Schrödinger’s Freezer

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The freezer is on the blink. Scarcely a year old, and apparently it needs a new circuit board.

On the plus side, it’s so fiendishly modern that its insulation levels wouldn’t be out of place on the International Space Station. So nothing is rapidly defrosting, rather things are gradually just nudging their temperatures upwards every time I open the door. I have Schrödinger’s Freezer. I have to make lightning strikes in there, playing a 3D memory game as to what is in which drawer and snatching whatever is most vulnerable to the thaw.

I started with the fish, plural. I bulk buy frozen sardines, because, as I’ve said before, I bloody love them. So I had 20 sardines still board stiff, but too many and too good to risk losing to the whims of over complicated fridge electrics. I also wasn’t feeling particularly finicky , so no Sardine a beccafico for tea tonight.

But I remembered something else. Something gruesome, barbaric, straight from a crap horror film, but delicious. If you decide to make these, keep everyone out of the kitchen, and pray your guests don’t arrive early, as few people will be brave enough to try them, having seen the preamble.

Polpette di sarde
(Sardine meatballs).

The Sicilian made these for one of his monumental feasts last year. They were a triumph, hoovered up with gusto, even though they’re a simple fish meat ball, fried until brown all over and then cooked again in a tomato sauce. I’m giving his recipe (that I’ve not seen in any book), which uses fewer ingredients (no raisins or pine nuts – which are often included). There’s also a north African version of these which is spicier.

You will need a sturdy food mill, a heavy, deep frying pan, a hefty knife, and to put aside any squeamishness you may be prone to.

Start by cleaning your sardines. You need to clip off the fins, scrub off any scales and take out the guts. Doing this under running, cold water makes the job mildly less revolting.

Then, take your knife, decapitate each sardine, flattening the remaining body out, so you can fillet out the back bone (These you can discard) Chop your fillet into two or three pieces and, steeling yourself, throw the whole lot, skin and all into your food mill. Get cranking. The kitchen horror story begins, as your fish are ground down and extruded as fine fish paste into the bowl below. This is as far removed from a ready meal as you’re ever likely to get, you will be not quite staring your dinner in the eye as it disappears down the grinder. At the end any of the tougher bones or fins you missed in the cleaning process should be left in your food mill, and you can start turning the fish paste into your polpette. In the UK, we’re very picky about the bits we will and won’t knowingly eat. But if you ever eat fish such as bream or bass with a Sicilian family you’ll see them picking out the eyes, finding the brain, chewing the whole head and spitting out the bones. It isn’t pretty, but these delicacies are good enough to permit the ditching of niceties. OK, so we haven’t gone this far with our meatballs, but there is sound reasoning behind this gothic almost all encompassing process.

The next bit is easy and less troubling.
Add bread (which you’ve soaked in water for ten minutes), beaten egg, garlic, parsley and grated pecorino, to the fish and mix everything thoroughly. The mix needs to be sticky enough to hold together when you form golf ball sized polpette, but not so damp that they stick to you hands. Most recipes will tell you to use breadcrumbs here, because they’re easier and people get breadcrumbs. You can weigh them, they’re orderly. But, they can turn your fish balls stiff, too congealed; by mixing in bread, squidging it with your hands, you avoid stodge. I don’t know why this works, but it does, it makes a big, big, difference.

Now heat up the olive oil and fry your balls when the oil sizzles if you drop a little of the mix into it. You want to brown them all over, so you’ll need to stand over them and turn as they cook. Don’t do this standing over the stove with a fag in your mouth; the other half’s mother would do. Ash does not improve the flavour.

Once they’re done, you can cool and store them in the fridge until you’re ready to cook your tomato sauce. (This also reduces the chances of horrified guests discovering your barbarism).

The sauce can be a simple home made passata, or you can make a more complex one by adding garlic, olive oil and basil. Although, despite this coming from a usually reliable recipe book, the Sicilian was visibly appalled at the idea of pairing basil with fish: “a Sicilian would never put basil with fish! And if they do they’re wrong”.

This is where you need trust your own taste. Being an oily fish. sardines pack a strong punch that’ll see off flavours that might overpower a less strident fish, but, I prefer the plain tomato version, it’s more in keeping with this simple version of the recipe. Plus, you have parsley in the polpette, so it’ll all get terribly confusing if you add basil.

Double up your passata with the same amount of water and then heat your sauce gently to a simmer, it doesn’t need to be ferociously boiling and sending little staining lava bombs of tomato all over your kitchen. Now add the polpette and cook them until they are heated through (30 minutes should be enough) and the sauce has reduced down to a sticky thickness.

