Recipe: Seulle Céne


Or, I should say, “Seùlle, Peverùi, Sucùi e Sciue Céne”
Which, in my native Ligurian dialect means “Stuffed Onions, Bell Peppers, Squashes and Flowers” (yes, you get the usual unsolicited bit of linguistics in the recipe… I can try to approximate the pronunciation if you are curious).

Check out the full gallery with useful captions here on Google+ to see all the steps of the recipe.

This is one of my mom’s recipes, and as always it has variants across the whole region, but this is my mother’s version and is the one I love since I was a kid.

Also, if your dietary restrictions allow for cheese (parmigiano) and eggs, then your are good to go: this is another “mostly vegetarian” recipe of the Ligurian tradition. I’ve never seen one without these ingredients, but if you do the vegan experiment, let me know: apart for risking some breakage… they should be quite good anyway.

A note on the ingredients… I guess my mom is the one that taught me not to bother too much with the exact quantities (a recurring trend with my recipes, isn’t it?) so… there you go, no precise amounts in this recipe, either.

This recipe is a bit longer than usual, so I stockpiled on pictures: between my instructions and the photos (and their captions) it should be fairly clear.

Ingredients:

  • 2 or 3 White onions (seulle). Not huge but not too small: you’ll have to fill them later.
  • Potatoes
  • 2 or 3 Trombetta Squashes. These are what I grew up calling simply “zucchini” (sucùi in Ligurian). They are much, much better than the dark, angular, bland things that pass for zucchini in the rest of Italy. Sadly, they seem to be almost unknown outside my native province. Do an image search for “trombetta squash” or check herehttp://www.reneesgarden.com/seeds/packpg/veg/squash-trombetta.htm to see what they are.
  • Trombetta Squash Flowers. See above. In both cases I guess you can substitute with regular zucchini (and flowers) but know that you are missing out. Also, I would not advise stuffing the regular zucchini: too small and… what’s the point? 😉
  • 1 or 2 Bell Peppers (peverùi). The sweetest and thickest the better. Ideally, Piedmontese bell peppers from the Cuneo area: their pulp is more than half a cm thick and they are so good.
  • Basil (a handful of leaves).
  • Parmigiano cheese (I guess pecorino could do, too).
  • An egg.
  • Finely-ground breadcrumb.
  • Salt.
  • Frying oil (my mom uses corn I think; sunflower or other seeds should do). Not olive oil this time: not the best for frying stuff.

Tools:
* A large bowl
* Potato masher. I’m not sure how common this tool is abroad. Check the pictures to see which kind. If you don’t have one you’ll have to find a way to perform the same functions (you’ll see later).
* A large frying pan
* Mezzaluna knife (optional but useful)

Preparation:

The fill:
Clean and cut the squashes in 3-4cm chunks and the onions in halves. If your squashes are big and ripe enough they’ll have big round “heads”. Put them in, but only cut them in half and don’t mash them, you’ll use them later. Boil them in abundant salted water: they have to be cooked enough that the squash can easily be… well, squashed 🙂
Same goes for the potatoes. Boil them, preferably with the skin on to prevent them disintegrating in the water. Again, they need to be softened enough to be mashed.

Use a colander to dry the squashes, potatoes and onions.

Now take the potato masher (there is a picture of the device I mean), peel the potatoes (careful not to burn your fingers!), put a couple of them in and squeeze hard! Don’t overfill the masher, it will be super-hard to squeeze and you won’t save much time on the whole.

After the potatoes it’s time to work on the squashes. Put some pieces in, and careful now: close the masher, put it on a spare bowl (the one in the picture holds the potato peels) and squeeze lightly to let the excess water out. Not only the squashes tend to retain water, but they are quite watery themselves. When you notice it’s green juicy stuff coming out instead of water, switch to your potato bowl and squeeze.

When you are done mashing the squashes, mix them and the potatoes with a spoon.
Then, grate a good amount of Parmigiano on the bowl, then mix again.

