PARMIGIANA, uncomplicated

When I first came to Australia with my parents (1956), eggplants (aubergines/ melanzane in Italian) were non-existent commercially in Adelaide and probably in the rest of Australia.  I remember friends moving to Canberra in the 80’s and they had to order eggplants from the Sydney markets.

Like so many vegetables that were unfamiliar in Australia, it took a few seed smugglers some time before eggplants were grown in home gardens, and even more years before they were found in produce markets and green grocers’ shops.

Now of course, there are many types of seeds that have been imported legally into Australia and sold in many Italian produce stores.

There are Asian varieties of eggplants as well as the Mediterranean ones in Australia. Trade and migration has made eggplants a typical Mediterranean plant, but they originated from the south-east Asia and in particular from India and China.

Eggplants come in different shapes and sizes – long, thin, wide, round, small and large and they cam be grown commercially as well as successfully in most home gardens . (The eggplant above is grown in my son’s home garden in Adelaide).

The colour of eggplants range from the traditional dark purple types through to violet, lavender, pink, green and creamy-white varieties. There are also variegated types.

When I think of eggplants, I think of Sicily where the most intense cultivation takes place in Italy.

Sicily has the highest numbers of eggplants in terms of cultivation and production; they are available at all times of the year because they can be grown in serre (greenhouses) in all seasons especially in the Ragusa area, where my father’s relatives are based.

And Sicily is where some of the most famous recipes for Italian eggplant dishes initiated, for example:  Eggplant Caponata from Palermo, Pasta alla Norma from Catania and Parmigiana di Melazane (Eggplant Parmigiana) with some slight variations from all over Sicily.

Parmigiana is now one of the best-known and widespread dishes of Italian cuisine but its origin is disputed between the regions of Sicily, Campania and Emilia-Romagna. However I have always believed Parmigiana to be Sicilian. Since I was a young child I have eaten many servings of Parmigiana cooked by family and friends, in homes and in restaurants all over Sicily and I support the theory that it is a Sicilian specialty.

Parmigiana is what I am going to write about in this post.

Recently a friend (and an excellent home cook) prepared Yotem Ottolenghi’s Aubergine Dumplings Alla Parmigiana, from the book Flavor. It was a marvellous dinner and I enjoyed eating these vegetarian meatballs very much.

The ingredients for Ottolenghi’s recipe are cubed eggplants, roasted till soft and caramelized, then mashed and mixed with herbs and spices, ricotta, Parmesan, basil, bound with eggs, breadcrumbs and flour. While the mixture rests, a tomato salsa needs to be made, the dumplings are fried and then baked in the tomato salsa.

When I looked at Ottolenghi’s recipe, I was amazed at just how many steps have to be covered compared with the time it would take to cook the traditional Parmigiana. A few days later a friend came to dinner and I made a simple Parmigiana.

I baked the eggplants this time rather than fried them..

Made the tomato salsa.

Proceeded to layer the salsa, eggplants, grated cheese and because the Ottoleghi recipe had ricotta, and because ricotta seems to have become an addition to the traditional Parmigiana recipe all over the web, I also added ricotta between the layers.

What it looked like before I placed it in the oven.

And I presented the Parmigiana with roast peppers and a green salad.

I don’t know how long my version took, but it tasted good.

Parmigiana can also be made with fried zucchini.

Parmigiana can also be made with fried zucchini. It is worth cooking it.

**** I  first wrote a post on my blog in 2009 about how the name of the recipe originated and recipe of a traditional Parmigiana. The recipe is also in my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking.  The background information about Parmigiana is  fascinating. The post is worth reading:

EGGPLANT or ZUCCHINI PARMIGIANA

TRADITIONAL FOOD – Festive Season

It is far too late to write about traditional recipes for the upcoming festive season.

I have to admit that usually my month of December is just so busy that I don’t have time to investigate new recipes. I tend to rely on old favourites that I can cook with my eyes closed. Some of these old favourites are:  Pasta Con Le Sarde; baccalà cooked in various ways;  a risotto or pasta with squid and black ink with green peas; mussels; tuna steaks also cooked in different ways: Insalata Russa; grilled seasonal vegetables like zucchini, peppers and eggplants; and for dessert, there is either Zuppa Inglese with Arkemes (Alchermes) or a Sicilian Cassata., made with ricotta.

You will find all of these recipes on my blog.

This year I am in Adelaide for Christmas. I had given my family in Adelaide some options of what I could cook  for Christmas Eve, but they all asked for two old favourites –  Baccalà Mantecato and Caponata Catanese as part of the antipasti….. same old, same old.

The Baccalà Mantecato is from the Veneto region in Italy and something that was very common in Trieste (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) where my parents and I lived when I was a child.  The baccalà is soaked in water for 3 days, then poached in milk, bay and a couple of garlic cloves, drianed and creamed with extra virgin oilve oil. It is spread on crostini – bread brushed with oil and toasted. The crostini my mother made were toased in a frypan and never in the oven. Crostini made with polenta are also favourites… but who has the time?

