This week on Wednesday I was reading about Massimo Bottura’s Italian upbringing: his never-throw-anything-away attitude in the kitchen and his – seasonal, humble and delicious food – and then I thought about my cooking and how I maximise how I use my produce.
On Sunday night I pan fried some chicken livers with onions, sage, a little grated nutmeg and deglazed them with red wine – simple, humble and delicious. I accompanied them with a little home made Harissa…always a staple in my fridge.
I also cleaned the outside leaves of two bunches of chicory and braised them = you know how Italians do this, in extra virgin olive oil and garlic. No chili this time because of the harissa with the livers.
It is winter in Melbourne and chicory is in season. I had two bunches, one bunch with red stalks and one all green. They taste similar, but perhaps the red tinted stalks are more bitter.
On Monday night I used the left over chicken livers and turned them into a salad.
I used the juices of the livers as a base.
I hard-boiled some eggs, made a simple mustard and extra virgin olive oil and wine vinegar dressing, used the inside, softer, lighter green leaves to make a salad.
I added a little left over beetroot and some cooked brown lentils that I had in the fridge; I like sweetness and bitterness together.
Like Bottura, I have that never-throw-anything-away attitude in the kitchen and this – seasonal, humble and delicious.
And I forgot to say – simple-easy- quick-fresh and healthy. Although I did not say that the livers and the eggs were free range, of course they were!!!
So what else can you do with all these wonderful winter leafy greens?
In Italian a torta is a cake, but it can also be a savoury type, for example as in this case a TORTA DI VERDURA (A vegetable flan or pie). Verdura means vegetable and in this case green, leafy vegetables.
There are different types of pastry that can be used, but in this case I chose one made with extra virgin olive oil. It is easy to make and I have found that it also generally keeps better than the other pastry and makes a more solid casing for the verdure. Interestingly in the rural areas around Ragusa (Sicily) sugar is often added to pastry and on this occasion I have done so.
I like to use a variety of different green leafy vegetables for the filling. Selected from any combination of the following: chicory, escarole/endive, chopped tender green leaves of celery and fennel (in small quantities) spinach, broccoli, cime di rape and cavolo nero (in the North of Italy). Kale (not Italian) is also suitable and occasionally I have also used a little cabbage.
If I am including endives or chicory, I use the outside leaves and reserve the more tender, lighter coloured leaves in the centre for green salads. Bitter tasting chicory and endive are particularly appreciated – bitter vegetables are considered particularly beneficial for the liver.
The TORTA DI VERDURA is best served at room temperature and usually I bake it on the same day if I am presenting the torta at home. I usually stagger the preparations by cooking the verdura the previous day – often I will have it as a contorno (a vegetable side dish) the night before and save some for the pie. I either make the pastry the night before or at least two hours before the baking (this pastry likes to rest).
Breadcrumbs are sprinkled on top of the pastry before the filling is added. This will help to absorb juices from the vegetables and will assist to prevent the pastry from becoming soggy. My breadcrumbs are made from 1-3 day old, with the crusts removed. I use bread like a sourdough or made with pasta dura flour (hard wheat) and which has had time to rise naturally.
In the north of Italy, eggs are usually included to bind the mixture rather than the breadcrumbs; I add 2 beaten eggs well as the bread expecially if I am going to leave the cooked torta for more than 2 hours before I eat it.
Vegetables: you should have masses of raw leaves – the equivalent to 3 large bunches of green leafy vegetables (se above for variety) which should give a mixture of about 6-8 cups of cooked, well drained and chopped, mixed greens.
½ cup of extra-virgin olive oil,
onions, 2 large chopped
salt to taste
chillies 2 dried or fresh (left whole and optional)
garlic, 6 cloves, squashed,
¾ to 1 cup coarse breadcrumbs
2 eggs, lightly whipped with a fork
When you are ready to put the filling into the torta you could also add the following:
Anchovies and black olives, ½ cup of olives ¼ cup of anchovies, chopped,
Currants and toasted pine nuts (about ½ cup of each, to taste). When I use this option I do not use chillies and add a little nutmeg.
Cheese – Sharp cheese like pecorino or provolone (with chillies) or a mild cheese like ricotta or pecorino fresco (I do not add chillies).
