Tag Archives: Salad

RICOTTA, TOMATOES and Basil. A perfect summer dish.

One of the things I like about eating out is that I come home full of ideas for reproducing my version of something I have eaten at a restaurant. Looking at the way that food is presented also gives me ideas.

This was a very simple thing. I was in Brisbane recently and went to Gauge restaurant and one of the dishes my friends and I shared was the Cow’s ricotta, sancho pepper, heirloom tomatoes, olive. 

IMG_0134In the restaurant the chefs used an Asian herb but really, there are many herbs that would compliment this dish and each would impart a different taste – I could see myself using common herbs like thyme, oregano or sweet marjoram, tarragon, dill or any of the different types of basil that are now easily available.

Summer to me means eating tomatoes almost every day. Ricotta is also a favourite.

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I arrived home from Brisbane and the next evening I had friends here for dinner and ricotta, tomatoes and the prolific amounts of basil that I am growing on my balcony seemed just right. It was the presentation of this dish that was as important as the taste. My photos do not do it justice, but it was such a a simple dish, full of natural flavours and it looked stunning at the same time. As a summer starter with good bread or crakers it was perfect.

This was the motivation: Cow’s ricotta, sancho pepper, heirloom tomatoes, olive.

Ricotta, heirloom tomatoes – easy stuff and easy to get.

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Sansho Pepper is also known as Japanese Pepper and it is unripe Sichuan pepper. It adds a lemon myrtle-like freshness to dishes. This too is easily available from Asian shops, however maybe not in your pantry, but there are alternatives. I have a variety of pepper corns and just recently I bought a range of dried Mexican chillies that I grind up and use like pepper –  some are particularly spicy, slightly tart with an earthy flavour, others are smoky and aromatic and some are very hot.  On this occasion I chose pink pepper corns – it looks good and tastes different.

There were no real olives in this presentation in the restaurant and the black olive favour was achieved with black olive salt. I was at another restaurant today where they used dehydrated olives – fantastic intense flavour and texture. In my version I could have used whole olives especially the shrivelled black, dried olives  but I thought that they would look too big so I used tiny capers and some of my Greek basil with the tiny leaves.

A little spring onion sliced finely also added flavour. Next time I may add a stalk of finely sliced celery – one of those pale green stalks from the inside of the celery. After all, the tomato salads that I learned to make in my family home always had both onion and celery…. this is how Sicilians make tomato salads.

I used cow’s ricotta that I whipped up to a cream with a little salt and pink pepper corns.

I made a basil oil by blending good- quality, extra virgin olive oil with and a little salt and basil picked from my balcony.

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I bought good tomatoes from a reliable stall holder at the Queen Victoria Market (as I always buy quality produce).

As a summer starter with good bread or crackers it was perfect. Good wine helps too.

 

 

 

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MARINATED OLIVES, OLIVE SALADS, MORROCAN FLAVOURS

My first serious Moroccan cookbook was A Taste of Morocco by Robert Carrier. It was published in 1987. I already had Claudia Roden’s Middle Eastern Food and Arto der Haroutunian’s North African Cookery.

I lived in Adelaide then and with three friends once a month we celebrated different ethnic cuisines by cooking in our own homes and then sharing it at each other’s places. Each of us prepared food for 1 course – all of us were excellent cooks, had busy lives and loved to socialize. We spent less time, less planning, less money (we all liked to drink good wine) and we deepened our friendship and repertoire of cooking styles, ingredients and recipes of particular cuisines. The special privilege of the host was that they could invite 2-3 extra people of their choice.

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We had this system in place well before 1987 but for the first Moroccan meal I was responsible for the appetisers and entrées (as we called those courses then!!). And part of the nibbles I bought were a variety of dressed olives.
I have said before that I never follow a recipe from A-Z and nor did I do that on this occasion, but I played around with the ingredients suggested in Robert Carrier’s recipes and I still play around with these ingredients still when I marinate olives.

