Category Archives: Contorno/ Vegetable Sidedish

STUFFED BAKED FENNEL WITH PANGRATTATO – FINOCCHI RIPIENI

Breadcrumbs are called Pangrattato (grated bread) in Italian.

Mollica is the soft part of the bread with crusts removed but in the culinary world both pangrattato and mollica have acquired new significances and have been enhanced. Both refer to breadcrumbs lightly toasted in in olive oil, herbs and seasonings and variations include anything from garlic, red pepper flakes, pine nuts, anchovies, lemon zest , cinnamon or nutmeg, salt and a little sugar.

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Mollica or pangrattato adds texture, fragrance and complex flavours and is usually used as a stuffing or topping, especially for pasta in Calabria, Puglia and Sicily. For example,  Pasta con le Sarde and Sarde a Beccafico are two Sicilian recipes that use enhanced breadcrumbs:

When I make pangrattato I store left overs in a jar in my fridge and use it to enhance other dishes: this time I used it to stuff fennel. For moisture and extra flavour I added  a little ricotta and a little grated cheese – pecorino or parmigiano.

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Cut the stems off the fennel and remove the toughest and usually damaged outer leaves Cut the fennel into quarters.

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Cook the fennel in salted water, bay leaves salt and lemon juice for about 10 minutes until it is slightly softened. Remove it from the liquid and cool.

Make the filling: Work the ricotta in a bowl with a fork, mix in the pangrattato and grated cheese.

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Prise open the leaves of the fennel and stuff with the pangrattato stuffing.

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Place the quarters into a baking bowl that allows them to stay compact and upright (like when you are cooking stuffed artichokes).

Drizzle olive oil on top (or a little butter) and bake at 180 – 190°C for about 15 minutes

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SPAGHETTI with PRAWNS and ZUCCHINI

SPAGHETTI with ‘NDUJA, SQUID, VONGOLE AND PAN GRATTATO

PASTA CON LE SARDE – an iconic Sicilian recipe from Palermo. Cooked at Slow Food Festival Melbourne

PASTA CON SARDE – the baked version, Palermo, Sicily

SARDE A BECCAFICO (Sardines stuffed with currants, pine nuts, sugar and nutmeg)

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PEPERONATA – PIPIRONATA (Sicilian) Braised peppers

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.

Add more fresh basil at the time of serving.

 

PUMARORU CA CIPUDDA (Tomatoes with onions). INSALATA DI POMODORO (Tomato salad)

Simple tomato salads feature very frequently in my kitchen – not surprising as local tomatoes and basil in summer are at their best.

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When I say simple, I mean made with basic ingredients – in season tasty tomatoes, fresh basil, spring onion, the inside part of the celery, salt and extra virgin olive oil. In fact, so simple that I have not written the recipe for a tomato salad in my blog.

Just writing about tomato salad makes me want to have some – I can taste the fresh bread that I particularly like to use to mop up the juices. Good, extra virgin olive oil is as important as the quality of the tomatoes.

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I have inherited my like of tomato salads from my father; it is one of the things my father made well and my parents, especially when they were elderly would eat a tomato salad almost every day for lunch (accompanied with some sort of cheese, smallgoods, frittata, or left over meat or fish from the night before). This sort of tomato salad  was not considered special enough to present to guests – it was family, simple, every-day food and to a certain extent it has remained so in my present home.

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Apart from the simple tomato salad made with spring onion, my father excelled in the salad his mother used to make (she lived in Ragusa, Sicily) with squeezed onions or as he used to call cipolla dolce (sweet onion) – the onion is made sweet by having the bitter juices squeezed out of it before it is used.

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This makes the taste of the salad unique and my children and nephews still mention this legendary version of a nonno-tomato salad. When they were in season the large, fresh, salad onions were his favourites (sold in bunches with the bulbs and part of the green stalk still attached) but the ordinary white or the red onions sufficed at other times.

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Cipudda is the Sicilian word for onion and cipolla the Italian.

Probably because it is used extensively in Calabria, red onion is called cipolla calabrese or cipolla di Tropea in Italian, Tropea is a very picturesque, old fortified town built on a cliff overlooking a spectacular beach in Calabria.

I now have the old colander my father used to use to strain the onion – this was one of the very few, kitchen implements that came with us from Trieste where we lived before coming to Australia.