PROCESSESTo clean the greens: remove any bruised or brown leaves and cut off the tough stem ends. Separate the bunches into leaves, wash and tear some of the bigger leaves into smaller pieces (so that they cook quicker and fit into the pan better).Cook the leaves by either steaming them in the pan and only using a little water or by adding them to about 3 cups of salted boiling water (as is the traditional Italian method for cooking verdure.) Stir regularly and ensure that the vegetables do not stick to the bottom of the pan.Cover and cook over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes – they will get more cooking later. Once again, Italians would cook these for a longer period. Drain well (I leave them in a colander until ready to use).Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large saucepan, add the whole chillies and the garlic and stir till the garlic has flavoured the oil. Remove and discard the garlic and chillies.Add the onion and stir until softened.
Squeeze any remaining moisture from the greens before adding them to the pan, then taste for salt, adjust and toss them into the pan in the flavoured oil.
Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5-10 minutes.
Let cool and set aside.
PASTRY CRUST: Pasta Frolla Fatta Con Olio (Short pastry made with oil)
I like to make my own pastry, but you may prefer to use a commercial variety. I also enjoy using my fingers, however food processors work well.
In this recipe I have used standard cup measurements and approximate weight, but let your intuition be your judgement and vary the amounts as needed. Different flours will absorb differing amounts of liquid I have estimated the approximate amount of water which could be used. Pastry making is also influenced by the weather, use cold water, and rinse your hands to cool them under the cold-water tap, keep the pastry in a cool place when you allow it to rest.
The pastry should be compact and may not need any extra liquid, but if you feel that you will not be able to roll it out, add more oil or a little water. Some recipes use a combination of whole eggs and egg yolks, others add a little white wine or lemon juice for the extra moisture.
I like to bake the bottom of the pastry blind before I put in the filling: line the pastry with foil; add pastry weights (or dried beans or chick peas) on top. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights. (Optional – brush pastry with egg white to provide a better seal and bake for another 10 minutes).
The torta can also be covered entirely with pastry, rather than with strips as I have done on this occasion.
plain flour, approx 3 cups
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon of sugar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup water cold
2-3 egg yolks
extra virgin olive oil, to brush the top of the pastry
Combine in a large bowl or on a slab with the flour, sugar and salt.
Drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil and lightly rub quickly with your fingers until the mixture is crumbly.
Make a well in the centre, work in some of the water, adding more water as needed, until the mixture begins to hold together and form soft dough. Knead for 2-3 minutes until the pastry feels elastic
Shape into a ball, wrap it in plastic film and let it rest in a cool place for at least 60 minutes before rolling out.
To assemble the torta:
Preheat the oven to 190.C.
Butter a deep spring- form pan (mine is 22.5 cm round and 6.0 cm deep) with extra virgin olive oil.
Divide the pasty into 2 parts; roll out one slightly larger than the other to line the bottom and the sides of the dish. Make the edge about 1cm higher than the edge of the tin. (About 07.5 cm). Do not b concerned if you find this dough to have become a little more stiff and resistant to stretching.
Fit the dough into the prepared well buttered pan, pressing it against the sides and letting the excess dough hang over the edge (about 3cm).
Prick the pastry and place it in the fridge until the filling is ready.
Roll out the remaining dough and cut the pastry into strips.– these will form the lattice.
Prepare the filling:
Drain and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Add eggs and any of the variations (optional).
Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over pastry in the pan.
Cover the filling with strips of pastry: start with the longest strips and lay in a cross shape across the centre of the pie (90 degree angles). Alternate horizontal and vertical strips until you have covered the cake with a lattice (or weave them in an over-and-under pattern).
Press the ends of the strips firmly to the lip of the pie and then fold in on itself.
Bake and cook until the top is golden and the pastry has detached itself from the sides of the tin. This may take about 45- 60 minutes
Allow to rest in the tin for 8 minutes on a wire rack before releasing it (or if you are clever and have used a conventional baking tin, inverting it).
As an Italian I am able to better appreciate the different flavours of the torta if I eat it warm rather than hot.
Can you imagine this torta made with wild greens? The photo below was taken just outside the gates to the Valley Of The Temples in Agrigento. There he is with his plastic bag…..
