STUFFED FRESH FIGS, with cheese and mint

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


Looks good, tastes good.

Compliments…. Plenty.

Fresh, good quality figs

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

Decoration and for fresh taste: Fresh mint leaves

See the photo above.


ZUCCA LUNGA SICILIANA – long, green variety of squash



This squash, the green leaves and magnificent sprigs of basil were a gift from a Sicilian friend: her father grew them in his garden. I feel very privileged to be given these precious vegetables. They are not a vegetable that can be easily sourced; I have seen them only once at a market in Melbourne. 

in Sicilian this squash is called a cucuzza and in Italian I will call it a zucca lunga – long squash or zucca serpente – which is what it is, a long serpent like squash. The tender leaves and tendrils of this plant are called tenerumi and I have written about these previously because both are typically loved by Sicilians and commonly used to make a refreshing summer soup (it could also be classified as a wet pasta dish).

BF+pasta+dish_0463-150x150 copy

MINESTRA ESTIVA CON ZUCCA LUNGA SICILIANA, Sicilian Summer soup made with the long, green variety of squash

FRESH PRODUCE (and I did not have to go to SICILY to buy it). The Melbourne Showgrounds Farmers Market


This time I cooked the soup differently than usual. There was more zucca – I used the produce I was given and I also made it in the same pot (in the other recipe which contains more tenerumi and less zucca, two pans are used).

The next day, we ate the leftovers as a cold soup; it was just as good….and as traditional. It is summer after all.

zucca lunga siciliana ( mine was about 25 cms long)
1 large spring onion, sliced
2-3 tomatoes, roughly cut
3 cups of vegetable broth (I used a broth cube, optional) or water
fresh basil leaves, a good handful
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil,
1 cup of spaghetti (broken in small pieces)
Cut the zucca in half, get rid of the seeds and cube it. 
Chop the tomatoes.
Sauté the onion in some olive oil for about 1 minute, add the zucca and continue to sauté for another 2-3 minutes.  
Add the tomatoes. 
Season with salt and pepper, add 2 cups of the stock, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the tenerumi, the rest of the stock and some of the basil; bring the contents to the boil.
Cook the pasta in the same pot; add the pasta and cook it until it is al dente.
Add more basil, a drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil and serve.

I appreciate this soup’s fresh taste and I sprinkled only a few chilli flakes on top (or use black pepper.)


QUAGIE ALLA GRIGIA CON SALVIA (Grilled quail with sage)

Most of the time when I marinate quail for a BBQ I either use the traditional Greek /Italian mixture of oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and oregano, or if I particularly crave for the middle eastern flavours, I may use preserved lemons, cumin, pomegranate molasses; sometimes I may add walnuts, red onions and parsley.


I have always liked to include sage when I braise quail with white wine and particularly if I present them with polenta, so this time, I used sage in the marinade for the quails, which I later grilled.

I must admit, I did crave a bit of grilled polenta to accompany the quail, but on this occasion I accompanied them with a quinoa salad (See Middle- Eastern flavours above and add tomatoes, cucumber).

quails, butterflied/split in half (I cooked 6 large ones, 1 per person),
dry white wine, 1 glass
extra virgin olive oil, ¾  cup
garlic, 2 crushed
pepper, salt
fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon
fresh sage, (12 sprigs, kept whole so that they can be removed after cooking)
Mix all of the ingredients together and marinate the quails for at least 2 hours turning them every so often. Cook on grill for about 20-30 minutes and use the marinade to baste them as they cook.

Because I had some pork sausages to BBQ I decided to push a sprig of fresh rosemary into each sausage before I cooked them. They tasted great. I do like herbs!


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.


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.


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.


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 2

I always cover the cassata with marzipan.

MARZAPANE also called Pasta Reale (Marzipan)

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:

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.





This morning I had the fantastic opportunity of being interviewed by Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National’s Breakfast program.

Fran asked me about how Sicilians traditionally celebrate Christmas and to suggest different menus featuring seafood and accompaniments that Australians could prepare as alternatives to the traditional turkey, chicken and ham, which are being replaced on our Christmas dinner plates.

