Recipe from Balsam Mediterranean Kitchen. Bitter Greens

September is a glorious month to visit Sicily. It’s still warm with a distinct lack of crowds. Whereas in August it is literally too hot to lift a finger, September brings sunny days and temperatures in the mid to late 20s (Celsius), a fresher feel which necessitates throwing something over your shoulders later in the day. It’s considered normal to start wearing le scarpe chiuse again (the literal translation is closed shoes, shoes that do not expose one’s toes such as sandals or flip flops).

September brings an exciting sense of plentiful abundance and with that in mind, later in the month is dedicated to la vendemmia. The wine harvest is an important event amongst the vineyards of Mount Etna considering the ever-growing popularity and justifiable success of Etna wines. I’m reminded that l’autumno is on its way from my trips to il fruttivendolo on the corner of my street. Now I see mounds of cruciferous or brassica vegetables such as broccoli, chard, cabbage and cauliflower. Think ‘green’ with courgettes, cucumber, chicory, lettuce leaves, peas, celery, green beans, fennel, leeks and spinach. My record of seasonal vegetables from the calendar www.ilcalendariodellorto.com reminds me that both sweet and savoury tastes are catered for this month with the arrival of radishes, pumpkin, garlic, onion, peppers, aubergine, tomatoes, figs and pomegranate.

And naturally new seasonal vegetables mean new recipes! I love how Italian households revere their greens as a main dish and never as a mere side dish. Chard le biete, spinach gli spinaci, broccoli i broccoli, turnip tops le cime di rape; we’re spoilt for choice in the variety of ways of serving them. Not forgetting also that greens are full of nutrients, minerals and fibre. They’re filling and low in calories so, what’s not to like?! But how should one cook their greens? I find it difficult to get excited about a plate of steamed greens but then if I throw those steamed greens into a pan and saltare in padella with olive oil, garlic and chilli which marries so well with their bitter, pungent flavour well, that gets my attention.

The classic way of serving greens (after thoroughly cleaning them and boiling them in salted water) is to sauté them in olive oil, garlic and chilli. Or once cooked, add olive oil, salt and lemon. Or add pine nuts and sultanas. Or mix them with a ‘short’ pasta typically orecchiete, to create the famous dish from Puglia orechiette con le cime di rapa. Or mix them with tomato sauce and add shavings of parmesan and serve with some warm crusty bread to mop up the juices and maybe a fried egg for a quick and easy supper. Or add to ricotta in pastry to make a savoury tart. Or add to minestrone. Or add to an omelette. Or as a side dish to sausages or chicken. Or as a pizza topping. As I was saying…..spoilt for choice!

Flatbreads with Sicilian-inspired greens and ricotta filling (adapted from recipes @lazycatkitchen and @demuths)

Makes 4 large flatbreads

For the flatbreads

250 grams of plain flour or all-purpose white flour

¼ – ½ teaspoon of fine salt

150 millilitres of hot water (approximately)

30 millilitres of olive oil

Sunflower oil for frying

 

For the filling

2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 thin slices of fresh chilli (+/- subject to your taste)

½ small onion, finely chopped

250 grams of pre-cooked and drained greens (I used turnip tops le cime di rapa but spinach or similar will do)

100 grams of ricotta

100 grams of grated parmesan (it doesn’t matter if you use more or less)

Salt & pepper

 

Method

Dough

*Put the flour in a mixing bowl and add the salt

*Make a well in the centre and add the olive oil

*Gradually add the water and mix well with a spoon (the water is hot!)

