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
Time to change gear: autumn is here and I want to explore more of the wonderful northern Italian repertoire, which I think lends itself better to this time of the year.
This vegetable terrine hails from Piemonte, or, to be precise, from this tremendous book about Piedmeontese cooking: if you read Italian, do get it. This is not your typical recipe driven cookery book but one where the emphasis is on food as culture.
it is a layered affair of cooked chopped vegetables, with each vegetable layer enriched with eggs and béchamel sauce: an excellent example of that Italian bourgeois , Sunday lunch cooking, now almost disappeared. Continue reading
Sicilian cooking is not just opulence and extravagance. This dish of chards with tomatoes, garlic and peperoncino (chili pepper) is a good example of cucina povera: a handful of a few basic, cheap ingredients delivers a hugely satisfying contorno di verdura (vegetable side dish). “Giri” is how chards are named in the dialect of Palermo and “Assassunare” derives from the French “Assaisonner” which means “to season”: in Sicilian culinary terms when something has been sautéed in oil and garlic, to get impregnated with that lovely flavor, they say it has been “assassunatu”.
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
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