Category Archives: Recipes

WILD ROCKET, IT WAS THERE FOR THE TAKING

I love travelling in the country and always, I look for wild produce wherever I am.

This time, while in Eyre Peninsula I found wild rocket. So strong tasting and spicy and very different from garden rocket.

I made the most of it. When one is camping, fresh produce, especially foraged produce is a highlight.

I first found it on a walk in Port Lincoln and as we drove inland there were fields of it, little dark green bushes in the landscape. Amazing!

Wild rocket is not always available to buy, but rocket is. I hesitate to call the leaves that you buy as sweet rocket, because that can taste quite peppery to some palates. Those of you who grow rocket know that once you have it, it can be unmanageable, but the leaves can be used in cooking and you too can make the most of it. You probably already do!

Here are some simple ways I enjoyed the wild rocket. I jazzed up some iceberg lettuce that in some places in the country was the only lettuce available. The contrasts between sweet and peppery worked very well. On another occasion I added feta.

I always take feta that I marinade in extra virgin olive oil with me on camping trips. I also add dried oregano,  fresh bay leaves, anise or fennel seeds and pepper corns .

I had some kale and pumpkin. Both keep well on camping trips and I cooked them with some rocket.

Easy stuff. I always braise or sauté vegetables rather than steaming them. Italians tend to steam vegetables when they are feeling poorly so braising is the way to go.

I also found a few mustard greens that I added to the concoction. Whenever I sauté greens I like to use at least a couple of varieties of greens, indivia/ endives or cicoria/ chicory add bitterness, and  kale / cavolo nero add mustard tastes to sweeter tasting greens like spinach/ silverbeet/ beetroot leaves. Contrasting tastes do wonders! I use extra virgin olive oil, garlic and sometimes chillies.

I sautéed the pumpkin with harissa , also a staple I make to take with me on camping trips. The version I take has dried chilli flakes, caraway seeds, salt and extra virgin olive oil.  I soak the chillies and caraway seeds in some hot water till they swell and then add salt and oil to preserve the harissa. It is fine out of the fridge and suitable for camping as long as you add enough salt and keep on topping up the oil. I do not add garlic in this version or fresh chillies because the fresh ingredients encourage the growth of mold.

Back to the recipe. Once the pumpkin and harissa and some garlic is sautéed in extra virgin olive oil add the greens. Sauté, put a lid on and let soften. Done.

I also found field mushrooms around the Southern Flinders Rangers! Amazing at this time of year, but the weather was wet.

The soil was wet and given a little spring sunshine, there they were!  I added garlic and wild rocket to them and sautéed them in some oil, then added a splash of white wine and evaporated some of the moisture. Pretty good!

I poached some eggs in these mushrooms. The farm fresh eggs were free range and they came on the way to Venus Bay/ Ceduna.   They were free range, I checked! Mind you I did have some Kangaroo Island eggs already in the van and they were cheaper in SA than in VIC.

I also added wild rocket to a Minestra/ Wet Pasta dish made with borlotti beans. I usually cook borlotti beans at home, freeze them and take them with me, but tins of course are OK and for some, more convenient. The kookaburra above was never far away.

Once again, easy stuff. Sauté some onion and garlic in oil, add finely cut rocket, wilt it, add the beans with some of their water. Cook the pasta. Drain it. Add it to the semi liquid beans concoction …and there you have it.  I always drizzle some of my best extra virgin oil on top. The rocket does reduce in mass when cooked, but this was also the last of the rocket. I would have used more if I had it.

Talking about the wild, a highlight was seeing a baby owl/ owlet  in country Victoria.

Other recipes:

HARISSA (A hot chilli condiment)

Harissa made with fresh Chillies

SENAPE, a new type of mustard green vegetable

PASTA E FAGIOLI (Thick bean soup with pasta)

SENAPE, a new type of mustard green vegetable

The Italian word senape, is mustard in English, therefore it is very appropriate that this green, leafy vegetable is called Senape.

A few weeks ago I bought one bunch from Il Fruttivendelo, Gus and Carmel’s stall in A shed at the Queen Victoria Market. Unfortunately, they have not been able to source any since.

