Category Archives: Events, Christmas and Easter

SPAGHETTINI E COZZE – Spaghettini with mussels

Culturally In Australia Easter is no big deal, however in Italy it is tied to religious observances and fish is traditionally eaten on Good Friday by Italian Catholics even if they are not practising Catholics.

I plan to cook something simple – a pasta dish with Mussels. Cozze in Italian, cuzzili in Sicilian.

This is not a complicated dish. It is made with fresh mussels and a little fresh tomato, but not so much to mask the taste of the other ingredients.

Local mussels are prolific in Victoria and I regularly buy them at the Queen Victoria Market; these are generally farmed in Port Phillip Bay and recently from Mount Martha; when I get the chance, I like to go to Portarlington, where they are sold straight off the boats. Mussels are sustainable.

Red, ripe tomatoes are fabulous at this time of year, but tinned tomatoes are OK too. I even used some ripe, yellow,  heirloom tomatoes in this sauce!

Spaghettini (thin spaghetti) are used for this dish – the thin strands result in a greater surface area and allow greater absorption of the sauce.

The sauce is prepared quickly while the pasta is cooking. The same ingredients and method of cooking this dish can also be used with other fish – try squid.

Do not be horrified and think me a phony for using grated cheese with fish!  The rest of Italy may not, but Sicilians do it. Using cheese is not necessary, especially if you like to savor the fresh taste of the tomatoes.

spaghettini, 500g
mussels, 2 kg fresh, live mussels
red tomatoes, fresh, 500 g, chopped and peeled
garlic, 3 chopped…to taste
parsley, 1 cup finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil, ½ – ¾ cup
salt and pepper
basil, fresh, some stalks and leaves in the sauce and some leaves to decorate and provide a last-minute aroma
grated pecorino, (optional), to taste

Clean the mussels by rubbing them against each other in cold water (or use a plastic scourer). Pull the beards sharply towards the pointy end of the shell.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep pan.
Add the mussels.
Cover and cook over a brisk flame, shaking the pan every now and then, until the mussels have opened. Turn off the flame and let them cool slightly, then remove and discard the shells of about ¾ of them. Use the whole mussels for decoration.

If you have given the mussels sufficient time to open and some have remained closed, there is no need to discard them. They are very much alive, place them back on heat and they will eventually open.
Save the juice from the mussels in a separate vessel.

Add the onion to a new pan, sauté till golden.
Add the chopped tomatoes and some basil stalks with leaves attached (these can be removed at time of serving).
Simmer the sauce for about 8-10 minutes, just to blend the flavours and to evaporate some of the tomato juice. Place the tomato sauce aside.

Cook the spaghettini.
Add some extra virgin olive oil and garlic to a new pan (or wipe down the same pan that you have used to cook the sauce).  Soften the garlic and add the parsley.

Add the  mussel meat to the pan and toss the ingredients around for a few minutes before adding the tomato sauce and as much of the mussel juice as you think you will need for the sauce. Remove the cooked basil (it has done its job).
Add the mussels in their shells (gently) to warm through.

Drain the pasta. Add it to the pan with the rest of the ingredients toss them around till they are well coated. Be gentle with the cooked mussels in their shells as you want to keep the mussel meat in the shell.
Add fresh basil leaves.

Present with grated cheese for those who wish.

Pasta with cozze is eaten all over Italy but in Northern Italy parsley and garlic are the preferred flavourings and no tomatoes.

SICILIAN TORRONE made with sesame seeds (also called GIUGGIULENA/ JUJIULENA, CUBBAITA) and PASTELI and SIMSIMIYAH

Giuggiulena/ jujiulena (can be spelled different ways), also called cubbaita by some Sicilians is a Sicilian sesame seed, toffee brittle made with sugar and honey, sesame seeds and some grated lemon or orange peel. My cousin Franca lives in Ragusa, Sicily and she is the champion giuggiulena maker. Especially in time for Easter and Christmas the extended family await their share – she is responsible for making it and then distributes it to the extended family (Franca is also sanctioned to make scacce for the extended family, just as my elderly aunt is the one to make fresh pasta and ricotta ravioli for all).

