Category Archives: Recipes

Parco Nazionale Degli Iblei – a documentary – and recipes from this part of Sicily

Corrado, one of my relatives in Ragusa (in the south eastern corner of Sicily) has sent me a link to watch Storie e luoghi di un Parco (Stories and places of a Park) on Vimeo. It’s a documentary by Vincenzo Cascone.

I sat for over an hour mesmerized, and although not all of you will understand the Italian dialogue, the visuals are sufficient to get the gist of what is being presented.

The soundtrack is also evocative.

Storie e luoghi di un Parco is striking and very comprehensive documentary mainly about the preservation and restoration of biodiversity in a nature reserve to be established in south eastern Sicily.

The park is referred to as the Parco Nazionale Degli Iblei. The Hyblaean Mountains (Italian: Monti Iblei) is a mountain range in south-eastern Sicily, Italy. It straddles the provinces of Ragusa, Syracuse and Catania.

I need to tell you that it is over an hour long, but you can fast forward  bits,  perhaps  the speaking parts , especially if you do not understand Italian.

Establishing and maintaining wildlife reserves and giving nature the space and protection it needs is an obvious solution to preserving biodiversity and healthy ecosystems. For each nature reserve, there are legislated rules, regulations and penalties established to restrict the types and amount of human activities or mismanagement by the community so as protect the habitats, fauna, flora and the geology of the natural area.

This documentary is made even more compelling by the representation of a group of diverse professions supporting and involved in the implementation of this project. The interviews with this group of specialists provide insights and observations on the archaeological, natural, scientific, cultural, historical and aesthetic features of this region of Sicily.  These individuals are continuing to conduct studies and research that aim to restore a healthy biodiversity and promote better understanding of our natural heritage.

The team of professional scientists that are exploring this ecosystem explain how biodiversity can only have occurred over millions of years of evolution and by the different cultural groups who settled in this part of Sicily.

Biodiversity and ecosystems that are undamaged, healthy and finely balanced, contribute to a healthy, sustainable planet.

We all have a responsibility to revitalize our planet and it is up to all of us to prevent widespread ecological damage.

Now for the disappointing bit.

After having given the project a glowing report I decided to do some research. Unfortunately, this worthy project is at a standstill. After all of the support from many noteworthy people and local residents in this area of Sicily, Sicilian bureaucracy has stalled the project.

I do hope there will be sufficient support to make it happen.

Storie e luoghi di un Parco (Stories and places of a Park).

Un documentario di Vincenzo Cascone.

https://vimeo.com/163017225

Some recipes from this part of Sicily:

SCACCE (focaccia-like stuffed bread)

KOHLRABI with pasta (Causunnedda )

CONIGLIO A PARTUISA (Braised rabbit as cooked in Ragusa)

RAVIOLI DI RICOTTA e MULINO DI CEREALI A PIETRA (Ricotta ravioli and stone ground flour in Chiaramonte)

MURRAY COD, AN ICONIC AUSTRALIAN FISH – information and fish recipes

I have just spent the weekend in Albury (Victoria). I will mention Wodonga (NSW) in the same breath as I see them as being one city. The Murray River separates the two locations.

Inevitably some of the conversation was about fishing and it was good to hear that once again there seem to be some pretty big Murray Cods in the Hume Weir.

Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii peelii) are found in freshwater rivers and creeks in eastern South Australia and west of the Great Dividing Range in NSW, Victoria and southern Queensland.

It is close to Christmas and many are planning to cook fish, especially for Christmas Eve. Those living in Australia may be able to purchase this beautiful tasting fish – Murray Cod but it will probably need to be preordered.

I wrote this piece for a fishing magazine called Fishing Lines in 2012. The magazine died years ago, but as we sat around discussing fishing in Albury I remembered that I had a copy of the writing. Here it is.

My fascination with Murray cod began when I first moved to Moorook in the early 1970’s, a small community near Barmera  and Berri in South Australia. For three years I taught at Glossop High School and in that time I got to know some of the people in the towns sprinkled along a string of lakes and lagoons of the Murray River floodplain, commonly called The Riverland.