*Bring the dough together with your hands and start to knead. Add a little water if the dough is not holding together and knead until you have dough that is smooth and pliable (approximately 5-10 minutes)

*Cover with a clean, damp tea towel and leave to rest for 30 minutes

Filling

*Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and soften the onion and chilli for approximately 5-10 minutes

*Remove from the heat and combine with the greens

*Add the ricotta and parmesan

*Add a pinch of pepper first and then salt (if required)

Flatbreads

*Divide the dough into 4 balls

*Roll out a ball of dough onto a lightly floured work surface into a circle, as thinly as possible

*On one half of the circle spread the vegetable filling flat across the dough

*Fold the empty half of the circle over the dough so that it meets the other side of the circle to form a semi-circle and press the edges firmly to seal

*Heat 2 teaspoons of sunflower oil in a frying pan on a medium heat

*Lightly brush one side of the flatbread with olive oil

*Turn the flatbread into your pan oil side down, and cook until the distinctive brown marks appear

*Brush the top with oil then turn over and cook the other side

*Remove from the heat, slice in half and serve immediately (you can keep the cooked bread warm under a tea towel or in a warm oven whilst preparing the remainder)

*Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling

 

 

 

How to keep cool in Sicily. Balsam Mediterranean Kitchen recipes: Chilled “I carried a watermelon”, ginger & mint shots PLUS watermelon & tomato salad with ricotta salata (salted ricotta)

I’m supposed to have started my dissertation on the Mediterranean Diet this week but it’s JUST TOO HOT to do anything. PLUS I got seriously distracted last week visiting my new born niece in the UK (too cute, miss her already). So, I thought I’d ease myself back into things by posting a couple of recipes on one of my favourite summer fruits, watermelon. I promised myself at the start of this year that I would take myself out of my comfort zone and trying new recipes with watermelon sits in this category!

I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to certain foods. Take avocado for example. I’ve never understood why anyone would want to stick such as wonderful thing in a blender when it tastes so good on its own? I feel the same about watermelon. What could be better after a hot and humid day then that first sweet, slightly crunchy mouthful of ripe watermelon? I take my watermelon purchasing seriously, a few taps here and there in anticipation of a hollow sound to confirm its ripeness. If I can’t make up my mind then there’s usually an intense discussion with the fruttivendolo (greengrocer) as to which I should choose. After all, watermelon takes up a lot of space in the fridge. Too ripe and you can find yourself eating watermelon for breakfast, lunch and dinner just to finish it before it gets too soft. Not ripe enough and not only are you stuck with at least 6kgs of unripe fruit but, the integrity of the fruttivendolo who sold it to you is usually brought into question. These are actual topics of conversation at the dinner table in Sicily.

L’anguria or cocomero contains over 90% water so it’s ideal for hydration yet is nutrient dense. A rich source of vitamins and minerals including vitamin C and lycopene. Several studies suggest lycopene may have antioxidant benefits supporting the immune system and providing health benefits in the prevention of disease. Vitamin A helps maintain healthy eyes and skin. Watermelon also contains a non-essential amino acid L-citrulline which is converted into L-arginine, important for heart and blood vessel health. Buon appetito!

Chilled “I carried a watermelon”, ginger & mint shots

Makes 4 shots

500 grams of ripe watermelon (deseeded and cut into cubes)

1 teaspoon of fresh, peeled ginger (+/- according to taste)

Squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice

3-4 mint leaves (+/- according to taste)

*Blend the ingredients together

*Refrigerate for at least an hour

*Put into shot glasses & enjoy!

*Add more ginger or lemon/lime juice if the watermelon is very ripe and sweet. If it needs sweetening then add some honey

Watermelon & tomato salad with ricotta salata (salted ricotta)

Serves 2

80-100 grams of green salad leaves

200 grams of tomatoes (that’s about 2 tomatoes sliced or chopped)

200 grams of watermelon (sliced or cut into cubes)

30 grams of finely sliced olives

30 grams of finely sliced red onion

30 grams of salted ricotta or feta cheese (+/- according to taste)

A glug of olive oil

A dash of pepper

Balsamic vinegar to taste

*Assemble the ingredients together

*Add pieces of salted ricotta (it is very salty so you will not need any additional salt)

*Add the olive oil, pepper and balsamic vinegar (+/- according to taste)