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Amusing: in Italian a colander or strainer is called a scolapasta scola means strain…and where would Italians be without an implement to drain their pasta!

To sweeten onion:

Expect to shed tears during this process.

Place 2 large, thinly sliced onions in a colander, sprinkle with about 2 heaped tablespoons of salt and leave it for about 30 minutes. Do not be concerned about the quantity of salt, it will draw out the onions’ strong juices. If fresh onions are in season, leave the sliced onions with the salt for about 15 minutes.

Use your fingers and palms to squeeze the onions inside the colander – the juices and the salt will just dribble through the perforations.

My parents have always made tomato salad with firm, slightly golden, unripe tomatoes. Interestingly in Italy, tomatoes (pomodoro) were first called pomo d’oro, apples of gold and these early specimens were not necessarily red in colour.

My father was making salad well before the heirloom varieties of tomatoes were available – he would have enjoyed using these tomatoes that come in a multitude of colours and variety of shapes. Interestingly, not all are coloured red.

In most parts of Sicily, the most common tomato salad is as follows:

6-8 tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil at least ½ cup
fresh basil (or dried oregano)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 stalk of celery from the inside part of the celery and include some of the pale green leaves – all sliced thinly
1 spring onion sliced thinly or replace the spring onion with the sweetened onions

Cut the tomatoes into bite size pieces and add everything else and serve.

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From Comiso and Vittoria (towns south of Ragusa) and popular inland (in Enna and Caltanissetta) it is common to cut large tomatoes called (cuore di bue — ox heart), horizontally into halves, remove the seeds and stuff each crevice with chopped garlic, salt and extra virgin olive oil. On visits to the South of France I found that these tomatoes are popular and eaten in the same way. Surprise, surprise!

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In my last post I made reference to Sicilian tomato salad. See post:

RICOTTA, TOMATOES and Basil. A perfect summer dish.

These little beauties below were left by a neighbour at my door.

I feel a tomato salad coming on.

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RICOTTA, TOMATOES and Basil. A perfect summer dish.

One of the things I like about eating out is that I come home full of ideas for reproducing my version of something I have eaten at a restaurant. Looking at the way that food is presented also gives me ideas.

This was a very simple thing. I was in Brisbane recently and went to Gauge restaurant and one of the dishes my friends and I shared was the Cow’s ricotta, sancho pepper, heirloom tomatoes, olive. 

IMG_0134In the restaurant the chefs used an Asian herb but really, there are many herbs that would compliment this dish and each would impart a different taste – I could see myself using common herbs like thyme, oregano or sweet marjoram, tarragon, dill or any of the different types of basil that are now easily available.

Summer to me means eating tomatoes almost every day. Ricotta is also a favourite.

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I arrived home from Brisbane and the next evening I had friends here for dinner and ricotta, tomatoes and the prolific amounts of basil that I am growing on my balcony seemed just right. It was the presentation of this dish that was as important as the taste. My photos do not do it justice, but it was such a a simple dish, full of natural flavours and it looked stunning at the same time. As a summer starter with good bread or crakers it was perfect.

This was the motivation: Cow’s ricotta, sancho pepper, heirloom tomatoes, olive.

Ricotta, heirloom tomatoes – easy stuff and easy to get.

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Sansho Pepper is also known as Japanese Pepper and it is unripe Sichuan pepper. It adds a lemon myrtle-like freshness to dishes. This too is easily available from Asian shops, however maybe not in your pantry, but there are alternatives. I have a variety of pepper corns and just recently I bought a range of dried Mexican chillies that I grind up and use like pepper –  some are particularly spicy, slightly tart with an earthy flavour, others are smoky and aromatic and some are very hot.  On this occasion I chose pink pepper corns – it looks good and tastes different.

There were no real olives in this presentation in the restaurant and the black olive favour was achieved with black olive salt. I was at another restaurant today where they used dehydrated olives – fantastic intense flavour and texture. In my version I could have used whole olives especially the shrivelled black, dried olives  but I thought that they would look too big so I used tiny capers and some of my Greek basil with the tiny leaves.

A little spring onion sliced finely also added flavour. Next time I may add a stalk of finely sliced celery – one of those pale green stalks from the inside of the celery. After all, the tomato salads that I learned to make in my family home always had both onion and celery…. this is how Sicilians make tomato salads.

I used cow’s ricotta that I whipped up to a cream with a little salt and pink pepper corns.

