It’s on again. Mid January in Melbourne brings soaring temperatures, and for those fortunate souls on holiday, lazy days inside watching the Australian Open tennis (one ball game I can tolerate) or reading a pile of novels. AND, of course, zucchini! When the pile of green zeppelin starts to stare me down, I force myself off the couch and into the kitchen, looking for more novel ways to cook this bountiful vegetable. Small zucchini pies, or Kolokythopitakia, are a tasty useful alternative to the more common place Spanakopita ( Spinach and Fetta pie). The recipe is also a good way to use around 7 zucchini. Light and nutritious, they go well with salads. I stashed two in the freezer for next week’s heat wave. My recipe uses kefalograviera cheese, a nice change from fetta, and one I recommend you try in this recipe. You can use the remaining kefalograviera to make saganaki.
Kolokythopitakia (Small Zucchini pies). This recipe makes four small pies of around 12 cm/ 5 inch diameter.
700 g zucchini
8 sheets filo ( fillo/phyllo) pastry ( I always seem to have this quantity left over in the fridge after making a big family pie)
6 spring onions, finely sliced including most of the green
3 eggs, lightly beaten
butter or olive oil for brushing the filo leaves
Preheat oven to 180c
Grate the zucchini with a box grater or the largest hole of a food processor grating disc. Place in a colander, lightly salt and toss through. Cover the mixture with a small plate, weight with something heavy, then place in the sink or over a bowl to drain. After 30 minutes or so, squeeze out as much liquid as possible and add the zucchini to a large mixing bowl.
Grate the kefalograviera on a large grater. Add it to the zucchini along with the chopped herbs, the chopped spring onion, and eggs. Mix well.
Lay the 8 sheets of filo pastry on the bench and halve them. You want 16 pieces in all which will be shaped about 27 cm X 21 cms, almost a square shape. Stack them up and cover with a damp tea towel, especially if the day is hot and dry as they become brittle and tear easily.
The pies need four filo sheets each and will be used for the base and the top. Using small pie tins with removable bases, radius 12 cm and height 3 cm, paint the insides with melted butter or oil. Lay one filo pastry sheet into the tin, centering the sheet so that the extra pastry hangs evenly around the outside. Paint this sheet with butter or oil then continue with 3 more sheets, making sure that you place the sheets in such a way so that the overhang lands in a different corner with each sheet.
Repeat with remaining tins.
Fill each pastry lined pie tin with the filling. Then bring the hanging pastry leaves over the pie filling, one corner at a time and paint each pastry sheet with melted butter or oil as you go. When complete, sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake for 20 minutes at 180c. Leave for a few minutes before turning out.
I can’t imagine a garden without herbs. Or cooking without herbs. Or life without herbs. If I were marooned on a desert island and had just one food request, I would choose fresh herbs. And if then forced to choose only one herb, the answer might well be oregano.
Although a perennial herb, oregano has distinct seasons. It shoots up in Spring, producing tall hard stems with bracts of pale mauve flowers. It’s best to harvest these stems once in full flower and hang to dry. If you’ve ever bought a packet of dried wild Greek or Sicilian oregano, you’ll notice that the flowers are favoured. By harvesting the mature stems, the plant will reinvigorate for summer and beyond. It is alive in winter, but not so productive.
Every time I gather bunches of oregano and string them up, I can almost taste the savoury crunch, salty sea air, pizza, fish, pickled olives, capers and the Mediterranean all rolled into one little sensation. I first tasted this herb in 1968, the year I first ate pizza. A few years later, as a cash strapped student with two infant children, my favourite weekly treat was a bag of oregano laced olives from the little Greek grocery shop on the corner of Canning Street. I am still searching for that same taste, that excitement that transported me away from my childhood diet of bland British/Australian cuisine, and into the firm embrace of Cucina Mediterranea.
When making a simple pizza sauce (with garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and tomatoes, fresh or canned) I invariably choose to add dried oregano. When cooking fish, a simple fillet of flathead, a snapper or a pesce spada alla siciliana ( swordfish), oregano usually stars in the sauce. Its earthy, slightly bitter flavour bonds well salt, garlic and oil. Fresh oregano, olive oil and vinegar is a perfect dressing for a warm potato salad or is the final blessing, along with a squeeze of lemon, on fried saganaki or halloumi.
