all mixed

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‘Eat your greens’ is something I’ve never needed to be told (cajoled or forced) to do. As a child I happily ploughed my way through large servings of cabbage, brussels sprouts, spinach, spring greens, chard and broccoli. If they were glistening with butter, all the better. I was one of the few who ate the ambiguous heap of so-called greens whose odor lingered (like us) in corners and corridors around the school and appeared on every school lunch plate. ‘What a good little eater‘ relatives and dinner ladies would say. Which confused me, surely they meant what a good big eater? Later I would become a bad little eater, which relatives and dinner ladies had lots to say about, mostly in hushed tones with rolling eyes; bad, sad, spoilt, neglected, attention seeking, perfectionist, pain in the bloody neck. But even during those years, when I had a reputation of restriction to uphold (I was the only one interested in this reputation) I ate my greens.

Lately we have been eating something called misticanza, a mix of leaves and greens prepared by my fruttivendolo Gianluca that is somewhere between delicious and effort. I will come back to this. Now traditionally misticanza, which means a mixture of things, is assortment of leaves, field herbs and aromatic shoots collected at the first signs of spring from the fields surrounding Rome and eaten as a salad. Gillian Riley reminds us this habit of collecting wild plants is a holdover from the days when the poor, unable to afford a doctor, were cared for by countrywomen and their collections of wild plants possessing medicinal qualities.

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Far from seeming medicinal, true misticanza, which often includes young borage, sorrel, wild chicory, dandelion, salad burnet and poppy greens is a flavoursome delight, sweet and bitter, mostly tender but occasionally robust and just a little hairy. Which far from being unattractive means it’s full of character and delicious, at least I think so (I feel much the same about several other things.) You could of course opt for a smoother, more clean-shaven misticanza, the gathering is up to you, whether it be in your garden, field, or in my case local market.

These days in Rome the term misticanza is also used for an assortment of wild and cultivated greens  that need to be boiled in order to be edible. The quality of the misticanza depends on the source. Kind and reliable Gianluca often has a opinionated mix of properly hairy, slightly prickly borage, sweet escarole and chard, dandelion, wild chicory and a woody green that I still don’t know the name of. Having plunged the well-washed rabble into a pan of well-salted fast boiling water for a few minutes, you then drain it and saute it in plenty of garlic scented extra virgin olive oil.

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Normally I eat this more substantial misticanza just so, I adore the deep-green engaging substance of it, a textured, oily tangle scented with garlic. In fact I often sport a tuft of chicory between my front teeth all afternoon to prove it.  Yesterday however, having bought a slice of pure white,  properly fresh ricotta di pecora from my norcineria, we ate the misticanza with pasta.

This dish is a nice illustration of three things I have learned since living in Italy. The first, is insaporire, to give flavor, which I have written about before. By cooking the peeled and gently crushed garlic in olive oil over a low flame until fragrant and just turning gold the olive oil is given the sweet and savory flavour of the garlic. The garlic is then removed. The second is ripassare, to re-cook, on this occasion the boiled, drained misticanza in the garlic scented olive oil so the soft, rag-like greens can absorb the olive oil hungrily. The third, is using a little of the pasta cooking water, cloudy and slightly thick with starch, to thin the ricotta, parmesan and black pepper mixture thus making a cream which coats and then brings the ingredients together into a soft but substantial and unified whole. Eat your white and greens…not that you need telling.

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Rigatoni with ricotta and greens

You can of course use whatever greens you like. I like the combination of sweet and bitter greens and the different textures they offer. You know your greens I’m sure. Keep in mind the greens are boiled,  so quite substantial leafy ones work well. Keep very tender, delicate greens and leaves for salad.

serves 4

  • 300 g mixed greens (borage, escarole, radish leaves, chicory, spinach, chard, rocket. sorrel, chervil)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • 300 g ricotta (ideally sheep’s milk)
  • 40 g freshly grated parmesan
  • black pepper
  • 450 g rigatoni

Wash the greens thoroughly and then boil them for a few minutes in a large pan of well-salted boiling water. Use tongs to remove the greens from the pan into a colander. Keep the water for the pasta.