I buy freshly picked vegetables and fruit that are in season – it is more likely to equate to optimum flavour and nutrition.
Many cooks are not familiar with particular vegetables or do not know how to cook them. For example: artichokes, chicory, fennel, cavolo nero, cime di rape, prickly pears, broad beans, cardoons, endives, kale (to name a few) would be classed as unusual vegetables to some shoppers.
But I can buy all of these ingredients from Carmel and Gus’s stall at the Queen Victoria Market (B Shed, Stall 61- 63).
On my blog you will find many photos of produce from their stall and recipes on how to cook them. This season the cavolo broccoli have been interesting to try.
I have again much enjoyed the artichokes and the cime di rape (see photo below). Most of the time, I stuff my artichokes with breadcrumbs, parsley, grated pecorino (if cooking Sicilian), garlic and I moisten the stuffing with extra virgin olive oil.
I braise them in broth and white wine. Great stuff.
This photo above is a photo of one of the courses I very much enjoyed in a Sardinian Restaurant in Bologna called Taverna Mascarella. It was listed on their the menu as Cicoretta con salsiccia (fresh pork sausage)
Cicoretta is either young chicory or it can also mean wild chicory. The large featured photo is of a man collecting wild greens in Agrigento (by the entrance to the temples) and the one below is a photo of wild chicory sold in the Catania market in Sicily.
I have written about chicory on this blog before and it is one of my favourite green leafy vegetables. You could also make it with other greens: Cime di rape or Cavolo Nero (also called Tuscan cabbage) or Kale or even spinach.
1 bunch of Chicory.
2 Italian fresh pork sausages (with or without fennel or chilli)
Clean and wilt the greens. Drain them.
Cut sausage or remove the mince from the skins and separate it into small pieces. Saute the sausage in some extra virgin olive oil. Add the greens, salt and pepper (to your liking) and toss them around in the hot pan with the sausage meat until the greens are well coated and flavoured.
The crusty wedges you can see in the photo are made with grated Pecorino sardo (Sardinian pecorino). If you add grated cheese to a heated non stick frypan and keep on cooking it it will stick together and form a wafer. You could do this on a stove or in an oven.
Try making small ones at first, just add a spoonful of grated cheese to a non stick frypan and watch it melt. Cool in the pan and the cheese will solidify and you will be able to lift it out with a spatula.
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.
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.
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).
I bought some chicory at the queen Victoria Market this morning – it is a winter vegetable but obviously still around and in good condition, even in November. As you can see in the photo this particular type of chicory has scarlet stalks.
Well, I call this chicory. There is so much confusion about chicory; it gets confused with endives, escarole, radicchio (especially the green coloured radicchio, often called radicchio biondo or radicchio di Trieste) and even witlof. They all have a distinctive bitter taste, but to me chicory is this one, the one with the long serrated leaves.
I have found puntarelle salad in some Italian restaurants in Australia. These are chicory shoots of a variety of chicory called catalogna. The shoots are either picked while the plant is very young and tender but more commonly when the plant is going to seed and sends out shoots. The word puntarelle (from punta) means small shoots or points.
I cook the outer leaves as I do leafy greens – softened before I braise them in oil, garlic and a little chilli .(see CAVOLO NERO).
The tender lighter coloured green leaves from the centre (or the sprouting shoots at this time of year) I use in salads, either as part of a green leaf salad, or to contrast a sweeter tasting ingredient, for example, beetroot, borlotti beans or fennel and orange.
A favourite way to use the centre is to use it like Sicilians use cicorino (chicory, often wild and found in spring in Sicily and also called la prima – the first). Pino Correnti, a respected food authority about Sicilian food thinks that this salad is eaten in Troina, in north – central Sicily.
chicory (see below for amounts and type)
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
hard boiled eggs
Wash and cut into small pieces the chicory.
Make the vinaigrette with the oil, vinegar, lemon and seasoning.
Add a few chopped anchovies to the dressing and dress the salad.
Add hard-boiled eggs cut into quarters.
Accompany it with bread.(I like it as a first course as well. For this option I add more eggs and whole anchovies).
FEATURE PHOTO Puntarelle with soft drained ricotta. Creamed goats’ cheese would be OK as well.