Tag Archives: Crostini

BACCALÀ MANTECATO (Creamed salt cod, popular in the Veneto region and Trieste)

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 Ortigia, Syracuse

According to my Sicilian relatives, only Sicilians know how to cook bacca. Having lived in Trieste (north Italy), I was very familiar with this fish that is cooked in a variety of ways in this region. I particularly like baccalà mantecato, (boiled cod fish and then whipped or beaten with oil and garlic – one of the most representative recipes in Venetian cuisine). I tried to introduce my Sicilian relatives to this once, but they were not interested. Sicilians are particularly conservative about food that isn’t theirs.

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Baccalà mantecato is not easily found in restaurants (most restaurants in Australia cook Southern Italian food) but I have eaten it at Guy Grossi’s, The Merchant –an osteria in Melbourne with typical food from the north-east of Italy.  Most of the food is presented as cichetti— bite-sized morsels.

The food at The Merchant brings back many childhood memories, including the Veneto dialect used for the names of the offerings on the menu (very similar to the Triestino dialect spoken in Trieste) .

Baccalà mantecato, has the thickness of a creamy, mashed potato. The fish spread is served cold and in my youth i ate it spread on crostini – thin slices of white bread, lightly fried till crisp in extra virgin olive oil. We passed the crostini around to guests while they drank an aperitivo. – usually a vermouth. Needless to say, a glass of prosecco or soave is also a good accompaniment. In Venice, baccalà mantecato is more likely to be spread on crostini made with cooked polenta that has been lightly toasted ( lightly fried or grilled) .

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There are various recipes for how to make this and not all add milk. I was taught that the milk sweetened the taste and helped to preserve the white colour.

Thick pieces of salt cod (cut from the centre) are the thickest and the best. Leave the skin, but cut away fins and obvious bones. Cut into serving size pieces (7- 10cm). Rinse well in running water before soaking for 36-48 hours (over soaking will not spoil the fish, especially if the pieces of baccalà are thick). Keep it covered in a bowl in the fridge. Change the water at least 4-5 times.

INGREDIENTS
bacca, 800g, pre soaked
garlic, 1-2 cloves chopped very finely (I use a garlic press)
extra virgin olive oil, at least 1 cup
pepper
bay leaf, 1-3
parsley,  finely chopped 1-2 tablespoons
milk, 2 litres
water, 1 litre
PROCESSES
Cover the pre soaked baccalà with cold water and milk, and bring it slowly to the boil. Add a bay leaf.
Simmer gently for 30- 40 mins. Allow it to rest and cool in the liquid.
Remove the fish from the poaching liquid, pick out all the bones and remove the skin. Use a fork to break the flesh into small pieces.
Place fish in a bowl and add the garlic and about ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil. Begin to beat the fish with a wooden spoon and keep on adding oil as you would if you were making mayonnaise by hand. The mixture will look like a thick, white, fluffy cream. Keep on adding oil until the mixture will not absorb any more – it may absorb 1-1½ cups of oil.
The above process can also be done in a food processor.

The photograph of baccalà montecato was one of the entrées presented a couple of years ago as part of The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival; the event was called Around Italy in 7 Days – Travel north to south with a different gastronomic journey each night.

Massimiliano Ferraiuolo was the chef (originally from Naples) who was visiting from Italy for a week’s residence at Society Restaurant and cooking each evening. (This was the evening to celebrate food from the north of Italy). the baccalà montecato was presented on a bed of mashed fresh peas with black toasted bread (black squid ink was used in the bread mixture), sprinkled with paprika, toasted almonds and a fresh, red autumn leaf . Pumpernickel bread is also suitable.

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CAVOLO NERO and three ways to cook it

Cavolo nero  is also called black Tuscan cabbage. I have also seen it called Black kale. It is not black in colour, it is a very deep green, the leaves long, thin and curly. I constantly find myself in situations where I end up explaining to others how to clean and how to cook it. It gives me great satisfaction (I feel like a know-all). This morning it happened twice at the Queen Victoria Market. Once at the stall where I was buying it, and again a little later as I was walking along carrying it in my basket. And it happened last week as well.

Here are three ways you can enjoy it:

  • Ribollita (soup)
  • Crostini
  • Contorno ( vegetable side dish)

RIBOLLITA

Cavolo nero is prolific in Tuscany and is one of the main ingredients in the famous Tuscan soup called ribollitaBollita (soup is a feminine word) means boiled, so the soup is called reboiled, and it is.