Serve, perhaps with a few toasted pine nuts over the top for a bit of crunch. And have your ‘scarpetta’ ready, the ‘little shoe’ of bread to scoop up the sauce.

I was reading up on versions of this recipe (in Mary Taylor Simeti’s Sicilian Food) and apparently, it’s specific to Palermo. Elsewhere in Sicily, especially on the western side of the island, it’s more usual to make your polpette with tuna. So this would be a less gruesome version, using just steak meat, rather than all the bits that refuse to let you forget that this was once a living, swimming, silvery thing.

Ingredients
(makes 12 meatballs, allow two per person as a starter, or four as a main)

20 sardines
200-250g bread (crusts off and soaked in water for ten minutes)
Tablespoon of fresh chopped parsley
25g grated pecorino
1 egg (beaten)
1 crushed clove of garlic
Salt and pepper

500ml passata

25g pine nuts (browned in a dry frying pan)

Stuffed aubergines – more than a mouthful

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I initially called these Alessandro’s aubergines, although he demurs that they are not his, but Palermo’s, and called Milincianeddi ammuttunati – stuffed aubergines (the milincianeddi are the variety of small aubergines that you use). I like the translation better than the Italian, because my Palermitan is terrible and I can’t pronounce it, just too many damn syllables.

You can’t move for aubergines in Sicily,  they are so ubiquitous and diverse, that they make our single, cellophane wrapped supermarket offerings look nothing less than tragic.  The stalls of Ballarò and shelves of every supermarket are piled high with multiple varieties – each having their own suite of cooking methods and recipes.  You would only ever make parmagiana for instance with the big, purple generic variety we’re familiar with in the UK, but the giant, striped globe Tunisian variety would NEVER be used for parmigiana – these are for steaks.  And if you want to stuff your aubergines, then you go for the small, stretched plum like ones , the deep purple Milincianeddi.

Your stuffing is formed from a very Sicilian trio of mint, garlic and  Cacciacavello cheese.    I read somewhere that the job of stuffing the aubergines was usually carried out by the grandparents, as they had the time and the patience to sit in the corner, making small slits and inserting slivers of herbs and cheese.  Now I have no grandparents to perch in the corner of my kitchen (also, I’m perilously close to my own old age anyway), so this is a job I have to do myself. It’s not that onerous really, and it leaves your fingers smelling minty and garlicky.  Which I am fond of.

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So, in each small aubergine, you want to make maybe 10-12 small slits down, into which you slide a leaf of mint, a sliver of garlic and a piece of cheese.  You need to make sure that they are totally hidden, so that they don’t fall out when you start to cook (although as the cheese melts, it will often bubble out anyway)  The garlic and mint will infuse the impressionable aubergine flesh with their aromas, and the cheese will melt and merge into it, to sublime effect.

In deep olive oil, fry your aubergines, turning them to ensure they’re evenly browned and then when they’re coloured, remove from the oil and put them in an oven dish with enough passata to cover them. Cook them in a medium oven for 20-30 minutes, so that the flavours mingle into the sauce, and then, serve it up with crusty warm bread. The Sicilian prefers do this second stage of cooking on the hob, in a saucepan, but I think that oven baking is more gentle and allows the flavours to blend more evenly. There’s an added extra that you get some additional caramel flavours developing from the crust that forms.  The aubergines will have some bitterness from the frying, but the sweet mint and tomato sauce balance this out, whilst the silky, cooked aubergine will be beautifully enhanced by the garlic and enriched by the cheese.  

Chicory Risotto

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We’re in the gap; when all those root vegetables and brassicas of winter have finally run their course, but there’s precious little on the allotment to take their place.  This is the time of the larder and the freezer; lots of pulses, frozen beans, jars of last summer’s passata.  But, there is fresh vegetable relief in the form of chicory.  Surely one of the easiest crops on the allotment (apartment from their final couple of weeks of molly coddling)?  Even the pigeons leave it alone; sow it in late autumn, and it just grows, shrugs off the winter and sits, waiting to be harvested whilst all around is a blasted heath.

I say chicory; but that’s a word that encompasses a whole raft of salads; leafy greens of varying degrees of bitterness.  I wrote about puntarelle a few weeks ago; very Italian and virtually unknown in the UK.  Italy loves chicory, just as it loves bitterness – think Campari, Cynar and Aperol; in the UK, the embrace is less demonstrative, and we, ever in need of justification, have to make it more fancy than it needs to be, and less bitter than it should be.  So, we torture it, starving it of daylight whilst forcing it into growth, to create tight, pale shoots that are sweeter, tender and more delicate than they would be if allowed to take their own time in the growing.

