CUP CAKES BUTTERFLY CAKES and FAIRY CAKES, Sicilian style

My friend John bought these little beauties around to my place when I invited him for dinner recently. I love the little silicon cups: this was the first time that he had used them; the cups not only look attractive and are functional, but they are also ‘cup’ cakes. And like his mother he placed a teaspoon of flavour inside each one – a teaspoon of apricot jam or sweetened passionfruit.

 

Like his mother he cut the top of each cake,  placed a dollop of whipped cream on top, divided each top in half and returned the two halves to the cake: these looked like wings.  Being Australian she appropriately referred to them as called them Butterfly cakes or Fairy cakes and it is easy to see why. These cakes were very popular at children’s parties and were never called Cup cakes (cupcakes), this perhaps is an American or British term. Cupcakes is what we call them in Australia now. Have they lost their wings?

John asked me if Sicilians make cupcakes and they do not,  but there is no reason why his very simple recipe cannot be infused with Sicilian flavours.

This is how John’s mother wrote the recipe. The mixture is simple and very Anglo:

3 oz butter
3 oz sugar
2 eggs
4 oz SR flour
1 tbs milk
essence of vanilla
bake 475 for 15 minutes.

Because the above only makes a small quantity, the following recipe could be more useful.  John also found that his cup cakes were a little dry, so we have reduced the amount of flour in the following recipe.

For your interest:
3 oz =113.398g,
4 oz = 113.6 g
250g= 8.8 oz
 
INGREDIENTS
250g butter, softened (add a bit of salt if using unsalted)
4 large eggs or 6 small ones
160 g castor sugar
250g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tablespoon of milk
PROCESSES
Cream butter, sugar and vanilla essence till light and fluffy.
Mix in eggs, one at a time, beat well after each addition.
Fold flour gently into cake mixture. Mix well.
Fill each cup with 1 tbsp of cake batter and using a teaspoon make a small well in the middle of the batter.
Spoon 1 tsp of strawberry jam into the well.
Place in it a teaspoon of jam. Top with another tbsp of cake batter.
Bake in the centre of oven (pre-heated 160C) for 15 to 20 minutes.
Cool cupcakes before cutting off the top.
Fill with whipped cream, cut the to that you have removed in half and replace it  to the top of the cake again.

To make Sicilian type cup cakes, I would add the following ingredients:

150 g of chopped pistachio nuts or blanched almonds (both are grown in Sicily and very common in sweets).
Use sour cherry jam (sour morello cherries are popular in Italy/ Sicily).

If the cake appears too dry after it is baked, sprinkle a little Maraschino liqueur on the top (adding liqueur to moisten cooked cakes is definitely Italian/ Sicilian).

Instead of  whipped cream, use ricotta whipped with a little vanilla flavoured sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon. Add a little cream if the mixture is too dry.

I would also place a sour cherry or a pistachio on top.

Presto, Ecco, Fatto… Here they are. Bake them in tea cups, call them Dolcetti fatti in tazza (small cakes made in cups) and they do sound exotic!.

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PASTA ALLA NORMA (Pasta with tomatoes, and eggplants)

I ate at a friend’s house recently and she cooked one of my fish recipes from Sicilian Seafood Cooking; she apologized for using tinned tomatoes instead of fresh and asked me if it had altered the taste of the recipe. There was no need to make an apology – the fish tasted great and I told her that I only use red, fresh tomatoes in cooking when they are sold ripe and at a reasonable price; the tins of whole, peeled tomatoes I buy are a perfectly suitable substitute, and quick too. I try to buy Australian tomatoes.

There are some summer pasta dishes which call for uncooked, ripe tomatoes and I would never substitute tinned ones for this recipe – Pasta alla Norma.

long eggplants P1010074 (1)

Pasta alla norma is one of those dishes Sicilians are extremely fond of   especially in late summer when the tomatoes are ripe, the basil is abundant and the eggplants are at their best.

