Archive for the ‘north-eastern Italian cuisine’ Category

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Cruising for some codfish

October 25, 2016

Creamed salt cod is one of those dishes that can take me somewhere else.

Known as ‘baccalà mantecato’ in Italian, it’s a specialty of Venice and although complex in flavour, uses minimal ingredients: salt cod, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and (sometimes) milk. The success lies in adding olive oil slowly as if making mayonnaise while beating the hell out of the cooked fish. A codswallop of sorts.

A recent look through my shoebox of vintage family photos transported me back to a mid 1960s’ shipboard romance.

A family trip back to Italy by boat promised all the fun a gal could dream of if the brochures were to be believed. However, as a kid, my dating prospects were limited so I settled for a relationship with a reconstituted fish.

I was an adventurous eater and looked forward to the daily buffets aboard the Marconi, looking for favourite dishes among butter sculptures guaranteed to make Michelangelo weep. Dinners were dressy affairs and waiters served antipasto selections at our dining tables from oversized stainless steel trays.

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I switched between salami, mortadella and prosciutto, but the one constant was creamed salt cod. From Sydney to Genoa – over 23 days and 10 ports of call in southeast Asia, the middle East and finally Italy – I ate creamed salt cod. I then took a break for a few years, but every time I was downwind of it, our sea voyages came to mind.

The liners SS Guglielmo Marconi and SS Galileo Galilei were purpose-built in 1962 in my hometown Trieste to bring immigrants to Australia. The sister ships were furnished with elegant interiors and collected awards for their innovative design. Shipboard games were simple and included shuffleboard, quoits and horse races with 2-D timber animals that moved along a track on the throw of the dice. Crossing the equator was a big poolside occasion featuring egg and flour initiations of Equator-crossing virgins and wily old King Neptune looking on. Children were encouraged to learn folkdances of the countries visited during stopovers. Our teacher, a heavily accented Eastern European woman, drummed into us an Indian dance routine, because “tomorrow is Bombatom”. I asked my parents if Bombay was a war zone.

Not that I realised it at the time, but what better way is there than enjoying salt cod on a ship, celebrating the important trade of Basque fishermen 500 years ago.

The award-winning Cod: a Biography of the Fish that Changed the World (Mark Kurlansky, 1999) is next in line on my bedside table.

This baccalà mantecato recipe by Emiko Davies is great … try it with polenta or eat it as I did on the ship – on nice toasted bread. Piled high.


Image from ‘The Sea Herald’ – Marconi 1965

 

 

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Borlotti. Pretty, good beans

November 24, 2015

As a child, you were most likely told to not play with your food. As an adult, I can’t think of a better excuse to procrastinate.

Fresh borlotti beans are wondrous things. They not only taste good, they are gorgeous to look at. As if their magenta-streaked pods aren’t attractive enough, the beans inside give you a double dose of colour. Pity then that they turn light, muddy brown when cooked. But before they changed to drab, I wanted to capture them and test my rusty watercolour skills. The result is not a Caravaggio, but I’ve got plenty of time …

borlotti beans in shells

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This season – like all good Italians – I’ve made the most of them in salads, stews, dips and the popular soup pasta e fagioli – or as Dean Martin called it in the song That’s Amore: ‘pasta fazool’. They’re usually late summer to late autumn eating but I found some last week and I wasn’t going to query where they came from – they looked fresh so I snapped them up. 

Trawling online sites for borlotti bean inspiration, I found a new way with them. If you don’t like anchovies, look away now! The recipe is called Fagioli alla veneta and is a tasty cold salad from the Veneto region in north-eastern Italy. (It’s translated into wonky English but still understandable.)

I love shelling fresh borlotti beans, but if you prefer to buy them ready to use, they are available at selected greengrocers in containers and marketed as ‘edible gems’. That name was a good enough reason for me to play around with them post-shelling. Here’s the result: no strings attached!

 

borlotti bean necklace

 

Sydney-based restaurateur Steve Manfredi also does a nice dish of braised borlotti with tomato, celery hearts and oregano.

 

 

 

 

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You made risotto with WHAAAT?

October 12, 2015

Another filler in between proper posts, this time for a damn tasty orzotto* developed for my now regular (almost) healthy recipe contribution to the NRMA’s ‘Living Well Navigator’. Give it a go, it’s not bad.

https://www.mynrma.com.au/living-well-navigator/health-wellbeing/barley-risotto-with-pancetta-and-fresh-herbs.htm

 

Orzotto made from pearl barley

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Meanwhile, houseguest cat is happy to wait by the cooktop if it means wolfing down some risotto with extra pancetta. At your service, sir.

 

Ginger cat

 

 

 

 

 

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* Orzotto is a portmanteau of risotto and orzo, the Italian word for barley. The dish is popular in the Friuli Venezia-Giulia region of north-eastern Italy.

