Tag Archives: Northern Italian Cooking

MINESTRA from Trieste – borlotti, pearL barley, Sauerkraut

Borlotti beans, pearl barley and sauerkraut.

These are three of my favourite ingredients  and combined make a  fabulous soup: Minestra d’orzo e fagioli con “capuzi garbi’ (sour cabbage as called in Trieste – sauerkraut)

What more would you want  on a cold Melbourne winter’s day with many people who may need cheering up?

I have all of these ingredients at hand because I like pulses and barley as components in salads or soups.  I usually cook them separately and store them in containers in their juice in my fridge and in my freezer.  There are always jars of sauerkraut in my pantry – this comes from having lived in Trieste as a child.  The combination of mixing the cooked ingredients to make a last-minute soup can be even easier.

Like the majority of the way Italians cook, the quantity of ingredients is only an estimate…use more or less of any ingredient to suit your taste.

There are variations for making this soup in Trieste – not everyone adds sauerkraut, but very popular is the addition of lard and /or potatoes which will thicken the soup. I prefer my soup with more liquid and therefore omit the potatoes.

I generally do not have Lardo in my fridge but I can easily purchase it if I wish. Lardo does make a big difference if used – it will enrich the taste and the texture of the soup.

What is Lardo in Italian?

In this case, the Lardo is Lardo Affumicato – Smoked Lard –  Speck.

Also called Lardo is an Italian salume that is eaten (sliced very thinly) and widely used in Italian cuisine especially in northern Italy; it is made from the thick layer of fat from the back of a pig and cured with a mixture of salt, herbs, and spices;  the most esteemed Italian Lardo is aged in the warm, fresh caves in the area of Carrara (famous for its marble) and no additives or preservatives are used.

Pork fat, or rendered pork fat is also called Lardo in Italian and is lard in English.

I have nothing against canned beans but pulses are so easy to cook that I do not buy any, but if you do, cook the barley and add the drained beans to the barley. You will need to add some stock to this combination because you will not have the “bean broth” – the water the beans have been cooked in.

If you wish to add potatoes, do this at the same time as you put the barley to cook.

Borlotti Beans, dry 250g
Pearl Barley, 250g
Garlic, 1 – 3 cloves
Salt and pepper
Parsley, a handful, chopped
Bay leaves, 2 – 4
Extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle on top of soup when it is ready to serve

Optional:

Lardo/Smoked/Speck,  80 -100g, cubed into very small pieces
Potatoes, 2 – 3 cubed
Sauerkraut, 150 – 200g, drained and squeezed

Soak beans and barley overnight separately in plenty of water.

Drain the beans, replenish with plenty of cold water, add bay leaves, garlic and cook them for about 30 minutes. Add the soaked barley, seasoning and parsley and cook until the beans and barley are soft…. probably about 20-30 minutes longer.

If adding sauerkraut or potatoes add these at the same time as the barley.

Lard, both the rendered fat and Speck are very popular in the food of Trieste and if you wish to use it put it in at the same time as the beans. I prefer to drizzle some good quality, extra virgin olive oil on top and some freshly ground, black pepper.

Polenta and its magic

This post is in praise of polenta, a simple and versatile  accompaniment for many moist braises. It is particularly popular in the north eastern regions of Northern Italy – Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto. However, this is not to say that some polenta is also appreciated in Piedmont, Valle d’Aosta,  Tuscany and Lombardy.

The most common polenta is coarsely ground yellow corn and it is simply cooked in water and salt.  Polenta taragna is a mixture of cornmeal and buckwheat, a popular grain in Italy’s Alpine region, especially in the Valtellina in Northern Lombardy.  Because wheat is difficult to cultivate in the northern regions like Val d’ Aosta and Trentino-Alto Adige, buckwheat is grown and mixed with wheat flour to make  pasta (called pizzoccheri) and in gnocchi . Buckwheat is called grano saraceno , this is because the Etruscans and Saracens introduced the buckwheat grain to Italy. I visited this region last year and particularly enjoyed this combination.

