The simplest of ingredients can give so much pleasure.
I have always liked Italian fresh cheeses and while in Venice and Trieste I ate as much fresh mozzarella, burrata and stracciatella as I could. The tomatoes have been excellent also.
Fresh mozzarella whether made from cow or buffalo milk (di bufala) is fairly easy to find in other countries apart from Italy, burrata is more difficult to
find but it is very speedily finding fame and fortune in other countries and replacing the very popular Caprese salad that had dominated menus for places where tourists gather.
Stracciatella is a soft cream almost runny cheese, a combination of shredded fresh mozzarella curd and cream. Straccia (“rag” or “shred) from the verb stracciare“- to tear.
Burrata, like mozzarella can be made from cow or buffalo milk. The outer layer is made of fresh mozzarella – a pulled or stretched cheese – but the centre is filled with oozing, creamy and delicate tasting stracciatella. Cut it open, and wow… you get that double whammy!
Because I love the Italian language I want to tell you that burrata (buttered) is derived from burro – butter. Burrata hails from southern Italy, from the Puglia region where orecchiette come from. Rather than being filled with stracciatella it can also be filled with heavy cream – this of course is what becomes butter.
In the photos there are two types of burrate (plural of burrata), the rounded shape or sealed sphere, and the one tied together with vegetal string. Both burrate delicious and both enveloping a creamy filling.
Burrata is eaten as fresh as possible – ideally within 24 hours of being made and is usually sold in its water like whey.
So when you find heirloom tomatoes and very tasty ordinary or cherry tomatoes and burrata you get a triple+++ whammy…. mild acidity of tomatoes, basil super-duper good quality extra virgin olive oil and you have pretty much ecstasy.
I actually made this tomato and salad in Paris… from Italian ingredients (apart from tomatoes and basil and a little red onion from the countries around the Mediterranean.
Out with the old marinade of vinegar, sunflower oil, tired sliced garlic and herbs.
And in with the new marinade – extra virgin olive oil, fresh parsley, garlic and a little dry oregano (optional).
Sounds better already. New life, fresh taste!
These are handy to have in the fridge to dip into at anytime, or to present as an antipasto on fresh bread or crostini , or inside a leaf from the centre of a small cos lettuce or radicchio or witlof – in fact any salad green that has cone shaped head and cup shaped leaves that can hold a few marinaded anchovies.
The pictures tell the story. Simple to make, good to eat.
Leave in marinade at least one day but as long as you keep them under oil they will last for a couple of weeks in the fridge.
I used :
500g of white marinaded anchovies ( alici fresche marinate are usually packed in Sicily or Liguria… and the Spaniards call them boquerones),
2-3 cloves of garlic ½ cup chopped parsley, both finely chopped.
extra virgin olive oil to cover – the amount will depend of the container you use. I always use glass.
Drain the anchovies and discard the old marinade and the solids.
Layer the anchovies with the herbs and the garlic and top with the oil.
Store in the fridge until ready to use. If you are taking some anchovies out, make sure to once again cover them with oil.
If you are presenting the anchovies inside leaves use a colander to drain the anchovies and then place 1-3 inside each leaf- this will depend on the size of the leaf and how much you (or your guests) like anchovies.
If you are presenting them on bread, there is no need to drain them with a colander – the oil tastes good too.
As you can see, finding small suitable leaves and keeping them whole can be time consuming.
At this time of year basil is plentiful and many of us enjoy pasta with pesto, so it is time to revisit a post I first wrote in February, 2009 about the Sicilian pesto called Mataroccu (and also Ammogghia in some parts of Sicily).
The name pesto comes from the word for pestle or to pound. The ingredients are pounded in a mortar and the results are much sweeter than ingredients chopped in a food processor – the differences are much the same as the results obtained from chopping herbs by hand and using a food processor fitted with the steel blade (will taste grassy).
Most associate pesto with the traditional combination of basil, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and good quality grated cheese; pesto originates from the region of Liguria.