In the photo below is the soaked baccalà.

The Caponata Catanese is from Catania in Sicily.  Unlike the Caponata from Palermo that is made with eggplants. This version is made with peppers as well as eggplants and the usual caponata ingredients of green olives, celery, a bit of tomato paste and the agro-dolce, (a sweet and sour sauce). This is topped with pine nuts and basil.

So let’s just share a recipe for Christmas, but remember that at this time of year it is hot in Australia (because it is summer), if it is winter where you are, you may not even consider cooking it. It is braised lentils cooked wit Cotechino…..Cotechino con le lenticchie.

Although I would never serve this at midnight as was customary in some parts of Emilia-Romagna where the dish originates, it is an interesting choice. The Cotechino is a rich seasoned pork sausage that I poach with the lentils. The thick  sausage is then sliced and served on top of a bed of braised lentils.

The green lentils that resemble the shape of coins are intended to bring you prosperity in the New Year.

COTECHINO AND LENTILS; NEW YEAR’S EVE and CHRISTMAS

New Year’s Eve Baccalà Mantecato

BACCALÀ MANTECATO, risotto

CAPONATA recipes:

THE MANY VERSIONS OF CAPONATE

CAPONATA Catanese (from Catania) made easy with photos

CAPONATA FROM PALERMO (made with eggplants)

CAPONATA DI NATALE (Christmas, winter caponata made with celery, almonds and sultanas)

A MOUNTAIN OF CAPONATA: two days before Christmas

Photos of the caponata cooked in Melbourne and brought to Adelaide. Once again I used my heavy large wok to cook each of the vegetables separately.

HOW ONE FISH RECIPE CAN EVOLVE INTO A DIFFERENT DISH

Somehow, I ended up eating fish for most of the week, and part of the first recipe lead into the second, and part of the second led into the third, but each dish was unique.

Of course there were also left overs.

I made Baccalà Mantecato on the weekend. The baccalà has to be soaked for a couple of days before it is poached in milk with some bay leaves and a clove of garlic. It is a dish that comes from the Veneto region and is also particularly popular in Trieste (Friuli Venezia Giulia).

Cooking the garlic in milk softens the taste and once blended with the baccalà and extra virgin olive oil, the taste of the garlic is less aggressive.

I always save the poaching liquid whether I poach the baccalà in milk or in water, and I did this a couple of days later when I made Baccalà Mantecato for a friend who is allegic to diary.

I cooked fish again. I bought some fish cutlets, slices cut horizontally, each steak usually has four distinct fleshy segments and each segment can be studded with a different flavour. Below is a photo of what I expect when I buy this cut of fish that I use regularly. I have included a link to a full recipe at the end of this post.

The photo below shows the four distinct segments of fish that surround the central spine, each receptive to a different flavour. It looks like on that occasion I studded the segments with cloves, oregano, fennel and garlic. At other times I have used sage, cinnamon, dill, thyme, rosemary or tarragon. The flavours I use for the stuffing will also determine what use to deglaze the pan after I have sauteed the fish, for example on various occasions I have used dry marsala (especially for Sicilian cooking), vermouth, Pernod and a variety of white wines that impart different flavours to the fish. Lemon juice or vinegar is also good.

When I opened the parcel and was ready to stud my fish, I noticed that only one slice was as I expected (cut from the tail end of the fish), but the other slices included what I call ‘flaps’, the often long and bony sides of fish encasing the gut of the fish.

It is part of the fish’s anatomy, but what I objected to was that the slices in the display cabinet were all the same size. These slices were not at all suitable for inserting with four different flavours; they were also difficult to fit into the frypan comfortably.

I cut the flaps off and only used two flavours to stud into the flesh of the fish – garlic and thyme.

I pan fried the fish, added some herbs – fresh fennel fronds and parsley. I deglazed the pan with a splash of white wine, evaporated it, added a little of the stock from the baccalà, added some capers.

What to do with the flaps?

The next day I poached the flaps in water flavoured with some onion, whole peppercorns, bay leaves, a little celery. This gave me some extra fish stock as well as an opportunity to remove the flesh and discard the skin and bones. I discarded the greenery.

I had the makings of a fish risotto.

Making a risotto is easy. I decided to add peas, frozen at this time of year and herbs of course, as in all of my cooking.

I softened one chopped onion in butter and extra virgin olive oil, added 1 cup of rice to the pan and toasted the rice. A splash of white wine, evaporated it, added 1 cup of peas and some chopped parsley and fennel. Tossed them all in the hot pan, added a little salt and then proceeded to add the milk stock from the baccalà and the stock used to poach the flaps of the fish to cook the risotto.

I added the fish pieces to the risotto when it was nearly cooked (to warm it), the grated rind and juice of a lemon and at the very end some butter and black pepper.

There was enough for lunch the next day and the evolving fish meals stopped there!

