Erbazzone o scarpazzone emiliano (Chard and pancetta tart from Emilia Romagna)

Erbazzone is a chard tart with an impeccable pedigree. It comes from Reggio Emilia, a charming town in Emilia Romagna, the land of Parmigiano, balsamic vinegar, tortellini, mortadella, prosciutto di Parma, i.e. one of Italy’s culinary heavens.  It used to be a typical spring dish (when  young, tender chards were available), now it can be prepared almost all year round, because leafy greens seem to be always available (and rather “local” too). I have made erbazzone with spring chards, with older, winter chards, with chards only, with chards and spinach and also with cabbage: it never fails.  Continue reading

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

barba_di_frate

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