As you can see this fish steak is cut vertically from a largish sized fish and it is the perfect size to stud the four different sections with different flavours. On this occasion I used fennel, cloves, garlic and mint. I vary the flavours and I may use rosemary, a bit of cinnamon stick or lemon peel.
I was pleased and surprised to find that the Trevally had been cut into steaks because it is usually only available whole or as fillets. It is pleasing to see that there is a growing awareness that fish, like meat, can be partitioned into different cuts that lend themselves to different styles of cooking. Silver Trevally is also called White Trevally and has a firm, dense texture when cooked. It benefits from a little liquid to deglaze it after it has been seared and can taste dry if it is overcooked.
I used a combination of white wine and Sicilian Marsala Fine – semisecco (semi dry). At other times I have used just white wine or fresh orange juice (with a little grated peel) or dry vermouth. I like to use dry vermouth particularly when I use tarragon – this is not a Southern Italian or Sicilian herb but it is used in the North and known as dragoncello -little dragon. Sage (salvia) is also good to use, but once again it is not widely used in Sicilian cooking.
Silver Trevally is fished in estuaries and coastal waters of southern Australian states and most of the Australian commercial catch is taken in NSW and eastern Victoria.
Other fish I have studded with flavours has been wild caught Barramundi shoulders
and Albacore tuna.
Not much detail is needed in this recipe – the photos tell the story.
Use a thin, sharp knife with a long blade and make slits into four sections of the slice of fish.
Insert into each split half a clove of garlic and three other different flavours. Select from: fennel, cloves, mint, sage, rosemary, a bit of cinnamon stick or lemon peel. .
Heat some extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan that can accommodate the fish in one layer.
Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper. Sauté the fish, turn once (until it colours).
Add Marsala and white wine (about 1/2 cup) and evaporate the liquid leaving the fish in the pan.
Above – One Fish, One Chef, presentation by Josh Niland, and part of Melbourne Good Food Month. Josh butchered a large fish, head to tail – that is correct, almost every part of the fish, innards as well are edible. (Mr Niland, Fish Butchery)
A bit of fish butchery at a fish market in Sicily where butchery has been going on for centuries.
Minesta in Italian means soup. But it does not stop there – minestrone is a thick soup and minestrina is a more delicate or thin soup. All minestre (plural) may or may not have pasta (or pastina) or rice or grains added to thicken them.
Then there is zuppa and this Italian word shares the common root with soupe (French), suppe (German) and sopa (Spanish and Portuguese). These days the differences between a minestra and a zuppa are probably interchangeable and there are always regional and cultural variations (as the Calabrese minestra below), but a zuppa relies on an accompaniment of a slice of bread; usually this is placed in the bowl and the zuppa is ladled on top. The bread soaks up the juice and therefore no pasta, or rice, or grains (barley, wheat) are needed. Traditionally, a zuppa has a broth base, whereas the liquid in a minesta is more likely to be water and relies on the vegetables, pulses, fish, meat (or smoked meat) for flavour. In modern times, recipes for minestra may include the addition of water, stock or broth as the liquid base .
So why am I taking such an interest in the specific Calabrese minestra?
I was recently in Adelaide and ate at Minestra, a small home style eatery in Prospect and ordered minestra with my pork and veal and eggplant polpette – the minestra in this case was presented less soupy and more like a side for the polpette, but it could also be ordered unaccompanied as a one course dish – with a little more liquid and more a like soup. It is not only the food that I like at this eatery where the daily menu is chalked on a black board, and when they run out of a dish, they erase it. The other exciting change to the menu is that it can feature produce the locals bring in … YES, like the sign below says: locals are invited to bring in their produce.
Minestra’s owner and head chef is Sandy Cenin (as you can see by the surname there is a bit of northern Italian in him) and his grandmother is Calabrese.
Inspired by Sandy’s minestra, once home in Melbourne, I was determined to conduct some research and to make it.
Minestra in Calabria takes on a different significance and is a traditional, peasant dish suited to the people who were used to working very hard on the land. And it does not use pasta in this dish … the Calabrese have a reputation for being different (I say this as a pun). This Calabrese minestra has a certain degree of austerity about it, it is not sophisticated or complicated and it is made from simple frugal ingredients – wild greens if possible, and if one was lucky, perhaps a little pork. It also contains beans – dried broad beans or borlotti or cannellini. Hence the description of this minestra being maritata (married in Calabrese dialect) – several green vegetables and the beans (and bits of pork) are ‘married’ or combined to produce a very thick, stew like soup. Some variations include potatoes and as for the pork, it can be fresh meat ribs or rind. I have also seen a recipe that includes the rind of grating cheese (pecorino) for flavourings.