I made a basil oil by blending good- quality, extra virgin olive oil with and a little salt and basil picked from my balcony.

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I bought good tomatoes from a reliable stall holder at the Queen Victoria Market (as I always buy quality produce).

As a summer starter with good bread or crackers it was perfect. Good wine helps too.

 

 

 

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SICILIAN CAPONATA DI MELANZANE as made in Palermo (Eggplant caponata and Eggplant caponata with chocolate)

Caponata has evolved over the ages to become the dish, which personifies Sicilian cuisine and is a popular dish during festivities ( perfect for Christmas). As you’d expect, there are many regional variations and enrichments of what must have been a very humble dish, as well as the personal, innovative touches from the chefs of ancient, Sicilian aristocracy (called monzu, a corruption of the French word monseur).

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Photograph by Graeme Gillies and food styling by Fiona Rigg. Cooking and recipe by Marisa Raniolo Wilkins (from Sicilian Seafood Cooking)

In Sicilian cooking the melanzana (eggplant) is said to be the queen of vegetables, second only to the tomato and the principal ingredient in caponata is the eggplant.

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If you eat caponata at my house you are likely to eat the version of caponata as made in Catania and it will include peppers as well as eggplant. This is because my mother was born in Catania and this is the caponata I grew up eating. The caponata which is common around Palermo has no peppers.

I prefer to keep my caponata di melanzane simple, but again, variations in the amounts of ingredients are endless. Some versions add garlic, some have oregano, several recipes include anchovies, others add sultanas and/or pine nuts or toasted almonds. These are all acceptable and authentic variations.

In keeping with the tradition of what is customary in Palermo, just before serving add a sprinkling of coarse breadcrumbs (toasted in a fry pan in a little hot extra virgin olive oil) or almonds — blanched, toasted and chopped.

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For me, Peter Robb in his book Midnight in Sicily captures the essence of a Sicilian caponata, when he describes how very different the caponata he was savouring in Palermo was to the caponata he had been eating in Naples.

I realised caponata in Palermo was something very different. It was the colour that struck me first. The colour of darkness. A heap of cubes of that unmistakably luminescent dark, dark purply-reddish goldy richness, glimmerings from a baroque canvas, that comes from eggplant, black olives, tomato and olive oil densely cooked together, long and gently. The colour of southern Italian cooking. Caponata was one of the world’s great sweet and sour dishes, sweet, sour and savoury.

The eggplant was the heart of caponata. The celery hearts were the most striking component: essential and surprising. Pieces of each were fried separately in olive oil until they were a fine golden colour and then added to a sauce made by cooking tomato, sugar and vinegar with a golden chopped onion in oil and adding Sicilian olives, capers …….

As Robb discovered: eggplant is the purple heart of Sicilian caponata – and it is the principal ingredient.

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There are a variety of caponate (plural of caponata) and the variations and inclusions of different ingredients in the basic caponata recipe are many.

Some traditional recipes use tomato paste rather than chopped tomatoes, some add garlic, others include chocolate (or cocoa). Many recipes contain nuts – almonds or pine nuts or pistachio, fresh in some, in others they are toasted. In a few recipes the caponata is sprinkled with breadcrumbs and sometimes the breadcrumbs have been browned in oil beforehand. Frequently herbs are added – sometimes basil, at other times oregano or mint. Certain recipes also include raisins or currants and some fresh pears. Several include fish, singly or in combination and include canned tuna, prawns, octopus, salted anchovies and bottarga (tuna roe).

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You will need a deep, large fry pan. If you use a non-stick frypan you may not need as much oil, but the surface will not be as conducive to allowing the residue juices to form and caramelise as in a regular pan. (After food has been sautéed, the juices caramelise – in culinary terms this is known as fond. Non-stick pans do not produce as much fond).

