Sometimes, it is easier to tell a story and describe a recipe by photos.
Goat or kid if you can get it has been available for a while this season (Autumn in Australia). The mint on my balcony is doing well, celeriac is in season, the last of the red tomatoes also and there is a glut of carrots in Victoria at the moment. And all of these ingredients, cooked on low heat and for a long time made a fabulous ragout (ragù in Italian). On this occasion I used the braise as a pasta sauce. Good quality Pecorino cheese is a must.
Goat cut into cubes – you can tell that it is not an old goat by the pale colour of the meat. It is trimmed of fat.
The usual onion , part of the soffritto in most Italian soups and braises.
Add a chopped carrot and instead of celery I used some celeriac and some of the inner leaves of the celeriac.
Remove the soffritto, add a little more extra virgin olive oil and brown the meat.
Add the herbs and spices. Recognise them? Salt and pepper too.
A couple of red tomatoes.
Top with liquid. I added a mixture of chicken stock (always in my freezer) and some Marsala, to keep it in the Sicilian way of things. On another occasion I may add white wine or dry vermouth.
Cover the pan and braise slowly.
It does not look as good as it tasted…the perfume was fabulous too.
Serve with fresh mint leaves and grated Pecorino.
N.B. Real Pecorino is made from pecora (sheep)..i.e. sheep’s milk. I used a Pecorino Romano. See how white it is in colour?
In the 90s I frequently used earthenware cooking pots of various sizes (also called clay and terracotta pots) mainly for baking. Some had lids and were perfect for braises. Some were glazed, partially glazed, or unglazed and most of them were Italian. Some were French.
There are various names in Italian for t earthenware pots depending on the shape and function – for example a tegame di terracotta only has one handle and is in the shape of a frypan, a legumieria is for cooking legumi (vegetables and pulses) and therefore has a lid and a wide middle, a teglia is shallow and for baking and comes in oval, round, square or rectangular shapes. The pignatta (or pignata) with a lid is for braises.
I used to use my French pottery for terrines, pâtés, French onion soup, gratin potatoes (or other vegetables), cassoulet, and the like and use my Italian earthenware pots for baked fennel, Italian braises like chicken or capretto (kid) and potatoes, veal shanks, hare.
There was no mixing of cultures in my kitchen – French recipes and Italian recipes were segregated to the correct pot.
But, cooking is also influenced by trends and fashion, and using earthenware became passé. I gave many of my earthenware pots away and over the years the ones I have kept are hidden in various cupboards in my apartment.
Many of them are out of reach and unfortunately, as often happens ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
Recently I found my Römertopf and I have begun using it again and some of the other pots too. Some of you (the more mature people) may remember the Römertopf casseroles. The original casseroles are a German brand first introduced in 1967 and still being made. They are made of natural clay and are a terracotta colour, have a lid, are rectangular and unglazed. I saw some in Paris cook shops not very long ago and are probably making a comeback.
This is my second Römertopf. I ruined my first one by cooking a very strong flavoured, spicy pork dish with lentils and could not get the flavour or smell out – everything I cooked tasted the same. Earthenware, especially the unglazed or partly glazed ones are porous and therefore the clay will absorb the flavours and fats of whatever you cook in them. it is a good idea to use one pot for similar flavored dishes or to have several pots as I indicated at the beginning of this post.
When it comes to washing earthenware I only use hot water and a brush – no soaking or detergents as they too can be absorbed. Clay retains water so I also allow the pots to dry completely before I store them to prevent mold from forming on the surface.
Earthenware will break with sudden changes in temperature; moving a hot pot from the stove or oven and placing it directly onto a cold surface is not a good idea. Nor is putting hot liquid or ingredients into a cold pot or cold into a hot pot.
They can be used in the oven or microwave and some can be used on the stove especially when a heat diffuser / simmer mat is used to help distribute the heat and cook on a slow simmer. My modern tajine is made of clay and obviously has been especially treated so that I can use this in the oven as well as the stove.
I now use my re- discovered Römertopf just for baking chicken. Earthenware helps to ensure that food is cooked evenly and maintains heat for a long time; the pot seals in moisture and the flavors of a dish and nutrients are preserved. My oven remains clean, nothing burns, nothing overflows.
