Contorni.
Contorni are accompaniments that often appear on menus in Italy as ala carte side dishes.   They typically feature the freshest seasonal produce prepared in several different ways.  In Castellina in Chianti  we once ordered a vegetable platter as a contorni and were treated to zucchini prepared five different ways!  

I’m frequently asked about side dishes that I pair with some of the entrees I cook and so I thought it would be good to compile a few in one article. 

~ Here are three dishes working simultaneously:  Broccoli Rabe with Cannellini,  Braised Fennel, and the base for Peas with Onions & Prosciutto ~

Broccoli Rabe with cannellini beans was originally covered here,  so I’m not going to devote more space to that recipe within this article.  It’s a staple, and everyone should know how to make it.  It’s easy, healthy and delicious and you can vary the outcome by increasing or decreasing the garlic and pepperoncini to taste.  
Braised Fennel
2 heads fennel, fronds removed & reserved
1/2 vidalia onion
Salt & Pepper to taste
Extra Virgin Olive Oil 
Sambuca to taste  
Italian food is about simplicity.  It’s typically no more than 2 or 3 ingredients;  the freshest and best that you can buy, and treating those ingredients minimally so that they shine of their own accord.  This dish takes that axiom to heart.
Slice the fennel into long half moon pieces, about 1/4″ thick.  Do the same with the onion.  Begin sauteing in olive oil until they start to soften.  Lower the flame to medium and slowly saute until they caramelize.  This will take 15-20 minutes.  As they caramelize, the pan will brown slightly.  Just before serving, deglaze the pan with a splash or two of Sambuca.  Allow the alcohol to burn off and serve. Garnish with chopped fennel frond. 

~ This is the fennel and the onion at the start of the process ~


This dish is the perfect accompaniment to roasted pork or grilled pork chops.

~ At this point, these have about another 5 minutes to go.  You can see how much its shrunk down. Doing this with less than two heads isn’t worth the time. ~

Peas with Onions & Prosciutto

If you’ve ever been to Rao’s in New York City, you’ve likely had this dish.  It’s one of their signatures and it was my inspiration to do this at home.  

2 cups frozen peas
1/2 vidalia onion 
4 oz. prosciutto, small dice 
2/3 cup chicken stock
Salt & Pepper to taste
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Saute the onion and prosciutto in olive oil until the onions soften and the prosciutto begins to caramelize and render some of its fat – about 10 minutes.  Once the pan begins to brown,  deglaze with two thirds of the chicken stock, reserving the rest.

~ This is a good shot of the base for the peas.  I actually never photographed the finished dish ~

Once the stock reduces, after about 3-5 minutes over medium heat, add the peas and stir through.  Add the remaining chicken stock and stir until the peas warm through.  Serve immediately.  

~ Here you can see all three dishes essentially finished, although the peas have not been added to the pan yet.  These are all quick and easy to make and are all packed with flavor  ~

So, what to drink?   I have to say, if you added a loaf of crusty bread, you could make a meal using any or all of these Contorni.  We had grilled a simple pork tenderloin to serve along with the braised fennel and so we pulled a Sangiovese based IGT from Fiesole, near Florence.  The 2009 Bibi Graetz Soffocone has well established lore.  I’ve written on it before, but in checking in now, this bottle seems to be in an awkward state.  It’s a pretty color and on the nose has nice aromas of flowers, newly turned earth and crushed red fruits.  I didn’t get a sense of the old vine nature of the wine during this tasting.  On the palate, the wine is much lighter bodied than I remember.  Good flavors of berry, spice and fennel seed, but not a lot of persistence.  Have quite a few bottles left and will let them age a few more years.  I’ve a feeling this is in a “dumb” stage right now.  Hold them.  88 points.  About $31.

~ There will always be time for Soffocone! ~

Tutti a tavola!

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