Gnocchetti Sardi. Pasta of the week number 2.

The pasta variety, Gnocchetti Sardi, or little Sardinian gnocchi, is a small ridged pasta around two centimetres long. It’s a great shape to use when you want an amalgam of pasta, vegetables and protein, blending nicely into one comforting bowl.

Close up of Gnocchetti Sardi or Malloreddus

Malloreddus, the Sardinian name for these little gnocchi shapes, means small calves. They have been prepared since ancient times, often for festivals and weddings and are usually combined with sausage, or meat and saffron. Traditionally they were made from semolina flour and water and hand rolled into long strips of dough, then shaped into cubes and crushed against a straw basket (a ciuliri or straw sieve) to make the textured stripes. They were meant to resemble vitellini, ( the Italian translation of Malloreddus ) meaning small calves. As you can see in the photo above, they do look a lot like gnocchi, the striped pattern designed to hold a good sauce

This vegetarian dish combines shredded silverbeet (chard) with a little gorgonzola dolce, thin cream and toasted walnuts to create a wholesome dish. The recipe is deliberately imprecise. Combine the ingredients listed to suit your taste, keeping a fine balance as you go. This dish is an Almost Italian original and one inspired by the return of chard to my garden.

Gnocchetti Sardi con Bietola, Gorgonzola e Noci/ Sardinian gnocchi with Silverbeet, Gorgonzola and Walnuts

Ingredients in sequence of use.

  • 100 gr pasta Gnocchetti¬†Sardi per person
  • salt
  • EV olive oil
  • one garlic clove
  • some small silverbeet leaves, finely shredded
  • a small chunk of gorgonzola dolce, {DOP is you can find it/flash but so good}
  • some fresh walnuts, toasted in oven, then chopped into small pieces.
  • pouring cream
  • ground black pepper
  • Parmigiano¬†cheese shavings for serving, optional.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Meanwhile in a wide and deep frying pan, heat the olive oil and gently saute the garlic clove. Remove the clove after it has flavoured the oil. Add the shredded silverbeet and toss around for a minute or so until wilted. Tear the gorgonzola into small clumps and add to the pan. As it begins to melt, add some pouring cream to the pan and a few grinds of black pepper. Don’t swamp the dish with cream. Reduce the cream and cheese mixture a little. When the pasta is ready, drain it then add to the pan, tossing through the sauce. Add the nuts, toss once more. Serve with shaved parmigiano.

About draining pasta. I rarely drain pasta in a colander over a sink, preferring to keep a small amount of residual pasta water to add to the secondary cooking which happens in a deep wide frying pan. With long pasta shapes, I lift them from the boiling pot to the pan with tongs or a claw pasta lifter: with short shapes I scoop them out with a wire sieve and shake a little. In this way, a small amount of the starchy, salty water helps to loosen the sauce.

Last weeks pasta of the week: Ditalini con Cacio e Uova

Fave Dei Morti, Biscuits for The Dead

If you’re not Siciliani or Greek, you’re probably wondering what fave or broadbeans have to do with biscuits and the dead. Fave beans are the emblematic dish of death,

“The ancient Greeks saw the black spot on the petals of the broad bean plant as the stain of death and used the beans in funeral ceremonies but refused to eat them. Pythagoras thought that their hollow stems reached down into the earth to connect the living with the dead, and that therefore fave¬†contain the souls of those who have died. The Romans honoured their connection with death but cooked and served the beans as the most sacred dish at funeral banquets.”¬†¬Ļ

Fava( broadbeans) flowering late in my garden.
Fava( broadbean) flowering late in my garden. They look beautiful and a little spooky too.

The day of the dead, I Morti, is celebrated in Sicily on November 2 with Fave dei Morti, little sweet biscuits formed to look like broadbeans,  as well as other sweets such as ossi da morto, bones of the dead, and sweets shaped like human figures. For many Siciliani, a tablecloth is laid out on the family tomb, complete with chrysanthemums, the flowers of the dead, and the family gathers for a picnic. This may sound rather morbid until you consider that on the day of the dead, I Morti, ancestors and relatives sneak back into the living world, back through that fissure in time, to be with the living again.

