CIME DI RAPA and pasta

This is the season for Cime di rapa and I can’t get enough of them.

Unfortunately this green leafy vegetable that is in season now (winter) can be hard to find, even at the Queen Victoria Market (Melbourne). Gus and Carmel who have a stall at the QVM called Il Fruttivendelo (Frutti+ vendelo= fruit+ seller) have bunches of Cime di rapa. A fruttivendolo doesn’t only sell fruit, and as this well stocked stall attests, they have a wide range of seasonal fruit and vegetables; some that you will have trouble to find anywhere else, for example, I buy prickly pears, chicory, endives and much more.

The only other person who sometimes has Cime di rapa is John from Tomato City.

And by the way, another vegetable that is difficult to source is artichoke and both of these stalls sell them, in season of course.

I have seen bunches of Cime di rapa in greengrocers in the suburbs, at least those that have Italian proprietors. You won’t have any trouble finding them in Adelaide as most greengrocers are owned by Italians.

Italians mostly refer to them as Cime (tops or tips). A rapa is a turnip, Cime di rapa are turnip tips or tops, perhaps they are called this because this green leafy vegetable is a mustard tasting green, like turnips. As you see they look a bit like broccoli and they have a yellow flower.

As for my recent jaunt to the Dandenong Market, while Cime may have eluded me, the diversity of fresh produce on display was nothing short of mesmerizing The quality was superb, and the prices were amazingly cheap. Not surprisingly, there were very good looking, high quality, fresh zucchini, eggplants and okra at all the stalls.

Amidst the chatter of countless languages, the market’s vibrancy was enormous. I say not surprisingly, as the produce vendors and shoppers reflected the rich tapestry of cultures that live in Dandenong.

The City of Greater Dandenong is the most culturally diverse community in Australia, with residents from 157 birth places and 64 per cent of its population born overseas.

Among the more than 130 different languages spoken are Vietnamese, Khmer, Chinese, Greek, Albanian, a large Indian population especially Punjabi, Pakistani, Afghan, Sri Lankan and Sinhalese.

When it comes to sourcing ingredients, I’m no stranger to the busy streets of Melbourne’s CBD and I have no problems finding Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese and Chinese ingredients, but I go to Dandenong mainly for the array of Indian hard to source treasures. That recent excursion yielded spices, dhal, and pickles;each ingredient an undertaking of culinary endeavours to come.

I was really keen to cook Cime that night and came home via a greengrocer that would have them, and they did.

Cime di rapa

Most cooks who are familiar with this green leafy vegetable are also familiar with the most popular and common ways of cooking them to dress short pasta, especially orecchiette – (little ears shaped pasta, photo above). The greens are usually softened/cooked first and then tossed in extra virgin olive oil, garlic and chilli. It is a Southern Italian dish (made popular in Puglia, Bari is the capital city). Cows are widespread in the North, sheep in the South and therefore it is fitting that the grated cheese to top the pasta is Pecorino, made from sheep’s milk. Parmigiano is made from cow’s milk, leave that for Northern pasta dishes.

My relatives in Sicily (and most likely in other Italian regions) boil the greens in quite a bit of salted water and once the greens are drained they reserve the water to cook the pasta.

The drained greens are sautéed in extra virgin olive oil, chilli and garlic. The vegetable water flavours the pasta and sometimes tinges that pasta green. It is a nice touch, but I prefer to sauté the cleaned greens without cooking them first. I like to concentrate the flavour of the vegetables and keep a little bit of crunch – not Italian at all.

Most of the time I add anchovies to the hot oil before adding the chilli and garlic. The anchovies dissolve easily in the hot oil before I add and sauté the chilli and garlic, and finally. Omit the salt if you are adding anchovies.

Cime cooked the same way are great as a side vegetable, so forget the cavolo nero, silverbeet, kale and spinach, try Cime instead.

