Category Archives: Fruit

VINCOTTO – its uses and is it another fad?

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Do not assume that as an Italian I use Vincotto. I knew about grape “must” but not Vincotto and I wonder if Italians in Italy are using it and promoting it as widely as it seems to be in Australia.

You may have noticed bottles of Vincotto are appearing in gourmet delicatessens and Italian produce stores. Like Balsamic vinegar took over Australian produce stores a few years ago or Verjuice, Vincotto seems to be the new secret ingredient.

Literally translated it means “cooked wine” – and I am not talking about what my father used to make for me when I had a cold, boiled red wine with spices served hot. We called it vin brulé (Italian term for mulled wine).

The popular brand for Vincotto seems to be manufactured by a Gianni Calogiuri. It claims to be an ancient traditional recipe from the Italian region of Puglia, the heel in south-eastern Italy. The Vincotto is produces in Lizzanello (Lecce).

Vincotto is made from grape must (containing the skins, seeds and small stems of the withered, partly dried grapes from Malvasia and Negroamaro variety). These are cooked and reduced, blended and aged in oak barrels.  Like balsamic vinegar, the good stuff is aged for a number of years.

If made in Australia, Vincotto is made from a ‘must’ from Australian shiraz grapes. This is combined with high quality red wine vinegar and slowly reduced over many hours.

My first bottle of Vincotto was the Originale (original flavour). It has a sweet and sour taste and like a good quality wine vinegar so I used it in salad dressings and to de-glaze pans.

But now I am seeing many different flavoured bottles of Vincotto and I am finding it all very confusing.

At one of the specialised Italian produce stores I was given a “Carob Sweet Vinegar” and a Lemon Velvety Condiment” to try. The one made with carob suggests using it with carpaccio, fish, dried fruits and sorbets. The lemon one suggests to use it with fish, ice cream, desserts and cocktails. Thank you Enoteca Sileno.

I have two other different ones, both gifts from different friends on different occasions. I have a “Fig Vincotto Vinegar” and
“Lamponi (raspberry) condimento agrodolce”. Both of these have the statement on the label that they contain no added sugars. The one made with figs suggests: “Use it on meats, fish, soups, cheese and desserts”. The raspberry one: “excellent on meats, salads, sorbets, fruit and ice cream”. Thank you dear friends.

I am none the wiser by the suggestions made by the manufacturers, but I am especially enjoying the raspberry and the fig varieties in salad dressings – for example raspberry vinegar has been a common ingredient in English salads (I used to make it once!). I often add fruit or nuts, meats, fish or cheese to my leaf salads or I often combine roasted vegetables together so when I say “salads”, I am talking about composite salads. See:

Salade Composee
Composite salads.

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I like using Vincotto instead of wine or I combine it with wine when I de-glaze the cooking juices and food particles in the bottom of pans, especially those where I have cooked meat  – game meats especially. Last night I was pan frying some fish with bay leaves, saffron and caper berries and I de-glazed the pan with a mixture of white wine and about 1 tablespoon of lemon Vincotto. I am getting more adventurous and do not think that just because it is an Italian product that all Italians use it.

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I can see me roasting figs, apricots, plums or quinces with a splash of Vincotto and maybe presenting the fruit with cheeses and nuts. I cannot see me using it in ice cream or sorbets – this may come later.

Vincotto is also very similar to the middle-eastern Pomegranate molasses (thick, fragrant and a tangy reduction of pomegranate juice, boiled to a sticky, syrupy consistency). Over time I have used the molasses very successfully by experimenting and not just with middle-eastern ingredients. I guess that I will gradually begin to use Vincotto in similar ways but then again, it may be yet be just another passing fad.
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STUFFED DATES (With marzipan or nougat)

Believe it or not but some people can do without dessert and I am one of them. This could be a reflection of the way I was bought up –as an Italian child there was always fresh fruit after any meal and very special desserts were saved for special occasions. I think that they were appreciated more because of this.

I generally prefer to eat savoury food. However I do like something small and sweet at the end of a meal, especially if I have been drinking.

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I had some left over marzipan in the fridge, some left over torrone (nougat) and I saw some fresh, Medjool dates and hence this recipe for the stuffed dates. Easy to make too.

I knew that orange flower water and/or cinnamon are traditionally included in the marzipan mixture in Morocco where stuffed dates are popular (I have eaten them in Tunis and Turkey as well). My marzipan was left over from making a cassata so I added more almond meal and some orange flower water to the mixture, and presto the stuffing was ready. Grated peel from 1 orange can also enhance the flavour. In these other countries the marzipan is often coloured but I prefer natural colours and flavours. This time I did not use cinnamon, but maybe next time.

