Tag Archives: Asparagus

FRITTEDDA (A sauté of spring vegetables)

Frittedda is exclusively Sicilian and is a luscious combination of spring vegetables lightly sautéed and with minimum amount of stirring to preserve the textures and fresh, characteristic flavours of each ingredient — the sweetness of the peas, the slightly bitter taste of the artichokes and the delicate, nutty taste of broad beans. It is really a slightly cooked salad and each vegetable should be young and fresh.

In Sicily this dish is usually made at the beginning of spring (Primavera), around the feast day of San Giuseppe (19 March) when the first peas and broad beans come into season. It is thought that the origins of the dish are from around the northwestern part of Sicily (from Palermo to Trapani), but I have also found recipes from the agricultural areas in the centre of Sicily, in Caltanissetta, Enna and across to Agrigento and all have their own variations.

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Because frittedda is a celebration of spring, I also like to include asparagus, but this is not in traditional recipes. Use white or green asparagus, thick or thin. Yet again breaking with tradition I often add a little strong broth for extra flavour — Sicilians seldom add stock to food and rely on the natural flavours of the ingredients. They know that the sun always shines in Sicily and therefore, their produce tastes better.

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To fully appreciate the flavour of frittedda, I like to eat it at room temperature (like caponata) and as a separate course — as an antipasto with some good bread. The recipe also makes a good pasta sauce to celebrate spring.

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artichokes, about 3 young, tender
peas, 750g (250g, shelled weight)
broad beans, young, 1kg (these will result in about shelled 350g) The broad beans should be young and small — if they are not, (remove the outer peel of each bean)
asparagus (250g). Snap the bottoms from the asparagus and cut the spears into 2cm lengths
spring onions, 3-4, sliced thinly (including the green parts)
lemon, 1 for the acidulated water
extra virgin olive oil, about ½ cup
salt and pepper
white wine vinegar, ½ tablespoon or the juice of ½ lemon
sugar, about a teaspoon
fresh mint leaves, to sprinkle on top before serving

Prepare the artichokes – strip off the tough outer leaves. It is difficult to purchase young artichokes in Australia so you may need to remove quite a few of them.
Keep the artichokes in acidulated water (use juice of 1 lemon) as you clean them and until you are ready to use.
Cut each artichokes into quarters. Slice the artichokes into thin slices. I also use the stalk of the artichoke (stripped of its outer fibrous layer).

Select a wide pan with a heavy bottom and cook as follows:
Add some of the oil.
Add the artichokes and sauté them gently for about 5-7 minutes (tossing the pan, rather than stirring and trying not to disturb the ingredients too much).
Before proceeding to the next stage, taste the artichokes, and if they need more cooking sprinkle them with about ½ cup of water, cover the saucepan with a lid and stew gently for about 10 minutes. You will know when the artichokes are cooked as there will only be slight resistance when pricked with a fork.
Add more oil, the spring onions, the peas and broad beans, salt and pepper. Toss and shake the ingredients around gently to ensure that the vegetables do not stick. Cook for about 5-7 minutes. Add a dash of water (or stock).
Add the asparagus and cook for a few minutes longer.
Place the ingredients into a bowl or they will keep on cooking.
Add the white wine vinegar or the juice of ½ lemon – the small amount of vinegar or lemon juice provides a little acidity in contrast to the sweetness of the dish. You could also add a little sugar.
I sometimes add a little grated nutmeg – this accentuates the sweetness of the ingredients. Fresh mint leaves will accentuate the freshness but put them on top the frittedda when you are ready to serve it (mint leaves discolour easily).

Variations

The Palermitani (from Palermo) add the agro dolce sauce (sweet and sour sauce like when making caponata) made with caramelised sugar and vinegar at the end of cooking.

In Enna, in the centre of the island, wild fennel is added during cooking.

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ASPARAGUS and ARTICHOKES

It is Spring in Melbourne and artichokes (carciofi) and asparagus (asparagi) season.

We do not see the numerous artichokes in large bunches with long stems that one sees all over Sicily but artichokes in the larger Australian cities have become more common and I have even seen some in supermarkets, but not necessarily fresh and crisp as they should be.

Artichokes in Siracusa Sicily

Last year I was able to buy artichokes from a grower in Werribee – not far from Melbourne.

Artichokes in Werribee Victoria

Asparagus are everywhere in Melbourne (other places in Australia as well). Mostly they are the thin variety of asparagus sold in bunches but in the last few years the thick asparagus sold by weight are easily found. Those of you who eat out or read recipes may have noticed that more and more vegetables are presented char grilled (rather than steamed) and the large asparagus are perfect for this.