The procedure for using the Römertopf is simple: the room temperature/ cold ingredients are placed into the cold Römertopf that has been soaked in water. It is then placed into a cold oven …no monitoring until the food is cooked.
Many ancient cultures including ancient Romans cooked in earthenware pots with lids by placing them in the glowing ashes of an open fire and the Römertopf is said to have been based on these Roman principles of cooking. Many cultures over the centuries have used this method of cooking in the ashes or over the ashes in fireplaces and chimneys.
There are many types of earthenware pots and each differ by the kind of clay that is used, the way it’s made, the shape, how it’s fired. The pots also come under different names, depending on and country of origin. For example the most common are the Moroccan tajines, the Provençal daubieres, Spanish cazuelas and the Colombian La Chamba pots.
I bought my first La Chamba pots from Oxfam in Adelaide about 30 years ago. They are a deep black colour and have a lustrous appearance. Recently I have seen many La Chamba pots in different shapes and sized in Australia.
Most Asian countries have different techniques of cooking food in clay and some of them require soaking (like the Römertopf) before cooking. I always soak (submerge) all of my earthenware pots in water (from cold water tap) for at least 20 minutes.
CHICKEN COOKED IN THE RÖMERTOPF
Whole chicken – free range, preferably organic. Remove any obvious fat. Sometimes I may place into the cavity one of the following: a whole onion or lemon, 2-3 whole garlic cloves or some herbs.
Herbs – any of the following but not too many as the flavours intensify and will be absorbed into the clay: rosemary, thyme, tarragon, bay, parsley or sage. Preferably, I place the herbs under the skin of the chicken.
Salt and pepper, rub inside and outside of chicken.
Vegetables – sometimes I may place vegetables under the chicken: whole mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, celery.
Do not preheat oven.
Soak whole Römertopf (top and bottom) in cold water for 15-20 minutes or follow soaking directions provided with the clay pot.
Pat dry chicken and sprinkle salt and pepper inside and outside the cavity. Place chicken breast side up and fill cavity of chicken any of the ingredients I have mentioned above. You will notice that I do not use strong flavours.
Place a few vegetables on the bottom of the chicken. There is no need to use vegetables unless you wish, but if you do you will taste the natural flavours of the vegetables – nice.
Cover the Römertopf and place in a cold oven.
Turn oven to 220C and bake 90 minutes. The chicken will be golden but if you wish to brown it further, remove the top during the last 10 minutes.
Remove from oven and place it on a towel or mat – nothing cold to avoid cracking. Food can be served from the pot.
This type of cooking will not taste bland, but I always find a reason to accompany it with a sauce…. the last sauce was one made with the remaining nettles growing on my balcony, and walnuts, but at other times there have been other sauces.
Walnuts and nettles sauce
Softened nettles or use spinach (2 tablespoons), parsley (1 tablespoon), walnuts (2 tablespoons), garlic (1 clove), salt, pepper to taste.
A dash of each of the following: extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and sufficient chicken stock (the juices from the chicken) to make the sauce smooth and creamy.
Particular dishes or ingredients come and go – for example remember the popularity and overuse of bocconcini or sun-dried tomatoes in so many dishes?
The novelty of certain produce or dishes wears off for a while and then they re-appear, sometimes creatively disguised and sometimes they become popular again.
Recently I enjoyed Steak Tartare in Paris, Venice, and Cividale del Friuli, Copenhagen and Malmo –– all prepared slightly differently, and some were better than others.
My father used to make his version of Beef Tartare –bistecca alla tartara. He used to pound slices of beef very thinly, add salt and pepper, a drizzle of good olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and leave it to marinate for a short time till it whitened – the meat changed colour, ‘cooked’ by the lemon juice.
The term Tartar is applied to nomadic Mongolic peoples. In the thirteenth century, the Tatars overran large parts of Russia and Europe (what is now Hungary, Germany and Bulgaria). The Tartars were reputed to be skilled horsemen, and this is where my father’s explanation of the origins of bistecca alla tartara comes from. The Tartars used to put slices of finely cut meat under their saddles and the sweat from the horse’s back would marinade and ‘cook’ the meat. When they camped for the night they had dinner ready.
Steak Tartare elsewhere is usually made with finely chopped beef and then it is either served with some condiments or the condiments are mixed with the meat before it is presented.