FISH STUDDED WITH SICILIAN FLAVOURS

BACCALÀ MANTECATO (Creamed salt cod, popular in the Veneto region and Trieste)

New Year’s Eve Baccalà Mantecato

BACCALÀ MANTECATO, risotto

 

PEPERONATA(SICILIAN SWEET AND SOUR PEPPERS)

When it comes to making a Peperonata I become a testa dura (a hard head, someone who resists change).

For me, like so many other Sicilian recipes, I never include tomatoes or passata.

My maternal grandmother from Catania used to make it and I always remember her adding some water. You may find this strange, but it does soften the peppers and this water does evaporate.

The other thing I like to include in my Peperonata is vinegar and a little sugar. This also makes it an agro-dolce dish.

Yellow and red peppers are common in a Peperonata, simply because they are sweeter in taste. The multi coloured peppers add visual impact.

On this occasion I just used red peppers becausein South Australia red peppers are still abundant, they were firm and fresh specimens. 

There are variations to making Peperonata, and this will not surprise you one bit.  For example, apart from adding tomatoes, some add black olives or cubed potatoes.

But not me!

In some parts of Sicily, the Peperonata is topped with toasted breadcrumbs (good white bread, coarse crumbs tossed in a frypan with hot extra virgin olive oil). I must admit that the breadcrumbs (as the cubed potatoes) do soak up some of the juices and add a different texture.

But not me… well, not always!

I like to present it as an antipasto with good bread.
I always serve it cold.

Peperonata is relatively easy to make, you just have to make sure that there is sufficient liquid in the pan so that the peppers don’t stick.

Obviously, you can also imagine this dish paired with baked ricotta or burrata. Because of the vinegar and the sugar, and just like a pickle, it pairs well with some small goods – breasaola, lomba, ossocollo…those lean thin slices of meat.

It is delicious as a stuffing for a panino or for a bruschetta…not that I ever make bruschetta, it is far too trendy!

3 white onions, 1 clove of garlic chopped finely

6 peppers of mixed colours, but the red and yellow peppers are sweeter

 ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons of white or red wine vinegar

salt and black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoons of sugar, to taste

Slice the onions finely. Core the peppers and cut them into strips.

Heat the oil, soften the onion and then add the peppers and the garlic and sauté the ingredients.
Cover with a lid and continue cooking for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent onions and peppers from sticking to the bottom.

When the peppers start to soften add about 1/4 cup of water. Stir to coat all the peppers well.

Cover with the lid again, add salt and pepper and continue cooking them on slow heat for about 10 minutes. Remove the lid, turn up the heat, add the vinegar and the sugar. Turn up the heat, stir the ingredients to coat them and evaporate some of the liquid.

Add fresh basil leaves or fresh oregano. Place into a container and leave the peperonata for at least 4 hours for the flavours to intensify. I like to leave it overnight in a covered container in the fridge.

Serve at room temperature.

At the time of serving you may wish to remove the spent oregano / basil and replace it with fresh leaves.

PEPERONATA; PIPIRONATA (Sicilian) Braised peppers

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

 

SFORMATO DI RICOTTA E SPINACI and an Italian lesson about sformati

I am unsure what to call this dish in English.

If I were to call this following dish a Ricotta and Spinach Bake, most people would assume that it would be predomintly pasta (or rice?).

If I called it a pie, the assumption would be that it would have a pastry base; a terrine is likely to be cooked in a bain-marie and a frittata is fried and not baked (fritta means fried).

 The Italian label – a sformato – is so appropriate and descriptive.

And yet if one looks at the translation into English of the word sformato it is translated as a flan, a pie, even a quiche. These translations cover a lot of territory in the world of cuisine and they just don’t do it for me!

For me a sformato is something that has eggs to bind some chopped or pureed vegetables (or/and protein, ie meat, small goods, fish) and flavourings. And it is baked. It could contain some pasta, rice or breadcrumbs for thickening. Unlike a souffle, a sformato  may contain less eggs, hence a sformato is not as light and fluffy.

A ‘forma’ is a shape or a mold, therefore a sformato is baked in a vessel that gives it shape. The word and noun sformato comes from the verb ‘sformare’, to unmold, therefore I will assume correctly that a sformato is to be tipped out onto a plate.

Maybe I also need to acknowledge that because I have eaten various sformati (plural) I know what they are. Sformati are made all over Italy so it is an Italian regional dish.

A sformato is one of the perfect ways to use left over vegetables. Maybe the Anglo version was/is  to use left overs in a mornay… remember them?

Ricotta and spinach are good together and a very popular combination in many Italian dishes. Parmigiano or pecorino add a stronger taste and enhance the flavours of these ingredients.

Like most Italian recipes the quantities are an estimation. if you add more spinach add eggs, if you would like to taste the butter, add more.

