Tag Archives: spring

torta primavera

There are cars abandoned by the side of the road. Elderly men and women wander slowly, eyes down, feet shuffling gingerly. In the beautiful Piedmontese hills this isn’t the apocalypse – in fact it’s the start of Spring and these are the harbingers of the wild harvest.

The lovely Liz

Aiming to join in with this select group of foragers, Liz and I set of on Saturday morning to take part in a hands-on lesson in wild herbs and greens. We started in a hill-side field, and after some brief instruction set to picking dandelion leaves and millefoglie. A sunny hour later, the group moved into the nearby forest, where we learnt about bramble shoots, wild garlic, sambuco, cardo and pulmonaria.

Millefoglie and dandelion leaves.

As a way to spend a Saturday morning it was glorious, and the surrounding landscape was completely beautiful. I still can’t get over the mountains. On a clear day the Alps float in the distance, demanding attention and awe.

An Alp.

Foraging also turns out to be one of those activities that completely change the way you look at the world. On the walk and for days afterwards I looked with heightened attention at the local landscape. Instead of seeing a nondescript carpet of green I’d see individual leaves and plants, looking for anything potentially edible. It was a revelation.

In the afternoon Liz took her new skills into the garden and came back with a huge haul of edibles, including wild chives, violet and primrose flowers.

We’d already decided that morning to use the harvested greens in a savoury tart. The gist of the recipe is below. For those foraging in the supermarket rather than a Piedmontese hillside, almost any other kind of leafy green will work in this tart. Similarly regular garlic can be exchanged for the wild variety.

The wild greens (primarily dandelion, millefoglie and bramble shoots) turned out to have a flavour somewhere between spinach, asparagus and kale. The slight bitterness was definitely eased by the cheesy egg mix. The whole thing was underwritten by the wild garlic and chives and for an experiment the tart turned out remarkably well.

As the flower-strewn tart landed on the dinner table, my Italian uncle looked at it and exclaimed ‘Ah, Torta Primavera!’

to make

Blind bake shortcrust pastry to make a case for the tart.

Mix 6 eggs with a small splash of milk and 2 tablespoons of cream cheese or thick cream. Grate a quantity of pecorino cheese into the mix, along with a tablespoon of chopped chives and some black pepper.

Ready for the oven.

In a frying pan, wilt the wild garlic leaves and the greens. Add this to the egg mix then pour the lot into the pastry case.

Sprinkle more chives, grated pecorino and pine nuts over the top of the tart. Bake at 180º C until set (around 20 minutes).

La torta.

P.S. I also wanted to give a little update on the current kitchen situation. It’s a slight improvement on the last kitchen, in fact I’m fairly sure our whole room in Belgium would fit into Liz’s kitchen! Here it is:

Bliss!
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our (food) tour of Europe

Andrew and I decided to spend our first year of married life travelling in Europe. Something we’ve always looked for in our travels is interesting food experiences and over the last ten months we’ve certainly had some memorable meals, both for good reasons and bad (one word – airports).

Throughout our trip we’ve done a lot of self-catering. This is good for the budget, but food shopping is also a great entry point into a new country or culture. Strolling through markets, grocers and supermarkets across Europe has been fascinating and challenging at times.

 

Sometimes self-catering means you get the best view in town.

That’s the introduction, now for the preface (wrong order I know!)

I grew up on an almond farm. My Mum grew a lot of our own vegetables and my first job was helping on our stall at the Willunga Farmers Market (the best farmers market in Australia). Buying seasonal, local produce is therefore not so much a philosophy for me as a habit. In recent years I’ve also started to learn about, and consciously identify with, the sustainable food movement.

What this all boils down to is that shopping for food is something I think about, something I pay attention to. So here are some of the experiences and challenges we’ve come across in food shopping across Europe. The focus is fruit and veg, but maybe another day I’ll step into the joys and challenges we faced shopping for meat and animal products here.

Italy

Our trip began in the north of Italy, where we spent three months with family. For anyone inclined towards a food philosophy that favours seasonal and local produce the Italian markets are a heaven of abundance and variety. You might think you know tomatoes or zucchini, but your average market gardener in Italy will be able to introduce you to a whole new world of shapes, varieties and flavours.

 

Lunch from a Florentine market.

The depth of variety aside, the kind of seasonal eating and types of produce available in the Italian summer weren’t that far a stretch for us southern Australians. We spent the summer gorging ourselves on melanzane (eggplant), tomatoes, zucchini and other summer favourites like the omnipresent melone (rockmelon).

Eastern Europe

The next part of our journey found us in the former soviet-block countries of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Lithuania. Suddenly trips to the shop became fraught with difficulty. I won’t even get started on the appalling excuse for milk which is the norm in that part of the world, but on our daily trips to pick up some fruit for our lunch or veg for our dinner I kept coming up against the same question – ‘What’s fresh at this time of year? What should I be eating in a central-European autumn?’

 

The Great Market Hall (Központi Vásárcsarnok) in Budapest.