I often feel enslaved by my food memories, though it’s a pleasant kind of servitude. One other vivid recollection involving oregano is the day I first tasted Salmoriglio, that famous Sicilian sauce and marinade. We were sitting in a little restaurant in Palermo. It was late Spring in the year 2000. The decor spoke of that era- terracotta paving on the floor, Mediterranean tiles on the walls, and colourful Italian made platters and plates. We ordered Pesce Spada, grilled swordfish, dressed with Salmoriglio. It came with oven roasted potatoes and grilled red peppers on the side. To this day, it is the fish sauce of choice.
There are a few variations on the theme of salmoriglio. Some recipes add capers or anchovies. I think the following recipe comes closest to that taste true of Palermo. It can be a sauce or a marinade for vegetables. The sauce is best used straight away or within 24 hours. I made it last night for a sauce to go with pan fried flathead fillets, and today I used the remainder to marinate some zucchini and tiger prawns, which were then grilled.
6 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, removed from woody stems
2 large cloves garlic
course sea salt flakes to taste
juice of one large lemon
zest of 1/2 lemon
6 tablespoons EV olive oil
1-2 tablespoons hot water
Mash the leaves with a pinch of salt flakes and garlic in a mortar and pestle. Pound well to amalgamate into a rough paste. Add the lemon peel and oil. Continue to pound then add the lemon juice and a little hot water, mixing well to make the sauce creamy. You can gently warm this sauce if you wish. If you make it in a food processor, the sauce will have a dense consistency and will not be so rustic or tasty.
Oregano Salt Recipe.
1/4 cup of dried oregano leaves
2 tablespoons sea salt crystals.
Grind in a coffee or spice grinder and store in a jar. Add to baked vegetables, fresh tomatoes, Greek potatoes.
So what food would you choose on your desert island dear reader? My choice of oregano assumes that I will also have a fishing rod.
A few years ago, an old friend mentioned that he found my blog very positive. Since that day, I decided to keep it that way. There’s enough negativity in the world without me adding my two bob’s worth concerning the sadness of our times, family illness and the winter of my discontent: in times like these, graceful silence makes more sense. And so I raise my glass to Spring, and though the vestiges of Winter will stay with us for some time, Spring brings hope. The bounce of early morning kangaroos in the front paddock, the alarming yellow of late winter daffodils pushing through the grass and the efflorescence of pear blossom, a snow-white foreground to a cold misty morning, bring glad tidings and a sense of anticipation and transformation.
But now, let’s get back in the kitchen, the place where magic happens every day. This season’s local fresh scallops ( from Tasmania or Lakes Entrance) have made an appearance in the fish markets. The Bass Strait scallop season opens in mid July, and they are at their freshest in August and September, though the season continues through to December. The industry is highly regulated and subject to quotas. Fresh local scallops are my favourite seafood and bring comfort and joy to my kitchen. Not only are they subtle and delicious, but are easy to prepare, quick to cook and a few go a long way.
Some years ago, I collected a huge pile of scallop shells when visiting Lakes Entrance on the east coast of Victoria. We sat by a fishing trawler as an older Greek man shucked thousands of scallops into a large box, destined that day for the Melbourne and Sydney fish markets while the beautiful flawless shells were tossed into plastic bags. I took away a large bag of shells and every season, I freshen them up in readiness for a favourite dish, Coquilles St Jacques, baked scallops on the half shell. The scallop shell is the emblem of St Jacques, St James, Sant’Iago or San Giacomo, (depending on your language) and as such, is the symbol of the camino, and in particular, the town of Santiago di Compostela in Galicia, the final stop of that famous pilgrims’ route. Those who have visited Santiago di Compostela or passed through the various French or Spanish towns along the way, will be familiar with the scallop shell embedded in walkways and roads. Modern pilgrims carry the shell around their necks, on the end of their walking sticks or backpacks as a sign to other pilgrims. But the question remains- why the scallop shell? One answer may lie in the Italian word for scallop- Capesante. It is said that the shell was used by the saint to contain water to be used for blessing or benediction on the heads of his followers. Then again, the scallop shell washes up along the shores of Galicia, burial-place of St James, another simple connection.