Some of us would be amused about the way that Ligurians discuss a genuine pesto- Ligurian pesto can only be made with basil grown in Genoa and close environs (region of Liguria) and that Ligurians generally use as the cheese component, half Parmigiano and half Pecorino sardo – Sardinian (sardo) Pecorino is a much sweeter tasting and less salty than other pecorino. As it should be, Pecorino is made from sheeps’ milk – the word pecora is Italian for sheep.
To dress pasta, also like to make a Sicilian alternative, a pesto from around Trapani – Mataroccu or Ammogghia and sometimes Pesto Pantesco (if it is from the island of Pantelleria, south-west of Sicily).
As expected there are different regional versions of the same pistu (Sicilian word for pesto) It contains similar ingredients as the Ligurian pesto but also raw, fresh, ripe tomatoes, which at this time of year, like basil, should not be a problem. Some Trapanesi prefer to use blanched almonds instead of the pine nuts.
I never weigh ingredients when I make pesto, but the following amounts should provide a balanced sauce for pasta. As I may have written at other times, in Australia we tend to overdress our pasta – the pesto should coat the pasta (and it is assumed that you will use good quality, durum wheat pasta) but not overpower the taste.
almonds or pine nuts, 1 cup
garlic, 8-10 cloves,
ripe tomatoes, 400g, peeled, seeded, and chopped
basil, 1 ½ cups loose leaves
parsley ½ cup, cut finely
extra virgin olive oil (your most fragrant), about 1 cup or as much as the pesto absorbs
salt, and red pepper flakes to taste
Pound garlic in a mortar with a little salt to obtain a paste (I like it fine but with some uneven bits).
Add some of the tomato, some herbs and a little oil and pound some more.
Keep on adding a few ingredients at the time, till they have all been used and until you have a homogeneous, smooth sauce.
Because we live in a modern age you may wish to use a food processor. First grind the nuts. Add the rest of the ingredients gradually and process until creamy.
Just recently one of my Adelaide friends made a salsa verde to accompany some lightly roasted sirloin and roasted vegetables. Most enjoyable.
Making salsa verde was one of my tasks as a teenager in the family kitchen.
There always seemed to be some salsa verde in our fridge; it was used specifically as a condiment for our frequent serves of pesce lesso, (poached or steamed fish) and bollito (boiled meat). Broth (and hence boiled meat) was a weekly affair. Traditionally it was intended to accompany plain tasting, boiled food.
I was very surprised that I have not included a recipe for salsa verde on my blog as I make it often.
I have never measured or weighed ingredients when making sauces, but these estimations seem to produce what I am after. Allow this salsa to rest for at least an hour so that the flavours become better balanced.
Traditionally the consistency of the sauce is semi liquid, especially if you wish to pour it over fish or meat. However, by adding larger amounts of solid ingredients, this sauce can be presented as a large blob on the side of the meat or fish.
To serve the salsa verde with fish, I sometimes use lemon juice instead of vinegar. In latter years I also started to add grated lemon peel.
Recipes evolve and over time, especially in other parts of the world where salsa verde has been become popular and different herbs have been added. For example I have noticed that mint or tarragon or oregano or rocket have snuck in. These herbs are not common in the traditional Italian recipe that originated in the north of Italy but has spread all over Italy. In Sicilian it is called sarsa virdi .
Salsa verde can be used to jazz anything up – vegetables, roasts, cold meats, smoked fish, crayfish etc. I sometimes use it to stuff hard boiled eggs (remove the yolk, mix with salsa verde and return it to the egg).
I had someone ask me recently about using it with left over Christmas turkey. Why not?
parsley, 1 cup cut finely,
wine vinegar, 1 ½ tablespoonful
anchovies, 3-4 cut finely
capers, ½ cup, if the salted variety, rinse, soak to remove salt
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
freshbread, the white part of 1 slice
egg, 1, hard boiled, chopped finely
garlic, 2 cloves chopped
green olives, chopped, ½ cup
Soak the bread briefly in 1 tablespoon of the vinegar and squeeze dry.
Combine all of the ingredients and stir them gently together in a wide mouthed jar or jug.
The anchovies generally provide sufficient salt, but taste the sauce and season to taste.
When I lived in my parent’s house a little of the mixed garden pickles (called sotto aceti or giardiniera) was a must. Select a couple of small pieces of the white root (turnip) or green (small gherkins). Omit the ½ tablespoon of vinegar.