Popular condiments vary but the most common are finely chopped parsley and onion, capers, mustard, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and egg yolks. Sometimes there may be anchovies, cornichons, Worcestershire or Tabasco sauce. As you can see by some of the photos (I did not take photos of them all) garnishes and accompaniments vary.
I prefer my Steak Tartare simply dressed with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and egg yolk. I like an additional egg yolk on top and a few condiments on the side.
Any good quality beef (tenderloin to sirloin or fillet) is suitable but it must be freshly cut – red in colour. Beef eye fillet is good as it is not fatty.
Using a very sharp knife, remove any fat and slice the steak into thin slices (cut with the grain), then cut across the slices to create strips of meat.
Cut across the meat again until you have the size of the mince you prefer. Place into the refrigerator while you prepare the condiments to dress the meat.
Whisk egg yolk, add the lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Add the dressing to the meat and gently mix them together. Taste, and if necessary, add more of the above.
If you prefer your mixture highly seasoned add any of the following: Dijon mustard (Moutarde de Dijon), chopped anchovies, Worcestershire or Tabasco sauce, chopped onions, capers, cornichons, parsley.
Divide the meat on chilled dinner plates (form into disks) and press down firmly to pack tightly and remove any air holes.
Make a small dent in the centre of each disk and place a whole egg yolk on top of the meat.
I like to present the meat with a few garnishes on the side – a few capers, some chopped onion, a dollop of egg mayonnaise or mustard.
I serve it immediately as meat discolors quickly.
I enjoy scooping my meat with crisp, toasted slices of thin Rye bread (cold) or rye biscuits.
In one Paris restaurant, the Steak Tartare was presented with French fries, in Venice with bread croutons, in Cividale del Friuli it came with hot bread in a paper bag and curls of butter. Cividale del Friuli is close to Slovenia and the Steak Tartare was prepared alla Slovenia – it had chili in the mixture.
In Malmo it came with a little sour cream and in Copenhagen with thick slices of fresh rye bread – it was perfect for their version of this dish – strips of beef and an excellent egg mayonnaise to use as a dressing.
I enjoyed this version of Steak Tartare the most. I do not usually mention the names of eateries but I will on this occasion:
Manfreds focuses on everyday food, which is aided by modern techniques and raw materials of the highest quality.
The raw materials are biodynamic vegetables from Kiselgården and Birkemosgård, roots from Lammefjord, pig from Hindsholm, lamb from Havervadgaard, ox from Mineslund and herbs from the forest.
At Manfreds the wine is natural wine, which has made the restaurant Copenhagen’s first natural wine bar.
You may have noticed that use of nettles in culinary dishes are gaining popularity. Some Melbourne restaurants have included nettles and there were bunches for sale at the Queen Victoria Market a couple of weeks ago (Il Fruttivendolo – Gus and Carmel’s stall). Gus and Carmel have not been able to procure any nettles for the last couple of weeks so maybe demand by restaurants has increased.
Nettles (ortiche in Italian) are part of the assortment of wild greens – considered unwanted weeds by many and appreciated edible plants by others. Wild greens in Italian are referred to as piante selvatiche (wild plants) or a term that I find very amusing: erbe spontanee (spontaneous herbs).
Nettles are high in nutrients such iron, magnesium and nitrogen and can be eaten in many recipes – I ate them not so very long ago incorporated in the gnocchi dough in a trattoria in Cividale del Fruili, a lovely little town in the Province of Udine, part of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northern Italy.
Once back in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago I enjoyed them on several occasions as a sauce for gnocchi at Osteria Ilaria and at Tipo 00 nettles have been part of a risotto since it opened– both excellent eateries are owned by the same team.
Matt Wilkinson, of Brunswick’s Pope Joan has also been a fan of nettles for a long time.
Nettles are easily found anywhere where weeds can grow. If you have ever touched nettles you would know that they sting, cause redness and itching so use rubber gloves when you harvest them. Nettles need to be cooked before eating and because they reduce significantly when cooked, you will need a large amount of them.