Although the vegetables are fried separately, they are all incorporated in the same pan at the end. When making large quantities I sometimes use a wok.

extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup (depending how much the vegetables will absorb)
eggplants, 3-4 large, dark skinned variety
onion 1, large, chopped
red tomatoes, 2 medium size, peeled and chopped or 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and a little water or some canned tomatoes
capers, ½ cup, salted or in brine
green olives, ¾ cup, stoned, chopped
celery, 2-3 tender stalks and the pale green leaves (both from the centre of the celery)
white, wine vinegar, ½ cup
sugar, 2 tablespoons
salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut the eggplant into cubes (approx 30mm) – do not peel. Place the cubes into abundant water with about 1 tablespoon of salt. Leave for about 30 minutes – this will keep the flesh white and remove any bitter juices while you prepare the other ingredients. Although it is not always necessary to do this, the eggplant is said to absorb less oil if soaked previously.
Prepare the capers – if they are the salted variety, ensure that they have been rinsed thoroughly and then soaked for about 30 minutes before use, and then rinsed again.
Chop the onion.
Slice the celery into very fine slices and chop the green leaves.
Peel, and coarsely chop the tomatoes (or use tomato paste or canned tomatoes).
Drain the eggplants and squeeze them to remove as much water as possible – I use a clean tea towel.
Heat a large frypan over medium heat with ½ cup of the extra virgin olive oil.
Add eggplant cubes and sauté until soft and golden (about 10-12 minutes). Place the drained eggplants into a large bowl and set aside (all of the vegetables will be added to this same bowl).
Drain the oil from the eggplants back into the same frypan and re-use this oil to fry the next ingredients.
Add the celery and a little salt gently for 5-7 minutes, so that it retains some of its crispness (in more traditional recipes, the celery is always boiled until soft before being sautéed).
Remove the celery from the pan and add it to the eggplants.
Sauté the onion having added a little more oil to the frypan. Add a little salt and cook until translucent.
Add the tomatoes or the tomato paste (with a little water) to the onions, and allow their juice to evaporate.
Add the capers and olives. Allow these ingredients to cook gently for 1- 2 minutes.
Empty the contents of the frypan into the other cooked vegetables.

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For the agro dolce sauce (sweet and sour sauce):

Add the sugar to the frypan (already coated with the caramelised flavours from the vegetables). Heat it very gently until it begins to melt and bubble. Add the vinegar and allow it to evaporate.
Incorporate the cooked vegetables into the frypan with the agro dolce sauce.
Add ground pepper, check for salt and add more if necessary.
Gently toss in all of the cooked ingredients over low heat for 2-3 minutes to blend the flavours.
Remove the caponata from the pan and cool before placing it into one or more containers. Store in the fridge till ready to use and remove it from the fridge about an hour before eating– it will keep well in the fridge for up to one week.

When ready to eat, sprinkle with either toasted almonds or toasted breadcrumbs. I like to add fresh basil or mint leaves.

CAPONATA DI MELANZANE CON CIOCCOLATA (Caponata with chocolate)

In Sicilian cuisine there are a number of recipes, which include chocolate to enrich the flavour of a dish (see HARE or RABBIT COOKED IN CHOCOLATE) and chocolate in eggplant caponata is a common variation in certain parts of Sicily.

In the early 1500s, the Spanish conquistadors discovered a variety of unknown foods in the New World.Among these was xocolatl, (chocolate) obtained from ground cacao seeds. Spanish nobility arrived in Sicily during the 15th and 16th centuries and they brought their exotic ingredients from the New World to the island. This was also an ostentatious period of splendour and opulence for the clergy and the Sicilian aristocracy.

Although many traditional Sicilian dishes are said to be Spanish legacies, it is more accurate to say that some Sicilian cuisine incorporated both Sicilian and Spanish traditions.

Follow the recipe for eggplant caponata above and add cocoa or good quality, dark chocolate.

Cocoa: The majority of the recipes for caponata enriched with chocolate suggest the use of cocoa powder (about 2 tablespoons of cocoa to 2 tablespoons of sugar dissolved in a little water to form a thick paste). Add this mixture to the pan after you have made the agro dolce sauce and before you add the cooked vegetables.

Dark Chocolate: My most favoured alternative is to use 50g of dark, extra fine chocolate (organic, high cocoa content – 70%). Add the chocolate pieces into the agro dolce sauce and stir it gently as it melts, and then I add the cooked vegetables. This results into a much smoother and more luscious caponata.

In a modern Sicilian restaurant with a young chef, I was presented with an eggplant caponata where the chocolate was grated on top, much like grated cheese on pasta.

