Tag Archives: Carob

BITTER GREENS and AMARI (Aperitivi and Digestivi)

When I was a child and had a tummy ache my mother used to give me an infusion of chamomile – and I bet that many other Italian children experienced the same remedy. I was also given it when I could not sleep and she rinsed my hair with chamomile – it was supposed to keep it fair and make it shiny. Chamomile was a magic herb.

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My father asserted that a canarino (canary) was better. It is made by boiling lemon peel in water. This concoction was another multi-purpose panacea used for tummy aches, nausea, insomnia, colds, coughs, sore throats and fevers when you felt cold and shivery. He also would share hi Dutch salted liquorice with me – aniseed and fennel are renown for assisting digestion.

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Carob tree near Ragusa

My father’s sister who lives in Sicily is a great advocate for the healing and nutritive properties of carob. She claims it cures respiratory tract infections and it treats diarrhoea.

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Ingredients for a simple salad- red radicchio,frisée and chicory

I was told that the more bitter the green, the better it was for my liver; the stimulation of bile flow was important to break down fats.

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My family always ate large quantities of bitter greens – all the  different types of radicchio (we lived in Trieste where it was plentiful). The photo above: radicchio Triestino – a very small leafed variety of radicchio.

There were different types of chicory, Belgium endives (whitlof), rocket, escarole, cardoons and globe artichokes. Vegetables that have strong sulphur smells like cime di rapa or cime di rape, Brussel sprouts and radishes were also favourites.

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When we visited Sicily, our relatives made sure to feed us edible weeds (erbe spontanie) – matalufo, agghiti (in Ragusa’s dialect), bitter chicory, different varieties of mustard greens and brassicas, wild rocket, puntarelle, wild fennel fronds and wild asparagus – the two types of wild asparagus are particularly bitter. Photos below and above: wild greens in Sicilian markets.

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So, as you can see, because of my history and my Italian culture I had my digestive health covered.

As an adult, I had an inherent appreciation of bitter flavours and much appreciated an Amaro, not just because I liked the taste but because I believed that it aids digestion.

Amaro (Italian for “bitter”) is usually drunk as a digestive before a meal (an aperitivo) or after meals (a digestivo). There are many local and regional versions of these alcoholic beverages – examples of some well-known Amari are Aperol, Averna, Cynar and Fernet-Branca.

These bitter, alcoholic beverages are usually referred to as being herb based, but they are made of various and numerous vegetables, fruit, berries, bark, flowers, herbs, roots and spices macerated in alcohol diluted with water to obtain the desired gradation. They are also sweetened and range from bittersweet to intensely bitter.

The oldest recipes for herb-based beverages were usually formulated by pharmacists, botanists, and enthusiasts, many in monasteries and convents. The recipes have been developed over time by wine and spirit companies and the alcohol content of Amari varies between 11% and 40%.

Restaurants in Italy may offer a dozen selections of Amari, especially after a meal, but unfortunately, Amari are not beneficial aids to digestion – the beneficial properties of the herbs are reduced or eliminated and the higher the alcohol content, the slower the breakdown of food.

If you want to eat more, it makes sense to drink an Amaro as an aperitivo – the bitter flavours may stimulate the taste buds and increase the secretion of saliva and gastric juices.

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Aperol has an alcohol content of 11%—less than half that of Campari. Averna is considered an excellent digestive liqueur, but the alcohol content is 29%, Ramazzotti is 30% and Fernet is 40%.

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Wild fennel in Catania market

Aniseed liqueur is distilled from the fruit of the green aniseed plant along with other aromatic ingredients – but Sanbuca is 48% alcohol.

If we really wish to help our digestion after a meal, we may be better off with the simple home-made infusions. Popular home-made infusions, apart from chamomile, often contain fennel seeds, peppermint, sage, ginger and rosemary.

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Kale 

I still enjoy my bitter greens and since living in Australia I have broadened the range of bitter greens that I eat – watercress, dandelions, the wide range of Asian mustard greens and varieties of kale and frisée.

