If you really want to understand the essence of food I love best, accompany me on my short visit to Southern Italy this afternoon (1-3 PM). The meal begins last night with a brief excursion through Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Sicily. I was captivated by a simple dish, Cicoria e aglio. Italy has so many different forms of chicory, I can’t begin to count them, but I made a mental note, and after the farmers market today, I went to Idylwilde Farms and bought a head of frisée, one of those chicories. Here is the recipe:
Last week at the farmers market, I had purchased two chili peppers from a local grower, one medium hot, long red pepper, and one mild jalapeño, which I used in this dish. Not having garlic oil was no problem; I chopped up one clove of garlic, and I sautéed it slowly with the chopped pepper in olive oil, prior to adding the blanched frisée. Here are the results:
Since chicory and beans were meant for each other, I heated some of the marvelous Controne white beans from two days ago, with just a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and bean water, then added them to the Cicoria.
The warmth of the chiles, the luscious slightly-bitter flavor of the frisée, and the bite of the garlic was superb. Here is my second helping:
These were spectacularly matched with a Calabrian red wine, Savuto, from Jan D’Amore.
If you haven’t tried Gaglioppo, Greco Nero, Nerello Capuccio, and Maglicco Canino before (I imagine Sangiovese is one you have had before), I can heartily recommend this blend.
That should have been a complete lunch. And in many ways it was. However, I had also been reading Lidia Bastianich’s cookbook, Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy, late last night, and there were several dishes I was eager to try. Since Barbara was out for the afternoon, this was my chance to use all of the banished ingredients, especially peppers, hot and sweet, plus lots of oil and salt.
I made two more dishes: Potato with Pepperoncino (from Basilicata) and Peppers, Olives and Fontina Cheese Salad (from Valle d’Aosta). The first was remarkably simple: cook a russet potato in boiling, salted water (in this case leftover from blanching the Chicory), until tender. Cool it, cut into 1/3″ slices, add sea salt, and then top with olive oil in which chopped garlic and finely ground Calabrian peppers were sautéed. Magnifico!:
The salad was a little more complex, but not much. Drizzle a little olive oil and salt on some sweet peppers (I had one red and one yellow in the refrigerator drawer), roast on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, turning once or twice, in a 350º F. oven for about 40 minutes, until the skins are wrinkled and lightly browned. Cool the peppers, peel and seed them, cut into 1/4″ strips. Then pit and chop a cup of green olives, adding to the pepper in a bowl. Finally, cut some Italian Fontina cheese in 1/4″ strips, adding to the bowl. The recipe called for a vinaigrette, but I just added olive oil, apple cider vinegar and salt, and we were done! Another glass of the Savuto, and all is well.
Of course, at the end of a meal — lunch or dinner — a good espresso is just right.