Involtini di verza. This is a good winter dish. There are many versions, but I prefer this one because the stuffing is not so heavy as it contains rice and chopped cabbage rather than all meat. It can be served as an antipasto or a second course, but it is quite substantial, so it is probably better as a second course. Serves 6
Remove the tough central rib from 12 cabbage leaves.
stuffed cabbage removing stalk
Blanch the leaves in abundant boiling water. Take 150g of the more tender centre of the cabbage and chop finely.
stuffed cabbage cooking filling
Melt the butter in a pan and fry the carrot, celery and onion gently for about 15 minutes. Be careful that they do not brown. Increase the heat and add the rice and “toast” for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the white wine, the sausage and the chopped cabbage. Stirring constantly wait until the liquid has been absorbed. Add a ladle of the hot stock and wait for the liquid to be absorbed. Continue using the standard risotto method until the rice is cooked. Mix in the parmesan.
stuffed cabbage filling rolls
Take a cabbage leaf and place a couple of tablespoons of the mixture on each one.
stuffed cabbage filled roll
Roll the leaf up to make a compact parcel. Hide the open seam underneath.
stuffed cabbage ready for the oven
Cover the base of a casserole with little olive oil and half a ladle stock. Arrange the cabbage rolls in the dish. Cover the dish with melted butter and parmesan.
Stuffed cabbage finished dish
Bake at 200°C for 15 minutes, finish off under the grill for 5 minutes. Let the rolls rest for 10 minutes and the serve.
In Italy it is regarded as essential to eat something if you are drinking. Only a reckless madman (or uncouth foreigner) would ever consider not doing so. 🙂 Struzzichini are little snacks to go with your drink. It might be something as simple as a bowl of peanuts or something more elaborate, like the following dish. In Lombardy the bars compete to provide the best selection. There is one bar I used to go to in Bergamo that served such a large variety that I very rarely had any appetite for a meal after my apperitivo. If you are using tomatoes preserved in oil, you of course don’t need to soak them. It’s worth doing with the dry variety though if you can find them.
Sun dried tomato struzzichini ingredients
Sun dried tomatoes – soaked for an hour in a mixture of water and vinegar
Olives – stoned and cut into slivers
Capers – soaked for a few minutes and drained
Fresh basil leaves
Assembling the struzzichini
Drain the tomatoes and dress with olive oil.
On top of each tomato place 2 capers, a piece of anchovy, a sliver of olive and basil leaf.
Pasta alla puttanesca from Campania. The translation of the title of this dish is “whore’s pasta”! There are a lot of stories as to how it got its name, but one of the most common is that it was a dish that the working girls could quickly prepare between customers. Another version is that is was cooked in brothels so customers would be lured in by the enticing aromas. I don’t really buy that one. I think food would be the last thing on the customers minds 😉 It is a relatively modern dish, probably dating back to the end of the second world war. Both Lazio and Campania claim it as their own. This is the Campania version. The recipe comes from Accademia Italiana della Cucina.
A note about the olives. Use the best you can find. Don’t use pitted black olives as properly matured olives are too soft to have their stones removed mechanically, so they will almost certainly be green olives which have been dyed with ferrous glucomate (E151, a synthetic coal tar).
500g bucatini, linguine, spaghetti or similar
500g peeled tomatoes (fresh or tinned)
2 anchovy fillets (salted or in oil)
100g good quality olives, rinsed. The recipe calls for Gaeta olives, which of course can be green or black, but I have only ever seen this dish prepared with black olives. You can leave them whole or stone them and roughly chop. I prefer half and half.
50g capers, rinsed and roughly chopped. The recipe doesn’t stipulate salted or in brine. I prefer the salted variety
100g olive oil. This seems a lot but you need a fair amount to allow the anchovy fillets to dissolve properly. Use less if you wish
1 clove of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1 chilli (fresh, dried or a good pinch of chilli flakes)
Gently fry the garlic, chilli and anchovy fillets in the oil. Mash the anchovies with a wooden spoon until they have completely dissolved.
Remove the garlic. You can also remove the chilli if you don’t like it too hot. If you prefer a really fiery dish, crush or finely chop the chilli before frying.
Add the tomatoes, olives and capers. Mash the tomatoes thoroughly with a fork and cook over a medium high heat for 15 to 20 minutes.
Cook the pasta until al dente, drain and add to the pan with the sauce. Toss the pasta with the sauce and heat gently for a couple of minutes.
Polpettone di tonno ai capperi. This is the favourite dish of Macio, one of my friends from Bergamo. He always cooks it when he has guests. It comes from Sale & Pepe, one of the better food magazines. It can be served as an antipasto or a main course. When I made it I didn’t process the paste long enough, so the loaf was a bit loose. It was delicious though. Serves 4 as a main course 8-10 as an antipasto.