In my fridge at present: 3 types of olives and preserved lemons

In this post I will provide a list of the ingredients I may use when making Moroccan olive salads. I use:

Different types/ colours/ sized of olives in brine, i.e. I may use my own olives that I have pickled in brine or bought small olives, large ones, green ones, black ones, cracked olives etc.

As the mood takes me I will use some of the following ingredients to dress and marinate the olives: harissa (North African spice paste) thyme sprigs, lemon slices, preserved lemons, fresh coriander, fresh flat leaved parsley, fresh red or green hot peppers, dried oregano, fennel seeds, cumin, fresh lemon, bitter oranges (Saville), chilli flakes.

Always, always extra virgin olive oil and I keep the jars of marinaded olives in the fridge and allow them to marinate at least 24 hours before we eat them. You are likely to find marinated olives in the fridge anytime you visit me – they store well and keep for ages.

For more olive recipes in this blog see:

ULIVI CUNZATE, INSALATA DI OLIVE (Dressed pickled olives/ Olive salad)

CHEAT FOOD: Marinaded white anchovies AND Olive Schiacciate made with commercially prepared olives

OLIVE SCACCIATE

And one of my most popular posts by far: HOW TO PICKLE OLIVES

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SICILIAN CONTORNI IN SPRING ( A Sicilian potato salad, artichoke salad, braised peppers)

Lidia is one of my cousins who lives in Augusta (south of Catania in Sicily) and is an excellent cook. Lidia has taught me many things about Sicilian cooking.

She is an innovative cook and like any good cook she improvises and uses basic Sicilian traditional methods and recipes and embellishes them with new ingredients. Balsamic vinegar is not a Sicilian ingredient but, like many ingredients from the North of Italy, it has found its way into modern Sicilian cooking. I cannot see the elderly members of my family using it, as their cooking remains very traditional. Please note that it is a good quality balsamic and not some of the inferior ones that are commonly sold in supermarkets in Australia (and probably elsewhere). Naturally the extra virgin olive oil is of excellent quality also.

We had lunch at Lidia’s country house recently and these were just the contorni (side dishes):

The small peppers were first sealed in hot extra virgin olive oil and then cooked on low heat with a little salt until soft.  A little balsamic vinegar was added at the end to deglaze the pan.

The waxy potatoes were peeled and cubed and cooked on low heat with whole young fresh onions in a little salted water. When soft, the water was drained and the vegetables were dressed with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and oregano.

The artichokes had most of the leaves removes and were boiled. These were dressed with extra virgin olive oil, green squashed olives (not pickled for too long and therefore still slightly bitter tasting), mint, parsley and fresh garlic leaves from her garden, capers (those packed in salt of course) and a dash of good quality wine vinegar.

And all of this with a perfect blue sky, sitting outdoors and of course on an embroided linen tablecloth. Thank you Lidia and to Valentina her daughter who contributed to preparations and made a wonderful tiramisu using ricotta instead of mascarpone – a Sicilian touch.

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INSALATA DI FRISÉE ( Composite Salad made with frisée)

It is so easy to make a good salad. We ate this one with some snapper that was tossed on the BBQ, and dressed with a simple dressing, but you can see how this combination could be accompanied with some good bread and be a quick easy family lunch. I would probably also add a lump of good cheese (presented separately), especially if I had guests.

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Chicory, endives and of course puntarelle are also very suitable ingredients for this salad; like frisée they have sturdy textured leaves and slightly bitter taste.

Mint is very much a Sicilian ingredient and contributes significantly to the taste and fragrance of this salad.

INGREDIENTS
1 frisée (French curly endive)
4 large eggs, hard boiled or boiled to taste
5-6 anchovies in oil, or more (to taste)
½ cup of chopped parsley
2 spring onions, sliced finely
20-25 mint leaves  (to taste)
3-4 tomatoes (to taste) cut into halves or quarters
½ cup breadcrumbs made of fresh bread and lightly fried/ toasted in a little extra virgin olive oil

Dressing: juice of 1-2 lemons, 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

PREPARATION
Wash, clean and separate the frisée into bite-size pieces and put in a large bowl. Add chopped parsley, spring onions, tomatoes and mint.
Make the dressing (stir it with a small whisk or a fork).
Dress the salad.
Add the anchovies and place them throughout the salad – in other words, lift some of the ingredients and try to distribute the anchovies evenly.
Peel and cut the eggs in halves and place them on top.
Sprinkle breadcrumbs over everything and there it is.

