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Filtering by Category: Foraging

Pasta con Finocchietto Selvatico (Penne with wild fennel and sausage)

Rosetta

This is the time of the year for wild fennel fronds. Thank goodness that my parents moved to Northern California. I don’t know what we would have done without our wild fennel!

The wild fennel that grows here in Northern California is the same variety, finocchietto selvatico, as the one that grows on the coastal areas of Southern Italy. I foraged for some yesterday while hiking on a trail with my husband.

Wild fennel grows in empty lots, meadows, roadsides--just about everywhere. During the spring the green fronds sprout from the old roots of the previous year. They then grow throughout the spring and summer into tall cane-like stems. By July the plant blooms with yellow "flowers", that are, in fact, immature seeds that some people use to make “fennel pollen”.

Wild fennel is not the same as the fennel that you buy at the farmers' market or at the produce store. In fact, wild fennel doesn’t resemble it in any way at all. The domesticated fennel has a large edible white bulb, which is wonderful raw in salads and cooked in many different ways. Its fronds have very little flavor. Wild fennel, however, does not produce a bulb. Its edible parts are the springtime fronds and the summertime seeds. It has a very distinctive flavor of sweet anise.

When foraging for wild fennel don’t collect from the roadside or other locations where the plants are exposed to car exhaust or dogs. Go in the back of a lot or in areas where people don’t walk their dogs. Also take only a few fronds from each plant. Don’t remove an entire plant. I'll let you know how to forage for the seeds later in the summer when I have some photos.

Many of you have eaten pasta con sarde, a dish from my husband's hometown of Palermo that requires wild fennel fronds. But Calabrians also eat the fronds. My grandmother would throw them in a delicious minestra made with various wild greens. And we use the seeds to flavor our cracked green olives, our cured black olives, and of course our homemade Calabrian sausage, both fresh and cured.

I had included a pasta recipe in my cookbook that required wild fennel but it was removed because I was told that nobody outside California has access to it. Is this true? Those of you who live elsewhere, please let me know if you have seen wild fennel. I would think that it would grow on any coastal areas with mild weather. If indeed it doesn’t grow where you live you can buy the seeds from  Seeds from Italy and grow your own wild fennel. But whether you have foraged for wild fennel or grown it from seed, give this quick pasta dish a try. Don’t replace it with domesticated fennel fronds as they don’t taste the same.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Boil the cleaned fronds for 10 minutes. Drain the fronds well, reserving the cooking liquid, and finely mince them as shown on the right side of the picture below.

Remove the sausage from its casing. Break the sausage into small clumps with a knife. I used my homemade fresh Calabrian sausage, but you can use any sweet or hot Italian sausage.

Brown the sausage with some olive oil.

Add the minced cooked wild fennel. Season with salt.

Cook the pasta in the reserved water that the fennel was cooked in. Drain and toss with the sauce.

Here is the finished dish. So simple--only three ingredients--and yet so good!

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Pasta con Finocchietto Selvatico (Penne with wild fennel and sausage)

Ingredients

1/4 pound (115 grams) wild fennel fronds, leaves and slim, tender stems only
3/4 pound (350 grams) fresh sweet or hot Italian sausage or Fresh Homemade Fennel Sausage Calabrian Style
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1 pound (450 grams) penne rigate or rigatoni

Wash the fronds well in hot water as they can harbor small insects. Bring 5 quarts (5 liters) of water to a boil in an 8-quart (8-liter) pot over high heat. Add the fronds and boil 10 minutes, then lift them out of the water and into a colander, reserving the water to cook the pasta. Drain the fronds well and finely mince. You should have 1/2 to 2/3 cup minced greens.

Remove the sausage from its casing. Break the sausage into small clumps with a table knife.

Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch (25-centimeter) skillet over moderately high heat. Add the sausage and cook until it is no longer pink and begins to brown lightly. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon, breaking up the clumps into smaller bits. Add the fennel greens and stir well to distribute them and coat them with the oil. Season with salt. Reduce the heat and keep warm.

Add 1/4 cup (35 grams) salt to the water in which you cooked the fennel. Return to a boil and add the pasta. Cook until al dente. Set aside 1 cup (250 milliliters) of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and return it to the skillet with the sausage and fennel greens. Cook, stirring, over moderate heat for a minute or two to flavor the pasta, moistening it with some of the reserved pasta water. Serve immediately.

Serves 6

Copyright 2006, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

Our Annual Salumi-making

Rosetta

My parents used to raise a hog in Calabria every year and right after New Year's Day we would all get ready for the Annual Whole Hog Ritual. We don’t raise a pig in California, of course, but we still maintain the tradition of making our own salumi the old-fashioned way. When it gets cold here in the Bay Area and it is drizzling we buy lots of pork meat and make salsiccia, sopressata, capocollo, pancetta and prosciutto. This year we made our first batch right after Christmas and we started eating the cured sausage this past week, since it takes around three to four weeks to cure. There is nothing like the taste of homemade salumi!

