Category Archives: Vegetables, Wild greens and Salads

A SOUP MADE WITH SICILIAN VEGETABLES and where to buy the seeds

This soup tastes magnificent, but unless you have a Sicilian friend whose mother grows tenerumi you don’t have a chance!

I have only been lucky once and I was able to buy tenerumi from a Sicilian grower who was selling them at a Farmers’ Market. This was a rare and lucky find!

The tenerumi are only part of that soup and they are the green leaves that you can see in the soup and in the photos below. They are the leaves (together with tendrils in the photo) of a long,  snakelike squash (Cucuzza) plant that is grown on trellises. It is a seasonal summer plant.

I have inserted links at the bottom of this post so that you can see what the plants look like and where you can purchase some seeds.  Maybe you can plant them in time for next summer!

The other components for the soup are easily identified: ripe tomatoes, garlic and zucchini. There is also fresh basil in the soup, but somehow I have omitted  them in the photo.

This time, my Sicilian friend did not bring me the Sicilian Cucuzza but she brought me two types of zucchini that  she is growing in her garden and that I have not encountered before – Zucchini Costata Romanesco and Zucchini Tromboncino.

The Zucchini Costata Romanesco are the two at the front of the photo above and in the photo below.

In the main photo, the one behind the Zucchini Costata Romanesco is a Zucchini Tromboncino (means small trumpet in Italian), and you can see why.

And this Zucchino (singular of Zucchini) tasted amazing! It was much longer when my friend brought it but we nibbled away at it raw in salads. It is much sweeter tasting and not at all as watery as the standard Zucchini. It grows on a vine!

Then there was the broth. Interestingly enough adding broth or stock or wine to cooking is not necessarily a common procedure for Sicilian cooking. The broken spaghetti are added to the soup last of all and I need to add, in greater quantities.

So, some links to recipes first. When you read the recipes you will notice that the Tenerumi do not necessarily have to be cooked with the Cucuzza or zucchini, but on this occasion I combined the two.

Tenerumi and Sicilian Zucca

You will need to have, sufficient broth/water in the pan if you intend to cook the pasta in the soup (this is the usual method). I cooked the pasta separately and then added to each dish last of all. Some like more pasta, some do not…. unheard of in Sicily!

A drizzle on top of good extra virgin olive oil, is always a good thing, on any dish!

Each of the recipes below are different versions of the same soup:

ZUCCA LUNGA SICILIANA  long, green variety of squash

MINESTRA DI TENERUMI (Summer soup made with the tendrils of a Sicilian squash)

TENERUMI (and I did not have to go to SICILY to buy it). The Melbourne Showgrounds Farmers Market

KOHLRABI and TENERUMI, shared between cultures of Sicily and Vietnam

MINESTRA ESTIVA CON ZUCCA LUNGA SICILIANA, Sicilian Summer soup made with the long, green variety of squash

Now for the seeds:

For Zucchini Tromboncino and Zucchini Costata Romanesco look them up in:

https://www.diggers.com.au

Zucchini 'Costata Romanesco'

Zucchini 'Tromboncino'

And for the Cucuzza:

https://veggiegardenseeds.com.au

Squash Cucuzza | X 10 Seeds

 

 

 

 

THE MANY VERSIONS OF CAPONATE

Any cooking and eating is greatly influenced by the variations in weather especially the temperature and the available seasonal produce. Abundant in summer are eggplants, tomatoes, zucchini and peppers/capsicum and at this time of year I like to use this produce as much as possible. Summer is also a time for grilled food.

I particularly like grilled sardines but strangely enough, for the past three weeks at the Queen Victoria Market where I shop, there have not been any,  however they seem to be abundant on restaurant menus.

Squid has been available and tastes fantastic grilled, the charring adds so much flavour and character.  The tentacles are good too and apart from having a more intense flavour they offer a different texture. Squid will not need much cooking, especially if it has been marinading beforehand for an hour or so: cook the squid quickly – about 5 mins on one side, flip it over and cook the other side for less. The marinade can be as uncomplicated as a little extra virgin olive oil, salt and a few herbs of your choice. To the marinade this time, I also added a splash of white wine.

