Category Archives: Marisa Raniolo Wilkins

Sicilian Cheese and more cheese

I was in Sicily in May and spent days in Ragusa  where my father’s family still live.

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While I was there, my aunt invited the extended family to go to a masseria – a farm where they make local cheese.

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We ate warm ricotta, sampled some of their other cheeses…

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…..and ate scacce with a variety of fillings – too many.

Recipes: See – SCACCE (focaccia-like stuffed bread)

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Ragusani ( people from Ragusa) are very fond of local cheeses and over my many visits to Ragusa I have eaten large quantities of cheese.

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I found an early post about Cheese and a visit to a masseria. Habits  do not change very much in Ragusa.

See: SICILIAN CHEESE MAKING. A VISIT TO A MASSARO (farmer-cheese maker) IN RAGUSA. and with a recipe for pan fried cheese with oregano, garlic, a bit of sugar and vinegar. Formaggio all’argentiera.

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In Melbourne we have La Latteria….worth a visit if you wish to eat cheese made by a  Sicilian.

See: La Latteria

 

Palermo and GoEuro competition

Here are more photos of Palermo and Mondello and details of a GoEuro Travel Inspiration Competition that  I have entered.

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Some time ago, I was contacted by a member of the marketing Team at GoEuro, a travel search engine/website that combines and compares rail, bus and air travel in one site. They are based in Berlin. GoEuro was preparing a blog feature about Sicily, with tips from well-travelled bloggers and had found my site. They asked if I’d be interested in sharing some of my recommendations within the region.

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I did so, and the result was:

18 Secrets of Sicily Revealed by Top Travel Bloggers

Recently I was contacted by GoEuro again, this time inviting me to enter a travel blog competition:

Write a post on your blog detailing how you would spend your perfect holiday in Europe: where would you go? Why? One lucky writer wins £500 towards their next European adventure.

How could I resist?

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I wrote a blog about visiting Palermo because it is the most diverse and complex city in Sicily.

Palermo and Sicily … peeling the onion

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GoEuro Travel Inspiration Competition

http://www.goeuro.co.uk/travel/travel-writing-competition

Post  Mortum….I did not win this competition but I hope that some readers may feel motivated to travel there.

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Many thanks

Marisa

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OUT AND ABOUT IN SICILY

It is always good to visit Sicily  in May 2016 and this time I spent most of my time mainly in  South-eastern Sicily.  But we did wander elsewhere – distances are not that great.

As usual, the relatives in Ragusa and Augusta made sure that I was well fed, but I do enjoy getting out and about and seeing the changes and trends that are evident in their food culture. I do that here in Australia as well, or for that matter any place I revisit.

Below are some photos of Sicily and links to existing recipes from the blog … more writing and more recipes soon.

Stunning scenery

Acireale

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And Granmichele,

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A Nature Reserve near Donna Fugata

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Antiquity

A very old church in Modica.

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Inside this old church that has been a stable for many years.

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Area Archeologica di Cava d’Ispica

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The old stone walls, some being repaired or rebuilt.

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Wandering around in Baroque towns

Ragusa Ibla

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Noto

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Modica

 

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Caltagirone

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Brushes with fame

Moltalbano’s apartment in Punta Secca

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Some traditional food from S.E. Sicily

*Links to these recipes:

*Maccu

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*Ravioli con ricotta

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*Scacce

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New ways of preparing old recipes

*Marinaded Fish

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*Sarde a beccafico

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Deconstructed cannolo

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Festive Occasions Infiorata in Noto

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And more carpets of flowers,

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Catania  Fish Market below

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Various cuts of Tuna.

Key in the word “Tuna “and you will find many recipes, but suggesting sustainable fish.

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*Zucca Lunga

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New Look, All Things Sicilian and More blog

Below is a view of Ragusa Ibla.

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If you’ve visited my site in the past few weeks, whether you are one of my regular followers or a casual visitor, you’ll have noticed that the blog has been inactive and is now stripped of images.   That’s because I have been caught up in the traumatising process of changing hosts and migrating the content. I was told it would be simple. I was told it would be easy. I was told it would take almost no time at all. Instead, it has been complex and difficult and incredibly time consuming. I have slowly been able to add some photos but because I started this blog in 2008, you can imagine that it will be a slow process. Fortunately one of my very good and generous friends in Adelaide has been advising me and assisting me. He has been suffering along side of me.