When I am planning a Christmas lunch I consider:
Who am I feeding will they like this dish?  How many? How much time do I want to spend cooking/ Hot day or cooler? What can I prepare before hand? What fish looks good at the market? Which is my focus ‘wow factor’/emphasis? (is it to be (antipasto) entrée,  pasta( first course) or (second course) main?
Or would I prefer to present a selection of small courses?
In Sicilian Seafood Cooking there are many recipes that in Sicily are intended for swordfish and tuna. Although I have retained the name of the recipe I have also selected fish that are sustainable as preferable choices to endangered species.
Sicilians have simple starters – a plate of olives, some nuts and this is because they like to save their appetites for what is coming and therefore I have selected a light fish starter. They also enjoy eating pasta and this is why I have given several alternatives for the first course. For the first course there is also a rice alternative. By the time you get to the second course you may need a big rest, but I have provided two recipes.
Vegetables have not been included in this menu but they are and as well as important in Sicilian cuisine and there are very many interesting recipes in Sicilian Seafood Cooking and of course beautiful photos, not only of the recipes but as Fran said, also of Sicily.
Starter / antipasto: TONNO CUNZATO 
Raw Marinated Tuna
The fish needs to be fresh and of excellent quality and sliced thinly. Keep it in the fridge while it is in the marinade. The recipes for marinating tuna suggest using a mixture of 7 parts vinegar to 3 parts lemon juice. I prefer to use just lemon juice or 9 parts lemon juice to 1 part vinegar. You may wish to experiment.
This dish is usually served as an antipasto.
Suitable fish:
The recipe is intended for bluefin tuna which is not sustainable. Any skinless fillet cut thinly can be marinated the same way.
500g tuna or other thinly cut, skinless fish
Juice of 4 lemons
¼ – ½ cup white wine vinegar
Dried oregano to taste
2 spring onions (scallions) finely chopped
2-3 stalks celery (pale green stalks and leaves from heart) finely chopped
½ cup capers
¼ cup finely cut parsley
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper
Marinate the fish in the lemon juice and vinegar, making sure that the fish is covered with the marinade. Add oregano and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
For the dressing, mix together the spring onions, celery, capers, parsley, olive oil and seasoning. When ready to serve, remove the fish from the marinade and pour the dressing on top.
Ricotta Ravioli With Black Ink Sauce
2 ½ cups of ricotta
Salt to taste
Extras: sugar, citrus peel or finely cut marjoram
1 quantity pasta (recipe p45)
Black ink sauce:
600g squid or cuttlefish plus 2-3 ink sacs
1 medium onion &/or 2 cloves garlic
½ cup olive oil
100g ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 large tblsp tomato paste
1 cup finely cut parsley
1 cup white wine
Chilli flakes or freshly ground pepper
Clean the squid or cuttlefish carefully and extract the ink sac. Cut into 1cm rings and set aside. The tentacles can also be used.
For the sauce, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil, add the tomatoes and tomato paste, parsley, white wine and sale. Bring to the boil and reduce until the salsa is thick.
Cook the pasta.
Add the ink and chilli flakes to the sauce and mix well. Add the squid rings and cook over a medium-high heat until the squid is cooked to your liking.
Drain the ricotta
Place it in the colander lined with cheesecloth and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Mix the ricotta with a little salt and any of the extra flavourings.
Make the ravioli
The most authentic and quickest way to cut the ravioli is by hand. There is no prescribed size- can be round or square or half-moon shaped.
To make individual ravioli, cut pasta into circles or squares. Place heaped teaspoons of stuffing in the centre of each, continuing until all the stuffing is used. For half-moon shapes fold the pasta over the filling. For others lay another circle or square over the top then moisten edges with a little water and press together carefully to seal properly.
Set the finished ravioli on a lightly floured cloth. They can rest in a cool place for up to two hours.
Cook the ravioli as you would any pasta. Lower them into water a few at a time and scoop each out when it floats to the surface.
Dress them carefully with the black ink sauce so as not to break them. Serve as is or with a scoop of ricotta or some grate pecorino.
Rice with angels
400g cockles
400g mussels
3 cups arborio, carnaroli or vialone rice
3 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup finely cut parsley
¾–1 cup extra virgin olive oil
200g (7oz) prawns, shelled
and de-veined, cut into pieces; some left whole
200g (7oz) squid (small with tentacles), cut into slices
100g (3½oz) of one or a
mixture of: crabs, lobster, Moreton bay bugs, scallops (optional)
grated pecorino
salt and red chilli flakes to taste
Clean the cockles and mussels (see pages 84 and 87). Steam in a covered frying pan coated with a little oil. Once opened, shell them, but reserve some mussels in their shells. Cut up the flesh and save the juice.
While you are preparing the seafood, cook the rice (add the rice to plenty of rapidly boiling, salted water). Drain and place in serving bowl.
In a wide pan, sauté the garlic and parsley in extra virgin olive oil. Add prawns, squid (and any other seafood) and season. Stir for a few minutes, then add the clam juice. Toss for a few minutes without reducing the liquid.
Add mussels and cockles (shelled and unshelled) and heat through.
Mix the seafood with the rice. Arrange some mussels in their shells on top to look like angels with open wings. Serve with grated cheese.
Spaghetti with crayfish

