Thursday, March 18, 2010

Titina's Kitchen Garden and a Recpie for Spring Greens

This week in Titina's kitchen the chef was getting ready to return to teaching--Her popular cooking classes resume April 5 .

But outside in Titina's garden--newly turned and smoothed earth ready for spring planting.

Like most Italian cooks, Titina feels a small plot of homegrown herbs and vegetables is essential to her kitchen. She likes to grow arugula, bay, and figs, along with lots of summer tomatoes, peppers, and basil, of course.

But Spring is the season for greens. Leafy greens like Chard are easy to grow--a good beginners plant.

If you don't have your own little kitchen plot, check out local farmers' markets. Greens are at their best when freshly picked.

Here's one of Titina's recipes that celebrates spring greens and a special pasta from Puglia, the rich farming region at the heel of Italy's boot. Puglia is famous for bread made from local wheat, wine, vegetables (including wonderful artichokes now available from Polli at Capri Flavors), and the ear-shaped pasta in this recipe.

(Note: This an interesting recipe to read. Don't miss the final line calling for a rough but honorable red wine.)

Orecchiette con Broccoli e Cavolfiori
Pasta with bitter greens and Cauliflower

1 small head white or green cauliflower
2 Tbsp fine sea salt
1 lb cima di rape or dandelion green, beet greens or red chard
2 ounces anchovies, preserved under salt
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp fennel seeds
1 small, dried red chili pepper, crushed, or 1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
3 fat cloves garlic, peeled, crushed, and finely minced
3 ounces dried black olives, stones removed (optional)
12 ounces orecchiette
Coarse sea salt for the pasta water
1 cup just grated pecorino
1 cup just made fine bread crumbs, sautés in 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Serves: 6; Preparation Time: 30 minutes; Level of Difficulty: medium

Trim the cauliflower of its leaves and place it, whole, in a pot, covering it with cold water, adding 1 Tablespoon of fine sea salt and poaching it until tender. Drain the cauliflower and set aside. Wash and trim the rape and place them in a pot. Covering them with cold water, adding the remaining tablespoon of salt and poaching them for 3 minutes. Drain rape very well, transferring them to absorbent paper towels. When the rape are cooled a bit, squeeze each piece , extracting as much water as you can before chopping them coarsely and placing them in a bowl. Add the poached cauliflower, breaking it up and blending it lightly with the rape.
Rinse the anchovies and remove their heads and bones. Dry them on paper towels and crush lightly with a fork.
In a sauté pan over a medium flame, warm the olive oil, scenting it with fennel, crushed chili, and garlic, taking care not to color the garlic. Add the anchovies and olives, if you wish to use them, stirring and blending the components. Add this hot mixture to the bowl with the rape and the cauliflower, smashing the whole against the sides of the bowl, permitting the vegetables to inhale the hot , spicy bath.
Cook the orecchiette in abundant, sea salted water until al dente, draining the pasta but leaving it somewhat wet. Reserve 1/2 cup or so of its cooking liquids. Transfer the pasta to large, shallow, warmed bowl. Add a few tablespoons of the cooking liquids and the [pecorino to the sauce, thinning it only slightly. Add a few drops more of the cooking liquids only if the sauce is still extremely thick. Add the sauce to the pasta, tossing it and coating each little ear.
Dust the pasta with browned bread crumbs and present the dish with a rough but honorable red wine.

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