Fave dei Morti
Fave dei Morti

Given this fine Italian tradition ( not to mention its connection with similar Celtic practices), I went in search of a few customary and very simple recipes, from Siena to Sicily, to leave a few sweet things on the table or the grave, come November 1 and 2.

Fave  Dei Morti

These tiny, crunchy biscuits are easy to whip up and are wonderful dunked in something strong. Despite their simplicity, they taste festive and are very moreish. I need to make another batch for the otherworldly ‘visitors’ on November 1.

  • 100 gr almond meal ( or almonds finely ground to a powder)
  • 100 gr sugar
  • grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbls rum
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 70 gr unbleached plain flour ( AP flour)

Place the ground almonds in a bowl with the sugar, lemon zest, egg and rum. Mix until well blended. Add the spices and flour and stir until the dough is well blended.

Divide the dough into four pieces. Flour a work surface very lightly and roll each piece into a log the width of a finger. Cut into 4 cm ( 1/12 inch) pieces and place them on a baking paper lined tray. Flatten each piece slightly.

Heat oven to 175¬ļC and bake until barely browned, around 16 minutes. Makes around 40 pieces. Dust with icing sugar and store well in a tin.

Fave dei Morti on the mantlepiece for the dead.
Fave dei Morti on the mantlepiece for the dead.

¬Ļ Celebrating Italy, The Tastes and Traditions of Italy as Revealed through its Feasts, Festivals, and Sumptuous Foods. Carol Field. 1990

Capellini Pasta with School Prawns

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Fast food in Summer

It’s hard to become bored with pasta, given all the wonderful shapes, names and colours available. Walking down the long pasta aisles of that famous Italian grocery shop in Melbourne is a step straight back into the supermarkets or alimentari of Lucca, Siena or Roma. Even my Italian visitors are impressed. Reading all the names on offer- little beards, little worms, bridegrooms, ribbons and shoestrings, priest stranglers, corkscrews, smooth or lined pens, partridge’s eyes and melon seeds, just to name a few- excites my culinary imagination and sends my mind into a spin. Capellini ( thin hair) pasta is very fine, though not cut as finely as Angel’s Hair, and is the perfect carrier for light dressings or gentle sauces such as seafood. It is sold in packets of nidi or nests which usually cook in around 3 minutes. Fast food never tasted so good.

Some of the main ingredients
Some of the usual suspects

Capellini con Gamberini, Pomodorini e Basilico- Capellini Pasta with school prawns, cherry tomatoes and basil.

Note: there are no numbers or weights given. Choose the quantities that go with your needs. I usually serve 100 g of pasta per person for a main meal dish, but serve less of the finer cut pasta, letting the ingredients have more limelight. Everything in this dish is kept small, denoted by the suffix ‘ini’ after all those nouns in the title, to go with the thin pasta.

  • Capellini Pasta
  • vine ripened cherry or baby Roma tomatoes, halved
  • garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • chilli flakes
  • EV olive oil
  • a few handfuls of local school prawns, cooked and peeled
  • tiny basil leaves, Globe or Greek
  • salt, pepper.

Boil a large pot of water for the pasta and add ample salt. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, add the olive oil ( don’t be mean as the oil is part of the sauce) and heat, then add lots of finely chopped garlic and the chilli flakes to taste. Toss around for 1 minute, then add the halved cherry tomatoes until the split. Take off the heat.

Cook the pasta nests for the required amount of time then drain.

Return the frying pan to the heat, add the prawns to the garlic oil, toss about on a high heat, then add the drained pasta, the basil leaves and season. Amalgamate while heating through. Serve in warmed large bowls, with some good oil on the table.

School prawns are usually sold in Australia pre-cooked. They come from trawlers at Lakes Entrance, Victoria and are the sweetest prawns available, despite the amount of peeling to be done.