I have always been interested in sourcing food locally and although I had heard stories about incredibly large fish caught in various parts of the river, I wondered why a fish so large and once so abundant was not around any more.

Sometimes, local recreational fishers sold redfin (introduced species) and catfish to the Moorook General Store and many of them had stories to tell about their fathers and grandfathers who had caught Murray cod and were amazed by its size, exquisite taste and beauty. The most spectacular catches were often celebrated by photos of fisherfolk posing with their catch in homes, hotels and the local press.

The Aboriginal people along the length of the river also revered and respected the Murray cod. There are several local names for this spirit fish in their mythology and creation stories.

The cod was perfectly adapted to the cycles of the Murray, while the river ran free in times of flood and drought. But the stories of miraculous catches of this remarkable fish dried up as the river became increasingly regulated with weirs and locks to serve irrigated agriculture in the Murray Darling Basin.

The Riverland locals may have lamented the decline in cod stocks, but they saw it as a regrettable price of progress. Irrigation was the way to go. It enabled the growing of a range of crops and brought prosperity to the area. It provided jobs in a range of industries and population growth to their local area and throughout the Riverland.

The flows in the Murray were increasingly regulated to allow more consistent water extraction for the irrigation schemes. There were even projects to remove snags from the river, which were a critical part of the cod’s habitat, especially important in the fish’s breeding cycle. Murray cod are carnivores and snags also support a healthy food chain of algae, bacteria and fungi necessary to sustain an abundant supply of shrimps, yabbies, mussels, tortoises, reptiles, other fish, small mammals and frogs – all of which were food for cod. There are stories of Murray cod eating water hens as well.

This print of the Murray Cod by Melbourne artist Clare Whitney beautifully expresses all that this magnificent fish represents for us in Australia. I bought it soon after I moved to Melbourne.

The image of the Murray cod in the centre of a map of Australia gives the fish its due. It is a national icon, a very ancient fish and a symbol of the Murray Darling River system. In the past the fish was a marvel and a valued food source in natural abundance.

Clare Whitney has placed the cod in a map from the Commonwealth bureau of Meteorology, which shows the average annual evaporation in inches, based on observations for seventy stations with records ranging from 5-82 years. There is no doubt that there are climatic factors contributing to the Murray cod’s decline.

The cod is an indicator of a healthy river. The vulnerability of the Murray cod reflects the environmental and ecological crisis across the Murray-Darling river system. Contributing significantly to the cod’s decline is the degradation of our waterways: the reduced quantity and quality of the water, pollution, the introduction of alien species of fish, overfishing and illegal fishing. Hard-hoofed animals, especially cattle, destroy riverbanks and the vegetation, demolishing the structure of the river. Our methods of agriculture and food production have played a major part in the destruction of the riverine ecosystem and threatened the survival of the Murray cod. State and Commonwealth Governments, and pastoral and agricultural interests are still struggling to establish an agreement that will allow viable environmental flows in the Murray-Darling basin. Faced with this, there is some small consolation in seeing that a number of sustainable cod aquaculture projects are being established and developed in different locations across Australia. But it would be far more preferable for us to change the way we manage our river catchments and water allocations to ensure the long term survival of the Murray cod in the wild, especially those projects which enable healthy breeding of this iconic fish.

Murray Cod is pretty hard to get and the best thing you can do is call  your favourite fresh fish supplier and see if they can  sell you one.

Failing that, there is information about Murray Cod on the Sydney Fish Market website and that suggests Leatherjackets, Pearl Perch and West Australian Dhufish as alternatives – these fish will have the same texture and sweetness. Leatherjackets however, are a small fish.

Recipes suitable for  Murray Cod and large fish :

PESCE IN PADELLA (Pan fried fish, MURRAY COD)

FISH POACHED IN A FISH KETTLE in bouillon

PESCE GRATINATO (Baked fish topped with almonds and pistachios)

PESCE CON FINOCCHIO E ROSMARINO (Fish with fennel and rosemary)

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.