Ingredients in my sformato:

4 eggs, 700 gms ricotta, 50g butter

400 gms cleaned and chopped spinach

1 spring onion finely chopped, 1 clove of chopped garlic (optional),1 clove minced garlic

½ – 1 cup grated parmigiano or pecorino (stronger taste), some cultures may use feta

salt pepper and a pinch of nutmeg to taste, 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds if you wish to add a different layer to the dish (in other cultures dill is popular and you may wish to use this)

a little extra virgin olive oil to saute the vegetables and more butter to grease the mold.

I also had some parmigiano that had gone hard in my fridge and I wanted to use that up so I chopped it into little pieces and added it to the mixture.

Oven to 180 /200C

Pour a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil into a pan and add the onion and garlic and lightly sauté the ingredients.

Add spinach and fennel seeds (if using) and wilt it for 5-7 minutes.

Drain the spinach. Let it cool.

Prepare a mold 20-26 cm/8-10 baking pan by rubbing it liberally with butter on the base and up the sides. Better still, use buttered baking paper to line the pan. I  used an old pyrex dish and had run out of baking paper, and as you will see in my photo below the bottom of my sformato stuck. Maybe, if you are not using baking paper, shake a little flour or breadcrumbs over the buttered baking pan.

Beat the eggs with the ricotta and butter. I used a kitchen hand/ blender.

Mix in the spinach mixture, grated cheese and bits of cheese if using. Decide how pureed you would like the spinach and blend accordingly.

Place the mixture into the prepared baking pan; smooth it over.

Bake for approximately 45-60 minutes or until cooked in the centre. When it is cooked the sformato will spring back when touched.  Mine cooked for 55mins but I think it could have been left for about 10 minutes to set even further.

It cut quite nicely and we had it hot,  but it was also good to eat cold the next day. Like frittata, a sformato is portable and perfect for a picnic.

I had some tomato salsa (what some call Napoli Sauce – peeled, chopped tomatoes, basil, extra virgin olive oil, salt, garlic clove… all cooked together and reduced till thickened).

Other recipes related to this post:

OMLET DI SPINACI (Pancakes ricotta and spinach)

TORTA DI VERDURA (A vegetable flan or pie)

ALL ABOUT MAKING FRITTATA and Podcast with Maria Liberati

The Ugly Ducklings in Italian Cuisine (Scarrafoni in cucina)

Late last year, I was contacted by Massimiliano Gugole from SBS Radio and asked if I would like to contribute to an SBS program on Season 2 of The Ugly Ducklings of Italian Cuisine.              

The idea of the program is to showcase nice tasting but nasty looking Italian dishes. Massimiliano wanted to interview me about a particular dish from South Eastern Sicily that starts out looking gruesome but ends up tasting glorious. I think he must have found me through a recipe I posted on my  blog about this particular dish, which one of my aunts used to make when we visited Ragusa for our Sicilian summer holidays.

My recipe and the Ugly Duckling interviews in English and Italian are entitled Zuzzu, described on the SBS website as an ancient, pork terrine that uses everything of the pig, but the oink!

I mentioned to one of my friends in Canberra that I had been interviewed for this program and with his wicked sense of humour said: “Surely the ugly duckling reference has got nothing to do with you!”

Here’s what SBS had to say about Season 1 followed by Season 2:

About Season 1

SBS has today launched its first ever bilingual podcast series – The Ugly Ducklings of Italian Cuisine (Scarrafoni in cucina) in English and Italian – celebrating the most delicious, non-Instagrammable Italian dishes that might never have come across your plate.

Over the course of six episodes, the series will follow some of Australia and Italy’s most well-known chefs and food critics, including acclaimed restaurateur and food personality Guy Grossi, celebrity chef Poh Ling Yeow, and food blogger and author Emiko Davies, as they explore and celebrate Italy’s least appetizing specialties.

Podcast host Massimiliano Gugole, from SBS Italian, said: “Italy is a country of beauty, with its food celebrated all over the world, but this podcast will introduce listeners to some of our lesser-known culinary treasures, with a healthy dose of irony thrown in for good measure.

About Season 2

SBS’s first bilingual podcast is back for seconds! Season Two of The Ugly Ducklings of Italian Cuisine (Scarrafoni in Cucina) returns in Italian and English to introduce six new dishes for the adventurous eater such as sea urchin gonads, stew with chocolate and wild boar, and risotto with a stinging weed.

A line-up of new guests will share their expertise in the world of Italian food including award-winning Melbourne chef Alberto Fava, Sicilian food truck owner Pino D’Addelfio, TV chef, author and former Food Director of Australian Women’s Weekly, Lyndey Milan, and the inimitable queen of TV cooking, Nigella Lawson.

SBS Italian Producer Massimiliano Gugole said the podcast started from a love of weird and wacky food.

“During the first season I talked about a typical dish from Verona – pearà. Not even people from neighbouring cities knew about it. When they saw a picture, they thought it looked like vomit but I, like all Veronese, love it!” said Gugole.

Looking past the superficial, Season Two of The Ugly Ducklings of Italian Cuisine will delve deeper into how these unique, local dishes became a proudly acquired taste.