See other posts:

Frisée and other salad greens
Green Seasonal Vegetables
Cicoria and Puntarelle
Composite Salad

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TOMATO SALAD WITH GORGONZOLA (INSALATA DI POMODORI E GORGONZOLA)

One of my readers sent me a recipe for a tomato salad and gorgonzola and as you can see from the photos I made the salad twice. On both occasions I presented the salad as an antipasto.

The reader who sent me the recipe has just returned from a holiday to Italy; although she visited Sicily, she indicates that she ate this in northern Italy. And even if all of the other ingredients could easily be for a tomato salad from Sicily, gorgonzola is very much a northern Italian cheese. In fact it is a DOC cheese (Denominazione di Origine Controllata – Protected Designation of Origin) and produced in the provinces of cities you may recognize: Milan, Como, Pavia, Bergamo, Cremona and Novara and all of these cities are in the Piedmont and Lombardy regions. Only items produced in a specific area, in a particular way and of a certain specified size and shape may display that DOC label.

In my version of the salad I used gorgonzola dolce (means sweet) and it is one of my favourite cheeses – soft, creamy and slightly veined and spicy. Gorgonzola piccante (spicy) is the stronger tasting version of this cheese; it is more matured, has a greater degree of blue-veins and is firmer. I imagine that although both cheeses are suitable for this recipe, the mature gorgonzola would be easier to handle and could be ‘shaved’ as the recipe suggests.

I also did not use as much balsamic vinegar, the Sicilian in me screams “no vinegar with tomato”– it is sufficiently acidic. Also, it has to be good quality balsamic and if it is, only a little should suffice.

When I prepared it in my friends’ home, I did not use anchovies because they hate them (unfortunately).

I have named the salad after the ingredients INSALATA DI POMODORI E GORGONZOLA (and alla Giovanna, because this is the reader’s name). Thank you.

Here is her recipe:

3 large tomatoes, sliced
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup shaved Gorgonzola cheese
1 Tablespoon capers, drained
1 Tablespoon green onions, sliced
1 clove minced garlic
2 anchovies minced to a paste
salt
black pepper, freshly ground
fresh basil

Directions:

Arrange tomatoes on a plate
Drizzle with vinegar and oil
Sprinkle lightly with salt and fresh ground pepper
Sprinkle with cheese, capers, onions, garlic, and anchovies
Garnish with basil leaves
In the first photo:
I used very large tomatoes from Geelong close to Melbourne (new crop).
In the second photo:
The tomatoes are small and from Murray Bridge in South Australia.
Heirloom tomatoes are not ready, not just yet.
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SALAD GREEN: matovilc, also called lamb’s lettuce and mâche

My father used to grow matovilc in his garden in Adelaide.  Some may know this salad green as lamb’s lettuce or mâche as it is known in France. I have also found references to it being called corn salad, apparently because it grows wild in cultivated fields in temperate climates.

I know this salad green well and ate it regularly in Trieste where I lived as a child. You are probably thinking that matovilc does not sound very much like an Italian word, and you are correct – it is Sloveniac/Croatian where it is more commonly known as matovilac.

Those of you who have travelled to France may recognise it, but unless you have been to Trieste you are unlikely to find it anywhere else in Italy. One of my father’s acquaintances smuggled a few seeds out from Trieste to Adelaide; you no longer have to break the law, seeds can be found.

The top photo is what I bought in Brisbane from the Powerhouse Farmers’ Market. I was there last weekend and it was sold as whole heads in the form of rosettes. In Trieste we also purchased it in the market, the leaves were sold loose by the handful and were very small.

