Frittata with Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Spinach

Italian Food and Flavours

Frittata with Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Spinach 

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A frittata or omelette makes a super speedy and nutritious lunch or supper dish, especially when you add some healthy veggies such as broccoli and spinach. At this time of year in Italian Ortos the purple sprouting broccoli is ready to pick.  Broccoli (which comes from the Itallian word brocco meaning branch or arm) was initially cultivated by the Romans. Broccoli has been grown in the UK and the US since the early 18th century, although the purple sprouting variety has only recently been popular. The plant produces lots of little heads of broccoli  rather than one large one which you maybe more used to and the slender, fine stalks should be chopped and eaten too.  Of course, if you don’t have access to purple sprouting, then normal broccoli is fine.

 

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The Italian frittata is versatile, in that it can be eaten warm or cold and one can change the ingredients to suit you or to suit what is in your fridge or veggie plot.  My Le Marche friends and neighbours give me plenty of organic, free range eggs so this is a lunchtime staple for us.

Broccoli and in particular sprouting broccoli is a super food and is rich in iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur.

Fresh Broccoli is a storehouse of many phyto-nutrients such as thiocyanates, indoles, sulforaphane, isothiocyanates and flavonoids like beta-carotene cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zea-xanthin. Studies have shown that these compounds by modifying positive signaling at molecular receptor levels help protect from prostate, colon, urinary bladder, pancreatic, and breast cancers.Further, it contains very good amounts of another anti-oxidant vitamin, vitamin-A. 100 g fresh head provides 623 IU or 21 % of recommended daily levels. Together with other pro-vitamins like beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and zea-xanthin, vitamin A helps maintain integrity of skin and mucus membranes. Vitamin A is essential for healthy eye-sight and helps prevent from macular degeneration of the retina in the elderly population.

 

Frittata with Purple Sprouting Broccoli
A simple and nutritious lunchtime or supper dish which can be adapted according to the season or what is in your fridge
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Ingredients
  1. 5 or 6 eggs
  2. A couple of garlic cloves, chopped finely
  3. A glug of extra virgin olive oil
  4. Handful of purple sprouting broccoli
  5. Handful of spinach leaves
  6. Grated parmigiano and pecorino cheese
  7. Salt and pepper
  8. Handful of frozen prawns (optional)
Instructions
  1. Prepare the broccoli by finely chopping the stalks and steaming the stalks and the florets briefly.
  2. Roughly chop the spinach and the garlic.
  3. Gently heat the oil in an omelette pan and saute the garlic and the spinach.
  4. Whisk the eggs with some salt, pepper and grated cheese to taste.
  5. Pour the eggs over the spinach and garlic , then add the broccoli.
  6. Put a lid on the pan and cook over a very low hob for about 15 minutes, until the eggs have set.
  7. Do not turn over.
  8. Take off the heat and leave for a few minutes before removing from the pan.
Cooking Holidays Italy http://www.italianfoodandflavours.com/
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Elderflower Cordial: Tree treasures.

elderflowers

Italian Food and Flavours

Elderflower Cordial

Please excuse the lack of posts but with the good weather the folk of Le Marche are pruning like there’s no tomorrow. Today the heavens have opened which gives you time to take a breather and think about something other than olives!! 

There are myriads of useful plants and trees around us in the countryside and in gardens, a lot of which get overlooked in favour of more popular species. Today I wanted to write about my personal favourite and one commonly referred to as the “country medicine chest”, the Elder or Sambucus Nigra. In times gone by people would plant an elder on new plots of land before they even started to build their house on it so that it could be ready for when they lived there.

All parts of the tree can be used and have been since the times of ancient Egypt. However, all parts of the plant have the capacity to poison if not processed properly so follow your recipes to the letter to avoid unpleasant visits to the hospital!

Starting with the flowers which are highly anti-catarrhal, if you pick them when they are in their prime and dry them carefully and away from sunlight they will provide you with a useful remedy for colds in the winter, mixed with the dried flowers and leaves of yarrow, mint and camomile and made into a tisana (discard all flowers and leaves before drinking) and you can use raw honey to sweeten it.

The berries, (note, which are never eaten raw) are vitamin C rich and if you freeze them in the summer you can stew them with apples in the winter to make delicious desserts that are protecting you from coughs and colds. 

Although in times gone by the leaves, bark and roots were commonly used in home remedies for everything from skin complaints to headaches, it is not recommended nowadays. Your vegetable plot will welcome the tree’s properties however and if you want an effective insecticide that is supplied by mother nature herself you need to collect a kilo of leaves and simmer in 7 litres of water for 30 minutes. Make up the water lost in steam, strain it and spray. If you add 5ml of coconut oil or 10g of pure liquid soap per litre the spray sticks to the plant better and is therefore more effective. Don’t forget to label the bottle as poison and keep it away from small children!

