Giri assassunati ovvero bietole ripassate con pomodoro, aglio e peperoncino alla siciliana (Sicilian chards with tomatoes, garlic and peperoncino)

Sicilian chards in tomato sauce
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”.

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La mia cassata (Sicilian cassata, my way)

Noto is a small, beautiful provincial town in South-east Sicily, where every street, every piazza, every facade, every balcony is an ode to the baroque and its love of spectacle, dynamism and pomp. Everything outside and inside is opulent and decorated to excess – horror vacui,  fear of emptiness.
The same fancifulness and richness can be found in many Sicilian dishes, cassata first of all.    Continue reading

La pasta matta (crazy dough for savoury tarts and pies)

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

Barba di frate olio & limone (friar’s beard or agretti salad) – spring, Hip hip hooray

barba_di_frate

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

Strucolo de spinaze in tavaiol ovvero strudel di spinaci e patate come lo fanno a Trieste (Potato and spinach strudel from Trieste, boiled and baked)

A  savory strudel from Trieste,  almost an Italian hot savory pudding.
A potato gnocchi-dough roll filled with spinach and ricotta,  boiled, sliced, showered with Parmigiano and baked. Comfort  food. It looks impressive but it is not that difficult to make. It is a dish firmly rooted in the Italian home cooking repertoire and something one is unlikely to find in restaurants.
Traditionally, it would be served with sugo d’arrosto (i.e. the juices left after roasting a piece of meat), with ragù and, my favorite, with butter and Parmigiano; I have also served it with a tomato sauce and some melting cheese – rather untraditional but delicious.   Continue reading