 Ribollita is made with cannellini, other greens (beets, cabbage), tomatoes, red onion, garlic, celery, carrots, leeks and cavolo nero. Once the soup is made, it is then layered with good quality 1-2 day old bread and left to rest for at least 24 hours; the flavours intensify when it rests.

When the soup is ready to eat, a little extra virgin olive oil is added and then it is reboiled. It is one of those soups that never die – leave it all week.

Have you ever eaten Tuscan bread? Wonderful stuff. Thickening and eating soup with the bread is what contadini, (peasants, on the land) have always done. This custom is very much like the French who ladle soupe over a slice of bread – pain de campagne. The quality and character of the bread is important, it adds flavour. Good bread lasts one week and many say that it improves with age.

 

On CROSTINI

One other way to eat cavolo nero is on crostini.

Use slices of good quality bread, grill them, and while they’re still hot rub them with a cut clove of garlic and drizzle with good quality extra virgin olive oil.

Strip the leaves off the tough stalks (I usually only remove the toughest bits of the stalks at the end of the leaf), wilt till soft, drain well and cool.

Add salt freshly ground black pepper, and a little extra virgin olive oil.

Mix well and place a little of the cooked vegetable on the hot crostini. Drizzle with more olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Place on slices of bread fried in extra virgin olive oil until crisp (crostini).

 

As a CONTORNO (a vegetable accompaniment)

I cook cavolo nero the same way as Italians cook most greens: it is first wilted then tossed around in oil and garlic and salt. Unlike most Italians who like their vegetables soft, I skip the wilting process and sauté them in oil and garlic, add salt and pepper, a splash of liquid (stock, white wine or water) and cook till softened (It is tougher than silverbeet and will take longer to cook).

In photo below, braised greens as an accompaniment to sauteed  chicken livers.

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COZZE-Mussels, Crostini (canapés)

Crostini made with mussels.

I do like mussels (called cozzuli in Sicilian and cozze in Italian) and they are sustainable, but more often than not I cook too many (usually steamed in a little white wine, garlic, parsley, chili and eaten with bread). What to do with left over mussel meat? This is not ever a problem, but for something different try these.

Crostini (from the Latin, crusta – crust) are thin slices of toasted bread, cut small, brushed with olive oil and then toasted. Crostini are eaten like canapés spread with different toppings (usually chicken livers) and served with drinks. But these Sicilian crostini are different and remind me of French toast. In this recipe, the mussel shells are discarded; the mussel meat is made into a paste and is then sandwiched between two small slices of bread. It is then dipped in beaten egg, and fried. They make wonderful morsels.

Perhaps there is some French influence in this recipe because it contains besciamella. Some Italian culinary historians believe it was brought to France by the Italian cooks of Marie de Medici but the most common story is that the court chef named the sauce after an important steward in Louis fourteenth’s court – Louis de Béchameil. Originally béchamel was made by adding cream to a thickened stock but the more common and more modern version is made by adding hot milk to a roux of butter and flour. Some béchamel also contains the vegetables found in stock.

INGREDIENTS
mussel meat, about 1 cup (chopped, Australian mussels are much larger than those found in Catania)
bread, thin slices, good quality, sourdough or pasta dura, no crusts. Day old bread will cut better. (I like to use sourdough baguettes – good size for mouths)
pecorino cheese, ½ cup , grated
eggs, 3 extra virgin olive oil for frying
tomato salsa, 1 cup (made with 500g of tomatoes, 2 garlic cloves, fresh basil leaves, sea salt, ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil).
Place all of the ingredients and any liquid from the mussels in a saucepan and cook uncovered until reduced to about 1 cup. Use cool.

Besciamella (besciamelle or béchamel sauce), 1 cup:

1 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoons flour, 1 cup milk, freshly ground nutmeg, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Melt the butter and add the flour in a saucepan over a moderate heat, cook the mixture while stirring with a wooden spoon for 1-2 minutes. Over the heat gradually add the milk while stirring to stop lumps occurring. When all the milk is added continue to cook while stirring until the mixture thickens (it should be quite thick). Season, add nutmeg, remove the pan and allow to cool.

PROCESSES
Mix the salsa, besciamella, ground pepper, mussel meat and cheese.
Cut the bread to size and thickness about 1cm.
Spread this mixture thickly between slices of bread, like when making sandwiches.
Dip the sandwiches briefly in the egg but allow the egg to soak in. Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan and fry the sandwiches on each side. Serve hot.

Chine va chjanu, va sanu e va luntanu (Sicilian proverb).
Chi va piano, va sano e va lontano. (Le cose fatte con calma sono le migliori).
The best things are made when calm.

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