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
Malfatti literally means “badly shaped” and the name fits perfectly these misshapen, fragile dumplings. Under different names (gnudi, strozzapreti, gnocchi verdi, rabaton) malfatti appear in many parts of northern and central Italy and they share the same logic: cooked, chopped leafy greens (chard, spinach, nettles) are mixed with a binding ingredient (eggs, ricotta, breadcrumbs, flour), formed into fragile gnocchi-like morsels, poached and dressed, generally, with melted butter and Parmigiano or with a light tomato sauce They are delicate but not insubstantial. Continue reading
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