One of my favourite winter pasta dishes is Pizzoccheri della Valtellina. The combination of buckwheat pasta, savoy cabbage or other greens, with fontina cheese and a buttery garlic sauce is so comforting and nourishing on a cold day. I bought some buckwheat flour recently, fully intending to make my own buckwheat tagliatelle but then I heard a little voice whisper, ”Don’t create a rod for your own back.” My home-made version will have to wait. Meanwhile, a timely box of Pizzoccheri turned up in that famous pasta aisle of Melbourne’s Mediterranean wholesaler. Organic, made in Valtellina in Lombardy, and labelled I.G.P ( Indicazione Geografica Protetta), who could resist the real thing.
Recipe for 6 people. Adjust quantities accordingly, but I usually measure around 175g of pasta for 2 people and keep the whole garlic clove.
500 g Pizzoccheri della Valtellina
250 g potatoes peeled and cut into small cubes
200 g Savoy cabbage, silver beet or Cavolo Nero ( I like to mix these for colour and use those that are growing in my garden )
160 g Fontina cheese
160 g grated parmesan
200 g butter
1-2 cloves garlic
Cook the potatoes in a large pot of salted water for 5 minutes. Add the Pizzoccheri pasta and the roughly chopped greens and boil for 12-15 minutes. Meanwhile melt the butter and cook the finely chopped garlic gently. Slice the fontina cheese and grate the parmesan. Heat a large serving plate and your pasta bowls. Once the pasta and vegetables are cooked, strain them and layer into a large serving bowl, along with the cheeses, alternating until the ingredients are used. Pour over the garlic butter and season. Serve.
The cheeses melt once layered through the hot pasta while the garlicky butter adds another tasty layer to the sauce. Simple and sustaining. Fontina cheese is a must in this recipe.
It was a lucky day in the garden, coinciding with a lucky find in the fridge that led to the naming of this rich winter dish, Pasta Fortunata. The cavolo nero, a winter loving vegetable, had finally produced enough young tender branches for me to gather, while in the fridge loitered a tasty nugget of soft and runny Taleggio cheese left over from another dish. These two ingredients are a match made in pasta heaven.
Cavolo Nero often goes by the name Tuscan Kale or Black Kale in Australia, while in Italy it’s sometimes called Braschetta. I grow this ‘prince of darkness’ in my vegetable patch- it seems to prefer the cold chill of winter mornings to develop well- summertime’s cavolo nero is often prone to attack by white cabbage moth and doesn’t taste as crisp. I have used young leaves in this recipe, requiring only a quick chop. If you buy it, you will need to strip the leaves from the stalk to cook it, as the commercial stems are much longer, older and harder.
This is a rich winter dish, not really conveyed well by my photos. At the base lies a little puddle of tasty sauce while the Taleggio cheese is added right at the end of cooking. Some melts through the dish, while some lucky lumps remain hidden under the leaves and pasta. This week I’ve used Molisana’s Rotelle pasta- little wheels, a purchase influenced by young Chef Daisy, who was attracted to the shape. It requires a little more cooking time than the suggested 7 minutes on the packet, given its thickness. Any pasta corta, short and chunky shape, would work well here.
This week’s Pasta della Settimana recipe – Rotelle con Cavolo Nero e Taleggio, or Pasta Rotelle pasta with Tuscan kale and Taleggio. (for 2 lunchtime serves). Reduce the amount of pasta if serving as a first course.
180- 200 gr Rotelle pasta or other short pasta shape
20 gr EV olive oil
1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
a little white wine
125 gr cavolo nero, sliced.
70 gr Taleggio cheese
10 gr Pecorino Romano
white pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil then add the leaves to the pot. If the leaves a long and large, strip them from the inner hard stem before chopping and cooking. Cook for around 8 minutes.
Add the pasta to the same pot and cook for the time indicated on the pasta packet.
Meanwhile, grate the Pecorino, and roughly chop the Taleggio into chunks. In a wide frying pan such as a non stick wok, heat the olive oil and then add the garlic. Lift out the cooked leaves and pasta and add to this pan. There will be some water still on the pasta and leaves- this adds to the sauce. Add a slurp of white wine, then toss the ingredients about to heat on high. Add a little extra olive oil and cooking water if all the sauce has evaporated. Add the grated Pecorino, some grinds of white pepper then toss through the Taleggio and plate at once, before all the Taleggio completely vanishes.
According to market research, many people prefer recipes that take 27 minutes or less to make.¹ I think my patience level runs very close to this figure. A comforting risotto just fits it into this time frame, so long as you prep most of the ingredients as you go, which to me makes sense; it gives you something else to do while you are stuck beside that pan for 20 minutes or more, stirring, watching, and knocking back the wine you opened to make it.