Another legend provides further clues,
” Following his execution, James’ headless body was being brought to Galicia in northwest Spain to be laid to rest. As the boat containing his body approached the coast, a knight on horseback was walking the cliffs above the Atlantic. Upon seeing the boat, the horse bolted and plummeted into the sea with the knight. St James is said to have miraculously intervened and saved the knight, still on horseback, who emerged covered in scallop shells.”¹
But then, digging a little deeper, we find that a similar pilgrimage route, ending in Finisterre in Galicia, was used in Roman times by pagans:
“In Roman Hispania, there was a route known as the Janus Path used by pagans as a born-again ritual and ending in Finisterre. Its starting point? The Temple of Venus, Roman goddess of love. Venus is said to have risen from the sea on a scallop shell, as depicted in Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus, and is associated with fertility rituals practiced along the route.
Ideas and themes associated with the cult of Janus are echoed by the concept of transformation on the Camino de Santiago. The Roman god Janus, for whom the month January is named, is the god of beginnings and endings, transition and transformation – all ideas shared by pilgrimages and discovered on the Camino today, a constant source of renewal and rediscovery.” ¹
Sant’Iago and these fabulous legends are wonderfully distracting thoughts as I prepare this season’s scallops in my kitchen. To prepare shucked scallops for a recipe, simply tear off the small ligament or tract line on the side. Please keep the roe- an equally delicious part of the scallop and proof that the product is fresh and not from some frozen packet from who knows where. Check that the scallops aren’t overly plump- a sign that they have been soaking in water which makes them less tasty but more costly.
Good things like scallops demand a few lovely condiments. This little Iranian saffron box is one of the jewels residing in my kitchen spice drawer, the ‘dark arts’ drawer as Mr T likes to call it.
On my kitchen bench, right next to the stove, stands a bunch of fresh herbs, a tussy mussy of inspiration, replenished often but saving a cold evening walk to the herb garden. This bunch includes winter favourites- parsley, wild fennel, rosemary, thyme, dill and bay.
I bought these cute graters in Bali last month for the princely sum of AU$1. Hand made of stainless steel, they are as effective as my costly Microplane. There’s one for my old friend/ex student Rachael P, and, as I’m returning to Bali next week, I may buy a few more for gifts.
Next to the kitchen radio sits a container of Lotus tea. The flask is refilled with hot water from the whistling kettle on top of my wood stove. Another simple pleasure concomitant with Winter.
Thanks once again to Sherry, of Sherry’s Pickings, who hosts the monthly event of In My Kitchen. It’s another positive place where the world gathers to showcase simple delights.
Pizza night is a weekly event here and, depending on the mood of the creator and the time given to the task, some pizzas turn out better than others. I never fiddle with my dough recipe: as the old saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, but I have revised and simplified the method. Summer pizzas tend to be more reliable given the warm atmosphere, conducive to a faster rise, and the abundant treasure from my vegetable garden. Eating pizza in the great outdoors may also enhance the taste.
My current favourite is Pizza Cinque Tesori or five treasures. Although my name for this pizza sounds exotic, the topping is quite restrained: it’s the taste of mid- summer. The pizza base is painted with a rustic tomato passata and a little grated mozzarella, then come the five treasures- zucchini ribbons, flash grilled and dressed in garlic oil, a hand full of cooked shrimp, a finely sliced red onion, some capers and basil leaves.
These days I tend to hand stretch my pizza dough. After flattening the dough ball a little, I gently lift and stretch the sides, then let it rest for a few minutes. As the dough relaxes, stretching becomes easier. The dough then gets a long rest on the bench, fully dressed, before cooking. Laying it on kitchen parchment before stretching makes it easy to lift it onto a long rectangular baking tray.
My Most Reliable Pizza Dough Recipe, updated and simplified.