I did some research and apparently – sinapis arvensis grows wild and around Ragusa in Sicily where my father’s relatives live. More research tells me that these leafy, mustard greens are also common around Etna and the Madonie Mountains.

I  remembered that I encountered Senape (also called Sanapu and Sinàpi) in the Market in Syracuse in 2007 and now realise that I also have a photograph of this wild green in my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking.

The bunch I purchased at the Queen Victoria Market is obviously the cultivated variety of Senape and it tastes very much like one other mustard tasting, leafy green of the Brassica tribe, Cime di rapa (broccoli raab, also known as rapini),

Recently, I was away camping for a couple of weeks and i do enjoy forging. apart from wild lettuce I picked two varieties of wild Brassicas. One variety, I am quite familiar with and I have written about this one many times; it looks and tastes like canola plants, the wild version. I notice that several Australian references call them ‘Wild Cabbage’. Sicilians may call them amareddi or cavuliceddi, rapudda, rapuzza, sanapuddhi and many more local terms.

The photo below demonstrates how in this plant’s advanced stage this variety looks so much like broccolini.

The other variety of wild green I foraged had an intense, fiery mustard taste with a hint of bitterness (photos below).

They tasted fabulous and after some research I think that in Australia these are referred to as ‘Mustard Greens’ and they could be related to the cultivated Indian mustard plant.

Both types have tiny, yellow flowers and unopened buds, similar to the distinctive flowers in broccoli heads,  the same as the Cime di rapa, or the bunch of Senape that I hope to be able to purchase again.

In the wild I foraged and collected the tips – the soft leaves and flowers of both of these wild plants.

In some places  there were plenty around and I made the most of them.

I cooked one harvest with Italian pork sausages and pasta, other yields with cannellini beans and plenty of shaved pecorino and another pasta dish with anchovies and feta.

It is a common practice to cook Cime di rapa or wild greens from the Brassica family by boiling them in plenty of salted water and once cooked they are drained before sautéing in the oil, garlic and chilli. I always omit the pre-cooking  phase and sauté the greens directly with the flavourings.

One disadvantage perhaps of not boiling the greens first is that I cannot use the drained water from the greens to cook the pasta, this being popular with Sicilian cooks. The pasta takes on a green hue and some of the flavour of the vegetables, but I prefer sautéed greens that still have some bite in them.

I cooked the bunch of the  Senape (about 500 gr) I bought from the QVM with ossocollo (smallgoods/cured pork neck), 3 cloves of chopped garlic, about 4 tbs extra virgin olive oil, salt and chilli flakes (or use fresh chilli). Speck or pancetta is also a good substitute for ossocollo, I chose this because I had some in my fridge.

Unlike the preferred quantity of 100g of pasta for each person, I think that 300g of pasta is sufficient for 4 people, however you may disagree.

Clean the green vegetables.

Fry the garlic and chilli, add the ossocollo and leave to  lightly brown in a pan.

Add the Senape and sauté it. I added some salt, a splash of white wine, put the lid on and cooked it till I was satisfied with the degree of done-ness.

Dress the drained pasta. I always like to drizzle some fresh extra virgin olive oil on the finished dish to add fragrance and accentuate the taste.

No grated Parmesan on pasta in Sicily, leave that to the northern Italians!

Parmesan can only be called Parmesan if produced in the neighbouring historical regions of Parma and Reggio (in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna). It is given the DOP label by the European Union (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta/Protected Designation of Origin). The DOP label guarantees that the product is “authentic,” or made in the original town or region with proper ingredients and process.

Use Pecorino, a strong-tasting alternative for a strong tasting dish. Pecorino is made from sheep’s milk and  Pecorino cheeses that have DOP protection are the Pecorino from Sardinia, Lazio and the Tuscan Province of Grosseto and Pecorino Toscano from Tuscany, and from Sicily.

Other Posts about wild greens:

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

SICILIAN EDIBLE WEEDS and Greek VLITA

CIME DI RAPE (or Rapa) with pasta, anchovies and lemon peel

ONE OF MY FAVOURITE VEGETABLES ; Cime di Rape

ORTICHE – NETTLES in Risotto, Fresh pasta and Frittata

This post is about  using nettles in a risotto, fresh egg green pasta dough and a frittata.