Risotto is my favourite winter food, especially when the garden provides winter loving treasure such as Cavolo Nero, the dark green Tuscan king of kale, and ruby coloured radicchio, a bitter leafed vegetable that adds colour and crunch to winter meals. As the morning temperatures drop below zero and the ground turns crunchy with white frost, these two plants come into their own. They love a cold snap.
The other ingredients are fridge and pantry staples. Butter, olive oil, onion, good Italian rice and Parmigiano Grano Padano. Which rice is best for this task? I generally find that the cheaper brands of arborio produce a less appetising result. Although I do enjoy frugality, some cheaper ingredients make for false economy. One kilo of good quality Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice goes a long way.
Risotto Invernale con Radicchio. Winter Radicchio Risotto. A step by step recipe. Ingredients for two large serves.
1 cup good quality risotto rice ( Carnaroli or Vialone Nano)
1 tablespoon EV olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 small red onion, very finely chopped
1/2 small carrot, very finely chopped( optional)
vegetable stock, homemade or made with a stock cube, around 3 cups or more
dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio
a small head of radicchio, finely sliced
grated parmesan cheese, Reggiano or Grano Padano
more butter, a good knob
Chop half an onion into tiny dice and add it to a wide pan with a generous slurp of olive oil and butter. Although a diced carrot isn’t generally added to the base of a risotto, a little carrot adds some sweet notes, since radicchio can be quite bitter. As the onion gently cooks, bring a pot of vegetable stock to the boil and let it simmer next to your risotto pan. I like to have more stock than most recipes suggest, just in case it’s needed. This can be either home-made or made from a stock cube. Open the white wine. Measure the rice. Cut a small head of radicchio into fine strips. Find a small butt of Parmesan cheese and ask someone to finely grate it.
Add the rice. One cup of rice makes a generous meal for two people. Adjust the recipe for more people. Stir the rice to coat the grains- the rice will turn opaque – then add a big slurp of white wine, ( at least a quarter of a cup, though I never measure it) and stir well. At this point, you are allowed to begin drinking, to fortify you for the task ahead.
Once the wine has evaporated, begin adding the hot stock, one ladle full at a time. There’s no need to stir too vigorously or continually. The heat should be on medium to high, though I generally adjust this up and down as I go. When the stock evaporates, add another ladle, and continue this activity for around 20 minutes or so.
Add the radicchio and the last ladle of stock and stir vigorously for around 5 minutes. The leaves will soften and the dish will become more creamy. Add a grinding of pepper.
The final and most important step. Add a good amount of parmesan and butter, la mantecatura, thencover and turn off the heat. Let it sit for 2 minutes.
Take off the lid and stir through the butter and cheese vigorously. The dish will become creamy and smooth. Shake the pan backwards and forwards to observe a wave movement ( all’onda) in the mixture. If you think that the risotto is a little dry, add a small amount of hot stock and stir through well. You are aiming for a soft, creamy and well united dish that has a little wetness.
I know, dear readers and my good friend Helen, that I have mentioned my tomato glut in many other posts but I must mention two particular tomato varieties that featured in my vegetable garden this year. Firstly, the miniature yellow pear, which quickly became a triffid and bore fruit throughout December (unusual in Melbourne) and continues to do so. I attempted to weigh the crop but soon tired of this chore- many have been left on the vine as I couldn’t keep up with them.
The next tomato I promised to report on was the black-skinned tomato that my son grew from seeds purchased on eBay. They did eventually turn red and are in no way related to the more desirable Krim or Black Russian but go by the name ‘Indigo Rose’. They are blue tomatoes engineered at the Oregon State University. They are prolific, long keepers and medium-sized but sadly, they lack true tomato flavour so I won’t be growing these next year.
My favourite tomato, Rouge de Marmande cropped poorly this year and the Roma has called it quits already and it is only March! The season has been odd- one very hot spell in December, followed be a cool summer. Even the basil is slow.
The cool summer has meant an abundant supply of strawberries : they have produced continually for months and early self seeding of radicchio, rainbow chard and cavolo nero. You win some, you lose some with each season.
This year Alberto tied up the leeks and spring onions onto stakes. Their seed is now ready. They make great architectural statements in the veggie patch.
I have recycled lots of household junk. This basic clothes airer is used to support cucumber vines. The legs bury nicely into the soil.
I saved my disintegrating pool lounge chairs and turned them into shade houses to protect lettuce seed and young seedlings from drying out. I sow directly into the ground.
And here’s the pillow end of the old pool chair, ready to provide some instant shade wherever it’s needed. No land fill, no tipping fees- just re-purposed junk.
To do list:
remove shade cloth from the hooped frames now that the weather has turned mild.
make more compost
sow autumn vegetable seedlings, lettuce, carrots, spring onions, brocolli.
transplant self-sown seedlings as keeping them in the same bed will deplete them of goodness. Crop rotation makes sense.
remove bird nets from raspberry beds and cut back some of the canes.
pick all the grapes.