It is actually very easy to make fresh homemade sausage. But the making of cured sausage I leave to my father, the expert salumiere, who knows what he's doing. Calabrians who make their own salumi at home use only salt and the perfect weather conditions to cure them. But all commercially-made sausage is required by government agencies to add preservatives and nitrates.

My cookbook will have the recipe for making fresh Calabrian sausage, but let me show you in pictures the basic method. We always use pork shoulder, and add more pork fat to raise the percentage to about 25%.  We then grind the meat and the fat using the grinder attachment on my Kitchen Aid mixer:

We season the ground meat with only the following ingredients: salt, wild fennel seeds, and pepe rosso dolce (sweet Calabrian paprika). We add peperoncino macinato (hot pepper powder) to some for the spicy version. Nothing else goes into the meat.

We make our own pepe rosso from the sweet peppers that we dried during the summer months and the hot pepper powder from our dried hot peppers. We forage for and harvest the wild fennel seeds, since it grows wild everywhere in California. If you want to give making the sausage a try you can buy the pepe rosso, the hot pepper powder and the wild fennel seeds online from these two sites that carry products imported from Calabria:

http://www.sausagedebauchery.com/

http://www.italianharvest.com/subcategory.php?prodID=1396&subcatID=17

The meat is mixed until it is a beautiful red color. My grandmother used to say that it wasn’t mixed well until your hands were colored red from the paprika.

The  meat is then stuffed into natural hog casings using my mom's old fashioned sausage stuffer. But back in Calabria she and her mother would spend the entire day stuffing casings with a funnel and their thumbs!

Sausages ready to be hung in my dad's wine cellar, where they will cure for three to four weeks:

A photo by Sara Remington of my dad in his wine cellar admiring his salumi:

We still have to make sopressata, but at least we are all done making this year's sweet and spicy sausage, pancetta and capocolli. That prosciutto in the photo above was made last year. Since we still have some left, we are skipping making prosciutto and instead we may make more capocolli.

A close-up of our cured Calabrian sausage attractively sliced and ready for eating:

Crostone con i Funghi (Grilled Bread with Sautéed Wild Mushrooms and Taleggio Cheese)

Rosetta

When I was growing up in Calabria my family never purchased cultivated mushrooms from the supermarket. My parents mastered the secrets of mushroom hunting at an early age. They knew where to look for them and which ones were edible and which were not. We foraged for porcini, chanterelles, oyster mushrooms and many other varieties. Although we live in the San Francisco Bay Area now, my father still manages to find the same mushrooms. In Calabria we cooked wild mushrooms in many different ways. We grilled them, baked them with a sprinkling of fresh breadcrumbs and herbs, layered them with sliced potatoes, cooked them with tomatoes, and preserved them in oil. I can still taste my grandmother's wild porcini dish; she would slice them thickly and quickly sauté them with olive oil, garlic and parsley. It is still one of my favorite ways to cook wild mushrooms; I will give you a variation of this recipe below.

A couple of years ago a student asked me to teach a cooking class based entirely on wild mushrooms. The class was so successful that I now offer the class annually at the beginning of November called “A Feast of Wild Mushrooms”.   In this class I bring my favorites: porcini, chanterelles, and oyster mushrooms. Here is a basket that I brought to class last week filled with these three types:

This is the only time of the year that they are available at the market, so try them now. For my all-mushroom class I like to purchase them at Monterey Market in Berkeley. They have an extensive selection of mushrooms foraged in California and Oregon.

And please please PLEASE--don’t venture out to pick mushrooms unless you are trained to identify them or are with a mycologist. Some wild mushrooms are poisonous and can lead to severe illness or death.

Here are the porcini mushrooms:

...and some beautiful chanterelles:

...and wild oyster mushrooms that my dad foraged last week!

My cooking class features wild mushrooms from appetizer to dessert.  Well, not quite.  The dessert just looks like a truffle; but it is a dessert specialty of Calabria called “tartufo di Pizzo”. You will have to wait for the recipe for when my cook book comes out next year. In the meantime, I will share with you, the recipe for an appetizer from the class, that  I had in Rome many years ago at a “bruschetteria”, a restaurant where all they serve are large bruschettas and salads. The "appetizer" was an over-sized bruschetta called a “crostone” topped with melted taleggio cheese and mushrooms.  I created my own version by topping a bruschetta with wild mushrooms cooked the way my grandmother used to. With this simple technique you can create many dishes. You can toss the sauteed mushrooms in pasta or risotto, or eat them as a side dish with grilled meats.

