I spent the weekend at my grandparents’ house.
It had been over 2 years since I had been there. Not because I don’t love them, or they live interstate, life just seemed to get in the way.
When I saw their faces, I was flooded by a wave of shame. I couldn’t believe I had pushed them so far down the priority list!
They are Italian, and are now quite old. My Nonna Berina speaks no english, even after living here for 55 years, and my Nonno Mario speaks only a little. They are typical Italian migrants, in that they have tiles throughout the entire house, there is plastic covering all the furniture, and they still grow a lot of their own food. Though one drastic thing had changed since my last visit – Mario now does all the cooking, since Berina had fallen ill.
It was quite intriguing to see him in the kitchen. He was actually rather comfortable there, which I found very unusual. You see, it is their culture for the husband to go out and ‘work’, while the wife stays home to cook and clean. If times were tough, and the wife was also required to go out and earn a living, it is still her duty to take care of all the home duties – including all the meals. So I really was not used to seeing him pottering about in there.
I will be honest, him and I have never been particularly close. He was a hard man, and not someone who I’d ever found very approachable. Now that he is quite old, his demeanour has softened greatly. I watched him tend to the pots and pans in the kitchenette, and couldn’t help but wonder where he had gotten the recipe from?
I was rather curious.
When I asked, his grin grew wide and his eyes even twinkled a little with nostalgia.
He shared a lovely little childhood memory with me, in the weird broken Italian-English language we use with each other.
When he was a small boy, during the depression in the early 30’s, he was always hanging around the kitchen, looking for a scrap to eat. They were a poor family, with 6 children. He can still recall times when they wouldn’t eat for several days. He remembers the pain of hunger in his stomach, and the many tears shed by his mother who couldn’t feed her children.
His father grew fruit and vegetables for a living. They had a donkey with a cart, which they would load up with food to take into the village to sell. What they were unable to sell, the food that returned home, was what the family had to eat. This, the overgrown zucchini from the garden, and verdura.
Verdura is an Italian word, which is basically a blanket term for dark leafy vegetable greens. Silverbeet, kale, chicory, rocket, dandelion, spinach, beet tops, plus many more edible leaves and weeds I do not know the name of. Verdura was a staple in their household, and all the children hated it – even though they were starving! Oh no, not verdura again, they would complain. His mother would stew the greens in tomato passata, or if they didn’t have any, just fry them with a little garlic and olive oil and stir them through fresh orecchiette pasta (this, being the pasta shape of their region). His mother, and the other women of the family would spend 2 days or more making batches of fresh pasta. He told me about the special technique his mother had to roll out the pasta shape, he was smiling as he reminisced.
The meal he prepared for us was one of the many variations of verdura he remembers his mother making. While he continued to prepare our meal, I tried to explain to him that kale and dandelion are in fashion now. He was rather astonished.
I cannot begin to convey how much I enjoyed listening to his story. To connect with him, for probably the first time in my life. He showed me how to prepare the meal – a gift worth so much to me, and one I will keep forever.
Even when eating your greens is no longer on trend.
As I couldn’t bear to eat another bowl of pasta, I decided the next best thing would be to slather those greens on a pizza base.
It was a stroke of genius!
You can use any green leaves you like, or a mixture if you prefer. This recipe makes 3 medium-sized pizzas, you can double it quite easily. I did, and placed prepared balls of pizza dough in my freezer.
adapted from Jamie Oliver
– 500g white flour (preferably ’00’ if you can)
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 7g satchel of dried yeast
– 1/2 Tbsp sugar
– 2 Tbsp olive oil
– 325ml lukewarm water
– bunch of kale, stem and ribs removed, and finely shredded
– big glug of olive oil
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– pinch of salt
– 100g Taleggio cheese,
– handful grated pecorino
– juice of a lemon or 2, for serving
To make the pizza dough, place water, olive oil, sugar and yeast into a jug and leave to sit for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, place the flour and salt into the mixing bowl of your bench top mixer and make a well in the centre. If you do not have a mixer and need to make the dough by hand, click on Jamie Oliver’s link for your instructions.
When the yeast mixture is foamy, pour it into the well and knead on the lowest speed with your dough hook attachment.
When smooth and elastic, after a few of minutes, place a damp cloth over the top and leave to rise is warm place for about 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.
While you are waiting for the dough you can prepare your toppings.
Place your shredded kale, or which ever greens you are using, in a large pan with a very generous glug of olive oil. Saute gently and add a few pinches of good quality sea salt. After a minute or 2, add the minced garlic and stir to combine. Fry gently for another minute them remove from heat.
Heat your oven to 220 degrees C.
When the dough is ready, remove from the bowl and divide into equal portions. At this point you can wrap and freeze/refrigerate what you’re not going to use.
Roll out the rounds on a lightly floured surface until you have reached desired thinness.
Spread the greens equally between all the pizza bases and dot over the taleggio cheese. Finish sprinkling on some grated pecorino and place in a hot oven to bake – I did mine for about 10 minutes but every oven will vary, so keep an eye on it.
When golden, remove from oven, squeeze over some fresh lemon juice and maybe even a drizzle of olive oil.