It is also a celebration for the stall called IL FRUTTIVENDOLO in the Queen Victoria Market. This is where the nettles were purchased.

The information about nettles that I have  included in this post is by Richard Cornish from the 2022 August 16  issue of The Age Digital Edition.  I have included his text in italics. The article was published a couple of days after I made my frittata  and it has  greatly facilitated my writing about nettles.

What is it?

The botanic name for the stinging nettles genus is Urtica, coming from the Latin ‘‘ to burn’’ . These annual wild plants have deeply serrated leaves and hairs or trichomes on the leaves and stems that break off and shoot a little homegrown hypodermic under the skin. Packed with chemicals such as acetylcholine, histamine and serotonin, they cause temporary stinging and swelling. Those hairs disappear with washing and cooking, rendering the plant both harmless and delicious.

The nettle plant is called ortica. Nettles are called ortiche in Italian, and the stinging hairs do disappear very easily.

For making any nettle dish, wear rubber gloves and clean them  by stripping the leaves from any tough stems, but I kept the soft tips.

Why do we love it?

Sydney edible wild plant expert and author Diego Bonetto, author of Eat Weeds, says stinging nettles have been eaten in Australia for tens of thousands of years. ‘‘We have three species of nettles in Australia – one with long, narrow leaves is a native. The other two are exotic.’’ They are a source of minerals such as magnesium and have a lot of linoleic acids, which help lower LDL cholesterol. ‘‘ Tea made from stinging nettle is known as a blood tonic in many cultures,’’ says Benotto. Victorian chef Glenn Laurie would tramp through native stinging nettles on fishing trips with his dad in Gippsland. ‘‘I didn’t learn how delicious they were until I started cooking with them at The River Cafe in London,’’ he says.

‘‘They were cooked into the risotto, where they added bright green, a fresh note and luscious texture to the rice.’’ At La Cantina at Freshwater Creek, near Anglesea, nettles have sprung up where the compost was.

I too have made risotto with nettles and if any of you have made a spinach risotto you will have the process for making it under control. Here is a simple recipe with nettles. The same recipe can also be used substituting English spinach. I think that 300g of rice is sufficient for 6 people but use more if you wish.

carnaroli rice or arborio, 300g
nettles, 1 bunch or anything from 250-400g nettles
extra virgin olive oil
white wine, 1 cup
vegetable or chicken stock, 1 litre, heated
onion or leek, 1
butter, 40g
salt and pepper to taste
Parmigiano, good quality, grated to taste

Clean the nettles, wearing gloves; wash the leaves under cold water.

Make a nettle purée . Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in a pan, add the nettles and wilt them by covering with a lid. Add about a cup of stock and cook them till they are soft. It will not take long, depending on the quantities of the nettles, for about 5-10 minutes. Once they are cooked, blend the nettles and make a purée.

Make the risotto: Sauté the onion or leek with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, add the rice and toast it by mixing it for a few minutes. Add the white wine and evaporate it. Add some of the stock and continue cooking it by adding more stock until the rice is nearly cooked. Add the nettles and finish cooking. Risotto should never be dry.  Italians say – all’onda (like waves).

Stir in the butter just before serving and present it with grated cheese. I also like to grate a little nutmeg on the risotto, especially when I am making it with spinach.

‘‘We make pasta with a puree of cooked leaves. You need to get as much of the moisture out [before mixing into the dough] because it will affect the ratio of flour and liquid,’’ Laurie says. He loves serving nettle puree enriched with extra virgin olive oil alongside seafood.

Once again, the process of making fresh, green pasta with nettles is the same as when using spinach.

Suggested ingredients and amounts: 300g durum wheat four, 2 eggs, 90g of pureed spinach.