Tomorrow, I fly out for a trip to the UK and then I visit to Sicily and and right now I’m feeling like this poor statue, looking miserable, standing with his arms bound on the edge of  La Fontana Pretoria, in Palermo.

If all is well, I will try to write some posts while I am away on my new-look blog!

Viva Sicilia!

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VONGOLE (COCKLES PIPIS OR CLAMS) WITH SPANISH FLAVOURS

My mother always said that meat and fish should never be mixed. Well, she was wrong and may I say that she had never visited Spain.

The following recipe is nothing new, cooks have played around with it over time using the usual Spanish type ingredients that most of us would have in our pantries.

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Usually when I buy vongole I have them with long pasta (garlic and parsley, a bit of chilli and white wine), but now and again I like to play around with different flavours and because I had some chorizo in the fridge, the vongole ended up being more Spanish than Italian.

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This recipe is in my book second book, Small Fishy Bites .

Paprika is called pimenton in Spain. It has a smoky taste, but if you do not have it use common paprika instead.

 

Because the vongole release their salty juices when cooked, I generally do not add salt.

I have also used prawns and cooked them in the same way. In the past I have also used chunks of prosciutto rather than chorizo.

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If you have bought your prosciutto as a a solid piece and sliced it yourself you will end up with some chunks which are excellent for cooking. I am also able to buy ends (of the bottom part of the leg of prosciutto) from the deli part of the Queen Victoria Market, but any shop that slices prosciutto would have some.

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As an accompaniment, just use bread to mop up the juices. I usually end a meal of this sort with a tasty green leaf salad – and I mean tasty, i.e. a selection of different green leaves with a good vinaigrette.

INGREDIENTS

1k cockles
400-500g cooked cannellini
3 chorizo sausage  (skins removed and  sliced)
2-3 teaspoons smoked pimenton (mixture of sweet and hot to taste)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 glass white wine (or Manzanilla or Fino sherry)
4 spring onions sliced
1-2 cloves garlic chopped finely
2 tablespoons of tomato paste or 1 can (400grams)  of peeled  tomatoes
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
2 springs of thyme

Rinse the cockles – they are  generally sold clean and unless you have collected them yourself  there should be no need for you to rinse and rinse them until they are clear of sand.
Lightly fry the sliced chorizo in very little oil until it starts to brown. Remove it and set aside and use the same saucepan to proceed with the rest of the ingredients.
Add more oil to the pan and sauté the onions on low heat till they soften; add the garlic and pimenton, stir gently for 1 minute.
Add tomatoes, thyme and wine or sherry, cover and simmer until the sauce has thickened.
Add cockles and parsley.
Cover and cook until they have opened, shaking the saucepan occasionally to distribute the heat evenly.

 

 

COZZE CON SAMBUCA (Mussels with Sambuca- anice flavoured liqueur)

I had some saganaki recently at a friend’s place. She did the usual thing of cutting it into large cubes, dipping it in a little flour and pan frying it in hot oil until golden, but she then added a drizzle of Ouzo over the hot cheese, and lit it – (Flambé). Finally she added a squeeze of lemon juice. We ate this with some tomatoes that had been slowly baked on a low temperature.

It was the Ouzo that interested me. I particularly like the taste of aniseed and us a lot of fennel in my cooking.  I also use wine quite often in my cooking and sometimes if I wish to accentuate the taste of the fennel I use Ricard or Pernod – both are anise flavoured liqueurs. I have also used Ouzo at times (based on a Greek way of cooking them) and recently I cooked some mussels with Sambuca; they make a great antipasto.

When travelling in Italy to places on the coast in summer, you will often see piattoni (large platters) of mussels presented as a stater to a meal in restaurants; these are a great favourite. With the warmer weather, I have enjoyed placing a large platter of mussels in the centre of the table and having guests help themselves. The mussels I cooked with Sambuca were greatly appreciated.

Whilst I was in Adelaide recently I also ate at Ruby Red Flamingo (John Mc Grath’s review) and enjoyed an Anisetta Meletti, another aniseed flavoured drink from Ascoli Piceno and sold at Mercato (Campbelttown in South Australia). This too would work.