In my first book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking there is whole chapter devoted to caponata. I have also written other posts with recipes on the blog :

A MOUNTAIN OF CAPONATA – two days before Christmas 

CAPONATA SICILIANA (CATANESE – Caponata as made in Catania) 

FENNEL CAPONATA (Sicilian sweet and sour method for preparing certain vegetables)

CAPONATA (General information and recipe for Caponata di patate – potatoes)

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Caponata Catanese

FRITTEDDA (A sauté of spring vegetables)

Frittedda is exclusively Sicilian and is a luscious combination of spring vegetables lightly sautéed and with minimum amount of stirring to preserve the textures and fresh, characteristic flavours of each ingredient — the sweetness of the peas, the slightly bitter taste of the artichokes and the delicate, nutty taste of broad beans. It is really a slightly cooked salad and each vegetable should be young and fresh.

In Sicily this dish is usually made at the beginning of spring (Primavera), around the feast day of San Giuseppe (19 March) when the first peas and broad beans come into season. It is thought that the origins of the dish are from around the northwestern part of Sicily (from Palermo to Trapani), but I have also found recipes from the agricultural areas in the centre of Sicily, in Caltanissetta, Enna and across to Agrigento and all have their own variations.

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Because frittedda is a celebration of spring, I also like to include asparagus, but this is not in traditional recipes. Use white or green asparagus, thick or thin. Yet again breaking with tradition I often add a little strong broth for extra flavour — Sicilians seldom add stock to food and rely on the natural flavours of the ingredients. They know that the sun always shines in Sicily and therefore, their produce tastes better.

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To fully appreciate the flavour of frittedda, I like to eat it at room temperature (like caponata) and as a separate course — as an antipasto with some good bread. The recipe also makes a good pasta sauce to celebrate spring.

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artichokes, about 3 young, tender
peas, 750g (250g, shelled weight)
broad beans, young, 1kg (these will result in about shelled 350g) The broad beans should be young and small — if they are not, (remove the outer peel of each bean)
asparagus (250g). Snap the bottoms from the asparagus and cut the spears into 2cm lengths
spring onions, 3-4, sliced thinly (including the green parts)
lemon, 1 for the acidulated water
extra virgin olive oil, about ½ cup
salt and pepper
white wine vinegar, ½ tablespoon or the juice of ½ lemon
sugar, about a teaspoon
fresh mint leaves, to sprinkle on top before serving

Prepare the artichokes – strip off the tough outer leaves. It is difficult to purchase young artichokes in Australia so you may need to remove quite a few of them.
Keep the artichokes in acidulated water (use juice of 1 lemon) as you clean them and until you are ready to use.
Cut each artichokes into quarters. Slice the artichokes into thin slices. I also use the stalk of the artichoke (stripped of its outer fibrous layer).

Select a wide pan with a heavy bottom and cook as follows:
Add some of the oil.
Add the artichokes and sauté them gently for about 5-7 minutes (tossing the pan, rather than stirring and trying not to disturb the ingredients too much).
Before proceeding to the next stage, taste the artichokes, and if they need more cooking sprinkle them with about ½ cup of water, cover the saucepan with a lid and stew gently for about 10 minutes. You will know when the artichokes are cooked as there will only be slight resistance when pricked with a fork.
Add more oil, the spring onions, the peas and broad beans, salt and pepper. Toss and shake the ingredients around gently to ensure that the vegetables do not stick. Cook for about 5-7 minutes. Add a dash of water (or stock).
Add the asparagus and cook for a few minutes longer.
Place the ingredients into a bowl or they will keep on cooking.
Add the white wine vinegar or the juice of ½ lemon – the small amount of vinegar or lemon juice provides a little acidity in contrast to the sweetness of the dish. You could also add a little sugar.
I sometimes add a little grated nutmeg – this accentuates the sweetness of the ingredients. Fresh mint leaves will accentuate the freshness but put them on top the frittedda when you are ready to serve it (mint leaves discolour easily).

Variations

The Palermitani (from Palermo) add the agro dolce sauce (sweet and sour sauce like when making caponata) made with caramelised sugar and vinegar at the end of cooking.

In Enna, in the centre of the island, wild fennel is added during cooking.

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WILD MUSHROOMS, I have been foraging again

Around ANZAC DAY in Victoria I go foraging . This is my latest harvest of  saffron coloured, pine mushrooms (Lactarius deliciosus), also called  saffron milk caps and red pine mushrooms.

There are 3k of mushrooms in this bag above.

We have eaten some twice already.

Above = with  taglatelle.

Below =  as a vegetable side dish with Italian pork sausages.