There are other ways to cook Cime as an accompaniment to pasta. Popular is the addition of good pork and fennel Italian sausages, but most of the time I like to cook the Cime (with or without the pork sausages) with pulses – particularly chickpeas, cannellini or borlotti beans. With the pork sausages I tend to favour borlotti, they taste more meaty.

Sometimes I use feta instead of grated cheese. It is much creamier and definitely not Italian. One of the highlights of residing in a multicultural country is that one can mix and match without having a Italian looking over your shoulder.

I keep the feta in extra virgin olive oil and herbs in my fridge. Use tough herbs like Bay leaves and Thyme. Dried Oregano, fennel seeds, peppercorn or chilli flakes ate good but not soft herbs or fresh garlic… these oxidise and  rot.

Red tomatoes are also a good addition. In winter tomatoes are out of season, so if you are not able to use fresh tomatoes one tin is sufficient – toss chopped tomatoes and their juice in a saucepan, add a glug of extra virgin olive oil, 1-2 garlic cloves some fresh basil (seems to be for sale all year round) or some oregano (fresh or dried), a little salt and reduce it as you would to make a tomato salsa to dress pasta. Add the tomato salsa to the sautéed Cime cooked with or without anchovy. If you are using pomodorini as I am in the photos below , you may prefer to just sauté the tomatoes. I rather like the explosion of flavour that pomodorini provide.

Leave the above sauce as it is or add a cup or so of chickpeas, cannellini or borlotti.


There is very little waste (if any) because the larger stems that can be tough can be stripped of their outer peel.

Whether served as a comforting pasta dish or as a humble side, Cime di rapa with their depth of flavour do it for me every time.

Other information and recipes about Cime di Rapa (also referred to in the plural as Cime di rape).

CIME DI RAPE (or Rapa) with pasta, anchovies and lemon peel



EDIBLE WEEDS: Orecchiette e Broccoletti Selvatici (and cime di rape)

CIME DI RAPE (A winter green)

RAGU` DI CAPRETTO – Goat/ kid ragout as a dressing for pasta

Sometimes, it is easier to tell a story and describe a recipe by photos.

Goat or kid if you can get it has been available for a while this season (Autumn in Australia). The mint on my balcony is doing well, celeriac is in season, the last of the red tomatoes also and there is a glut of carrots in Victoria at the moment. And all of these ingredients, cooked on low heat and for a long time made a fabulous ragout (ragù in Italian). On this occasion I used the braise as a pasta sauce. Good quality Pecorino cheese is a must.


Goat cut into cubes – you can tell that it is not an old goat by the pale colour of the meat. It is trimmed of fat.


The usual onion , part of the soffritto in most Italian soups and braises.


Add a chopped carrot and instead of celery I used some celeriac and some of the inner leaves of the celeriac.


Remove the soffritto, add a little more extra virgin olive oil and brown the meat.


Add the herbs and spices. Recognise them? Salt and pepper too.


A couple of red tomatoes.


Top with liquid. I added a mixture of chicken stock (always in my freezer) and some Marsala, to keep it in the Sicilian way of things. On another occasion I may add white wine or dry vermouth.


Cover the pan and braise slowly.

It does not look as good as it tasted…the perfume was fabulous too.


Serve with fresh mint leaves and grated Pecorino.


N.B.  Real Pecorino is made from pecora (sheep)..i.e. sheep’s milk. I used a Pecorino Romano. See how white it is in colour?


FISH BALLS with Sicilian flavours

My last post was about marinaded white anchovies – a great crowd pleaser.  This is easy finger food that can be presented on crostini (oven toasted or fried bread) or on small, cup shaped  salad leaves.

Another small fishy bite which never fails to get gobbled up are fish balls poached in a tomato salsa. I took these to a friend’s birthday celebration recently.

The fish is Rockling.   At other times I have made them with other Australian wild caught fish for example Snapper and Flathead,  Blue-eye and Mahi Mahi.


Here are some photos of the ones I made recently.


Cut the fish into chunks and mince it in a food processor.