This is the type of sauce where you can vary the ingredients. Add different amounts of ingredients – more or less anchovies or capers.
Definitely over festive food…..Christmas was great, but…
And now for something completely different.
Tomatoes usually fail to ripen at the end of the season (in autumn) and usually Southern Italians wait till then to preserve green tomatoes. However if you can spare a few, pick some unripe tomatoes (or buy them as I did at the Queen Victoria Market) and make this pickle.
It is very convenient to have this – to eat plain with bread or as an accompaniment to cold meats or cheese.
The photos tell the story.
You need green tomatoes.
Wash, dry and slice into thick slices
Put them in a large colander, and sprinkle with salt….generous amounts.
Leave to drain for 24 hours.
Squeeze them and put them into a bowl and cover them with a mixture made of 1 part vinegar to 1 part water. Make sure that they are covered and put a weight on top. Leave at least 6- 8 hours.
Drain, and squeeze as dry as you can.
Place the tomatoes into sterilized jars and mix with olive oil (I use extra virgin olive oil), garlic slivers, dried fennel seeds and oregano (add chili flakes if you wish). Make sure they are well covered with oil and keep submerged – I save those plastic rings that keep pickles submerged that are often found in Italian pickles; there is one in the photo above.
Keep in fridge; they are ready to eat in a few days and will keep for months. Make sure that when you remove some of the pickle to eat, the remainder is always covered with oil.
They can be stored in a pantry, but omit the garlic if you do this, as it tends to go off.
I opened a small bottle of extra virgin olive oil, which I recently purchased, and it tasted very bitter – very disappointing. Nor can you tell from its colour (photo of three samples of extra virgin olive oils in my pantry), and this is the point, you can never ascertain how good it is going to be until you taste it.
I also find that there is confusion about types of olive oil. For example many of those people who buy ‘light’ oil think that this oil is lighter in calories – this is not the case.
Olive oil is essentially a fruit juice and like any good fruit juice, it tastes best when it’s fresh and the fruit is ripe and in good condition.
Unlike wine, olive oil doesn’t really mature or improve with age, although a couple of months after it’s been pressed and bottled, the oil may “open up”, drop its veil of sediment and become a little more aromatic.
The other important thing to remember about olive oil is that while it can be called a juice it is also a fat and will oxidise if it is exposed to too much heat, air and sunlight. Oxidised oil tastes rancid, so it is best to keep your oils in a cool, dark place.
Olive oils differ in quality, colour, flavour and aroma.I use olive oil for all my cooking and lots of it, but I don’t use expensive, high quality oil for frying or cooking, because the flavours of the ingredients would overpower the taste and fragrance of the oil. Rather I choose different oils for different purposes, saving my best oils to complement the flavours of ingredients, especially those I serve raw, so the taste of the oil can be appreciated.
In all my recipes I always use extra virgin olive oil.
Looking beyond the obvious sexual allusions, the description of an olive oil as “pure”, “virgin” and “extra virgin” really does raise the question about which oils are which?
In simple terms extra virgin olive oil is the finest and fruitiest of oils. In recent years the objective qualities for grading olive oil have been developed by the International Olive Oil Commission (IOOC)
According to the IOOC criteria, to be classified as extra virgin, an oil has to be free of impurities, with no flaws in flavour or aroma, and be produced at temperatures below 28 degrees Celsius. Extra virgin the oil must also have a free fatty acid content below 1 per cent.
Why are temperature and acidity important? Both are indicators of quality. A low percentage of free fatty acid is a sign that the oil comes from sound, fresh, ripe fruit. Extracting oil at higher temperatures, accelerates the breakdown of the beneficial anti-oxidant compounds in the oil, reducing the oils natural protection against oxidation. Higher temperatures also evaporate some of the more volatile aromatic flavours of the oil, robbing it of its more complex and subtle fragrances.
Virgin olive is next in the rankings. This oil must also be free of flaws in flavour and aroma, but has a higher free fatty acid content of between 1 and 2 percent.