“These dishes are not the celebrities – the pizzas and pastas – but they have strong links to families, towns and history. My intention is to tell their stories,” Gugole said.

“On Instagram, all food is perfect: perfect framing, perfect garnishes, but my research shows that’s not what makes food delicious. Nigella Lawson even once said, ‘brown food tastes the best’.”

Episode three in English features TV cooking royalty Nigella Lawson, who talks about stinging nettle risotto and her special relationship with 98-year-old Italian-British food writer Anna Del Conte. Lawson cites Del Conte as her only culinary influence, apart from her mother. In the Italian version of this episode, we hear from the doyenne herself, Anna Del Conte.

Conte and Lawson join guests including blogger and Instagram sensation Emiko Davies, environmental scientist and sea urchin expert Dr Paul Carnell, Italian food writer Chiara Cajelli, and research scientist Dr Maurizio Rossetto from the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, as well as restaurateurs from Italy and Australia, university professors, medieval food fanatics and more.

The podcasts in both season 1 and Season 2 are worth listening to and are very entertaining.

BS Italian Executive Producer, Magica Fossati, says differences between the Italian and English episodes on the same topic are an interesting by-product of having the same conversation with bilingual guests, but both versions are worth listening to as they complement each other.

“I heard some Italian language teachers recommended our first season to their students because it’s easier to understand and study Italian with English context,” she said.

Both English and Italian speakers can look forward to hearing a fresh perspective on the world of lesser-known Italian dishes in season two, available on the SBS Radio app and SBS Italian website. Episode one launches on February 1, recipes for the dishes featured in the series can also be found on SBS Food.

My recipe of Zuzzu and is in Italian and English.

I have listened to both podcasts about Zuzzu.
The Italian version is different to the English. One happened before anyone ate it, the other after people tasted it. The Italian version is probably more amusing and includes commentary from Lisa Ferraro, who used to live in Melbourne and one of the two who instigated Bar Idda, a Sicilian restaurant in Brunswick East, Melbourne. Lisa now lives in Rome and organises travel tours in Sicily.

Compliments to Massimiliano Gugole who did an excellent job interweaving other speakers in the interviews.

Listen or follow The Ugly Ducklings of Italian Cuisine in the SBS Radio app or your favourite podcast app, to hear all episodes in the series.

Find a collection of recipes featured in the first series on the

SBS Food website, including this recipe for my Sicilian pork terrine (Zuzzu)

Here are some photos about the preparation of Zuzzu:

The head

The head in the pan

The boiled meat drained

The different parts of meat, separated (2 photos above)

Dealing with the jelly (2 photos above)

Dealing with the terrine (2 photos above)

A tasty sauce to pour on top of the Zuzzu or to serve with it, can be made with a mixture of chopped parsley, extra virgin olive oil, some lemon juice, salt and either pepper or chili flakes. At times, I also like to add a few chopped leaves of fresh garlic or mint in mine, but this is optional. The dressing can be as thick or as thin as you wish to make it.

Links:

https://www.sbs.com.au/language/italian/en/podcast/the-ugly-ducklings-of-italian-cuisine

https://www.sbs.com.au/language/italian/en/podcast-episode/zuzzu-an-ancient-sicilian-pork-terrine-that-uses-everything-but-the-oink/okrixs5gn

The recipe has been called Pork Terrine…. not quite right, but maybe no one would look at a recipe mad with pig’s head. Brawn may have been a better title.

https://www.sbs.com.au/food/social-tags/ugly-ducklings

My original posts about this dish:

GELATINA DI MAIALE. Pork Brawn

GELATINA DI MAIALE and HAPPY BIRTHDAY BAR IDDA (Buon Compleanno Bar Idda).

THE MANY VERSIONS OF CAPONATE

Any cooking and eating is greatly influenced by the variations in weather especially the temperature and the available seasonal produce. Abundant in summer are eggplants, tomatoes, zucchini and peppers/capsicum and at this time of year I like to use this produce as much as possible. Summer is also a time for grilled food.

I particularly like grilled sardines but strangely enough, for the past three weeks at the Queen Victoria Market where I shop, there have not been any,  however they seem to be abundant on restaurant menus.

Squid has been available and tastes fantastic grilled, the charring adds so much flavour and character.  The tentacles are good too and apart from having a more intense flavour they offer a different texture. Squid will not need much cooking, especially if it has been marinading beforehand for an hour or so: cook the squid quickly – about 5 mins on one side, flip it over and cook the other side for less. The marinade can be as uncomplicated as a little extra virgin olive oil, salt and a few herbs of your choice. To the marinade this time, I also added a splash of white wine.

A simple drizzle of good, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice could be sufficient as a finishing dressing, especially it you are accompanying the squid with some flavourful side dishes.

As for the accompanying dishes, I made two different Sicilian caponate (plural of caponata) and a green salad. Not many guests cook caponate themselves and they especially appreciate the different versions of caponata .

