One thing about living abroad means you get to eat things that you didn’t have available in your native country. I was making lunch today and made a variation on an Italian classic called orecchiette con broccoli, pasta with a broccoli sauce. Orecchiette originates from Apulia (Puglia) and takes its name from the Italian word for ear, orecchio with orecchiette meaning, little ear, hence its shape; although to me it always looks like eyeballs staring up at me through a sauce.
Since I’ve moved here I’ve noticed my eating habits have changed and I now eat more fish than I previously did and have developed a real liking for calamari and a local restaurant nearby serves a fantastic octopus carpaccio.
Someone once said to me that Italian food was quite basic, that it’s all pizza and pasta, I think that’s an unkind remark; okay most of it isn’t as sophisticated as some of the French cuisine, but Italian food is steeped in history. The nation’s diet comes from two movements, povere cucina (poor food) and la cucina stagionale (the seasonal kitchen). So my point is that although it may not appear as refined as the French cuisine, it takes great skill to create a simple sauce that explodes with the taste of summer as you eat it, and you take your life in your hands in Bologna if you dare to infer that bolognaise sauce is simple to make and contains tomato.
A few days ago my good friend Jan Edwards and I were talking about food and she commented that in Italy at least it’s all, good food. I agree, the food is good because of the the care that is taken in the preparation and the fact that most of it is seasonal produce. It’s this that has led to the abundance of new vegetables that I’ve tried and liked since moving here.
There’s two noticeable differences between the English and the Italians. The English boil pasta until it’s soft enough to use as glue, while the Italian’s prefer it al dente. The English like their vegetables al dente while the Italians will boil the life out of them and mostly serve them lukewarm.
Some of the new vegetables that are now included in my diet are, bietola an Italian variety of chard, cicoria a bitter descendant of the humble dandelion and a plant with its roots; pardon the pun, in ancient Rome. But my favourite new green vegetable is cimi di rape which in the US is often referred to as turnip tops as it’s closely related to both turnips and broccoli. This leafy veg has a slightly bitter taste and was perfect for my lunchtime variation on a classic, when I made calamarata con rape e Gorgonzola.
To make this delicious dish is simple and you can use any pasta that you like, I used calamarata, which is often served with calamari and other seafood as it was the only fresh pasta I had at the time. So here’s the recipe:
200 ml of panna di cucina (cooking cream). 100 g of crumbled Gorgonzola. a good handful of cimi di rape. 300 g of pasta. A pinch of black pepper. Serves 2
First chop and wilt the rape in boiling water and set aside. Add the pasta to boiling water and when almost cooked, pour the cream into a large frying pan and add a pinch of black pepper. When the cream is heated through, add the wilted rape and Gorgonzola and stir together until the cheese is incorporated into the cream.
Drain your pasta and add it to the sauce and let it stand on the heat for a minute or two. (Always add pasta to sauce, never sauce to pasta – that’s the Italian way).
Serve in deep bowls and enjoy. I think the bitterness of the rape and the saltiness of the Gorgonzola work well together.
Give it a try, I’m sure you like this quick and easy lunch.