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

 

 

 

Balsam Mediterranean Kitchen. Simple Sicilian artichoke salad

Che bontà! Spring in Sicily is a time to reap the benefits of its fertile soil and warm climate. Wisteria and blossom are in abundance, fruit is beginning to take shape on the trees and the temperature is warm enough to make you forget that winter ever existed. It’s a time to be enjoyed before the overwhelming heat arrives.

On every street corner, you will find the local fruttivendolo selling a cornucopia of local freshly picked fruit and vegetables, either from the back of a small lorry or 3-wheeler. I am usually overwhelmed at the choice and variety of local produce during this period that I don’t know where to start. But start I must!

Artichokes are nutrient powerhouses. A little tricky to prepare but delicious and full of health benefits. Artichokes are packed with phytonutrients providing antioxidant benefits and are full of dietary fibre, so great for digestive health. Rich in vitamin K, potassium and manganese which can help protect brain and cognitive health, lower blood pressure and boost metabolism. Additional health benefits include liver protecting properties and reduced blood cholesterol levels which can help protect against heart disease.

Simple artichoke salad (suitable for vegans and vegetarians)

The literal translation for carciofi conditi is “seasoned artichokes” but this description does not do them justice!

*Approximately 2 artichokes per person.

*Using rubber or latex gloves, start to clean the artichokes. Hold the artichoke so the stalk is upright and start to pull off the leaves from the stalk down until you see the leaves are white (usually tinged with pink).

*With a sharp knife, clean the tail end of the stalk, removing any green bits on the stalk and where you have pulled off the leaves.

*Slice off the top of the artichoke (the other end to the stalk) and then slice in quarters.

*Cover and soak the sliced artichokes in lemon juice and water whilst you continue preparing the remainder of the artichokes (this will prevent them from discolouring).

*Cook the artichokes in boiling water, salt, lemon juice and a splash of white wine vinegar.

*Drain the artichokes.

*When the artichokes have cooled down, dress them with plenty of olive oil and chopped parsley, vinegar (optional) and chilli (optional).

Buon appetito!