My father used to grow matovilc in his garden in Adelaide. Some may know this salad green as lamb’s lettuce or mâche as it is known in France. I have also found references to it being called corn salad, apparently because it grows wild in cultivated fields in temperate climates.
I know this salad green well and ate it regularly in Trieste where I lived as a child. You are probably thinking that matovilc does not sound very much like an Italian word, and you are correct – it is Sloveniac/Croatian where it is more commonly known as matovilac.
Those of you who have travelled to France may recognise it, but unless you have been to Trieste you are unlikely to find it anywhere else in Italy. One of my father’s acquaintances smuggled a few seeds out from Trieste to Adelaide; you no longer have to break the law, seeds can be found.
The top photo is what I bought in Brisbane from the Powerhouse Farmers’ Market. I was there last weekend and it was sold as whole heads in the form of rosettes. In Trieste we also purchased it in the market, the leaves were sold loose by the handful and were very small.
I always get excited when I see this salad green, it is not easily found for sale in the state where I live and is generally cultivated at home. My father picked the matovilc growing in his garden leaf by leaf (as he did all his salad greens); it is very easy to grow and is at its best in spring. It goes to seed quickly in warm climates.
As a simple salad (dressed with a wine vinegar, salt pepper and extra virgin olive oil) it is particularly appreciated in Trieste when accompanied with fried sardines (first dipped in a little flour and salt and the fried in very hot extra virgin olive oil). The contrasts of the almost sweet, delicate taste of the leaves and the strong taste of the sardines works well together.
In France, I ate a lot of mâche as part of the numerous salade composée, which seem very much part of café food offered at lunchtime. It seems to be an excellent way to present smallgoods or use up left-overs. In fact in Brisbane my friend and I used the left over pancetta (cooked it), pecans, a dressing made with raspberry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil and some brie that were all left over from the meal from the night before. This also tasted excellent and gave both of us much pleasure in using up left over ingredients creatively.
This photo is of the simple salad my friend and I prepared when we stayed in the converted barn at La Vieille Grange in Mercadiol (a small hamlet) in the South West of France. It is the same restored barn that Stephanie Alexander stayed (with Maggie Beer and Colin her husband) when she researched material for her book Cooking & Travelling in the South-West France. We travelled to many open air markets and bought local produce – that particular morning we found some mâche, beautiful radishes and local fresh trout, come home and had a good time preparing lunch – the mushrooms were sautéed in local extra virgin olive oil with parsley and garlic. The local bread, pate, sausisson (sausage) and cheeses which we also ate at the same repast are missing from the photo.