The terms lobster and crayfish are often used interchangeably, but the marine
species are lobsters and the freshwater species are crayfish. There are many
types of lobsters known by a variety of local names.

Lobsters (aragoste) are popular around Trapani, although they are
expensive. When making pasta with aragosta, I often buy spiders (the legs) –
they can be quite meaty and very suitable for a pasta dish that requires cooked
lobster. When buying lobster, select a heavy specimen with a good strong
shell. They molt several times in their life cycle and, if they are pale with a
thin shell, they are not likely to have much flesh. As for size, anything less than
1.5 kg (3lb 5oz) is not worth buying – a lobster under that size doesn’t have
enough meat, especially from the spiders.
There is no comparison between the taste of a freshly cooked lobster and
one purchased already cooked.
This dish requires cooked lobster and it is added last. The other ingredients
are raw and pounded in a mortar and pestle (or pulsed in a food processor).
The raw ingredients can also be finely chopped and mixed together. Use fresh
ripe tomatoes.
Although this recipe is especially suited for lobsters, other crustaceans
can be used.
This pasta dish is fantastic for the hot weather and it could be part of a
celebratory lunch (such as Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere).

Lobster, no less than 50g (1¾oz) of meat per person
Juice of 3 lemons, plus grated zest of 1 lemon
about ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
600g (1lb 5oz) ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and drained, chopped
1 small bunch of basil
½ cup finely cut parsley
½ cup capers; if salted soaked and thoroughly rinsed
500g (17½oz) spaghetti or spaghettini
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Remove the flesh from the lobster, tear or cut into small portions and place it in a bowl with the juice of 1 lemon and some of the oil.
Use a mortar and pestle to combine the rest of the ingredients. Begin with
the garlic, then add the tomatoes, seasoning, and some more oil. Then stir in
the basil, parsley capers and, lastly, the zest of 1 lemon – stir these into the
pesto. Add some of the lemon juice, taste the pesto and add more if necessary
(you may not need all of the lemon juice).
Cook and drain the spaghetti. Arrange in a serving bowl, add the pesto
and lobster and mix it gently. I like to add more grated lemon zest on top.
Stuffed calamari with fresh cheese, almonds
and nutmeg braised in marsala
6 medium squid (or 12 small squid)
1 cup breadcrumbs, made from good-quality day-old bread, toasted in a little oil
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely cut
¼–½ teaspoon nutmeg
150g (5oz) fresh cheese (tuma, pecorino fresco, mozzarella, fior di latte or bocconcini), cut into small cubes
1 cup dry marsala
½ cup almonds, blanched and chopped
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Clean the squid: pull off the head and the inside of the squid and discard. Cut
off tentacles and save them for another time.
Mix the remaining ingredients except the oil together; check the seasoning.
Stuff the squid and secure each end with a toothpick.
Sauté each squid in olive oil – when the juice escapes it caramelises – turning once only during cooking. Alternatively, cover with foil and bake in a 200°C (400°F) oven for about 10 minutes. The squid will produce its own juice. To caramelise, remove foil and bake the squid for an extra 10 minutes.
Add chopped pistachio rather than almonds.
Baked fish with potatoes, vinegar and anchovies
1–1.5kg (2lb 4oz–3lb 5oz) whole fish, or large pieces
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 onions, finely chopped a small bunch parsley, finely chopped
250g (9oz) potatoes, thinly sliced
3–6 anchovies, finely chopped (see above)
juice of 2 lemons, plus grated zest of 1 lemon
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Suitable fish
Any whole fish or large fillets of medium to firm fish, preferably with the skin
on. The fish is cooked whole and carved like meat at the table.
If using whole fish or fillets with skin, make a series of slashes in the skin. Mix
the oil with the vinegar, onions and parsley. Add seasoning and marinate the
fish for about an hour, turning frequently.
Place the fish in an ovenproof dish, spoon half of the marinade over it and bake for 10 minutes in a 200°C (400°F) oven. Arrange the sliced potatoes around the fish. Sprinkle the potatoes and the fish with more marinade, the anchovies, lemon juice and grated zest. Bake for another 20–35 minutes, depending on the type of fish. Serve hot.
 Place rosemary and bay leaves underneath the fish in the baking pan.