Caponate taste better if cooked days before. They are presented at room temperature, so take them out of the fridge about 30 mins before serving. Caponate also make good starters.

I cooked one of the caponate in the oven and used eggplants, onions, celery and peppers/capsicums. To make it different,  apart from baking the vegetables, I also added fennel seeds, plenty of basil and garlic as well as the customary green olives, capers, sugar, vinegar and pine nuts. I definitely prefer the traditional method of sautéing  of each of the vegetables in hot oil. Although I roasted the vegetables at high temperatures, they released far too many juices that I had to evaporate and fiddle excessively with the flavours. In the end it did taste good, but the flavour took far too long to fix.

Place the basil and toasted pine nuts on the caponata at the time of serving and stir them through the cooked ingredients.

The caponata in the photo below is made with celery. This caponata is much quicker to cook and the addition of sultanas accentuate the sweet taste. The vinegar (present in all caponate) provides the sour taste and this cooked salad tastes very much like a pickle.

This celery caponata has the addition of toasted almonds rather than pine nuts.

The celery caponata is very easy to cook because the celery and onions are the only two vegetable ingredients and they can be sautéed in the same pan at the same time. Once they are slightly softened, add the drained and plump sultanas that have been soaking in water for an hour or so.  Add a little sugar and once the sugar begins to caramelise, add a splash of vinegar and evaporate.

The next caponata I intend to present to friends will be a chocolate version. Pieces of dark chocolate are added in the final stages of cooking the eggplant version of caponata that is characteristic of Palermo and its region. The caponata that includes peppers is typical of Catania and its region.

GRILLED CALAMARI (CALAMARI ‘NTA BRACI (Sicilian) – CALAMARI ALLA BRACE (Italian)

*The recipe for squid also has recipes for two accompanying,  Sicilian green, traditional sauces  –  Salmoriglio and Zoggiu

CAPONATA FROM PALERMO (made with eggplants)

CAPONATA Catanese (from Catania) made easy with photos

CAPONATA DI NATALE (Christmas, winter caponata made with celery, almonds and sultanas)

For more recipes for different versions of Caponata, use the search button.

VITELLO TONNATO MADE WITH GIRELLO (cut of meat)

Vitello Tonnato was a festive dish in my childhood home and it has remained so in mine.

In my childhood home, it was presented as an entrée when we had guests.

Nowadays, of course, very few of us have definite first and second courses. Anything goes! I am smiling as I write this – doing away with some conventions isn’t a bad thing. But years back, I would never have ordered a risotto, soup or pasta as my main course! Never.

When my mother made Vitello Tonnato, she always pot roasted the veal. The veal was cooked slowly with the usual broth vegetables – an onion cut in half, a carrot and a stick of celery. There were also herbs – bay leaves, a bit of rosemary and mainly sage. Sage always with veal and pork, my mother said. The moisture was supplied by some white wine and stock, or a little water and a stock cube. The vegetables were blended into a little home-made ,egg mayonnaise, some of the very flavourful and naturally jellied gravy/sauce, 2-3 hard boiled eggs, capers and some anchovies. This was the Tonnato sauce; tonno is ‘tuna’ in Italian.  My mother did not use a Girello because she thought that cut of meat would be too dry. She preferred a boned leg of veal. This was yearling beef in Australia.

The finely sliced meat was placed in 4 to 5 layers, each topped with some of the sauce and placed into a serving dish with sides. On top there was a layer of the yellow egg mayonnaise with some sliced hard-boiled eggs and maybe some giardiniera a colourful decoration of Italian garden vegetables pickled in vinegar, that added texture and sourness. Sometimes there were anchovies or capers, or sliced carrot as was one of an earlier versions of Vitello Tonnato.

And it always tasted very good.

Vitello Tonnato originates from Piedmont, but it has become a widely eaten Italian dish.

If you have eaten Vitello Tonnato in an Australian restaurant, you may have had it in a single layer with the tonnato sauce on top. My taste buds and sense of smell are pretty sharp, but rarely have I tasted complex flavours in the Tonnato sauce. There have, however, been a few good ones.

There are many recipes both in the Italian language books/web and many available in English. In most recipes the meat is what I would call boiled or poached. The cut of meat suggested in recipes is mostly Girello, the long, round, nut or eye cut of silverside that is extremely lean that is perfect for slicing. It is found outside of the rear leg.

Even though you may poach the Girello in liquid it can be dry. My mother was sometimes right.

But there is a way to keep it moist, and that is to poach it on a gentle simmer rather than on medium or high heat. The other trick is not to cook it for long and then leave it in the poaching liquid to finish off cooking. If you follow this process, the meat will remain pink and firm. I leave the meat in the poaching liquid to keep it moist until I am ready to slice it.

These days I do use a Girello and I like to sear the meat lightly before I poach it to add colour and taste. Interestingly enough, I have not found many recipes that sear the meat first and perhaps it is why I like and identify with the recipes for Vitello Tonnato from Guy Grossi and Karen Martini. Even Ada Boni just poaches it.