Now take some basil leaves, chop them, then reduce them to bits (using a mezzaluna knife, or otherwise), then sprinkle them on the bowl, and mix again.

Separate the yolk of an egg, and add that too to the mix: it will help the whole thing to stay together.
Then, add a generous pinch of salt, mix, spread some breadcrumb and mix again. Whee! The fill is ready!

The “containers”:

Take the onions (hopefully they are now just warm, but be careful), and start separating the layers. Be careful, you need them whole, because you’ll be filling them like little cups. The smallest, innermost layers aren’t useful for this recipe… you can just eat them right away if you are so inclined ^__^
Keep the “onion cups” spread on a surface, you’ll soon need them again.

Take the zucchini flowers (please, only do this if you have access to some proper, big flowers: the tiny things I’ve seen in supermarkets are super pricey and will probably be too small), carefully remove the stigma and styles from the inside, and the green (and slightly spiky) sepals and bottom of the flower. You should obtain some nice empty flower-tubes (see picture).

Now to the bell peppers: cut them too in pieces big and curved enough to act as cups (carefully remove the seeds and white bits), then put them on a grill for a while: they need to soften a bit, but don’t let them burn. As you can see in the pictures, they are only a bit shriveled and you can pick up the grill lines.

What you see next is one of the “big head” halves of the trombetta squashes, if you have any: remove the inside with a spoon (it’s often full of tiny “seedlings” so it’s not that appetizing anyway) and make cups with them, too.

Filling in:

Take the flowers and very carefully fill them with the mix from the bowl using a spoon: watch it, they rip easy. Fold the top of the petals, and you have a nice closed pocket.

Fill the onions: you want them to go very slightly over the brim.

Same with the peppers, and the squash heads.

You’re almost there!

Spread breadcrumbs on the exposed filling: this will help forming a thin crust that will keep the thing together.

Time to fry!

Ok, take your large frying pan, cover the bottom in oil, heat it. Start with the onions: put them with the filling facing down. This is important: starting the fry on that side will help the general cohesion of the filling. You don’t want it to break, or lose too many bits in the frying pan (they start to burn very fast). So, cover the whole bottom of the pan, and let it fry.
Check the bottom side of the onions: when you see that nice brownish crust, turn them on the other side, and let the onion cook, too.

Have a serving plate handy, covered with kitchen paper towel to absorb the excess oil. In the close-ups you can see one of the onions, expertly cooked (I’m getting hungry just by looking at it).

Keep swapping the onions in the pan until you run out. Throw away the oil and start from scratch, if you have a lot and it starts having too many burned bits in it.

Now proceed with the rest of the veggies: same procedure with the peppers and squash heads. The flowers obviously don’t have an upper side, so just remember to flip them over. The photos show how they look when they are ready: mostly green, with the orange and tender petal tops browned and shriveled.

Enjoy!

Serve your Seulle Cene (and SciuePeverui and Succui) hot… or not. They are just as good when cold, in the evening or the day after.

…assuming any remain!

Note: this is a repost from my g+ account.

Recipe: Plaice with curry and onions

20130405_202958This recipe has been suggested to me by my sister-in-law, let me give you the rundown in my usual disorganized style (no quantities, I went by heart and don’t know).

Ingredients:

  • Plaice fillets (Filetti di Platessa)
  • 5-7 small onions (I used small borettane onions)
  • Tomato sauce (I used Mutti sauce, which isn’t too runny and tastes good)
  • Curry powder. I’m no expert, I just bought one from an Italian brand.
  • Olive oil, salt, sugar.

Preparation:

Put some water in a pan, with salt and a bit of olive oil. Chop the onions in thin slices (cry a bit… but if you remember to keep splashing your blade and onions in running water you’ll cry much less), then put them in the pan. Sprinkle a pinch of sugar on the onions, it should help with the taste. Put a lid on the pan, better if transparent to keep track of the contents.

Let the onions cook on a rather lively fire for a while, without letting the water evaporate completely (add some, as needed).  See picture 1.

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Picture 1: onions in the pan.