Remove the stems and choose the best leaves – the tender young leaves from the tips are best; wash and drain them as you do with any other green vegetable. Blanch a few handfuls of the leaves in a pot of boiling water for minute or so – this softens them and removes the sting and you will end up with a dark green soft mass which you may choose to puree even further to gain a smooth, soft paste. Drain and use them – once cooled they can be included in a gnocchi or pasta dough or in a sauce to dress the pasta or gnocchi. Incorporate them as part a soup – great with cannellini or chickpeas. Mix them with eggs and a little grated cheese to make a frittata. For a risotto either use the already softened nettles or sauté the leaves with whatever ingredients you are using for the risotto and then add the rice and broth.
On my recent travels to Northern Italy I ate gnocchi with nettles in a trattoria in Cividale dei Fruili. The cheese used to top the gnocchi is smoked ricotta.
You will find many recipes for making potato gnocchi and I generally use about 500 grams of boiled potatoes, 150 grams of softened/ blanched cold nettles, 1 egg, 150 grams of flour.
You could also try gnocchi made with bread.
Equal amounts of nettles and bread, i.e.
300 g of nettles, blanched and drained
300 g of good quality white bread (crusts removed and preferably 1-2 days old)
milk to soften the bread
1 large egg
seasoning – salt, pepper, grated nutmeg
about 2 – 4 tablespoons plain flour to bind the mixture (try to use as little as possible) and
grated parmesan can also replace some of the quantities of the flour
N.B. Spinach instead of nettles can be used in the recipe.
Dampen the bread with some milk and squeeze any moisture from out before using. Mix the cooled nettles with the bread in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, add the egg and knead well. Add the flour gradually and make small balls with the dough. Flatten them slightly with a fork. Boil in salted water until they float to the top.
A simple sauce can be some lightly browned melted butter with sage leaves and a good sprinkling of parmesan cheese.
Chillies are at their best in Autumn. I generally never waste produce and when friends give me some of their fresh seasonal crops I get enthusiastic and active.
These chillies were grown in Adelaide and this time I decided to make a chili paste that was not Harissa.
I have been making Harissa for a very long time since one of my Sicilian relatives who lives in Augusta introduced me to it about thirty five years ago. Augusta is in south eastern Sicily and is an important Sicilian and Italian naval base and trading port. Giacomo is a mechanical naval engineer and was often called out to work on naval vessels in the gulf, some vessels were from Tunisia, Algeria and Libya and he was introduced to this hot chilli paste through his contacts. There are many recipes for this paste and it is an important condiment in Middle Eastern Cuisine. Some make it with dry chillies, some with fresh chillies and some with roasted chillies. I usually use cumin and caraway seeds and garlic when I make it. I use Harissa in many ways and always to accompany cuscus.
I also like to make Salsa Romesco , a condiment popular around Barcelona in north-eastern Spain. Like when making harissa there are many variations to recipes but this condiment is commonly made with red peppers, garlic, tomatoes, white bread and almonds. Sometimes I have roasted the peppers and added some roasted chillies as well.
Crema di Peperoncino is a chilli paste that is very popular in Calabria. It is usually made with fresh chillies , salt, garlic and olive oil. I thought that would combine my experiences for making Harissa and Romesco and make a roasted chili paste. No spices, just chillies, salt, garlic and extra virgin olive oil – Crema di peperoncini.
Isn’t that what cooking is all about?
I kept is very simple.
I could have made a milder paste by adding some ordinary red peppers which are also very much in season but I decided to just keep the Crema di pepperoncini hot, hot. hot….And it was. I used the other red peppers in a salad.
The photos demonstrate what I did.
Use any type of red chillies that you have.
INGREDIENTS: red chillies, garlic to taste, 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, teaspoon of salt (preservative), more extra virgin olive oil to place on top.
Grill/ Roast the chillies on high heat. Turn once until blackened and charred all over. Do the same with unpeeled garlic cloves.
Allow to cool.
Remove the skins and seeds – you can leave some seeds if you would like it hotter!
Blend all the ingredients together.
Place in a sterilized jar and top with a layer of more oil to seal. I keep my jar in the fridge and make sure that each time I take some out of the jar I replace a layer of oil on top (to stop mold).
You really cannot beat a plate of grilled vegetables, especially when eggplants and peppers are so prolific at this time of year.
Zucchini, although not in this selection are also a good choice. Grilled vegetables are perfect as an antipasto but they can just as easily be part of a main course.
The vegetables can be grilled on a BBQ or Grill press or in the oven.