Posts and recipes for bitter greens:

SICILIAN EDIBLE WEEDS and Greek VLITA

NETTLES (Ortiche), Culinary uses and gnocchi

EDIBLE WEEDS: Orecchiette e Broccoletti Selvatici (and cime di rape)

CIME DI RAPE (A winter green)

MINESTRA MARITATA, peasant soup from Calabria

INSALATA DI FRISÉE ( Composite Salad made with frisée)

CICORIA (Chicory)

CICORETTA CON SALSICCIA (Chicory with fresh pork sausage)

KALE SALAD with Italian Flavours

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CARCIOFI (Artichokes)

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

CARCIOFI IMBOTTITI (Stuffed artichokes)IN PRAISE OF WINTER VEGETABLES

IN PRAISE OF WINTER VEGETABLES

CARRUBA (Carob) and its uses

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CARRUBA (Carob) and its uses

 

This is a carob pod- dark brown and leathery and they range in length between 10-30cm in length.
There is also a carob pod in old Sicilian plate with the lemons in the feature photo.

The photo of carob trees was taken in the province of Ragusa (south-east of Sicily and where my fathers relatives live). The area is abundant in beautiful carob trees – a protected vegetable crop in Sicily. In Italian the word for carob is carruba. The stone walls are characteristic of the area.

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Now to the other side of the world!

I have friends in Seymour and others in Euroa (Victoria, Australia) and I visited them last weekend. My friends who make excellent, award winning wine (Rocky Passes Winery) introduced me to Palmanova extra virgin olive oil (also from the same region) and I have been buying this for couple of years. Last Sunday I went to the market in Avenel (a small, interesting town in between Seymour and Euroa) to collect my bottles of oil and was delighted to find a number of other stalls selling local quality produce – organic vegetables, eggs, mushrooms, preserves and craft.

At this market, I was very surprised to find a stall selling carob and carob syrup – the couple who are growing and processing it live in Longwood Victoria. We do not have much of a carob growing and processing interest in Australia; I only know of one established plantation and industry in Burra, South Australia.

Last time I was in Ragusa (December 2007) I arrived there via a very cold Venice. I had a sore throat and a croaky voice, and Zia Niluzza who has a natural cure for every ailment, wasted no time in preparing for me a sciroppo di carruba. This syrup was made with a huge amount of carob powder and a little water, it was stirred in a pan to boiling point, and then allowed to rest for a short time so that the sediment of the carob powder settled). Carob is naturally sweet, but honey also has beneficial properties, and a spoonful was added to this brew.

I gargled and swallowed the elixir, and the next morning I was amazed (and thankful) – the potion worked.

Carob, (kibble) has a high sugar content and can be used as a flavouring in drinks, confectionery, cakes and biscuits. Carob seed is used to make a thickener for ice cream as a feed additive for stock. The kibble can also be used to make stock feed.

Especially in the province of Ragusa, carob is made into flour and when combined with a proportion of wheat flour, it is made into pasta and biscuits. Modica is another very beautiful, baroque city, very close to Ragusa and there carob is added to make chocolate products – chocolate manufacturing is a thriving industry with a tradition passed on from the Aztecs to the Spaniards and then to Sicilians (Sicily was controlled by the Spanish from the 13th to 15th centuries).

Zia Niluzza also makes a liqueur from carob and biancomangiare (blancmange – corn flour, water, carob and sweetening) .

If you live in Adelaide, there are some beautiful carob trees in the parklands next to the Children’s Hospital in North Adelaide
( I have collected many carob pods from those trees).

The couple from Longwood told me that carob is also known as St John’s bread – it is said that carob nourished St John in the desert. The references in the new testament are for locusts and wild honey. Wild honey is thought to be the carob. The tree is also known as the locust tree – the carob pods, because of their sweetness attract many insects and birds to it.

I almost feel like ending this post with a blessing!