A simple drizzle of good, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice could be sufficient as a finishing dressing, especially it you are accompanying the squid with some flavourful side dishes.

As for the accompanying dishes, I made two different Sicilian caponate (plural of caponata) and a green salad. Not many guests cook caponate themselves and they especially appreciate the different versions of caponata .

Caponate taste better if cooked days before. They are presented at room temperature, so take them out of the fridge about 30 mins before serving. Caponate also make good starters.

I cooked one of the caponate in the oven and used eggplants, onions, celery and peppers/capsicums. To make it different,  apart from baking the vegetables, I also added fennel seeds, plenty of basil and garlic as well as the customary green olives, capers, sugar, vinegar and pine nuts. I definitely prefer the traditional method of sautéing  of each of the vegetables in hot oil. Although I roasted the vegetables at high temperatures, they released far too many juices that I had to evaporate and fiddle excessively with the flavours. In the end it did taste good, but the flavour took far too long to fix.

Place the basil and toasted pine nuts on the caponata at the time of serving and stir them through the cooked ingredients.

The caponata in the photo below is made with celery. This caponata is much quicker to cook and the addition of sultanas accentuate the sweet taste. The vinegar (present in all caponate) provides the sour taste and this cooked salad tastes very much like a pickle.

This celery caponata has the addition of toasted almonds rather than pine nuts.

The celery caponata is very easy to cook because the celery and onions are the only two vegetable ingredients and they can be sautéed in the same pan at the same time. Once they are slightly softened, add the drained and plump sultanas that have been soaking in water for an hour or so.  Add a little sugar and once the sugar begins to caramelise, add a splash of vinegar and evaporate.

The next caponata I intend to present to friends will be a chocolate version. Pieces of dark chocolate are added in the final stages of cooking the eggplant version of caponata that is characteristic of Palermo and its region. The caponata that includes peppers is typical of Catania and its region.

GRILLED CALAMARI (CALAMARI ‘NTA BRACI (Sicilian) – CALAMARI ALLA BRACE (Italian)

*The recipe for squid also has recipes for two accompanying,  Sicilian green, traditional sauces  –  Salmoriglio and Zoggiu

CAPONATA FROM PALERMO (made with eggplants)

CAPONATA Catanese (from Catania) made easy with photos

CAPONATA DI NATALE (Christmas, winter caponata made with celery, almonds and sultanas)

For more recipes for different versions of Caponata, use the search button.

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)

COOKING ‘ON THE ROAD’

I have not had time to do much writing as I have been travelling quite a bit , both in Victoria, New South Wales and  South Australia and not like some of my friends who have been travelling overseas.

I only take my iPad when I travel and writing posts is not something that I find easy on this device.

I am finding that inserting links to recipes that are already on the blog, pretty impossible and if you are interested in  some of the recipes, for example  about cockles or sea urchins use the search button. I am hoping that the photos are sufficient, but maybe not.

Below are some of the things I have cooked or prepared  lately. When one is ‘on the run’ one does not have the luxury of ingredients from home:

Mushrooms braised with saffron, white wine, tomato paste and parsley.

Goolwa cockles cooked with parsley, garlic and a splash of white wine. Parsley yet to be stirred through.

Braised red cabbage cooked in red wine and bay leaves and some smoked pork with whole meal spaghetti .

King George Whiting braised with with lemon slices,  fennel seeds and white wine. Fried capers till crisp added at last minute.

Sea urchin roe bought in brine and cooked with braised fennel, anchovies, garlic and chillies in wine,  parsley, roe grated lemon rind and lemon juice added right at the very end.

Burrata with basil mayonnaise, soft boiled eggs and a salad of avocado, lettuce, asparagus and baby tomatoes.

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)

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.

 

 

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

 

 

ARTICHOKES and how we love them – CAPONATA DI CARCIOFI

This week, Richard Cornish’s regular column is about artichokes. (September 21, Brain Food in The Age). His commentary has certainly provided me with an excess  amount of food for thought – artichokes are one of my very favourite vegetables and I have written many recipes for artichokes on my blog.