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There were four of us and I thought that twelve dates would be enough. Six were stuffed with almond paste and I stuffed the other six with a piece of nougat/ torrone (no instructions needed – it is self explanatory).

INGREDIENTS
blanched almonds to decorate.
fresh Medjool dates
marzipan

This amount of marzipan will easily stuff 24 dates. Either halve the ingredients or store the left over marzipan in the fridge till next time. Wrap it in plastic film and it will keep for a couple of weeks.

To make marzipan:
1 cup of ground almonds (blanched) and 1 cups of pure icing sugar combined with ¼ cup of caster sugar – this adds the crunchy texture that compliments the ground almonds.
Mix the sugars and almond meal with fingers and add 1 tablespoon of orange water slowly. If the mixture is too wet add more almonds. Knead it and if it needs more water add a little tap water to make the mixture pliable.

PROCESSES
Cut each date vertically on one side and remove the stone.
Make small cylinders of almond paste the same length as the dates and place one inside each date. Squeeze the sides of each date around the paste and leave some exposed.
Decorate each with a blanched almond (or walnut or pistachio).
Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
Take them out of the fridge about an hour before serving.

Marzipan: Also see previous posts:

SICILIAN CASSATA and MARZIPAN AT EASTER

CASSATA DECONSTRUCTED – a postmodernist take on Sicilian Cassata

PASTA DI MANDORLA (Marzipan, the traditional recipe)

MARZAPANE also called PASTA REALE (Marzipan)

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STUFFED FRESH FIGS, with cheese and mint

Made in 10 minutes – dead easy. Not a bad antipasto…or after dinner as it is a mixture of fresh fruit and cheese.

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Looks good, tastes good.

Compliments…. Plenty.

INGREDIENTS:
Fresh, good quality figs

Stuffing: feta cheese, or drained ricotta,  bocconcini or pecorino fresco.
Optional- walnut pieces.

Decoration and for fresh taste: Fresh mint leaves

PROCESSES
See the photo above.

 

CASABA (or CASSAVA) Melon and FICHI D’INDIA (Prickly pears)

In the photo is a casaba (or cassava) rock melon and I have bought it for the last two years from just one stall at the Queen Victoria Market. I am not sure of its correct name, but if it is casaba it could get its name from Kasaba, Turkey. It is very sweet and juicy and in comparison to rock melon it is rather large in size. The only other place that I have seen this type of melon is in the Willanga Farmers Market in South Australia; this is not to say that it is not sold elsewhere.

Maria and her husband Giuseppe are the stall holders. They are from Calabria and they tell me that this type of melon is also found in Calabria but they do not know what this variety is called. I have never seen it anywhere in Italy, but one needs to be in the right place at the right time.

Giuseppe tells me that the rock melons he sells are grown on the Hay Plains; the grower has an Italian surname.

Cassava rock melon is not to be confused with cassava – the taro, a tuber. Apparently there is also a cassava melon which is more like a watermelon and is the size and shape of a soccer ball; this variety has  a dark green skin.

I like to eat freshly cut slices of any rock melon; I have always loved to present it with sprigs of mint – both for decoration and to munch with it.

Some people make sorbet out of rock melon puree, lemon juice and some sugar syrup (I like it with honey) – recipes for this are not difficult to find and this too can be presented with mint.

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From Giuseppe and Maria I also buy my Fichi d’India (prickly pears) which are now in season.

I particularly enjoy this late summer produce.

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GELLO DI LIMONE (Sicilian Jellied Lemon)

As well as gello di mellone (made with watermelon juice), Sicilians make gello do mandorla (made with almond milk), gello di cannella ( made with cinnamon and water) and gello di limone ( made with lemon juice).

It is thickened with corn flour and stirred like custard till it solidifies. There is nothing to it but surprisingly it turns out to be quite delicious.

This photo is of a gello di limone made by Barbera, wife of Corrado, the son of my cousin Franca. They all live in Ragusa, Sicily and it was one of the many things Barbara prepared for me when I was invited to dine with them (all the relatives go out of their way to cook Sicilian specialties for me when I visit them).

 

Now that you have the credentials, it is time for the recipe.

500ml fresh lemon juice
500ml of water and the peel of the lemons soaked in the water for 24 hours
300g sugar
4 level tablespoons arrowroot or corn flour
2-3tbsp limoncello (optional)
Mix the corn flour with a little water and make a smooth paste.
Mix all of the other ingredients together in a small saucepan and heat gently – keep on stirring until it thickens.
Remove from the heat, add the limoncello and pour into a wetted mould (or individual serving glasses)
Leave to cool, then chill in the fridge for several hours.
Sicilians eat it plain but it is a nice accompaniment to strawberries or poached cumquats (sugar syrup).

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