5 g active dry yeast ( 1¾ teaspoons)
½ teaspoon sugar
320 ml tepid water (1 1/3 cups)
55 g olive oil ( ¼ cup)
500 g baker’s flour or unbleached plain flour (3¾ cups )
7.5 g sea salt (1 ½ teaspoons)
Stir the yeast and sugar into the water in the mixer bowl of a stand mixer and leave for a couple of minutes. Stir in the oil. Add the flour and salt to the yeast mixture. Mix, using the dough hook at very low speed at first, then increase to medium speed until soft and satiny but firm, about 5 minutes. Finish kneading briefly by hand on a lightly floured surface and form into a ball.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat with the oil, cover tightly with plastic wrap or a shower cap and let rise until doubled. Depending on the room temperature this could take one to two hours. If your dough doesn’t rise, your yeast may be stale so always check the use by date.
Knead the dough briefly and gently on a lightly floured surface, for 1-2 minutes. Divide the dough into two. Leave the dough to rest another 15 minutes or so, under a cloth or tea towel, before shaping. Hand shape by stretching, resting and stretching again or use a rolling-pin if you prefer neat rounds. If hand stretching, I find it easier to place baking/parchment paper underneath beforehand.
Lift the stretched dough on large trays dusted with semolina or polenta or onto baking paper/parchment and let it rise for another 30 minutes, covered with a towel. Dress the pizza with your favourite toppings.
Oven temperatures and functions vary with from oven to oven. I use the pizza function on my Ilve, which heats the lower half of the oven higher than the top, at 250 c FF. I also use the lower rack for faster browning of the crust. This takes 8- 10 minutes. Using a regular fan forced oven, pre- heat to 250c and place on the centre shelf, drop the temperature to 220 c and bake for around 15 minutes, then check on the base.
About flour for Pizza. Information for Melbourne, Australia
I tend to use Baker’s flour, which is stronger than plain white flour, for my pizze because I have a ready stash. Plain unbleached flour works well enough.
Wallaby Baker’s flour by Lowan comes in 5 kilo lots and is readily available at Coles.
I tend to use Manildra Baker’s flour, which comes in larger 12.5 kilo bags and buy this at Bas foods, Brunswick or Costco.
Preston Market stocks 12.5 kilo bags of Lowan white and wholemeal Spelt flour.
Cervasi supermarket, Brunswick, stocks a fluctuating array of Italian flours as does Psarakos in Thornbury and Bundoora.
Always check the milling date as well as the use by date of any flour you buy, and support retailers who stock the freshest flour. Retailers with low turnover often unwittingly sell flour that is close to the use by date.
If you wish to try Italian flour Tipo oo, which is a highly processed, refined white flour, the liquid needs to be reduced significantly. I haven’t had much success using that soft flour for pizza, but it’s great for hand-made pasta. Carol Field’s description below is useful for those mystified by the zeros used to describe Italian flour:
‘The Italian baker has five grades of grano tenero to choose from, although they are classified not by strength and protein content like ours but by how much of the husk and whole grain have been sifted away. The whitest flour has the least fibre. The lower the number, the more refined and whiter the flour, so that of the five categories, “00” is the whitest and silkiest flour, “0” is a bit darker and less fine, since it contains about 70% of the grain, and “1” is even darker. Darker and courser is “2”. For all the talk of the prevalence of whole grain in the healthy Mediterranean diet, only a fairly small percentage of Italian breads are made with whole wheat (Pane Integrale)…Millers simply take refined white flour, stir in a quantity of bran, and pronounce it whole wheat. The Italian Baker, Revised. Carol Field. p 18.
This is an old stand- by soup, made when I need to charge my batteries. It requires minimal thought and is adaptable, relying on 3 basic elements: onion, potato and a pile of greens. This week’s green soup was made from zucchini, silver beet ( chard), parsley and basil. In winter, I make it with half a bunch of celery and add a few dark leaves for colour. The outside, often discarded, green leaves of an iceberg lettuce make an excellent addition. Peas go well. Any soft, non- bitter leaves will do. I don’t usually use a recipe but today, I am attempting to add quantities. It’s a great recipe for beginners in the kitchen as well as worn out cooks too.
Super Green Soup
400 gr potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
200 gr onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1 kilogram of greens, such as, zucchini, silver beet leaves and stems, outside leaves of an iceberg lettuce, young Cos lettuce leaves, parsley, celery, basil etc, roughly chopped or torn.
