Erbazzone o scarpazzone emiliano (Chard and pancetta tart from Emilia Romagna)

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

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

Paparot (Polenta and spinach soup from Friuli Venezia Giulia)

Paparot - Spinach and polenta soup
Paparot – Spinach and polenta soup

“Paparot”: This must be the most charming name for a dish – a substantial, garlicky soup from Friuli Venezia Giulia: spinach, corn/maize flour and sausage meat. It is one of those dishes where the final result is far greater than the list of its ingredients might suggest. The spinach is first cooked and chopped, then it is added to a base of lardo (or pancetta or butter), garlic and/or sausage meat. When the spinach has absorbed all these lovely, porky flavours (in Italian cookery terms, we call this all-important step insaporire, which translates as “to make tasty”), corn or maize flour is added and then water (or broth, if you have it). The soup is then cooked for a good hour. It’s quite basic, as you can see, and not much to look at, perhaps, but the flavour is very good, if you like this kind of rustic, elementary food.  Continue reading