Most recipes add anchovies to the poaching liquid, but I prefer to add them to the Tonnato sauce.

The Meat

1.5k – 1.8k veal/yearling Girello,

1 onion, 1 carrot, 2 celery stalks and some of the tender light green leaves, all thinly sliced,

6 fresh bay leaves, a few sage leaves and whole peppercorns and if you wish, add about 3 juniper berries, or cloves or a teaspoon of fennel seeds and a little salt,

600 ml dry white wine, 250 ml (1 cup) white wine vinegar, 250 ml (1 cup) of chicken stock: this quantity should just cover the meat when it is poaching. Add more of the liquid if necessary.

Extra virgin olive oil for searing the meat and the vegetables.

The Tonnato sauce

4 anchovy fillets, 4 hard boiled eggs, 2 tins (each 425g) of drained good quality, tinned tuna in oil, 2 tablespoons of capers (in this case I don’t mind using the pickled capers), 200 ml of extra virgin olive oil, the juice of one lemon.

Sear the meat on all sides in some oil, remove from the saucepan and sear the vegetables by tossing them around in the pan for about 5 minutes.

 Add the wine, vinegar and stock, herbs, pepper and spices and bring to the boil.

Add the meat, make sure there is enough liquid, and simmer over low heat. Cook it for about 15-20 minutes. Switch it off and leave the meat to keep on cooking and cool in the liquid.

Store the meat in the liquid until you are ready to slice it and assemble it but remove a cup of the poaching stock to reduce to about ¼ of a cup. This is added to the Tonnato sauce.

For the Tonnato sauce, blend the tuna, anchovies, drained capers, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, the reduced liquid and hard-boiled eggs. I also like to add some of the drained celery leaves and sage. I nearly always have some home-made egg mayonnaise in the fridge and also add some of this if the sauce is too thick, otherwise use a little more of the poaching liquid. The sauce needs to be the consistency of mayonnaise.

Slice the veal thinly across the grain. I like to make little mounds of meat for each person, spreading each slice of meat with a little sauce and repeating the process. Depending on the width of the meat each mound will have 2-4 slices.

Top each mound with more sauce. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to serve it. Bring the Vitello Tonnato to room temperature and arrange some sliced boiled eggs and capers on top. A little bit of greenery around it is also good.

YEARNING FOR VITELLO TONNATO

VITELLO TONNATO

 

FIG LEAF INFUSED OIL

This is Kingfish crudo, fig leaf, mascarpone, grape, as presented at Chianti Restaurant in Hutt Street in Adelaide.

The restaurant prides itself in serving fresh, seasonal food. This is exceptionally good, modern Italian food! As for seasonal produce, figs and grapes are in season.

I did not know what to expect of the taste of fig leaf infused oil, but it was very pleasant – for me, the fig leaf oil tasted grassy, slightly nutty and with a hint of bitterness.

And look at the colour! It is so intense.

I have made parsley, coriander, dil, mint and basil infused oil and making fig oil appears to be no different.

When making oils infused with herbs I have always used a blender and I have used the the aromatic oils to drizzle over foods like labneh,  fresh cheeses like fior di latte, ricotta, burrata or fresh mozzarella (this category includes bocconcini), vegetables, especially potatoes and of course carpaccio, raw fish, usually referred to as crudo.  As you can see by my suggestions for its use, the green looks particularly spectacular with white colours, but you can also imagine how a blob will look good on pureed soups – for example, think about Gazpacho (or Gaspacho), pumpkin, Vichyssoise, zucchini soup. Visualize it on pasta dishes too. And why not use a combination of fresh figs, a fresh cheese with a drizzle of fig leaf oil!

I do not  measure ingredients, but as a rough estimate use 1 cup of good quality, fragrant, extra virgin olive oil to 3-4 fresh fig leaves (depending on size) or 4 cups loosely packed fresh herbs –  use only the soft leaves of soft leafed herbs, for example – basil, parsley, oregano, dill, chives, chervil, fennel, coriander, tarragon.

Make sure you use bright green, healthy, fig leaves and not too mature.

Blanch fresh fig leaves, or the leaves of fresh herbs (with no stems)  in some boiling water to soften. The blanching preserves the colour and the leaves will turn bright green. 

Quickly transfer the leaves or herbs from the boiling water to an ice water bath and cool quickly. Remove the herbs from the ice bath, strain and squeeze out as much excess water from the herbs as possible.

Add the squeezed  leaves to the oil with a pinch of salt and blend. Infuse in the oil  for at least  1 hour.  if you leave it overnight it will not suffer and in fact will turn a darker green. Strain the puree through cheesecloth or a fine meshed strainer.  When I did this, strangely enough, the blend had coconut aromas.

Keep oil refrigerated, bring to room temperature before use.

