called Lardo is an Italian salume that is eaten (sliced very thinly) and widely used in Italian cuisine especially in northern Italy; it is made from the thick layer of fat from the back of a pig and cured with a mixture of salt, herbs, and spices;  the most esteemed Italian Lardo is aged in the warm, fresh caves in the area of Carrara (famous for its marble) and no additives or preservatives are used.

Pork fat, or rendered pork fat is also called Lardo in Italian and is lard in English.

I have nothing against canned beans but pulses are so easy to cook that I do not buy any, but if you do, cook the barley and add the drained beans to the barley. You will need to add some stock to this combination because you will not have the “bean broth” – the water the beans have been cooked in.

If you wish to add potatoes, do this at the same time as you put the barley to cook.

Borlotti Beans, dry 250g
Pearl Barley, 250g
Garlic, 1 – 3 cloves
Salt and pepper
Parsley, a handful, chopped
Bay leaves, 2 – 4
Extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle on top of soup when it is ready to serve

Optional:

Lardo/Smoked/Speck,  80 -100g, cubed into very small pieces
Potatoes, 2 – 3 cubed
Sauerkraut, 150 – 200g, drained and squeezed

Soak beans and barley overnight separately in plenty of water.

Drain the beans, replenish with plenty of cold water, add bay leaves, garlic and cook them for about 30 minutes. Add the soaked barley, seasoning and parsley and cook until the beans and barley are soft…. probably about 20-30 minutes longer.

If adding sauerkraut or potatoes add these at the same time as the barley.

Lard, both the rendered fat and Speck are very popular in the food of Trieste and if you wish to use it put it in at the same time as the beans. I prefer to drizzle some good quality, extra virgin olive oil on top and some freshly ground, black pepper.

Formaggio all’Argentiera (pan fried, fresh cheese, Sicilian)

I had forgotten how much I particularly like Formaggio Fresco, pan fried with a sliver or two of garlic in a smidgen of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled with a little dry oregano and de-glazed with a little red vinegar and a pinch of sugar (optional). This is how Sicilians like it.

Formaggio Fresco = Cheese Fresh….Fresh Cheese.

This  Sicilian recipe is called Formaggio all’Argentiera.

Why All’ Argentiera?

An argentiere in Italian is a silversmith.

All’argentiera means “in the style of…as an argentiere would cook it”.

Why this name?

An argentiere can afford the price of meat, a poor person cannot, however, the poor can afford to buy and cook cheese and pretend that he is eating meat. The lovely smells dissipating from the windows of the poor will give passers-by the impression  that just like a silversmith he can afford to eat meat. It is all to do with the making a bella figura syndrome.

The recipe is quick and easy, the difficulty could be finding what is called Formaggio Fresco. What is ‘fresh cheese?’

Some producers call Formaggio Fresco,  Fresh Pecorino,  but they are  both young cheese (aged typically 15- 45 days depending on the manufacturer). It is a white, semi soft, smooth and milky cheese,  good for slicing and for partially melting.

Pecorino is made from the milk of a pecora, (sheep), however, most Pecorino Fresco or Formaggio Fresco, especially in Australia  is made from cows’ pasteurized milk, salt and culture (usually rennet).

Aged Pecorino, whether Romano (Roman), Sardo (Sardinian), Toscano, or Siciliano is the firm, salty and sharp cheese we are familiar with and used for grating – you can eat it too.  In Italy they are DOP cheeses and made in the place of origin.

Stores that have Italian Produce are likely to have Formaggio Fresco  but I have also seen some in a few good supermarkets.

In Melbourne I can buy Formaggio Fresco made by these manufacturers: That’s Amore cheese, they call it cacciotta  and Pantalica make Bacio and Pecorino Fresco.

In Adelaide the manufacturers are: La Casa Del Formaggio and La Vera. I have seen La Vera sold in other Australian cities as well.

 

Formaggio all’Argentiera

A little extra virgin olive oil to fry the cheese.

Also: 1 large clove of garlic (cut into slivers), pinches of dried oregano,  1-2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a pinch of sugar.

I prefer to use a non-stick fry pan.

Heat the oil; use medium heat.

Add the garlic, the slices of cheese and lower the heat. Sprinkle the cheese with some of the dry oregano.

Cook that side of cheese until golden in colour, turn the cheese over and repeat with the dry oregano….cook for as long again.

Add the vinegar and sugar ( I sometime do) and deglaze the pan.

See also:

SICILIAN CHEESE MAKING. A VISIT TO A MASSARO (farmer-cheese maker) IN RAGUSA. Formaggio all’argentiera

Sicilian Cheese and more cheese

Polenta and its magic

This post is in praise of polenta, a simple and versatile  accompaniment for many moist braises. It is particularly popular in the north eastern regions of Northern Italy – Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto. However, this is not to say that some polenta is also appreciated in Piedmont, Valle d’Aosta,  Tuscany and Lombardy.

The most common polenta is coarsely ground yellow corn and it is simply cooked in water and salt.  Polenta taragna is a mixture of cornmeal and buckwheat, a popular grain in Italy’s Alpine region, especially in the Valtellina in Northern Lombardy.  Because wheat is difficult to cultivate in the northern regions like Val d’ Aosta and Trentino-Alto Adige, buckwheat is grown and mixed with wheat flour to make  pasta (called pizzoccheri) and in gnocchi . Buckwheat is called grano saraceno , this is because the Etruscans and Saracens introduced the buckwheat grain to Italy. I visited this region last year and particularly enjoyed this combination.

Once cooked, I prefer to spread the polenta in a pan suitable to go into an oven, I drizzle it generously with olive oil and bake it .

The polenta can then be cut into slices and served with a wet dish.