To the array, throw in some of the cooked green beans, asparagus or broccolini (that perhaps are left over from the night before), add a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil, some chopped garlic, a little parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice.
You could also add to the cooked vegetables different textures with a bit of crunch – some of that celery, fennel, cucumbers and apples that are probably in your fridge. Or it could be tomatoes, celery, spring onions and fresh basil leaves, once again a drizzle of that good olive oil that will add fragrance as well as taste.
So easy, so simple.
Just recently, in two different restaurants I ordered versions of grilled vegetables and they both were presented with Romesco sauce dolloped separately on the side of the vegetables. In one of the restaurant it was grilled asparagus, topped with fried breadcrumbs. In the other it was eggplant. This had been grilled and rather than presenting it in slices it was pulped to a medium texture. Bread is a perfect accompaniment for scooping up the eggplant and the Romesco sauce. A drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil is a must.
In this version of this sauce almonds are added to the the vegetables (garlic, peppers and tomatoes). These are roasted/chargrilled on a BBQ or Grill press:
Roast/chargrill the peppers whole, peel, remove seeds and break them into strips. If using fresh tomatoes cut them into pieces. If you are roasting / chargrilling the peppers do them at the same time.
*Click on above link to see a list of ingredients and how to make it.
A different Recipe for Romesco sauce made with hazelnuts
This recipe uses hazelnuts instead of almonds. Also the vegetables are roasted. in the oven rather than grilled.
Use the same ingredients as the recipe above, substitute the hazelnuts for the almonds, but roast the vegetables:
Place the tomatoes, peppers and a whole head of garlic in a roasting tray with a little oil and roast in a 190C oven. Take the vegetables out as they become soft, i.e. the tomatoes will take about 10 minutes, the peppers and the garlic could take about 30-40 minutes..
Because one of the books that I have written is called Sicilian Seafood Cooking and because my blog is called All Things Sicilian And More many of my readers assume that at Christmas I will be cooking Sicilian food.
And what is the norm in Italy or Sicily for Christmas?
As many have stated before me, there is no point in restricting the menu to a few common dishes because the food in Italy is very regional and depending where you live is likely to determine what you eat on Christmas day. When I was celebrating Christmas in Trieste (in Northern Italy), Brodo (broth) was always the first course on Christmas day. When I celebrated it in Sicily I had entirely different food – home made gnucchiteddi ( small pasta gniocchi) or Ravioli di ricotta were the norm.
Sicily is relatively a small island, yet the food in Sicily is also very regional. All you need to do is look at the posts that I have written about Christmas food in Sicily to see that. For example when I celebrated Christmas in Ragusa, they always made and continue to make scacce,( baked dough with various fillings) and they make these during other festive occasions as well. Are Sicilians living in Australia likely to have scacce for Christmas? Not likely. They may be part of Christmas fare for those Sicilians coming from Ragusa and the province of Ragusa, but the menus from any Sicilian living in Australia is going to be influenced by other offerings of either Sicilian or Italian origin and by Australian culture and the Summer climate.
Time and time again I am asked what am I cooking for Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. The answer is that I do not know yet. I can say is that on Christmas eve I like to eat fish as is traditionally observed in Italy and on Christmas day I usually cook something that I do not normally cook or have not cooked for a while, for example for first course I may cook Spaghetti/ Pasta with sea urchin (ricci) or bottarga or squid with black ink or crayfish or crab.
So for this Christmas fare post, I am going to provide links to some of my posts which highlight sauces and dressings. This is because, irrespective of whether you are presenting a seafood salad, baking a turkey, or using a BBQ for fish or meat you can always vary the sauce you present a- Let’s face it, sauces can make a lot of difference and if you wish, you can enliven any food with a new sauce.
Here are some sauces. that are suitable for Savoury food.
It was a sauce which dates pre-Renaissance time and went out of fashion because lemons became popular in cooking and superseded the use of green grape juice. The recipes suggested that the juice of the green grapes can be extracted by using a mouli or a juicer. It is very good for any hot meat. Verjuice can be used instead and white wine works as well.
Walnuts and almonds are blanched to remove as much skin as possible. My sources indicated that there may have been more walnuts used than almonds in these sauces.
Onions, garlic and parsley and a few breadcrumbs are pounded together with the nuts. Add a bit of sugar, some chopped parsley and sufficient grape juice to make the amalgamated ingredients soft – like a paste.