All it is = a  salsa of fresh tomatoes , pasta and fried eggplants added last of all – usually cubed. Ricotta salata tops it all off.  Easy stuff – see recipe below.

The dish originates from Catania, the city that my mother’s family comes from. Many presume that the dish is named after the opera, La Norma, by the composer Vincenzo Bellini who was born in Catania (1801-1835), but there are others who think that the expression ‘a norma’ (in Sicilian) was commonly used in the early 1900s to describe food that was cooked true to form (i.e. as normal, as it should be) according to all the rules and regulations specified in the recipe.

I ate a version of Pasta alla Norma in a seafood restaurant in San Leone (on the coast, near to Agrigento). The tagliatelle were presented on top of half an eggplant, (which had been cut in half and then fried). The sauce also contained a few currants and a few anchovies, thin slices of bottarga (dry, salted tuna roe) and cubes of ricotta salata. It does look very spectacular, but if you intend to do this, and are using a large round eggplant, cut the eggplant horizontally and remove a slice from the centre of it to make it thinner – the eggplant it will cook more evenly.

Recipe for Pasta alla Norma

INGREDIENTS
I have used casarecci, 500g

eggplants, 500g or more
extra virgin olive oil, 1 ½ cups ( ½ cup for the tomato salsa,1 cup to fry the eggplant) 
garlic, 3 cloves
ripe tomatoes, 1k, peeled and chopped
salt (a little) and freshly ground black pepper to taste
basil, fresh leaves (10-15) some for the salsa and some for decoration
PROCESSES
Remove the stem end of eggplant and without peeling and slice or cut into cubes. Soak in salted water if you wish. Pat-dry the eggplant and fry in 1 cup of olive oil until golden. Drain on paper towels.
Make the tomato salsa: place the tomatoes in the pan with garlic, oil, salt and some basil leaves: cook uncovered on medium heat till it is thick.
Cook pasta and drain.
Mix the pasta with the tomato sauce, place in a serving bowl (s) and top with the eggplants and the remaining basil.
Present with grated cheese, preferably ricotta salata.
 

 

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VIETNAM, LANTERN TOWN, HOI AN

This post is well overdue – I travelled in Vietnam for most of February and enjoyed Vietnamese food from both the simple street stalls and the more sophisticated “fusion” food served in many restaurants.
This post is a tribute to the kindness of strangers. It concerns a proprietor and Chef called Son Tran. His restaurant is called Lantern Town and it is in Hoi An on the central Vietnamese coast.
 Fresh spring rolls, pomelo salad with prawns, seared tuna (long tail).
Just like the rest of the world, simple traditional Vietnamese recipes have responded to trends and outside influences. With easier access to books and the internet, more opportunities to travel and engage with travellers, Vietnamese chefs are adapting and elaborating on age-old staples.
Long tail tuna.
 These are some photos of what Son cooked for us. The entire Lantern Town experience – the cooking and the eating – is one of the most enduring memories I will keep of Vietnam.
 Before cooking – fresh pieces of mango, wrapper in lattice rice paper.
Son’s specialises in adaptations of traditional Vietnamese dishes, applying modern twists to conventional ingredients.
Mango rolls dipped into batter made with coconut milk, rice flour, sugar, chocolate powder and then deep fried.
I met Son Tran in his restaurant over a lunchtime dish of his version of stuffed squid. My passion for food was evident and I told him about my Sicilian version of stuffed squid. Mine is stuffed with the principal ingredients of ricotta and almonds and is cooked in marsala, his was stuffed with cellophane noodles and prawns. He responded to my enthusiasm by offering to take me on a tour of the local Hoi An market and to personally cook a special dinner for me and my partner.
Buying prawns at the Hoi An market
Buying the fish, Son chose a piece of long fin tuna saying he prefers it to blue-fin or yellow-fin tunas because of its clear flesh and its flavour. He explained that long-fin (or Pacific albacore) is much paler than either of the other tunas. More importantly for me, it is sustainable, not threatened by over-fishing. It was a small fish and Son selected a section of fish towards the tail, weighing about 1kg, which he carefully carved off the bone, creating four individual fillets; he also removed the skin.
Filleting tuna.
The pomelo salad was made with segmented pomelo, carrots and prawns and had a dressing made with passion fruit pulp. The fresh spring rolls had prawns, carrot, cucumber mint, noodles and passionfruit pulp; they were accompanied by a pineapple, sugar and vinegar dipping sauce. The tuna was marinaded in lemongrass, shallots, basil, ginger, soy, oyster sauce; it was then seared over high heat; it was presented with a celery sauce. What I particularly like about Vietnamese food is the use of fresh herbs. 
 Son buying herbs.
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SICILIAN SEAFOOD COOKING, book review, SA Life

