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

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

Sgombro sott’olio fatto in casa (homemade olive oil cured mackerel)

 

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This picture shows a typical Italian summer salad:  fagiolini, patate e sgombro sotto olio – that is, green beans, potatoes and mackerel preserved in olive oil. It is a no-fuss, quick salad and most Italians would use shop-bought canned fish, but I have always found it very dry – and I did try also very expensive brands.  Fortunately, to preserve mackerel (and tuna, for that matter – but tuna is an endangered species and it is best avoided) in olive oil is dead easy and delivers a far better product – flaky, tender and not at all dry. The key is to poach the fish extremely gently and for a relatively short time. Continue reading