Wilt the spinach, leaving some of the water retained by the leaves and cook till softened. Drain them, squeeze them as much as possible. This is when some muslin or a cotton cloth could come in handy to squeeze out the liquid.  Blend them and cool before using. In a bowl, combine the flour and eggs, add the spinach puree and start working everything, use a fork at first to mix the ingredients. Continue by hand to knead well and depending on the size of the eggs  and moisture in the spinach you may need to add a little flour water to have the right consistency. Rest it for about an hour, covered with a tea towel  Roll it and cut it to shape.

How do you use it?

While Italian nonnas appear to handle nettles with impunity, it’s best to wear rubber gloves, handling the plants from the base of the stem, and wash them in a sink of cold water to remove grit. Blanch in boiling water for a minute then refresh in iced water.

A nonna is not likely to purchase a bunch of nettles,  she or a family  member would  collect them from the wild.  I have collected nettles on many occasions, armed with scissors, thick rubber gloves and large plastic bags.

After cleaning and washing the nettles,  you can blanch them but I put them in a small bowl and I poured a kettle of boiling water on to them. That was enough to wilt them sufficiently to make my frittata. (looks like I made myself a cup of tea at the same time).  Drain them.  I do not see the need to refresh them under cold water.

The Brits have made nettle and veg soup for millennia but sometimes cook nettles in rich stock thickened with cream. The Spanish mix nettles with prawns and eggs to make a tortilla, while the Greeks make a pie, a bit like spanakopita, which they call hortikopita (wild weed pie). Nettles cooked with butter, shallots and cream make a smooth, unctuous puree as a bed for succulent seafood like scallops.

I like the idea of the puree as an accompaniment to many meat, fish and egg dishes and not just scallops.

Where do you get it?

Not in the supermarket. Some specialty greengrocers carry nettles but you’re more likely to find them at a farmers’ market. Or you could forage in the ’burbs or the country. Take a reference picture and look for disturbed soil or around trees where farm animals sleep.

On this occasion my partner saw them and bought them from Gus and Carmel from the Queen Victoria Market from their stall, now returned to its original location in the newly renovated shed close to Peel street.

The Fruttivendolo ( fruit seller/ green grocer) is by far the most attractive and well stocked stall in the market and this is where you will find  vegetables and fruit of Italian origin in abundance.

Their produce is superb! They are only open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Now back to making the FRITTATA with nettles.

Ingredients: I bunch of nettles, 6 eggs, 3-4 spring onions or a leek, some cheese – I used feta but ricotta or grated Parmesan is also good. Extra virgin olive oil and butter, salt and pepper.

Clean the nettles (see above) and wash in cold water. soften the nettles by pouring boiling water on to them or plunging them into a pan of hot water and boil for a few minutes.

Drain the nettles.

Saute some spring onions  or a leek (softer tasting than onion) or a small onion in some butter and extra virgin olive oil.

Add the drained nettles to the sautéd onion and continue to sauté the ingredients for a few minutes. Remove the ingredients from the pan and let cool.

Lightly beat some eggs with a fork.

Add  the sautéd ingredients, salt and pepper into the eggs and gently stir through. On this occasion I used some cubed , mild  tasting feta, on other occasions I have used ricotta, formaggio fresco, or grated Parmesan cheese.

Re – oil the frying pan if necessary, heat it and gently pour in the mixture.

Press it around to try and cook as much of the mixture as possible.

Invert  the frittata onto a plate to flip to the other side. Return it to the frypan and  cook it.

Other recipes:

NETTLES (Ortiche), Culinary uses and gnocchi

RISOTTO AL RADICCHIO ROSSO

RISOTTO AL TALEGGIO,  risotto made with Taleggio cheese

CAMPING, Pumpkin risotto

RISI E BISI (Risotto with peas)

BRAISED KID (capretto) in a simple marinade of red wine, extra virgin olive oil and herbs

Marinating is an effective way to add flavour, moisture and to tenderize meat before cooking. I do this with all the large pieces of meat that are going to be slow cooked. Even steak, pork fillets and some fish get a short session of marinade, even if it is just a splash or rubbing of extra virgin olive oil with seasoning, garlic and/or herbs. For most of my large pieces of meat,  I often use an acid , like, wine, citrus juice or vinegar. This component of the marinade helps to tenderise the meat.  The herbs and spices enhance the flavour. Good olive oil has a multi-purpose function.  It adds a distinct taste, melds the different flavours of the marinade together and, after the meat is drained from the marinade , some of the oil that has adhered  to the meat assists in the browning process.

