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Episode 25 – Italians and overcooked vegetables

Today’s theme is vegetables, but not any kind of vegetables. I am here to praise the charm of overcooked vegetables. Not all vegetables give their best when cooked for long time, some get soggy and unpalatable, but take French beans, broccoli or cavolo nero. They give up, surrender to the flame and develop a buttery texture and an intense aroma, which can suit pasta dishes, meat and even stand up for itself in a comforting side dish.

In the day and age of the al dente vegetable,
what a joy to find a recipe that celebrates the well cooked, buttery vegetable.

Fergus Henderson, The Complete Nose to Tail

So, this is how I tend to cook vegetables. What about you? Do you put a quick timer when it comes to cooking your veggies or do you allow them enough time to become buttery and soft?

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Word of the day

Learn the Italian language of food word after word. Every year more than 200 people join our cooking classes. Speaking with them, I made a small dictionary of important words and pronunciations that can help you navigate through the immense world of Italian food. So, if you love Italian language as much as you love Italian cooking, these are a few words that can be useful for you.

Today’s word is contorni. C – O – N – T – O – R – N – I

Contorni, plural, contorno, singular. We’re talking about side dishes, usually my favourite part of the meal when I cook, the course I am most excited about.

At the restaurant, and especially in those old fashioned trattorie and osterie that cook hearty, typical food, usually the side dishes do not come with the meat or fish, the main course. You can locate them in the menu in the contorni section, but do not expect a great variety here, for that, you’ll have to join one of our cooking classes!

A recipe "from the markets of Tuscany"

A recipe that perfectly represents the Italian love for overcooked vegetables is cavolo strascicato, a savoy cabbage and sausage stew from Livorno I shared in our book, From the markets of Tuscany.

“Use one sausage per person,” says Antonio. “This isn’t a side dish after all, but a main course to eat with plenty of bread to clean your plate.”
This is how Antonio, known at the Piazza Cavallotti market as the “king of lettuce,” explained
the following recipe to me, with its fragrant garlic in a bit of olive oil, and chili pepper, too, an ingredient which is loved and abundant in the Livornese cuisine.

The sausages here are not intended to merely add flavour or accompany bread, they play a more important role. The tomato and chili lend colour and a touch a sweetness.
The cabbage is cut into thin strips and cooked very slowly over low heat, absorbing all the flavours that will delight your taste buds. Serve with fresh, crusty bread.

Read my blogpost about the long book journey and discover all the behind the scenes. Order on Amazon.it, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca or buy it at your local bookstore.

The recipes we mentioned in this episode:

Have you made one of our recipes?

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This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. Juls, I don’t understand that you like over cooked broccoli. I think it is horrible, and have now taken to eating it just cooked in coconut oil onions and garlic. French beans ththe same. I eat most of them raw! So far we have loved the same foods, but not this one. I look forward to seeing more of your Tuscan cooking.
    Thanks Anne

  2. Hello Anne! This is not simply overcooked, as we do not simply drain the broccoli and eat them, I wouldn’t like them, too!
    As I say in the podcast, there are two very important ingredients that come to help, extra virgin olive oil and garlic, often also chili pepper, anchovies or olives.
    Or, in the case of French beans, a heart battuto of carrots, celery and onions. Broccoli become soft, buttery, creamy… delicious! You should give them a go, at least once!

  3. Hi Giulia, I share your love for overcooked vegetables! I’ve been married to a Lebanese for 20 years and cook a lot of Lebanese food. In Lebanon, there’s a similar tradition of cooking vegetables in a sauce for a long time. For example, green beans are cooked in tomato sauce with onions, garlic, olive oil on very slow heat until very soft (can be eaten hot with rice or cold with bread or eggs for breakfast or lunch). The same goes for spinach: chopped spinach, a bit of fried minced beef, onions, garlic and olive oil, some lemon juice added at the end, cooked for at least 30 minutes until it turns into a surprisingly delicious stew to be eaten with rice. The only difference is that in Lebanese cuisine, we like to add cinnamon to tomato sauces and to pretty much any dish that contains meat. Having said that, we also eat a lot of the same vegetables raw – it’s just two different, equally delicious ways to use them. And I’ve cooked your broccoli recipe many times, very enjoyable! Thank you for the ideas and the blog.

    1. Mediterranean cultures have all a very similar approach to vegetables, and the olive oil might be the key ingredient for that! just like you perfectly explain, we all eat also raw crunchy vegetables, but when it comes to cooking, it is all well braised! I guess I would love those green beans!

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