I have set myself a challenge this week: to complete all my semi- drafted recipes and half written posts.There are usually about 10 or more in the queue and most just fall by the wayside. Mr Tranquillo calls me the post pumper! It won’t last.

Thankyou Romans

The Roman alphabet, first developed by the Etruscans and further refined by the Romans, is the foundation of many modern-day languages.

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Roman Script found on a wall in Spello, Umbria.

It is interesting to note that the modern Italian Alphabet consists of 21 letters, with J, K, W, X and Y not present. These ‘missing’ sounds are easily formed by joining letters together, for example, a ‘j’ sound is formed by adding the vowel ‘i’ or ‘e’ after a ‘g’, as in Buongiorno. A ‘k’ is formed by adding an ‘i’ or ‘e’ after a ‘ch’, as in the girl’s name Chiara. More can be found here.

If you don’t live in Italy and want to learn the language, a good starting point is the alphabet¬†and the way it is pronounced.¬†The Italian word, analfabeta means illiterate. Naturally.

 

Funghi Ripieni. Portobello Mushrooms stuffed with Stracchino and Gremolata

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.

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Stuffed and ready to bake.

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
  • ¬Ĺ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil or more
  • ¬ľ 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.

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Funghi ripieni con Strachino e gremolata.

Just Like Parsley

The Italian language is full of colourful idiomatic expressions and over the last 20 years, I have collected many that relate to cooking and food.¬†Essere¬†come¬†prezzemolo,¬†to be like parsley, is a very visual example of this, which roughly signifies ‘ to be everywhere, to¬†be present in different places and situations, or in many institutions, such as parsley, which is widely used in many different recipes. It also means to put oneself¬†in the middle, to interrupt things, to meddle’.

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I am a great fan of parsley and I also enjoy a good simile. What I no longer like, nor even tolerate, is the misuse of the word¬†‘like‘ in the written context. Just like parsley, the misuse of this word interrupts and gets in the way, is common and overused.

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You will probably hear this ubiquitous language filler, stutter, speech impediment, spilling out of the mouths of teenagers. Travelling on trams or trains in teen hour, I become¬†aurally¬†fixated ( not much choice in a crowded tram) with the dreaded ‘like‘ word. It seems that young people today cannot utter a sentence or phrase without copious¬†sprinklings¬†of ¬†‘like‘ between each and every¬†other word. ¬†No, these ‘likes‘ are not used as similes, nor are they expressions of enjoyment or desire. They are not used to compare anything in particular. They have become a speech disorder a little akin to Tourette’s syndrome. I sometimes find myself counting the number of ‘likes‘ that appear in one sentence. The record stands at 19. I ¬†also wonder whether these young people will be able to succeed in interviews, and whether they can turn off the ‘like¬†‘ button when under stress.

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We tolerate this in the young. Perhaps it’s a bonding word, a generational code, despite the stammering effect on expressive language. At what age should one grow out of the¬†‘like‘ phenomena? I ponder this question when I hear the occasional adult hampered by its overuse.

Seeing the word used, deliberately chosen,¬†in writing, such as in popular¬†blogs, makes my ‘like‘ meter go right off the radar.Image

Please make the word go away and save our language from annihilation. Just like parsley, it’s everywhere.

By the way, that parsley salad, straight from Ottolenghi’s ‘Jerusalem’ is a real winner, and what would a lovely salsa verde be without parsley?

Feel free to comment, I won’t bite!¬†grrrrr

Ode to Garlic and a Simple Bruschetta

There are hundreds of Italian proverbs dealing with garlic. Some deal with the¬†puzzo¬†or stench of garlic: others sing its praises. My favourite is ¬†L‚Äôaglio √® il¬†farmacista¬†del¬†contadino¬†–Garlic is the peasant’s pharmacist.