The following recipe is in my second book, Small Fishy Bites. The food stylist and photographer are in the photo above.

Fishy Bites Jacket

INGREDIENTS
2 kl mussels, scrubbed and cleaned of beards
extra virgin olive oil ½ cup
cloves of garlic, 7-8 chopped finely
Italian flat-leaf parsley, 1 small bunch, finely chopped
black pepper, finely ground
Sambuca, ½- ¾ cup (or Ouzu)
lemon juice, 1-2 lemons (grated peel optional)

PROCESSES
Sauté the garlic lightly in hot extra virgin olive oil. Use a saucepan that will fit the mussels.
Add the mussels and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the Sambuca, a dash of water, pepper and the parsley. Cover with a lid and cook till the mussels open.
Remove the mussels and place into another warm saucepan with a lid to keep them hot. If you do not mind presenting the mussels warm, place the opened mussels on a platter. (Italians do not seem to bother about keeping food hot). Evaporate the juices until you only have about 1 cup of concentrated liquid. Add lemon juice and pour the juice over the mussels and serve.

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PASTA CON SPADA E MENTA (Pasta with swordfish and mint)

Coinciding with the Long Weekend in October on Saturday Beachport had one of their regular Market Days, which are held at various times through the year.

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Beachport is a small seaside town in the South East of South Australia close to Robe and Millicent. Anyone familiar with South Australian wine would know about the Limestone Coast and the Coonawarra wine regions. Both are close by. Neighbouring wine regions include Wrattonbully and Mount Benson.

On the foreshore at Beachport there is a large, impressive landmark. It is an historic property called Bompas, formerly Beachport’s original hotel. Bompas has been through many changes, but since April 2012 Sarah and Jeremy are bringing life back into this independent, boutique hotel that serves as a cafe, restaurant and bar with unique accommodation and function facilities.

The reason I am writing about Bompas is that on the October Long Weekend the menu at Bompas featured Pasta with swordfish and mint, one of the recipes in Sicilian Seafood Cooking.The weekend was also the launch of their Asian menu which proved to be very popular.

Sarah and Jeremy now have Trish, an enthusiastic, local and young chef who is very happy to be there and they are equally pleased with her.

In the traditional Sicilian recipe swordfish is the preferred fish, a dense textured fish. I prefer to use sustainable fish and use, mackerel, burramundi, flathead, rockling, yellowtail kingfish or Mahi Mahi. Shell fish also enhances the sweetness of the dish and Sarah, Jeremy and Trish used scallops. They are also looking forward to using local fish on their menu (the fishing season has just started).

Trish did an excellent job of preparing the dish, but what it taught me as the writer is that it may have been useful to include extra hints in the recipe to clarify the process of cooking. Chefs may know how to do it, but what about the person who is not familiar with Italian cooking?

There is so much more advice that the writer of recipes may need to give. For example:

The recipe contains zucchini. What I wish to say is that Italians do overcook vegetables by our standards and in this case it is fairly important that the zucchini are sliced thinly and sautéed till soft – the recipe does not say this. The cooking releases the sweet juices of the zucchini and these are also added to the pasta and contribute to the flavour the dish.

There is also a fair amount of mint, this is added in the cooking process and at the end.

An other thing is that the wine needs to be evaporated so as to caramelize the juices released by the fish when this is sautéed.

And finally, all of the ingredients need to be hot when they are mixed together; this enables the fresh cheese to soften.

For 4-6 people

INGREDIENTS
pasta, 500g, ribbed, tubular like rigatoni or similar
fish, 400g, cut into pieces (4cm)
extra virgin
olive oil, ¾ cup
white wine, ½ cup
garlic, 3 cloves, chopped
mint, fresh, 15-20 leaves
salt and pepper to taste
formaggio fresco or fresh mozzarella or bocconcini, 300g,
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

PROCESSES
Cut the cheese into small cubes and set aside.
Heat the extra virgin olive oil; add the fish or shellfish and sauté it till it      is lightly coloured.
Add the garlic, wine, about a third of the mint and seasoning to the fish. Cover and cook gently till the fish is ready.
Combine fish, cheese and extra mint leaves (large leaves can be cut into smaller pieces).
Add the sauce to cooked and drained pasta, mix and and serve.

