I had forgotten how much I particularly like Formaggio Fresco, pan fried with a sliver or two of garlic in a smidgen of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled with a little dry oregano and de-glazed with a little red vinegar and a pinch of sugar (optional). This is how Sicilians like it.
Formaggio Fresco = Cheese Fresh….Fresh Cheese.
This Sicilian recipe is called Formaggio all’Argentiera.
Why All’ Argentiera?
An argentiere in Italian is a silversmith.
All’argentiera means “in the style of…as an argentiere would cook it”.
Why this name?
An argentiere can afford the price of meat, a poor person cannot, however, the poor can afford to buy and cook cheese and pretend that he is eating meat. The lovely smells dissipating from the windows of the poor will give passers-by the impression that just like a silversmith he can afford to eat meat. It is all to do with the making a bella figura syndrome.
The recipe is quick and easy, the difficulty could be finding what is called Formaggio Fresco. What is ‘fresh cheese?’
Some producers call Formaggio Fresco, Fresh Pecorino, but they are both young cheese (aged typically 15- 45 days depending on the manufacturer). It is a white, semi soft, smooth and milky cheese, good for slicing and for partially melting.
Pecorino is made from the milk of a pecora, (sheep), however, most Pecorino Fresco or Formaggio Fresco, especially in Australia is made from cows’ pasteurized milk, salt and culture (usually rennet).
Aged Pecorino, whether Romano (Roman), Sardo (Sardinian), Toscano, or Siciliano is the firm, salty and sharp cheese we are familiar with and used for grating – you can eat it too. In Italy they are DOP cheeses and made in the place of origin.
Stores that have Italian Produce are likely to have Formaggio Fresco but I have also seen some in a few good supermarkets.
In Melbourne I can buy Formaggio Fresco made by these manufacturers: That’s Amore cheese, they call it cacciotta and Pantalica make Bacio and Pecorino Fresco.
In Adelaide the manufacturers are: La Casa Del Formaggio and La Vera. I have seen La Vera sold in other Australian cities as well.
A little extra virgin olive oil to fry the cheese.
Also: 1 large clove of garlic (cut into slivers), pinches of dried oregano, 1-2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a pinch of sugar.
I prefer to use a non-stick fry pan.
Heat the oil; use medium heat.
Add the garlic, the slices of cheese and lower the heat. Sprinkle the cheese with some of the dry oregano.
Cook that side of cheese until golden in colour, turn the cheese over and repeat with the dry oregano….cook for as long again.
Add the vinegar and sugar ( I sometime do) and deglaze the pan.
Last year (2019) I stayed and travelled through parts of Tuscany, Emilia Romagna, Liguria, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino Alto Adige and a few places around Mantova (Mantua) in Lombardy. I loved it all, but I particularly enjoyed spending time in some parts of South Tyrol I had not ever visited – South Tyrol is an autonomous province and part of the two that make up the region of Trentino-Alto Adige.
A few years before this trip I stayed and travelled around Bergamo, Brescia, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore and also parts of Piedmont.
And years before this, I travelled through from France to Trieste, stopping in many places on the way.
And just because all these places may be described as being in Northern Italy, you will find the food from place to place is vastly different.
Never skiing, always looking, appreciating, drinking and eating.
Those of you who have travelled through Northern Italy may notice that the further north you go, the more corn (polenta), barley, rye, and buckwheat you will find in local dishes, especially in the array of dark breads, cakes and pastries.
I particularly like buckwheat polenta and rye or buckwheat pasta.
Rye and buckwheat are popular in Eastern Europe where, in particular, the climates are cold. Cold weather brings deep winter snow and the jaggered peaks and mountains increase the isolation, especially in earlier times when transporting produce was much harder than today. The food in this particular part of Lombardy is unique because of its isolation in the past.
Italian food is all about locality – unique heritage, local produce and local food.