In Australia (or at least in Melbourne) we have not yet reached the wild asparagus trend (photos above and below). Wild asparagus are appreciated all over Italy.

I  quite often cook asparagus and artichokes together. I have a friend who eats gluten free food so I stuffed these artichokes with almond meal, parsley, garlic and one egg (make a stiff paste). I braised the artichokes in stock and white wine and because I did not have the correct sized saucepan (I am not living in my apartment at the moment) I had to use a large saucepan.

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No problems – I used whole potatoes to support the artichokes in an upright position. I then added asparagus a few minutes before I was ready to present the artichokes.

IMG_7324I have written many recipes for artichokes on my blog… Use the search button and type in ‘artichokes’ if you wish to find how to clean artichokes and recipes.

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Stripped of their tough outer leaves artichokes are perfect for eating with just a fork and a knife. The artichokes in this photo were cooked by a friend and she braised them with beans (pulses).

 

QUADRUCCI IN BRODO, Squares of home-made Pasta in Broth

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.( SEE links to recipes at the bottom of this post.)

Traditionally my immediate family always ate brodo (broth) on Christmas day and lately I have been thinking about something that I have not made since 1984. I know it is this date because the recipe was in a book which was published in 1984 andI bought it the year it was published = Giuliano Bugialli, The Taste Of Italy.

And so the other night when I pulled out of my freezer some strong duck broth, I decided to experiment with making some home-made pasta cut into squares  with parsley embedded in the centre. I had made it many years ago on several occasions . Only my daughter was coming for dinner, so if the results were not satisfacory, it did not matter so much. I am always in a hurry (I once had a friend who used to call me (Ms sempre in fretta – always in a hurry) and had no time to find the recipe. Besides I could not remember what the recipe was called or in in which Bugialli book would I find it, so I just went ahead and made it.

Because there were just the three of us eating the brodo I only wanted to make small amounts and use a rolling pin; there was no way I wanted to get out/ dirty/ and clean my pasta rolling machine….I was in a hurry.

And it was great. How could I go wrong? It is just homemade pasta with whole parsley leaves added to the dough. The parsley pasta is then cut into squares. The thinly rolled pasta with the whole parsley leaves are very attractive and resemble embroidery.

I had some asparagus (now in season) and I wanted to add a light summery feel to the brodo. Perfect for an Australian Christmas?

I found the recipe and not surprisingly Bugialli calls them Quadrucci – small squares. A quadro is Italian for square.

In Bugialli’s recipe, he suggests making the broth with Turkey- meat and bones.  My duck stock was made with the carcase/carcass of a duck – I had removed the breast and legs for another dish.

WHAT I DID

  • good meat broth, fat skimmed off, solids passed through a fine mesh strainer,
  • sprigs of Italian parsley (I also tried some with basil leaves),
  • home-made pasta = *1 large egg per 100 grams of hard flour (like unbleached, bread making flour, high in protein) is sufficient for 3 persons. Double or triple accordingly.

Sift the flour and place it in a large bowl or on a bench (depending how you like to mix flour to make into a dough).

Make a well in the centre and add the egg and a little salt.

Begin to knead with your fingers; I begin by adding flour from the edges into the centre. Mix everything well. At this stage you may need to add a little bit more of flour if the mixture is too wet or a tiny bit of water if it is too dry. This is because of the differences in the size of the eggs and the absorbency of the flour. Work the dough till the pasta feels elastic.

Shape the dough into a ball, cover it (cloth or plastic wrap) and leave it for about one hour.

Using a rolling pin (or a pasta machine especially if making greater quantities) roll/ stretch the pasta quite thin.

Place whole parsley leaves on top of half the length of the layer of pasta. Fold the other half of the layer of pasta over the parsley, and press the layers together.

Roll it again until it is very thin and you will see the parsley through the top layer of the pasta – sandwiched in the centre and looking like embroidery. I also used basil leaves for some quadri (squares).

Cut the pasta into squares ( like ravioli). These do not need to be of regular size and shape. trim off irregular bits of pasta.

Bring the broth to a boil and add the pasta squares. Cook for 1-3 minutes- they will rise to the surface when cooked.

Once I added the pasta to the broth I added the asparagus. The ingredients were cooked in a very short time.

This is what my version looked like:

I did find Bugialli’s recipe and he adds grated Parmigiano and black pepper to his pasta dough. He also says that this is a representative dish from Puglia. Bugialli is from Florence.