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When Only Polenta Will Do

April 30, 2015

The ‘wooden plank/roof tile in place of the dinner plate’ fad has been around for a while, so I thought it safe to venture out into the wide world of inner Sydney pub bistros to test if chefs had done away with it. Not yet it seems.

I’ve eaten croissants, BLTs, toasties, salads and other foods plonked on non-plates. I’ve chased an undercooked egg oozing from a hamburger bun around a bit of treated pine. But after being served a steak with pepper sauce on a wooden board, I’m done. Do you realise how stressful it is to bolt down your meat before the pepper sauce finds its way to the edge of the board and drips onto the table? And the timber shards the serrated knife edge leaves behind aren’t much fun.

polenta illustration

There are times when plates are impractical. As an Italian-Australian growing up on home-cooked polenta I can attest to the tradition of pouring cooked polenta from the pot onto a wooden board, where it doesn’t spread too much. My father would cut it into slices with a taut wire (Jamie Oliver uses dental floss but I won’t go there) and serve it on plates with accompaniments from our Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. We’d have either a brodetto di pesce (cuttlefish or baccalà stew), sausage ragu or even braised borlotti beans.

There are Italian regional variations of the dish and sometimes polenta is served flat on a monstrous wooden board and then topped with rich tomato sauce and meat pieces for everyone around the table to dig into. Diners slowly work their way into the centre of the dish, a forkful at a time. It’s rustic eating and sounds like fun in the privacy of your own home.

I’m seriously thinking of asking for my next café steak/hamburger/anything with a runny sauce to be served on a dinner plate. As a paying customer, I think that’s fair.

While I wait for this trend to pass, I’ll enjoy following @WeWantPlates a tweeter who crusades against “serving food on bits of wood and roof tiles, jam-jar drinks and chips in mugs.” Thirty-six thousand followers feel their pain.

Image: from ‘Friuli e Trieste in Bocca’ by Manuela Busetti.

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A Fine Kettle of Fish

January 30, 2014

If anyone ever calls me ‘sardonic’ – assuming they don’t mean I look like a fish – I’d almost take it as a compliment.

I love fish talk. You can almost smell the turns of phrase devoted to fish: A big fish in a small pond; crooked as a barrel of fish hooks; drink like a fish; fish in troubled waters; having bigger fish to fry; like shooting fish in a barrel; plenty more fish in the sea; like a fish out of water.

And my favourite – which is also shared in Italian – neither fish nor fowl. Does this mean it’s not a ‘surf n turf’?

A high school friend used to say that someone had “a smile like a deep sea mullet”. Cracked me up, but I’ve never heard that expression since.

A couple of evocative expressions belong to one of my favourite fish, the highly (in some quarters) unfashionable mackerel.

There’s a mackerel sky…

mackerel sky

And a mackerel tabby cat… 

mackerel cat

Vincent van Gogh thought enough of mackerel to paint them in his lovely Still Life with Mackerels, Lemons and Tomatoes

Van Gogh Mackerels  

The Portuguese do a damn fine job of canning them

tinned mackerel

And ‘Holy Mackerel, Batman’ says it all.

The word mackerel may be derived from the Old French maquerel (c.1300) meaning a pimp or procurer and as the fish species spawns enthusiastically near coastal areas, it’s plausible.

My family’s always been big mackerel eaters and bought it from Trieste’s glorious waterfront fish market, an imposing 1913 structure with a bell tower. Nicknamed Santa Maria del Guato, it was the Adriatic city’s shrine to fish of all denominations.

Here in Sydney we bought our fish from less salubrious fishmongers. We cooked our mackerel on my father’s jerry-built brick BBQ and although not a pretty piece of handywork it did the trick. The whole mackerel were cooked until slightly charred and then the laborious de-boning process began. That was my mother’s job and she patiently be-headed and opened the fish and picked them clean. Bone by bone. They was then seasoned, sprinkled with chopped garlic and parsley and spread with a layer of home-made mayonnaise.

Last week I found some super fresh smallish blue mackerel at the fish markets, chock full of Omega-E fats and sustainable in Australia. Simply grilled with a squeeze of lemon, they were a knockout. And I’m not fishing for compliments.

Grilled Mackerel

Neil Perry is a mackerel fan too and does a nice pan fried version with a spicy sauce. http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/recipes/300/pan-fried-mackerel

Related posts:

Working out for our Mussels – http://tinyurl.com/kf3go8m

Spanish Cuttlefish with Italian Attitude – http://tinyurl.com/mxkqbuv

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Panettone: the fruitcake that keeps on giving

January 5, 2014

Festive seasons come and go, but something lingers on, and on, and on …

Every year, the whiff of the Christmas panettone is still in the air long after the decorations have been boxed up and stored away. The Italian celebratory fruitcake from Milan seems to have a longer shelf life than most packaged foods.

