Buy Bri­tish

How to nav­i­gate the veg short­age

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Rachel Roddy

One day last win­ter, my then 4-year-old son came home from school and an­nounced he didn’t like ca-cof­fee. Now I know they eat good and var­ied meals at his school – but cof­fee? Did he mean some­thing cof­fee-flavoured? The next day I asked his teacher, who is wary of my still-lop­sided Ital­ian, so braced her­self for mis­un­der­stand­ing. Ca-cof­fee? It took us a minute. Car­ciofi, she said, al­most thwack­ing my arm with joy that we had un­der­stood each other – ar­ti­chokes! “They gave them ar­ti­chokes?” I meant it as a state­ment, but it came out as a ques­tion. “Yes,” she said, “we are in Rome.” It turns out they also give the kids bi­eta, chard, and

ci­co­ria, chicory. “And do they eat it?” I asked. “Of course not,” she laughed, “but we give it to them any­way.”

This is no scheme or planned ed­i­ble ed­u­ca­tion, just lunch at an or­di­nary school where, de­spite cut­backs and the cooks’ work be­ing eroded by food that is brought in, the kids are given bit­ter leaves and ca-cof­fee. They may moan, refuse or spit it out, but the seeds are sown and – just maybe – a love of ar­ti­chokes and chicory be­gins.

Chicory grows wild around Rome, its tufts of dark green, dan­de­lion­like leaves thriv­ing in fields, lay­bys and over­grown cor­ners. You find it sprout­ing hope­fully be­tween cracks in the pave­ment and cob­ble­stones, fight­ing its way past fag butts to reach for the sky. Wild means free, which his­tor­i­cally made chicory an im­por­tant and in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar veg­etable. It still is. You can gather or buy wild chicory, but also cul­ti­vated va­ri­eties. Both are un­ruly: like cer­tain types of hair, they will not be tamed, pok­ing out of crates and over the edge of mar­ket stalls. Stall-hold­ers and cus­tomers alike stuff great hand­fuls of it in bags, al­most punch­ing it down. At home, chicory is trimmed, par­boiled and then

ri­pas­sata, repassed, in the pan with olive and gar­lic un­til it is a glis­ten­ing tan­gle. The cook­ing takes away some of the bit­ter­ness, but only some; ci­co­ria is ro­bust, bit­ter, and a side dish you find in ev­ery sin­gle Ro­man trat­to­ria, a good fol­low-on for the cheese-rich pas­tas or slow-cooked meat.

Near the un­ruly mounds of sawedged chicory, is an­other beloved Ro­man va­ri­ety called puntarelle, also known as ci­co­ria di cat­a­logna or ci­co­ria as­parago. Its outer leaves are like ci­co­ria, but in­side the head is made up of a clus­ter of cu­ri­ous hol­low shoots. These shoots need trim­ming, cut­ting into thin strips with a knife or clever stringed cut­ter, then crisp­ing in iced wa­ter un­til they curl like Shirley Tem­ple’s hair. Un­like ci­co­ria, puntarelle has just a touch of bit­ter­ness. It is usu­ally served with a dress­ing of an­chovy, lemon and gar­lic. When you are in charge, you can leave out the an­chovy and, in the ab­sence of puntarelle, the dress­ing works with frisee, radic­chio or the fa­mil­iar chicory or en­dive. Puntarelle is a de­light of a salad, in­her­ently crisp and alive.

This week’s sec­ond salad is Neapoli­tan and re­in­forc­ing, ap­par­ently. There are as many recipes and strongly held opin­ions as there are cooks for this recipe for in­salata di rin­forzo, tra­di­tion­ally eaten on Christ­mas Eve but just as nice in Fe­bru­ary. I fol­low food writer An­gela Frenda’s sug­ges­tions, cook­ing the cau­li­flower till ten­der, but still with bite. Tra­di­tion­ally, the red pep­pers used are those pre­served un­der vine­gar,

pa­pac­celle. I cook strips of pep­per in hot oil, then fin­ish them with vine­gar, which also pro­vides a dress­ing. Ca­pers, an­chovies, gherkins and olives are a bossy, rowdy lot – how many you add is up to you. I like this salad with poached salt cod, or hard-boiled eggs.