Pure olive oil rates lowest, although it should still have an acceptable flavour and aroma without flaws and an oleic acidity below 3.3 percent.
But rather than being produced by a centrifuge or a pressing method, pure olive oil is more likely to have been produced by the treating the oil with solvents such as caustic soda through a process known as “”, which in effect turns the oil into soap before it is dissolved, distilled and re-constituted which involves extremely high temperatures.
These days, especially in Australia and increasingly in Europe, olive oil is being produced and marketed in accordance with standards set down by the IOOC.
The IOOC is also a vigorous advocate of truth in labelling.
Most virgin and extra virgin olive oils are also labelled on the bottle as “first, cold pressed”.
The way most oils, and that includes quality extra virgin oils, are produced these days, “first, cold pressed” is a meaningless marketing phrase, that harks back to another time when olives were crushed to a paste that was then spread on mats which were stacked in layers and pressed.
Under that system, after the pressing had produced as much oil as possible, the paste and mats were doused in hot water to release any oil still in the paste and extract the very last of the drops from a second or even a third pressing.
These days, such a method is too labour intensive and too slow for commercial olive oil production. Now producers tend to rely on continuous centrifugal extraction machines where the olives are poured in one end, milled to a paste, pressed under centrifugal force, and then separated into oil and water, leaving a dried pulp to be disposed of later.
The temperature of these continuous presses can be regulated easily and the best results are obtained at around 28 degrees celsius, a comfortable room temperature, that is anything but cold, but promotes oil flow and doesn’t evaporate the aromatic flavours of the oil.
My advice is to always put a new oil to the taste test. It should certainly not taste rancid, metallic or have a slack, fatty flavour. A good oil should be fruity and balanced, with a hint of peppery bite on the back of the throat.
The bulk of the oil I buy is in 3 or 4 litre tins and it is labelled Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I use this oil every day in all my cooking, to braise, bake, fry, marinate, and sauté; for preserving and pickling, and even to oil my baking tins. This is the oil I use when I don’t want the flavour to dominate the other ingredients.
I also buy a variety of qualityextra virgin olive oils that come in bottles. These oils are much more expensive than the oil I buy in bulk tins. A fine 375ml bottle may cost as much as or more than a 4 litre tin, because the flavour is stronger and fruitier and greater care may have been taken with picking and processing the fruit. These are my best oils. I save these for salads and other cold dishes or to trickle over bread or hot dishes just before serving so the rich flavour can be fully appreciated.
There is so much good olive oil now produced in Australia.
If you live in the Southern hemisphere (as I do in Melbourne, Australia,) you may have noticed small artichokes for sale. Carciofi is the word for the normal sized artichokes and carciofini are the small ones. Carciofini are also the baby artichokes that never develop to full size and grow at the end of the plant’s growing season (photo of carciofi spinosi taken at Palermo Market)
These small artichokes (that never develop to full size) are considered too small to cook and are customarily preserved in oil and eaten in the non-artichoke season. I realize that this may be difficult for some of us to imagine because we appear to be able to purchase artichokes, asparagus and tomatoes all year round in Australia, but being Italian and having been brought up with respecting and celebrating local, seasonal produce, I go without. (I ask myself how far away some of this produce is coming from and how long ago was it picked.)
The carciofini are first poached and then preserved under oil. Usually I only preserve very small quantities (they get eaten very quickly), but for each kilo of artichokes,
small artichokes, 1 kilo
acidulated water – 2 lemons
For the poaching liquid
I use 4 cups of white wine vinegar, a cup of white wine and about one teaspoon of salt for the poaching liquid. They need to poach in sufficient liquid otherwise the bitter taste becomes concentrated and they could be unpleasant.
For the oil mixture:
Sufficient extra virgin oil to cover the artichokes and
1 tablespoon of whole black pepper corns, 5 bay leaves and about a tablespoon of dry oregano.
Use artichokes that look closed and firm (when the leaves start to open, the choke has started to develop and this can happen even to small artichokes if they have been left on the plant too long).
Strip back the leaves (you just want the tender heart) and kept them whole. Soak them in the water and lemon to stop them from browning.