A good visitor to my veggie patch is this little ladybird beetle.
The veggie patch has also benefited greatly from the manure provided by our cows and hens. Here is young Dougie Dexter begging me for another cow lolly ( acorn). I would like to sell him and his cousin Oh Danny Boy but I don’t want them to end up on a BBQ!
Not only does this post from a monthly record of food gardening activities, it also features in the Garden Share Collective, kindly coordinated by Lizzie. Follow the link to see other amazing gardens throughout Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom.
This month my garden news is not good. I am recording a few disasters.
Heavy frosts have continued to damage the citrus trees, especially the limes. The top leaves are badly burnt. It is too soon to prune these back as more frosts could be on the way.
The next cause of damage is the white cockatoo. This bird is the most annoying visitor to my garden. Cockies are vandals, hoodlums from the sky, descending on the garden in mobs, swooping down and causing havoc.
They don’t eat the vegetables, they cut them in half- just for fun! This particularly applies to tall-growing vegetables such as garlic, cavolo nero, and silverbeet. In the front garden, they took a particular dislike to the succulents this year, pulling them all out, leaf by leaf, as if to say ‘ we don’t like you, wrong colour, odd shape’.
The next annoyance- the rabbits. Its seems we have a few gaps in our fencing and so these little devils have heavily pruned my parsley and radicchio. They breed in the nearby gullies and are a continual problem.
Harvest. Cavolo nero ( black kale) is now picked from one side of the plant (cockies stripped the other side) to make my favourite pasta dish. Silverbeet, coriander, and herbs are abundant. The broad beans are coming along nicely.
On the bright side, these two calves, Dougie and O’Dannyboy were born in the last fortnight, adding a touch of Spring joy to our paddocks. They, and their mothers, provide our garden with manure.
To do list:
I think the time has come to build a netted cage over the whole veggie patch. Out damn cockies, out.
Build some shelters or breaks to protect citrus before next winter.
Sow plots of lettuce, spring onion, rugola.
Prepare and enrich other beds for the big planting which will take place in early October.
Cavolo Nero sounds so much better than Kale, don’t you think? It rolls off the tongue, has romantic connections with Tuscany, where it has been grown forever by the contadini, and it isn’t as trendy as Common Curly Kale with its Commercial Connotations.
Cavolo Nero, Lacinato, Tuscan Kale, Tuscan Black cabbage, is the Principe d’inverno, the prince of winter. In winter it is the star of the vegetable garden: indeed it requires frost to reach its peak of princeliness. In summer, the leaves tend to toughen in the hot sun and even worse, it becomes prone to attack from white cabbage moths. In winter, it grows like a triffid, reaching for the sky, its only enemy being the white cockatoo, the Australian gangster parrot. They are easy to grow. If you don’t have a vegetable patch, consider growing a plant or two in your flower garden to provide height, leafy contrast and architectural drama as well as a source of nutritious green.
My favourite pasta dish is based on Cavolo Nero. It is a five minute wonder dish, requiring only a few pantry staples along with some freshly picked young cavolo nero leaves.
Fettucine con Cavolo Nero ed Amici.
Recipe for two people
180g Egg Fettucine nests
100 g freshly picked young cavolo nero leaves
4 anchovy fillets
2 garlic cloves
a pinch of dried chilli flakes
3 Tb extra virgin olive oil
a knob of butter
grana padano parmigiana
Prep the ingredients as this is a speedy dish. Strip the leaves from the centre stalk of the cavolo nero. If large, chop them roughly. If small and delicate, leave them whole or tear them. Finely chop the garlic. Roughly chop the anchovies. Grate the cheese.
Cook the pasta in ample salted water until al dente, as per packet instructions. Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan then add generous slug of oil. The oil makes up part of the sauce so don’t be parsimonious here. Add the anchovies, stir to melt them, then add the garlic and chilli, stir about briefly, then add the leaves and toss about.
When the pasta is almost ready, scoop out around half a cup of cooking water. Drain the pasta. No need to drain it thoroughly; the starchy water adds to the sauce.
Add pasta to the pan, along with a little cooking water ( it will disappear into the sauce). Raise the heat to very high, stir about, then add the knob of butter* and a few grindings of pepper.
Have a hot serving bowl ready, tip the contents into the bowl and serve. Also heat your pasta bowls. Pasta cools too quickly on cold plates.
* About the knob of butter. I once ate a fabulous pasta dish at the famous Melbourne restaurant, Pelligrino’s. As the place was packed, I was seated on a stool out the back alongside the chef’s stove. The Italian Nonna tossed the pasta around with its sauce in a small aluminium pan at high heat, then added a knob of butter before re-tossing briefly. This old trick works so well with many wintery pasta dishes.