I used a tea strainer to filter the oil for the photo below. I am not at home and therefore do not have access to muslin or a fine meshed strainer. If I had filtered this through muslin, I could have  intensified the colour by squeezing  the muslin and squeezing  the green colour through. It still tasted great.

Experiment.  Below: sorrel, basil, rocket.

See also:

PESCE CRUDO, raw fish dishes in Sicily

SARDINE, CRUDE E CONDITE (raw and marinaded)

SPRING PICNIC – Frittata with artichokes and asparagus

Melbourne residents who have been in COVID lockdowns are now able to catch up under limited circumstances with friends.

Restrictions have been lifted:

Social gatherings are permitted outdoors between two people from a maximum of two households. Up to five people can socialise outdoors (excluding dependants), from two households, if every person over 18 years is fully vaccinated.

So that is what 4 of us did!

It is spring, and although the weather has been unpredictable it was a sunny day.

We ate well. The two households shared different things – Vitello Tonnato, Fior Di Latte (fresh mozzarella), Jamón. fennel withTapenade, home baked bread, a green salad (nasturtium leaves, herbs, frisée lettuce and other green leaves) and a frittata with artichokes and asparagus.

I often make frittata for various occasions.  Frittate (plural) are easy and laudable for all occasions – passed around at a celebration, breakfast, lunch , starter or dinner: they are extremely portable, excellent as a filling between bread or a picnic A frittata can be eaten hot, warm or cold. You can begin with raw or cooked ingredients and frittate are ideal for using cooked leftovers. I prefer frittate made of vegetables, but adding cooked meat or fish, smallgoods, cheese, cooked pasta or potatoes will make them more substantial.

On this occasion I wanted to celebrate spring produce and I used asparagus and artichokes.

I could have added other spring vegetables: new peas, broad beans, green beans, snow peas, zucchini and their flowers, but I did not. I kept it simple.

It is very common to add a little grated parmesan to a vegetable frittata, but one friend is allergic to diary produce so I did not use any on this occasion. This frittata  minus a little cheese did not suffer and if anything, the individual  tastes of the two vegetables was more distinct.

I sautéed my vegetables and cooked them separately. This makes the frittata tastier. The cooked, cooled ingredients are then added to the beaten eggs.

Ingredients: 8 eggs. 600g asparagus, 2 spring onions sliced thinly, 2 young artichokes, chopped parsley, salt and pepper, 1 clove of chopped garlic, extra virgin olive oil, white wine and a little stock.  A bowl with water and the juice of 1-2 lemon is necessary to immerse the artichokes as you work to prevent the artichokes from discolouring.

Use the same frypan to sauté the vegetables and the frittata.

The artichokes will take the longest to prepare. For the artichokes:

Remove the stems, strip off the rough fibrous outer and immerse them to a bowl with water and lemon.

Remove the tough outer leaves until you reach the softer and paler heart of the artichokes. cut the tip off each of the artichokes (on the tip of each leaf there is a thorn). Some types of artichokes can have large thorns!

Cut the artichokes in half and remove the internal beard with the help of a knife or a spoon, (looks like fluff). Cut the artichokes into thin slices and immerse them in water and lemon.

Drain the artichokes well when you are ready to cook them.

Heat some extra virgin olive oil, add garlic and as soon as the garlic begins to fry, add the artichokes and sauté on high heat.

Add a splash of white wine and evaporate. Add the parsley and a splash of stock (or water), cover with a lid and allow to cook. Set aside to cool.

Asparagus come in various  shapes, colours and sizes.

For the asparagus:

Remove the woody part of the stem and cut the bottom part of the asparagus into slices. Cut the top part into larger pieces – the top half of the asparagus is generally  more tender.  Sauté the spring onions in a little extra virgin olive oil, add the asparagus, a pinch of salt, toss them about in the hot pan, add 1-2 tablespoons of water and cook for a couple of minutes. Leave the asparagus slightly crunchy and set aside.

Place the eggs into a large bowl, add a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Beat vigorously with a fork until the egg mixture is homogeneous.

Add the cooked artichokes and asparagus to the eggs and mix well.

Heat some extra virgin olive oil in the same frypan and when the oil is hot, pour the mixture into the frypan and cook over medium heat.

Use the spatula to press the frittata and to lift the edges so as to encourage even cooking.

Turn the frittata when it is ready to flip.

**For more detailed instructions and photos of how to handle cooking and flipping a frittata see:

ALL ABOUT MAKING FRITTATA and Podcast with Maria Liberati

I wrapped my frittata in some foil and then a tea towel . we did not travel far and we ate it warm. You can also transport it in the frypan. covered with foil.

Other Recipes for Frittate:

FRITTATA: SAUSAGE and RICOTTA

ASPARAGI DI BOSCO and FRITTATINA (Wild Asparagus continued, and Frittata)

Artichokes, general:

ASPARAGUS and ARTICHOKES

CARCIOFI (Artichokes)

THE AMAZING ARTICHOKE

Artichokes recipes. There are many. Use the search button and type in artichokes.