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”.
In her last book, even the arch-traditionalist Marcella Hazan said that making egg pasta dough in the food processor is fine. She was finally acknowledging what home cooks and restaurant chefs had probably been doing for a long time, but it was also testament to her intelligence: food and cooking must evolve to stay alive. It would be foolish to ignore that cooking is an ever changing reality that resists being imprisoned in dogmas: we do not eat, cook or think about food one year for the other.
As much as I love traditions and traditional food, I am also very open to “new ways” in the kitchen, as long as they make my life easier and/or my food better. The pressure cooker is a good example. Continue reading
Sicily 2017: Catania, Val di Noto (Ibla, Modica, Noto), Siracusa-Ortigia. Che dire? What can I say? Beautiful, vital, real, gutsy, honest, crumbling, excessive, generous, poor, rich – everything and its opposite.
I will post some Sicilian recipes soon. I need time to readjust myself to London rhythms first.
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