VARIATION
Add slices of 2-3 lightly fried zucchini (cooked separately in some extra virgin olive oil and added at the end). Add any juices left over from the zucchini.
To complement the green colour of the dish I sometimes sprinkle pistachio nuts on top.

I contribute a recipe for Seafoodnews a monthly publication.This is the same recipe and photo of the dish I submitted for the October issue.

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SHARKS IN PERIL. Recipe: Pesce in Pastella – fish in batter

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In the weeks before Christmas, I received an email headed Sharks in Peril. It was sent by Tooni Mahto, Marine Campaigner from The Marine Conservation Society and was a call to action to reduce shark fishing. The gruesome practice of catching sharks purely for their fins was a special focus of Tooni Mahto’s message.  Having watched documentary footage of sharks being hauled on deck and having their fins hacked off, before pitched back into the sea to writhe and drown, I can’t imagine how anyone could sit down to relish shark fin soup.
Many shark species are listed as endangered by all of the conservation associations. And shark is caught and sold under a variety names, the most common being “flake”, which disguise what is really on sale. Many seafood customers are not aware that Fish and Chips shops, especially, use shark, sold as flake for their battered fish. King George whiting and flathead tails are a sustainable and better tasting alternative to ‘flake’. Even before I knew “flake” was actually shark, I never liked the taste.
In Italy, shark is called pescecane (fish/ dog) but it is also called squalo, however it also has other names (palombo, verdesca, smeriglio, vitella di mare) and Italians like the rest of the world may not know that they are eating shark or an endangered species.
From Slow Fish, Italy:
I pescecani non sono una minaccia per gli uomini, sono gli uomini che minacciano (e pesantemente) i pescecani!
Sharks are not a threat to men, it is men who threaten (and heavily) sharks.
 
The Sharks in Peril email came with an invitation to cut out the shape of a globally endangered hammerhead shark, and within the shape to write a message, which could be sent to the Australian Government. The photo above is my best effort to get the message across.
The following quotes have come from the Sharks in Peril Appeal and I hope that it will motivate you to look at their website.
Walking into a supermarket or fish and chip shop the last thing you would expect to see is an endangered species for sale. There would be outrage if tiger, whale or panda were being sold. But you will find globally endangered hammerheads available, right here in Australia. 
Every year a staggering 100 million sharks are caught and killed across the globe. 
Huge consumer demand for shark fins and other shark products has made sharks among the most valuable fish in the sea.
As silently as sharks slip on to the menu, their numbers slip towards extinction.
While more and more nations are giving their sharks sanctuary, here in Australia we’re finning,, filleting and battering them into oblivion. 
But this isn’t a distant problem in a distant ocean. Australian fisheries catch hundreds of thousands of sharks each year, sending shark meat to our supermarkets and fish shops and contributing hundreds of tonnes of fins to the shameful international trade in shark fin. Inconceivably this includes tens of thousands of sharks caught from within the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef including endangered species like the scalloped hammerhead.
 
From The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) you can also purchase Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide. You can also access the guide online from the AMCS site – the first online sustainability guide in Australia. Developed in response to growing public concerns about the state of our seas, the online guide is designed to help you make informed seafood choices and play a part in swelling the tide for sustainable seafood.
N.B. If you have a copy of the first AMCS guide there are some changes to the classification of particular species of fish.

PASTELLA
Batter is called pastella in Italian and this particular one is mainly used to coat vegetables and fruit before frying, Using a heavy type batter is common for fish in Australia, however Italians generally use a much lighter batter to coat fish before frying ( light coating of flour or dipped in beaten egg first, then fine breadcrumbs).

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Recipe  from L’Artusi, La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene (Pellegrino Artusi).

INGREDIENTS
100g plain flour,1 tablespoon of  extra virgin olive oil, 1 egg- separated, salt to taste, and  a little water.

PROCESSES
Combine egg yolk with other ingredients (add as much water as necessary) and make a thick batter.
Rest for 2 hours.
When ready to use add beaten egg white (stiff).

Dip fish in batter and fry.