And these jars are in my freezer.

These mushrooms bruise very easily  so I cook them as soon as possible after I have collected them.

Unfortunately the mushrooms’ gills  when bruised discolour to a very unattractive green-grey tinge. I ignore most of the bruising and cut off the worst bits of the discoloured mushrooms that show too much wear and tear or obvious decay.

Most of the time the saffron coloured, pine mushrooms I collect cannot just be wiped clean with a damp cloth and I  often have to clean them under softly running water to remove any sand, soil , grass or pine needles. I always completely remove the woody hollow stems because I have often found some bugs  harbouring inside the stems. Having said all of this I make them sound as if they are not worth the effort but they are!

How do I cook them? …..very simply. I have written about wild mushrooms before.

See:
WILD MUSHROOMS ; Saffron Coloured, Pine Mushrooms and Slippery Jacks
PASTA WITH MUSHROOMS Pasta ai funghi

 

Simple recipes for cooking any mushrooms:

FUNGHI AL FUNGHETTO (Braised mushrooms)
FRICASSE DE SETAS CON ANCHOAS (Spanish, Wild Mushroom and Anchovy Fricassee)

Sicilian Pumpkin with vinegar, mint, sugar and cinnamon

Fegato di sette cannoli

It is autumn  in Australia and  there are plenty of pumpkins around. I like cooking pumpkin this way because it has unusual flavours and it can be made well in advance. I have presented it both as an antipasto and as an accompaniment to main dishes.

I cook this dish quite often and I am surprised that I have not written about it on my blog.

The following text is a condensed version from my first book  Sicilian Seafood Cooking. The photograph is also from the book. This all took place in my kitchen – I cooked it , Fiona Riggs styled it and Graeme Gillies photographed it.

This  Sicilian specialty  is sometimes called zucca in agro dolce (pumpkin in sweet and sour sauce) but I prefer the more colloquial Sicilian name, ficato ri setti canola – literally, ‘liver of the seven spouts (or reeds)’.

It is a colourful and aromatic dish. There is the strong colour of the pumpkin, tinged brown at the edges, and contrasted with bright green mint. The sweetness   of the pumpkin is enhanced by the flavours and fragrance of garlic, cinnamon and vinegar. It is better cooked ahead of time – the flavours intensify when left at least overnight, but it can be stored in the fridge for several days.

The dish is said to have originated among the poor, in what is known as one of the quartieri svantaggiati (‘disadvantaged suburbs’) of Palermo.

Sicilians are colourful characters and like stories. It is said that the pumpkin dish was first cooked and named by the herb vendors of the Piazza Garraffello a small square in Palermo. These were the days before refrigeration and balconies and windowsills were often used to cool and store food, especially overnight. As the story goes, the herb sellers could often  smell the aroma of veal liver coming from the balconies of the rich. At home, they cooked pumpkin the same way as the well-to-do cooked liver (fegato) and, wanting to create a bella figura, they hoped the fragrance of their cooking would mislead the neighbours into thinking that they too were well-to-do and could afford to eat liver.

The typical way of cooking liver is to slice it thinly, pan-fry it and then caramelise the juices in the pan with sugar and vinegar to make agro dolce (sweet and sour sauce).

As for the seven spouts (sette cannoli), they are the short cane-shapedspouts of an elegant 16th-century fountain in the piazza. Below – cathedral in Palermo.

In Australia I generally use the butternut or Jap pumpkin,The pumpkin is sliced 1cm (.in) thick and traditionally fried in very hot oil (if thicker, they take too long to cook).

Although baking the pumpkin slices is not traditional, I prefer this method .It certainly saves time in the preparation (see variation below). Serve it at room temperature as an antipasto or as a contorno (vegetable side dish).

1kg (2lb 4oz) pumpkin
10 cloves garlic
extra virgin olive oil (1. cup
if frying 1/3 cup if baking)
3 teaspoons sugar
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
small mint leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper

Fried Method

Peel and remove the seeds of the pumpkin and cut into 1cm (in) slices.
Peel and slice 4 cloves of garlic.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based frying pan. Add the garlic cloves.
Remove when it has coloured and fry the pumpkin slices, turning them only
once in case they break, until they become soft and begin to colour around
the edges. Add salt to taste. Remove the pumpkin and discard some of the oil,
but keep any juices.
Use the same frying pan for the agro dolce sauce: add the sugar, stir it around
the pan to caramelise it, and then add the vinegar and cinnamon.
Stirring constantly, allow the sauce to thicken slightly as the vinegar evaporates.
Add the remaining garlic cloves and few sprigs of mint to the warm sauce.

