Summer Discoveries: Cicely Straws, New Greens and…Fries with Eyes?

Though I love to travel to faraway locations as much as anyone, I don't have to go far from home to make some (potentially life-changing) discoveries. We're only a little over a month into the summer—in the Pacific Northwest the good weather can extend well into September or October—and it's been a banner season so far for eye-opening experiences.

Along with making my own infused vinegar and oil from the spiky pink pompoms in my chive patch, I've had three other new-to-me revelations.

Cicely straws at the farmers' market!

While I was planning a week-long sojourn in a cabin on Mt. Hood, I heard that the Hoodland Farmers Market in Welches had launched its first season and would be open during our stay. Being the farmers' market obsessive that I am, it was immediately put on our schedule. The day after we arrived, I had picked up a few greens to tide us over for the week when a small pile of green stick-like bundles caught my eye.

A hand-lettered sign said "Sweet Cicely Straws 10¢," so I asked the tall bearded fellow standing behind the table what they were like. He said they had a mild, slightly sweet flavor and that they'd be good with light sodas, but when he mentioned he preferred them with gin and tonics, I was sold. A little research revealed that cicely is related to anise, fennel and caraway—it's sometimes used to flavor akvavit—and that the leaves, seeds and roots are all edible.

In the interest of science, on our return to the cabin we immediately tested them with gin and tonics, served al fresco by the river, and while the flavor was subtle, indeed, they were a perfect (and perfectly local), functional garnish.


Confession time: My name is Kathleen and I have a greens problem.

There. I said it. I can't pass by a pile of leafy vegetation at a market without stopping and admiring the fluorescent light green, dark green or medium green hue, caressing a leaf to find out whether it's thick and substantial or soft and ephemeral. I imagine what it would be like to cook with (or not), whether to steam, chop, chiffonade or leave it whole, what preparation would bring out its best flavor.

Like I said, a problem.

So, of course, when Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce mentioned in passing that he'd just received some sweet potato greens from Groundwork Organics north of Eugene, it was all I could do not to grab him by the lapels—Josh with lapels is an odd image, but an apt metaphor for my mania—and insist he give me some right away.

But I held myself in check, picked up a bunch (well, two) and brought them home. Fairly substantial, the deep forest green leaves seemed like they would hold up to a quick stir-fry, so I threw them into a hot pan already heaped with sautéed spring onions and green garlic, spritzed them with tiny bit of chive vinegar and served them alongside rotisserie chicken.=

So, you might ask, am I going to try to free myself of this greens obsession? Um…no…not anytime soon, as a matter of fact.


It started with a dinner on the garden-like patio at Burrasca with owners Elizabeth Petrosian and Chef Paolo Calamai. Elizabeth had posted photos of their Tuscan artichoke dishes made with organic purple Italian artichokes, grown by Tom and Patreece DeNoble of DeNoble Farms, which included a salad of raw shaved baby artichokes, tiny and tender fried baby artichokes and a creamy, delicate artichoke sformato.

Tiny, tender and delicious.

Another dish on the menu was frittura con gli occhi, amusingly translated as "fries with eyes," which was, to me, an irresistible must-have, not only because of the name but it also being fresh West Coast anchovies simply breaded and fried whole. (Yes, whole, as in heads on.) Tiny, crispy and tasting of the sea, I was entranced.

So it was fortuitous when, the very next day, I stopped by Flying Fish, Lyf Gildersleeve's outpost for sustainably sourced fish, and what should be in the fresh case but some of those very same fresh anchovies. I bought a pound and brought them home, breading half of them in a flour, salt, pepper and pimenton mixture and the other half in a panko, salt and pepper mix.

Over the fire.

Frying them in olive oil on a cast iron skillet on the grill, the flour breading coated them more completely and gave the little fish some extra crunch, while the panko was a bit scanty and not as crispy. But oh so fun and so delicious! (Plus I got to say "frittura con gli occhi" several times that evening.)

Ciaffagnoni: Delicate Crepes from Tuscan Cowboy Country

Elizabeth Petrosian, co-owner of Portland's (tiny) palace of Florentine cuisine, Burrasca, is a fabulous writer, and when I asked if she'd share their Portland Dining Month recipe for ciaffagnoni—one of three courses for $33 during the month of March—she agreed, and then offered to write the whole post. I was thrilled! Get their full Dining Month menu.

Italy isn't really a country; it's a patchwork of regions held together by a common respect for carbohydrates. But more than this, Italy is a tight, often rivalrous amalgamation of micro-regions. Take Tuscany, for example (my adopted home for 12 years). There's the postcard Tuscany you're all familiar with: the burnished gold, cypress-dotted mounds of the Val d'Orcia; the undulating hills of vineyard-strewn Chianti; the smug stones of Florence and the empty-headed starlet that is Cortona. With a land area of just under 9,000 square miles—about the same size as New Jersey—it's a remarkable solar system of mico-regional planets, each spinning in its own gastronomical orbit, all revolving around one Tuscan culinary sun.