And then you can make a fancy but anaemic salad, perhaps with some citrus or a raspberry vinegar dressing. It will be terribly UnBritish.  It’ll feel healthy, nobody will really enjoy it, and you will long for the spring famine to finish so that you can eat peas raw from the pod and buttered radishes.

Or you can embrace the Latin, celebrate the bitter, accept that it is only March, and that the peas and radishes will have to wait.  Make a risotto, a risotto that is breathtakingly good, with a punch of flavours that belies its simplicity.

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For Two

  • Two chicory heads
  • Stick of celery
  • One medium onion
  • One medium tomato
  • Two cloves of garlic
  • Butter
  • 50g risotto rice
  • Dry white vermouth
  • Vegetable Stock
  • Pecorino
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Salt & Pepper

Take your chicory heads, slice them in half and simmer it in salted water for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the onion, celery, tomato and garlic very finely and then fry until soft (but not brown) in an indulgent amount of butter.

Drain the chicory and slice it into thin strips (about 1cm across).

Turn up the heat and add these, and the rice to the onions and celery

Then add a slug of the vermouth and let it boil off (Vermouth is better than white wine in this recipe as it gives a herby tang that complements the chicory).

Now add vegetable stock, about 50ml at a time, you don’t need to obsessively hover over the pan, but check it every two or three minutes to make sure the rice isn’t sticking and to add more stock if it needs it.  After about ten minutes, taste the rice.  I like a bit of bite, some people prefer more of a rice pudding texture.  Go with what you prefer.

Finally, add salt and pepper as you see fit, then dish it out with a generous topping of fresh chopped parsley and grated pecorino.  It’ll be piping hot and salty, the chicory will impart a very gentle mustiness, like the smell of cooked cabbage, but beyond delicious.  

So, there, chicory risotto.  Infinitely better than any ill-conceived salad for a blustery March day.

Discovering Gelato

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I candied a lemon.  A great, warty giant of a lemon that I grew on a tree in a pot.  It was given a gallon of water a day and a fed liquid seaweed almost as often.  And there, at 52 degrees north, ready for Christmas, was a tree bowed down with my incredible lemons, tucked away for the winter in their protective greenhouse.  It’s a big deal, growing lemons in Birmingham; huge!

The majority of these lemons got the gin and tonic treatment, but I snaffled a couple away for something a lot more special; a week long bath in warmed sugar syrup, that day by day, became more concentrated.  The end result was something of such overwhelming lemon intensity that there I was in danger of becoming transfixed, unable to resist the temptation to gorge myself on the whole thing in one slow-motion go.  Thankfully, and in a rare moment of delayed gratification, I resisted.

The candied lemon began as an experiment because I have a dream of making the perfect cassata, the celebratory Sicilian cake that out-camps pretty much any other cake.  Layers of ricotta, marzipan, sponge, and chocolate sport an elaborate headpiece of iced candied fruit. If you’re thinking Carmen Miranda, you’re not far off.  The drawback is that it’s very difficult to buy the requisite candied fruit here in the UK, there are some close approximations, but not the whole figs, clementines, pears and slabs of summer squash that should be used and can be bought by the kilo in the right shops in Palermo.

So I thought I’d have a go at making my own.  The perfect cassata will have to wait a while, because although I candied my lemons, they weren’t right.  The Sicilian variety are solid, and maintain their shape and colour (with a little help from some food dye).  My lemon, was slightly shrunken, hollow and, as I took my eye off the ball for a moment, it had tipped over the edge from candied to marmaladey, more burnt umber than Mediterranean zing.  Delicious, though, as I’ve already mentioned.  

Whilst I could happily have sliced it up thinly, and eaten the whole thing to myself, furtively, in a semi dark kitchen, I wanted to find a way to incorporate the concentrated flavour into something else, in spite of it being February, an unseasonable gelato wormed its way into mind.

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I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of the what separates gelato from Ice Cream.  

The ice creams that I’m used to making all start with a cooked custard of eggs, milk, cream and sugar – to which the flavours are added before the freezing and churning.  Depending on which recipe you’re reading, gelato may be exactly this.  Or something without cream.  Or without cream or eggs, thickened instead with cornflour.  I can sense a prolonged period of experimentation in the offing, but for now, I started with the recipe furthest from the custard base, and went for the cornflour version.