Add the pumpkin to the sauce, and sprinkle with pepper. Allow the sauce
to penetrate the pumpkin on very low heat for a few minutes. Alternatively,
pour the sauce over the pumpkin and turn the slices a couple of times. Cool
and store in the fridge once cool. Eat at room temperature.

When ready to serve, arrange the slices in a serving dish, remove the old
mint (it would have discoloured). Scatter slices of fresh garlic and fresh mint
leaves on top and in between the slices.

 

Baked version

Cut the pumpkin into thicker slices, about 2–3cm (1in).
Sprinkle with salt and place on an oiled baking tray.
Bake the pumpkin and garlic in a 200C (400F) oven (discard the garlic when the pumpkin
has cooked).
Make the agro dolce sauce (see the above) in the baking tray
instead of a frying pan.

I also add fresh bay leaves – like the look and the taste of it.

The mint must be fresh.

ANTIPASTO – GRILLED SUMMER VEGETABLES AND A SCOOP OF SALADS

You really cannot beat a plate of grilled vegetables, especially when eggplants and peppers are so prolific at this time of year.

Zucchini, although not in this selection are also a good choice.  Grilled vegetables are perfect as an antipasto but they can just as easily be part of a main course.

The vegetables can be grilled on a BBQ or Grill press or in the oven.

To the array, throw in some of the cooked green beans, asparagus or broccolini (that perhaps are left over from the night before), add a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil, some chopped garlic, a little parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice.

You could also add to the cooked vegetables different textures with a bit of crunch – some of that celery, fennel, cucumbers and apples that are probably in your fridge. Or it could be tomatoes, celery, spring onions and fresh basil leaves, once again a drizzle of that good olive oil that will add fragrance as well as taste.

So easy, so simple.

Just recently, in two different restaurants I ordered versions of grilled vegetables and they both were presented with Romesco sauce dolloped separately on the side of the vegetables.  In one of the restaurant it was grilled asparagus, topped with fried breadcrumbs. In the other it was eggplant. This had been grilled and rather than presenting it in slices it was pulped to a medium texture. Bread is a perfect accompaniment for scooping up the eggplant and the Romesco sauce. A drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil is a must.

Recipes in earlier posts:

 

PEPPERS WITH BREADCRUMBS- PIPI CA MUDDICA – PEPERONI CON LA MOLLICA

SALSA ROMESCO (Romesco sauce, this recipe is made with roasted peppers, tomatoes and almonds)

In this version of this sauce almonds are added to the the vegetables (garlic, peppers and tomatoes). These are roasted/chargrilled on a BBQ or Grill press:

Roast/chargrill the peppers whole, peel, remove seeds and break them into strips. If using fresh tomatoes cut them into pieces. If you are roasting / chargrilling the peppers do them at the same time.
*Click on above link to see a list of ingredients and how to make it.

A different Recipe for Romesco sauce made with hazelnuts

This recipe uses hazelnuts instead of almonds. Also the vegetables are roasted. in the oven rather than grilled.

Use the same ingredients as the recipe above, substitute the hazelnuts for the almonds, but roast the vegetables:

Place the tomatoes, peppers and a whole head of garlic in a roasting tray with a little oil and roast in a 190C oven. Take the vegetables out as they become soft, i.e. the tomatoes will take about 10 minutes,  the peppers and the garlic could take about 30-40 minutes..

 

Ways to cook leafy green vegetables. Purslane and Malabar spinach

I have just returned from being away over Christmas and New Year and am pleased to find that purslane plants have sprouted in my various pots on my balcony. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a weed in Australia. It grows in many parts of the world including southern Italy and is very much appreciated in various cuisines especially in The Middle East, Greece, Crete and Mexico.

I rescued a purslane plant from the roadside last summer and planted it in a pot; it soon grew from a single taproot and formed a large, thick mat of stems and leaves. Throughout hat summer I collected the small, fleshy leaves and the most tender parts of the stem for various salads and I also sprinkled leaves on top of cold soups – this added flavor, texture and colour.

