I was at the Alphington Melbourne Farmers’ Market yesterday and found these beauties at the Sennsational berries stall.
It is not often that one finds such mature lemons. And what to do with large lemons?
Make a Sicilian salad like my father used to make (he grew up in Ragusa, Sicily before relocating to Trieste). I did wonder if it was a cedro rather than a lemon, but was told it was a lemon and it tasted like one.
I removed the skin and squeezed out some of the juice….this lemon was certainly juicy and the salad should not be too acidic.
This salad likes fresh garlic and I still had some in the fridge that I had bought the week before from the same market, however this time I bought some garlic shoots, added fresh mint, a little parsley and some of the fresh oregano I have growing on my balcony. This oregano plant came from my father’s garden in Adelaide. He died years ago.
The last time I bought garlic shoots was earlier this year when I was in the Maremma, Tuscany.
In our Airbnb in Castiglione della Pescaia I cooked them with zucchini and zucchini flowers as a dressing for Pici, the local pasta shape in Tuscany.
Back to the lemon salad in Melbourne, Australia:
Some good extra virgin olive oil and salt are a must. The salt brings out the sweetness of the lemon.
So, so good for summer. Think about it accompanying some seafood…BBQ fish? Very good. I took it to my friends place and we had it with a simple roast chicken, a succulent free range chicken.
I have written about lemon salad before. That post also explains what is a cedro and has a photo of a cedro from a Sicilian market.
Everyone should have a Polish friend. In Adelaide recently, I stayed with my Polish friend and during the first two days of being back in Melbourne I have already made two Polish inspired dishes.
Not only that, I came home with a bunch of sorrel from her garden and I made an omlette (sorrel = bottom right hand side of photo). When i am fortunate enough to have some sorrel I usually braise it with potatoes, or make a green borscht, or add it to it to a braise of meat.
My friend celebrates Christmas eve with some of the traditional Polish foods that her parents used to enjoy. She and her two sisters get together and make Pierogi stuffed with sauerkraut and dried porcini mushrooms.
She knows how much I like sauerkraut and if I am visiting her after Christmas I know that she would have saved some Pierogi for me in her freezer.
This time (October) she prepared the sauerkraut and dried porcini mushrooms as a side dish for duck breasts, a green salad , steamed herbed potatoes and beetroot….potatoes and beetroot are almost a must in all Polish meals. The dried mushrooms make the sauerkraut a darker colour.
Having lived in Trieste, I am very used to eating and preparing sauerkraut and it is one of my favourite ingredients, but I generally I do not add dried mushrooms nor do I cook sauerkraut as long as she does.
Like all who have cooked a particular recipe for a long time, she does not measure quantities.
Vary the amounts of mushrooms, sauerkraut and cooking times as you wish.
1/4- 1/2 cups dried Porcini mushrooms soaked in water to cover
splash of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1k-900g sauerkraut, jars are usually 900g – drained, rinsed and squeezed
salt and ground black pepper to taste
Leave mushrooms too soak at least for a couple of hours or combine water and dried mushrooms in a saucepan over low heat, simmer,and cook until tender – about 10 minutes. Drain mushrooms, reserving cooking water. Slice the mushrooms into smaller pieces if necessary.
Heat olive oil in a saucepan and over medium heat sauté onion until soft. Add mushrooms and drained sauerkraut and mix well. Add salt and pepper.
Add mushroom water, cover, and simmer until sauerkraut is soft. Add more water as it cooks if necessary. My friend cooks it for over an hour.
The second Polish thing I did in the last two days was to add a beetroot to the chicken broth I cooked. I have done this before and what it does is to colour the broth…not red, but a rich, golden colour as is evident in the photo above.
I make chicken broth the Italian way, adding a whole onion, celery sticks, carrots, whole peppercorns and salt.
My mother also added a little tomato, and perhaps this was done to colour, but I only do this when tomatoes are in season. My Polish friend had recommend adding a beetroot years ago.
I use a whole, free range chicken and eat the meat.
