So far on this blog we have seen many of the most common techniques in Italian cuisine for cooking vegetables, including in padella (lightly boiled and then sautéed in garlic and olive oil), fritti (deep-fried in a flour and egg batter), gratinati (baked in the oven with a topping of cheese with or without béchamel), in umido (stewed in tomato sauce), all’agro (boiled and dressed with lemon and olive oil) and as a purée. Here is a less common, but very delicious way of making vegetables (and other foods) called ‘in fricassea‘.
This technique has little to do with the fricassées you may have heard of. In Italian cooking the term fricassea refers to the addition of egg yolk and lemon, off heat, just before serving.
- 500g (1 lb) green beans, trimmed
- 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
- Olive oil
- 2 egg yolks
- Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon
- Salt and pepper
Boil the green beans until just slightly underdone and drain them well.
While the green beans are boiling, sweat some chopped onion in olive oil in a heavy pot or casserole and, when the beans are done, drain them and add them to the oil and onions. Mix well to coat the beans and cover the pot. Allow the beans to braise, turning them from time to time, until they are quite tender.
Just before serving, while the beans are still quite hot, take the pot off the heat and immediately add a mixture of egg yolk and lemon juice, seasoned with salt and pepper. Mix well, allowing the mixture to thicken using just the residual heat in the pot, until a creamy ‘sauce’ coats the beans well.
Serve your fagiolini in fricassea immediately.
Made this way, green beans make a great contorno, or side dish, especially for roasted or grilled lamb. They are hearty enough to also make for a fine light supper with some bread, followed by a piece of fruit.
Other vegetables can be made following the same technique shown here: cardoons, for example, are lovely made this way, as are artichokes, fennel, mushrooms, swiss chard stalks (called coste in Italian), peas… I’ve even come across a recipe for eggplant in fricassea, but I’m a little skeptical of that one.
Most recipes will call for more lemon juice than I have specified, usually the juice of a whole lemon for every 2 yolks, but personally I am not a big fan of harshly sour tastes. Suit yourself. One thing to avoid is using bottled lemon juice; it is much too acid and, unless you are very sparing, will ruin the dish.
But, in fact, the most common use for this technique is with meat, particularly lamb. Indeed, lamb and artichokes in fricassea is a classic spring dish. Italians also make chicken, rabbit and veal in fricassea. For meat fricasee, you proceed as for a French fricassee, browning the pieces of meat and then braising, before adding the egg-and-lemon mixture before serving. You can even take leftover lesso (boiled meat) and treat it as you would vegetables in fricassea.
Despite some hunting around, I have yet to discover the origins of this technique. A fricassea recipe (for veal, lamb or chicken) was featured in Artusi, but I am fairly sure that the technique is older than that. The egg-and-lemon is obviously reminiscent of Greek cooking, in particular the famed avgolemono, which can be used to thicken a stew just before serving, but whether this technique was imported from Greece, I cannot say.