For this braise, I bought 3 legs of kid (capretto) and deboned it. This amounted to roughly 1.5 kg. The same marinade can be used for goat, lamb or sheep and would also be good for beef.

There were four of us for dinner and there were some leftovers that I converted into a Sardinian-flavoured sauce for gnochetti by adding a few, common Sardinian ingredients.

1.5 kg of kid, cubed
Marinade: 750g (1bottle) of red wine,1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, herbs – bay leaves, rosemary, sage, thyme, juniper berries
Leave meat in marinade for about 8 hours.

The meat is drained from the marinade before browning and braising.

For the soffritto: 1 onion, 2 carrots,1 stick of celery, all finely chopped.
Stock is added during cooking to ensure that the meat remains moist.

Pancetta or speck, about 50g bought as a whole piece and cut into small cubes, 
extra virgin olive oil to brown the meat,
salt to taste,
fresh herbs, peppercorns and juniper berries (as above) to replace the spent herbs and flavourings from the marinade.

Make the marinade, add the cubed pieces of meat and leave it to marinate for 8 hours.
When ready to cook, drain the meat, save the marinade and remove all of the herbs, peppercorns and juniper berries.

Use a heavy based saucepan for cooking.

Brown the meat, a little at a time. Do not overcrowd the meat. Remove the meat and set aside.

Sauté the pancetta or speck in extra virgin olive oil.

Add the onion first and  stir it around the hot pan to soften. Next, add the carrots and celery and slowly sauté the ingredients. This is the soffritto.

Add the browned meat.

Add the marinade, fresh herbs, seasoning and flavourings. Add some stock during the cooking process as the meat dries out. I added about 1 cup of stock. It is always easy to evaporate excess liquid at the end of cooking rather than cooking meat in too little liquid.

Cover the pan and braise slowly.

The meat I cooked must have been quite tender because it cooked in two hours.
Remove the meat and evaporate some of the liquid.

I presented the meat with braised Brussel sprouts, sautéd mushrooms and roasted, squashed potatoes. Baked polenta would have been good too.

What did I do with the leftovers?

Lamb and goat are often used in Sardinian dishes.

For the Sardinian style pasta, I sautéd a little onion in some olive oil, a added some saffron that had been soaking in stock, a little tomato paste and the meat with its leftover juices.

I used gnocchetti sardi – shaped pasta. I added shards of pecorino cheese when I presented the pasta and emulated Sardinian ingredients and flavours .

Other kid or goat recipes:

RAGU` DI CAPRETTO – Goat/ kid ragout as a dressing for pasta

RICETTE per capretto (e capra) – Recipes for slow cooked kid and goat

LEFT OVERS, opportunities to be creative

For me, the term left-overs has negative connotations, something that is unconsumed, unused and maybe discarded.

Not so in my household. No food wastage.

For those times when I cook more than we can eat, leftovers are never wasted.

If the amount of leftovers seems too small to save, they are eaten there and then. (I know overeating is not necessarily a good thing). If there are slightly bigger amounts of a dish uneaten, they are saved as a snack for lunch. More substantial quantities are either frozen for another time or – even better – reconstituted and transformed into something else.

This is something that I really enjoy doing. I like the challenge of compounding the ingredients, devising new flavours.

The easiest ways for using leftovers are in a soup, or making a frittata (as above).

I like making what the French call a salade composée, ie a made up salad, using a number of ingredients – usually a mixture of cooked and raw ingredients. The photo below is of mixed salad leaves, mayonnaise, olives and left over rabbit.

Here are other ways I have  recently used left overs creatively.

Pasta Con Il Cavolo Coppuccio Rosso, Pasta With Red Cabbage.

Below is a composition using leftover braised red cabbage.  All I did was sauté some pancetta (or speck), added the left over braised cabbage that had been a contorno – a side dish cooked with a mixture of red onions,  a splash of red wine and red vinegar, bay leaves, salt and black pepper. The odd Juniper berry or caraway seed doesn’t go astray either. On this occasion  I used wholemeal pasta, if I had some rye pasta at home I would have preferred this, this being in keeping with the braised red cabbage that is especially common in the very north of Italy.