In Calabria, as in Sicily, wild foraged greens are much appreciated and not just due to necessity (as they once were). In Australia we may not be familiar with the range of edible plants available or have access to as many, but we do have some very good, green, leafy vegetables that provide contrasting and strong flavours.
A mixture of three or four of seasonal, green, leafy vegetables, is sufficient – I am using endives (or escarole) and chicory, that are both bitter, cime di rapa (a brassica) for the mustard taste and sow thistle that was sold to me as milk thistle and tastes mild and grassy.
I bought this mixture of greens from my regular fruttivendolo at the Queen Victoria Market (see photo below). If I had foraged for dandelions (bitter taste) or wild broccoletii (wild brassica) I would have used these instead of the more conventional chicory, escarole (bitter) or cime di rapa (mustard).
There are many brassicas that could be suitable – kohlrabi (root and leaves), cabbage, kale (not Italian, but who cares!), cavolo nero, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts (not a Calabrese vegetable)and cabbage.
Wild fennel, amaranth, nettles are also wild greens that could be accessible to you or you may be growing borage in your garden (photo below).
I am going to be Italian when I write this recipe. There are no measurements for the ingredients but my photos can give you an indication and it is ‘cucina povera‘- peasant cooking – that is, use what you can get, make it to your taste, add as much liquid as you wish, but keep it thick.
Use a variety of green leafy seasonal vegetables – whatever you can get – go for combinations of taste – bitter, sweet, peppery, grassy, aniseed taste (as in fennel).
RECIPE for minestra
Soak, cook pulses (borlotti, cannellini, dried broad beans) … or buy tinned beans if that is what you do. In my photo you will see that i have used black-eyed beans – this is not an Italian bean, but it is what I had on hand at the time and I do not think that my breaking of tradition mattered. Drain the pulses you intend to use. Keep the liquid (broth) in case you want to add it as the liquid for the minestra.
Clean the greens, separate them from any tough stems but keep the softer ones.
Soften the greens – boil them in as much or as little salted water as you cook all your green leafy vegetables. Drain them but reserve some liquid for the minestra. I did not have to discard any because I did not use much water to cook my greens.
Chop garlic ( I used quite a bit), sauté the drained greens, add beans. My ratio was about 2/3 greens and 1/3 beans.
Add chopped chilli at the same time as the garlic if you wish or serve chopped chilli or chilli paste separately (Calabresi a fond of pepper paste).
Add as much liquid as you wish, dish it up, drizzle some extra virgin oil on it and eat it with some good bread.
See recipe for the Sicilian Maccu– another of those peasant soups and this one has even more traditions than the Calabrese minestra.
Sousing fish was a way of preserving it before refrigeration by saturating the fish with acid – vinegar in this case which, like salt, prevents the growth of microbes. Sugar is also added and to create an agro dolce dish (sweet and sour). The fish is first fried in olive oil and then marinaded in the vinegar base. Slowly sautéed onions are a common ingredient in soused fish and different flavourings are added to the pickling mix. My Sicilian grandmother would put mint, bay leaves and slivers of garlic in her vinegar marinade (pisci ammarinatu in Sicilian), but the pesse in saor made in Venice and in Trieste where I lived as a child, has raisins and pine nuts in it. Pesse is Triestian for pesce – fish in Italian.
Soused fish is found all over Italy, for example pesce alla scapace is cooked in central and southern Italy and the Molise version is flavoured with saffron, minced garlic and sage. Pesce in carpione from Lombardy has celery and carrot for flavourings, the Ligurian scabeccio has garlic, whole pepper and rosemary, and the Sardinian marinade has chilli, garlic, and tomato sauce.
Soused fish is also common in other cultures – Nordic countries thrive on soused fish and different versions of escabeche are found in Spanish, Portuguese, French and in North African cuisines. I have a German friend who also cooks soused fish – he adds coriander seeds to his.
My maternal grandmother always had soused fish (in pottery terrines and covered with plates as lids) in her kitchen in Sicily.
When she visited us in Trieste she did the same and our kitchen then also smelt of fish and vinegar. She particularly liked to souse eel – eel was good in Trieste. We would walk to the Pescheria together, she would choose the eel she wanted from a big tank and the fishmonger would kill it and chop it into pieces.
I did not much like this part, but I liked going to the Pescheria on the waterfront in the bay of Trieste. The imposing building is now home to Eataly.
Triestinian pesse is mostly made with sardines and is often eaten with white polenta (yellow polenta is usually an accompaniment to meat).