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Because it keeps well, it is often served to visitors at other times of the year – it is particularly useful to have on hand in case unexpected guests come. As you would expect when giuggiulena is made in the various parts of Sicily, there are variations in the recipes – some use all sugar or all honey. My relatives in Ragusa add cinnamon and I have seen recipes where a pinch of cumin is added. Almonds or pistachio nuts can also be included, and possibly this explains why this brittle is also sometimes referred to as Sicilian torrone.

Sicilians believe that this sweet is a legacy from the Arabs of some 200 previous years of rule of Sicily and this is not surprising as countries in the Middle East also are fond of this sweet that is called by different names, for example in Lebanon and Cairo it is called simsimiyah. Greeks call it pasteli and they claim it as their own – a legacy from the Ancient Greeks.

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Franca

The variety and quality of the honey you use will make a difference to the taste of giuggiulena.

I used this honey to make my latest batch:

I already have two posts on my blog about giuggiulena, one has Franca’s recipe and the other is from Dolcetti Pasticceria in Melbourne –  Marianna is the proprietor and pastry chef and her parents are Sicilians.

Franca makes giuggiulena in large quantities – her recipe:

INGREDIENTS

1k honey, 1 k sesame seeds, 4 cups sugar, ½ teaspoon of each: cinnamon, cloves, grated orange peel.

PROCESSES

Melt the sugar in a large saucepan on very low heat, when sugar is melted add honey. Add sesame seeds and aromatics mix well. Remove the torrone from the heat quickly (or the sesame seeds my burn). Let cool slightly.
Pour mixture onto a tray with oiled baking paper or a marble that has been coated with oil. Spread evenly and quickly before the torrone hardens, cut into rectangular pieces before it cools and store in airtight containers. Franca often wraps pieces in cellophane paper before she distributes it.

You will find references to her recipe in: EASTER IN SICILY – A SICILIAN FEAST IN RAGUSA – RECIPES AND GIUGGIULENA

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This is Dolcetti’s recipe for giuggiulena:

INGREDIENTS
250gms sesame seeds
250gms orange blossom honey
250gms sugar
250gms whole raw almonds
zest of 1 orange (not too finely grated)

METHOD
Combine the honey and sugar in a pot and stir until it begins to melt and soften.
Add the sesame seeds and almonds and cook, stirring continuously until it begins to bubble.
Let it cook and darken to a dark golden brown colour.
Add the orange zest.
Pour onto a sheet of baking paper lined with a touch of oil or oil spray or onto a lightly greased marble or granite surface.
Flatten it slightly with an oiled rolling pin.
Let it cool before cutting it into pieces.
Keep stored in airtight container.

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Marianna

You will find references to Marianna’s recipe in: GIUGGIULENA (also CUBBAITA) – a brittle Sicilian toffee of sugar and honey with sesame seeds and almonds 

Pasteli and Simsimiyah, variations from the Sicilian recipes

It is interesting that most recipes for pasteli and simsimiyah I have seen, suggest to lightly toast the sesame seeds separately. The hot sugar and honey toffee is then poured onto the toasted seeds and mixed.

You will notice that equal amounts of sugar and honey are used in the Sicilian recipes whereas some Greek and Middle Eastern recipes use more honey than sugar. The sugar will make them harder therefore use more honey for a softer more chewable version.

A little lemon juice is included in the sugar and honey mix in Greek recipes, whereas lemon juice, orange blossom water or vanilla is favoured in recipes from the Middle East – I rather like this variation.

The toffee and sesame mixture is usually poured onto a square tin lined with baking paper with a touch of oil or onto a lightly greased marble, granite surface. One recipe from Cairo suggested using a mixture of and oil to grease the surfaces. I like this variation as well.

 

 

New Year’s ….Baccalà

This is baccalà that has been soaking for two days. I kept it in the fridge in a sealed container and changed the water four times per day.