Vegetables in Season- winter, Melbourne, Victoria, September

In Melbourne (Queen Victoria Market Stall no 61-63)
Some Links to Previous Posts 
Make the most of:
Fennel = many posts on All Things Sicilian and More
Artichokes = many posts on All Things Sicilian and More
Get ready for Spring: 


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


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).
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.
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 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.
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
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.


PIZZAIOLA (fettine di manzo, steak cooked alla pizzaiola)

Pizzaiola, my mother called it, no need to use the term bistecca or fettine alla pizzaiola because experienced, Italian cooks all knew, that this traditional dish was only made with yearling or beef steak.

My son visited me last weekend and I cooked pizzaiola for him – it was one of his favourites as a child, either cooked by his grandmother or me.


Pizzaiola is a classic and very simple Neapolitan dish: young beef, ripe tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, oregano, garlic, seasoning and parsley. These are the simple flavours of Naples (Campania region of Italy), the home of pizza. There may be some simple and complimentary variations when i napoletani make this dish, for example the addition of basil or some finely chopped anchovies – and even a food purist like me could tolerate a little of these ingredients. If you want the real thing, pizzaiola is cooked on the stove, no mushrooms, bacon, cheese slices, capers, olives or any other embellishment.

I had not cooked this dish for a long time so I thought that I would consult some of my books about Regional Italian cuisine. Because it is a Neapolitan dish, it is not represented by all of the classic cooks, (not even Pellegrino Artusi (1820–1911), author of La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene – The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well.) But some of the old, celebrity lions and lionesses (e.g. Waverly Root, Ada Boni, Elizabeth David, Anna Gosetti della Salda) include the recipe in their collections and know how it is traditionally cooked. Do not look for a recipe on the web, you may be grossly misinformed.

In some of the recipes, the steak is sealed quickly in hot oil before it is added to the sauce. My mother never did this (and in fact some of the older recipes do not do this either); the steak is put into the sauce raw, this results in a much lighter tasting dish.

I like to add potatoes to pizzaiola and cook the potatoes with the meat at the same time; patate all pizzaiola is also a classic Neapolitan dish and often the two are combined.

Usually in Italian cuisine dry oregano is preferred (because it is stronger tasting), but for pizzaiola the fresh oregano is also well-liked – use a generous amount of fresh oregano and cut it finely.

You need lean, young beef, sliced very thinly. On this occasion I used a girello which I sliced myself, but in the past I have used thinly sliced topside. If I use rump or sirloin which require less cooking time, I do not add potatoes, reduce the amount of cooking time and only use half of the amounts of tomatoes. I am unsure of what cuts of meat to use in other countries – I have many readers in the USA or UK.

This dish is assembled in layers and then cooked.