The third of to­day’s trio is an ab­so­lute favourite, in­salata di finoc­chio, arance e cipolla. It is well and truly or­ange time, the trees still full of bit­ter ones and blood or­anges, taroc­chi ar­riv­ing from Si­cily, a per­fect mix of sharp and sweet, their blush­ing skin no guar­an­tee of colour in­side – they range from pink-tinted to ab­so­lutely bloody. Just as de­li­cious are navels, each one preg­nant with baby or­ange. Both va­ri­eties work well for this quin­tes­sen­tial Si­cil­ian salad of or­ange and fen­nel. To­day’s ver­sion in­cludes red onion. I use my mother-in-law’s trick of soak­ing the onions in a mix­ture of wa­ter and vine­gar which elim­i­nates the harsh­ness and pos­si­bil­ity of heart­burn. Trim the fen­nel vig­or­ously, sav­ing tougher bits for soup and

only us­ing the crisp, ten­der heart for the salad.

All three sal­ads stand alone, but brought to­gether they are a top trio: crisp, re­in­forc­ing and bright, a rush of plea­sure in cardi­gan sea­son, and a frisky sug­ges­tion of the sea­son to come. Just don’t for­get the bread, cheese and ca-cof­fee for af­ter.

Puntarelle with olive oil, an­chovy, lemon and gar­lic

Serves 4 1 head of puntarelle, or frisee 1 gar­lic clove 3-6 an­chovies, un­der salt or oil 100ml ex­tra vir­gin olive oil 50ml lemon juice 1

Strip the outer leaves from the puntarelle, then break it into the in­di­vid­ual shoots. Trim away the tough base of each shoot and then use a sharp knife or puntarelle cut­ter to slice each shoot into thin strips. Put the strips in iced wa­ter for an hour. If you are us­ing frisee, cut away the base and tear into small pieces.

2 Make the dress­ing by pound­ing the gar­lic and an­chovies to a paste with a pes­tle and mor­tar, then add the olive oil and lemon juice, tast­ing as you go, un­til you have a thick dress­ing. Al­ter­na­tively, use a food pro­ces­sor or im­mer­sion blender to pulse the in­gre­di­ents to­gether.

3 Drain, then thor­oughly dry the puntarelle, put it in a large bowl, dress with 6 tbsp of dress­ing, toss and serve. Keep left­over dress­ing in a jar with a lid in the fridge for up to a week.

Cau­li­flower, red pep­per, ca­per, olive and an­chovy salad

Serves 4 1 medium cau­li­flower 1 large red pep­per 5 tbsp ex­tra vir­gin olive oil 3 tbsp red wine vine­gar 100g olives 50g ca­pers, ide­ally un­der salt 50g an­chovies, drained 60g pick­led gherkins, chopped

1 Trim the cau­li­flower and break into small flo­rets, then boil in well salted wa­ter for 7-9 min­utes or un­til the flo­rets are cooked but still firm. Drain and leave to cool.

2 Trim the red pep­per and cut into strips. In a fry­ing pan, warm the olive oil and fry the pep­per un­til the strips are ten­der, add the red wine to the pan and al­low ev­ery­thing to siz­zle for a few min­utes, then take off the heat.

3 Ar­range the cau­li­flower and red pep­per on a plate or in a bowl, add the olives, ca­pers, an­chovies and gherkins, pour over the warm oil and vine­gar desss­ing from the pan, toss, taste and add more oil and vine­gar if you think it needs it.

Fen­nel, or­ange and onion salad

Serves 4 1 large or 2 small bulbs of fen­nel 2 large or­anges 1 small red onion Salt 6 tbsp ex­tra vir­gin olive oil

1 Trim the fen­nel, sav­ing the tougher outer layer and finger-like stalks for soup, and set aside the frilly fronds. Slice the trimmed bulb in half, then slice each half thinly.

2 Cut the base from the or­anges so they sit flat, then pare away the skin and pith. Cut each or­ange in half and then again into quar­ters.

3 Peel, halve and finely slice the onion into cres­cents. If you want a milder flavour, soak the slices in a 3-to-1 mix­ture of wa­ter to red wine vine­gar for 15 mins, then drain.

4 In a bowl, mix the or­ange, fen­nel and onion to­gether, sprin­kle with salt, pour over the oil, tear over the fen­nel fronds, toss again and serve.

You find it sprout­ing hope­fuly be­tween cracks in the pave­ment, fight­ing its way past fag butts to reach for the sky

▲ Cook’s tip The icier the wa­ter, the bet­ter the puntarelle curls, so I add sev­eral ice cubes to the bowl. Once curled, dry the puntarelle well

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.