In many ways, it’s actually easier to make than a custard ice cream; you heat the milk, dissolve the sugar and then add cornflour, mixed with a little spare milk, and cook it through until it thickens.  Add in the lemon, stir, cool and freeze.

What comes out the other end is totally different from what I’m used to, and far more reminiscent of the gelato you get on the street in Catania or Noto.  For one, it doesn’t freeze solid, but retains a scoopable softness even at the freezer’s coldest setting.  So it’s instantly smoother and less prone to granularity – and yet, without the cream and eggs, it’s actually lower in fat, which makes it ‘better’ for you. There, who knew that gelato is actually the healthy option.  With its super concentrated lemon kick, I’d created what tasted like the best lemon curd/marmalade ice known to man.

I have friends who think that the time I spend in the kitchen, my willingness to even contemplate spending a week steeping a lemon in warm sugar syrup, marks me out in some way as a lunatic.

Perhaps they do.  But this lunatic now has a tub of the best, first-attempt gelato that home grown lemons can make.

 

 

 

Sweet & Sour Pumpkin

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In a blog that is mainly about Italian food, this is going to sound very dumb, but this is a  recipe that is really very, very Italian.  And I mean that in a culturally alien, lost in translation way.  I don’t say this to discourage you, but I think it stems from the fact that we only really grow pumpkins to carve in the UK.  Other than that, and Covent Garden soups, we don’t really know what to do with them, they’ve just never quite caught on here.  Then there is the weather against us.  Winter squashes are, by definition, at their best, in the winter.  Their flavour deepens with storage and they store well after their autumn harvest  So the best time to be eating them is in the post Christmas lull, which is not perhaps the best time to be eating cold starchy salads in dingy Britain.  Also, who has fresh mint growing in the garden in February?  Finally, the mint, the vinegar, the sugar.  What the hell?  I just didn’t have enough life-experience to grasp what was happening the first time I tried this. 

Perhaps I should try selling this better.  For a start, there is deep frying involved and anything deep fried is, it goes without saying, good.

The first time I made this unsupervised, I made the stupid mistake of trying to shallow fry my squash, which just doesn’t cut the mustard.  They didn’t brown, they didn’t crisp up; they just soaked up the oil and turned to mush.  I gained new wisdom from the Sicilian: “basically, whenever I say ‘fry something’, I really mean ‘deep fry it’”

So assuming you have fried your squash in profligate depths of olive oil, you will have a plate of golden brown crescent moons of oily squash draining on kitchen paper.

Now, arrange them in a tray and douse with red wine vinegar, before adding chopped mint, salt, sugar and pepper.  It’s hard to give absolute quantities, as each squash, is different, absorbing more oil, needing less sugar, and the mintiness of mint can never be guaranteed if you’re buying it from a supermarket.  Keep tweeking, and don’t be concerned about sticking to hard and fast proportions.

Leave the sweet and sour and herbs to interact for a few hours, even 24 hours, and then eat as an antipasti, with bread (of course, as no Sicilian meal is complete without, at least, the option of bread) to soak up the juices.  It works well with other preserved or pickled vegetables.  I like it with artichoke hearts and cold, oily sweet peppers.

Maybe the first time you try this, you’ll be as perplexed as I was – a savoury dish that is sweet, but  tangy and minty.  But stick with it, work with the pairings, consider the bread to choose; have the patience to let it infuse for a day.  You’ll become extremely fond of this dish, it will become a thing you look forward to making in the dark depths of February,

And if, in February – this cold dish from a hot foreign island seems just too alien, warm it through in the oven – the heat makes it more northern, more acceptable to a Saxon taste.  There are versions that add chilli flakes for extra heat and another Sicilian version that is baked in the oven with onions. I have been known (when the Sicilian isn’t around) to add anchovies. All of these are good, and further justify the growing of rampant winter squashes if you have the inclination and the space.

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One winter squash, peeled, deseeded and sliced into crescents 1-2cm thick.

2-3 cloves of bruised garlic.

Enough olive oil to cover your sliced squash in a deep frying pan.

Fresh mint*

Red wine vinegar (50-100ml)*

Salt and pepper.

*quantities will vary according to the size and absorbency of the squash, and your own tastes.

First put the cold oil and garlic in your big, heavy, deep frying pan.

Turn the heat on, and brown the garlic, then remove it from the oil (hang onto it though).