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The benefits of garlic:

  • Throughout history in the Middle East, East Asia and Nepal, garlic has been used to treat bronchitis, high blood pressure,TB, liver disorders, ¬†rheumatism, diabetes and fevers.
  • According to many studies, garlic is widely used for several conditions linked to the blood system and heart, including¬†hardening of the arteries, high cholesterol, heart attack, coronary heart disease,¬†¬†and blood pressure.
  • garlic is said to lower levels of osteoarthritis in women.¬†Image

The list of health benefits goes on and on. I add garlic to nearly every savoury dish I cook, but raw garlic has greater health properties. Add raw garlic to guacamole, babaganouge, humous, salsa verde, aioli, garlic butter, salad dressings. Slice it raw onto pizza, fish, tomatoes. Or make some bruschetta.Image

To celebrate this season’s garlic crop, dried and carefully plaited by Alessandra, I am making some simple¬†bruschetta, using the best sourdough bread from St Andrews Bakery and a premium¬†Cobram¬†extra virgin olive oil. Slice the bread thickly, brush with Extra Virgin olive oil, and grill in a ridged pan, pressing down to get nice charred marks. Remove, rub with lots of galic, and add more oil.

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“Non¬†piangere” –¬†disse¬†l’aglio¬†alla¬†cipolla. “Non¬†fiatare” –¬†rispose¬†la¬†cipolla.

“Don’t cry” said the garlic to the onion. “Don’t breathe” replied the onion.Image

If everyone ate garlic, no one would detect the smell on others. However , chewing parsley leaves or eating yoghurt will neutralise the smell.

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Are you a garlic devotee?

 

Orange and Almond cupcakes

This morning it threatened to rain and spoil the planned amble of the Gentlemen’s Walking Group. Mr Tranquillo and two of his mates do an easy eight kilometre walk once a month. There was much checking of the radar, a flutter of emails beforehand about the location, wet weather gear, pick up spot, as well as the proximity of a nearby cafe. It always makes me laugh, reminding me of an old joke about feminists and light bulbs!

This time the caf√© is here in my little castello.¬† The bush walk is in the foothills nearby. These orange and almond cupcakes are easy to whip up, it‚Äôs a foolproof recipe.¬† They look a bit Cafe-ish and taste¬†un po’ siciliano.¬†¬†They have become my morning tea standby and I wish I could remember the original source. It comes from my faded handwritten cake book, the one dedicated to cake recipes that actually work. Do you, fellow bloggers, friends and readers, note the source of your recipes when re-writing them in your special book?

Ingredients

125 grams butter, softened

2/3 cup caster sugar

1 large orange, rind zested, then juiced (to make 1/4 cup of juice)

2 large eggs

1 cup Self Raising flour

3/4 cup almond meal

Pure icing sugar to dust.

Method

Heat oven to 180c. Beat the butter, sugar and rind in a mixer for 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Add a little flour if the mixture begins to curdle. Then add flour, orange juice and almond meal. Beat with a large spoon to incorporate.  Grease one large 12 hole muffin tin, then add large muffin cases. Distribute mixture evenly into cases.  Bake for 18- 20 mins, or until golden brown.

Cool in pan for five or so minutes, then again on a wire rack.

Peel papers off to serve, dust with icing sugar.

They keep well for around three days in a container, or longer in the fridge. They can be jazzed up for dessert with marscarpone or whipped cream and berries.

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Pesto Imposters.

When is a pesto not a pesto? When its made from every other vegetable on the planet except basil. Some folk argue that any nut, vegetable product, garlic and oil can be processed into a pesto.  Witness artichoke pesto, pumpkin pesto, coriander and cashew pesto, beetroot pesto, mint pesto  and so the list goes on. What is it about this word, pesto, and why is it applied to every paste, dip, condiment and spread on the supermarket shelves and in cookbooks?  Pesto comes from the verb pestare, to pound, as does the pestello, or pestle used to pound it. When we think of pesto, Liguria and Genova come to mind, followed by thoughts of fragrant basil, pine nuts, garlic, and a good parmigiana or pecorino or both. Lets preserve the word for the real thing and use good old English words, such as paste, for the imposters.

A simple pesto recipe for the basil season.