For example, Valtellina is a long narrow valley bordered by mountains in northern Lombardy, north of Lake Como and it is recognized for Pizzoccheri – a buckwheat pasta that is cooked with cabbage and potatoes – vegetables associated with hearty food – suitable for cold weather terrain. The distinctive flavour of this dish is enhanced by the alpine cheeses such as Bitto and Valtellina Casera (DOP cheeses – Protected Designation of Origin) which the region is renowned for producing.
Rye and buckwheat, especially, are widespread and prominent in the region and used in the local cuisine. Rich pasture is plentiful, and this region is also renowned for dairy produce. Sage is a hardy perennial and garlic (lots of it) add flavour. The garlic may also be there to boost health – in many countries, garlic has been used medicinally for centuries.
The use of rye or buckwheat creates a darker, chewier and more flavoursome pasta. Obviously, it does not go with all sauces, but I particularly like it with nut and herb based dressings and cheeses.
Pizzoccheri is not a dry pasta dish and commonly the ingredients are drained before they are dressed with the butter and the cheeses, but I much prefer it as a wet pasta dish, so I suggest you read the whole recipe before you decide to make it.
The ratio of using buckwheat flour to white flour varies, but I like 300g of buckwheat to100g 00 white. No eggs are used in this type of pasta, just water, however, once again, occasionally I have added 1 egg to the mix.
Some cooks use more potatoes than cabbage, I like to use more cabbage than potato, say approximately 300 g potatoes to 400 g cabbage.
The cheese Valtellina Casera may be difficult to find, so you may wish to substitute it with Fontina or Gruyère, Emmental, Edam, or Gouda, especially if the cheese is aged.
To make rye pasta use the same amounts and procedure as described in this recipe, but substitute the buckwheat flour with rye flour and add three eggs. When making rye pasta I usually add some caraway seeds, or fennel or anise to the dough when kneading. At times, I have also done this when making buckwheat pasta.
Once again, the amounts are only guides. When my relatives make/ made pasta (or I make pasta for that matter) I use an estimation of judgement. I can remember my mother saying:
“One fistful (unpugno) of flour per egg, and ½ eggshell of water if it needs more liquid”
Having grown up with this, I still use this measure.
300 g buckwheat flour
100 g 00 flour
300 g butter
200 g cheese (see above)
6 cloves of garlic, a few sage leaves
salt and pepper
Parmesan, grated, at time of serving
Place the 2 flours and a pinch of salt in a bowl and mix. Make a well in the centre, pour in some water, a little at the time. Use your fingers to mix liquid with the flour, until everything is combined. Knead it to make one smooth lump of dough (for 5-8 minutes).
Once you have cut the pasta into the width of pappardelle, cut each strip diagonally into pieces roughly 1 cm long.
Cut the potatoes into cubes – I like waxy potatoes and leave the skins on, Italians peel them. Remove the core from the cabbage and cut into strips about 2 cm square.
Put the potatoes into some cold water, sufficient to make a thick soup like consistency when all of the ingredients have been added and cooked.
The pasta will swell a bit and need more water than the vegetables; it needs liquid to cook so estimate sufficient water. You can also always add more boiling water to the dish as the pasta cooks if you think it needs more liquid.
When the potatoes come to the boil add the cabbage and add the pasta. I do not think it matters if you use a lid or not while it cooks. If I have too much liquid, I tend to leave the lid off to allow some evaporation. Cook until all is cooked and keep the pasta al dente.
Cut the garlic cloves into thin slices, add some sage leaves and gently cook them in the butter but prevent them from browning.
Cut the cheese into small cubes.
Now, this is where you need to decide if you drain the solids and dress it or eat it as a wet pasta dish. My preference is for a wet pasta dish and to remove some of the liquid if it is too wet… save it for making another and different soup.
Sometimes, I have cheated. When i do not have time to make fresh pasta, I have used commercially made pasta. As you can see these are spiralli. San Remo makes both buckwheat and spelt spiralli. Both good. NOT traditional.
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?
You must admit the combination above sounds pretty good – the contrasts of flavours, differences in textures, the bitter taste with the sweet.