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This is baccalà that I am poaching in some water (to cover) and some bay leaves. I usually poach it in milk but the friend I was preparing this for is allergic to dairy.

 

I  let it cool and removed the bones, skin and cartilage.

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I then drained the solids because I wanted to use some of the liquid in the mixture that I blended in my food processor  – the baccalà, with oil and garlic until it looked like mayonnaise.

So what is this?

Baccalà Mantecato and  I present it spread on crostini.

I have the recipe in my second cookbook Small Fishy Bites.

For background and full recipe see early post: Baccalà Mantecato

STOCKFISH and SALT COD -The differences between stoccafisso and baccalà and recipes.

 

 

CHRISTMAS Sicilian sweets at DOLCETTI 2017

What will the carretto siciliano carry to you and your friends this year?

There  are many sweet treats (dolcetti) for Christmas at Dolcetti Pasticceria.

This year  all the dolcetti have been wrapped in subtle, neutral colours and packed in wooden boxes. They look very attractive.

And as you would expect, everything is delicious.

There is something for everyone.

New treats too.

These are new as well.

Sicilian favourites: Pipparelli…I love the pepper in these biscuits.

Sicilian favourites: Ciascuni

Sicilian favourites: Gigiolena (also Giuggulena)…sesame seeds and sugar and honey. Arabic or Sicilian?

And Marianna and her angels are still mixing fruit mince for the mince pies. We live in Australia after all.

 

Links to some Christmas sweets recipes:

CHRISTMAS AT DOLCETTI in 2014 (and Recipe for Spicchiteddi Sicilian biscuits)

CHRISTMAS DOLCI and DOLCETTI and Pistachio Shortbread Biscuits 2013

GIUGGIULENA (also CUBBAITA) – a brittle Sicilian toffee of sugar and honey with sesame seeds and almonds

PANETTONE AND PANFORTE for an ITALIAN CHRISTMAS

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

Not all caponate include eggplants.

This  Sicilian caponata is certainly different to the Christmas fare we are used to in Australia, but it makes a perfect antipasto or salad as an accompaniment to meat or fish .

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Eggplants and peppers are summer vegetables and not in season in winter for Christmas, so this caponata is made with celery hearts, traditionally boiled first before being sautéed. In some parts of Sicily green, leafy winter vegetables (for example chicory, spinach, endives) are also used with the celery.

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I do not pre-cook the celery; I prefer to slice it very finely and just sauté it till it is slightly softened.

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It is a very unusual caponata with a combination of textures and flavourssweet, salty, sour… soft and crunchy. This recipe is one of the many caponate in my first book Sicilian Seafood Cooking.

Sultanas or currants are both good to use. Muscatels and raisins are OK as well, but their size may not be as visually pleasing.

Sometimes I toast the almonds, sometimes I do not. I made this caponata in a friend’s kitchen and on this occasion I used whole almonds rather than chopped ( the was no food processor/ kitchen wizz). On other occasions I have used pine nuts.

I have paired this with meat and fish but I really like to eat it on by it self… especially at the start of a meal.

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INGREDIENTS

almonds, 1 cup, blanched, toasted and chopped
celery, 1 large, but remove the outer leaves and only use the centre, pale green stalks and some of the fine leaves
onion 1, large, chopped
sultanas or currants, ¾ cup, sun-ripened
capers, ½ cup, salted or in brine
green olives, ¾ cup , stoned, chopped
white vinegar, ½ glass
sugar, 3 tablespoons
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
salt and freshly ground pepper

Optional
These can be sprinkled on top when the caponata is ready to serve:
Coarse Toasted Breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons, made from good quality 1-2 day old bread and then toasted in a frypan with hot oil.