 

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LAUNCH OF SICILIAN SEAFOOD COOKING AT COASIT, Marisa Raniolo Wilkins – Pushing out the boat

One upon a time, when people talked about “launching” something, they were usually talking about ships and the launch usually involved some celebrity smashing a bottle of champagne across the bow and standing back to watch the hull slide down the slipway and into the water! Or spectators crossing themselves and praying for the vessel’s safe voyages.

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My feelings of anticipation, excitement and relief were just as intense when Richard Cornish launched my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking, at the Museo Italiano in Faraday Street Carlton, last Sunday (6 November).

And while Richard didn’t crack a bottle of champagne over the lectern, and I did not make the sign of the cross, there was certainly plenty of wine, food and bubbles to float my book out into bookstores, and a great crowd of well-wishers who to lent a hand to see it on its way. All of them need to be thanked.

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First, thanks to the staff of CoAsIt and the Museo Italiano [link to http://www.coasit.com.au] especially to Carlo Carli who is the Coordinator of the Museo Italiano, and Rosaria Zarro, Italian Education Officer at CoAsIt, who hosted the launch in the spacious and well-equipped conference room in Faraday Street, Carlton.

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Special thanks to Richard Cornish, award-winning author and journalist. I have always admired Richard and his writing and I am deeply honoured and seriously grateful to Richard for launching Sicilian Seafood Cooking.

Richard [link to http://www.profiletalent.com.au/richard-cornish ] is best known to readers of Epicure (the Age) and Good Living (Sydney Morning Herald) for his articles on food, concentrating on ethical and sustainable production. Richard has also co-authored a series of books on Spanish cuisine with Frank Camorra, chef and owner of Melbourne’s Movida restaurants. The latest book MoVida Cocina is published in November 2011 so I know how busy he must be.

The Sponsors

Wine

The wine was generously provided by three producers – two of them, family companies, Coriole and Brown Brothers – and the other, a major producer of wines in Sicily, distributed by Arquilla Food and Wine.

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Coriole [link to http://www.coriole.com] provided two varieties of Sangiovese, a wine whose Italian origins are most closely linked to Tuscany. Led by Mark Lloyd, Coriole has ventured further and further into the production of Italian varieties in their McLaren Vale vineyards, south of Adelaide. Coriole began with Sangiovese in 1987, and followed by Nebbiolo and Barbera. The experimentation has continued with plantings of Fiano (recently awarded Best McLaren Vale White Wine), Sagrantino and Nero d’Avola, which is yet to have a vintage – maybe next year.

Brown Brothers [link to http://www.brownbrothers.com.au] provided a sparkling Zibibbo, the Sicilian name for a grape originally named Muscat of Alexandria. You can never finish a meal in Sicily without being offered a glass of Zibibbo! [link to http://www.snooth.com/varietal/zibibbo/] Brown Brothers, who established their first vineyard at Milawa in the lower King Valley, grow the grapes for their Zibibbo at their Mystic Park Vineyard beside the Murray Valley Highway about halfway between Kerang and Swan Hill.

Arquilla [link to http://www.arquilla.com.au] supplied traditional Sicilian wines, Nero d’Avola and Frappato, produced by Feudi del Pisciotto. [link to http://www.castellare.it/eng/introFeudiPisciotto.html] I first tasted the Feudi Nero d’Avola at my favourite Sicilian restaurant, Bar Idda, [link to http://www.baridda.com.au] another fabulous family affair in the hands of Lisa and Alfredo La Spina, with Lisa’s brother Anthony managing the bar and the drinks.

Food

The book didn’t just float out on glasses of Sicilian wine. There was a selection of tasty finger-food (or as they are called in Italian, spuntini).

Fiona Rigg and Richard Cornish

Fiona Rigg, who was the amazing food stylist for the book, made a Christmas caponata [made with celery]. Being very creative she made some sauces (cipollata and mataroccu) from the chapter Come Fare una Bella Figura from Sicilian Seafood Cooking. [link to http://www.fionalouise.com.au]

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Lisa and Alfredo from Bar Idda contributed roasted peppers [link to http://www.baridda.com.au] l Iove to eat at their restaurant!