Once cooked, I prefer to spread the polenta in a pan suitable to go into an oven, I drizzle it generously with olive oil and bake it .

The polenta can then be cut into slices and served with a wet dish.

I prefer to bake the polenta, it allows it to form a  delicious crust. I am not one for last minute preparations….there is enough to fuss about once friends arrive.

Polenta does not have to be baked, it can just be scraped onto a board and cut at the table prior to serving. In fact, this is how my aunt in Trieste always presented polenta after she cooked it in her heavy bottomed copper pot.

Here are a few dishes that can be enjoyed with polenta:

Polenta is perfect with braised mushrooms.  First sautéed at a high temperature with onion and /or garlic and then finished at at a lower temperature (covered with a lid) with some flavoured  liquid – I like  to use stock and wine. Herbs are a must.

This is a saucepan of my beef Goulash.…  a favourite dish served with polenta and as cooked in Trieste, once part of the Austrian- Hungarian Empire.

Polenta is excellent with baccalà. There are many regional recipes for baccalà , for example: alla Vincentina (from Vicenza),  alla Triestina (from Trieste), alla Veneziana ( from Venice)  and various other cities in Northern Italy.
The recipes are not too dissimilar and basically are “white” with no or little tomato (tomatoes in the cooking of Southern Italy).

Baccalà  Mantecato is a creamy spread popular in the Veneto and around Trieste in Friuli Venezia Giulia. Baccalà  Mantecato is often presented  on crostini di polenta – cooked polenta cut into batons or croutons and then either baked or fried.

The baccalà is poached in milk, the flesh removed from the bones and whipped with extra virgin olive oil and garlic.

Polenta with sauerkraut, very popular in Trieste where I lived as a child. The photo below is of Ponte Rosso and the Canal Grande in Trieste. The statue is Nino Spagnoli’s  James Joyce and placed on the bridge over the Canal Grande. 

Sauerkraut  can be cooked slowly as a side dish for meats.

Sauerkraut and pork sausages are very popular in Trieste.

Polenta is also popular with pork sausages cooked in a tomato sugo. I also like pork sausages braised with borlotti beans.

There is nothing like seppie – inkfish braised in white wine, parsley and garlic and served with polenta. Sometimes white polenta (made from white corn and called polenta bianca ) is favoured with fish, rather than the polenta gialla (yellow, made from yellow corn).

Below in the photo are two typical dishes of Trieste, seppie in umido (on the left)  and some iota.

Below is a photo of an ink fish. Inside will be a sac of ink that once removed can be used to flavour the dish.

It is not always obvious that they are ink fish, in Australia they are also often sold as squid.  Not all of them will have a sac of ink; this photo is in a market in Venice….  you can tell that they are ink fish.

Here is a photo of polenta as an accompaniment to tripe I relished in a Trattoria in  Sienna, Tuscany….it was only last year.

Polenta makes a fabulous accompaniment for pan fried or char grilled red radicchio . This used to be a favourite way to serve polenta by my mother.  A little tomato salsa on the char grilled version is very tasty.

And this is polenta with broccoli (or broccolini) with bagna cauda . I first ate it in a restaurant in Hobart and it was presented on a bed of soft polenta – called polenta concia in Italy; this version of polenta is cooked in milk, sometimes stock and has butter and Parmesan cheese added to it once it is cooked. It does not have to be Parmesan, various local regional cheeses are used – Asiago from Trentino and the Veneto, Fontina from Valle d’Aosta, Taleggio from Lombardy and the Italian Alps, etc. Bagna cauda on polenta is not a traditional dish, but I did enjoy this innovation and replicated it at home, .

Polenta is also good with sarde in saor. The sardines are fried then left to marinate with onions and vinegar. Sometimes raisins and pine nuts are added. Although I have made this many times, I do not have many photos. This is often the case with other things I cook. Sometimes I am just too busy to take a photos  before I present food or I forget to do it.