You probably have eaten grilled radicchio. I was mentioning to friends that my mother was cooking grilled radicchio back in the 80’s and was presenting it with a tomato salsa and polenta. And now in 2016, I have been seeing it and eating it once again, both in Australia and in Italy.
The photo below was taken in a restaurant in Rome in June. I ate it as a contorno (a vegetable side dish).
Instead of grilling the radicchio I pan fried it – easier and less smelly.
I wanted a variety of ingredients so I poached some Rosella pears in red wine, pepper corns, a dash or red vinegar and a tablespoon of sugar.
Next beetroot. I really enjoy the sweetness of beetroot with radicchio in a salad at any time, so why not ad it to a lightly sautéed radicchio.
I love Gorgonzola dolce. Cheese pairs well with walnuts and so I added these components as well.
It did not take long to prepare. I poached the pears early in the day so as to leave them steeping in the poaching liquid and the rest was prepared in about 30 minutes. I cooked the beetroot the day before and kept it in the fridge. My type of cooking these days….. especially if this was the entrée and I had three more courses to prepare.
For 4 people
Quantities for gorgonzola and walnuts to taste.
Cubed gorgonzola dolce – creamier, less sharp than straight Gorgonzola.
Walnuts, and make sure that they are not rancid.
Cooked beetroot…at least one per person.
2 pears – not soft – I ended up only using 1 – a quarter on each plate
2 cups dry red wine
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 heaped tablespoon of sugar
about 10 black pepper corns
1 pinch of salt
Combine the wine, vinegar and spices in a small saucepan which will hold the pears and almost- if not entirely- cover them. Cook pears cut into quarters in the liquid, lid on and poach on low heat. I still wanted some crunch and cooked them for about 30 min.
Leave pears in poaching liquid to cool and until you wish to use them.
1 large round head of radicchio, quartered, so that each quarter has a bit of the stem end holding it together. I also used satay skewer to ensure that it stayed together. If using the Treviso vaviety of radicchio ( long shape) you may need 2 heads and cut it in half.
¼ cup olive oil
salt and black pepper
Lightly sauté the radicchio in the oil over moderate heat uncovered. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn once. I did not want the radicchio cooked- I wanted a warm salad with radicchio that was softened on the outer.
Remove the radicchio. Distribute onto separate plates.
Drain/ strain the pears and use that wine/liquid to add to the pan. Discard the spices. Add the beetroot (to warm and to glaze). Turn up the heat and reduce the liquid to about half the quantity.
To serve distribute pears and beetroot . Dribble liquid on the radicchio. Scatter gorgonzola and walnuts on top.
It is always good to visit Sicily in May 2016 and this time I spent most of my time mainly in South-eastern Sicily. But we did wander elsewhere – distances are not that great.
As usual, the relatives in Ragusa and Augusta made sure that I was well fed, but I do enjoy getting out and about and seeing the changes and trends that are evident in their food culture. I do that here in Australia as well, or for that matter any place I revisit.
Below are some photos of Sicily and links to existing recipes from the blog … more writing and more recipes soon.
A Nature Reserve near Donna Fugata
A very old church in Modica.
Inside this old church that has been a stable for many years.
Area Archeologica di Cava d’Ispica
The old stone walls, some being repaired or rebuilt.
I have been making different batches of mascarpone at home and I have been using it in all sorts of dishes.
I have stuffed fresh figs with it (as a non sweetened savoury cheese), added zabaglione to it and used it to accompany stuffed peaches with raspberries scattered on top (stuffing made with amaretti and crushed almonds), spooned dollops of it into cold cream soups, thickened and enriched sauces, used it in a baked plum tart (like a cheesecake), enjoyed it with fresh berries, mixed it into dips, blended it with gorgonzola or with feta and used it as a spread …..and have made the most of having it as a staple in my fridge.
Mascarpone is a cheese, originally from Lombardy but now used extensively in savoury and sweet dishes elsewhere in Italy and of course in other parts of the world. It can be difficult to find and making it at home is so easy.
Cheese is made with creamy milk but mascarpone is made from cream that thickens when coagulated with cultures (like those used to make sour cream) .
