Tag Archives: Northern Italian


This has to be one of the easiest and fun desserts that I have made in a long time.
It is so incredibly simple and you can make it with your fingers if you want to. It reminds me of making shortbread, simply and gently combining the basic ingredients of flour, butter and sugar and gently pressing it into shape. Sbrisolona has polenta in it as well, and it was once made with lard instead of butter. Modern recipes like this one, include egg yolk, lemon peel and coarsely chopped almonds. I am liking the new season’s Victorian walnuts and used these instead.
When you hear or see the word polenta you know that this means Northern Italy and in fact we are talking about peasant food of Montova and Cremona.
What I like about it is that it is not cut, it is broken into pieces so it becomes a talking point at the table.


Sbrisolona, Sbrisolosa or Sbrisolina is all the same thing, just different names and written in dialect. Sbriciola is the Italian word and it comes from sbriciolare, to crumb.
finely ground polenta/ cornmeal, 1 cup
plain flour, 2 cups
sugar, 1 cup
butter, 225 g
almonds are traditional, I used walnuts , coarsley chopped, 1 cup
egg yolks, 2 large
grated lemon zest from 1 large lemon
salt, ½ teaspoon (if using unsalted butter)
pure vanilla extract, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Butter a 28 cm springform pan or line it with baking paper – the paper will make it easier to remove from the tin and help it not to break.
Combine flour, cornmeal and salt.
Rub in butter, either by hand or in a food processor/ with pastry hook.
Add sugar and mix through.
Mix the egg yolk, lemon zest and vanilla together and add it to the dry mixture. Combine it gently; it will resemble coarse meal. Do not to over mix.
Add the chopped nuts.
Place the crumbs loosely into the baking tin and help it to stick together mostly around the edges by pressing it very gently.
Bake for 40-50 minutes or until it is golden brown on top.
Transfer to a rack and cool completely before taking it out of the tin. Handle carefully, but if it breaks just reshape it.
It not cut like a cake. Break it into serving pieces or guests can break it into pieces themselves.
It’s pretty good served with a glass of liqueur or sweet wine.


RADICCHIO (Treviso) with polenta and tomato salsa

Surprisingly I bought this head of radicchio this week. Although it is spring and nearly the end of October in Melbourne, we have been experiencing winter temperatures and this has prolonged the season for radicchio – it prefers cooler temperatures and is generally at its best from May to September. My vendor says that radicchio is now available throughout the year – this should please me, but it does not. How can a winter vegetable grow in a different season or how far does it have to travel to get here.

Let’s begin to discuss radicchio with the correct pronunciation. The sound of ‘ch’ in the Italian language and unlike the English sound, is pronounced as k.

Secondly, radicchio is a northern Italian vegetable originating from the Veneto region and Italian recipes, which include radicchio (like when cooked as in a risotto) are also northern Italian recipes.

This type of radicchio in the picture is from Treviso, a city that it is closer to Venice than Trieste where I lived as a child. Trieste is in the  neighbouring region to the Veneto and it is called Friuli Venezia Giulia, which is on the furthest limit of the Italian northeast, near the Slovenian border. Various types of radicchio are cultivated in Trieste as well, varieties like the green biondissima that needs to be picked when very small and does not form a head. My father used to grow this variety in his home garden in Adelaide; I have seen the seeds in Australia, but I doubt if it will ever be sold as a salad leaf in Australia – a great pity.

Men buying seeds in Palermo – photo courtesy of a generous reader of my blog

I have been to Sicily many times and as a young person, I never saw radicchio, nor were my Sicilian relatives familiar with it, but for the last two years I have seen the Treviso variety of radicchio in a couple of modern Sicilian restaurants – usually used more for a decorative purpose, for example, a deep red leaf accompanying an octopus salad. The Sicilians import radicchio from the north; it is far too hot in Sicily to grow it and considered foreign in Sicilian cuisine.

Enough reminiscing, it is time for a recipe.

Radicchio can be cooked and there was one way that my mother used to prepare the large heads of Treviso radicchio, which I really like. The recipe may be a bit wintery, but eaten outside in the sunshine with a glass of rose sounds spring- like to me.