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The highly capable pastry chef, Marianna DiBartolo, who owns Dolcetti, [link to http://www.dolcetti.com.au] a Sicilian-inspired pastry shop (pasticceria) in North Melbourne, made special fish-shaped biscuits for the occasion, which were perfectly matched with the Zibibbo.

I was really pleased to see the editors of two important publications at the launch: Agi Argyropoulos editor and publisher of Seafood News 

[link to http://www.seafoodnews.com.au] which I contribute a recipe to every month. Agi held the publication so that he could include photos from the launch, which deserves a special thank you, and has given it a whole page in the November edition.

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And Danielle Gullaci from Italianicious, [link to http://www.italianicious.com.au] the bi-monthly magazine which celebrates all things Italian, and which is publishing an article on me in the January-February 2012 issue.

Others I would like to thank for their contribution to the success of the launch, include:

UCG Wholesale Foods at 58 A’Beckett Street Melbourne for the Novara Mineral Water,

The Sicilian travel experts, Echoes Events [link to http://www.echoesevents.com] for the posters of Sicily and a special thank you to the photographers on the day,

David and Rilke Muir, directors and cinematographers for Making of Movies, [link to http://www.makingofmovies.com.au]

Valerie Sparks, [link to http://www.valeriesparks.com.au]  and

Rita Price [link to http://www.weekendnotes.com/profile/125374/]

launch

NEXT EVENT IN MELBOURNE
 
EVENT | Thursday 17 November 2011 at 6:30pm

Marisa Raniolo Wilkins

Readings Hawthorn: 701 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn, Victoria, 3122
 
Food, wine, book signing
 
*Entry is free but you must book before Monday by phoning: 9819 1917. 
 
ADELAIDE
The Adelaide launch of Sicilian Seafood Cooking is at:
Il Mercato, 625 Lower North East Road, Campbelltown at 3.00pm
on Sunday 20 November.
Il Mercato specialises in Italian food, wine and culture.
If you wish to attend the launch please RSVP to Cynthia at Il Mercato:
CynthiaPorciello@ilmercato.com.au
Sicilian Seafood Cooking will be launched by Rosa Matto [link to http://www.rosamatto.com] – a great friend and a cook I’ve admired and respected for as long as I have known her.
Rosa and I will be introduced at the launch by the newly appointed Minister for Education and Child Development in South Australia, Grace Portolesi MP, the Member for Hartley (which includes Campbelltown).
AND A BIG THANKS TO ALL WHO ATTENDED

MA2SBAE8REVW

PER NATALE, COSA SI MANGIA? At Christmas, what do you eat? Panforte recipe

Photo by Patrick Varney, Raglan Images for  Italianicious ( magazine) Nov- Dec 2010

 

CHRISTMAS IN SICILY
You are probably wondering what Sicilians eat for Christmas in Sicily.
When the respected writer Mary Taylor Simeti (a famous food writer and expert on Sicilian Food),. She is an historian and a an expatriate American, married to a Sicilian organic wine maker and farmer) visited Melbourne recently, she and I and pastry cook Marianna De Bartoli, who owns Dolcetti, a pasticceria in North Melbourne, were all asked this same question during an interview for Italianicious Magazine (Nov-Dec issue 2010).
We all gave the same answer, which is that there is no one answer since the cuisine and traditional food of Sicily is very regional. Sicily may be a small island, but the food is very localised and very different from region to region.
The three of us also agreed that Christmas Eve was more important than Christmas day – it is a meatless occasion and fish is the first choice. In some places Sicilians eat stoccofisso (stockfish) or baccala, where in others they eat eel. Usually families wait up and go to midnight Mass. And for those that do, Christmas lunch will often begin with a light first course. For example, chicken broth with maybe some pastina (small pasta suitable for broth) or polpettine (small meatballs) made with shredded cooked chicken meat, egg, a little fresh bread and grated cheese.
In Ragusa, where my father’s family comes they tend to eat the same foods as they do at Easter: scacce and large ravioli stuffed with ricotta dressed with a strong ragu (meat sauce) made with tomato conserva (tomato paste) and pork meat. These are followed by some small sweets like cotognata (quince paste), nucateli and giuggiulena (sesame seed torrone).
In other parts of the island gallina ripiena (stuffed chicken cooked in broth) is popular, while others may eat a baked pasta dish, for example: anelletti al forno. timballo di maccheroni or lasagne made with a very rich, strong meat ragu. This may be followed by capretto (kid) either roasted or braised. There may be cassata or cannoli for dessert or the wreath shaped buccellato made with dried figs, almonds, walnuts, sultanas and spices (from Latin buccellatum meaning ring or wreath).
PANFORTE or PANETTONE FOR CHRISTMAS
Both panettone and panforte are popular Christmas sweets in Italy.
In recent years panforte has become popular in Australia, but you are probably more familiar with panettone. This may be because there are so many different brands of panettone available and they are exported to many parts of the world, especially in countries where Italians have migrated.
Italians are very happy to buy both of these Christmas sweets and the big brands are of excellent quality. Generally Italians where ever they live would rather buy these than make them at home. I have never tried to make panettone but I have made panforte several times very successfully.
PANETTONE
This Christmas sweet bread is now popular not just in northern Italy where it originated.