Artichokes in Acireale Sicily

I have included some recipes in this post and more can be found on my blog. In Italian artichokes are called carciofi, in Sicilian they are cacocciuli. As Richard says, artichokes are thought to have originated from Sicily, and therefore Sicilians have had plenty of time to appreciate their versatility and have come up with some excellent recipes for artichokes cooked in many interesting ways.

This is not to say that the other regions of Italy don’t have their own local recipes for artichokes, but Sicilians seem to have the lot.

Artichokes in Italy are eaten as appetizers, contorni (sides), first and second courses, and stand-alone dishes. Artichokes can be stuffed with a wide variety of fillings, fried whole or sliced, and crumbed before being fried, sautéed, boiled, baked, braised and stewed, roasted in ashes, used in frittate (plural of frittata), pasta and risotti (plural of risotto).

When they are young, they are sliced thinly and eaten raw in salads. They are canned commercially and, at the end of plant’s life, the last of the artichokes that will never mature but will stay small and underdeveloped, are conserved, mostly in olive oil. When they are old, they are stripped of all the leaves and the bases are eaten.

CARCIOFINI SOTT’ OLIO (Preserved artichokes in oil) 

It is spring in Australia now and the very best time to celebrate artichokes when they can be combined with other spring produce such as broad beans, peas, asparagus and potatoes.

A couple of recipes in my blog make a special feature of spring flavours:

A QUICK PASTA DISH for Spring: asparagus, artichokes, peas

CARCIOFI IMBOTTITI (Stuffed artichokes)

ASPARAGUS and ARTICHOKES PASTA ALLA FAVORITA (Pasta with artichokes, broad beans, peas alla favorita)

FRITTEDDA (A sauté of spring vegetables)

Different varieties of artichokes are also available in autumn, but somehow pairing them with spring seasonal produce, deserves extra applause.

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

In his Brain Food column about artichokes Richard says that artichokes contain a compound called cynarin which inhibits your tongue’s ability to detect sweetness. You don’t notice it until you have a bite or a drink of something else: the cynarin gets washed off the tongue, and suddenly, your brain tells you that what you have in your mouth is sweet, even when it is not!

Hence Cynar, one of the many Italian bitter alcoholic drinks (of the amaro variety) and made predominantly with artichokes. Cynar is classed as a digestive and it is said to have stomach-soothing qualities and cleansing and restorative properties for the liver. It can be drunk as an apéritif or after dinner drink.

BITTER GREENS and AMARI (Aperitivi and Digestivi)

Richard mentions how Richard Purdue, executive chef at Margaret in Sydney’s Double Bay, beams when the word artichoke is mentioned. ‘‘One of my favourite dishes is one I picked up in Sicily, where the artichokes are cooked in a kind of caponata – tomatoes, celery, pine nuts, currants, red wine and sugar.’’ So to finish off here is a recipe adapted from my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking for a caponata made with artichokes.

The recipe in my book suggests using 9 -10 artichokes and I intended the amount to be for 6 -8 people. Caponata di Carciofi (Artichoke Caponata) can only be made with young artichokes. It is also worth noting that you will need to remove the outer leaves and only use the tender centre, therefore reducing the amount of artichokes significantly.

CAPUNATA DI CARCIOFFULI – Caponata Di Carciofi  (Artichoke caponata)

I sauté each of the vegetable ingredients separately as is the traditional method of making caponata (as in a well-made, French dish Ratatouille). Frying the vegetables together does save time, but the colours and the flavours will not be as distinct. However, I have provided this method as a variation (see bottom of this recipe). Remove the outer, tougher leaves of the artichokes by bending them back and snapping them off the base until you come to the softer, paler leaves.