Traditionally, the fish is lightly dusted with flour and salt before it is fried in very hot, extra virgin, olive oil. Although the flour helps to hold the fish together, the oil used to fry the fish will need to be discarded (the sediment will taint the taste of the oil) and the flour coating will often come away from the fish in the marinade.
On my way to Adelaide from Melbourne I drove through Meningie (at the northern end of the Coorong on the shores of Lake Albert) and I bought freshly-caught Coorong mullet. On this occasion I used them instead of sardines to make pesse in saor.
2-3 fish per person /12-16 fresh sardines or small fish (sand whiting, mullet, garfish, flathead, leather jackets), cleaned and filleted with heads and backbone removed.
plain flour and salt for dusting
olive oil for frying
2-3 large white onions, sliced finely
1 cup of raisins
1 cup of pine nuts, toasted
sufficient white wine to soak the raisins
250 ml of white wine vinegar
freshly ground black pepper
Dust the fish fillets in a little flour and salt, shake off as much flour as possible and fry them in plenty of oil until golden and crisp. Place them on kitchen paper to remove excess oil and set aside.
Soak the raisins in the white wine for about 30minutes.
Sauté the onions gently in some olive oil until they are soft. Add the vinegar and pepper and cook the mixture for a few minutes. Set aside.
Select a terrine deep enough to hold the fish, ingredients and vinegar marinade – a narrow, deep terrine is best. Place a layer of fish, add some onions (dig them out of the vinegar mixture), raisins (drained) and pine nuts. Continue layering the ingredients, finishing with a layer of onions, raisins and pine nuts on top. Pour the vinegar over the layers. Cover it, place it in the fridge and allow to marinate at least 24 hours before serving. Serve at room temperature.
Sometimes, it is easier to tell a story and describe a recipe by photos.
Goat or kid if you can get it has been available for a while this season (Autumn in Australia). The mint on my balcony is doing well, celeriac is in season, the last of the red tomatoes also and there is a glut of carrots in Victoria at the moment. And all of these ingredients, cooked on low heat and for a long time made a fabulous ragout (ragù in Italian). On this occasion I used the braise as a pasta sauce. Good quality Pecorino cheese is a must.
Goat cut into cubes – you can tell that it is not an old goat by the pale colour of the meat. It is trimmed of fat.
The usual onion , part of the soffritto in most Italian soups and braises.
Add a chopped carrot and instead of celery I used some celeriac and some of the inner leaves of the celeriac.
Remove the soffritto, add a little more extra virgin olive oil and brown the meat.
Add the herbs and spices. Recognise them? Salt and pepper too.
A couple of red tomatoes.
Top with liquid. I added a mixture of chicken stock (always in my freezer) and some Marsala, to keep it in the Sicilian way of things. On another occasion I may add white wine or dry vermouth.
Cover the pan and braise slowly.
It does not look as good as it tasted…the perfume was fabulous too.
Serve with fresh mint leaves and grated Pecorino.
N.B. Real Pecorino is made from pecora (sheep)..i.e. sheep’s milk. I used a Pecorino Romano. See how white it is in colour?
I recently made Pasta alla norma and although this post was first posted on May 4, 2012 and I am posting it again on 25th April 2018. Ripe tomatoes and eggplants continue into autumn and although the basil may have finished, fresh mint leaves add an interesting fresh taste to the dish.
Pasta alla Normaisone of those dishes Sicilians are extremely fond ofespecially in late summer when the tomatoes are ripe, the basil is abundant and the eggplants are at their best.
There are some summer pasta dishes which call for uncooked, ripe tomatoes and when possible I try not to substitute tinned tomatoes for Pasta alla Norma.
All it is = a salsa of fresh tomatoes, short pasta (caserecce are good) and fried eggplants – usually cubed and added to the pasta once it has been dressed with the tomato salsa. Ricotta salata tops it all off. Easy stuff. Failing ricotta salata, use a strong pecorino cheese… both these cheeses are preferred by Sicilians; parmigiano is the preferred cheese in Northern Italy.
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 ‘anorma’ (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) and 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 Agrigento). The tagliatelle were presented on top of half an eggplant, (that 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 on top. 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 will cook more evenly. Follow the recipe below and to the salsa, add a tablespoon of currants and a couple of chopped anchovies. In Sicily bottarga is salted, cured fish tuna roe rather than bottarga made with grey mullet as common in Sardegna (Sardinia).
I have used casarecce, 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
Remove the stem end of eggplant and without peeling and slice or cut into cubes. I do not usually salt my eggplant; sometimes I briefly soak it in salted water so that the eggplant does not absorb as much oil. 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 large serving bowl and top with the eggplants and the remaining basil (or mint).