Suddenly this question made me recognise the feeling I’d begun to have of being thrown completely out of the cycle of seasons. This had naturally begun with our two summers in a row – one in Adelaide and then the second in Italy – but the problem was greater than that. To put it simply, Polish Autumn is not the same as Australian Autumn. My seasonal instinct was thrown completely out and I didn’t know if it was time for apples or oranges, kiwis or cumquats. This was disorienting in a way that was completely unexpected.

Britain

In Britain we encountered another challenge in the labyrinthine megamarts that dominate the food supply there. In these, the food marketing and eat everything all-year-round ideology stripped away several tools in my shopping strategy. Imported produce dominated the shelves and mountains of packaging intruded between the fruit and my senses of smell and touch.

Feeling all at sea in this strangely sanitised version of groceries, the usual reaction was to just buy what we felt like eating, and deal with the disappointment with its tastelessness or false promise at a later hour.

 

At the Edinburgh Farmers Market.

Despite the respite of perfectly ripe raspberries and some truly delish veg bought from smaller grocers or farmers markets, I departed Britain feeling like my internal grocery clock wasn’t going have a chance of getting back in sync until we were back in Australia.

Paris

But then we went to Paris. Three weeks in Paris in November was mostly heaven, with the only down point being the two days I spent in bed with a bad cold. Through those two days, however, I received the best medicine a head cold could hope for – mountains of perfectly ripe, sweet and juicy mandarins. As the weather got colder, suddenly the citrus started asserting its presence and the French, knowing what’s good for them, embraced the first appearance of mandarins and oranges with celebration.

 

Our kitchen in Paris.

After recovering from my ailments I was able to accompany my nurse (husband) to the local green-grocer. There we happily select from the five or so varieties of perfectly ripe vegetables on offer and picked up another few kilos of citrus. Thus supplied we carried our loot home and filled our tiny apartment with the smell of soup-making and sautéing. Food shopping was suddenly simple again.

Belgium and beyond

That winter love-affair with our citrus friends reinforced for me why buying seasonal food matters. Moving from the increasingly cold Paris to the even colder Belgium, the burst of colour and Vitamin C offered by oranges or mandarins was a vital part of most of my days. In the office, my Belgian colleagues charmed me with stories about receiving mandarins for Christmas in their youth.

Unfortunately Belgium did mean a return to supermarket shopping and a return to one vexing question – where are the ‘local’ boundaries in a European context? I don’t think twice about buying bananas from Queensland at home in Adelaide – but they travel just as far as capsicums do from Spain to Belgium. Is that ok? I’m still not sure.

Fortunately I don’t have to work that out right now. We’re back in Italy, it’s finally Spring, and the markets are just down the road. I can’t wait to see what we can buy.

J

penne con salsa verde e rucola (pasta with green sauce and rocket)

I’ve been on a green vegetable hit in the last week. It started when I came back from the shop, unpacked the broccoli, leeks, parsley and rocket (rucola, arugula) that I’d bought and decided my body was trying to tell me something – go green!

We’ve also had a lot of lovely sunshine over the last few days. Lunchtime Saturday was gloriously sunny and for the first time I got to take some photographs for this blog in natural light! The combination of gorgeously green rocket and parsley and the sun streaming in the window was blissful: Spring is here!

Salsa verde (the Italian version rather than the South American) is a relative of the classic basil pesto, but with parsley as the star herb. Recipes often call for capers or various pickles along with the anchovies, but I just used what I had on hand.

With a food processor or a sharp knife salsa verde is the work of moments to prepare. With my blunt knife and unstable chopping board the process was slightly more arduous, but I just settled for a rougher dice than you would usually aim for.

This sauce is incredibly versatile. Drizzled over grilled meat or vegetables, stirred through sautéed mushrooms, on bruschetta with cheese or as a sauce for anchovies – a few places to start, but the possible uses are almost endless. For Saturday lunch I used it as a pasta sauce and served the penne with a handful of fresh rocket on top. The result was vibrant, delicious and very green.

I used curly parsley because that’s what I could buy here, but flat-leaf parsley would be better. I also don’t add salt or pepper to this directly – I prefer to season the dish overall. Keeping the salsa verde salt-free makes it a bit more flexible, so leftovers can go on salty cheese or anchovies without risking massive dehydration!

to make

1 bunch parsley
2–3 cloves garlic
3ish anchovy fillets
olive oil
penne or other short pasta
parmesan cheese, freshly grated
fresh rocket to serve

Roughly chop the parsley and the garlic then add the anchovies and chop for your life (or throw in a food processor). Once the mix is subdued, transfer it to a bowl and stir in enough olive oil to get a thin pesto-type consistency.


I mix this up in a sealable plastic container so any extra can go in the fridge to jazz up other dishes. Sealed, and with enough oil, it should last up to a week in the fridge.

For this dish you want around 1 tablespoon of salsa verde per portion of pasta. Stir the salsa verde and parmesan through the cooked pasta. Serve with a handful of fresh rocket and an extra drizzle of the salsa.

J

PS Sorry about the silly number of photographs – I just love green!