The raw leaves are succulent and crisp and have a tart and lemony flavor. Taking notice from some of the Greek traditional recipes I liked them mixed with ingredients such as tomatoes, basil and feta. Recipes are meant to be broken and of course I added my own touches and various ingredients. I also like mixed green leaf salads. Below rocket, purslane, fresh mint leaves, pine nuts, extra olive oil  and lemon juice.

Towards the end of summer the plant had grown far too large and woody and I pulled it out. It is a seasonal plant and by then the mature plant had obviously scattered its small black seeds in my other pots.

I think that if I had a garden I would find Purslane very invasive, hence appropriately called a weed in this part of the world that does not have a long continuous history of foraging. The culture of foraging in Australia has been largely disregarded over the past 200 years. For tens of thousands of years and before European settlers the Aboriginal people foraged native flora and there is also historical evidence pioneers and explorers ate wild greens.

Purslane can also be cooked on its own or added to other greens;I rather like the mucilaginous gel-like consistency it adds to food (like Okra) but many people do not.

This climbing plant above is growing in one of my friend’s back garden in North Adelaide. (The potted plants below are his too.). The plant is Basella rubra, commonly known as Malabar spinach, Vine spinach or Ceylon spinach. This creeping vine is the variety of Basella with purplish-stems and deep-green leaves with pink veins.

Basella is a popular tropical leafy-green vegetable native to south Asia and eaten widely in Asian countries where it is known by a variety of local names, for example and to name a few, it is mostly known as saan choy in China, mong toi in Vietnam, pui saag in parts of India, remayong in Malaysia and alugbati in the Philippines.

This photo above is  Basella alba – unlike my friend’s plant in Adelaide the stems are green and the plant will have a small white (alba) flower rather than crimson (rubra). I bought this bunch with its deep-green, oval to heart-shaped leaves a from the stall where I usually buy my Asian greens at the Queen Victoria Market

Like spinach Basella alba and Basella rubra it is a very versatile vegetable. The young leaves can be eaten raw and the larger leaves are cooked and depending on the regional cuisines it can be added to soups, in stir fries, curries etc. Like purslane the leaves are fleshy and thick, they remain crisp and taste of citrus when raw and when cooked the leaves soften and taste slightly mucilaginous. Basella doesn’t wilt as much as spinach.

Basella leaves remind me very much of Warrigal Greens. (Tetragonia tetragonioides ) is a leafy groundcover also known as Botany Bay spinach, Cook’s cabbage, kōkihi (in Māori), New Zealand spinach,. Although I have cooked this green many times before I do not have any photos.

I cooked the leaves of the Basella alba and sautéed them in extra virgin olive oil with garlic. On this occasion, I wanted a conventional green vegetable side dish to accompany a main of fish. If however, I had wanted to cook them in a Chinese way, I may also add spring onions, fresh ginger, chili, sesame oil, oyster or soy sauce. Maybe for a Japanese recipe I would add mirin or miso. Although I am typecasting some ingredients you will understand what I mean.

And would I have fed these vegetables to my mother?  No way…. but maybe if I had used some typical way of cooking Italian greens she may begin to appreciate them.

Here are some conventional ways of cooking greens the Italian way:

Boiled

Bring a small amount of lightly salted water to boiling Add the greens. Cover the pan and cook until tender or to your liking.
Optional: Cook the greens using only the water still clinging to leaves; cover, and cook until wilted, stirring halfway through.
Drain the greens well in a colander.
Dress with some extra virgin olive oil, adjust the seasoning if necessary (add pepper is optional) and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Sautéed

Heat some olive oil, add the garlic, (chillies and the anchovies are optional).
Add the vegetables sauté for a few minutes until they begin to wilt.
Add white wine (if liquid is needed), cover and cook till softened. (Some cooks pre-cook the greens and then sauté them – this may not be necessary).

Optional: chillies to taste, and /or a few anchovies can be added at the same time as the garlic.

With pine nuts and currants

Soak some currants in a little warm water to plump them (about 10 mins). Drain before using. In a small pan toast pine nuts by tossing them around until light golden. They burn easily, do this quickly. Set aside.
Heat some olive oil, add some garlic, add greens and sauté until wilted. If necessary, drain off any liquid.
Return the greens to the pan. Add currants and pine nuts and sauté a few minutes more.

Optional: add cinnamon or nutmeg and/ or grated lemon peel.
Cook in butter instead of oil.