You will find various explanations of how it is made. The most common is that the cream is heated, then acidified with citric acid or lemon juice and then kept at a high temperature for 5 or 10 minutes.
However, I use a much simpler way – I do not heat the cream nor do I coagulate it with lemon juice (this can also impart an unwanted lemon taste).
I mix fresh cream with soured cream. The sour cream introduces the bacterial culture to the cream and after leaving it for 2 days or more it thickens. The result is a very thick cream with a slightly sharp, sour taste – and very much like the commercially made Mascarpone. Buttermilk can also be used to introduce the culture to the cream.
Mascarpone is very much the consistency of clotted cream, but this has a higher fat content and it is thickened by heating with no cultures added.
Crème fraiche is also cultured cream; to make this I add a higher amount of sour cream to the cream and make it slightly more acidic in taste.
I like to use double cream and do not use thickened cream because it contains a thickener.
Combine one carton of cream and half of that amount of sour cream in a glass container. Cover and let sit at room temperature overnight. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours before using.
When stored in the fridge, the cream will continue to mature and thicken; it keeps well for about one week.
Leftovers imply something that is superfluous, redundant and unneeded, but frankly my cooking and food presentation would not be the same without them.
It does not mean that I never cook something entirely with fresh ingredients – of course I do – but I welcome using up something from a previous meal to convert into something new. It allows me to be creative and I feel saintly about not wasting food.
The duck breasts were cooked very simply and quickly and I used some dried sour cherries (Middle Eastern produce) that I steeped in some red wine and a dash of vin cotto (slightly sweet) for the sauce. If I did not have cherries I may have used some green or black olives or slices of orange with perhaps a little marsala or white wine.
Pan fried duck
Score the skin of the duck and sprinkle with salt; leave them for about 20 minutes.
Pan fry the duck breasts over gentle-medium heat with some spring onions and bay leaves. Turn the breasts over a couple of times to help the fat to melt and raise the heat when you are ready to brown the duck. This whole process should take no longer than about 12-15 minutes.
Remove the duck breasts from the pan, cover with foil or a plate so that they can keep on cooking and remain warm . Drain the fat off but try to keep the brown meat juices that will stick to the bottom and sides of the pan.
Add the cherries and liquid to de-glaze the pan. Heat and evaporate the liquid slightly. Return the duck and any juices to the pan and heat through.
I cooked three duck breasts and the one that was leftover I carefully stored in my fridge. This became a duck salad the night after. The sliced breast went on a bed of thinly cut fennel, spring onions and batavia lettuce, some shaved kohlrabi, leftover roasted pumpkin which I had cooked to go with the duck and some pumpkin seeds.
I had braised some artichokes with small whole potatoes and peas during the week. These potatoes were sliced and added to the duck salad and contributed an extra layer of flavour (of artichokes). In the fridge I also had some ready made parsley oil. The parsley oil was drizzled over some yogurt that I had drained (labna/labneh) – it made the labna look spectacular and contributed to the taste. To the leftover parsley oil I added lemon juice and salt and pepper and this became the dressing for the duck salad.
The duck fat that I had drained off the duck was used to sauté the vegetables that went into the soup (rather than olive oil) and the leftover sauce from the duck went into the making of a minestrone (which by the way means ‘big soup’ because it usually contains pulses and therefore makes it a thick soup). I had some cooked borlotti beans – I usually cook extra and store containers of them in the freezer. The vegetables were onion, celery, carrots and kohlrabi, both the bulb and the green tops.
With the very flavourful artichoke braising liquid, some artichoke stalks and the peas I will make some eggs taste very special.
Poached eggs with peas
Bring the liquid and peas to the boil and clear little spaces in the peas – just large enough enough to gently slide in some eggs to poach. In order to keep the yolk soft and nicely shaped, turn off the heat, cover the pan with a lid and rest until the eggs are set just right.
Not much is wasted in my kitchen.
