Another Green Recipe from a Militant Gardener

The word ‘green’ is associated with more connotations than most other colours, including immaturity, rawness, naivety, pale and sickly looking, envy, and the green environmental and political movement, just to name a few. Perhaps some of these concepts are inadvertently connected? As an offshoot of the green environmental movement, some cooking sites loudly proclaim to be ‘green’, a word that has become synonymous with healthy. A quick perusal of these sites will reveal recipes using all sorts of everyday ingredients that are neither ‘green’ nor  healthy. ‘Green’ food, just like that other odd term, superfood, has become another marketing tool. Maybe green is the new lite?

Pasta della settimana

As I suggested in a recent post on eating greens, I am enjoying taking the word back to its literal meaning, given that I have a vast array of garden greens to choose from. I can honestly say that most of the things I eat are unavailable in restaurants. I prefer to eat my own concoctions more than ever and have no time for flashy, restaurant styling or plating. I’m after big flavour, freshness and ease of production. My garden greens go in soups, pastas, risotti: they top pizzas, go in salads and stir fries, while the herbs flavour bland foods or star in their own right.

Growing our own food and eating with the seasons is a fifty year old habit, though I think we’ve become better at it with age and more time. My green stories are not meant to promote a romanticised view of country life. Far from it. It’s a lifestyle choice which comes with a fair amount of dedication and is not for the armchair tree changer, the naive or the time poor. The picture of country life, at least in the Italian context ( this blog does, after all, rely on a certain Italianità for content and inspiration) pictures a nonna making bread and preserves or a nonno making sausages and eating pecorino and fresh fava beans under an olive tree. There will be home pressed olive oil and maybe an outside fireplace to cook alla brace. This is the stereotypical view of Italian country life, a wonderful food marketing myth. The idyllic notions about cucina povera conveniently ignore the laborious and hard life of the peasant. Italian migration, especially after WW2, took place as a result of desperate poverty in Italy. We can forgive the modern-day Italian blogger who pretends, just a little bit, to be connected to the land and the seasons, writing from the comfort of her own modern apartment or suburban home via a trip to the nearby farmers’ market to check what’s in season. These stories make people feel that their food has authenticity, another marketing tool.

It’s not easy being green. It’s hard work living by the seasons, which involves making vast amounts of compost based on the layering of collected manure, grass clippings, oak leaves, and scraps, as well as saving seed, pruning, netting fruit crops, harvesting gluts of food and giving it away or preserving it, watering, mulching, and ensuring that the fences keep out unwanted pests such as rabbits. The food tastes good because it has been nurtured well.

If you are fortunate enough to have any small patch of land that accompanies your abode, grow herbs that suit your climate, plant some silverbeet (chard) in the flower garden- rainbow chard, with its yellow and red stems looks wonderful. Plant an annual crop of cavolo nero for winter soups. These tall dark green plants look statuesque in a garden bed next to lavender. Why not grow some artichokes in an unused corner of the yard? Their silver leaves are as ornamental as any other exotic plant and they grow like weeds. Pop in a row of radish every fortnight and some soft heading lettuce. Tend to them like children and learn what they need. The old cop-out, having a black thumb, is an excuse for not learning about your own environment or the needs of plants. Agitate to save an old growth forest from logging and learn to grow a few greens at the same time. 

The two pastas shown throughout this story both rely on the same base soffritto shown in the picture below.

As the spaghettini cooks in the pot of boiling salted water, chop some soffritto ingredients. I like to use anchovy fillets, garlic and dried chilli. Heat a good glug of EV olive oil in a wide and deep frying pan and add this mixture, stirring about to break up the anchovy. Add some greens to the pan- I like to use broccoli Calabrese, a side shooting broccoli that is even finer than broccolini and cooks in a minute, a few young leaves of cavolo nero and some immature zucchini cut into the same shape as the other greens. Toss these about for a few minutes, then add a ladleful or two of the pasta cooking water. Raise the heat to reduce the liquid a little. Once the pasta is al dente, drain it and add it to the pan of greens. Toss about and season with ground pepper. Serve in big bowls and dress with grated Parmigiano or more good oil, or leave it as is.

No quantities are mentioned in the recipe. It’s entirely up to you and what greens you use. This recipe only works because the greens in question were picked 20 minutes beforehand. Herbs work well. Lettuce, chicory, chard, shaved young artichoke- whatever you can find or forage.

