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

 

 

 

Being vegan in Sicily, a modified version of the Mediterranean Diet? Balsam Mediterranean Kitchen recipe: baked tomatoes stuffed with rice

TomatoesBaked tomatoesAccording to the latest data collected from a survey conducted by Eurispes, The Institute of the Italian Research for 2017, the number of vegans in Italy has increased from 1% in 2016 to 3% in 2017. The reason(s) behind the increase is not yet clear. Health benefits? Ethics? Environment? A healthy vegan diet may be associated with certain health benefits however, more research is needed since the evidence remains for the most part anecdotal.

Does a plant based diet, based on locally grown produce sound familiar? The Mediterranean Diet is associated with numerous protective benefits, especially against cardiovascular disease which manifests as heart attack, chest pain or stroke. Here in Sicily, an island predominantly dedicated to agriculture, there are plenty of plant based recipes which can be categorised as ‘vegan’.

It’s the start of the summer season and that means tomatoes! Plump, ripe and in all different shapes and sizes, the possibilities are endless. Let me count the ways… on their own simply sliced full length and dressed with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and oregano. Or chopped into small cubes and mixed with a little chopped spring onion, a sprinkling of salt and oregano with a dash of homemade wine vinegar on toasted bread for the famous bruschetta. I’m salivating just thinking about it.

The pomo d’oro or golden apple is a nutrient powerhouse. A rich source of antioxidants and nutrients such as lycopene and beta carotene support the immune system and are thought to provide health benefits in decreasing the risk of disease. Dietary fibre, vitamin C, vitamin A and folic acid help support heart health, cell growth and maintain healthy skin. Essential minerals such as potassium helps maintain a healthy blood pressure. A lot of their good properties are found in the skin so try not to peel them!

One of my favourite quick, easy and economical Mediterranean Diet…..sorry vegan….recipes is pomodori ripieni di riso. They can be prepared earlier and baked in the oven just before you want to eat them. Nice hot or cold.

Baked tomatoes stuffed with rice (suitable for vegans, vegetarians or for anyone who loves tomatoes.)

Serves 4

Ingredients:

8 large beef / cuore di bue tomatoes

Lots of olive oil

Approximately 30 grams of rice per tomato (I use wholegrain or brown rice)

Chopped fresh basil leaves

Pinch of dried oregano

Salt and pepper

Method: 

*Preheat the oven to 180℃/350℉/Gas Mark 4

*Brush an ovenproof dish with olive oil

*Slice off the tops of the tomatoes and put to one side

*Carefully scoop out the tomato flesh and seeds. Remove any white pith and keep the tomato flesh

*Put a dash of salt into each hollowed tomato and rest upside down on kitchen paper

*Boil the rice in salted water for a few minutes less than its recommended cooking time

*Drain the rice and stir into the tomato flesh

*Add the basil, oregano and a good glug of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and mix well

*Spoon the mixture into the tomato shells and add the tops. Don’t worry if you have any leftover rice, it’s delicious on its own!

*Place the tomatoes into the oven dish, drizzle with olive oil and add a pinch of salt to the tops of the tomatoes

*Bake for 30 minutes

Buon appetito!