I had some left over pork and fennel Italian sausages intended to be stuffed in a bread roll, but I  changed my mind when  I found some vegetables that looked like tiny red kale. The quantities were too small to use on their own so I combined them with the sausages to make a pasta dish.

The  vegetables are called kalettes. I was interstate when I bought these and hopefully I will be able to also find some in Melbourne.

From the web: Kalettes taste slightly nutty, milder than kale and less earthy than Brussels sprouts. Unlike kale, which has big, wide leaves, Kalettes’ leaves are small and curly with green sprouts. They are high in vitamins C and K.

Once I sautéed the kalettes in some extra virgin oil and some garlic I also added some fennel seeds, a splash of red wine and while the wine evaporated the vegetables softened. If they had been too crunchy I would have added some water and covered them with a lid while they softened. Some toasted pine nuts and pecorino to finished off the pasta dish . Of course the kalettes could have been  substituted with broccoli or cime di rapa.

And this is what I did with some left over humus that I had when friends dropped in unexpectedly.

In the fridge I also had some left over cooked chickpeas. After covering the humus with  the chickpeas I surrounded  the  centre piece with green leaves –  watercress, nasturtium  and some red lettuce leaves, a little chopped spring onion, a vinaigrette  and some feta.  They thought it was pretty good.

What about the leftover chicken breasts I cooked with mustard sauce for Bastille Day?

I braised some fennel with parsley, garlic, butter, stock and white wine and covered the contents with a lid until the fennel was cooked. I added the chicken and served it with creamy mashed potatoes and parsnips.

I have some beef spezzatino (braise/stew) cooked with bay leaves and white wine in the fridge from a couple of nights ago and I have yet to reinvent this.

We ate the carrots so there are none in the leftovers. I may braise some mushrooms with parsley and garlic and once they are cooked I  could add the left over meat and present it with polenta.

Or maybe to the meat I will add some cooked, cannellini beans sautéed with garlic and parsley, or perhaps borlotti and speck.  There will not be leftovers.

 

 

RIGATONI CON RAGU D’ANATRA (duck ragout)

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.

And there you have it:

Rigatoni con ragù d’ anatra (duck ragout).

SEE:

PAPPARDELLE (Pasta with Hare or game ragù)

SLIPPERY JACKS AND OTHER MUSHROOMS

It is mushroom time again. This time, I only found  Slippery Jacks, tiny compact ones.

They are slimy and they take a bit of cleaning.

Washing too.

And them drying them with old tea towels.

I cooked them with  onions, garlic and herbs, braised them in extra virgin olive oil and a splash of white wine.

In spite of being dried with a tea towel and very compact  they released their juice and as expected, because I had cooked them before, the juice is as slimy as when you cook okra.

I then placed the mushrooms in jars and saved them for another time.

It was always my intention to mix the Slippery Jacks with other mushrooms.

And dried porcini to add strong flavour.

I drained the cooked Slippery Jacks. If I wish, I can use the liquid for another dish.

I then proceeded to cook mushrooms as I always  do…. as in Funghi al Funghetto.

Garlic, parsley sautéed in extra virgin olive oil and butter.  Add fresh mushrooms and toss them around in the hot pan. I also added some fresh rosemary and sage and some thyme.

When the mushroom had well and truly sweated and softened, I added white wine and a little stock and evaporated some of the liquid before adding the Slippery Jacks.

This time, I used  the mushrooms as a topping for rice cooked in chicken stock. I could have used them as a dressing for pasta or as a vegetable side dish.

Pretty good.

Other wild mushroom recipes:

WILD MUSHROOMS, I have been foraging again

WILD MUSHROOMS  Saffron Coloured, Pine Mushrooms and Slippery Jacks

PASTA WITH MUSHROOMS ; Pasta ai funghi

FUNGHI AL FUNGHETTO (Braised mushrooms)

There are other recipes on my blog for mushrooms. If interested use the search button.