It is said that the early version of pane ttone (bread big) was not the light textured, yeast perfumed, fruit bread we are familiar with, before it was made common by industrial production. It was a type of heavy, enriched, Milanese fruit bread baked at home and not just eaten at Christmas time. Panettone was made famous and affordable when it was commercially produced (from the 1920’s) and railed all over Italy. As a child growing up in Trieste the most famous panettone was the Motta brand (and still a well known brand in Italy) and part of the charm was opening the box and releasing the fragrance.

Popular brand of Panforte
PANFORTE
Panforte is from Siena (within Tuscany) and contains exotic spices of ancient times. It is made with dry fruit and nuts – candied orange peel, citron, chopped almonds, spices, honey, butter and sugar and very little flour to bind the ingredients; it has no yeast, has a very solid texture and is shaped like a disc. Panforte (from pane forte) means strong bread and in earlier times it may have been derived from the Tuscan pane pepato (peppered bread), meaning strongly peppered with spices.
Just like panettone there are some excellent varieties of imported panforte. I like Panforte Margherita (the light coloured version developed in honour Queen Margaret of Savoy’s visit to Siena). Panforte Nero is the dark variety made with dark chocolate.
Being a purist (or as my daughter used to refer to me as a food fascist) I cringe when I see ”gourmet” versions of panforte for sale, some of these contain glace cherries, or glace ginger; I even hesitate at the inclusion of pistachio or macadamia, not the norm, but could be more acceptable.
My favourite recipe is from The Italian Baker by Carol Field (recipe below).
In spite of writing recipes, I am not one for following recipes closely. I always improvise and adapt amounts of ingredients to suit my taste. For example I double the amount of pepper, nutmeg and coriander.  On occasions I have also included walnuts and pine nuts which were included in panpepato, a predesessor.
If I make Panforte Nero I add unsweetened cocoa (Dutch cocoa powder about 2-3 tablespoons) and some bittersweet chocolate.
 Ingredients:
1 cup whole hazelnuts,
1 cup blanched almonds
1 cup candied orange peel and citron, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
¼ teaspoon coriander
¼ teaspoon cloves, ground
¼ teaspoon fresh nutmeg, ground
½ teaspoon black pepper, ground
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup honey
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
Method:
Heat the oven to 180c.
Toast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet until the skins pop and blister, 10 to 15 minutes.  Rub the skins from the hazelnuts in a kitchen towel. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet until very pale golden, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Chop the almonds and hazelnuts very coarsely. Mix the nuts, orange peel, citron, lemon zest, flour, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, nutmeg and pepper together thoroughly in a large mixing bowl.
Use a 9 inch spring form pan; line the bottom and sides with baking paper Heat the sugar, honey, and butter in a large heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until the syrup registers 242 to 248 on a candy thermometer (a little of the mixture will form a ball when dropped into cold water). Immediately pour the syrup into the nut mixture and stir quickly until thoroughly blended.  Pour immediately into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.  The batter will become stiff and sticky very quickly so you must work fast.
Bake about 30 to 40 minutes.  The panforte won’t colour or seem very firm even when ready, but it will harden as it cools. Cool on a rack until the cake is firm to the touch. Remove the side of the pan and invert the cake onto a sheet of paper. Peel off the baking paper. Dust heavily with confectioners’ sugar.