  • Prepare artichokes for sautéing. The artichokes need to be sliced thinly and vertically into bite size pieces. Keep them in acidulated water as you work. The cleaned stalk is one of my favourite parts of the artichoke and will add flavour to the caponata. Trim the stalk with a small sharp knife to pull away the tough, stringy outer skin (just like the strings of celery) and leave the stem attached to the artichoke. This will expose the light-coloured, centre portion, which is very flavourful and tender and much appreciated by Italians.
  • Drain the artichokes from the acidulated water and squeeze dry (I use a clean tea towel).
  • Select a large, shallow, saucepan to sauté the artichokes. They should not be crowded and if you do not have a large enough pan, sauté them in batches – you want to create as little liquid as possible.
  • Place some of the extra virgin olive oil in the pan and sauté the artichokes on low heat until they are tender. This may take up to 10 minutes or more depending on the freshness and age of the artichokes (add a little water or white wine if the ingredients are drying out).
  • Remove the artichokes and set aside.
  • Add a little more, extra virgin olive oil to the pan (and/or you may be able to drain some from the sautéed artichokes) and sauté the other vegetables in the same pan, separately. Proceed as follows:
  • Sauté the onion until it begins to colour, remove from the pan and add to the artichokes.
  • Add a little more extra virgin olive oil and sauté the celery.
  • Add the olives, capers, salt and tomatoes to the celery. Simmer gently for about 5-7 minutes. Add a little water if needed (this mixture should have the consistency of a thick sauce.)
  • Remove the mixture from the pan and add it to the sautéed artichokes and onions.
  • To make the agro dolce (sweet sour) sauce:
  • Add the sugar to the pan and caramelise the sugar by stirring it until it melts and begins to turn a honey colour.
  • Add the vinegar and swirl it around to collect the flavours of the sautéed vegetables and evaporate it (2-3 minutes).
  • Place all of the sautéed vegetables and artichokes into the pan with the agro dolce sauce and gently toss the ingredients, as you would do a salad.
  • Simmer on very gentle heat to amalgamate the flavours for about 3-5 minutes.
  • Place caponata into a sealed container or jar and store in the fridge. Leave it to stand at least a day but preferably longer.

Now, for the easier version:

  • To make caponata, where the ingredients are not fried separately, proceed as follows:
  • Prepare and sauté the artichokes as in the proceeding recipe.
  • Add a little more extra virgin olive oil and heat it. Add the onion and the celery and sauté until they begin to colour.
  • Add the olives, capers, sugar, salt, vinegar and tomatoes. Cover and simmer gently until tender (5-10 minutes or more depending on the freshness and age of the artichokes).

KOHLRABI, as eaten in Sicily

As usual, I look forward to reading Richard Cornish’s regular column Brain Food in The Age on Tuesdays and today he is writing about Kohlrabi (September 7, 2021).

Just as listening to music has the power to bring up memories, reading about produce brings up memories of recipes for me.

When Richard chose to write about Sardines in his weekly column (August 24, 2021) I wrote about PASTA CON SARDE, an iconic Sicilian dish more common in Palermo then elsewhere, but now cooked in different regions of the island with local variations.

Below are recipes from my blog that use Kohlrabi quite differently to the chefs that Richard mentions in Brain Food including David Moyle, the creative director of Harvest Newrybar near Byron Bay, and Rosalin Virnik from Anchor Restaurant in Melbourne’s Elwood.

Here’s my bit about Kohlrabi and a couple of recipes below.

Just to be perverse, Kohlrabi are called cavoli in Sicily and in Italian it is cavolo rapa.

In Italian cavoli are cauliflowers, cavolo verza is a cabbage.

Just to confuse things even further, Sicilians call cauliflowers broccoli.

As well as the purple coloured Kohlrabi roots there are light green ones; the root is always sold complete with the leaves and the whole plant is eaten.

One way Kohlrabi is eaten in Ragusa (Sicily) where my father’s family is from, is boiled as a vegetable side dish with a dressing of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, but the preferred way is to cook it with pasta, as a wet pasta dish.

The pasta is homemade and is called Causunedda.

See recipe and photos:

A WET PASTA DISH WITH KOHLRABI

I have also seen Kohlrabi in markets in Vietnam

KOHLRABI and TENERUMI, shared between cultures of Sicily and Vietnam.

Not Sicilian, but a good salad:

KOHLRABI, FENNEL, CELERIAC AND DAIKON MAKE A GOOD SALAD (AND OTHER RECIPES)

PASTA CON LE SARDE recipes:

PASTA CON LE SARDE, Iconic Sicilian made easy

PASTA CON LE SARDE (Pasta with sardines, from Palermo, made with fennel, pine nuts and currants)

PASTA CON LE SARDE, an iconic Sicilian recipe from Palermo. Cooked at Slow Food Festival Melbourne