PROCESSES

Slice the celery finely and chop the leaves.
Sauté the celery with the onion in a deep frypan until it has softened, add salt and cook for about 10 minutes.
Add the olives, sultanas and capers and cook for another 2 minutes.
Empty the cooked ingredients into a bowl.
Agro dolce sauce (sweet and sour sauce): To the frypan already coated with caramelised flavours, add the sugar and heat it very gently until it begins to melt and bubble. Add the vinegar and allow it to evaporate.
Add the vegetables to the sauce and some of the almonds, reserving some for decoration if you are not going to use the toasted breadcrumbs.

Leave the caponata in the fridge, at least overnight. Serve at Room temperature. Top with the rest of the almonds or breadcrumbs when ready to serve.

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

ABOUT PANETTONE AND SOURDOUGH

Panettone’s popularity round the world keeps on growing and I have seen various packages of imported Italian Panettone in select shops. Panettone is traditionally eaten during the Christmas and New Year holiday period in Italy. Christmas is close.

Panettone was made famous and affordable when it was commercially produced (from the 1920’s) and railed all over Italy and now in many parts of the world.

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The cheaper versions of light textured Panettoni (plural of Panettone) that you may be familiar are made with commercial yeast. The artisan and much more expensive varieties of Panettone are made with natural yeasts using the same traditional principles as making bread by the sourdough method.

When I first started playing around making bread at home I used commercial yeast (called lievito di birra in Italian) and my father used to remind me of how his mother made bread – she always saved a bit of uncooked dough from the loaf she was shaping, keep it in a jar with a lid and use it in the next batch of dough. He said that she never used commercial yeast. He was Sicilian and full of stories. He used to tell me about companion plantings and the effects of lunar cycles on plant germination, growth, and development.

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But thinking myself a modern woman, most of the time I doubted the folk lore. It was only years later that I learned about natural leavening and how my grandmother was using lievito madre, ‘mother’ or a ‘starter’ in her baking –  this is the wild yeast mixture that develops bacterial and lactic ferments that promote natural leavening. It is what imparts the bubbles in the texture of the dough and contributes to the characteristic aroma and flavour found in sour dough bread.

I like artisan breads – handmade and hand-shaped sourdough breads made with quality ingredients and integrity in bakeries like Zeally Bay Bakery. It is based in Torquay, but there are stockists in Melbourne and in some parts of regional Victoria.

‘Like many great things, sourdough requires time, skill and patience’

The above quote is from Zeally Bay’s website. John and Jan Farnan began making quality sourdough breads on a small scale in 2007. John, his son and a team of dedicated bakers have continued to develop an entire range of baked goods using Australian, certified, biodynamic and organic ingredients and applying traditional methods for making sourdough.  The long fermentation process used in sourdough breads has many health benefits. Of interest is that the bakery is using the natural leaven culture that was began in 1981.

The reason that I mention Zealy Bay is that I have been privileged over time to try a whole range of their breads including their brioche and Easter buns and recently the Panettone that the bakery has been perfecting in time for Christmas… and it is great.

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It was fragrant and had complex flavours, a result of using high-quality, natural ingredients and a long fermentation process. I could taste the natural flavours of the yeast, flour, eggs, butter and the fruit.  Panettone made with sourdough if wrapped well, will remain fresh for days and just like in good bread, the flavours will mature and develop.

Being certified organic is a guarantee that the ingredients do not contain GMO’s, chemical pesticides or result in land degradation.

So, if you plan to have Panettone for Christmas it is worth considering if you will buy a local or imported one or make one at home?

The more affordable and commercially produced Panettone made by large production companies is bound to have preservatives and artificial flavours.  If it is imported, you will have no way of knowing when it was baked and how it was transported.

The more expensive range of imported Panettoni are very likely to taste better than the cheaper versions. They are also more likely to have been made using the sourdough method – the older and more traditional method of making Panettone. Panettone is no longer just made in Milan. There are regional varieties made by artisans using local variations – for example some may have saffron, chestnuts, chocolate, figs rather than sultanas. The Sicilian versions are likely to contain higher amounts of citrus fruit, (this is grown extensively in Sicily). The artisan Panettoni may have been baked not as long ago as the more commercial ones and their expense may also reflect the cost of having been transported in faster and better climate-controlled conditions.