I always get excited when I see this salad green, it is not easily found for sale in the state where I live and is generally cultivated at home. My father picked the matovilc growing in his garden leaf by leaf (as he did all his salad greens); it is very easy to grow and is at its best in spring. It goes to seed quickly in warm climates.

As a simple salad (dressed with a wine vinegar, salt pepper and extra virgin olive oil) it is particularly appreciated in Trieste when accompanied with fried sardines (first dipped in a little flour and salt and the fried in very hot extra virgin olive oil). The contrasts of the almost sweet, delicate taste of the leaves and the strong taste of the sardines works well together.

In France, I ate a lot of mâche as part of the numerous salade composée, which seem very much part of café food offered at lunchtime. It seems to be an excellent way to present smallgoods or use up left-overs. In fact in Brisbane my friend and I used the left over pancetta (cooked it), pecans, a dressing made with raspberry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil and some brie that were all left over from the meal from the night before. This also tasted excellent and gave both of us much pleasure in using up left over ingredients creatively.

This photo is Salade de Pigeon Landaise, vinaigrette de son jus. It was taken in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu Academie D’Art Culinaire and was one of the dishes cooked by Monsieur Le Chef (as the students seem to refer to him respectfully).
I watched the chef cook and sampled the following:
CUISINE LE SUD-OUEST, LES LANDES / THE SOUTH-WEST, LANDES
·      Salade de pigeon landaise, vinaigrette de son jus / Roasted squab salad, squab jus vinaigrette
·      Salmis de canard en cabouillade / Roasted duck “salmis”
·      Biscuit roulé fourré à la ricotta et mandarines / Swiss roll filled with ricotta and mandarins.
 
 

This photo is of the simple salad my friend and I prepared when we stayed in the converted barn at La Vieille Grange in Mercadiol (a small hamlet) in the South West of France. It is the same restored barn that Stephanie Alexander stayed (with Maggie Beer and Colin her husband) when she researched material for her book Cooking & Travelling in the South-West France. We travelled to many open air markets and bought local produce – that particular morning we found some mâche, beautiful radishes and local fresh trout, come home and had a good time preparing lunch – the mushrooms were sautéed in local extra virgin olive oil with parsley and garlic. The local bread, pate, sausisson (sausage) and cheeses which we also ate at the same repast are missing from the photo.

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ALL ABOUT FRISÉE (Insalata riccia)

Carmel is one of the favourite stall holders at the Queen Victoria Market where I buy most of my Italian vegetables. Apart from the usual range of vegetables she has the unusual greens that I cannot buy elsewhere:  cime di rape, batavia lettuce, chicory, endive/escarole, kale and vlita (see previous posts for descriptions and recipes). They also have frisée and last week she suggested that I write about it because she has lots of customers who would buy it, if only they knew what to do with it.

Is frisée endive or lettuce?

Frisée (also called curly endive, frisée lettuce) belongs in the chicory family,(endive/escarole, radicchio, witlof, cichory) so it has a slightly bitter taste. Frisée has long, narrow, curly leaves and I use it as a salad green . The outer leaves and the tips are a darker green and the centre inner leaves are paler, milder and more tender.

Frisée is called insalata riccia in Italian and it is more available in the north than in the south of Italy.

To make a green salad I prefer to buy a variety of green leafed vegatables and mix my own – I never buy a salad mix and if frisée is available I always purchase this.

I much prefer frisée to any of the lettuces. It has more taste and texture and lends itself well to mixing with other ingredients( see earlier post Salad Composee)
RECIPES FOR DIFFERENT SALADS using frisée… and there is no reason why you would not present the following as an Entrée.

As well as being a principal component in a mixed leaf salad, I particularly like frisée with:
  • hard boiled eggs, potatoes, green beans and anchovies
  • tomatoes black olives and slivers of pecorino cheese (formaggio fresco is good as well)
  • apple or pear with walnuts
  • feenel, black olives and orange
  • beetroot, walnuts and a sharp cheese like feta.

