Tag Archives: Frisée and curly baby endive

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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IN PRAISE OF WINTER VEGETABLES

How I love winter vegetables. Come to think of it, I love all vegetables!!!

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These are some of the seasonal vegetables I bought last week from the Queen Victoria Market and I always make the most of them.

Although the seasons have become blurred and are becoming even more so (changes in climate, new strains of seeds, faster and better refrigerated transport) I still look forward to seasonal vegetables and tend not to buy them out of season.

What I did with the above vegetables and the recipes (click on the links)

I stuffed the Artichokes with ricotta, almond meal and pistachio.

The Cime di rape were cooked with orecchiette.

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The KALE was braised with garlic and eaten as a side vegetable. The left over cooked kale went into LENTIL SALAD

The CAVOLO NERO went into a soup.

The Frisée went into a mixture of leaves for salad.

I used half of the Celeriac raw with some rocket (dressed with homemade mayonnaise) and the rest I cooked and made a mash with cooked potatoes (Ratio: more potato than celeriac- I used 3 medium cooked potatoes and ½  cooked celeriac, butter and milk or cream, salt and pepper).

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With the left over potato and celeriac mash, I added garlic, extra virgin olive oil and a little warm vegetable stock and made a Skordalia  with a difference. There is no celeriac in skordalia and I am probably offending many fine makers of skordalia (those from a Greek culture), but it tasted great. The pink peppercorns I grounded on top also made a difference. I presented it with  Sardinian carta di musica (music sheet)- a yeast-free, paper-thin bread.  It is called pane carasau in Sardinian.

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The red radicchio was made into a salad with canned tuna, cooked borlotti and red onion (Recipe from my book: Small Fishy Bites).

The fennel was braised and topped with TAPENADE

SEE: RADICCHIO, TUNA AND BORLOTTI SALAD and BRAISED FENNEL WITH TAPENADE

You will find other recipes for some of these vegetables on my blog: key into the search button the name of the vegetable you are looking for, and different recipes should come up.

In this photo there are artichokes, fennel, celeriac, kale, cavolo nero, red radicchio and a baby endive (which is sometimes called curly lettuce or frisée).

QUEEN VICTORIA MARKET (Carmel and Gus’s stall in B Shed, Stall 61- 63)

N’ZALATA VIRDI in Sicilian – INSALATA VERDE in Italian (Green leaf salad)

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.

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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.

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DRESSING, VINAIGRETTE

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).

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