Here is Bugialli’s recipe:

FOR THE BROTH:

900g/2lbs dark turkey meat, with bones
1 medium-sized red onion, peeled
1 stick celery
1 medium-sized carrot, scraped
1 medium-sized clove garlic, peeled but left whole
1 cherry tomato
4 sprigs Italian parsley
3 extra large egg whites
coarse-grained salt

FOR THE PASTA:

40g (1 1/2 oz) (1/2 cup) freshly grated Parmesan
5 eggs
pinch of salt
6 twists black pepper
450g (1 lb) (3 1/2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
30 sprigs Italian flat-leaf parsley, leaves only

Prepare the broth: put the turkey, coarse-grained salt to taste, the whole onion, celery, carrot, garlic, tomato, and parsley sprigs in a large stockpot. Cover with cold water and put the pot over medium heat, uncovered. Simmer for 2 hours, skimming off foam from the top.

Remove the meat from the pot and reserve it for another dish. Pass the rest of the contents of the pot through a fine strainer into a large bowl, to remove the vegetables and impurities. Let the broth cool, then place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight to allow the fat to rise to the top and solidify.

Use a metal spatula to remove the solidified fat then clarify the broth. Pour 4 tablespoons of the broth into a small bowl and mix it with the egg whites. Pour the broth and egg white mixture into the rest of the cold broth and whisk very well. Transfer the broth to a pot and place it on the edge of a burner. Bring to the simmering stage, half covered, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the egg whites rise to the top with the impurities, and the broth becomes transparent.

Meanwhile, place a clean, wet cotton tea towel in the freezer for 5 minutes. Then stretch the tea towel over a colander and strain the broth through it to clarify it completely. The broth should be absolutely clear.

Prepare the pasta with the ingredients listed, placing the grated Parmesan, salt, pepper, and eggs in the well in the flour. With much care and patience, gradually work the eggs into the flour until you have a slab of dough. Shape this into a ball and leave under a towel or in cling film (plastic wrap) to rest.

Stretch the pasta as thinly as possible by hand or with the pasta machine. Place the whole parsley leaves on top of half the length of the layer of pasta. Fold the other half of the layer of pasta over the parsley, and press the layers together. Continue to roll out the layer of pasta until it is very thin. Using a scalloped pastry cutter, cut the pasta into squares of about 5cm/2in.

Bring the broth to a boil and add the pasta. Cook for 1-3 minutes, depending on how dry the pasta is. Serve hot, without adding cheese, which would spoil its purity.

This is what Bugialli’s  pasta looked like. With a little more effort and a pasta machine, mine will look like that too.

Other recipes mentioned in this blog.

For first course I may cook:

SPAGHETTI CON RICCI DI MARE

PASTA CON BOTTARGA

SPAGHETTI WITH CRAYFISH OR CRAB

PASTA WITH BLACK INK SAUCE

 

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

The pictures tell the story.

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I use good quality pasta and sometimes interesting shapes. Croxetti (also called corzetti or curzetti) is a traditional type of pasta from Liguria; they are in the shape of flat medallions and usually stamped with a decorative design.

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Use this  sauce made with Spring vegetables as a dressing for the cooked pasta.

 

Artichokes:strip them of their outer, tough leaves and cut vertically straight down the middle and into thin slices; each half of the artichoke can be cut into eight pieces or more. Rub the artichoke slices with a cut lemon as you work to stop it discolouring.

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Strip the fibrous covering off the artichoke stalks and slice  the remaining centre of the stalk into thin slices. To do this, cut off the very end of the stem and then strip the  covering or use a paring knife to cut off the covering – expect the covering to be thick.

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Asparagus are prolific in Spring. Once the tough bottom end of each asparagus is snapped off and discarded, slice the remaining stalks thinly as they will need more cooking than the top end of the asparagus.

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Sauté the sliced artichokes and stalks in extra virgin olive oil. Add 1/2 cup of white wine and a little stock and seasoning.  Cover with a lid and braise until softened. Remove from the pan and set aside.

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Spring onions are always handy to add flavour and a few peas or broadbeans are excellent in Spring.

Sauté  the spring onions (sliced) in some extra virgin olive oil, add the asparagus and peas (or broadbeans) and a little salt and pepper. I also add  about 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. Toss them around in the hot pan until softened (I like to keep the vegetables a little firm). You may wish to sauté these vegetables in two stages – overcrowding the pan is not a good idea.
Return the artichokes to the pan and heat through. Add a dollop of butter, a little grated nutmeg, some chopped parsley or some basil leaves .

