N’ZALATA VIRDI in Sicilian – INSALATA VERDE in Italian (Green leaf salad)

In my fridge you will always find some green vegetables that can be used in salads. I grow herbs on my balcony but regretfully do not have room for salad greens. My history of eating salads goes back a long way.

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The best salads that I ate as a child in Italy were made from green leaves. In Trieste, it was made with very young leaves of different types of radicchi (plural of radicchio) especially the radicchio biondo triestino, together with mataviltz (the lamb’s lettuce) and rucola (aurugola/rocket/roquette). These were sold by the handful in the Trieste market and wrapped in cones of brown paper.

My father grew these greens in Australia, a friend having smuggled seeds inside of his coat lining on one of his trips back from Trieste. You will be pleased to know that these seeds are now widely available in Australia.

When I used to visit Sicily as a child we talked about the different green leaves we ate in Trieste, but the relatives were not familiar with these.

They ate salads made from young, wild cicoria (chicory) or cicorino (the ino signifying small) and indivia (escarole/endives), Roman Batavia, curly endive and frisee lettuces were also popular – these lettuces are available in Australia. Roman Batavia has frilly leaves – it is crunchy and maintains its crispness. I have also seen it labelled as Roman lettuce, and this is confusing because cos is often called by this name. Frisee has a spiky and firm leaf, which is mildly bitter – it is a form of chicory.

In Ragusa where my father’s family come from, the inside leaves of green cabbage are torn into bite-sized pieces and dressed with oil, salt, pepper and lemon. I did not experience this elsewhere in Sicily.

I making the most of the wonderful winter greens and use their centre in salads and braise their outer leaves (first wilted/ steamed in a little water then tossed in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt and chilli).

Photographer Graeme Gillies, food stylist Fiona Rigg. Both worked on my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking

INGREDIENTS and PROCESSES

Select a variety of greens. Combine sweet, subtle, or bitter flavours, and different textures – the tender light green leaves found in the centre of chicory, or endives and escarole, different types of lettuces, the young, pale-green stalks found in the centre of celery. I do use fennel as well.

I like to include young Nasturtium leaves and flowers, (which are around at this time of year) or watercress (crescione d’acqua), but once again, this is not traditional, although my father told me that the women in Sicily who took their washing to the river ate watercress – this is another instance of Sicilians enjoying and using what the land provides.

A single leaf salad made with chicory (slightly bitter taste) and slices of sweet oranges are a good alliance and an acceptable modern Sicilian combination.

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DRESSING, VINAIGRETTE

Toss the salad when ready to serve with a dressing made of quality extra virgin olive oil, wine vinegar, salt and pepper (one-third vinegar, two-thirds oil).

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