What is in Season: Black Cabbage (Cavolo Nero)

Cavolo_Nero_RecipeThe cold weather is here in Italy and all those hearty winter veggies are starting to show up at my local market. One of my favorites—for its flavor, health benefits*, and versatility in the kitchen—is the great cavolo nero, also known as black cabbage.
 
Before coming to Italy I had never even heard of this leafy green vegetable, though I may have unconsciously seen it wedged in with the other dark winter greens. I probably thought it was some unknown kind of cabbage or even kale. In fact, the great black cabbage goes by a slew of other names that echo this easy-to-make mistake, including Tuscan Kale, Tuscan cabbage, Italian kale, and, my favorite, dinosaur kale. The “dinosaur-ness” of the dino kale is not in reference to the plant’s size, which, by the way (overlooking my rather modest sized bunches), can be up to 2 feet long! The dinosaur refers to the leaves’ very particular texture, which is distinctly bubbly and rippled and in fact, rather t.rex-like. Once I learned this, I had a hard time seeing anything other than the skin of a triceratops sitting in my fridge, but I am working on moving past that and the below recipe has really helped.
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What is in Season: Zucchini Flowers (Fiori di Zucca)

This month I tackle: Zucchini Flowers.
Before moving to Italy I had never even heard of zucchini flowers (aka fiori di zucca), let alone seen one. Perhaps I missed them at the grocery store. Perhaps they were in a special aisle. Perhaps they were too implausible for me to comprehend. Or, more likely, I thought they were simply decorative and not edible and conveniently designed for stuffing with cheese. Had I known this, I assure you, I would have made every effort to find them. Luckily, once I moved to Italy, these decorative AND delicious treats became a reality and one that I looked forward to every late spring and summer.
These yellow and green flowers grow out of the side of the zucchini like enormous claws. When they’re in season, you can either buy the zucchinis with their flowers still intact or, at certain stores and markets, just the flowers. Since I cannot imagine getting through the quantity of zucchini required to yield the quantity of flowers I desire on a daily basis, I usually go for the pre-separated flowers. Quality-wise they are roughly the same and cost less without all the extra zucchini attached. Once you’ve found them, purchased them, and brought them home, the question is, of course, how to make these beautiful blossoms into a delicious dinner.
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What is in Season: Fava Beans

A few weeks ago I posted a photo of the week of some seasonal roman cauliflower and later some super fresh artichokes from the local market that – somewhat unintentionally – transformed into mini cooking adventures. It turns out that while I am by no means a “chef,” I can read a recipe and improvise reasonably well in the kitchen (who knew?). It also turns out that doing so is quite rewarding. More than that…it’s empowering! I used to avoid the fresh artichokes in my grocery store. I looked at them as foreign, unknown, and as a potential threat to my cooking confidence. I fear them no longer. As soon as I noticed this amazing transformation, I started to look around my grocery store and see veggies I had never tried before just waiting to be cooked, eaten, and conquered. So I made a deal with myself. I decided that I would try to always buy what is in season, find out the best way to eat it, and well…eat it. If I am feeling frisky I may even try a recipe of my own, but let’s not get too crazy. For a full list of what vegetables are in season when see this site. For my own simplified list of what is in season in Italy, scroll to the bottom of this blog. OK. Onto the first veggie victim.
This month I tackle: The Fava Bean.
 
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Photo of the Week: Artichoke Season!

Photo of the Week: Artichoke Season!

Artichoke season is coming to a close here in Italy, so, I have decided that now (right now!) is the time for me to learn how to actually cook one of these suckers. Yes, it is my first time. Honestly, I am deathly afraid of them in their uncooked form. Artichokes (a.k.a. carciofi) are hard and prickly and rip open any grocery bag you attempt to put them in. On top of that, they have this mysterious part called the “choke,” which sounds horrible and is apparently hidden deep inside (ready to attack!). How could anyone eat something so threatening?! I mean, it’s an edible plant in the thistle family! Doesn’t that strike anyone else as odd? However, lucky for them, they are damn delicious. Hence, I’ve made a practice of paying someone else to deal with the cooking side of things. This is especially true when I am in Rome, where, due to some special additives in the water, they all know exactly how to make this (rather intimidating) vegetable taste like sliced (or steamed or fried) heaven. (Between you and me, I have a theory that the government is intentionally hiding the number of artichoke related deaths for nefarious artichoke eating purposes).
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Photo of the Week: Roman Cauliflower

Photo of the Week: Roman Cauliflower

Also known as Romanesco broccoli, this stunning fractal* vegetable originates from Italy. The first time I saw it at my morning market, I was so blown away that nature could produce such an incredible and edible treat that I had to buy one. I mean…it’s a science project you can eat…or observe, if that’s your thing. With most things in Italy, my first instinct is to eat it. So I did. It was so good! It tasted more like cauliflower than broccoli and that is how I tend to approach it when considering it for a meal. Bonus, it is high in vitamins C & K. Any way you can cook regular cauliflower can be applied to Roman cauliflower, but here is a very simple recipe, should you find this fractal friend in your local grocer.
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