Few Italians bake Panettone at home and this is not surprising. Making Panettone at home requires patience and is a laborious process. It requires quite long leavening times over several days and three consecutive stages of mixing and kneading. You need good quality, gluten-rich flour to “support” such a rich dough.

The ‘mother’ or ‘starter’ has to be made well ahead of time and has to be mature, in strength, with the right degree of acidity. The bacteria contained in it must be nourished for fermentation, so every 3-4 days it is necessary to “refresh” the mother’s yeast and add some flour and water.

Ideally while it cools, the Panettone should be hung upside down to stretch and form a dome. Knitting needles are inserted all the way through the bottom half of the panettone between two objects of equal height or over a large saucepan and left to stretch at least six hours.

Do you really wish to do this?

PASTA CON SARDE – the baked version, Palermo, Sicily

Italy is a Catholic country and on Good Friday most Italians eat fish. Pasta con le Sarde is made with bucatini (thick long tubes of pasta) and the main ingredients are sardines (buy fillets for ease), wild fennel (or fennel bulbs) pine nuts, saffron and topped by fried breadcrumbs.

as you can see I have made this dish at other times.

Muslim Arabs took control of North Africa from the Byzantines and Berbers and began their second conquest of Sicily in 827 from Mazara, the closest point to the African coast and by 902 they well and truly conquered Sicily. The Muslims, were known as Moors by the Christians and by the time of the Crusades, Muslims were also referred to as Saracens.

The Muslim Arabs, via North Africa ruled Sicily till 1061 A.D.

This recipe can only be Sicilian and is particularly common in Palermo.

The origins of pasta chi sardi (Sicilian) are said to be Arabic. When a band Arab troops first landed in Sicily via North Africa, the Arab cook was instructed to prepare food for the troops. The cook instructed the troops to forage for food. He made do with what they presented – plentiful was the wild fennel and the fish (sardines). To these he added exotic ingredients and flavours of Arabs and North Africans –  the saffron, dried fruit and the nuts and so Pasta con le Sarde was born.

At this time of year, just before Easter, many readers look at my blog searching for Easter food ideas. The baked version is fancy enough to present on Easter Sunday – if you are that way inclined.

Pasta con le Sarde can be eaten hot or cold  and it can  be baked…..made into a tummàla (Sicilian word from the Arabic) – Italian timballo and French timbale – a dish of finely minced meat or fish cooked with other ingredients and encased in rice, pasta or pastry.  The dry breadcrumbs are used to line and cover the contents in the baking pan, the long bucatini can be coiled around the pan and the sardine sauce becomes the filling.

The recipe for Pasta con le Sarde is from my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking. This is a slightly modified version of the recipe.

I found very little wild fennel this time of year so I used fennel bulbs – there were a few available at the Queen Victoria Market. Because I only found a very small quantity of wild fennel I added some ground fennel seeds and a splash of Pernod to enhance the fennel taste.

Wild fennel

If you can get wild fennel, place it into some cold, salted water (enough to cook the pasta) and boil it for 10-15 minutes (it can be left in the water for longer). The green tinged, fennel-flavoured water is used to cook the pasta — it will flavour and colour the pasta. Reserve some of the tender shoots of wild fennel raw to use in the cooking of the sauce.

Drain the cooked fennel and keep the fennel-flavoured water to cook the pasta. Some of the cooked fennel can be added to the pasta sauce.

The recipe using bulb Fennel

  • bucatini, 500g
  • sardines, 500g
  • fennel a large bulb of fennel with the green fronds cut finely, a teaspoon of ground fennel seeds or a dash of Pernod
  • extra virgin olive oil, about ½ cup
  • onions, 1, finely sliced
  • anchovies, 4, cut finely
  • pine nuts, ¾ cup
  • almonds, ¾ cup, toasted
  • currants, ¾ cup, or seedless raisins or sultanas soaked in a little water beforehand
  • saffron, ½ – 1 small teaspoon soaked in a little water beforehand
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper or chili flakes to taste
  • coarse breadcrumbs, 100 grams made with day old, quality bread (sourdough/pasta dura) lightly fried in some oil. I added pine nuts (pine- nuts-overkill), grated lemon peel, a little cinnamon and sugar to my breadcrumbs.