Present with grated cheese, preferably ricotta salata.
‘Nduja– a spicy, spreadable, pork salame originating from Calabria is sold in places that sell Italian smallgoods.
I have mainly presented ‘Nduja with some fresh bread (like Pâté) or I have used ‘Nduja as an ingredient in sauces for pasta –an excellent ragù (a meat-based tomato sauce), sautéed with cime di rape and Italian pork sausages and I oftenadd it to squid either for a sauce for pasta/polenta/rice or on their own.
As you can see by the photos, this is a very simple recipe and it is cooked very quickly – onions, ‘Nduja, squid and olive oil. Most of the time I also add finely chopped parsley at the same time as the squid.
Use small to medium sized squid.
1,5 kg of Squid, 150g ‘Nduja, ½ onion, extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice at the end.
Sauté onion in olive oil on medium low heat. Add ‘Nduja, it will dissolve, release some fat and fragrance.
Add squid, a little chopped parsley and stir fry it until it colours (about 10 minutes).
Sprinkle with lemon juice, more chopped parsley or mint and present it.
Culturally In Australia Easter is no big deal, however in Italy it is tied to religious observances and fish is traditionally eaten on Good Friday by Italian Catholics even if they are not practising Catholics.
I plan to cook something simple – a pasta dish with Mussels. Cozze in Italian, cuzzili in Sicilian.
This is not a complicated dish. It is made with fresh mussels and a little fresh tomato, but not so much to mask the taste of the other ingredients.
Local mussels are prolific in Victoria and I regularly buy them at the Queen Victoria Market; these are generally farmed in Port Phillip Bay and recently from Mount Martha; when I get the chance, I like to go to Portarlington, where they are sold straight off the boats. Mussels are sustainable.
Red, ripe tomatoes are fabulous at this time of year, but tinned tomatoes are OK too. I even used some ripe, yellow, heirloom tomatoes in this sauce!
Spaghettini (thin spaghetti) are used for this dish – the thin strands result in a greater surface area and allow greater absorption of the sauce.
The sauce is prepared quickly while the pasta is cooking. The same ingredients and method of cooking this dish can also be used with other fish – try squid.
Do not be horrified and think me a phony for using grated cheese with fish! The rest of Italy may not, but Sicilians do it. Using cheese is not necessary, especially if you like to savor the fresh taste of the tomatoes.
mussels, 2 kg fresh, live mussels
red tomatoes, fresh, 500 g, chopped and peeled
garlic, 3 chopped…to taste
parsley, 1 cup finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil, ½ – ¾ cup
salt and pepper
basil, fresh, some stalks and leaves in the sauce and some leaves to decorate and provide a last-minute aroma
grated pecorino, (optional), to taste
Clean the mussels by rubbing them against each other in cold water (or use a plastic scourer). Pull the beards sharply towards the pointy end of the shell.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep pan.
Add the mussels.
Cover and cook over a brisk flame, shaking the pan every now and then, until the mussels have opened. Turn off the flame and let them cool slightly, then remove and discard the shells of about ¾ of them. Use the whole mussels for decoration.
If you have given the mussels sufficient time to open and some have remained closed, there is no need to discard them. They are very much alive, place them back on heat and they will eventually open.
Save the juice from the mussels in a separate vessel.
Add the onion to a new pan, sauté till golden.
Add the chopped tomatoes and some basil stalks with leaves attached (these can be removed at time of serving).
Simmer the sauce for about 8-10 minutes, just to blend the flavours and to evaporate some of the tomato juice. Place the tomato sauce aside.
Cook the spaghettini.
Add some extra virgin olive oil and garlic to a new pan (or wipe down the same pan that you have used to cook the sauce). Soften the garlic and add the parsley.
Add the mussel meat to the pan and toss the ingredients around for a few minutes before adding the tomato sauce and as much of the mussel juice as you think you will need for the sauce. Remove the cooked basil (it has done its job).
Add the mussels in their shells (gently) to warm through.
Drain the pasta. Add it to the pan with the rest of the ingredients toss them around till they are well coated. Be gentle with the cooked mussels in their shells as you want to keep the mussel meat in the shell.
Add fresh basil leaves.
Present with grated cheese for those who wish.
Pasta with cozze is eaten all over Italy but in Northern Italy parsley and garlic are the preferred flavourings and no tomatoes.
Peperonata is usually made with the red and yellow peppers, onions and tomatoes and in some parts of Sicily potatoes are added. Sometimes, mainly for colour, 1-2 green peppers are added.
Peperoni (peppers) are vibrantly coloured – green, red and yellow and I have also seen new varieties of dark green (almost black) and cream ones as well.