Sicilian Seafood Cooking cover
From the publication: SA Life, Adelaide, April 2012
SICILIAN SEAFOOD COOKING
By Marisa Raniolo Wilkins
Published by New Holland
RRP $45 (hbk)
As a passionate Sicilian-born
foodie (evident in her popular food blog, All Things Sicilian
and More) Melbourne resident Marisa Raniolo Wilkins
has produced a veritable encyclopedia of authentic
Sicilian seafood recipes – 400 pages and more than I50
recipes covering all manner of starters and main courses,
but also explaining how to make pasta  (from scratch) and
vegetable dishes to accompany the seafood.
To tell this story with authority, Raniolo Wilkins delves
deep into the island’s history, infused with a personal
perspective. She explains the influences of many cultures
on specific Sicilian flavour melds, and events such as the
annual mattanza off the island of Favignana, the ritual o[
netting and gaffing massed migrating tuna.
Importantly, she assesses the issue of sustainability especially
with bluefin tuna and swordfish, and the historical Sicilian practice of selling and eating juvenile and infant fish – and offers alternatives to several traditional recipes to veer away from threatened fish species.
Other traditions are more straight forward, such as the
essential starter pasta chi sardi, the Sicilian staple from
the town of Palermo of pasta topped with sardines fennel,
pine nuts and currants. lt’s a very informative book,
brimming with pride and purpose.- DPS

MARISA

VITELLO TONNATO

We have been having such beautiful autumn weather here in Melbourne, perfect for Sunday lunches and picnics. In the northern hemisphere some of you are experiencing spring weather, so you can enjoy the following dish as well.

Vitello tonnato (vitello = veal, tonno = tuna, tonnato = refers to the style of cooking or preparation) is a perfect dish for this sort of occasion. It can be prepared the day before or assembled in the morning to allow the flavours to combine but what I particularly like, is that I can drink and talk and laugh and eat with my guests rather than being busy in the kitchen!!

vitellotonnato-2

What is also important is that I can buy pole-caught, sustainable, tinned tuna from Aldi. Now isn’t that good?

There are various ways to make vitello tonnato. Several recipes boil the veal, I have always pot-roasted it – my mother always did and this method of cooking the veal intensifies the flavours. Some cooks use the vegetables and jellied stock to combine with the tuna, capers and anchovies to make the sauce; others add egg yolk from hard boiled eggs to the sauce. I combine the jelled sauce from the pot roast and some of the vegetables with the tuna, anchovies and capers with egg mayonnaise – this is also what my mother always did. It makes the sauce smoother and more creamy. I do this way because I like the taste of it and not because it’s how my mother did.

Some say that vitello tonnato originated in Piemonte (Piedmont) and maybe this is why my Piedmontese aunt, who lived in Genova, used to make it for us (she was married to my uncle, my dad’s Sicilian brother – what a culinary combination that was!). Maybe it did originate in Piemonte, but as a child growing up in Trieste in the 50’s it was often an acceptable entrée on special occasions.