Focussing on something more positive than human and plant ailments I leave you with my favourite recipe using elderflowers and this is all about lazing under the trees in the heat of the summer with a cool refreshing drink and remembering what life is really about…

ELDERFLOWER CORDIAL.

For every ten large heads of elderflowers you need 900g of sugar, 600ml of boiling water, 1 lemon and (from the chemist) 30g of citric acid granules.

Wash and drain the flowers. In a large bowl stir the boiling water into the sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the citric acid and stir. Add the flowers and the lemon which has had the peel grated in first and then sliced up. Put a plate over the bowl to cover it and leave for 24 hours. Strain through a clean muslin or tea-towel and squeeze to get every drop out. Bottle in sterilized bottles and keep in the fridge. Use as a syrup and add (preferably cold, sparkling) water to taste. Ice cubes with borage flowers in make it a drink fit for a queen.

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Amaretto Chocolate Truffles

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A Taste of Food and Flavours

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A Taste of Food and Flavours

 

On Friday night a small group of close friends of Italian Food and Flavours got together for a promotional evening which focused on the jewel in the crown of this project…namely Fabio and his creativity. He presented us with a series of antipasti which although traditional through and through, had been tweaked as only he knows how, bringing the dishes up to the 21st century sophistication that fine diners demand. As always the dishes are kept simple yet ooze elegance thanks to the quality of the ingredients that he has combined.

Anti-pasti in this part of Italy have their roots in a past where meat was a luxury and lean heavily towards vegetable based dishes. However, since it is February and in keeping with the traditional theme, one dish in particular had everybody guessing. At this time of year the family pig would inevitably meet his maker and in times gone by when famine was rife, NOTHING was wasted. The blood from the pig would be carefully collected and cooked with onions, orange rind and a selection of herbs and spices, producing a surprisingly delicate dish that had Friday’s guests enthusing about the delicious “liver”. Even when the more squeamish amongst the guests, discovered the dish’s true nature they went back for seconds. Testament indeed as to why it is all important that these old fashioned recipes are kept alive and well in the restaurants of Le Marche.

Photo middle right shows the tangy orange flavoured blood pudding – an authentic Le Marche dish

Photo middle left shows roasted fennel with onions – an aromatic vegetable, gorgeous roasted with extra virgin olive oil

Photo bottom left shows another vegetarian dish of red cabbage with walnuts

Photo bottom right shows pork fillets with caramelised onions

We also enjoyed :

Frittura of olive ascolana and zucchine

Chicory and potato

Frittata (omelette)of leeks

White cabbage with chunks of salsicce (le Marche sausage)

Stuffed mushrooms with ricotta

Of course all washed down with a few glasses of local white and red wine straight from the local cantina (winery)

Grazie Fabio for a fabulous evening of tasty morsels!!

 

 

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Well oiled.

Italian Food and Flavours

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

olive oil

(Photo”Italian olive oil 2007″ courtesy of Alex Ex.)

For anyone not living in olive tree territory, looking at the last couple of posts on pruning etc, you may well wonder what all the fuss is about. Why worry about keeping trees healthy and why panic when the crop is affected by disease? Can’t you just pop to the supermarket and get a cheap bottle of extra virgin off the shelves? Going by the reaction of the locals here who (until it ran out) were buying the only oil to have been produced this year (the ten per cent that didn’t fail) and paying twelve euros a litre I guess it’s not the same thing at all. The oil that you pay through the nose for at the supermarkets is what people here would use for lighting the lamps (OK this is 2015 but you know what I mean.) People are born here knowing the difference between good oil and bad. They know that there is no substitute.  In Italy there is a very definite sense of prestige to go with recognising a good olive oil and people will pay a lot of money to join the ranks of experts. There are professional ‘olive oil taster’s courses advertised which take five days and cost just under a thousand euros for the pleasure! If you take the importance of good quality olive oils up to competition standard you will find people who can explain to you in minute detail the chemical compounds involved and their effects on our bodies. I looked up some information on the magical polyphenols that are so highly sought after in a variety foods including olive oil to try to explain some of these effects but there were far too many words with more than ten letters and I decided to leave that to the experts. In layman’s terms research has found that replacing other oils/fats in the diet with extra virgin olive oil had significantly reduced incidences within their subject group of certain cancers, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis to name just a few. If you want to look at it purely from a foodie point of view, the taste of good quality extra virgin olive oil in your recipes is unrivalled. At the most basic level we as consumers are becoming more concerned about what it is that we are putting into our bodies and what it consists of.