1 vegetable stock cube
Add the chopped potato and onion to a pot. Add a good pinch of salt and cover with water. Cook for 10 minutes, then add all the greens. After another 10 minutes, check that everything is soft. Don’t overcook or you will lose the bright green colour. Puree with a stick blender, return to pot. Add the stock cube. Add some cream if you don’t feel too purist. Serve with chopped chives and ground pepper.
Spring is finally sending her beautiful vegetables from the garden to my kitchen. The first and most evocative of these is the artichoke. Carciofi, artichokes, are fiddly to prepare, requiring removal of most of their outer leaves while simultaneously bathing their cut bodies in acidulated water before they bruise and darken. It really is worth the effort.
I love carciofi gently braised with garlic, lots of good oil, a little water, a grind of salt, and handful of torn herbs, eaten straight out of the pot with some crusty bread. I love them creamed in a Spaghetti ai Carciofi, bringing back memories of tiny trattorie in Rome. I love them thinly sliced on a pizza. Mr T does not share my passion: there is something quite odd about that man, which was the subject of my very first post back in October, 2013.
So many of my artichokes now get the ART for Artichoke treatment because he won’t eat them and I can’t eat them all. This arty thing began in the 1990s when Daniella, the sister of a good friend, Sandro Donati, had a photographic exhibition featuring artichokes, beautiful black and white studies which included portraits of her mother: moody, melancholic, and molto Italiano. In that same year, I came across a book, with a forward by Lorenza de’ Medici, with stunning reproductions of works by Giovanna Garzani, ( 1600-1670), an artist who painted delicate still lives featuring fruit and vegetables. These two memories have influenced how I see vegetables. Why stick flowers in a vase when the garden is singing with other more spectacular stems? When I arrange and photograph artichokes, I am really lusting for their creamy bitterness in my mouth.
Other herbal candidates entering my kitchen are given the art treatment too. Broad beans in flower, over grown stems of celery, sage bushes flowering purple, stalks of dark rosemary: ‘There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.’ There are small tussie mussies of fragrant mixed herbs, bowls of lemons, fronds of wild fennel. Primavera nella mia cucina.
Sadly, I lost three hens to the foxes recently so we’re down to a dozen eggs a day. I sell a few here and there but always keep a basket of eggs in the kitchen, prompting a simple breakfast or a cake for someone. There is no need to refrigerate your eggs unless you plan to keep them for more than two weeks. I don’t clean the shells, if dirty, until I’m ready to use them. Cleaning eggs removes the natural protective layer, the cuticle or bloom from the shell, which preserves their freshness.
This month I have enjoyed researching the breads and sweets of Italy baked for the Day of the Dead, I Morti, on November 1/2. In Australia, Halloween was not celebrated until very recent times. Over the last 10 years, it has slipped into our language, led by commercial interests of course. The whole thing, in Australia at least, seems culturally artificial to me. I am now teaching my little ones about Celtic and Italian customs to counter the purple wigs and lolly bags entering their homes. They listen with wide-eyed wonder. Young Oliver leans in close and whispers ‘slipping through the crack of time’, though he turned up his nose at myFave dei Morti.
With all the bread I make, the little stove top griller pan with the heavy ridged lid, gets a constant workout. Stale sourdough comes to life when simply grilled and rubbed with garlic and dressed with new olive oil.
Australian Cobram Extra Virgin Olive oil is reliably good, winning prizes around the globe. Last May’s (2016) olive harvest and press has just hit the shelves. Look for harvest dates on your containers of oil. This information is more reliable than use- by-dates. The closer you are to the harvest date, the better the oil. Store large tins of oil in the dark. Decant the oil into clean pouring jars. When visiting an olive oil producer in Margaret River back in 2006, I was informed that adding lovely fresh oil to the oil that has been left in a pouring jar, even if only a few drops remain, tainted the fresh oil with already oxidised oil. Makes sense really.
Melbourne’s cold Spring has seen the return of the hearty soup to my kitchen. This thick meal in a bowl, Zuppa Frantoiana, is a soup which celebrates the first pressing of the season’s olive oil. The soup is layered with oil and grilled bread in a tureen before serving.