One thing is certain, vitello tonnato obviously gets around. A variation using chicken (pollo) is served in the Sicilian port of Messina as pollo alla Messinese.

For this recipe see:

Pollo Alla Messinese (a Cold Chicken Dish Similar to Vitello Tonnato From Messina)

INGREDIENTS
For the pot roasted veal:
girello, (topside or nut, or silver side of yearling veal – girello is lean) 800g-1k
extra virgin oilive oil, ½-¾ cup
onion, carrot, celery stick, 1 of each, left whole
white-wine, 1 cup
salt, black pepper,  to taste
broth, 1 cup, or broth cube dissolved in 1 cup water
bay leaves, sage leaves, sprig of rosemary

For the Sauce:
canned tuna in oil 200 g
anchovy fillets, 2
capers, 2 tablespoons
mayonnaise, 1½ cups (see link below)
jellied stock – the liquid the meat was cooked in, 1 cup
vegetables: ½ of the cooked onion or cooked celery or carrot, some of the sage leaves – it all depends on the consistency. The sauce cannot be runny , it should be smooth but thick.

PROCESS
Lightly sauté the veal (in one piece) in the hot oil. Add everything else, Cover and simmer over a low heat for 1½ – 2 hours, or until the meat is tender.
Leave everything to cool until you are ready to assemble it.
And this is what I like about this dish, I often cook the veal the day before. Sometimes I have eaten the veal as a pot roast (hot) and used the left over veal to make vitello tonnato – depending on how much veal you have left, you could prepare an entrée or lunch for 2 people.

Sicilian 321 Mayonnaise.tif.t

Make the egg mayonnaise.
For this recipe see:

Maionese (mayonnaise)

Process the drained tuna with the rest of the ingredients until it is smooth, – I use a blender, mixing through the mayonnaise last of all.

To assemble the dish:
Remove the meat from the pan with the vegetables and the jellied juices. Slice the meat thinly.
Arrange one layer of the meat on a serving dish and spoon over some of the tuna sauce.  Continue to do this, building up the layers until the meat runs out (no more than 3-4 layers).
Garnish the vitello tonnato with capers, anchovies or slices of hard-boiled eggs or as the on this occasion, slices of carrot from the pot-roast.
Leave for a few hours if not overnight for the flavours to mingle before serving.
Slice it – use a sharp knife. Using a spatula, lift it onto plates like a cake.

Serve it a green salad, or one made with cooked green beans, good bread – complete!

IMG_1268

ZEPPOLE, FRIED SWEETS

What is it about zeppole that has everybody drooling?

Lidia, Marianna’s mother from Dolcetti, had customers lining up for hers at the Sweets Festival held recently at the Immigration Museum.

She began mixing her first batch of dough with ricotta – this is very traditional when making the sweet version of zeppole. The next batch had fennel seeds and a pinch of chilli; what was interesting about hers is that even this batch was rolled in caster sugar – I love that mix of savoury with the sweet that Sicilians are particularly proud of. By the end of the day someone was sent out to buy more flour and the zeppole were just plain dough rolled in castor sugar infused with vanilla bean and still the customers lined up and were prepared to wait for their order.

Dolcetti stall – frying zeppole at Immigration Museum Sweets Festival

Now the funny thing about zeppole is that they are called by different names in various parts of Sicily – sfinci, sfinci di San Giuseppe, sfingi, crispeddi, sfincia: Whatever they are called, they are traditionally eaten at the feast of Saint Joseph – who looks after the poor, and San Martino – he looks after wine. Some Sicilian variations include a ricotta filling (rather than in the mixture).

Caretti+dolcetti-150x150

Different versions of these fritters are found all over Italy. In Trieste and Venice they are called frittole – this version has sultanas (soaked in rum beforehand) and rolled in cinnamon in the castor sugar. When the Triestini side of my family made them, they also added lemon or orange peel to the mixture – these are traditional at the time of Carnevale. In Naples they call theirs graffe. Older people living in Adelaide may remember Asio from Asio’s Restaurant. He was from Tuscany and he called his frati. I knew Asio when I was a child and he used to make these for my family.

