Thursday, July 31, 2008

Vile Weed

There’s something bittersweet about discovering something new. Bitter because just as I thought my knowledge of Italian ingredients had reached a certain level, I discover something I didn’t even know existed; and sweet because just as I thought my knowledge of Italian ingredients had reached a certain level, I discover something I didn’t even know existed.
Indeed, this was the conundrum realized upon me with a visit to the revered Birri Bros. kiosk at the Jean Talon Market last weekend.
Gazing at all of the vibrant leafy greens, I noticed something that looked like a cross between rapini and cavolo nero.
Spigarello—or spigariello as it’s known in Italy—is a relatively unknown leafy green grown by some local farmers such as the Birri family. Some cultivators consider it to be akin to wild broccoli.
I was told to treat spigarello much the same way I would rapini. Not being a fan of rapini this wasn’t a great incentive to take it home, but I was assured the taste of spigarello was quite different. Well, it wasn’t. It’s just as bitter and the stems are quite fibrous; wonderfully suited to clean out your colon.
If you enjoy bitter, leafy greens you’ll enjoy spigarello. Give me some chicory or Swiss chard any day.

Sautéed Spigarello


1 bunch of spigarello
4 large cloves of garlic
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil (use the good stuff here)
Kosher salt or fleur de sel
Red pepper flakes
Juice from ¼ lemon (optional)


-Wash the spigarello thoroughly in cold water. Cut off the stems and discard. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the spigarello. Blanch the greens for 3 minutes; if you want them to keep their bright, green color, drop them in ice water, or, if you don’t care what shade of green they are, just drain them in a colander.
-Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium low heat. Add the whole cloves of garlic to the oil and let them brown slowly. You want to flavour the oil here and not cook the garlic too fast. Once the garlic cloves are golden brown, remove them with a slotted spoon and reserve for later.
-Turn your heat up to medium and add the spigarello, season with the salt and red pepper flakes and sauté for about 5 minutes.
-Turn off the heat, add the reserved garlic, lemon juice and toss it all together. Serve with a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some more salt if needed.

Note: You can use this recipe for any leafy green. You can also incorporate the greens with pasta. I find that if you add enough bacon, sausage, and parmigiano cheese to the pasta, the greens are actually not bad.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

So Many Berries so Little Time

Fig. 1. One full crate, twelve heaping pints

Local Quebec strawberries are, at this moment, perfect. One of my favourite farmer’s markets had the ruby red, sweet berries on special this week--$12.00 a crate compared to $20.00 (a crate contains 12 pints). Seemed like the perfect excuse to make jam.
Now I know most of you are probably thinking—jam, who has time for that—but before you google something else, let me suggest a different type of jam.

Many cookbooks, from America’s Test Kitchen to Canadian Living, have recipes for fast strawberry jam; all are very similar in ingredients and execution, but, I’ve found one in particular which I like above all others--it comes from Jamie Oliver’s, Jamie at Home. This is a great book for fruit and vegetable lovers, as well as for the avid gardener. It’s filled with beautiful pictures and great advice on how to properly grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Oliver inspires and rightfully preaches the benefits and need for proper, honest and real food.
Just to prove that making a quick jam doesn’t entail standing next to a stove all day, I’ve kept a timeline. I also use a large non-stick pan so I don’t have to worry about constant stirring and fruit sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Fig. 2. I could have stared at this bowl all day.

-10:30. After my son’s soccer practice, he and I sat outside in the warm morning sun and cut the stems off ten pints of strawberries. We ate one pint while we worked and kept one for a planned dessert. By the way, getting your kids to help out with kitchen duties is an excellent way to introduce them to proper food. Even if they sometimes don’t want to participate, I strongly advise that you occasionally make them help you. The strawberry moment I had with my son was time that would have found him otherwise sitting in front of the television watching Storm Hawks.
-11:10. Sprinkled the strawberries with sugar and smushed them with my hands. (Yes I washed them well.)
-11:15. Dumped the strawberries in a pan and turned on the heat.
-11:17. I began to mow the front lawn.
-11:26. Checked on the jam, it was just starting to bubble, gave it a stir.
-11:28. I proceeded to mow the back lawn.
-11:38. Gave the jam a stir and skimmed some of the foam off the top.
-11:40. Sat down and read the Montreal Gazette. Stirred and skimed the jam every 5 to 10 minutes.
-12:20. Removed the jam from the heat.
I like to put the jam in 500ml mason jars. It’s important to understand that since the jars are not sealed they will not keep indefinitely; they will keep up to four weeks in the fridge and up to a year in the freezer. If you want to seal the jars they must be placed in a water bath.
The recipe below is adapted from Jamie Oliver’s, Jamie at Home. Because the strawberries are so sweet, I’ve cut the sugar in half—it also allows the toothsome taste of the strawberries to stand out.

Ingredients for the jam:
1kg strawberries, hulled, washed and drained. (1kg equals about 3 pints)
150g caster (icing) sugar. (Again, I like to cut this in half-75g-when the strawberries are in season but if you prefer your jam very sweet then add the full amount)

Place the strawberries in a wide, stainless steel pan and sprinkle the sugar over top. Scrunch the strawberries up with your hands, really pushing them between your fingers to pulp them up—the mixture will start to look like jam at this point. You want all of the sugar to dissolve in the strawberry juice before you put the pan on the heat and bring it to a boil. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes on a medium heat, and every 5 minutes or so come back to your jam to skim off the foam. Remove from the heat and put to one side. There you have it—beautiful, quintessential strawberry jam!

Fig. 3. Skim off the acrid surface foam; also, make sure you use a non-stick pan.

Note: I don’t like to wash the strawberries in water because it washes away some of the flavour. While I’m cutting off the stems, I simply wipe them gently with a paper towel. Also, Oliver’s jam is on the liquid side, I like mine a little thicker so I let it simmer for about an hour. Ten pints will yield about four 500ml mason jars.