If you’re lucky enough to have a Southern-Italian friend with a mother who can cook, I’d advise extracting as much culinary wisdom as you possibly can from your friend’s mother. My dear friend Gabriella, originally from Bari, Italy, happens to have that mother. Her mama speaks very little English, and though my Italian cooking lessons with her are sporadic, I’ve learned priceless things, mostly pertaining to seasonal vegetables.
Gaby’s mother and I have never actually spoken. Gaby translates her mother’s lessons, mostly involving Gaby laughing because her mother is yelling and saying that I ask too many questions. Or I’ve chosen some vegetable that’s slightly off-season. Or because it’s the oversized, American version. We Skype, so she can see these things and get upset.
When asking Signora Piccinni how long she cooks something, the answer usually is, “Until it’s done.” When you ask how much salt or how much oregano it’s, “How am I supposed to know… this much!” Recently we cooked chicory. It’s not a vegetable one would readily find in South Florida but one I love and have had in Southern Italy.
Similar to curly endive, chicory is a bitter green related to radicchio, though many think it tastes like dandelion, and it actually grows like a dandelion green, with similar roots.
Chicory is filled with vital nutrients like folate and vitamin K, giving it excellent anti-cancer properties. (This is true for most bitter greens, which also are high in fiber and aid digestion.) chicory is an excellent liver and blood cleanser. The roots can be dried and brewed like coffee – in fact they are more water soluble than instant coffee. They make an excellent coffee or tea substitute that I love to drink with a bit of almond milk and palm sugar.
Mama Piccinni’s Puntarella Salad with Fava Beans
( This is also delicious with kale)
1 C fava beans
½ bunch chicory, cleaned well
Enough water to cover the beans
Salt and pepper to taste
Soak the fava beans overnight with a large pinch of salt.
Drain the pot and fill with clear, fresh water – just enough to cover the beans – and add a large pinch of salt.
Boil for 45 minutes, stirring the beans occasionally.
Steam the chicory in a separate pot with a small amount of water and pinch of salt, for around 5 minutes. Drain, squeeze dry and set aside.
When the fava beans have cooked through, drain the pot if the water has not all absorbed.
Pour the beans into a food processor or blender and pulse. You want it to be a bit chunky.
Plate the puree with the chicory and top with olive oil, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper.
Top with chopped raw onion and tomato.