1. young beef/yearling steaks, very thinly sliced, trimmed of all fat and beaten with a meat mallet to about 5mm thick, 6 (one per person)
2. tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, 800g (2 tins x 400g each)
3. potatoes, peeled, then cut into thick slices, estimate how many you would like for each guest
4. extra virgin olive oil ¾ cup, garlic 4-5 cloves cut finely, salt and pepper to taste, fresh parsley cut finely, ½ cup, oregano, fresh ½ cup (or dried, 2 teaspoons).

Begin with a dribble of oil, herbs and garlic etc (See 4 above).
Next, add some tomatoes (See 2 above).
The next layer is steak, (continue with 4 and 2)
Then a layer of slices of potatoes (see 3 above).
Continue with the layers and ensure that the ingredients are just covered with some tomato. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are cooked and the meat is tender.

As my son said at the end of the meal: “Just like nonna used to make it”.
Why are grandmothers more important?


PUDDASTRI CA PIPIRATA: POLLASTRI CON PEPERATA (Chicken with a sauce containing pepper and spices)

These beautiful chickens (and dogs) belong to friends. The chicken with the speckled feathers around her neck (in the front of the top photo/ and in the second photo at the bottom) won 1st prize at the Royal Melbourne show in 2009.
My friends would not dream of eating their chickens.

In the hot weather,  I sometimes prepare a chicken salad, adapted from a Bugialli recipe called Insalata di cappone. I have made this salad over many years – the book was published in 1984 and Bugialli says that his recipe comes from a restaurant in Mantova (Mantua) and is the typical sweet and sour dish from the Renaissance period. In his recipe the capon is poached in broth and then pickled in the marinade for at least twelve hours. It is served cold.

Several years ago I found a very similar recipe in a book about Southern Italian cooking. The writer had eaten Piperata chicken in Trapani (Sicily) and acknowledges that it was probably not a traditional recipe. It contains chicken breasts and along with other things – zest and juice from a lemon, pine nuts and currants – the same flavours used in Bugialli’s recipe.

Making the Sicilian dish with chicken breasts indicates that it is a modern recipe, but most of the flavours could be Sicilian – the agrodolce (sweet and sour) taste and flavourings, the lemon juice, the peel, the currants, the pine nuts. The agrodolce and use of spices is attributed to the Arabs, but also to the Romans, and both of these peoples were in Sicily. Strong sauces were often used to disguise spoiled food, especially meat, and vinegar and sugar have been used throughout time as a preservative (Caponata contains vinegar and sugar and in ancient times was a useful dish to take to sea by fishermen because of its long lasting properties).

Could the recipe be Sicilian?I began to investigate the origins of the recipes.

I began my research with pipirata. From this, to piperatum, and in ancient Rome this was the “peppered broth” or “the water in which beef has been cooked in”. The broth contained garum and pepper.

Garum was made through the crushing and fermentation in brine of the innards of fish. It originally came from the Greeks and was very popular with the ancient Romans. Garum was a seasoning preferred to salt and when added to other ingredients like vinegar, wine, oil and pepper it became a condiment used for meat, fish and vegetables – a type of fish sauce similar to the Asian fish sauces of countries like Thailand and Vietnam.

Pevere in the Veneto (dialect spoken in the region of Northern Italy) means ‘pepper’ and peverada is a sauce used as a common condiment in modern,  Italian cooking (mostly northern Italian). It is a sauce for game, excellent with duck or poultry and roasted meats. The most well-known peverada originated in the Veneto area and it usually contains garlic, oil, pepper, parsley, lemon juice, vinegar, livers (from the fowl being cooked), soppressa (salame), anchovies and pomegranate juice. The ingredients are minced and then sautéed adding the liver last. These ingredients are gently poached in broth. Lastly lemon juice, pomegranate juice and wine vinegar are added, and the sauce is reduced.

The sweet and sour types of sauces were also popular with the French.