The traditional dough is basically a sloppy bread dough made with yeast and warm water with a little sugar and a little salt.

*You could cheat and use self raising flour and no yeast. They taste pretty good but remember that although you are making the easy version, they will not be traditional.

INGREDIENTS
plain flour, 3 cups
warm water, 2 cups (or more- the dough should be soft)
eggs, 3
yeast, 2 g active dry yeast,3 g compressed fresh yeast
salt , ½  teaspoon
sugar, 1 tablespoon
extra virgin olive oil, 1-2 tablespoons added to the dough
oil for frying – enough so that the zeppole to float (I always use olive, some use vegetable oil)
salted anchovies to taste ( 5-10, chopped)
fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon
salt and pepper – sprinkled on top at the end.
PROCESSES
Mix 1 cup of flour with ½ -¾ cup of warm water, sugar and the yeast. Add more water if necessary to make a sloppy dough.
Cover it and leave to rise in a warm place for about 45- 90 mins – the dough should be spongy and double in size. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the anchovies and the fennel seeds. Mix well; the mixture should be soft and pliable. Add the anchovies and the fennel seeds and gently mix through.
Heat frying oil, drop into the oil one tablespoon full of dough (cook only a few per time – do not over crowd the pan). To see if the oil is hot enough, test it by dropping small bits of dough into it – the dough should begin to cook and begin to gently bounce around. Turn the zeppole once to fry on both sides – they should be golden brown when cooked.
Sprinkle with a little pepper and salt.

 

Zeppole di san Giuseppe:

 

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PASQUA, Traditional sweets, Cassata Siciliana, Agnellino pasquale (Pascal Lamb)

This is a small pasticceria in Polozzi Generosa, in the Madonie Mountains, not that far from Palermo. I have misplaced the photos of the pascal lambs I found in this shop, but they were beautiful.

Polizzi pasticcieria sign_3549

These are Pascal lambs from Dolcetti. It will give you an idea of what I mean.

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In Sicily, the traditional pascal lambs (agnellini pasquali) are made with marzipan, however I have found a recipe for making the lamb out of pasta garofolata  (dough flavoured with cloves/ cloves are chiodi di garofano in Italian). This same dough is used to make ossa dei morti  (bones of the dead, customary Nov1st/ 2nd, the day of the Dead/ All saints Day).

Here is another version from a different Pasticceria in Sicily.

IMG_0560

For those of you who may wish to try making a pascal lamb (could be fun to make with children), here is the recipe from: Culinaria Italy, Claudia Piras, 2004:

Pasta Garofolata per Ossa Dei Morti o Agnellini Pasquali
2 pounds sugar — (approximately 1 kg)
2 pounds all-purpose flour — (approximately 1 kg)
10 whole cloves — ground
Almond oil
In a saucepan, bring the sugar to the boil in a little water. When the
sugar is dissolved, lower the heat and sift in the flour, stirring
constantly with a wooden spoon, being careful that no lumps form. The flour
MUST NOT be allowed to brown, it must stay snow white.Stir in the powdered cloves.
Once everything is thoroughly mixed and the flour is nice and white, remove from the heat.
As soon as it has cooled down enough to be handled make little bone shapes
or lambs out of the dough.
Alternatively, if you have appropriately shaped molds (spelling as in Culinaria text), you can brush them
with a little almond oil and fill with the dough.
Leave for a few days in a dry place. Remove from the molds if you used
them. Brush the undersides with water, place on a baking sheet and bake in
a preheated 350F (180C) oven. When the sugar has risen and turned the
distinctive colour of a monk’s habit, the cookies are ready.