On this occasion I cooked dairy free and gluten free, stuffed, baked mushrooms (funghiripieni or funghi farciti in Italian).
For those of you who would prefer to use breadcrumbs instead of crumbed gluten free cracker biscuits and you may like to add a bit of grated Parmesan cheese (as I usually do).
Apart from the crumbed cracker biscuits these mushrooms are stuffed with the mushroom stalks, silver beet (or spinach), parsley, garlic, nutmeg, extra virgin olive oil and the herb Nepitella (calamint) that I am growing on my balcony. Nepitella is not very well known in Australia but this aromatic herb it is used in Tuscany and Lazio especially for for the preparation of artichokes, mushrooms but also with eggs and other vegetables.
I have used Nepitella to stuff delicate tasting fish and I also like it with pork. A couple of months ago I was in Tuscany and I enjoyed collecting Nepitella(it grows wild); when i cooked, I used it extensively. Marjoram or thyme also go well with mushrooms. The larger leaves in the photo below are young plants of Warrigal Greens.
No need for quantities…once again, you can estimate how much you wish to use by what what amounts and ratio of amounts I estimated I wanted in my stuffing.
Wipe the mushrooms clean. Remove the stalks and finely chop them. Slice and chop the silver beet or spinach leaves.Crumb the cracker biscuits (or use breadcrumbs). Preheat oven at 180˚C.
Heat the oil in a pan add the chopped mushroom stalks and garlic. Cook for about 2 minutes until soft and golden. Remove from the stove.
Mix in in the silver beet or spinach, walnuts, biscuit (or bread) crumbs, a dash of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, herbs and nutmeg. Spoon the mixture onto the mushrooms. Bake them until cooked through and browned on top; mine were large mushrooms and I baked them for 15–20 minutes, I used baking paper with a little extra virgin olive oil.
I was in Russia recently and I came back to Australia with a yearning to make Russian Salad.
I ordered it in a restaurant in Saint Petersburg and in one in Moscow and in both cities it contained beetroot.
My mother’s Russian salad was simple and contains potatoes, carrots, french beans, peas, giardiniera or citriolini (pickled vegetables and cornichons), hard boiled eggs and egg mayonnaise.
When my mother was still alive and still capable of cooking Russian Salad was something that she made often as an antipasto . This and Zuppa Inglese (dessert) were two dishes that were particularly popular in restaurants when we left Trieste before we came to Australia. Both continued to be presented frequently in Adelaide where we lived on special occasions or for birthdays and when we invited guests for Sunday lunch – the preferred time to have a long lunch followed by a game of cards while the house shivered to the sound of opera.
Interestingly, not all my recipe sources include beetroot as an ingredient for Russian salad as made in many parts of the world including Russia. The majority of the Russian recipes prefer French dressing seems to be preferred rather than mayonnaise and some recipes contain turnip; this makes sense as root vegetables are common in Russia.
Variations of one particular recipe as served by the Russian nobility (probably those who spent time in France) contains a melange of flavours, either or a combination of ox tongue, lobster, ham. Truffles or cooked mushrooms also feature. Some of the French like chicken meat. Capers and anchovies in some.
The Belle Époque is over: I think that keep it simple is my motto, and egg mayonnaise is the wow factor.
For recipes and more information of INSALATA RUSSA, MAIONAISE (mayonnaise in Italian) and other recipes with egg mayonnaise:
Sometimes, some recipes are just so simple that I do not bother writing about them, but then I buy a new cookbook and notice that simple recipes are what we like and want…and besides, not everybody grew up in an Italian household and they may not be familiar with this style of cooking.
One simple way of cooking some vegetables, for example eggplants, zucchini or mushrooms is afunghettoinbianco ortrifolate.
A funghetto, translates asmushroom, i.e.in the style or method of how you would cook mushrooms – simply sautéed in extra virgin olive oil with garlic and parsley.
Inbianco translates as inwhite, i.e. without tomatoes. Photo above is of king mushrooms cooked afunghetto.
This style of cooking is a common way to cook either of these three vegetables throughout Italy, but it is typical of the Veneto. I grew up in Trieste, so I identify with this style of cooking very much.