Heat these ingredients and add a little broth as the sauce will thickened because the bread crumbs.
Salsa verde can be used to jazz anything up – vegetables, roasts, cold meats, smoked fish, crayfish etc. I sometimes use it to stuff hard boiled eggs (remove the yolk, mix with salsa verde and return it to the egg). It is mainly parsley, anchovies, capers, green olives.
There may be times when an accompanying sauce for steamed, baked, grilled or fried fish will bring you greater compliments.
The sauce is called sarsa di chiappareddi in Sicilian and it is made with capers and anchovies.
For me it is most essential to use quality, extra virgin, olive oil. This is especially important for cold sauces, – when the cold sauce hits the hot food, the fragrance of the oil will be strongly evident.
Salsa Romesco is said to have originated from Tarragona, a town close to Barcelona in north-eastern Spain. It is an old Roman town so I can understand why you might think the sauce originated from Rome.
This sauce is usually associated as a condiment for shellfish and fish. It is also good with grilled and roasted vegetables (especially cold, left over ones that need dressing up the next day). Recently, I have been to two restaurants and this sauce was presented with cold asparagus. Garlic, red peppers, almonds and paprika are the main ingredients.
Last time I roasted a duck I made a special sauce for it and it tasted great – green anchovies, parsley, the pale centre of a celery, garlic, stock and wine added to the roasting pan made an excellent gravy.
This is a recipe from Sam and Sam Clark’s Casa Moro, The Second Cookbook. I had this sauce at a friend’s house accompanying roast goat. It is made mainly with mint, cumin and garlic and red vinegar (or balsamic).
I once lived in Adelaide and I successfully grew and cooked sorrel.
I used it liberally in hollandaise and egg mayonnaises (wilted or raw and cut very finely). I loved these sauces with asparagus, beans and potatoes. I added young leaves to mixed-leaf salads, cut leaves into chiffonade to decorate and add an intense lemony tang to raw and cooked foods. I added it to soups and braises, fish, veal or pork stews and sautéed it with other vegetables. It was great in frittata, too. Because of its intense, sharp flavour you only need small amounts of leaves and when they’re cooked, the bright green spinach-like leaves melt to a yellow-green, mushy purée. It may not sound appealing but it is.
I eat extremely well when I visit South Australia both in restaurants and in homes. During my recent trip I encountered sorrel at three different times at different friends’ houses.
I was delighted with a sorrel Granita by one friend in her house in Eden Hills (a suburb of Adelaide). It was presented with a sorbet made of elderflower cordial (she made this), golden caster sugar and water syrup and St Germain elderflower liqueur. what you see in in the photo above are the Granita and sorbet, plus elderflowers (from her garden). These were topped with Prosecco. Amazing!
This was not dessert – it was presented as a palate cleanser in between courses. It could easily double up as a dessert- a very simple solution is to pair it with vanilla ice cream rather than an elderflowers sorbet….not every cook is as skilled as this friend.
See recipe for the sorrel Granita at end of post.
Friends in North Adelaide offered me potato and sorrel soup for lunch. I had enjoyed this before at their house and it can be eaten hot or cold.
I also visited friends in Ardrossan (a coastal town on the Yorke Peninsula about 90 minutes from Adelaide) and found red sorrel growing in their garden. This friend presented some of the attractive young leaves in a leafy salad. She also wilts it like spinach and has made a quiche with some of the leaves.
I told her I knew nothing about red sorrel. I thought that maybe Bunnings had made a mistake (she found it in the Herbs section of this store). Was it really a culinary herb or an ornamental plant? My friend, now concerned and thinking that she should sue Bunnings found a link on the web, and sure enough, red sorrel leaves are considered edible…. despite my misgivings.
The story doesn’t stop there. Now back home in Melbourne I found a small bunch of red sorrel at my regular supplier of green vegetables – Gus and Carmel’s stall in The Queen Victoria Market, called IL FRUTTIVENDOLO . I stored it in the fridge in a container partially filled with water. I store asparagus in the same way.
