Spaghetti with Barba di Frate

Beautiful spring weather means a new crop of spring veggies, including something I thought looked like seaweed at our local market. Its shape resembles a thick chive, but looks more like a succulent plant that might even grow under water. When I asked about it, the store clerk told me it tasted like spinach and is often served with pasta.

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Back at home, I searched for more information about this mystery vegetable. For starters, I found out it’s known by many names. At my local Suisse romande market, the sign for it was labeled with one of at least three Italian names: barba di frate.

Name Language
salsola soda Latin
barba di frate, agretti, roscano Italian
saltwort, barilla English
barbe de moine French
mönchsbart German

The barba di frate I bought came from Italy. It’s typically found in salty, coastal areas of Southern Europe, such as along the Mediterranean Sea. If you want to grow it yourself, you don’t need to be in Italy though; it looks like you can buy seeds from various online sources.

Besides eating barba di frate as a vegetable, people once used this plant to make “impure” sodium carbonate (barilla) for soap and glass, for example. In terms of taste, I think it does have a mild, but somewhat salty flavor that certainly reminds me of eating seaweed.

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Everything I read about this springtime delicacy said to serve it with lemon and olive oil. With this in mind, I immediately thought of a recent favorite recipe from the Food Allergy Mama, “Spaghetti with Garlic Oil.” Using this recipe as a guide, I incorporated barba di frate into an easy weekday supper. If you can’t find it though, you could substitute another quick-cooking green like spinach.

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Spaghetti with Barba di Frate

16 oz./450 grams spaghetti
1 bunch of barba di frate, trimmed and rinsed (or a couple handfuls of baby spinach)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 lemon, freshly squeezed juice from one half and zest from the whole thing
kosher salt and pepper, to taste

Cook pasta in boiling water, as instructed on the package. During the last 2 minutes or so of cooking, put the barba di frate in the boiling water with the pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, simmer the garlic in the olive oil over low-to-medium heat for at least 5-7 minutes. The garlic can lightly brown a bit, but just don’t let it get dark brown or burn.

When the pasta and barba di frate is finished cooking, drain it in a colander and place it in a large bowl. Toss it with the warmed olive oil and garlic mixture, the lemon juice and zest and salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

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While spring has arrived to Switzerland, along with lots of new fresh produce to discover, I’ve heard rumors of snow this weekend… We’ll enjoy the beautiful weather again today, while we can. I hope spring flowers, like the daffodils below, are blooming (or will be blooming soon) wherever you are.

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If you’re looking for more recipes, Swiss travel info and other food allergy news from Dairy-Free Switzerland, you can follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. Thanks for your continued support. Bon week-end!

Courge, Chanterelles and Gnocchi

‘Tis the season for pumpkins, so we rented a car and visited our local Swiss pumpkin patch last weekend. I needed a pumpkin for a recipe I wanted to try: “Gnocchi a la courge aux chanterelles.” Plus, we thought the boys would enjoy it too—especially when we realized there was a big Halloween display with dancing witches, dangling spiders and a steaming cauldron.

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Along with the Halloween decorations, the place we went to in Gampelen has hundreds of varieties of “courge” (French for “squash”). For my gnocchi, I selected a reddish orange “Potimarron.” Also known as the “Hoikkaido” squash, the Potimarron apparently has a slight chestnut flavor—hence the “marron” in its name.

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For the chanterelles, I went to our local farmers’ market. On Saturdays, one of the vendors has huge piles of the beautiful golden mushrooms. I love them, but my boys generally avoid mushrooms—unless they’re finely chopped or wrapped in pastry, like the empanadas I made last year.

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I had never tried making gnocchi before, but the recipe’s combination of pumpkin and chanterelles sounded so nice. Plus, I had recently come across another easy gnocchi recipe sans eggs, so I knew it could be possible. For my version, I used a flax meal mixture instead of the egg (1 tablespoon flax meal and 3 tablespoons water). I substituted dairy-free margarine for the butter, but I really missed the flavor. To compensate for the missing butter, I add a little more salt and lots of freshly chopped tarragon.

The boys and I had fun making the pasta pillows, but it certainly took some time. My 6-year old made his own batch. My 2-year old got a chunk of dough to play with, which ended up stuck all over his hands like paste. Going forward, I’ll make gnocchi maybe once every couple months. It’s just too much work to do it more often than that (at least for me!).

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For a quick after-school lunch the next day, I added the leftover gnocchi—along with finely chopped spinach and brown mushrooms—to some jarred tomato sauce. This seemed to win over both boys (although less so for the 2-year old), so I will definitely try this again with a little sausage or prosciutto thrown in.

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I still have lots of “potimarron” to use up, so I need to make some soup! Or a Bundt cake… Bon week-end, everyone.

Lazy Sunday Spaghetti and Meatballs

We had another lazy Sunday at our home yesterday, and I made spaghetti and meatballs for lunch. There’s an Italian restaurant in our building, but all their pasta contains eggs. I always want to stop in and pick up some cheesy ravioli. It would be so convenient and delicious, but instead, we enjoy allergy-friendly pasta at home. It’s easier, safer and cheaper. Plus, our food-allergic son is 19-months old, so we couldn’t linger over lunch anyway. Mealtime is usually quick and dirty—food all over the table, floor, etc.

My egg and dairy-free meatball recipe below is not fancy. It’s for every day. You can use them right away or throw them in the freezer. I sautéed about 3 cups of spinach with a tablespoon of olive oil, added 3 jars of prepared Barilla pasta sauce (400 grams each) and tossed in the meatballs. Then, I served it over a bowl of spaghetti from Coop, and everyone was happy.

DSC07240The ingredients. Prepared pasta sauce saves time.


Baked Egg/Dairy-Free Meatballs

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I adapted this recipe from my favorite Betty Crocker cookbook, using flax meal with water instead of egg. I’m interested in hearing what others use as a substitution for eggs. For the bread crumbs, I grated some leftover and very dry bread.

(dairy/egg/nut-free)

About 1/2 kilogram or 1 lb. of ground beef
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs or panko
1/4 cup rice milk
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 small onion (1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon flax meal mixed with 3 tablespoons water; let set for a few minutes

1. Heat oven to 200°C/400°F. Mix all ingredients together; I recommend using your hands. Form into 20 meatballs.

2. Place on an ungreased pan. Bake uncovered for about 20-25 minutes.

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An Afternoon Walk

After lunch, like we do on most Sundays, we took a family walk—or what our lovely Swiss neighbors refer to as a “promenade.” Nearly everything is closed, as I’ve mentioned many times before, so we head out to a local playground with the boys or find a hiking trail in the mountains. According to Newly Swissed, hiking is Switzerland’s “real national sport.”

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We packed along some water and snacks, and yesterday’s excursion included homemade cookies. I just adapted my favorite Snickerdoodle recipe, replacing the eggs with a flax meal and water mixture. Next time, I’ll try making these: Chai Spice Snickerdoodles from Post Punk Kitchen.

Hope you all had a great weekend. We’re heading back to the allergist this week and keeping our fingers crossed for some more good news…