Once again,I will write this recipe as an Italian – no measurements. The recipe is so simple, and the photos tell the story so who needs measurements!
eggplants/aubergines, cut into cubes
extra virgin olive oil,
cloves of garlic, chopped (to taste)
pepper and salt
extra virgin olive oil
Use gentle to medium heat throughout the cooking – the ingredients are not fried, they are sautéed till softened.
Heat a splash of oil in a frypan (I like to use a frypan with a heavy base).Add the garlic and stir it around for a very short time so that it begins to soften.
Add the eggplants and stir often until they have softened and have coloured. Add pepper and salt.
Add the chopped parsley and keep on stirring through for about 30 seconds…and I hate to say it…until it has softened.
Eat hot or cold – fabulous as a starter, side dish….as a dressing for pasta?
No exact quantities, just like an Italian. You can tell from the photos how easy it is to make Caponata Palermitana. Unlike Caponata Catanese there are no peppers (capsicums) in this caponata but the rest of the ingredients and processes for making any caponata are the same.
I used 2 egglants. Cooked each separately as I did not want the frying to be overcrowded. I use salt when I am cooking and not after the dish is cooked. I always use extra virgin olive oil.
A good heavy saucepan is good to use.
After the eggplants, sauté the onions and the celery. I used 1 large onion, 2 sticks of celery and some of the tender leavesof the celery. Add some salt.
When the onions and celery have softened to your liking, add green olives and capers.
I made a space in the centre of the saucepan, added a couple of teaspoons of sugar. Melted that and added about a quarter of a cup of red vinegar and evaporated it.
I made another space in the centre and added about 1/3 cup of passata.
Cooked it – you can see that there is very little liquid left.
Time to add the eggplants and combine all the ingredients.
This time I will decorate the caponata with fried breadcrumbs (day old bread mollica) toasted in a frypan with a little olive oil.
I could decorate the caponata with toasted pine nuts or almonds but I think the bread will add crunch but not too much taste so as not to compete with the eggplants. At this time of year, egglants are of excellent quality.
Mint rather than basil appealed to me more on this occasion.
There are numerous recipes for caponate (I can spell, it is the plural of caponata). Use the search button.
I am writing this post for a friend to demonstrate that making caponata is not difficult and I have therefore included many photos.
In my first book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking I have written a whole chapter about making various caponate (plural). This one is Catanese, as made in Catania, and the main ingredients are eggplants and peppers, but there are other caponate where the main ingredients are either eggplants or pumpkin or potato or celery (called Christmas caponata). I have also made a fennel caponata.
All caponate need to be made at least one day before to let the flavours develop. Caponate are eaten at room temperature.
Caponata Catanese is made with eggplants, peppers, celery, onions, chopped green olives and capers. A little sugar, vinegar and a splash of passata are used to make the agro- dolce sauce. Toasted pine nuts (or almonds) and fresh basil make good decoration and add extra taste. Caponata Palermitana, from Palermo, does not include peppers. I used roughly 1 kilo of eggplants and 1 kilo of peppers, 3 sticks of celery (pale green from near the centre), 1 onion. I used about 125g of capers and about the same amounts of chopped green olives. A true Sicilian making caponata would never weigh ingredients and may at times use more eggplants than peppers; these are rough amounts as a guide to illustrate ratios of ingredients. Always use extra virgin olive oil and as much as needed to prevent the ingredients sticking; access oil can always be drained off but bread makes a fine accompaniment to all caponate and the oil is particularly flavourful.
Each vegetable is fried separately but I usually combine the celery and the onion at the same time. the vegetables have different rates of cooking and you want to preserve the individual flavours as much as possible.
A frypan with a heavy base is good to use. I am making large quantities this time to take to a gathering so I am using my heavy wok (Le Creuset).
Fry the eggplants in some extra olive oil and add a little salt. Drain the eggplant in a colander with a container underneath to collect any oil. In the same pan add some new oil and the oil that you have drained from the eggplants. Fy the peppers and add a little salt. Drain them as you did the eggplants, collect the oil and add this to some new oil in the same pan.