Speaking of Sandro, (see somewhere above), I’m including a little clip of one of his joyous Friulian songs. La Banda di Sandro blended traditional jazz with Italian folk sung in the Friulian dialect. Hey, just for fun, and just because I wish he and Judy were back in my kitchen; I know they would eat all the carciofi and then ask for more.
Thanks to Liz, at Good Things, the In My Kitchen series continues. Do check out some of the other kitchens on her site this month. Saluti a Tutti.
The first time I tasted Chả Cá Lã Vọng, fried fish La Vong style, was in the famous 120 year old La Vong restaurant in Hanoi in 1996. It was the only dish served, along with beer and tea, so it saved any confusion about ordering. In those days, you entered the restaurant via steep rickety stairs and soon after, a tiny terracotta brazier was placed on the table, coals glowing, along with a small aluminium frypan, and a platter full of various ingredients, which were quickly cooked, layered and assembled before your hungry eyes.
I always vowed that I would make that dish on my return to Melbourne, once I had acquired a little authentic table top cooker. I never did, although I often saw some small charcoal braziers, moulded in the shape of a bucket, along Victoria Street in Richmond. Now twenty years have passed and I did not expect to see this famous dish from Hanoi turn up in Hoi An. It was a very good version too and transported me back to the more spartan days of Hanoi, where young women still wore pure white Au Dai and the spirit of Uncle Ho was alive and well.
We visited Vy’s Market Restaurant in Hoi An and were surprised to find Cha Ca on the menu. Vy’s is a huge dining hall with various cooking stations around the perimeter. You can watch rice pancakes being grilled on hot coals, young apprentices making vegetarian wonton, noodles being stretched and woks tossed. You can learn a lot here without attending their famous cooking school.
Marinade for fish.
1/2 kilo neutral tasting white fish, cut into 2.5 cm pieces
small knob of ginger, grated
½ tsp salt
1 tsp Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce)
1 tsp Mam Ruoc (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste)
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp sugar
1 piece ( small finger) of fresh turmeric, pounded or 1 teas turmeric powder
A small amount of neutral oil
1 bunch spring onions, chopped into long pieces, white and green parts used. Thick white ends cut through lengthwise.
1 large bunch dill, chopped into 2-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, smashed
roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
Bun (Vietnamese rice vermicelli noodles), soaked or cooked so ready to use.
Herbs- rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), tia to (Vietnamese perilla), more dill. ( not basil- the predominant taste is dill)
Fresh chopped chilli or chilli sambal
Place the fish in the marinade ingredients and mix well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
Place the fish and its marinade in a small frying pan over a table top cooker. ( you can do this on a regular stove but part of the drama of the dish is assembling it before the diner). Pan fry the fish for a few minutes, then begin adding the flavours. First some of the herbs, especially the dill and spring onion, then half the peanuts. Toss about for 30 seconds, then add the rice noodle and perilla, toss about, incorporating the noodles through the fish. Then add the remaining herbs, the chilli and more peanuts. Serve with plain rice.
This version of Cha Ca was was enjoyed at Vy’s Market Restaurant and Cooking School, 3 Nguyen Hoang Street, An Hoi Islet, Hoi An and cost a little under AU $10, one of the most expensive items on the menu.The tofu dish cost AU$3.88. A small tiger beer is around AU$2. The prices are a bit higher than many of the local restaurants but the quality here is superb. Highly recommended for those yearning to visit or return to Hoi An.
One of my most vivid memories of Palermo is its famous dressing, Salmoriglio, probably because it is so easy to recreate, especially during late Spring when the patch of oregano is at its peak. When I first tried this in a restaurant Palermo, it came drizzled over a thinly cut fillet of pesce spada, or swordfish, along with contorni, a platter of simply grilled vegetables. According to Marisa Raniolo Wilkins, in her cookbook, Sicilian Seafood Cooking, the name comes from its three main ingredients – salt (sale), lemon (limone), and oregano (origano).
Salmoriglio (or Salmorigano) Dressing.
4 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
1 scant tablespoons sea salt flakes
2 tablespoons lemon juice
8 tablespoons EV olive oil
Pound the oregano leaves with the salt in a mortar and pestle. When it forms a paste, add the lemon juice, then the oil and grind in some black pepper. Store in a jar and see how many ways you can use it over a week. As a cold sauce, it is best applied to hot food and then smell all the elements of the ingredients come alive.