Also common is polenta pasticciata (sometimes spelled pastizzada as in the Veneto dialect and it means messed up/ fiddled with) . Layers of cooked polenta are alternated with flavourings. The most common is with sugo (tomato and meat braise) or  braised mushrooms or salame, pancetta, and various cheeses …..or whatever you like to fiddle with.

The version above is with Fontina,  Gorgonzola and some braised button mushrooms cooked in white wine – I was just dealing with leftovers, not a traditional dish, but tasty.  The layers of polenta are then baked: it is very much like a baked lasagna.

Polenta is easily found and it does not have to be imported from Italy.

Cooking polenta is easy.

1 polenta – 4 water ratio, salt.

Bring water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan; pour polenta slowly into boiling water, whisking constantly until all polenta is stirred in and there are no lumps. I use a whisk.

Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until polenta starts to thicken, about 5 minutes.  This is where I swap the whisk for a long handled, wooden spoon; the polenta will begin to bubble and can spit so the long spoon or an oven mit is necessary.

Stir the polenta regularly , at least every 5 to 6 minutes. Polenta is done when the texture thickens and is creamy and it begins to pull away from the sides of the saucepan. It may take up to 30 minutes.

Links to some of the recipes:

GULASCH (Goulash as made in Trieste)

CHICKEN GOULASH (Gulasch di pollo from Trieste)

SEPPIE IN UMIDO CON POLENTA (Cuttlefish or Squid With Black Ink And Polenta from Trieste)

LUGANIGHE CON CAPUZI GARBI; Sausages and sauerkraut, and yes, it is Italian regional cuisine

PIEDMONTESE favourites  (bagna cauda)

TASMANIA, FOOD, ART, HOBART and Bagna Cauda

MARINADED FISH and a recipe for PESCE IN SAOR – PESCE IN SAOR

FUNGHI AL FUNGHETTO (Braised mushrooms)

WILD MUSHROOMS; Saffron Coloured, Pine Mushrooms and Slippery Jacks

GAMBERI AL COGNAC (Prawns cooked with cognac or brandy)

When we first come to Australia my mother did a lot of cooking using Vermouth and Cognac. These were used to deglaze the pan when she cooked meat, fish and vegetables and made excellent sauces.

She also doused cakes with both of these before filling them with crème anglaise – she never used cream or cover the cake with icing like the mothers of my Anglo-Australian friends. Needless to say, I never offered my friends cake. (She used Cherry Brandy in cakes sometimes; this was also common in South Australia, but very sweet and from memory did not taste very much like cherries or resemble Maraschino!).

At that time, in the late 60’s and early 70’s, my mother was using Annabella for her recipes; this was a popular women’s magazine (un giornale femminile) published in Italy and mailed to us in Adelaide (via sea) by my aunt in Trieste. I think that  Vermouth (there was sweet and dry styles… bianco come later) and Cognac may have been the only two alcoholic beverages that we knew or purchased.

We cooked with Vermouth and Cognac and my parents drank it as well – Vermoth as the aperitivo  and the Cognac as the digestivo. Commercial wine was pretty limited, but there was plenty of home made stuff around (made by Italians and not all of it was drinkable) and there was home made grappa, some of this was made with potato peels. Australian men drank beer and we did cook veal shanks with this; Australian women liked shandies (beer and lemonade) and Crème de menthe.

Anyhow, all of the above because when we cleaned out my mother’s house I found bottles of Vecchia Romagna (cognac) and all these memories come flooding back.

I cooked the prawns with one of her bottles of Vecchia Romagna; a friend of mine asked me if I was mad.

INGREDIENTS
1 kg green prawns (I used shelled)
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 cup of parsley finely cut
1 cup small glass brandy (or cognac)
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
30 g of butter
1 lemon, the juice and peel
salt (to taste) and plenty of black ground pepper
PROCESSES
Dry the prawns and sauté them for 3 minutes in the extra virgin olive oil. Use a large frying pan so that the prawns have space to cook.
Add the parsley and garlic, salt, black pepper and the lemon zest and continue to cook for a couple more minutes.
Add the cognac and lemon juice and evaporate over high heat.
Add the butter, swirl it around throughout the sauce and serve.

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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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