Fry the celery and the onion.
When they have softened but the celery still has some crunch add the green olives and capers. Salt may not be necessary for this component of the dish.
Make a small depression in the centre of the vegetables and add about a flat tablespoon of sugar – this varies, some add more, some add less. Melt the sugar (caramelise it) and then add about 3 tablespoons of wine vinegar. Evaporate on high heat.
Add a splash of passata. Mix through the ingredients in the pan and cook it for a few minutes.
Incorporate all of the ingredients .
The caponata is now cooked. It needs to be placed in the fridge in a sealed container till you are ready to eat it and it will not suffer if it is made 3-4 days beforehand.
Decorate it with toasted pine nuts and fresh basil leaves when you are ready to present it.
There are other recipes on my blog for caponate made with different vegetables.
A zucca in Italian can be an overgrown zucchino (singular) or a marrow, therefore to differentiate a pumpkin from a marrow a pumpkin is called a zucca gialla (yellow).
Not all Sicilian caponate are made with eggplants. For example there are celery, fennel, potato caponate and pumpkin can also be used as the main ingredient (Caponata di zucca gialla).
The principle for making any caponata is the same: onion, celery, X ingredient (eggplant or eggplant and peppers, fennel, potato etc.), capers, green olives, sometimes a splash of tomato puree, toasted pine nuts, or almonds and agrodolce – caramelised sugar and vinegar.
The ingredients a fried separately. Pumpkin first – sauté and then set aside.
Sauté onion and celery. Add olives and capers.
Add sugar, thenvinegar and salt to taste. Add the fried pumpkin and toasted almonds (or pine nuts).Let rest overnight or for at least half a day.
The other popular Sicilian way to cook pumpkin is also in an agrodolce sauce.
For this recipe, slices of pumpkin are also fried. I bake mine and it is not the traditional way of cooking it. The recipe book you can see in the background of the photo below is Sicilian Seafood Cooking – now out of print.
The recipe is called Fegato con sette cannoli. To see the recipe and find out why this recipe is called Liver with seven reeds:
Citrus fruit is grown extensively in Sicily and citrus groves are found throughout the island region. Apart from different types of oranges (including the blood oranges) there are mandarins, tangerines, lemons, cedri (citrons) and limette (Sicilian limes).
Sicily is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of citrus especially of lemons; the climate fosters a long, growing season and the harvesting of different varieties of lemons over three distinct periods in the year.
Lemons are extensively used in Sicilian cuisine – fresh lemon juice and the rind (or grated zest) are added to savoury or sweet dishes to balance and enhance flavours and even the leaves are often used in between pieces of meat or fish to add flavour.
Lemon juice is often used in marinates and to avoid discolouration of fresh fruit and vegetables (for example in fruit salads or when cleaning artichokes).
Lemons are used profusely for making drinks, liqueurs, essences, jams and marmalades. Candied or preserved peel is used significantly in Sicilian pastries and confectionary (for example in cassata and cannoli).
Used also and mostly in Sicilian pastries is cedro (citron). This citrus fruit grows in Sicily (and Calabria); the fruit is large and spherical with a thick wrinkled skin that turns from green to yellow during ripening. It has a strong fragrance and flavour, even stronger than lemons. The thick peel is candied and the fruit and peel is used to make a sweet paste also used in Sicilian patisserie.
Sicily benefits greatly from the production of lemons. Lemons have anti-bactericidal and antiseptic qualities; they are known for their therapeutic properties and are therefore beneficial in aromatherapy, pharmacology and medical and scientific applications. The essential oils are prominent in perfumes and the cosmetic industry. They are also widely used in cleaning products and citric acid (derived from lemons) is used extensively as a preservative.
The flowers and leaves are used for ornamental purposes. The white and pale violet blossoms have a strong and appealing scent and are often used in bride’s bouquets and inserted in button holes in men’s jackets at weddings.