NB. There are many recipes for making ossa dei morti; many use almond meal and egg white.

cassata04

In Sicily, the dessert has to be cassata – not the Neapolitan one made with ice cream, but with ricotta, and Sicilians  use sheep’s milk ricotta because they can.

Each time I make a cassata it always looks different, but they always taste good. on occasions I have even made made marzipan with pistachio nuts – a long process peeling off their skins!

 

To make cassata, see 2 different posts:
Cassata
Cassata 2

I always cover the cassata with marzipan. See:

 Pasta di madorla (marzipan)
Marzapane also called pasta reale

A slice of cassata

In pastry shops many cassate are covered with glassa (fondant):

There are many recipes where icing sugar is melted in water over a stove and then poured over the cassata – I find this too hard to work with and far too sweet. The following fondant is much easier to work with:
Fondant:
Beat 1 egg white till stiff, add 350 g of icing sugar (which has been infused with a vanilla bean). Add juice of one lemon and a few drops of green colouring. Beat till smooth. Spread over cassata. Many pasticcerie use white and green fondant.

Buona Pasqua.

 

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GIUGGIULENA (also CUBBAITA) – a brittle Sicilian toffee of sugar and honey with sesame seeds and almonds

This is a photograph of Marianna di Bartalo from Dolcetti making giuggiulena – a brittle Sicilian toffee of sugar and honey with sesame seeds and almonds – said to be in part the legacy of the Arabs. I am holding the microphone.

Marianna demonstrated how to make giuggiulena to a group who attended the Sweets Festival at the Immigration Museum (18th March). Eager participants filled the small theatre, they watched as she made it, smelt it, sampled it and took home her recipe, which I will share with you (see below). There was plenty of interaction with the group and it was a pleasure to field questions and to participate in the comments and discussions. Towards the end of the session Lidia, Marianna’s mother also participated.

In some parts of Sicily giuggiulena is also known as cubbaita. e seeds). You may be familiar with torrone (nougat) which is common all over Italy and is made with almonds, eggwhites and sugar. Marianna and I had a discussion on stage about some versions also including honey – I know that a Sicilian friend of my mother’s adds this.

 

The Festival was an amazingly successful day and it drew a very large crowd. People came to see great performances, eat glorious food, attend cooking demonstrations and see the exhibition on Sweets: Tastes and Traditions of Many Cultures (Indian, Italian, Japanese, Turkish, Mauritian). As well as Marianna there were cooking demonstrations on how to make Japanese wagashi and moshi sweets and Indian sweets. Members of the Turkish, Mauritian communities demonstrated how to make halva (helva).

 

The range of food for sale from the participating communities was of extremely good quality.
Marianna’s Dolcetti stall was stocked with an array of Sicilian sweets from her pasticceria in Victoria Street, West Melbourne. There were people lined up all day to buy samples of her cakes, pastries and biscuits.

Gluten free hamper unpacked

Her mother Lidia was making batch after batch of Sicilian fritelle (also called sfinci) and those who worked on the stall did not have time to have a break, from the moment they set up until they had sold out of everything. I believe this was the case for most of the stall-holders with many saying that they did not get time to see the exhibition on the first floor of the Museum. Like me, they are going back. Although the festival was a one off event, the Exhibition (at The Immigration Museum, Melbourne) goes on and is really worth seeing (15 March 2012 to 7 April 2013).

 

One cannot help but see the Arab influence on Sicilian cuisine – the Arabs ruled Sicily for two centuries (in medieval times they were sometimes called “Saracens” or “Moors”) and contributed to the development of Sicilian culture, the agriculture and architecture, and had a profound influence on the cuisine of Sicily. They are credited with bringing or contributing to the development of certain produce used in sweets: sugar, pistachio, sesame seeds, citrus, dates, cinnamon and cloves are some of the produce considered they made ices and pastries stuffed with nuts and dried fruit. Sicily is a blend of cultures and obviously, one cannot give the Arabs all the praise, there were the Spaniards, French, as well as the Normans, Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks and original settlers as well as them.