You can see the ingredients I use to make these fish balls, mainly currants, pine nuts, parsley and fresh bread crumbs . There is also some garlic and grated lemon rind, cinnamon….. and on this occasion I added nutmeg too.


These ingredients are common in Sicilian cuisine but also in Middle Eastern food. This is not surprising when you look at Sicily’s legacy.

For a variation use other Mediterranean flavours: preserved lemon peel instead of grated lemon, fresh coriander instead of parsley, omit the cheese, add cumin.

Combine the mixture and add some grated Pecorino  and salt and pepper to taste.


Eggs will bind the mixture.


The mixture should be quite firm and hold together. You may need to add more eggs – the number of  eggs you will need  will vary because it will depend on the texture of the fish and the bread.  I always use 2-3 day old sourdough bread.

On this occasion I added 2 extra eggs,(4 small eggs altogether)  however I used 1 k of fish.


In the meantime make a tomato salsa.  I added a stick of cinnamon.


Shape the mixture into small balls and poach them gently in the salsa.


This  is the link to the recipe  that is also in my second book, Small Fishy Bites.


I presented the fish balls in Chinese soup spoons – easy to put into one’s mouth. You can see that there were only very few fish balls left over on the festive table. There are also only five anchovies in witlof leaves left over.


Of course  these fish balls are not just limited to party food. They make a great antipasto or main course.

Spaghetti and fish balls? Why not?

PESTO GENOVESE CON TRIOFE, FAGGIOLINI E PATATE (Pesto with pasta, green beans and potatoes)

I visited friends recently who have a small, but very prolific vegetable garden – they have chooks, and that means fertilizer. I came home with huge bunches of basil and I made pesto. At this time of year it very handy to have pesto as standby in the fridge – in fact I have fed two lots of visitors pesto this week, this version with beans last night.

Those of you who grow basil in your gardens probably do not want to hear about pesto ever again, but maybe you do not know about the classic recipe of pesto and triofe (Ligurian classic shape of pasta for this dish), green beans and potatoes (last night I omitted the potatoes – see photo). I was reminded of this dish when I saw the film  Summer in Genova recently. In the film, Colin Firth cooked this dish for his two daughters, a16-year-old and ten-year-old (all the children I know seem to like pesto). Their mother dies in a car accident and the family moves to Genova in Liguria – a new city, new start and a new recipe (one their mother had not cooked). There is probably only one positive thing that I can say about this film, and that is that it reminded me to cook this classic recipe.


It is very simple to compose this dish – the potatoes and beans are cooked in the same water as the pasta, drained and dressed with the pesto.

Some of you may be aware that pesto alla Genovese can only be made exclusively from ingredients grown in that small area in northwest Italy called Liguria. This is the area where pesto originated and the Ligurians want to give it a D.O.P. status (Protected Designation of Origin) and it cannot be called pesto unless it comes from that part of the world.

However I do make pesto as many of us do with plenty of garlic, extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts, basil leaves and the mixture of parmigiano and pecorino.  (See post called SICILIAN PESTO – Mataroccu for an alternative recipe). If I am storing the pesto in the fridge, I always top it with olive oil to stop the oxidation.

See post called SICILIAN PESTO – Mataroccu for an alternative recipe.

For 500g pasta I use about 300g of green beans cut diagonally to the length of the pasta (triofe are like penne in length) and 200g potatoes cut into small cubes (if I am using them). Ligurians tend to cook the vegetables and the pasta at the same time, but I like to stagger their cooking time, mainly to preserve some crunch to the beans.

The potatoes may take the longest time to cook, so begin by placing the potatoes into a large saucepan  of cold, salted water.
Bring to the boil and cook the potatoes for about 10 mins before adding the pasta.
Add the beans  about 7 mins before the pasta and potatoes are cooked.
Drain, coat the pasta and vegetables with pesto and add the cheese last of all.

Easy, very fragrant, different, and much appreciated, especially by those who have never made fresh pesto.

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.

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.

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.