In a large warm bowl (I run mine under the hot tap and then dry it) mash the ricotta with the parmesan, plenty of black pepper and a couple of spoonfuls of the (slightly green) cooking water then beat it into a soft cream.

Bring the water back to a fast boil and add the pasta. Squeeze all the water from the greens and then chop them coarsely

Meanwhile in a frying pan over a low flame, saute the garlic – you have peeled and gently crushed with the back of a knife – in the olive oil until it is just turning golden and fragrant. Remove the garlic. Add the chopped greens and cook for a few minutes, stirring so each leaf is coated with oil. Remove the pan from the heat.

Once the pasta is al dente, drain, reserving a cupful of the pasta cooking water and then tip it onto the ricotta, add the greens and then toss the ingredients together thoroughly, adding a splash more of the reserved cooking water if the mixture seems stiff. Serve.

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50 Comments

Filed under cucina romana, Eating In Testaccio, food, pasta and rice, rachel eats Rome, Rachel's Diary, recipes, ricotta, vegetables

50 responses to “all mixed

  1. Delightful. Exactly what I want to eat right now. In the Valle d’Iria, our misticanza includes cicorielle, corinoli, grespino and ortica, all of which grow spontaneously around here. And the medicinal greens are even more profuse–it is wonderful to meet someone who can identify them and share their uses. I am hopeless at this, but trying to improve my bent-over walking skills.

    • rachel

      I am so looking forward to a day misticanza picking with you( and a wise guide) when I come to visit (which I will, hopefully this year) xx

  2. Hi Rach, what a delicious wintry mix of greens, tempered with ricotta and pasta water. Hope all is going well with the book—I appreciate those writerly not-writing moments. That seemingly blank time spent staring at the screen is often when the best words and ideas come forth.

    • rachel

      I trust you Nancy knowing you have just done it all, the writing and the non writing and the the finishing a book….I am so sorry not to be more in touch coming over….xxx

  3. Same here, never needed to be convinced to eat my greens, quite the opposite, people are often surprised at the amount of greens I can eat in only one meal :) never a day without or I get really grumpy.
    I found mixed salad bags made by my favourite organic farmer at the Sunday farmers’ market – love them. Never thought to make pasta with it though – oh those rigatoni look so so good!

  4. We had a bit of a thaw here over the last few days, and with the snow gone I was actually able to gather a little misticanza of garlic mustard, wild garlic, ground ivy, and nettles. Such joy.

    • rachel

      Sounds bloody perfect…I hope you took a picture of the salad in a lovely bowl balanced on a napkin with some twine loosely unreeled nearby

  5. Well this is just about perfect. i read somewhere once that many of the old old greens are becoming extinct because of the tastes of modern day lending itself to the smooth and sweet. Which is contributing to declining health of the masses because these bitter greens and the cleansing greens. When i talk to the old women here (US) they tell of their grandmothers gathering greens from the fields and lawns and gardens in early spring, the first ones to pop up and boiling them to eat. To rid the body of the badness that had built up over a winter in the cold dark. All makes perfect sense really.. This is a lovely method, no greens here yet though, still a frozen tundra, but I shall study this and make notes for when our dandelions start to pop up.. c

    • rachel

      Once your frozen Tundra melts (tundra – what a wonderful word) I look forward to hearing about your greens. It is a gastronomic tragedy that we are loosing our rough, hairy, cleansing and medicinal herbs….Your comment makes me want to talk more, learn more and pick more before it is too late

  6. oops “these bitter greens ARE the cleansing greens”.. c

  7. Cleaned tonnes of this stuff at the American Academy. Mamma mia – hard work when it had come straight from rainy muddy wet fields and hillsides.
    There’s a great scene in the film La Ciociara / Two Women (1960), with Sophia Loren and loads of mountain contadini picking their way across a hillside gathering wild greens to supplement their wartime diet. I assume they’re gathering misticanza.