Sicilian pastry chefs are renowned all over Italy and Marianna is no exception. Marianna’s little pastry shop is filled with handmade delicacies made with natural and fresh ingredients. Her dolcetti (little sweets) are a work of art and she is very proud of her Sicilian heritage.

As you would expect when giuggiulena (or cubbaita) is made in the various parts of Sicily, there are variations in the recipes – some use all sugar or all honey, some omit almonds. My relatives in Ragusa add cinnamon and I have seen recipes where a pinch of cumin is added.

This is Marianna’s recipe for giuggiulena.

INGREDIENTS
250gms sesame seeds
250gms orange blossom honey
250gms sugar
250gms whole raw almonds
zest of 1 orange (not too finely grated)

METHOD
Combine the honey and sugar in a pot and stir until it begins to melt and soften.
Add the sesame seeds and almonds and cook, stirring continuously until it begins to bubble.
Let it cook and darken to a dark golden brown color.
Add the orange zest.
Pour onto a sheet of baking paper lined with a touch of oil or oil spray or onto a lightly greased marble or granite surface.
Flatten it slightly with an oiled rolling pin.
Let it cool before cutting it into pieces
Keep stored in airtight container.

Giuggiulena is usually made for Christmas and more recently at Easter but because it keeps well, it is often served to visitors at other times of the year – it is particularly useful to have on hand in case unexpected guests come – one would not want to make a brutta figura.  My relatives wrap each piece of giuggiulena in cellophane or greaseproof paper.

 

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SALAME TURCO (Turkish salame)

It was not easy to buy Italian sweets in the late 60’s in Australia and SALAME TURCO was a sweet that I used to help my mother make. We kept it in the fridge until it was ready to slice and it came in handy just in case someone dropped in unannounced.
I bought a copy of the Feast SBS magazine recently and noticed that they have a recipe for salame di cioccolato and it appears to be the same thing. I guess that these days this is the politically correct term for this recipe, but salame turco has cultural and religious connections – back in the days of heathens and Christians the invading darker skinned Moors were known as Turks. The chocolate of course makes it dark and when the salame is cut the crumbs and the nuts resemble the minced fat component of the salame.
INGREDIENTS
300 g of biscuits (We used any type of plain sweet biscuits. Most of the time it was a way to use up broken biscuits).
50g of cocoa, (the Italian or Dutch brands are particularly strong and flavourful)
100 g chopped almonds
20 g, chopped pistachios
1 egg
50g sugar
30g butter (unsalted)
1/2 glass rum, marsala dolce or other liqueurs like Amaretto.

PROCESSES
Separate the yolk from the white.
Beat the egg yolk with the sugar until creamy and the sugar is dissolved. In another bowl beat the white until soft peaks form.
Make course crumbs from the biscuits.

Melt the butter with the cocoa and rum. Allow to cool but not solidify;
work quickly.
Incorporate
all of the ingredients one at the time. Stir gently .The mixture should be firm.
Shape it into a salame (log shape – we used to make it about 2 centimetres in diameter)
Place it in some greaseproof or baking paper. (We used to use the paper wrapper from the butter.)
Leave in the fridge until ready to slice approximately 20mm thick.

 

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VESPERS and a celebration of chickpeas in BACCALÀ CON CECI alla fiorentina (Salt Cod with Chickpeas as cooked in Florence)

Both my grandmothers always added baking soda (bicarbonato) to the soaking water when cooking chickpeas (ceci in Italian). Mind you, they also dissolved bicarbonato in water to help their digestion.

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Old habits die hard: just because her mother had done this, my mother also did this, but by the time I was old enough to cook chickpeas these unnecessary habits stopped.

Evidence found in archaeological sites all around the Mediterranean indicate that chickpeas have been around for a very long time – since Neolithic times and in the early Bronze Age. These legumes were important food sources in countries like in Cyprus, Iraq, India Turkey, Egypt, Crete and Southern Italy – they were grown in Pompeii to feed the Roman empire.