After a while the onions will start to change color. In Italy we say “they turn blond” (imbiondiscono), not sure what’s the correct terminology in English… but anyway, check the Picture 2, that’s the color they had when I went forward with the recipe.

Picture 2: Imbiondite.
Picture 2: Imbiondite.

Now add some tomato sauce, stir, add the curry powder according to your taste, and add some water if needed (you don’t want the mix to dry up, it must still cook with the fish, and you’ll want the end result to be saucy and moist). See Picture 3.

Picture 3
Picture 3: add tomato and curry.

Lay the plaice fillets on the mix (Picture 4) and put the lid back.

Picture 4: lay the plaice in the pan
Picture 4: lay the plaice in the pan

Let fire go for some more minutes, adding some more water if it’s getting too dry. The plaice will be ready in a matter of a few minutes.

Here you can see the end result.
Best enjoyed with some bread to pick up the sauce 🙂

Note: this is a repost from my g+ account.

20130405_202958

Recipe: Polenta with Borettane onions and pork

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This is a recipe I mostly copied from my mother-in-law, and the pics are from the very first time I tried making it.

It’s a plate for cold weather, it’s simple and tasty, and easy to prepare in a completely vegan/vegetarian fashion if you want.

Here it goes:

Ingredients:

  • Polenta: 80g per person. This is a generous amount, but change according to how hungry people are. Polenta is rarely left-over.
  • Onions: I used Borettane onions, but I guess any small and sweet onions will do. 2013-03-24 14.22.02Here’s a pic of what I used. I don’t have a weight: I put some 6 small onions in the pot.
  • Pork: you can add a small quantity of pork Italian sausage and/or meat to the pot, it just goes great with polenta. Or not, and you get a great vegetarian recipe (vegan too, I guess).
  • Tomato sauce. I used the Mutti sauce because it tastes great. I used probably 400ml of it, but again, I didn’t measure it because that’s how I roll.
  • Olive oil, salt: as needed.

Preparation:

Put a bit of oil in a pot, then add the pork (if any) and start cooking it. After a minute or so, add the tomato sauce, some salt and a pinch of sugar (it reduces the tomato sourness). Add water to the mix to thin down the tomato and to have enough liquid to cook the onions.

This step will take some 40-45 minutes: you will know that the onions are ready when poking them with a wooden spoon will cause them to break. Furthermore, do break some of the onions: they will mix with the sauce and the flavor of the whole dish will be better. Keep a couple of small onions whole if you want: the inside will be sweet and super-moist.

2013-03-24 14.22.45Keep stirring the mix once in a while, and keep adding water if the sauce gets too thick: you will want a relatively runny sauce for your polenta (note that in my picture the sauce is a bit too thick: I went back and added some more water to the rest of it in the pot, putting it back on the flame for a couple of minutes).

Plan ahead your timing: you want the polenta to be ready when the onions are.

Personally, I used the “instant” Polenta Valsugana because I am a heathen barbarian from the land of the Southern Sealands (aka: Liguria), and the people of the Po plains would probably burn me at the stake for this… but what the hell, it takes too much time to make regular polenta. But hey, if you can get your hands on traditionally mill-ground integral corn flour and have the time and wherewithal… go ahead: your polenta will be heavenly.

When both the polenta and the onions are ready, pour your yellow ambrosia in the plates and the onions and sauce on top of it, and enjoy!

Note: this is a repost from my g+ account.

2013-03-24 14.40.39-1

Recipe: Condiglione, or “Cundijùn”

Cundijùn is a very simple recipe that comes from my original region, Liguria, and even more specifically the western part of Liguria, commonly known as the Riviera dei Fiori. Yeah, that Riviera, the place where the word comes from.

As any foreigner that has ever spent more than 5 minutes talking with me already knows, Italy is a land of dialects… that are actually different neo-latin languages for all intents and purposes. So, “Condiglione” is the Italian official approximation of the original Ligurian name, while “Cundijun” (koon-dee-YOON, roughly) is my best approximation of the Ligurian name in roman characters (dialects generally don’t have a written form) as it is pronounced in my town and vicinities (dialects also have wild pronunciation differences, even when moving only a couple of kilometers).