Believe it or not there is a lot of information on the web about sorrel that is considered to be at its best in Spring. There is the French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) with distinctly small, bell-shaped or arrow-shaped leaves; English sorrel (Rumex acetosa) with broader leaves- both of these have leaves with a smooth texture. Red sorrel (Rumex sanguineus) is very attractive and has tapered light green leaves with dark maroon veins and stems. Not surprisingly it is also called Bloody Dock. When cooked, it bleeds like beetroot leaves (which I eat). First discard the bottom tough part of the stalks and then wilt the leaves as you would silver beet or spinach.
Both French sorrel and English sorrel are used interchangeably. It is also sold interchangeably and usually just labelled as ‘Sorrel.’ The French variety with the smaller arrow shaped leaves is hard to find . Both sorrels have very similar tastes – the flavour is tangy and pleasantly acidic. This is not surprising as sorrel is related to rhubarb, recognized for its tartness that comes from oxalic acid. Some texts advise to use sorrel sparingly and warn that it can be toxic to animals. The red sorrel has been primarily grown as a decorative foliage but can also be eaten. The taste is not as sharp and sour as the French and English sorrels and the larger leaves are tougher and slightly bitter rather than tangy., however when cooked they do break down considerably.
Sorrel has been used as a culinary ingredient by the early Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It was used during medieval and in Tudor times in England and France and it is still popular in French cuisine.
Italians have many words for sorrel. They call it acetosa and acetina, acetosella, ossalina or erba brusca. There are even names for sorrel in dialect. It is known as pan e vin in Friuli, Veneto and Treviso regions. The Sicilians call it aghira e duci or agra e duci. The list of the various regional Italian names for sorrel can be found on a site by the Dipartimento di Scienze della Vita, Università di Trieste. The culinary uses in Italian cuisine suggested in the texts that I have seen are the same as in other cuisines: the young leaves are served raw in salads and the cooked leaves accompany fish, meat or eggs and in cream sauces and soups.
Sorrel is also found in some Asian cuisines for example in Vietnam it is known as rau chua (sour herb) or rau thom. It is not surprising that in Vietnamese it translates as sour herb – from old French surele, from sur, sour. I had one quick look for a Vietnamese recipe that uses sorrel and ‘sour soup’ seems to be popular.
Notice that my bunch is just called ‘Sorrel’. So unfair for those who are not familiar with the other sorrels!
And what did I do with my small bunch of red sorrel?
There were no leaves in the bunch that I considered ‘small’ so I did not add them to a salad. I added the leaves to some hot extra virgin olive oil and garlic, added the leaves and wilted them. I then added some cooked Puy lentils. I was pleased with the results and presented and made a nice accompaniment to fish cooked with with tarragon and vermouth , cauliflower and baked tomatoes.
My friend’s recipe for Sorrel Granita
Equal weight of French sorrel leaves (with that lovely sour taste) and simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water). The sorrel must not be cooked. Just blitz the leaves with the syrup and then strain through a fine strainer. Add a squeeze of lime juice and a pinch of salt to taste and then pour into a container and put in the freezer. About every 30 mins or so I stir it to move the ice crystals that evenly through it. When it is completely frozen (and it isn’t rock hard anyway) I just scrape it with a fork to break it into crystals.
When a food is Agglassato (from a French word glacer) it is glazed. For example if it is a cake it could be glazed with glacé icing, glace cherries are glazed with sugar, the surface of a meat Pâté or any meat or fish to be eaten cold could be glazed with a jellied stock. And to me this implies that the glaze has a sheen.
In Sicily there is a traditional dish called Agglassato also Aggrassato ( to further complicate matters it can be spelled Agrassato and Aglassato) and it is braised meat (veal, lamb, kid, tongue) cooked with large amounts of onions.It is also referred to as Carne Agrassata -meat carne =meat and it is a feminine word, therefore the ‘a’ at the end.
Once cooked, the onions become very soft, the sauce is reduced and the onions became a thick puree Agglassato can also be eaten cold. This is when the onion sauce jellies, thickens and glazes the meat.
Although this particular dish may have been influenced by French cuisine, lard rather than butter is used – lard being more common in Sicilian cuisine.
Agglassato seems to be a method of cooking meat which is fairly wide spread across Sicily with a few variations. Some use less onions, others add potatoes and in some parts of Sicily, especially in the South-eastern region grated pecorino cheese is added at the end of cooking. Sometimes the meat is cooked in one piece and held together with string, at other times it is cubed as in a stew.