You will find that most recipes for making parsley oil suggest that you cut the parsley (stems and all) into smaller bits, and plunge them them into some boiling water for about 10 seconds to soften. Then you drain the parsley and cool them by plunging into cold water. (And there go most of the vitamins?)
When I make parsley oil I don’t blanch my parsley. My parsley oil does not taste particularly grassy – this happens sometimes when parsley is chopped in a food processor rather than cut by hand. Perhaps the blades of my food processor are sharp – this always help.
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt.
Place everything in a food processor (with sharp blades) and blend completely.
Pour the paste into a clean glass jar, cover and store it in the fridge overnight. The parsley paste will settle to the bottom of the jar.
Line some muslin in a funnel to act as a filter and place the funnel into a clean jar.
Carefully pour the parsley oil through the filter into the jar and keep it in the fridge.
I also used some of the parsley oil to flavour some thick yogurt- it makes a change from using mayonnaise and I used it to dress some boiled new potatoes. Ground pink peppercorns looked good too.
This week on Wednesday I was reading about Massimo Bottura’s Italian upbringing: his never-throw-anything-away attitude in the kitchen and his – seasonal, humble and delicious food – and then I thought about my cooking and how I maximise how I use my produce.
On Sunday night I pan fried some chicken livers with onions, sage, a little grated nutmeg and deglazed them with red wine – simple, humble and delicious. I accompanied them with a little home made Harissa…always a staple in my fridge.
I also cleaned the outside leaves of two bunches of chicory and braised them = you know how Italians do this, in extra virgin olive oil and garlic. No chili this time because of the harissa with the livers.
It is winter in Melbourne and chicory is in season. I had two bunches, one bunch with red stalks and one all green. They taste similar, but perhaps the red tinted stalks are more bitter.
On Monday night I used the left over chicken livers and turned them into a salad.
I used the juices of the livers as a base.
I hard-boiled some eggs, made a simple mustard and extra virgin olive oil and wine vinegar dressing, used the inside, softer, lighter green leaves to make a salad.
I added a little left over beetroot and some cooked brown lentils that I had in the fridge; I like sweetness and bitterness together.
Like Bottura, I have that never-throw-anything-away attitude in the kitchen and this – seasonal, humble and delicious.
And I forgot to say – simple-easy- quick-fresh and healthy. Although I did not say that the livers and the eggs were free range, of course they were!!!
It always seems a time for scacce in Sicily, but particularly at Easter.
I have already written about scacce (focaccia-like stuffed pastries) and for suggestions of fillings and the recipe and ways to fold the pastry, see the post called: Scacce (Focaccia-like Stuffed Bread).
One of the most difficult things if you are a novice at making the traditional shaped scacce is the folding of the pastry. So, why not try just forming them into these shapes below instead. Use the same fillings and pastry as described in the post Scacce ( Focaccia- like Stuffed Bread) above.
This scaccia (singular of scacce and not a misspelling) in the photo below is round and pie shaped. The filling is made from lamb and ricotta.
The braised greens on the side could also be used in a filling – spinach or chicory or broccoli- softened/ wilted and then sautéed in garlic, chili and extra virgin olive oil (but drain well).
There is a post for impanate with a lamb filling – a typical dish for Easter.
The photos for these scacce (and pizza) are from a small eatery in Catania. The filling is made from slices of fried eggplant, a little bit of tomato salsa and a little bit of caciocavallo ( Sicilian cheese) – you could try provolone (cheese) instead.
Or you could try small pasty shapes as in the photo below (circle of dough = filling on one side= fold over to make a half moon). The pastries in the photo below are cooling on the racks in Dolcetti pasticceria (pastry shop in Victoria Street Melbourne). Marianna is the pastry chef and her mum is Lidia – and she is all Sicilian. Lidia visits Dolcetti each Saturday to make these pastries. She calls her pastries impanate. They are fabulous and she uses a variety of fillings.
What about just a pizza ….. These pizzas (in the photo below) are from Pizza D’Asporto (Rifle Range Shopping Centre, Williamstown). They are made by Sicilians and are very good – worth a visit.