To make the appetizer as a crostone I like to use Acme Bread pain au levain or as a bruschetta their Italian loaf. As a crostone it is great for a lunch with a nice salad of winter greens.

Brush the bread generously with olive oil and grill or broil on both sides.

Rub with garlic and top each toast with a slice of Taleggio:

Melt the cheese in the oven

Saute the wild mushrooms

and top the crostone with them:

Give it a try and enjoy it as an appetizer or as a light vegetarian meal!

Crostone con i Funghi

Grilled Bread with Sautéed Wild Mushrooms and Taleggio Cheese

Four 3/4-inch-thick slices crusty Italian bread 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 4 cloves garlic: 1 cut in half, 3 grated on Microplane or finely minced 4 ounces Taleggio, cut into four 1/8-inch-thick slices 1 pound assorted fresh wild mushrooms (chanterelles, porcini, shiitake, oyster) cleaned and cut into 1/4-inch slices 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat a charcoal, gas, or stovetop grill to high heat or preheat broiler with an oven rack positioned about 6 inches below the heat source.

Generously brush both sides of bread with about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Grill until toasted with a little color on both sides. Transfer to a baking sheet and rub both sides of toast with the cut garlic. Discard garlic. Top each toast with Taleggio and set aside.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat. When oil is hot enough to sizzle a mushroom, add mushrooms and salt. Don't stir until steam starts rising from sides of pan. Sprinkle with grated/minced garlic and sauté quickly, stirring frequently, just until mushrooms soften, about 3 minutes. Add parsley, stir, and taste for seasoning--add more salt, if necessary. Set aside. (Recipe can be made ahead up to this point.)

Just before serving, place toast under broiler just until cheese melts. Transfer to individual dinner plates, top with mushrooms, and serve immediately with a knife and fork.

Serves 4

Copyright 2006, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

Gelato alle more (Wild Blackberry Ice Cream)

Rosetta

This is the time of year that I forage for wild blackberries, which grow wild here in Northern California. Luckily I don't have to go very far to pick them: they grow all over the sides of a trail right behind my house.

Picking blackberries brings back a lot of memories of growing up in Calabria. I would pick wild blackberries (called more in Italian), wild alpine strawberries and raspberries along the trails to get to my dad's mountain farm. Going to the mountain farm was a fun hike, as I would fill my belly with berries. The ones I didn't eat right away I used to thread on a strand of grass rush (Juncus tenuis); this way I could carry a lot more of them than if I kept them loose in my hands, and I could keep my hands relatively clean and completely free for picking other things!

I taught my son this trick last week when we went foraging. We took the pictures below to show you what they look like on the grass strand:

This is a great example of how in Calabria we always used what nature gave us. We had no plastic Ziploc or plastic containers; we were always green!

We'll be picking blackberries at least once a week for approximately another month. We ventured out again yesterday and managed to pick the equivalent of eight  pints in about 45 minutes. My son ends up eating more than he puts in the basket, just as I used to when I was a kid. I let him decide what to do with all the berries that he doesn't eat right away, so we spent the entire afternoon making a crostata with blackberries and nectarines:

We also made gelato (see my recipe below)...

...a wild blackberry mousse, and pureed some as a sauce that we used on top of french toast for breakfast. Next week I'll be making some jam with the blackberries I pick.

If you see bushes of wild blackberries, give yourself a treat straight from nature. Just be careful of the thorns: they like to scratch your legs and arms, so it helps to wear jeans and a long sleeved shirt.

Gelato alle more (Wild Blackberry Ice Cream)

1.5 cups blackberry puree (about 3 cups of berries)

2 cups milk

5 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

1 tablespoon Maraschino or Kirsch

1. Puree the blackberries in a blender and strain through a fine sieve to remove all the seeds. Measure 1.5 cups and set aside. If you have leftover puree, save it and make a sauce with it by adding sugar and some lemon juice to taste.

2. Place the milk in a medium-size, heavy saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium heat.

3. While the milk is heating, in a medium size bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until the yolks are pale yellow and the mixture is thick and creamy.

4. Slowly pour half the hot milk into the bowl with the egg mixture, whisking until well blended. Pour the milk/egg mixture in the bowl back into the milk remaining in the saucepan, whisking as you pour. Place the saucepan back over medium heat. Stir constantly and cook until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

5. Transfer the mixture to a large, clean bowl and let it cool for about 10 minutes. Add the blackberry puree, the cream, the liqueur and mix well. Place in the refrigerator to chill. When sufficiently chilled, transfer to an ice cream freezer and freeze according to the manufacturer's directions.

Serve with some blackberries or with the remaining puree sweetened to taste.

Makes about 2 quarts

Copyright 2009, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.