2 Tablespoons pine nuts

4 small garlic cloves, peeled

1/4 teaspoon course sea salt

one large bunch of basil, leaves stripped from stalks

1/2 cup or more of extra virgin olive oil

finely grated parmesan, grana padano parmigiana, around 1/2 cup or more.

Add the first three ingredients to the food processor. Grind to a paste, then add basil leaves. When sufficiently mushed up, add oil slowly to mix while running motor. Add parmigaina to taste by hand. Taste, season, adjust with more oil or cheese.  Serve with pasta, add to arancini, toss with steamed green beans or new potatoes, drizzle over grilled fish.

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Artichokes, to eat or to decorate

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It’s artichoke¬†season and I can’t find many people who love to eat them as much as I do. Our resident Italian¬†guest, Alb√©,¬†dislikes them, and my numerous family members, whose visits usually require¬†a mass catering event, or the raiding of the cellar for a reasonable bottle of vino, don’t enjoy them. ¬†Mr Tranquillo hates them intensely.

Back in 2000, our travels took us to Naples¬†to visit the brother of my dear friend Olga. During that time, we were invited to lunch at the apartment of her cousins, right near the Galleria Umberto. The table was set impeccably, the hosts were gracious and also quite ancient. The whole event was ”¬†molto elegante“. ¬†But we forgot to mention the most important thing- that we were¬†vegetariani¬†, and along with the language, age and cultural divides, this would become an embarrassing hurdle.

First course was a simple¬†Pasta Napoli.¬†We were going well. Then came the¬†polpettini di fegato.¬†Liver meatballs, lightly crumbed and sauted.¬†¬†Mio Dio! ¬†Other expressions, involving the Madonna also came to mind.¬†Mr¬†Tranquillo turned a lighter shade of green and then quietly mentioned his dietary issues. A whole ball of buffalo mozzarella¬†landed on his plate as a substitute. ¬†I ate the liver balls, with some trepidation, but found them quite tasty and tried to focus on the concept of bella figura.*¬† Along came the next course –¬†scallopini di vitello, veal schnitzels, served with a simple green salad. ¬†I also ate these, and focused ¬†this time on the Dalai Lama: I was almost enjoying this meat fest. ¬†Mr Tranquillo once again sheepishly declined, ¬†and was offered a freshly prepared giant¬†carciofo.¬†¬†Knowing how much he hates artichokes, but also feeling very embarrassed and quite uneasy about insulting our gracious hosts, I gave him THE LOOK which indicated, ¬†“You will eat every bit of that¬†maledetto¬†artichoke and you will look like you are enjoying it!” He ate it.

young artichokes
young artichokes

Back to the back yard and my giant artichoke plants. ¬†My dear friend Helen looked at them admiringly as I cut two long stems of artichokes from the bush, complete with their soft grey/green side leaves. She mused, d√©cor or to eat, ¬†examining them carefully, whilst pondering a far more sensible question than that of Hamlet. ¬†D√©cor she decided. Well, I’ve done decorating with¬†artichokes, and no more waxing lyrically about the plants’ architectural beauty. ¬†Today I plan to eat them, by myself, just me.

La ricetta per carciofi in memoria¬†della mia cara amica, Olga D’ Albero Giuliani¬†– Artichoke recipe in memory of my dear friend Olga.

Leave a small portion of the stalk and peel ¬†it. Prepare the artichokes by removing all the sharp spiky leaves, pulling them off, one at a time. When the plant looks much smaller and no sharp bits remain, cut off pointy top half then cut into quarters and remove all the hairy choke from the centre. ¬†Drop each one into acidulated water¬†as you go. ¬†When all are ready, choose a heavy based pan, big enough to hold the prepared artichokes. Add extra virgin olive oil, garlic, saut√©¬†for a few seconds, then add drained artichokes. Saut√© again for a minute or so, add some lemon juice, a little water, and salt to taste. Cover and cook on low heat, making sure that they don’t burn or catch, until tender. Eat¬†out of the pan, if desperate, or if you can find some friends to share them with, add to an antipasti platter.

My friend Olga many years ago. I miss her every day. *** http://www.ozpod.com/yarra/books/share.html