I have never cooked frisée, but I cannot see why it couldn’t be gently wilted (same method of braising escarole but only cooked for a shorter time) and I believe that this is a common way to eat in France.

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CICORIA (Chicory)

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I bought some chicory at the queen Victoria Market this morning – it is a winter vegetable but obviously still around and in good condition, even in November. As you can see in the photo this particular type of chicory has scarlet stalks.

Well, I call this chicory. There is so much confusion about chicory; it gets confused with endives, escarole, radicchio (especially the green coloured radicchio, often called radicchio biondo or radicchio di Trieste) and even witlof. They all have a distinctive bitter taste, but to me chicory is this one, the one with the long serrated leaves.

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I have found puntarelle salad in some Italian restaurants in Australia. These are chicory shoots of a variety of chicory called catalogna. The shoots are either picked while the plant is very young and tender but more commonly when the plant is going to seed and sends out shoots. The word puntarelle (from punta) means small shoots or points.

 

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I cook the outer leaves as I do leafy greens – softened before I braise them in oil, garlic and a little chilli .(see CAVOLO NERO).

The tender lighter coloured green leaves from the centre (or the sprouting shoots at this time of year) I use in salads, either as part of a green leaf salad, or to contrast a sweeter tasting ingredient, for example, beetroot, borlotti beans or fennel and orange.

A favourite way to use the centre is to use it like Sicilians use cicorino (chicory, often wild and found in spring in Sicily and also called la prima – the first). Pino Correnti, a respected food authority about Sicilian food thinks that this salad is eaten in Troina, in north – central Sicily.

INGREDIENTS
chicory (see below for amounts and type)
extra virgin olive oil
lemon juice
vinegar
salt and pepper
hard boiled eggs
anchovies

PROCESSES
Wash and cut into small pieces the chicory.
Make the vinaigrette with the oil, vinegar, lemon and seasoning.
Add a few chopped anchovies to the dressing and dress the salad.
Add hard-boiled eggs cut into quarters.

Accompany it with bread.(I like it as a first course as well. For this option I add more eggs and whole anchovies).
FEATURE PHOTO Puntarelle with  soft drained ricotta. Creamed goats’ cheese would be OK as well.

N’ZALATA CAPRICCIOSA – INSALATA CAPRICCIOSA (Fennel,olives etc)


This is a very simple and colourful salad, full of different flavours and it includes fennel –very prolific and in season in Australia at the moment. I always find this vegetable very refreshing and cleansing.

Capricciosa means whimsical or fanciful in Italian and the salad lives up to its name. I found this salad in a book about Sicilian recipes that I bought at a railway station. It is listed as N’ZALATA CRAPICIOSA – a misprint, surely? But capricious to the end!

INGREDIENTS and PROCESSES

This salad consists of finely sliced fennel, chopped green olives, capers and red salad onion. In Italy this type of onion is called cipolla calabrese or cipolla Tropea. The name is appropriate – it grows extensively in Calabria and is a dominant ingredient in Calabrese cooking.

Red onions do not just grow in the South of Italy, I also found fresh red onions (sold with their green tops) all over Tuscany and Rome at the end of last year. (The photo was taken in the Greve market, held each Saturday morning in the Piazza where we were staying in December 2008).

Onions, like all vegetables are seasonal. As well as using fresh onions raw in salads, Sicilians also use mature ones (those with dry skin) but usually they “sweeten” them first.

My father always did this, especially for his famous tomato salads. Raw onions are first sliced and then sprinkled with salt (some soak them in cold, salted water) for about 20 minutes – use a colander. The onions are then squeezed to remove the excess liquid and the strong flavour (my father wore his glasses for this process); he also quickly rinsed the onions at the end. 

As a variation, for colour and flavour I have used some chopped finely fennel fonds and sometimes finely chopped mint for extra zing.

For the dressing use quality extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and a dash of vinegar. Dress and toss the salad just before serving.
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WHAT TO DO WITH A ZUCCA (An overgrown zucchini – a marrow).

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.

INGREDIENTS

marrow, 1

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

PROCESS

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.