Minestra di zucca, ceci e spezie medievali – a pumpkin and chickpea soup with a Medieval flavour

This soup does not claim any specific provenance; in fact, I developed the recipe over a few suppers. And yet I daresay most Italians would immediately recognise it as “Italian” – even if the spicing might throw them at first. Continue reading “Minestra di zucca, ceci e spezie medievali – a pumpkin and chickpea soup with a Medieval flavour”

An excellent thing, the onion – bigoli in salsa, onion and sardine sauce for pasta from Veneto

“Onions. An excellent thing, the onion, and highly suitable for old people and those with cold temperaments, owing to its nature, which is hot in the highest degree, sometimes moist, and sometimes dry. The most desirable of the many varieties are the white onions, being rich in watery juices. They generate milk in nursing mothers and fertile semen in men. They improve the eyesight, are softening, and stimulate the bladder. Headaches, which are sometimes caused by onions, can be cured with vinegar and milk. Those suffering from coughs, asthma, and constrictions in the chest, should eat boiled onions, or onions baked under the embers, served with sugar and a little fresh butter”

This passage is by the XI Century Baghdad doctor Ibn Butlann whose book Taqwīm as‑Siḥḥa (تقويم الصحة Maintenance of Health) was translated in Europe as Tacuinum Sanitatis and became one of the most important books on hygiene, dietetics and exercise, from the Middle Ages well into the Renaissance (the picture and text in the gallery are from the English edition of the book, The Four Season of the House of Cerruti, 1984, available on http://www.archive.org).
Onions are indeed excellent and without them much Italian cooking would be lustreless.

Continue reading “An excellent thing, the onion – bigoli in salsa, onion and sardine sauce for pasta from Veneto”

Tortino di patate e spinaci – potato and spinach pie

It is very easy, and immensely pleasurable, to fall into the spell of the Mediterranean – the vibrant colours, the shimmering sea, the warmth of its people, the gnarled olive trees, the intoxicating sweetness of its figs, the lusciousness of its vegetables… 

When it comes to Italian food then, there is a misconception that it is all olive oil, garlic, basil and tomatoes, so to speak. In fact, at least one third of the Italian peninsula, from the plains of Emilia Romagna up to the Northern Alps, is bathed in butter and lard and cooks much of its food, at least traditionally,  “in bianco” – that is to say, without tomatoes.
This homely supper dish, which emanates from the Emilia Romagna repertoire, makes the point.

Continue reading “Tortino di patate e spinaci – potato and spinach pie”

Patate alla pizzaiola – Potatoes pizzaiola 

In classic Italian cookery, when something is cooked  “alla pizzaiola” (pizza-style),  it means it has tomatoes and origano (sometimes garlic too),  as in the most basic topping for pizza.

Patate alla pizzaiola belongs to that army of homely dishes that are the backbone, almost the unsung heroes,  of Italian cookery:  simple affairs, often vegetarian, quickly assembled, generally rather economical and immensely satisfying.

This is not “a recipe”, just, I would say, “a way with” potatoes – once you understand the idea, you can really play with it. Continue reading “Patate alla pizzaiola – Potatoes pizzaiola “

Torta Pasqualina (Easter chard and fresh cheese pie from Liguria)

To say that we Italians are food traditionalists is an understatement. Time and time again we go back to dishes that we have known since we were kids and we still enjoy them immensely. Come Easter and torta pasqualina will appear on very many tables. “Torta pasqualina” translates as Eastertide cake but it is actually a savory pie: layers of a golden, shatteringly flaky olive oil pastry, encasing a substantial filling of chards (biete, in Italian), fresh soft cheese, Parmigiano or pecorino , eggs and marjoram. It is a centuries old dish and one of the highlights of the Italian vegetarian canon – the quintessential spring dish. Continue reading “Torta Pasqualina (Easter chard and fresh cheese pie from Liguria)”