I prefer to bake the polenta, it allows it to form a  delicious crust. I am not one for last minute preparations….there is enough to fuss about once friends arrive.

Polenta does not have to be baked, it can just be scraped onto a board and cut at the table prior to serving. In fact, this is how my aunt in Trieste always presented polenta after she cooked it in her heavy bottomed copper pot.

Here are a few dishes that can be enjoyed with polenta:

Polenta is perfect with braised mushrooms.  First sautéed at a high temperature with onion and /or garlic and then finished at at a lower temperature (covered with a lid) with some flavoured  liquid – I like  to use stock and wine. Herbs are a must.

This is a saucepan of my beef Goulash.…  a favourite dish served with polenta and as cooked in Trieste, once part of the Austrian- Hungarian Empire.

Polenta is excellent with baccalà. There are many regional recipes for baccalà , for example: alla Vincentina (from Vicenza),  alla Triestina (from Trieste), alla Veneziana ( from Venice)  and various other cities in Northern Italy.
The recipes are not too dissimilar and basically are “white” with no or little tomato (tomatoes in the cooking of Southern Italy).

Baccalà  Mantecato is a creamy spread popular in the Veneto and around Trieste in Friuli Venezia Giulia. Baccalà  Mantecato is often presented  on crostini di polenta – cooked polenta cut into batons or croutons and then either baked or fried.

The baccalà is poached in milk, the flesh removed from the bones and whipped with extra virgin olive oil and garlic.

Polenta with sauerkraut, very popular in Trieste where I lived as a child. The photo below is of Ponte Rosso and the Canal Grande in Trieste. The statue is Nino Spagnoli’s  James Joyce and placed on the bridge over the Canal Grande. 

Sauerkraut  can be cooked slowly as a side dish for meats.

Sauerkraut and pork sausages are very popular in Trieste.

Polenta is also popular with pork sausages cooked in a tomato sugo. I also like pork sausages braised with borlotti beans.

There is nothing like seppie – inkfish braised in white wine, parsley and garlic and served with polenta. Sometimes white polenta (made from white corn and called polenta bianca ) is favoured with fish, rather than the polenta gialla (yellow, made from yellow corn).

Below in the photo are two typical dishes of Trieste, seppie in umido (on the left)  and some iota.

Below is a photo of an ink fish. Inside will be a sac of ink that once removed can be used to flavour the dish.

It is not always obvious that they are ink fish, in Australia they are also often sold as squid.  Not all of them will have a sac of ink; this photo is in a market in Venice….  you can tell that they are ink fish.

Here is a photo of polenta as an accompaniment to tripe I relished in a Trattoria in  Sienna, Tuscany….it was only last year.

Polenta makes a fabulous accompaniment for pan fried or char grilled red radicchio . This used to be a favourite way to serve polenta by my mother.  A little tomato salsa on the char grilled version is very tasty.

And this is polenta with broccoli (or broccolini) with bagna cauda . I first ate it in a restaurant in Hobart and it was presented on a bed of soft polenta – called polenta concia in Italy; this version of polenta is cooked in milk, sometimes stock and has butter and Parmesan cheese added to it once it is cooked. It does not have to be Parmesan, various local regional cheeses are used – Asiago from Trentino and the Veneto, Fontina from Valle d’Aosta, Taleggio from Lombardy and the Italian Alps, etc. Bagna cauda on polenta is not a traditional dish, but I did enjoy this innovation and replicated it at home, .

Polenta is also good with sarde in saor. The sardines are fried then left to marinate with onions and vinegar. Sometimes raisins and pine nuts are added. Although I have made this many times, I do not have many photos. This is often the case with other things I cook. Sometimes I am just too busy to take a photos  before I present food or I forget to do it.

Also common is polenta pasticciata (sometimes spelled pastizzada as in the Veneto dialect and it means messed up/ fiddled with) . Layers of cooked polenta are alternated with flavourings. The most common is with sugo (tomato and meat braise) or  braised mushrooms or salame, pancetta, and various cheeses …..or whatever you like to fiddle with.

The version above is with Fontina,  Gorgonzola and some braised button mushrooms cooked in white wine – I was just dealing with leftovers, not a traditional dish, but tasty.  The layers of polenta are then baked: it is very much like a baked lasagna.

Polenta is easily found and it does not have to be imported from Italy.

Cooking polenta is easy.

1 polenta – 4 water ratio, salt.

Bring water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan; pour polenta slowly into boiling water, whisking constantly until all polenta is stirred in and there are no lumps. I use a whisk.

Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until polenta starts to thicken, about 5 minutes.  This is where I swap the whisk for a long handled, wooden spoon; the polenta will begin to bubble and can spit so the long spoon or an oven mit is necessary.

Stir the polenta regularly , at least every 5 to 6 minutes. Polenta is done when the texture thickens and is creamy and it begins to pull away from the sides of the saucepan. It may take up to 30 minutes.

Links to some of the recipes:

GULASCH (Goulash as made in Trieste)

CHICKEN GOULASH (Gulasch di pollo from Trieste)

SEPPIE IN UMIDO CON POLENTA (Cuttlefish or Squid With Black Ink And Polenta from Trieste)

LUGANIGHE CON CAPUZI GARBI; Sausages and sauerkraut, and yes, it is Italian regional cuisine

PIEDMONTESE favourites  (bagna cauda)

TASMANIA, FOOD, ART, HOBART and Bagna Cauda

MARINADED FISH and a recipe for PESCE IN SAOR – PESCE IN SAOR

FUNGHI AL FUNGHETTO (Braised mushrooms)

WILD MUSHROOMS; Saffron Coloured, Pine Mushrooms and Slippery Jacks