Simply pink. A few stray small garlic before cleaning. I’ll use this lot while young and ‘green’.

Notes.

  • Brocollini Calabrese seeds can be bought from Eden seeds. Sow these directly into the ground in April ( or towards the end of Autumn). I pick side shoots every second day.
  • Sunny brand anchovies come in 750 gr cans. I buy these at Gervasi supermarket in Brunswick, Melbourne. I haven’t seen them anywhere else in my travels. They are very good and last well, packed under oil.
  • If you grow too many chillies, dry them out and grind them in a spice grinder for the year. You can then decide on your own level of heat. They last in sealed jars forever.

 

The Classic Pasta and Fagioli

There are so many versions of Pasta e Fagioli in Italy and on the web, it almost seems superfluous to add my two bob’s worth on the topic. Anyone who has an Italian nonna makes a more traditional/better/regional/authentic version. During winter, Pasta e Fagioli, (pasta and beans) is one of the most useful dishes to know. Is it an entrée, a soup or a main dish? It can be all of these but given the heartiness and distinct lack of brothy elements, I tend to make this dish as a piatto unico, a stand alone dish, to be served with bread, a few drops of new oil, and perhaps some Parmigiano. Most versions are thick with beans and pasta and very little broth: some are made slowly with fresh borlotti beans, while less desirable versions are thrown together with canned beans, canned tomato and cheap industrial pasta. It is a timeless classic rustic dish, Cucina Povera Italiana, made in the past through necessity using simple ingredients stored for winter. Today, it satisfies that need in us all for comfort food on a cold winter’s day.

Like many other Italian dishes, this one also starts with a classic soffritto, that holy trio of flavour, emerging from the slow sauté of carrots, onion and celery. The soffrito vegetables must be chopped very finely so that they almost disappear once they are cooked. Another element often added at the soffrito stage is pancetta and lardo. I omit these ingredients given my dietary preferences but try to find other umani elements to flavour the dish, either through rich stock, herbs, garlic or even anchovy fillets, reduced to a salty mash. I also reserve a little deep vegetable stock to thin the mixture.

First pressed and just delicious. The first harvest of Cobram’s new oil. Only for dressing up.

Ingredients

  • 200 g borlotti beans, either fresh or dried
  • 250 gr tomato passata or finely diced tomatoes
  • 80 gr onion finely chopped
  • 30 gr celery finely chopped
  • 30 gr carrot finely chopped
  • 1 garlic finely chopped
  • 1 small branch fresh rosemary
  • 3 Bay leaves
  • 10 g EV olive oil
  • black pepper
  • fine sea salt
  • 100- 200g of pasta ditalini, depending on your preference for a thick or thinner version.

Method

Cook the beans. If using dried borlotti, soak overnight then cook in water for around 80 minutes. Add the bay leaves to the water but no salt which may make the beans remain hard. If using fresh borlotti, there’s no need to soak them and they should cook in under 30 minutes, depending on their their freshness. Keep the cooking water.

When the beans are done, make a soffrito with the onion, celery and carrot. Add the oil to a large heavy based soup pot and gently saute these vegetables until soft and golden, adding the chopped garlic and finely chopped rosemary towards the end. (Traditionally, the garlic would be added to the cooking oil first, cooked until just golden then fished out before adding the soffrito ingredients. If you don’t love garlic as much as I do, consider that method. I like to keep the garlic for more flavour)

Add the beans and a little of the cooking water. Then add the tomato and heat through gently. Remove two ladles of the mixture and puree with a hand mixer. Return this back to the soup pot. If too thick, add a little bean cooking water or vegetable stock.

Add the pasta, and cook until al dente. Watch the pot at this stage as the pasta and beans have a tendency to stick when this thick. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Serve in lovely wide and shallow bowls with a drizzle of fine oil and some good bread.

Bread of the day with Pasta of the week.

Other Pasta of the Week ideas:

Maccheroni Rigati with Sweet Pepper Sauce

Ditalini with Cacio and Eggs

Gnocchi Sardi with Gorgonzola, Silver beet and walnuts.

Pantacce with Borlotti Beans and Rugola

 

 

 

 

 

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

The Annual Zucchini Festival.