In Mediavel times, especially in the cooking of France most kitchens would have used vinegar or verjuice, lemon juice, or the juice of sour oranges, or pomegranate to add acidity to sauces. This would have been balanced with sweet ingredients, sugar or honey, dried fruit or concentrated grape juice or sweet wine. Meat was also preserved in a mixture of stock and vinegar. The sweet and sour taste and the use of strong spices were also popular in Renaissance times.  Chicken and the prized spices used in both recipes were once rare and expensive and the dish is not likely to be considered a poor person’s dish. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the nobility of southern Italy and Sicily employed a monsu’ – a monsieur or French-trained cook who could have used elaborate sauces to dress game or roast fowl.

I also found a recipe for Chicken in pomegranate juice in Barbara Santich’s book: The original Mediterranean Cuisine, medieval recipes for today.

In the recipe, the chicken is simmered in pomegranate juice and almond milk (made from blanched almonds) and flavoured with cinnamon and sugar. In the accompanying text Santich states that Maxine Robinson has traced the origins of this dish to an Arab dish, the recipe probably arriving in western Europe through early translations of Arab dietetic writing and appearing in most early Mediterranean collections and also early thirteenth century Andalusian text.

Bugialli does not use pomegranate in his recipe, but I have sometimes decorated the dish with pomegranate seeds. I have also used anchovies and both of these ingredients are popular in Sicilian cooking.

And just when I thought that the chicken salad dish could be Sicilian after all, I found one recipe called Jadduzzedi e Puddastri ca sarsa pipirata in Pino Correnti’s book: Il libro d’oro della cucina e dei vini di Sicilia.

Correnti describes the dish as young chickens and roosters, pot roasted in oil, butter, bay leaves, rosemary, salt and pepper and deglazed with a little marsala (the dry variety). These were then served with a reduced salsa pipirata consisting of the following ingredients: vin cotto, broth flavoured with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and rosemary, grated lemon peel and pomegranate juice. Apparently this particular dish was appreciated by a noble in Palermo in the eighteenth century.  Unfortunately then Correnti  goes on to say that this dish was revealed to him by a medium, and that he has never found  any basis or documentation for this recipe.

I could not come to any definite conclusion – this dish does not seem to be clearly Sicilian or Montuan. All cuisines have cultural origins, but the cooking methods and flavours have altered and evolved throughout history to become what they are today.

Here is my version of Puddastri ca pipirata.

chicken fillets, skinless or with skin. I use organic and depending on how large they are, estimate 1 per person.
The following recipe is sufficient for 6 people.

For the poaching liquid:
chicken stock, sufficient to cover the fillets (made beforehand)
celery, 2 stalks left whole
carrots, 3 young, scraped and left whole
onion,1 sliced into thick slices
spices, 5 whole cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, 6 pepper corns
bay leaves, 3
parsley, 4 sprigs
rosemary, 1sprig

For the marinade:
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup
spices, 1/2  teaspoon of each, ground cloves and cinnamon (I used whole cloves once and watched my friends picking them out from their mouths – not a good feel),
bay leaves, 3- 4 (fresh leaves look great as well as doing their job)
chilly flakes or black pepper, to taste (I use plentyt)
sugar, a small teaspoon
salt, to taste
red wine vinegar 1/3 cup
lemon, the juice of 1, and the peel , peeled with a potato peeler and kept in strips so it can easily be removed.

For the salad:
celery, 2 of the tender stalks sliced thinly, and some of the light green leaves, chopped
cooked chicken and carrots
spring onions, 3 chopped or cut lengthwise into thin , short pieces
pine nuts, 3/4 cup
seedless muscatels (or raisins or currants), 3/4 cup previously soaked in a little wine or marsala

Prepare this dish at least the day before you serve it – this allows the flavours in the marinade to achieve the required results.(I have learned through experience that this dish tastes even better if left to marinade for at least 24 hours).
Use a wide, shallow sauce pan which allows the fillets to be placed in a single layer (if possible). If the chicken is in a double layer, ensure that during the poaching process you swap the ones on top with the ones in the bottom layer to allow even cooking.