But anyway, linguistics aside, here is Cundijùn: it’s a salad, simple as that. It’s often mentioned as similar to the Nicoise salad (not surprisingly, since Nice was part of the same region and their local dialect is Ligurian, not French), but eh, they’re not that similar.

I’m not going to provide precise measures for the ingredients because I’m a terrible cook and because nobody ever weighs the ingredients of cundijùn. Go by heart. Bear in mind that this is one of the myriad of variants of the recipe: many also like to add thin red onion slices, salted anchovies, salted capers, olives and so on.

Cundijun Ingredients

Ingredients:

  •  Tomatoes. I used Pomodori Ramati (vine tomato?), not too big. They must be ripe and juicy, or your cundijùn won’t be as tasty.
  • Basil. My supermarket carries basil from Albenga, and that’s a good thing. It’s not like the small leaved, tender basil grown in my parent’s market-garden, but it’s still heavenly perfumed.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The best you can find and afford. Ligurians are infamous for being stingy and tight-fisted, but not when it comes to Olive Oil. I used the wonderful Oil a friend of my family produces in tiny quantities there on the hills near Arma di Taggia (origin of the Taggiasca olive)… so, you know, the best in the world.
  • Eggs.
  • Bell Pepper: the sweet kind. My family often uses the sweet, long green peppers. In this case, I used a small green Voghera pepper.
  • Salt.
  • Bread. This is not technically an ingredient but trust me. I’ll get to it later.

Preparation:

Wash your ingredients and gather them around. You’ll need a largish bowl to hold your cundijùn, a knife and a cutting surface.

Put the eggs in water and hard-boil them.

While the water for the eggs heats up, start cutting your tomatoes in pieces. I feel it’s better if you don’t make slices with them. Just cut them in pieces roughly the shape of an orange segment, maybe cut even that in half, better if you work over your bowl so you’ll catch all the juice that drips.

Spread a pinch of salt on the tomato pieces, then mix them a bit, then put another pinch (to taste, clearly).

While the tomato rests and drips its tasty juice, aided by the salt, gather the basil leaves, remove the hard stems (if any) and cut them in slices, transversally, roughly half a centimeter wide. Add the basil to the bowl, mix.

Now add a generous amont of Olive Oil. You don’t want to drown your salad, but you do want all the bowl’s content to take some oil, and you definitely want the bottom of the bowl to gather a good amount of juicy mix of tomato water and oil. Mix again.

Don’t forget you got the eggs in the water, btw: take them out and place them in cool water or you won’t be able to handle them. Also: you want them cool for the salad.

Again, take the peppers and cut them in slices 0.5 to 1cm across (removing the seeds and the white bits from inside, clearly). Add them to the mix.

By now the eggs should be cool: remove the shells and cut the hard boiled eggs.

Here comes the trick (for my personal taste) to a perfect cundijùn: take the firm yellow egg yolk, reduce it to small bits and spread it in the salad. Now add the white bits and mix again, thoroughly.

You are pretty much done! Let the bowl rest for a bit so that the tastes amalgamate nicely and the juices flow a bit, then enjoy!Cundijùn, ready to eat.

A word of wisdom: you’ll want to have bread handy when you eat cundijùn. Trust me. Soak the soft bit of the bread in the cundijùn juices. It’s heavenly. Heck, it’s probably my favorite part of it.

So yeah, it’s a tomato salad. No big deal 🙂
It looks like a messy bunch of ingredients thrown in a bowl… and it is! In my dialect when something is a wild messy mix of things we say it’s “a bit of a cundijùn”.

It’s probably the quality of the ingredients that make the dish, and it’s, let’s say, culturally part of my upbringing.
And, it’s perfect for hot summer days when you don’t really want to cook because the idea of fiddling with hot pans is enough to make you swoon.

Note: this is a repost from my g+ account.