When Sicilians (and other southern Italians) came to Australia, one of the first thing they planted was a lemon tree. Many are grafted to produce different types of lemons or different citrus.
You may be familiar with making Sicilian orange salads (especially with blood oranges), but you may not have considered enjoying a Sicilian lemon salad. I particularly like serving a lemon salad as an accompaniment to grilled fish, especially sardines. Last time I made one I presented it to accompany a meat terrine made with pork.
Use large, mature lemons – the larger, the more pith, the better. Many of the large lemons are more round in shape.
You will be amazed by the sweetness of the lemon in the salad. The use of salt will make the lemons taste sweeter (just like balsamic vinegar brings out the sweetness of strawberries).
Peel the skin off the lemons with a potato peeler, leaving as much pith as possible.
Cut the lemons in half and squeeze out some of the juice (otherwise the salad will be too acidic).
Cut the lemons into quarters and then into slices or manageable chunks (slices cut into four). Remove any pips.
Add finely chopped parsley or mint.
Dress with extra virgin olive oil, freshly ground pepper and salt.
I love globe artichokes and I usually stuff, braise them and eat them hot or cold. If peas or broad beans are in season, they too are added to the braise. A mixture of fresh breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic and grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese is probably my most frequent stuffing, but at other times I have used minced meat, or added black olives and anchovies, or for a delicate stuffing I have used ricotta and almond meal. Each globe artichoke is likely to hold about ½ cup of stuffing and some of the larger artichokes hold more.
Once stuffed, the globe artichokes are placed upright and packed tightly into a pan and braised in white wine and/or stock. Extra virgin olive oil is an essential ingredient and it is used liberally.
Small artichokes are ideal to cook alla romana – as the Romans do.
The artichokes (carciofi) that are available and that are still in season in Melbourne are these little, purple, spiny ones. The globe artichokes that were in season prior to these have nearly finished, but there are still some of the baby ones around – those that will never develop into full size (like tomatoes at the end of the season that never ripen). These baby artichokes (carciofini) are usually preserved under oil.
For carciofi alla romana, use the smallest artichokes you can find, but the small, purple, spiny ones would be my preference. In this recipe, the artichokes are also stuffed, but lightly …about a teaspoon of stuffing for each.
For the stuffing for the number of artichokes I had (9) I used 1 large clove of garlic, ½ cup fresh parsley finely chopped, ½ cup fresh mint finely chopped, salt and pepper and all mixed with a little extra, virgin olive oil.
Carciofi alla romana are also braised, but they are placed upside down and I use greater amounts of oil in the braising liquid – a mixture of water and a little white wine, but the aim is to have very little, concentrated and flavourful liquid at the end of cooking, and this will be mostly oil.
Clean and prepare the artichokes as you would the globe artichokes. Use acidulated water (1 lemon). Peel off the tough outer leaves until you get to the softer paler leaves. The stems of my artichokes were not worth peeling, but it they are peel the outer layer of the stem and as is usually the way with this recipe, keep the stems attached to the base if you can. Cut approximately 1/3 of the top of the artichoke to remove the spiny leaves. Using your fingers ease the leaves apart in the centre of each artichoke to form a space for the stuffing.
Mix the garlic, parsley, seasoning and mint together with 1 tablespoon of oil. Stuff the artichokes with this mixture.
Place about 1 cm of olive oil in the bottom of a narrow pot and arrange the artichokes close together and side by side…. but upside down. Add a little white wine and enough water to reach about 1/3 from the top of the height of the artichoke. Add salt and pepper, cover and simmer over low heat until the artichokes are soft and can be easily pierced with a fork.
Check them occasionally and if they are too dry add a little water if necessary in small amounts.
When the artichokes are cooked, remove the lid, turn up the heat and evaporate the liquid until you have mainly oil. Remove the artichokes from the pot, drizzle the liquid over them and serve them at room temperature.
There are a number of recipes on my blog about artichokes and accompanying photos. Artichokes are not difficult to prepare and cook, and they are delicious. To find other recipes, use the search button on my blog and key in Artichokes.