The sauce (without potatoes) can also be used to dress pasta – remove some of the onion sauce for the first course (pasta) then present the meat for the second course with contorni (side vegetable dishes).
The recipe is simple.
The ratio is:
1 kg meat to 1 kg onions
200 g lard or a mixture of lard and extra virgin olive oil
½ -1 glass of white wine
rosemary or sage or bay leaves
meat stock (optional)
In a pan suitable for making a stew heat the lard, add the sliced onions, and herbs. Soften the onions on low heat and then add the meat (cubed or in one piece).
Toss the meat around until it is white on the surface (unlike other stews do not brown).
Add the wine, cover and cook it over low heat for about 70 minutes per kilo of meat, less if the meat is in small pieces. Remove the lid about 15-20 minutes if the contents look too watery and allow the sauce to thicken.
If you are cooking kid or lamb (this is a common recipe for Easter especially in the south east of Sicily), the following ratio of ingredients is a useful guide.
2 kg kid, or lamb on the bone, cut into stew-size pieces
100g lard or a mixture of lard and extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic (whole)
1 glass of white wine
rosemary or sage or bay leaves
1 cup of parsley cut finely
meat stock (optional)
100 g grated pecorino cheese
In a pan suitable for making a stew heat the lard, add the sliced onions, garlic and herbs (but not the parsley).
Soften the onions and then add the meat.
Toss the meat around until it is white on the surface. Add the wine, cover and cook it over low heat for about 50-60 minutes. Check for moisture and add splashes of stock or water if the stew looks too dry. In Sicily kid and lamb are slaughtered as young animals and depending on the age and tenderness of your meat you may need to cook it for longer.
Peel and cut the potatoes into small chunks and add them to the stew. Add parsley and stock or water to almost cover the potatoes and cook until they are done (probably 30 minutes).
At the end of cooking sprinkle with grated pecorino.
In a previous post I have written about how my father used to cook tongue (lingua) in this way. Now and again he would also cook meat instead of tongue
Il Signor Coria (Giuseppe Coria, Profumi Di Sicilia) will tell you that ducks are not standard fare on Sicilian dinner tables. The eggs may be used to make pasta all’uovo (egg pasta) but ducks in Sicily are few and far between.
In his book Profumi Di Sicilia, I found one duck recipe and this was for a braised duck cooked with anchovies plus garlic, parsley, heart of celery, white wine, rosemary and green olives. The thought of braised duck does not appeal to me very much, unless I make it the day before so that I can skim off the fat the next day.
I decided to roast the duck (on a rack so that the fat drains off) and make an accompanying sauce using the same ingredients as Coria suggested for the braise….. and it was pretty marvellous.
A couple of days later I used the leftover sauce with the stock made from the carcase/carcass and some mushrooms in a risotto, and this tasted exceptionally fantastic, even if I say so myself.
All I can say is that I am glad that living in Australia ducks are pretty easy to find – more so in the last few years and not just for special occasions.
Here is the duck roasting in the oven. I stuffed it with some rosemary. I placed some potatoes in the fat, and in the pan to roast (to fry really) about 30 minutes before the end of cooking…..and I do not need to tell you how delicious they were.
Pre heat oven to 190C.
Dry duck with paper to obtain a crispier skin
Ensure the opening at end of the duck is open to allow even cooking
Place duck on a rack in a roasting tray
Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and roast it.
My duck was 2kl so I roasted it for 2×40 minutes= 1hr 20mins.
And this is the sauce:
Remove the duck, drain the fat (use it to roast potatoes, it also makes good savoury pastry, just like lard).
Reserve any juices that are in the bottom of the pan.
Using the baking pan, add a little extra virgin olive oil and over a low flame melt 4-6 anchovies in the hot oil.
Add 2 garlic cloves, chopped finely (or minced as some say). Stir it around.
Add about 1 cup of finely chopped parsley and 2-3 stalks from the pale centre of a celery also sliced finely. Stir it around in the hot pan for about 2 minutes…add salt and pepper to taste.
Add ½ cup of white wine and evaporate. Add the juices of the duck, or if you did not save them, add some meat stock – about ½ cup.
Add some chopped green olives last of all. I had stuffed olives so I used them….probably about ¾ cup full.
Heat the ingredients through, and there is your accompanying sauce.
And it looks much better in a gravy boat than it does in the pan.