I Like Them Bitter | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

“Eat bitter vegetables, they will purify the liver!” This was my grandmother’s admonishment every time she prepared vegetables, which was everyday.

As kids my two brothers always turned their noses up at this statement, it sounded an awful punishment, but not for me. I was an experimenter, I liked to eat since a very young age and taste, taste, taste everything.

 

 

In the spring time, Cardoni, Cardoon in English, a very long hard stalk vegetable is available in any market, at least in those markets which caters to their ethnic clientele. The  younger shoots also called  Cardoncelli, not to confuse them with cardoncelli mushrooms, are very tender and less bitter. In any case, young or well-grown, Cardoni is not a well-known vegetable.
It looks like celery, it is very bitter, fibrous, medium green color and the short leaves have a powdery feel to the touch. They are delicious in every cooking solutions, but most people not knowing what it is, get discouraged and leave it on the shelves of the supermarket.

The reason some vegetables taste bitter is due to the presence of phytonutrients that act as powerful antioxidants including some flavonoids and polyphenols. Most of these antioxidant nutrients are bitter. Be prepared,  Cardoni are very bitter.

In my Italian culture, bitterness in vegetables is embraced wells for the variety of flavors components and for the perceived medicinal properties. In fact many of the Italian digestive and after dinner drinks are made from artichokes and/or many bitter herbs and vegetables, but please don’t tell me these particular drinks taste like cough drops, it is not true. To retain and enhance the bitterness of some vegetable, we Italians often use the sautéing method in garlic and oil, versus boiling or steaming them.

One way to cook Cardoni is with eggs:
Peel them with a potato peeler to eliminate the stringy fibers, cut them in small pieces, parboil in salted water for 7-8 minutes. Beat a few eggs, season with salt, pepper and Parmigiano cheese, set aside. Sauté Cardoni in garlic and olive oil until translucent, add the beaten eggs. Stir until the eggs become scrambled and well mixed with Cardoni. Adjust season to you liking. A robust glass of red wine is very appropriate.

Baked au gratin is another way to prepare them. Peel, chop and parboil in salted water like in the previous method. Butter a baking dish, arrange the Cardoni parboiled, add beaten eggs, season to your liking. On top add a lot of Parmigiano cheese, breadcrumbs and a few dollops of butter. Bake under the oven grill until the top is brown and the eggs are coagulated.
(Photo Cardoons at farmers market. Credit: blowbackphoto / iStockphoto.com)

Of course Cardoni in soups with potatoes, or baked with hot sausages, or lamb are equally a delight to eat . They are fresh and light, too bad they only come out in the Spring.

The tongue has receptors, especially in the back side. Keep the taste buds active by exercising all 50.000 of them with sweet, salty, sour and bitter food.
Don’t try to overcook vegetables to take out the bitterness, Cardoni are supposed to do a good job for you, cleanse the liver and keep you young.
My grandmother was always right. Ciao,
Valentina
www.Valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

 

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe.
She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos.

She is the author of two published Italian regional cuisine books, available in this site on the Books page, Amazon and in various locations:
©Come Mia Nonna – A Return To Simplicity –  http://outskirtspress.com/ComeMiaNonna
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnq8baaAq0M
©Sins Of A Queen – http://outskirtspress.com/SinsOfAQueen

Into The Vegetable Garden | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

Tenerumi

How many vegetables people throw away because they are no known, or because nobody has ever shown the way to prepare them? This is the case of the tender fronds at the end the of the squash branches.
In Italy we call them ”tenerumi” and they are quite delicious. It is a very simple type food, a peasant food, the stomach doesn’t need complicated food everyday anyway and they can be presented quite elegantly, if you like.

First, when harvesting squashes, separate the large leaves, which are tough to eat from the small tender leaves at the end of the trail. Wash only the tender lease to get rid of soil impurities and cut them in diagonal to make a chiffonade.

Bring to a boil a pot pull of salted water. Salt will seal the green color of the leaves and they will not turn grey. Boil the leaves for about 10 minutes, take them out of the water with a perforated ladle, but do not drain the water.
In the same water, cook a short type of pasta, such as rigatoni, penne, rotini or ditaloni. Keep it “al dente”. The pasta texture and consistency it is very important for us Italians.

In another pan, sauté a couple of shallots or green onions in olive oil, add a couple of chopped tomatoes, or a basket of cherry tomatoes split in half (I like cherry tomatoes better), cook for about 10 minutes, then add the boiled tenerumi leaves to the sauce and let the flavor combine for a few more minutes. If you like a bit of heat, add some chili pepper to the sauce. Tenerumi have a bland flavor, but that is good too, if you like to keep it bland.
Adjust the sauce with salt and pepper to your liking, mix cooked pasta in it and serve warm with a generous sprinkle of Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese.

This is very simple and healthy version. For a richer taste, it is OK to combine sausage cut in small bites, or pancetta (Italian bacon) while sautéing the onions. Potatoes go well with tenerumi (squash leaves) in place of pasta, or Italian rice Arborio to make a risotto as usual. With or without the starch element, squash leaves are delicious vegetables to pair up with a piece of salmon, or a steak and a nice red wine served in a goblet.

Photo ©Valentina Cirasola

Photo ©Valentina Cirasola

Another type of leaves which goes to waste are the carrots leaves. They are delicious in quiches and frittata, or sautéed first and mixed in a meatloaf.
Fennel fronds are also not understood leaves, they are good in soups, in roasted lamb with peas and/or combined with eggs.

In American markets, I have difficulties finding these kind of leaves, they don’t make it to the shelves of the supermarkets. The solution was to grow them myself, otherwise what it the purpose of having my own garden? Flowers are beautiful, but food grown in my orchard are even better for my health and soul.

Simple and peasant food is the reason why in the past peasants were healthy and rich or noble people had gout. If you want to lose weight go for the greens and not for the shakes! Ciao,
Valentina
www.valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian interior designer with a passion for kitchen and cooking. She operates in USA and Europe.
She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos.
She writes often about food and she is the author of two Italian regional cookbooks available in this site at the books Page:
Come Mia Nonna – A Return To Simplicity
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnq8baaAq0M
Sins Of A Queen – Italian Appetizers and Desserts

Also available in various locations:
http://outskirtspress.com/ComeMiaNonna
http://outskirtspress.com/SinsOfAQueen
http://www.amazon.com/Valentina-Cirasola/e/B0031A02H2/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
http://search.barnesandnoble.com/books/product.aspx?r=1&ISBN=1432762060

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