Prepare the poaching liquid – I really like to make this strongly flavoured.
Use sufficient chicken stock to cover the chicken fillets. (I usually have some stock in the fridge or stored in the freezer made with chicken with bones, carrot, onion and celery stick, a little salt, boiled and then reduced – see BRODO earlier post).
Strain the stock through a colander, empty it into the saucepan and to the stock, add the ingredients in for the poaching liquid listed above.
Bring the stock with added flavourings to the boil.
Place the fillets gently into this poaching liquid – it should just cover the fillets. Adding the meat to the hot stock will seal the meat and preserve the flavou. Adding the meat to the cold liquid will enrich the taste of the broth. Because the meat is the focus, add the chicken to the hot liquid.
Cover with a lid and bring slowly to the boil again on medium heat. Leave the chicken to poach gently for about 7 minutes (I do not like to overcook them – they need to be white in colour and when pricked with a fork still have some resistance).
Remove the pan from the heat and leave the chicken in the poaching liquid till cool – the chicken will keep on cooking in the poaching liquid and be kept moist till you are ready to marinade it.
Marinade: Mix all of the ingredients together in a container.
To assemble the salad:
I like to use a deep glass bowl to see the chicken and salad ingredients in layers.
Take out chicken fillets and cut each fillet into thick slices.
Strain the poaching liquid, discard the solids but keep the carrots – these can be sliced into batons and added to the salad.
Place the chicken fillets and carrots in layers and cover with a little marinade and other ingredients as you go. The lemon peel and bay leaves can be at the bottom of the dish and between the layers. Sprinkle pine nuts and drained dried muscatels, the spring onions, celery and carrots between the layers.
Top the whole dish with some of the cooled poaching liquid until all the chicken is covered (this will keep it moist and a good colour) and leave to pickle in the fridge. Shake the dish occasionally to amalgamate the flavours. Remove it from the fridge about an hour prior to serving.

Prior to presenting the dish you may like to drain off some of the liquid to make it more manageable. Ensure that each person receives some of the other solids as well as the chicken and serve some of the liquid separately if you wish.

It is at this stage that on numerous occasions I have taken more liberties with dish by:
•    adding one or more extra ingredients to the dressing: 1-2 chopped anchovies , 1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses instead of the sugar (molasses is definitely not Sicilian)
•   scattering pomegranate seeds on top of the salad.

Save any left over liquid to use as a stock to flavour braised rabbit, chicken, pork and venison dishes.

A bit of trivia:
I read recently that pomegranate juice has anti-inflammatory compounds, cancer-killing isoflavones and antioxidant properties. Italians call it melograna, melograno granato, pomo granato, or pomo punico. The generic term, punica, was the Roman name for Carthage, and the best pomegranates came to Italy from Carthage.


CASSATA (It is perfect for an Australian Christmas)

Many believe that a cassata is an ice cream cake made out of assembled layers of ice cream. But no Sicilian believes this.

The unrivalled Sicilian cassata is made with ricotta.

Some people differentiate between the two cassate by referring to the one made with ice cream a Neopolitan cassata, this may be because it is very much like Neapolitan ice cream composed of three different layers of contrasting colours and flavours – one of chocolate, a red coloured variety which sometimes can taste like strawberry and a vanilla flavoured one mixed with nuts and glace fruit. In Australia the pink layer in the slices of that particular ice confectionary called a cassata is sometimes made of cake soaked and flavoured with a pink cordial like essence. In the early 19th century, the ice cream makers of Naples were famous for making moulded, opulent, ice cream layered cakes and these were called cassate.

The Sicilian cassata is a round, moulded cake shaped in a bowl lined with layers of sponge cake, the chief ingredients are sheep’s milk ricotta (it is sweeter and more delicate than ricotta made with cows milk), mixed with sugar, small bits of dark chocolate and candied citrus or zuccata (candied pumpkin). Within Sicily there are some variations which vary by location and family tradition, for example some recipes include an additional layer of sponge cake in the centre as well as the casing.


Cassata was once more popular at Easter, but it is now eaten at any festive occasion in Sicily including Christmas.

The Sicilian cassata, however, has much older roots than the ice cream cakes popular with the Neapolitans.

Some say that the word cassata may have come from the Roman name for cheese, caseus ( the Sicilian word for cheese is casu` or caseata).