Fry the squash slices, in batches, in the oil, growing on both sides.   Don’t put too many in at once, as this cools the oil, which stops the squash from browning and they’ll start to disintegrate.

As they cook, drain them on kitchen paper, then arrange them in a serving dish.  Sprinkle over the saved browned garlic, chopped mint, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Cover and leave to steep in the fridge for as long as you can.

Serve at room temperature or warm through – as you prefer.

Oranges ARE the only fruit….in January

If you go to Palermo and visit the Botanical Gardens in January, you will see groves of citrus trees bowed down with fruit – oranges, lemons, grapefruit, bergamots, kumquats.  They’ll be littering the floor beneath the trees, everywhere will smell of citrus.  It’s a wonderful, wonderful sensual inundation, that seems to be almost inconsequential and hum drum, judging by the amount of unloved, unpicked, ungathered fruit.  The closest UK parallel I could think of is the orchards around the Herefordshire village where my mum lives; they audibly groan under the weight of freeloading mistletoe – I’m still bowled over every time I see its superabundance, but it remains utterly ignored by almost everyone else. It is wallpaper.

The Palermo harvest reaffirms that winter is truly the season of the citrus, and means that some of the best fruits of the year make a far too brief appearance in the kitchen.  I know that there are year-round oranges, which sit unloved in so many fruit bowls, encased by invisible wax so that they never go off – lasting for weeks/months to admonish you over your lack of 5 a day.  But I’m championing the small group of citruses that resolutely remain as fixed points in the year.  They’re heralded just before Christmas but the arrival of proper satsumas and clementines (by proper, I mean, ripe, unabashedly orange, juicy and sweet).  Although the first time I saw them rebranded as ‘Easy Peelers’, I could have kicked something!  And then in January, in the year’s darkest days (in terms of both light and mood) along come the blood and Seville Oranges to lift the spirits.

How they have resisted being co-opted into the twelve months of the year cornucopias that are supermarkets today, I don’t know.  Perhaps because there’s only so much marmalade you can consume in a life time, maybe that particular market is saturated; by mid February everyone’s yelling ‘enough with the marmalade’  I do fear that one day, some bright spark will twig that there’s a bigger, brighter market to tap into, and another chunk of nature will be felled to ensure we get what we want, when we want it.  I hope not, seasonal food is exciting, and appreciated all the more because it is so time limited. 

And so to oranges.

Seville Oranges are a national institution, even if we have to import them.  In the depths of winter, they seem almost magical.  Marmalade making offsets all the motivational guff written about January being the most depressing month.  I use a recipe ripped from an old Sunday supplement,  It lives in the same cookbook, along with a recipe for orange flower water biscuits.  It is a worn and sticky piece of paper now, but an old friend.  My marmalade is always very dark and very bitter.  I don’t know if it’s a reflection of my soul, but I never end the day with jars of stained glass window marmalade.  I always make too much, and have recently learnt a handy tip that an old friend’s mum uses.  Eileen, a stalwart of the WI and famous for her preserves, avoids being crushed under a mountain of her own jams by taking a jar of her marmalade whenever she’s invited out, ensuring a liberal distribution across rural Northamptonshire as a result.  I shan’t give a recipe here, as a great many have already been written, and written by better cooks than me.  I use Nigel Slater’s and it never fails.

The recipe that I will give is a simple one to put under the stairs for next Christmas.

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Seville Orange Gin

Take the peel of half a dozen seville oranges.

Place it in a sealable jar with 75cl of gin

Add 50g sugar (vary this according to your tastes)

Leave it for a year, or longer if you can.  

This is a fantastic home made liquer.  It is absolutely perfect for winter and firesides, it reeks of getting in from a blustery, muddy dog walk and shutting the door on the world.  Try to forget you made it, as it gets better and better with age.

And then the blood oranges.

I love blood oranges.  I really, really love blood oranges.  I have a visceral memory of the first time child me encountered one – the ghoulish, Hammer horror wonderment that such a thing existed.  Their novelty, and transience made them my favourite fruit.  I doubt I saw more than half a dozen in all those years – and I still don’t know what they were doing in North Warwickshire – the closest we got to exotic was Larry Grayson driving around town in his pink Rolls Royce.  And then they vanished,  for years it seems.  I don’t know where they went, but I have no blood orange memories until very recently, just a lingering feeling of loss.  Perhaps because of this, I tend to bulk buy them when theydo appear – and then have to convert them into favourite recipes.