Towards the end of summer and to mid-autumn there are greater numbers of yellow and red peppers – these are much sweeter in taste.
The vegetables are braised slowly and the results are fabulous – the onions and tomatoes almost melt and coat the peppers.
As a contorno, it is an excellent accompaniment for simply cooked fish or meat ( BBQ or fried). It makes a great filling for panini and transports well for picnics…. An Easter picnic perhaps?
Traditionally there are two ways of making peperonata. The first method is to add all the ingredients in a wide pan with some olive oil and to cook it slowly on low heat. Add a little water and stir it periodically so that they do not stick. In Sicily sausages are also commonly cooked in this way – once the water evaporates, the fat/oil is left in the pan to fry and brown the ingredients.
The second method is to soften the onion before adding the peppers (and later the tomatoes). This is my preferred method.
Like Caponata, Peperonata is eaten cold (room temperature). The flavours mature and it keeps well in the fridge for days.
Vary amounts accordingly and as you can see in the photos I just wanted it for two people.
red (and yellow) peppers, 1 k
tomatoes, 2 ripe, peeled and diced
onion, 1-2 sliced
extra virgin olive oil, ¼ cup
fresh basil leaves or sprigs, a few and to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper
a little sugar and red wine vinegar
Clean and cut the peppers into thin strips.
Sauté the onions in the oil.
When the onions are soft, raise the heat and add the peppers. Add seasoning, toss on high heat until they are well coated and beginning to fry.
Add the tomatoes and some basil, cover and cook until the peppers are soft (about 20-30 minutes).
Remove the lid, raise heat and cook until any excess liquid has evaporated.
**Like my cousin Lidia from Augusta (south of Catania) I always add a teaspoon of sugar and a dash of vinegar during the final minutes of cooking. This provides that classical Sicilian sweet and sour flavour.
In other parts of Sicily, it is common to add 2-3 potatoes: either part cook chip-size potatoes and add them half way through cooking or fry uncooked potatoes at the same time as the onions.
Albacore tuna is sustainable, cheap in price and much under rated in Australia. It is not sashimi grade so the Asian export market does not want it and therefore in Australia we also tend to undervalue it. It is denser in texture but still excellent for cooking (lightly or cooked for longer). As in Australia, Blue fin tuna is the preferred tuna in Sicily; if it is sustainable depends on how and where it is caught – it should be wild caught and aquaculture is not an option.
Unfortunately I rarely find albacore tuna where I live in Melbourne and if I do, I always grab it when I can and cook it as I would cook blue fin tuna.
I like tuna seared and left rare centrally but my Sicilian relatives eat tuna very well done and this is also how it is presented in the traditional home-style restaurants in Sicily.
In Sicily there are numerous ways tuna but Tonno alla stemperata is one of the favourites in the south eastern part of Sicily. It was first cooked for me by one of my cousins, Rosetta, who lives in Ragusa. She and her husband have a holiday house on the beach at Marina di Ragusa, and she usually buys most of her fish from the fishermen on the beach.
Although Rosetta prefers to use tuna in this recipe, any firm-fleshed fish, thickly sliced, is suitable. She prefers to cut the tuna into large cubes – this allows greater penetration of the flavours in the sauce and of course, it will cook to a greater degree and more quickly.
Rosetta cooked the fish in the morning and we ate it for lunch, at room temperature…in Australia you may find this unusual but eating it at room temperature and some time after it has been cooked allows the flavours time to develop.
A version of this recipe is also in my first book: Sicilian Seafood Cooking.
I have used Albacore tuna,trevally,mackerel or flathead (better choice category) successfully in this recipe.
tuna or firm-fleshed fish, 4 slices
sliced white onions, 2
capers, ½ cup, salted variety, soaked and washed
white wine vinegar, about 2 tablespoons or for a milder taste use 1 tablespoon of white wine and one of vinegar
extra virgin olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
salt, black pepper or red chilli flakes (as preferred by the relatives in Ragusa),
celery heart, 2 or 3 of the pale green stalks and young leaves, chopped finely
green olives, ½ cup, pitted, chopped
bay leaves, 4
Soften the onion and celery in about half of the extra virgin oil, and cook until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the fish, olives, capers, seasoning and bay leaves and sear the fish. The pieces of fish only need to be turned once.
Add the vinegar and allow the vinegar to evaporate and flavour the dish.
Remove the fish from the pan if you think that it will overcook and continue to evaporate.
Optional: Decorate (and flavour) with mint just before serving.
You can tell I am in South Australia by some of the photos of the fabulous varieties of fish I am able to purchase in Adelaide when I visit.