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Dress the cooked pasta with the vegetable sauce. If you wish,cut off the very end of the stem, and peel the tough outside layer of the stem with a vegetable peeler. present it with a dollop of ricotta or grated Parmisan cheese.

As a variation,  and if fennel is still in season,I sometimes add  sauteed  thinly sliced fennel to this dish.

Artichokes are called Carciofi in Italian and there are several recipes on my blog  Key in “carciofi” in search button.

ASPARAGI DI BOSCO and FRITTATINA (Wild Asparagus continued, and Frittata)

Wild asparagus is strongly associated with spring and as an Italian I am continuing  with my appreciation and fascination of wild asparagus and seasonal produce.

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I bought these wild asparagus in Varese, close to Milan and once again they are totally different in appearance, taste and texture. These are from the woods, i.e. “bosco”. Their stems are slightly furry and they do not taste as bitter as the other two varieties I ate in Sicily or the wild asparagus I ate in Tunis. See Wild Asparagus in Tunis

In this region of Italy butter features strongly in cooking so I sautéed them in butter and added salt and pepper and a little lemon juice. We ate them as a contorno (side dish).

 

I sautéed the second bunch in butter and oil and then added eggs, some grated Parmigiano, salt and pepper and made a frittatatina (small frittata) – this is a very common way to eat wild asparagus in Italy; in Sicily it is one of the favoured foods on Easter Monday (called La Pasquetta).

FRITTATINA DI ASPARAGI ( Small Frittata….substitute with thin variety of asparagus)
Wash the asparagus well, break off any hard ends and break the asparagus into smaller pieces.
Sauté the asparagus in some extra virgin olive oil, add a little salt and pepper. ( Most Italians pre-soften them by boiling them first).
Mix 6 eggs that have been beaten with a fork, add a little salt and about 1 tablespoon of grated cheese.Pour the egg mixture on top of the asparagus, cook the frittata on one side, slide the frittata onto a plate, flip the uncooked side on to the pan and cook.

 

After Italy I went to Spain (Madrid, Toledo and Barcelona). I saw wild asparagus plants growing Toledo and in the Gaudi Gardens In Barcelona (including wild fennel and even bushes of thyme in Montserrat). I did not see them on menus or for sale in the markets in Spain but I suspect that the wild asparagus season is well and truly over – Spain was much warmer than Italy.

 

The quality of the vegetables in the markets in Spain is very good, but I was surprised not to see anything out of the ordinary. There were artichokes and broad beans (both in season) but nowhere near the range of salad or cooking greens I saw in Italy.

What I appreciated in Spain and especially in Barcelona were the artichokes. They are almost totally stripped of all their leaves, sliced very thinly, dipped in a little flour and deep fried.

Like the Italians, the Spaniards also eat them as a frittatina ( Spanish tortilla). The cleaned artichokes are sliced thinly and cooked in the same way as the wild asparagus.

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WILD ASPARAGUS IN SICILY AND TUNIS (ASPARAGI SELVATICI)

Found this bunch of wild asparagus at Marché Central de Tunis and was very excited. I have eaten wild asparagus in Sicily but only on a few occasions because I have not always visited Sicily in spring. It is a spring vegetable and obviously the wild asparagus is appreciated in Tunis as well. Wild asparagus all over Sicily.

Next in Sicily and we found plants on our climb up La Rocca in Cefalu.

We then found plants growing in the garden at our B&B in Cefalu and took photos of the two types of plants which produce the wild asparagus shoots; although they are coming to the end of their season these plants had shoots.

To our delight we ate some where we stayed in the Agruturismo in the Madonie Mountains. It was cooked in a frittata and the shoots appeared again in a pasta dish with sausages made from the special, breed of pork only found in the Madonie and the Nebrodi mountains.(Slow Food)

For those of you who have  not eaten wild asparagus:
The shoots taste slightly bitter. They are the shoots of a very stubborn plant with sharp and needle-like leaves and the asparagus are difficult to pick.

You need to wash the shoots well, snap any of the woody ends just to the point at which the stalk bends and discard the very woody bottom. Cook the top part of the asparagus stalks in salted water and then use in the frittata or as an ingredient in the pasta. If they are not woody their tender tips are great raw.

I dressed Tunis asparagus with olive oil and lemon juice.

There was also much fennel around in Tunis and braised some in a little butter and a dash of red wine vinegar. It is not necessarily the way I normally cook it but one makes do when one is away and staying in an apartment and it did taste good.

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