Monday, 21 October 2013

Company for Supper

Cardi, Olive & Pomodorini in Agrodolce
Sweet & Sour Cardoons, Olives and Cherry Tomatoes

It is Monday night- a weekday night in central Europe. In the southern countries for sure- Italy, Spain, France, Greece, Sardinia... you name them and even here in Germany, chances are that if people have eaten a decent lunch, their supper will consist of maybe some cheese, cold-cuts, or light vegetable dishes and bread. Basically it is about the bread- even here in Germany, the evening meal if still often referred to as "Brot-Zeit", or "bread time". 

This is no new-fangled fad- it is just the way it has always been... and frankly, in a day and age where people think they need 3 meals a day to give them the energy to sit at desks, whereas in the old days, people used to do actual physical hard labor... it would not be a bad thing for some of said people to moderate their ways a little and do this a little more often! Haha! The biggest joke about it is- there is so much great stuff they could be enjoying whilst doing so... like this here!

I said that the evening meal is about eating bread- but of course bread on it's own is a bit bland... so what you need to make it into "a meal", is what we call in Sicily, "companaggio", or "an accompaniment". This can be, as I said, cured meats, cheese, preserves or vegetables- and you have all had simple meals like this before on vacation! A great cheese, some crusty bread, a glass of wine and a beautiful Sicilian sunset- and what more could you want? Haha! Well... I am stuck in Frankfurt, so I may want a little more than that occasionally!

This "companaggio" is a great combination- you can eat it with bread for a light supper, or you could also serve it as an "anti-pasto" before a meal. Cardoons are probably one of the most common and well-loved Winter greens in Sicily. They are long, thick, somewhat thorny-edged stalks that are relatives of artichokes and indeed have a very similar flavor. But whereas the artichoke is the blossom on top of the other plants stalks, these do not produce any... but the stalks themselves are edible and delicious and many ways a lot more satisfying than artichokes, as you can take real, decent bites out of them!

That being said, they ARE a little labor-intensive to prepare- but the preparation is still simple to do. Similar to celery or rhubarb, the cardoons have an outer layer of tough, sinewy fibre, which you need to peel away. Don't skimp when you are doing this as you do not want to be chewing on that inedible string! And do watch your hands on those thorny outside! Oh- I know that has just made it sound awful, but it is in fact very easy to do and does not take long- just be ware that there will be quite a bit of collateral damage and waste- but it is well, well worth it!

Traditionally the cardoons would simply be boiled, but I chose to steam mine today... boiling will take around 40 minutes and steaming a little longer at just 30 minutes. I cut the stalks into lengths of around 3-4", sprinkled them lightly with salt, popped them onto a steam rack and let them do their thing...

Half an hour later, I fetched them out and let them cool off and dry out a little. In the meantime I prepared a fine paste out of a finely chopped clove of garlic, which I ground to a pulp using the edge of my knife and to which I added a pinch of salt and around a tablespoon of sugar. It would be this paste, some ground, dried herbs and some red wine vinegar which would give this dish its distinctive flavor... and it was now time to bring everything together... yummy!

The cardoons went into the frying pan with a good splash of olive oil and a handful each of black olives and cherry tomatoes. After 1-2 minutes of frying, I added the garlic paste and a generous pinch each of dried oregano, rosemary and thyme and a nice sprinkle of coarsely ground black pepper. I continued stirring everything together until the garlic and sugar were all but dissolved away and were beginning to brown and at that point, I added a generous splash of red wine vinegar and a little water. 

This immediately turned the sugary garlic and herb coating - of the cardoons but also of the base of the pan, into a nice dressing to stir everything into. I kept the heat rather high and kept everything moving so that the flavors were well combined... and as soon as the cherry tomatoes skin began to pop open I knew that everything was cooked to perfection!

All I needed now was a hunk of crusty bread and a glass of wine! Of course, I am familiar with this kind of tangy, vinegary, herb-rich flavor, but you may not be... which is all the more reason for you to try it and find out! And trust me- if you like artichokes, you will love these and you won't regret it! 

No comments:

Post a Comment