There's the taciturn Mugello, peppered with ochre-colored Medici hunting villas, with its neighbor Emilia-Romagna sitting just over the spine of the Appenine mountains and casting its long glance over the local cuisine; the heavily forested, chestnut-loving Casentino; the rugged Lunigiana, playing mountain-bred, culinary Romeo to next-door Ligurian Juliet; there's the impossibly lovely Etruscan coast, with many of its gastronomic tradtions—as is to be expected—rooted in antiquity. Then there's the Maremma.

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An appetizer, a simple folded crepe (top) or a hearty main course (left), ciaffagnoni are infinitly flexible.

The Maremma is Tuscany's Wild West: a no-nonsense-talking, game meat-loving region of rustic beauty known for longhorn cattle, butteri (Maremman cowboys), hunters, and winemakers who know how to wrangle grapes in iron-rich soil kissed by Tyrrhenian sea breezes. It's the place to eat cinghiale (wild boar), either stewed with mele cotogna (quince) or with small black local olives and red wine. With its rolling hillsides and pastureland, it's also the place where fresh, deeply flavored sheep's cheese is a common ingredient.

If you're lucky enough to find your way to the small hill town of Manciano in the Maremma, you can eat tortelli mancianesi and be much an improved person for having eaten them. Every part of Tuscany has its version of tortelli, but in Manciano they exalt the excellent local sheep's ricotta in a filling along with spinach and a touch of cinnamon, dressing the pasta with fine local Chianina beef ragù. Likewise, sheep's cheese stars in another specialty of tiny Manciano: ciaffagnoni. These are savory crepes traditionally adorned with ricotta or pecorino. Leafy greens or even a bit of fruit are often added, as in this version we're currently serving at Burrasca all March long as part of our Portland Dining Month menu: the crepes are filled with ricotta and diced pear, along with a whisper of nutmeg and cinnamon, then folded into fagottini and topped with a sauce of pecorino toscano, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with chili and black pepper.

Contrary to what you might believe, crepes, or crespelle—a gift from Catherine de' Medici to France—are as Italian as Vespas, four-hour lunches, and crippling bureaucracy. Legend has it that they were willed into being as pilgrim-fodder by Pope Gelasius I in the late 400s, an early example of peninsular ingenuity when it comes to paltry ingredients. Regardless of origins, Manciano has a way with crepes that is, well, celestial.

As mentioned, ciaffagnoni lend themselves to a variety of fillings; we've also served them filled with ricotta and Swiss chard, topped with a bit of béchamel and truffled pecorino toscano, and served over tropea onions in dolceforte and oven-dried tomato. They make lovely appetizers. Use your imagination!

Ciaffagnoni with Ricotta Filling and Pecorino Sauce

Ingredients to make about 2 dozen crepes.

For the crepes:
4 eggs
1 c. (150g) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 c. (300 ml) warm water
Pinch of salt

For the filling:
1 c. (250g) fresh ricotta
1 c. (250g) ricotta salata (or you can use all fresh ricotta if you prefer)
2 whole eggs, plus 2 yolks
1/2 c. (60g) grated parmigiano-reggiano
1 D'Anjou pear, diced small
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
A bit of salt and black pepper

For the sauce:
1/2 c. (100g) fresh young (not aged) pecorino, diced—Tuscan preferred but we won't hold it against you if you go rogue
3/4 c. (80g) grated parmigiano-reggiano
3 tsp. (10g) corn starch
1 3/4 c. (400 ml) whole milk
3 eggs

Additional ingredients:
Honey, red chili pepper, black pepper

The crepe batter has to rest for a half hour, so you can get the filling and sauce ready in that time. You'll need a 6" or 7" non-stick pan to make the crepes.

To make the crepes: Whisk the eggs, add warm water little by little, then add flour little by little. Add salt and whisk until smooth. There should be no lumps. Let batter rest for a half hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Over medium heat, warm your pan and grease it lightly with olive oil or butter. Ladle in just enough batter to cover the pan surface—don't make it thick; the crepes should come out very thin. When it begins to bubble and detaches from the pan, flip it; it should have a light golden-brown color. Cook other side until lightly colored. Make sure to leave them moist, not crisp, otherwise they'll crack! Set aside.

Prepare the filling: Simply mix all the filling ingredients well.

Prepare the sauce: Put the sauce ingredients into a bowl and blend with an immersion blender. Then, in a small pot on the stove, bring to 170 degrees, stirring constantly, and remove immediately once the temperature is reached.

Assembly: Take a crepe and lay it flat. Place some of the filling (don't put too much or overstuff it) on 1/4 of the crepe and then fold the crepe over it into a half circle. Then fold it over again into a triangle (one-fourth of the original shape). Once you've folded all your crepes, place as many as you can onto an oven sheet pan and bake for 4 to 5 minutes. They'll crisp a bit at the edges.

Drizzle the finished crepes with the pecorino sauce, some honey, and  a tiny bit of red chili pepper if you like a bit of a kick, and/or a bit of freshly cracked black pepper.