I don’t remember eating panettone as a child. My mother and her friends baked traditional northeastern Italian festive cakes filled with raisins, nuts and chocolate and then rolled up strudel-style. It’s only in the last 10 or so years that my family truly embraced the panettone, the long hours of preparation and baking becoming less attractive to my mother as she’s aged.

Mum is 91 now and seeing as her daughter hasn’t picked up the mantle of baking a panettone, she and her 88-year-old friend exchange commercial panettoni every Christmas. Until one of them has the courage to say “basta!” (enough!), they’ll probably continue to feign surprise at receiving one for many years.

Cat and panettone box

 

I have a love-hate relationship with the cake. The first few days after Christmas I enjoy it toasted, spread with thick slabs of butter. But after a fortnight, the novelty wears off. My mother receives many panettoni from family friends and thrusts great portions at me when I visit. Hasn’t she heard of re-gifting? By mid-January, even sandwiching it with sweet ricotta topped with berry sauce brings on an urge to donate the lot to charity.

Italy still loves them and sales in 2013 were expected to better those of previous years. Despite the country’s longest recession in 60 years, cash-strapped Italians refused to give up their expensive cakes baked in upmarket pasticcerie (bakeries). I guess they have to keep buying it to justify the annual film industry namesake ‘Cinepanettoni’ – Italian movies made specifically for the festive season and derided by critics as plotless, vulgar comedies rich with sexual innuendo. 

It seems Australians can’t get enough panettoni either. A delicatessen in Sydney’s inner-west has a panettone display that gets bolder each year. The handful on sale in early December swells to a pre-Christmas Wall of Panettoni, where a heady choice of brands is stacked like concrete blocks, dwarfing all other food aisles.

 

panettone gelato and berry sorbet

 

A straw poll on the online Friends of Italy group suggested most of the those who responded to my “Do you like panettone” question were big fans. And they like it unadulterated. Only a few preferred pan d’oro. (Must be that nasty mass-produced citrus peel in mass-produced panettone!)

If you ever feel panettone ennui approaching, you can do what I do: disguise it! After sampling some lovely I’m happy to have found a clever way of disguising it. After sampling some lovely panettone gelato at Cremeria De Luca in Sydney, I experimented with a recipe for ‘no-churn’ panettone gelato adapting it to include my own candied citron and Mandarinetto liqueur (included in previous posts). I look forward to a new tradition. Happy 2014!

No-churn Panettone Gelato (translated from the original Italian recipe) http://www.flickr.com/photos/plumdumplings/11768965403/

Related posts: 

Candied citron peel – http://tinyurl.com/mq2t6fg

Mandarinetto liqueur – http://tinyurl.com/k2redeq

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Lurking in the Cupboard #6 – ‘Italy In Bocca’ cookbook

July 16, 2013

Something caught my eye this week which led to the next instalment in my occasional Lurking in the Cupboard series. And I’m e$pecially excited. (Yes, the dollar sign’s intentional.)

Turns out that a cookbook I bought in 1980 is worth about $US275. Friuli e Trieste in Bocca (roughly translated as A Taste of Friuli and Trieste) is one of a series of 20 regional Italian cookbooks published in 1978 but now out of print. The rare first edition was recently featured in L.A. Weekly’s ‘Chef’s Library’ series and Saveur magazine – and acknowledged as must-haves by collectors of vintage cookbooks.

Printed on heavy brown recycled paper (with what only looks like bits of grits incorporated into the wood-pulpy stock ) the Italy In Bocca series includes recipes, poems, proverbs, folklore and zany original artwork.

Friuli Venezia Giulia in Bocca cookbook

illustration: Rodo Santoro

The cover illustrations for the series are nothing if not vibrant. I think this edition has captured Kirk Douglas during his Man from Snowy River period but the book predates the film so that’s pure coincidence.

recipe and illustration

illustration: Andrea Sciortino

Most of the books are trilingual – written in English, Italian and a regional dialect. And if that’s not confusing enough, my cookbook has both the Triestine and Friulian dialect, the latter being a Romance language in its own right.

Two Women

People from this region are often portrayed as taciturn, but the illustrations of these stern women are enough to scare away small impressionable children.

12983recipechamois

Some of the traditional homestyle recipes were a revelation to my mother and me. Over the years, we’ve tried some of the more unusual ones, but we drew the line at frogs and chamois.

catpolenta

illustration: Manuela Busetti

The editors weren’t much interested in food photography, opting instead for illustrations with props such as cats hovering near the polenta.

The trigger for revisiting the cookbook is that popular inner Sydney wine bar – 121BC Cantina & Enoteca will be holding a pop-up event in late July based on recipes from four of the Italy in Bocca series. Dishes will be produced by the talented PinBone collective who are obviously huge fans of the books too. Can’t wait to see what curiosities they serve up.

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