NOT JUST A PRETTY PLANT – SUNFLOWERS AND JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES

A plant with happy looking, golden yellow flowers that look very like  sunflowers produces these clusters of knobbly tubers that can be eaten raw or cooked in many different ways – boiled, baked, sautéed, braised or steamed.

This one plant was grown by my son and as you can see the number of tubers are prolific.

In Italy the plant and tubers are called topinambur.

In Australia and the UK, these tubers are usually called Jerusalem artichokes. In the US they seem to be more commonly referred to as sunchokes. They are actually native to Canada and North America where they were cultivated and known as sunroots before the arrival of Europeans.

Like a potato plant, the topinambur roots produce tubers that turn into these delicious, knobbly mouthfuls. They have a taste like an artichoke.

My son and daughter in law tell me that the flowers  attract many bees.

They can be scrubbed before eating or peeled, or you can remove the skin once cooked. This is especially advisable for those people who may have a reaction from eating them; they have a high fibre content and are high in inulin and both of these factors can cause gastric upsets in some people.

Many gardeners grow girasoli (sunflowers), and apart from growing them for looks, sunflowers are mostly used for their seeds that grow in the centre of the flower.  The giant variety can grow over 3.5m tall and produce flowers up to 50cm wide.

Interestingly enough, there are a variety of sunflowers in Italy (some grow wild) and they vary in size and colour.

In Italy, they are mostly called topinambur, but other local names exist and the most common are: la rapa tedesca [German turnip], il carciofo di Gerusalemme (Jerusalem artichoke), il girasole (sun flower), taratufolo (cane artichoke) and la patata del Canada (Canadian potato). In Germany, topinambur, is considered to be one of the most exceptional tubers.

Some have assumed that the Jerusalem part of the name may have morphed come from girasole. I am more likely to associate the Jerusalem part with the culinary skills for cooking artichokes of the many Jews who settled in Italy. Carciofi alla Judea is a famous Roman dish and once the artichokes are cooked they look life flowers – from Judea comes Jerusalem. Interestingly enough, in Leaves from a Tuscan Kitchen by Janet Ross and Michael Waterfield and first published in1899, Jerusalem artichokes are referred as Carciofi di Giudea.

I do have a very large collection of cookery books celebrating cuisines from different parts of the world and written in English or in Italian and wanted to find just how popular Jerusalem artichokes are in my collection, but I have found very few recipes, especially from Italy . Those that are come mostly from the UK. Scouring through them, I found references and recipes in Jane Grigson’s Vegetable book published in 1980 and Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking (Penguin edition 1964). There are recipes in Leith’s Fish Bible, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers River CaféItalian Kitchen.

Jerusalem artichokes seem to have become much more popular in recent years and you only have to look at recent, modern cookery books or websites from the UK to see they are used creatively often combined with game especially pigeon, venison, partridge and strong tasting meat like mutton. Previously, the tubers were more likely to be combined with potatoes or artichokes. You only need to look at the most recent books of Claudia Roden, Yotam Ottolenghi, Diana Henry, Nigel Slater and a great number of other notable chefs represented in The British Chefs Series.

Modern cooks are also presenting them raw in salads, peeled or scrubbed, sliced thinly and tossed in salads with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice they provide taste and crunch. I  particularly like a simple salad  made with a combination of rocket leaves, walnuts, Jerusalem artichokes and vanilla persimmons sliced thinly (they are not the squishy ones and therefore more suitable in a salad) with a dressing made from extra virgin olive or walnut oil and lemon juice.

There are recipes in my collection of Time-Life, The Good Cook Series, but  on close inspection the recipes are either from the UK, Germany or France (called topinambours).

I found some recipes by  Massimo Bottura, Marcella Hazan and Clifford A White (who writes about Mediterranean food). In Australia, recipes for Jerusalem artichokes are included in some of Stefano Manfredi’s collections and those from Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer. I am not saying that there aren’t others,  but these are what I have found in my cookbook library.