Chickpeas are mentioned in the Iliad by Homer and by Pliny, and continued to be a popular food source in all of these countries.

In more recent times ceci  have a prominent place in Sicilian history. On Easter Monday, March 30, 1282 in Palermo, Sicilians were waiting to attend Vespers (church service). Here occurred the beginning of a rebellion which had been brewing for a long time – Sicilians were against the rule of Charles I of Anjou, ruler of Sicily and they took the opportunity to use a trivial event to massacre the Frenchmen who were identified by their inability to pronounce the word for chickpeas without their inevitable lisp.

Below, the Arno River. Featured image, the Arno in the snow.

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On the anniversary of this Sicilian Vespers event it is time to celebrate another recipe for chickpeas, this time not with a Sicilian recipe, but one from Florence – baccalà e ceci.

This dish of course of is also be suitable for Good Friday – a day of fasting and abstinence in the Catholic Church.

And why a recipe from Florence? This came about because my brother and sister in law visited Spain last year; we recently discussed how they particularly had enjoyed eating bacalao in Spain with chickpeas and how many of the Spanish recipes seem very similar to the Italian ones.

I was in Florence a couple of years ago and ate baccalà in a small trattoria; it was not the usual baccalà alla fiorentina which is made with tomatoes, parsley and garlic and of which different variations exist and with different names, all over Italy and not just in Tuscany.

There are a number of particularly similar Catalan and Florentine recipes of salt cod and chickpeas; the following recipe is from Florence and although there are many variations in the cooking of baccalà con ceci, the following has the flavours that work for me. It is also a complete course and pretty balanced.

 

Thick pieces of salt cod (cut from the centre) are best. Leave the skin, but cut away fins and obvious bones. Cut into pieces (7- 10cm). Rinse well in running water before soaking for 36-48 hours (over soaking will not spoil the fish, especially if the pieces of baccalà are thick). Keep it covered in a bowl in the fridge. Change the water at least 4-5 times.

Baccala while soaking

1 k of baccalà serves 4-6 people.
Soak the chickpeas in water overnight for 8 – 12 hours. Cover the chickpeas with fresh water, cover and bring them to the boil, Cook until tender.

INGREDIENTS
baccalà ,1k  pre-soaked
chickpeas, 500g, cooked
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
freshly ground, black pepper and maybe a little salt
leeks, 3, sliced into rings
sage, rosemary,  (use fresh if possible), a few sprigs
chillies 1-2, chopped
garlic, 2 cloves
white wine, 1 cup
red tomatoes, 400 g, peeled and chopped
silver beet (chard) or spinach, 500g, pre-cooked
PROCESSES
Drain the cod and squeeze out excess water. Skin the fish and pat dry. Cut it into serving pieces (5cm each).
Add some oil to the pan and lightly fry the cod on both sides. Remove from the pan and discard the oil.
Soften the leeks and the herbs in the rest of the oil – use a thick bottom pan that will hold all of the ingredients.
Add the tomatoes, chillies, garlic, and wine and stir these ingredients to incorporate the flavours.
Add the cod and pepper and cook slowly for about 20 mins.
Add chickpeas, taste for salt and add it if necessary.  Cook slowly for another 20mins. At this stage the cod should be cooked and the sauce and chickpeas should have a creamy consistency. Cook for longer and add more liquid if necessary.
Add cooked and drained silver beet (chard) or spinach or serve the baccalà and chickpeas with a separate contorno of spinach (first blanched and then tossed in some hot oil and garlic or hot oil, toasted pine nuts and a few pre-soaked sultanas).
 

See also:
Sicilian Vespers and Minestra di ceci (chickpea soup)

Panelle (chickpea fritters)

Chickpeas soup with wild fennel


 
 

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Sicilian food and culture