Throughout Italy, various villages and towns hold an annual sagra or festival, very often dedicated to a specific locally grown or produced food, such as frogs, chestnuts or onions, or a local dish such as frico, polenta or risotto. A quick search of the various sagre in Italy will reveal many festivals devoted to pumpkin but not to zucchini. If you think about it, the pumpkin or Zucca is the Zucchino‘s much bigger sister. Orange versus green. Female versus male, fat and rounded versus thin and elongated. Anything you can do with a pumpkin can be adapted to the zucchino; stuff, fry, bake, layer, grate and soup them. Oh and pickle them too.

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Spaghetti con Zucchini, Gamberi e Menta

It’s high time to announce my own Zucchini Sagra. Come along and try my new zucchini recipes this month, or better still, suggest some more unusual ways of using this prolific garden beast.

My first recipe marries some young zucchini with prawns, spaghetti and mint in a rich sauce. The links at the bottom of this post will take you to some of my previous posts on this wonderful annual vegetable.

Spaghetti con Zucchini, Gamberi e Menta  Serves four people.

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 small zucchini, halved lengthways then sliced in half moon rounds
  • pinch of crumbled dried chilli
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 100 ml dry white wine
  • 40 gr butter
  • 24 large uncooked green prawns
  • 200 gr spaghetti ( see notes below)
  • 16 or so mint leaves, torn
  • handful of flat parsley finely chopped
  • sea salt and black pepper
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.
  2. Meanwhile add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large non stick pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for a couple of minutes. Add the zucchini and cook for 2- 3 minutes until coloured. Add the chilli and anchovies, squash them into the oil, then add the wine. Allow the wine to evaporate a little then add the butter. Bring to the boil for a minute or so, then add the prawns, stir about then remove from the heat.
  3. Cook the spaghetti in the boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, then add to the prawns. Pop the pan over high heat, tossing and stirring to combine all the ingredients. Add the parsley and mint. As soon as the prawns are opaque, remove from the heat.
  4. Season with salt and pepper and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Serve.

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    Spaghetti with Zucchini, Prawns and Mint

Notes.

  • The amount of spaghetti specified in this recipe would be suitable for an entrée or light luncheon.
  • I would suggest adding more pasta to the pot, say, around 80 g per person, for a main meal, with a green salad on the side.
  • I also used a large non stick wok, which is a better utensil to hold the volume of ingredients for the final tossing.
  • The sauce, made up of oil, garlic, anchovy, wine and butter, is an excellent base for any marinara you might make.

From Cook Like an Italian, Tobie Puttock 2010.

More zucchini recipes on Almost Italian:

Zucchini Lasagne

Zucchini with calamari and Radicchio

Briami Me Fetta

Zucchini Pickle

Next Post, The Zucchini Fritter With Masses of Herbs

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In My Kitchen, Primavera, November 2016

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.

Arty Artichoke
Arty Artichoke

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.

bellissimi carciofi
bellissimi carciofi

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.

Chinese Dish with Artichokes, a Rose and Strwberrie. bypainting by Giovanna Garzon 1600- 1670.
Chinese Dish with Artichokes, a Rose and Strawberries. painting by Giovanna Garzani. Photographed from my treasured copy of  Florentines. A Tuscan Feast, Giovanna Garzani 1600-1670 with forward by Lorenza de’Medici.

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.

fave
Broad beans arranged in the style of Garzani
A dish of Broadbeans,
A dish of Broadbeans, Gabriella Garzani, 1600- 1670

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.

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Eggs from my spoilt chooks.

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 my Fave dei Morti.

Pan dei Morti
Pan co’ Santi, made for the visitors from the other world.
fave dei morti
Fave 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.

Bruschetta on teh grill
Bruschetta on the grill

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.

xxx
Zuppa Frantoiana.  A dense white bean soup which relies on the first pressing of the new season’s olive oil and is layered with oil and grilled bread in a deep tureen before serving.

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.

A lovely terracotta soup tureen, found unused in Savers for $4. No lid.
A lovely terracotta soup tureen, found unused in Savers for $4. No lid. Happy Strega.

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.

It’s all Greek to Me. Briami Me Fetta

In Autumn, hearty Greek dishes form a harmonious bridge spanning summer and winter. Many vegetables are at their peak, particularly eggplant and peppers (capsicums) and summer vegetables, such as zucchini, still linger.