The difference between English and Italian always fascinates me, especially when it comes to cooking terms. Not only does Italian sound beautiful, it often seems more accurate and visual. Take, for example, one of the Italian terms used for stuffing. When stuffing vegetables, squid or mussels, the word used is ripieni/e, which literally translates to re-filled. When I scrape out the centre of a zucchini or eggplant, or the guts of a calamari, I am visualising a new filling, un ripieno.
The English term, stuffed, seems much less desirable: it sounds crude and ordinary. In the last twenty years or so, the word has become the more acceptable term for the volgare, to fuck. ‘I’m stuffed, I can’t be stuffed, stuff it, get stuffed!’- are now quotidian versions of that vulgar form, but we all know what is indicated. How language evolves! I know that when I’m really annoyed, or sometimes even playful, I head straight to the ancient, Germanic sounding version, and don’t waste my time with stuffing or any grammatical forms thereof.
The recipe below makes an easy and fast entrée and is a good stand by.
Funghi Ripieni con Stracchino e Gremalata/ Stuffed Mushrooms with Stracchino and Gremolata.
8 large Portobello mushrooms, stems removed
½ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil or more
¼ of one round of Stracchino cheese
1 cup day old breadcrumbs, sourdough or other rustic bread
2 teaspoons very finely chopped fresh rosemary
finely chopped fresh oregano
2 cloves of finely chopped garlic,or to taste.
Heat oven to 180c.
Lay mushrooms on lined baking tray. Use foil or baking paper as this enables the juice to be retained as the mushrooms cook. Fill the cavities with lumps of Stracchino cheese.
Mix the chopped herbs and garlic with half the breadcrumbs, wet a little with the oil. Add to the top of the cheese filled mushrooms. Add more crumbs to the top.
Using an oil pourer, liberally dress the top of the mushrooms with oil as well as around the base. You want some oil to reach under the mushrooms too.
Cook in the oven until the tops begin to brown and the mushrooms soften. The mushrooms will ooze some lovely juice. Serve two per person, drizzle with the juice from the pan and add a side salad of dressed bitter leaves such as radicchio.
Note- in the past I have tended to use fetta or even better, Persian fetta to stuff mushrooms, along with thyme and garlic in the topping. Stracchino cheese makes a nice change, given that it is a runny and very bland cheese, allowing the stronger tasting herbs to star.
Essere Come Prezzemolo is a handy Italian expression. It simply means to be like parsley, and is applied to people who turn up everywhere, or are always there. ( Steven Fry comes to mind ) Thank goodness parsley is always in my garden as it forms the backbone of many a meal. It flavours stock, is the main star in tabbouleh and it is sprinkled over many a dish, like confetti at a wedding, or a last blessing from the kitchen. This little salad always gets eaten first at any family gathering. The young wolves descend on it.It is an economical starter, especially if you grow parsley which is really like a weed. Serve this with another salad, some herbed olives and a tasty bread for lunch.
The dish employs winter produce at its peak. Avocados, which are cheap in July and August, come from our sunnier northern states. Parsley is always prolific in the garden but more so in winter as it tends to ‘bolt’ in summer. The eggs are free range organic bantam eggs but any small sized organic eggs you can get hold of will go well as they are the star.
Antipasto di Uova, Prezzemolo e Avocado
6 eggs ( small size)
1 large avocado, or more as required.
1 bunch Italian parsley
2-3 garlic cloves
small handful pine nuts
Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Hard boil the eggs. Meanwhile make the parsley pesto in a mortar and pestle. Throw in the peeled garlic and some coarsely ground salt. Begin pounding. Add the pine nuts and continue pounding. ( Think of your least favorite politician). Add the leaves from the parsley bunch, a bit at a time. Continue bashing away until the parsley is broken down but still a little rough in texture. Add the oil, continue pounding, and add enough to make a green sauce, runny enough to drizzle. Arrange the halved eggs and avocado chunks on a platter, drizzle with the parsley pesto, and add another grinding of salt. I usually reserve the term pesto for the classic basil pesto which I only make in Summer. This one is so similar, and the green is so vibrant, I’m allowing it to sneak into the pesto category.