The ‘blood’ is a chemical initiated by cold nights – (yes, even in Sicily, they get cold nights), the same process turns lemons yellow and oranges orange.  And they have a different flavour to normal oranges – fruitier, sweeter – it’s been described as being raspberry-like.

And they have their own rituals in my house – a sorbet and a curd.

The sorbet is easy – and allows me to keep the memory of blood oranges alive into the summer.

The curd is equally simple, but only keeps for a few weeks – so it is almost as ephemeral as the oranges themselves.  However, it makes one of the best pudding marriages I’ve ever stumbled across – a generous spoonful with rice pudding creates a thing of utter joy.

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Blood Orange Sorbet

8 Blood oranges (the bloodier, the better)

350 ml water

220 g caster sugar.

2 egg whites

Make a syrup by dissolving the sugar in the water on the hob.

Juice the oranges and then sieve this into the syrup.

Leave to cool.

Once it’s cool, put it into the freezer (or an ice cream maker if you have one)

If it’s in the freezer, check it every hour or so, and break up any ice that’s forming – keep doing this until it has the consistency of a slush puppy.

Then whisk the egg whites until the stiff, and then mix these through the nearly frozen sorbet.

(if you’re using a machine, watch for the same consistency and then add the egg whites).

Refreeze the whole mixture, giving it a final stir before it freezes solid.

Blood Orange Curd

3 blood oranges

4 egg yolks

150g caster sugar

40g unsalted butter.

Put the yolks and sugar in a pan and whisk together.

Add the sieved juice of the oranges and then, on a gentle heat, cook for about 10 minutes, stirring all the time.  It’ll become thicker as the egg cooks.

Remove from the heat, and add in the butter 10g at a time, stirring it through until it is all melted.

Transfer to a jar and keep in the fridge until your ready to use it.

You can use this technique with any citrus – but it should be tart, as well as sweet – so works best with oranges, lemons, or bergamots (if you can find them)

 

Curly-wurly Salad

 

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The problem with not living in London or Palermo, is that even with a good market, I can only find British versions of Italian produce.  So the good things found in Ballaro don’t often find their way to Birmingham.  We have to wait til summer for overpriced, wilting artichokes to appear fleetingly, and other things just never appear at all. Height of summer Tenerumi for instance, and in winter, the joy that is (or rather isn’t) Puntarelle. 

Puntarelle is, to put it mildly, heaven.  It’s very Rome, rather than Sicilian, but who cares when something tastes this good.  It’s a kind of chicory – so bitter – you can feel it improving your health as you eat it.  And it marries beautifully with olive oil, anchovies, acid and garlic.  There’s no cooking – just some slicing, soaking in iced water and then tossing in the oily, fishy, garlicky dressing.

When you buy it (I’ve found it in posh greengrocers in London for stupid amounts of money) you’ll bring home a great big, messy, blousey head of salad.  It seems terribly wasteful (especially if you’ve paid Sloane Square prices ), but the first job is to strip off the outer leaves to unearth the secret within (you can keep these, and braise them with pine nuts, for a tougher, less refined dish)

Hiding in the dense heart of your shambolic greens are some strange, paler, asparagus like shoots (proto flower heads, I’m guessing).  This is the delicacy you’re looking for.

Cut them out, and then slice them in half, and then slice these halves into tagliatelle-like strips.

Now, the thing about these bitter greens, is that they can be a tad too bitter, even if you think a Negroni is the best thing in the world.  So, there’s a trick.  Get a bowl of iced water, and soak your sliced shoots for ten minutes, which will draw out the worst of the bitterness.  Don’t leave them too long, as you don’t want to lose it completely.  The fun part of this process is that the slithers curl up in the cold water, so you end up with a curly wurly bowl of crunch.

Dry them, and toss them in a dressing made from pounded anchovies, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice (or red wine vinegar if you’re feeling very Roman).  I’ll leave you to judge the quantities, everyone has different levels of optimum oil/salt/garlic/acid.

It’s a simple salad; bitter, sweet, refreshing, crisp.  And you get to feel super virtuous because of your healthy eating habits.

The trouble is – by the time you factor in the train ticket, and the cost of the damn thing – it becomes the world’s most decadent and idiotic salad.

So I have a plan – Franchi seeds.  I have a vast allotment, some of it is already booked out for the tenerumi, but I’m going to grow some very far north Puntarelle.  I have no idea how it’s going cope with being up at 52 degrees – but it’s a plan – and perhaps I can sate my love of Puntarelle and maybe even make my fortune selling the surplus to fools and their money in Mayfair.