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I have noticed my Greek neighbour Anna, who loves Olive oil, kasseri and fetta, and fish straight from the Vic Market, cooks differently each Autumn, in keeping with the dietary restrictions of her church during Lent.

For the Greek Orthodox Lenten fasting means abstaining from foods that contain animals with red blood (meats, poultry, game) and products from animals with red blood (milk, cheese, eggs) and fish and seafood with backbones. Olive oil and wine are also restricted. The number of meals on each day is also limited.  Vegetable margarine, shortening, and oils are allowed if they do not contain any dairy products and are not derived from olives.

This is a bit tough! No Olive oil or cheese? Apparently oil may be had on Saturdays and Sundays only. This dish, Briami Me Fetta, Μπριάμ με φέτα, or vegetable casserole with fetta cheese, is not in keeping with Greek Lent dishes. It includes plenty of EV Olive oil and includes a lovely topping of fetta cheese. It is similar to Ratatouille but the layering method makes for a lasagne style vegetable dish, with the potatoes and fetta adding more interest.

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Briami Me Fetta – Vegetable Casserole with Fetta ( Serves 6)

  • 500 g eggplants
  • 500 g zucchini
  • 500 g potatoes ( I use yellow fleshed ones such as Nicola or Dutch Creams)
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 or more cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 425 g can of tomatoes, chopped, undrained
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • freshly ground salt, pepper
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • chopped herbs- parley, dill, oregano
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 250 gr fetta cheese, thinly sliced.

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  1. Preheat Oven to 180c.
  2. Cut eggplants into thin slices. If they are fresh and young, there is no need to salt and disgorge them. If they are older, sprinkle with salt and let stand in a  colander for 1/2 hour or so, then wash and squeeze dry.
  3. Slice the zucchini, onions, peel and slice the potatoes, seed and slice the peppers.
  4. Combine the garlic with the canned tomatoes, tomato paste and sugar in a bowl.
  5. Lightly oil a large oven dish or a heavy metal casserole, Arrange the eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, peppers in layers, seasoning as you go. Then cover with a layer of onion rings, tomato mixture and chopped herbs.
  6. Repeat these layers until all vegetables are used, finishing with tomato and herbs. Pour oil of the top and down the sides of the dish, cover with foil ( and a lid if using a heavy casserole) and bake until vegetables are tender or about 1 1/2 hours.
  7. Remove cover and place fetta on top. Bake uncovered for another 15 minutes.

    Briami served with spelt spirali and spinach
    Briami served with spelt spirali and spinach

Serve with one of the following: crusty bread, small pasta shapes, rice or bulgar pilaf.

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This dish is even better the next day.

Based on a Tess Mallos recipe, The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook.1996

Pasta and Chickpeas

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Pasta e Ceci ( Pasta and Chickpeas) is my favourite Italian comfort food. Economical to make and extremely nourishing, it is a little wet like a soup, but substantial like a meal. Akin to Pasta e Fagioli ( Pasta and beans), I begin to make this dish for lunch once Autumn turns the next dark corner.

There are many versions around, but they are all noted for their simplicity. Don’t feel the need to doctor it or add things. Classic Italian dishes taste so good because of restraint.

The basic recipe

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas
  • 1/4 cup EV olive oil
  • one small fresh red chilli, finely chopped
  • two garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
  • 3 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or the equivalent from a can, plus a little juice.
  • salt, pepper
  • a handful of small pasta, for example, small macaroni, digitali, or torn fettucine
  • EV olive oil, to drizzle
  • lots of grated parmigiana

Soak chick peas overnight and cook the following day until done, or use the quick soak method. Drain when cooked.

Add the olive oil to a heavy based soup pot. Fry the soffrito ( the rosemary, garlic and chilli) gently for a minute, then add the tomatoes. Cook for a little, add a splash of water. Meanwhile cook the pasta in salted water, drain, and retain some of the cooking water.

Below- a few soffrito ingredients) ImageAdd the cooked chickpeas to the hot tomato mixture, add salt and pepper to taste and 1/2 cup of pasta water. Heat, then add the cooked pasta. Serve in large, warmed shallow pasta bowls with a drizzle of your best oil and some grated parmigiana cheese. Red wine and bread ? Yes please.Image