Select ½ -1 head of large radicchio per person (thin heads will char).

Cut large heads of radicchio in half lengthwise, sprinkle with salt and a little extra virgin olive oil and then grill on moderate heat .

It is then and presented with grilled polenta and a little fresh tomato salsa. The outer leaves will turn brown and the core will remain moist and will soften; it may take 15 -20 minutes with a couple of rotations and a little more oil.


Cooked polenta can be cut into a thick slice and also be grilled on the same BBQ grill or plate. See recipe in post:

SEPPIE IN UMIDO CON POLENTA (Cuttlefish with polenta).

Sprinkle the slice of polenta with oil and salt before grilling. Polenta is also a northern Italian ingredient.

The tomato salsa is easily made.

Make a tomato salsa with the ¼- ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil, 2 cloves of garlic, peeled chopped tomatoes (800-1k can in winter, fresh tomatoes in summer) and a few leaves of basil, a little salt and pepper.

Mix the ingredients together and allow the sauce to reduce – uncovered – to a cream like consistency. Take off the heat.

Present a slice of polenta, the grilled radicchio and a splash of tomato salsa on each plate – the salsa will be sweet (and red) but have some tartness, the radicchio will be bitter (and a dark red- brown colour) and the polenta will have texture (and yellow).

If you would like a more substantial dish, a little grilled fish would not go astray.


RISI E BISI (Risotto with peas)

Today in Venice, Venetians are celebrating the feast day of their patron saint (25 April, the date of the death of San Marco).

Risi e bisi the classic Venetian dish was traditionally offered to the Doge (do not know which one) on April 25, the feast of Saint Mark. This is not surprising, it is spring in the northern hemisphere and peas are one of the symbols of the season.

It is a public holiday in Venice and all sorts of events take place.

Although Venetians celebrate his feast day they also celebrate Liberation Day (liberation from the Nazis at the end of 2nd World War) and Festa del Bòcolo (is a rose bud) and it is customary for all women, not just lovers, to be presented with a bud. The very old legend concerns the daughter of Doge Orso Partecipazio, who was besotted with a handsome man, but the Doge did not approve and arranged for the object of her desire to fight the Turks on distant shores. The loved one was mortally wounded in battle near a rose bush. There he plucked a rose, tinged with his heroic blood and asked for it to be given to his beloved in Venice.

I grew up in Trieste (not far from Venice and in the same region of Italy) and risi e bisi is a staple, traditional dish.

The traditional way of cooking it does not include prosciutto but prosciutto cotto, what we call ham in Australia. Poor tasting ingredients will give a poor result; use a good quality smoked ham. As an alternative some cooks in Trieste use speck, a common ingredient in the region (it tastes more like pancetta). Some of the older Triestini use lard and only a little oil.

CastelB macellaria_3529 copy

My mother also added a little white wine to the soffritto of onion and the ham, but this also would have been a modern addition. The butter is added last of all for taste. Use parmigiano parmigiano is the cheese used in the north of Italy, pecorino in the south.

The secret is in using good produce, preferably organic, young and freshly picked peas (for their delicate taste) and a good stock. My mother made chicken stock. If she had no stock, she used good quality broth cubes- very common in Northern Italian cooking.


peas (young, fresh), 1 kilo unshelled
rice, 300g vialone nano preferably,
ham, cubed 50-70g,
onion,1 finely cut (I like to use spring onions as well)
parmigiano (Reggiano), grated
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
dry white wine, ½ glass (optional),
parsley, finely cut, ½ cup
butter, 2 tablespoons
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Shell the peas.
Heat the olive oil, add ham and onion and over medium-low heat soften the ingredients. Do not brown.
Add the shelled peas, parsley and when they are covered in oil, add very little stock (to soften the peas), cover and cook for about 5 minutes.
Add the rice, and stir, add the wine (optional) and evaporate.
Keep on adding the hot stock, stirring the rice and adding more stock as it is absorbed. End up with a wet dish (almost soupy and all’onda as Italians say) and with the rice al dente. In fact, the dish should rest for about 5 minutes before it is served so take this into consideration (the rice will keep on cooking and absorb the stock).
Add parmesan and butter, stir and serve.