La pasta matta (crazy dough for savoury tarts and pies)

Italians have a soft spot for torte salate (savoury tarts/pies), particularly now a primavera, at spring time. Torte salate are not extravagant with cream and eggs in the way French quiches are, they tend to be simpler, lighter, casual dishes that lend themselves to endless improvisations and impromptu suppers: some cooked vegetables, a little ricotta and/or a couple of eggs, a generous fistful of parmigiano or pecorino to jazz things up, all enclosed in a thin, crisp, lean pastry, called pasta matta, which literally means “crazy dough”, probably on account of the very little fat that is used to make.

Pasta matta is the poor relative of richer brisè and puff pastry, but I find it more useful in every-day cooking and often better in fact Continue reading

Barba di frate olio & limone (friar’s beard or agretti salad) – spring, Hip hip hooray

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Finally! The daffodils in the park, the camelia & the magnolia down in the garden, the birds cheerfully chirping away in the morning.. spring!! … AND I found barba di frate (also called agretti) at one of my local semi-posh greengrocers (Newington Green Grocers-reccomended).

Barba di frate a.k.a. friar’s beard or agretti, is a green, slender vegetable, that looks like over-grown chives and tastes a  bit like spinach and sorrel, but with a more metallic, mineral undertone. It is slightly bitter and also acidula ( a tiny bis sour, but on the pleasant side of sourness).
It has a very short season between March and April – it is one the real harbingers of spring, alongside forced rhubarb and nespole . Continue reading

Liptaeur, spuma di formaggio e paprika da Trieste ( a cheese and paprika mousse from Trieste)

Liptaeur
Liptaeur is a cheese spuma (spuma means mousse in Italian cookery terms) that comes from Trieste but can also be found in other areas once belonging to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (as Trieste did until the end of the First World War). A cheese mousse sounds a little “1970s cooking” but in fact liptaeur is much older and very traditional Continue reading

Puntarelle in insalata (Puntarelle salad from Rome)

Puntarelle (pronounced poon-ta-REL-lay) is a winter bitter green. It is a member of the chicory family and it is also called catalogna or catalogna spigata. The slender leaves must be boiled/steamed and can be eaten warm as a side dish, with a trickle of olive oil or ri-passate in padella – that is to say, sautéed in oil, garlic and peperoncino.  It is the inner crunchy shoots though that is the real reason Italians buy puntarelle – they make one of the best winter salads. Continue reading

Giardiniera rossa piemontese (Sour-sweet vegetable chutney from Piemonte)

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Giardiniera is the classic Italian mix of assorted, pickled vegetables, preserved either in  vinegar or in extra virgin olive oil. It is traditionally made in late spring and summer, when lots of good vegetables are at their best and abundant- giardiniera being  a clever way of preserving the bounty from the vegetable patch (orto, in Italian).  It is generally used as an antipasto, to accompany salumi (charcuterie) but it also goes well with lesso (mixed boiled meat) and it can be used in panini (sandwiches). 

This one here is slightly different though: it is a mix of summer vegetables cooked in a thick, unctuous, sour-sweet tomato sauce, flavoured with bay leaves and cloves – a sort of Italian chutney, beautiful to look at and to eat. Continue reading