Drain the artichokes and leave them upside down while you make up the vinegar/wine mixture. Use a stainless steel saucepan with a lid (to cover the artichokes as they cook).
Place the artichokes in the boiling mixture, cover and poach them gently in the mixture until cooked but not soft – still firm in the centre, but the outer leaves should have softened. The time for cooking varies (my last batch took 12 minutes).
Drain them of as much vinegar as possible and when cool pack them carefully into sterilised glass jars, pressing them down gently and trying to prevent as many gaps as possible. (Rather than a large jar I use smaller sized jars so as to minimise possible spoilage once opened).
Add flavours and cover with oil. To allow any trapped air to escape leave them for about 3 hours before sealing. During the resting time the level of the oil may be reduced, top with more oil and ensure they are well covered (some use an inverted small saucer on top as a weight to help keep the artichokes submerged but make sure that you sterilise the saucer).
Seal the jars and allow them to steep in the oil for at least 10 days before you eat them. Because I make small quantities and live in an apartment with little storage space, I keep them in my fridge, but they can be stored in a cool, dark place for about 6 months.
I never add fresh herbs or garlic to any preserves, as these are likely to go off, release gas and spoil the whole preserve.
When ready to use, remove the quantity of artichokes from the jar, drain them of some of the oil, add garlic slices and finely chopped parsley and a dash of lemon juice.
After each jar is opened, it is best to use the artichokes quickly. Add extra oil to the remaining artichokes to keep the contents submerged.I always keep opened jars in the fridge.
Those zucchini grow rapidly and before you know it, they become zucche (plural of zucca,) The marrows I am talking about are no longer than 22 cms, still tender and have flavour – any larger than this they become tasteless and dry and are good for the compost. Usually, zucche are stuffed, but these can also be used successfully to make a salad.
I use a mandoline (kitchen utensil used for slicing and cutting) to cut the marrows into matchsticks and then use a method similar to the one for making Italian vegetable preserves.
Sicilians (and southern Italians) are fond of preserves – the most common are made with eggplants or green tomatoes, sliced, salted, squeezed dry (the next day), then placed in vinegar for a day, squeezed dry and finally placed in oil and oregano.
I treat marrows in a similar way, but because I want to eat them fresh it is unnecessary to go through the lengthy process I have described above – the salting process takes about 30 minutes and the rest is completed in no time at all. If I am using zucchini, I slice them long-wise and very thinly (a potato peeler can be good).
The following amounts are for processing 1 marrow…..and not too large or seedy.
salt, 1 teaspoon
white, wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon
extra virgin olive oil, 1/3cup
oregano, ½teaspoon dried is more pungent,
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cut marrow into half, remove seeds. Cut into match sticks or use a mandoline or a turning slicer which cuts into spirals.
Place in a colander with salt. Leave to drain for at least 30mins. Squeeze dry.
Dress with the oil and vinegar and crushed oregano.
Leave for about 10 minutes for the flavours to infuse.
I have a Brazilian friend who is still discovering the delights of Anglo–Saxon food in our Australian food culture and a true blue, born and bred, Australian friend who misses his mother’s cooking. They are coming to dinner tonight, so as a surprise I am cooking them corned beef (I managed to buy low salt, low saltpetre). Probably I have not eaten this since my English Mother in law last cooked it for me, and she died a long time ago.
Of course there will be the boiled vegetables and mustard. And I will present it with some of the homemade chutney that another friend has given me. But it is so very much like bollito (boiled meat) that it could be accompanied with a little salsa verde on the side – chopped parsley, capers, green olives, boiled eggs, extra virgin olive oil, anchovy and a little white bread with vinegar to thicken it as much as I like and on this occasion I want it thin.
Part of me remains Italian to the core. Will I sauté the carrots in a little onion with dry marsala and raisins? Or will I present it with sweet and sour pumpkin? ( Sicilian and called FEGATO DI SETTE CANNOLI).
Of course I will add peppercorns, a carrot, onion and some celery to the beef whilst it cooks, after all this is what I add when I make carne in brodo (meat cooked in broth). I will add the cloves to the broth (Sicilians use cloves in their savoury cooking) but I will not add the malt vinegar or the sugar.