The Italian Larder
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Nasello – See Fish: Hake
Needlefish, agujon – See Fish: Needlefish, agujon
Nettles (Ortica) (Urtica dioica)
Nettles are a wild green leafy vegetable which has a sweet taste. Nettles have hairs which sting and need to be cooked to destroy the stinging sensation. Young nettle shoots are in season in the spring and autumn.
Buy: Look for nettles which have tender, young tips and oblong slightly triangular-shaped leaves which are unblemished. Nettles should be no longer than finger length otherwise they become tough and unpalatably bitter.
Store: Nettles are best eaten the day they are picked but can be stored dry in a plastic bag in a drawer in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.
Prepare: Only the tops of the nettle are eaten. When preparing nettles, wear gloves to protect hands from the stinging hairs and snip the tips and tender leaves off and rinse with cold water.
Eat: Eaten as a vegetable or in soups, risottos, stuffed pastas, savoury pies, fresh pasta (pasta aromatizzata), and omelettes (frittata di ortiche).
Nocellaria del Belice DOP – See Olive
Nocciola – See Hazelnut
Norway lobster – See Lobster
Nutella / Hazelnut chocolate spread / Chocolate fondant (Crema Gianduia / Crema Gianduja)
Chocolate fondant is chocolate mixed with other ingredients like vanilla, milk powder, nuts, fruit, etc. Gianduia is a chocolate fondant mixed with toasted hazelnuts and vanilla invented in Torino in 1852.
Hazelnut chocolate spread was first made in Piemonte in the 18th century. The name “gianduia” is a contraction of the name of a carnival mask, “Gioan d’la duja”, meaning “John of the Flagon”.
Buy: Nutella is a spread made from cocoa, skim milk, and hazelnuts industrially produced by Ferrero. As it is industrially produced, the nutritive properties and flavour are inferior to products which are artisanally produced (called Gianduia/Gianduja), particularly as they use palm oil. This spread can also be made at home with superior results.
To make: Toast hazelnuts and grind to a paste with sugar. Melt dark chocolate and mix with milk. Mix the chocolate mixture and the hazelnut mixture together.
Store: It should be kept in a dark, dry place at room temperature with the top firmly closed. Do not place Nutella in the refrigerator or it hardens. If it becomes too hot the oil may separate and the freshness of the product lost.
Prepare: No preparation is necessary.
Eat: It is eaten on toasted bread, biscuits, in or on cakes (torta gianduia), and made into ice cream (gelato di Nutella).
Nutmeg (Noce moscata) (Myristica fragrans)
Equivalents: 1 medium whole nutmeg = 10 grams = 2-3 teaspoons ground nutmeg
Nutmeg is a spice which comes from the fruit of a tropical plant which grows in the West Indies, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The bright outer coating of the fruit is dried and called “mace” (macis) and the interior round ball is dried and called “nutmeg”.
Buy: Nutmeg is a light brown coloured oblong ball, 2 to 3 cm in diameter. Do not buy powdered nutmeg as its aromatic oils are volatile and dissipate quickly after being ground. Nutmeg is relatively expensive in contrast to other spices but typically only a little is used at a time so buy in small quantities.
Store: Store sealed, in a cool, dark, dry place. It can be kept for several months to a few years. If once grated, the nutmeg has no flavour or scent, it needs to be replaced.
Prepare: Nutmeg can be grated on a nutmeg grater, rasp grater, or with a fine microplane. Only a little is needed at a time as the flavour is quite pronounced.
Eat: It is used in cured meats and sausages (cotecchino, zampone Modena). It is used to flavour cakes, biscuits, sauces (besciamella), flans (sformato), stewed meats (stufato), fish soups, pastas (tortellini, anolini, passatelli, ravioli), stuffings, and poached fruit. Nutmeg pairs well with spinach, potatoes, cinnamon, cloves, mushrooms, apples, and pears.