  8. Lovely recipe and story, Rachel. It’s difficult for me to imagine you as a sullen, “restrictive” teenager, but who knows what demons inhabit us (or our parents) during our adolescent years. Thank God most of them end up exorcised when we grow a bit older. On another note, I’m jealous of your access to Gianluca, who not only sells misticanza, but has seems to have very decided opinion about what it should contain. Ken

  9. Mmmm. I’m a greens person too, and hadn’t come across misticanza whilst in Italy. I shall go and look for my own on walks near here….

  10. Great post. I love greens done this way. Usually it’s chard, Cime di Rapa, rocket etc. Thanks for the reminder and idea to use ricotta for a pasta sauce.

    • rachel

      I always forget about ricotta as a sauce…or did..these days we have beeb eating kilo’s of it with every conceivable veg….it’s wonderful stuff

  11. Wish I were in Rome for that fantastic spring time! But your post almost makes me smell it! Thanks!

  12. I love the way you write about food — just beautiful and enticing. So glad we have a book to look forward to!

  13. I read a lot of food blogs, but yours stands out as the one whose every entry is perfect, or at least perfect for me. Every recipe is exactly what I want to eat, your writing always makes me smile, and the photography strikes just the right mood. Now, after all this talk of perfection I realize I have no greens and no time for shopping tonight, but I am inspired to try this with the nice mushrooms I bought yesterday. I love using ricotta with pasta. I’m always forgetting, but thankfully you are here to remind me!

    • rachel

      I am so happy and very lucky I think to have such great readers…thank you very much – really. Yes, me too, and then I remember and eat ricotta with everything…

  14. Eha

    i hope everyone reads, tries to understand and follow to the best of their ability!! Absolutely love Celi’s post about ridding the body ‘of badness’ – well, I am by no means always ‘good’ but I do regularly try no to . . .t

  15. Great story, love the combination of ricotta and greens. Simple and beautiful!

  16. Another fantastic dish… I suspect it would be hard to get a good mix of the greens here in Sydney without a bit of hunting, but an Italian friend makes a dish that, from its taste, I think is pretty much identical. Will have to snaffle the recipe from him and see what he puts in!

  17. laura

    What a great idea! I have always eaten “misticanza” as a salad, though I enjoy sautéed “raperonzoli” and also radish leaves in a light frittata.
    There’s still one place in the Mercato Centrale here where I can find wild herbs and I love it. And I always end up with a bit of green in my teeth – something I thought marriage would take care of (i.e. having someone willing to notice and tell me!). Still, I green on. And I also love salvastrella when I get it … “l’insalata non è bella se non c’è la salvastrella”!

  18. I just love how you describe the humblest of dishes to make it sound like an incredibly luxurious meal, fit for a king (which it is in my opinion!)…

  19. Why do I feel I have eaten this? Because you write in such a vivid and neighbourly way I feel sated and full. Such a gorgeous recipe and perfect photos. Beautiful. Sophie x

  20. wow che buona questa pasta! e la misticanza di Gianluca e’ perfetta! I love greens, too, and the combo you described sounds fantastic.

  21. I love this simple dish! Especially cooking the pasta in the reserved water, what an excellent flavour enhancement. Great photos x

  22. This is my idea of absolute heaven, I could eat greens endlessly and ricotta is the perfect creamy foil. Love.

  23. I must complain. This is terribly unfair of you. Are you seriously getting wild greens foraged from around Rome already? We have nine inches of horrid, bitter snow on the ground and this morning the temperature at 7am was minus 5C – in our kitchen. Outside it was minus 16. No spring of any kind any time soon.

    • rachel

      Most of these were cultivated but yes some are wild and sprouting through. Feels decidedly unspringlike today though, that along with an ill toddler – fun.

  24. I think you would have liked the greens we ate on Milos – it was just on the menu as boiled seasonal greens and that’s what they were. Room temperature boiled greens with olive oil and lemons to squeeze over the top. We devoured them.

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