Jerusalem artichokes are likely to be eaten more in the north of Italy,  mostly in risotto and pasta dishes. In Piedmont they are often boiled in milk or mixed with potatoes with butter. Often , they are one of the vegetables to be dipped in a bagna cauda – a dip/sauce made with butter, olive oil, garlic and anchovies.

When they are in season, I particularly like Jerusalem artichokes scrubbed, sliced thickly, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and fresh herbs – rosemary and thyme are my favourites, then placed in a single layer on a baking sheet and slow roasted (165C) for about one hour. Toss them around halfway through. They taste intense!

Look up Hank Shaw’s recipe on the web for Pickled artichokes. This is similar to Stephanie Alexander’s recipe in The Cook’s Companion. I do not like sweet pickles (Italian pickles are always sour) and both these recipes contain a fair amount of sugar, but one may be able to adapt. What is interesting in Hank Shaw’s recipe is reading the readers’ responses and suggestions.

TASMANIA, FOOD, ART, HOBART and Bagna Cauda

PIEDMONTESE favourites

GLOBE ARTICHOKES AND JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES

 

 

EGG PASTA WITH ZUCCHINI FLOWERS, ZUCCHINI, PINE NUTS and STRACCIATELLA (egg drop)

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!

See:

STUFFED ZUCCHINI FLOWERS

PASTA CON ZUCCHINE FRITTE (Pasta and fried zucchini)

 

FIG LEAF INFUSED OIL

This is Kingfish crudo, fig leaf, mascarpone, grape, as presented at Chianti Restaurant in Hutt Street in Adelaide.

The restaurant prides itself in serving fresh, seasonal food. This is exceptionally good, modern Italian food! As for seasonal produce, figs and grapes are in season.

I did not know what to expect of the taste of fig leaf infused oil, but it was very pleasant – for me, the fig leaf oil tasted grassy, slightly nutty and with a hint of bitterness.

And look at the colour! It is so intense.

I have made parsley, coriander, dil, mint and basil infused oil and making fig oil appears to be no different.

When making oils infused with herbs I have always used a blender and I have used the the aromatic oils to drizzle over foods like labneh,  fresh cheeses like fior di latte, ricotta, burrata or fresh mozzarella (this category includes bocconcini), vegetables, especially potatoes and of course carpaccio, raw fish, usually referred to as crudo.  As you can see by my suggestions for its use, the green looks particularly spectacular with white colours, but you can also imagine how a blob will look good on pureed soups – for example, think about Gazpacho (or Gaspacho), pumpkin, Vichyssoise, zucchini soup. Visualize it on pasta dishes too. And why not use a combination of fresh figs, a fresh cheese with a drizzle of fig leaf oil!

I do not  measure ingredients, but as a rough estimate use 1 cup of good quality, fragrant, extra virgin olive oil to 3-4 fresh fig leaves (depending on size) or 4 cups loosely packed fresh herbs –  use only the soft leaves of soft leafed herbs, for example – basil, parsley, oregano, dill, chives, chervil, fennel, coriander, tarragon.

Make sure you use bright green, healthy, fig leaves and not too mature.

Blanch fresh fig leaves, or the leaves of fresh herbs (with no stems)  in some boiling water to soften. The blanching preserves the colour and the leaves will turn bright green. 

Quickly transfer the leaves or herbs from the boiling water to an ice water bath and cool quickly. Remove the herbs from the ice bath, strain and squeeze out as much excess water from the herbs as possible.

Add the squeezed  leaves to the oil with a pinch of salt and blend. Infuse in the oil  for at least  1 hour.  if you leave it overnight it will not suffer and in fact will turn a darker green. Strain the puree through cheesecloth or a fine meshed strainer.  When I did this, strangely enough, the blend had coconut aromas.

Keep oil refrigerated, bring to room temperature before use.

I used a tea strainer to filter the oil for the photo below. I am not at home and therefore do not have access to muslin or a fine meshed strainer. If I had filtered this through muslin, I could have  intensified the colour by squeezing  the muslin and squeezing  the green colour through. It still tasted great.

Experiment.  Below: sorrel, basil, rocket.

See also:

PESCE CRUDO, raw fish dishes in Sicily

SARDINE, CRUDE E CONDITE (raw and marinaded)