Many believe that its origins are Arabic – the Arabs occupied Sicily for several hundred years – the invasion began in 827 AD and they conquered Sicily in 902 AD. They introduced the cultivation of sugar, very sweet desserts and the use of nuts and dried fruit in pastries. It is also likely that the name cassata may have come from Arab word qas’ah, a deep terra-cotta bowl; that may even have been used to shape the cake.

The sponge cake is called pan di spagna in Italian (bread from Spain) and may have been a Spanish addition – the Spanish ruled Sicily intermittently for may years (Angevins, Aragonese, Viceroys and Bourbons from 1282 until the end of the reign of Ferdinand the second in 1859).

There are baked versions of Sicilian casssate and these are often made at home. The uncooked version of cassata can also be made at home successfully, but usually my relatives order their cassata from a pasticceria – it is left to the experts to make, mainly because cassate are usually elaborately decorated by pasticceri.

The cassata is left to set and once it is turned out of the mould it is spread with apricot jam. It can then be covered with a sugar fondant(this is often coloured pale green because at one time cassata was covered with marzipan made with pistachio meal). Some of the cassate in pasticcerie are often very baroque and white and green striped fondant is used. They are then decorated with ribbons of zuccata (candied pumpkins) and are often sprinkled with silver sugar balls.
My preferred option is to cover it with marzipan and candied fruits and I have no trouble making the marzipan (see previous post).


I first made cassata using Ada Boni’s recipe from her Italian Regional Cooking  book – this is a very fine and old publication which has been out of print for some time. My cassata recipe, through the ages, has developed to the following and it always seems to taste good, even if it is not as professionaly decorated as the images in this post.
The marzipan can be made well ahead of time (see earlier posts, marzapane).I have also used marzipan fruit as decoration(this is not  traditional).

fresh ricotta, 700g
caster sugar, 120 g
dark chocolate, 60g
pistachio nuts, 100g chopped
candied citrus peel, 60g (of good quality and if possible lemon, orange and cedro – candied citron)
vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon(I use vanilla bean paste),
cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon
liqueur, 1/2- 3/4 cup to taste. I have used one of the orange or mandarine flavoured ones, sweet Marsala or Amaretto, Strega or Maraschino

marzipan to cover the cassata (see earlier post)
glace fruits for decoration
apricot jam,1/2 cup
sponge cake, approx 250 g (if bought).


If you make a sponge cake:
Use 5 eggs, 120 g of sugar, 100 g of sifted flour, grated lemon peel and/or vanilla (I use vanilla bean paste or flavour my sugar with vanilla pods) and butter to grease the cake tin.
Process: Beat egg yolks with sugar until creamy. Fold in egg whites separately until very firm and add them to the mix. Slowly fold in the flour, then add flavours. Bake sponge cake in moderate heat for approx. 40 minutes.

Line a deep round mould with layers of foil or plastic wrap or baking paper.
Cut the sponge into thin layers. Use them to line the sides of the mould. Leave enough sponge to cover the top of the cassata.
Sprinkle the sponge with liqueur to moisten.
Blend the ricotta with the sugar (some use a syrup made with sugar dissolved over heat in a little water, allow the syrup to cool before using.) Slowly stir in the vanilla, cinnamon and a dash of liqueur (do not use this if you have used a sugar syrup).
Fold in the nuts, small pieces of chocolate and candied peel.
Press the ricotta mixture into the lined mould, smooth the top and cover with a layer of sponge cake.Sprinkle with more liqueur. I usually refrigerate the cassata overnight (to set) and cover it with marzipan about 2-3 hours before I serve it.
Make the marzipan and roll it out into a thin round shape.
Turn the cassata out of the mould when it is ready to cover with the marzipan and spread the outer with a thin layer of apricot jam.
Cover with the marzipan and decorate it with the fruit.

Keep it in the fridge until ready to serve.


I have had a request to explain about the type of ricotta to use.
I always buy the solid ricotta, usually sold in large rounds –  vendors slice it to the required weight.
I never buy the ricotta sold in the tub – it is far too watery( and often tasteless). If this is the only ricotta that you can purchase, it is a good idea to drain it overnight.

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