So just how do you avoid the lamp oil and procure some of the decent stuff? One of the biggest issues here is the lack of proper controls over how truthful the labelling is. Extra virgin olive oil sold by some of the top names has been outed recently by Tom Mueller, an American in Italy as really only a small percentage of extra virgin oil which has been mixed with a lower grade olive oil, often not from the same country or sometimes another vegetable oil completely. The resulting blend is then chemically coloured, flavoured and deodorised, and sold as extra-virgin to the producers. The other main issue is quality testing; the chemical tests that should by law be performed by exporters of extra virgin oil before it can be labelled and sold as such can often fail to detect adulterated oil, particularly when it has been mixed with products such as deodorised, lower-grade olive oil.  National food authorities don’t appear to be particularly bothered as long as the oil isn’t actively harmful, which is rarely the case. If taste tests were done by the people on their thousand euro courses I’m sure that they would soon pick up on the adulteration though!

 If you live in a country where olive oil is produced you have a lot more chance of being able to follow it’s tracks and check that the product that you are buying has come from where it says it has. If it has been imported then the footprints are more difficult to follow and unless you are importing directly yourselves then the safest method (although not foolproof) is to buy from specialist food shops and if possible from single producers. A PDO (protected designation of origin) and PGI (protected geographical indication) status on the containers should be more of a guarantee of a genuine product and one more thing to look out for is the date of production. A common trick amongst the fake oils is to put previous years’ oils in with the mix because these are worth a lot less money. Olive oil is at it’s best for a year really. Two years is its maximum and then it starts to become inedible.

As a note to this, remember to keep your lovely genuine oil, when you find it, in a dark cool place. Ideally it wants to stay in stainless steel or dark glass containers, away from direct sunlight and at a constant temperature of 14/15 degrees centigrade. Much higher or lower than that and your oil will be spoiled and will never regain it’s flavour or qualities. So at the end of the day it’s not just the trees that are pampered…right down to the final product the olive needs to be treated like royalty to give you it’s best.

 

 

 

 

 

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Lets go Crazy – It’s Carnevale time!

Italian Food and Flavours

Carnevale

This pre Lent festival is a celebration of excess, feasting, fancy dress parades, masked balls and the throwing of confetti. It is a time for Italians to let their hair down before the serious business of lent begins, and the run up to Easter. Interestingly, it’s the only time I have seen young people raucous with a little too much wine, partying in the streets of towns like Offida (near Cossignano) and Castignano where there are large parades. Local Le Marche folks are normally fairly reserved but during carnival I have been to local parties where everyone, young and old have been strutting their stuff on the dance floor. Shrove Tuesday (martedi grasso) or fat Tuesday marks the culmination of the festa. Carnival or mardi gras is of course important to all Catholic countries and although Italy is famous for it’s Venice carnival, all Italians like to celebrate with a bit of madness and lack of restraint. It is a party season with ancient roots, when the wearing of masks meant that even the rural workers could escape from normality for a while before the hard work of Spring begins. The word Carnival derives from the Latin ‘ carnem levare’ or ‘take away the meat’ which signifies the abstinence of lent.

The local cake shops are full of carnevale fritters and mini doughnut like sweet bites. Deep fried, sweet and strangely tempting – after all it is only once a year. There are the Sfrappe (flat pastries) sprinkled with icing sugar and chocolate stripes. They are light and crumbly like puff pastry. Then there are the twirled ribbon like strips, tinged with pink and the pink Bombette ( doughnuts) rolled in sugar. Interestingly,the pinky red colouring comes from the use of Alchermes liqueur, popular in Le Marche in various sweet dishes such as Zuppa Inglese ( English Soup) The infamous Le Marche, English Soup/trifle is maybe worthy of a further post. The alcoholic drink is made with herbs, perfumed with rosewater and coloured red with the use of cochineal (powdered insects). Even this fact doesn’t put off my children from gorging on the pastries placed before them.

A slightly more adult pastry is maybe the Ravioli di Castagne, a crescent shaped pastry full of sweetened chestnut mix, or the Arancini twirls, flavoured with a hint of orange.

 

The Offida Carnevale Lu Bov Fint (the Fake Bull Run)

 

 

Near to Cossignano is the gracious town of Offida and during carnival is the infamous Lu Bov Fint (the fake bull run) High on adrenalin or too much sugar from all those pastries and a few too many glasses of wine; the locals, dressed in white with red scarves chase a pretend ox around the streets of the old town It’s a crazy place to be and things can get pretty wild. The tradition dates from the 15oos when a real bull was used, reminiscent of the well know bull run of Spain.

The finale of Carnivale is a huge bonfire. In Castignano there is a parade of torches into the old town lighting up the cold night skies and maybe reminding us of the rebirth of spring which is just around the corner.

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Aniseed Ring Cake: Ciambellone

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