Broccoli and potatoes, symphony for comfort dishes

We just stepped into February month and by taking a walk in the garden or in the countryside of Apulia region, in Southern Italy, we got the feeling of nature’s slow awakening and preparing its new dress as prelude to the approach of the Spring. Actually, even at Winter and its bizarre weather, the season we are living right now, we have amazing local agricultural produces for making delicious dishes to enjoy on our kitchen tables every day.

According to the tradition of simplicity in the kitchen and to the old saying ‘use what you have’, I turned classical music on in the kitchen and prepared a warm, inviting soup with broccoli and potatoes.

First of all, after peeling and dicing some local potatoes, chopping onion and garlic, making small broccoli tops, it is necessary to fry these ingredients in a pan with some extra virgin olive oil. Let them cook for five minutes in order all tastes of vegetables mix harmoniously, then pour a bouillon prepared with carrot, celery and onion on them and keep on cooking and boiling the soup for about 20 minutes. In the end, add a sprinkle of salt and pepper. You may choose to make a cream, which perhaps children would prefer, or, even better, serve the soup in small pieces of vegetables in order to enjoy each flavor and warm crisp slices of home made bread dipped in the pot like a spoon.

An alternative to this appetizing dish, by using the same ingredients, would be sauteing diced potatoes, small broccoli tops in a pan with onion and garlic in some extra virgin olive oil. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper in the end, when they are done, and use the vegetables to stuff a sheet of puff pastry. Make a cream with some milk and robiola cheese and pour it on the filling made of vegetables. Roll up and close hermetically the puff pastry, paint its surface with some water or milk, bake it in the oven for about 15/20 minutes, 180°/200° C. Serve the steaming roll with your preferred wine and enjoy the recipe. By the way, this latter could be also an excellent idea for a dish to have for a picnic at Springtime.

The days of the female blackbird and a genuine millet soup for children and grown-ups

February is already here and, unexpectedly, this year the last three days of January, which by tradition are cold and most often snowy, were pretty mild. Indeed, this first timid attempt of Springtime is now visible in our countryside, since the branches of almond trees are in bloom. In Italy, the last three days of January are called the ‘days of the female blackbird'(i giorni della merla) to remember a poor female blackbird and an old legend that tells us about its adventure to find a safe warm shelter by a chimneypot, where, inevitably, its feathers became dark for the smoke.

   Anyway, it’s still winter season and with a cold weather our body needs more energy to feel healthy and light. This is the reason why today I would like to suggest a smooth tasteful soup made with decorticated millet and artichokes, which is ideal for children and for grown-ups. The millet (panicum miliaceum) is one of the cereals at the base of nutrition for several populations in Asia and Africa. The origin of the millet are found back to the Neolithic and then, again, its use spread during the Middle Age in India, China and Europe. Nowadays, even though the millet has a high nutritional value, it is not very much used in Europe for reasons bound to the production and difficulties for the harvest. On the contrary, India, China, Russia, Ukraine, Africa are the main consumers of this cereal so rich in vitamin A and B, iron, magnesium and silicon.

   Back to this easy recipe, at the food market I have found excellent local artichokes and winter tomatoes. The fragrance of these latter was a sweet epiphany of childhood: a delicious morning snack at school, made of bread, yellow tomatoes, a sprinkle of salt and extravirgin olive oil to share with the best friend. Once, these tomatoes were in every house, like intertwined gems, hanging on the wall of the storeroom. At home, I started frying gently rings of red onions, tomatoes, a hint of garlic and chopped artichokes. After pouring some white wine (choose the one you prefer) and let it to evaporate, I added some vegetable bouillon and kept on cooking for about 15 min (do not forget to add a sprinkle of chily pepper and salt). In the end, I worked the artichokes with a minipimer and made a smooth cream. As second step, the millet was cooked in some vegetable bouillon for about 15/20 min (a full espresso coffee cup or a cup and a half should represents the right portion for a person). Then, I added the golden grains of millet to the artichoke cream, a couple of spoons of bouillon and served the soup with some bread. Children and grown-ups would love it.

   Wish you all ‘buon appetito’!