Slice the fennel into thin slices and cut fronds finely.
Cut about two thirds of the sardine fillets into thick pieces. Reserve whole fillets to go on top and provide visual impact.
Heat oil in shallow wide pan.
Sauté the onions over medium heat until golden. Add the fennel and cook till slightly softened.
Add pine nuts, currants (drained) and almonds. Toss gently until heated.
Add the sliced sardines, salt and pepper or chili. Cook  for about 5-7 minutes, stirring gently. Add ground fennel seeds or a splash of Pernod to enhance the fennel taste – I did this because I only found a very small quantity of wild fennel.
Add the anchovies (try to remove any bones if there are any) and as they cook, crush them with back of spoon to dissolve into a paste.
Add saffron (and the soaking water) and continue to stir and cook gently.
Boil bucatini in the fennel water (if you have it) until al dente.
Fry the whole fillets of sardines in a separate frying pan, keeping them intact. Remove them from the pan and put aside.
Drain the pasta.
Mix the pasta with the sauce, sprinkle with some of the breadcrumbs and top with the sardine fillets.

The photos are of left over pasta that I made into a timballo. It was only for my household, nothing fancy and was a way of using leftovers.

Oil a baking tray or an ovenproof dish (traditionally a round shape is used) and sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs to prevent sticking.


Place a layer of the dressed pasta on the breadcrumbs – I coiled the bucatini around the baking pan, then added the sauce (solids- sardines, nuts etc) and placed more coiled bucatini on top.

if you want a deeper crust you will need greater quantities of breadcrumbs.

Cover with more breadcrumbs, sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil, cover with foil and bake in preheated 200°C for approximately 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes. When the dish is baked, the breadcrumbs form a crust.

LINKS:
WILD FENNEL, link with photos
PASTA WITH ANCHOVIES , wild fennel and breadcrumbs recipe
EASTER IN SICILY
SCACCE, Focaccia stuffed bread

 

 

COTECHINO AND LENTILS -NEW YEAR’S EVE and CHRISTMAS

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It is hot in Australia at this time of year and I am certainly not going to cook this popular and traditional Italian, New Year’s Eve dish – Cotechino e lenticchie – but some of you who are steeped into tradition may consider cooking this in hot or cold weather. If you do, make sure that as you dig into that sausage, you make a wish for the new year (it must be before midnight).

I cooked it last winter. Perfect for the cold weather. I first published this post on Dec 9th 2015 and it is time to publish it once more.

Cotechino is rather a large sausage which has a proportion of it made with some of the gelatinous meat from the pig trotter.  Lenticchie are lentils- the ordinary green lentils. Cotechino e lenticchie is a dish that is more common in the north of Italy. I do not think that it is very common in Sicily, however as a result of media and recipe books and travel, food habits change, recipes evolve.

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Just as we have adopted Panettone and Panforte at Christmas time in Australia, I gather that it is fairly hip to cook Christmas Pudding in Italy. So what do we think of that!
You will ned to visit an Italian delicatessen or butcher to buy a Cotechino sausage. If you live in Melbourne I go to Fairfield or Carlton. If you live in Adelaide Marino Food and Meat store at the Central Market. I know about and have visited Eataly in New York and they would definitely have it.

Cooking Cotechino and Lentils is very simple, and delicious. The onion, carrot and celery are the Italian usual suspects when making broth or a soffritto (from soffriggere – to lightly fry – the soffritto refers to the sautéed vegetables that are the basis for most braises, pot roasts and soups.)

This is definitely one of those dishes where you can add 1 kilo of lentils if you wish – it depends what proportion of lentils to cotechino that you prefer. Have a look at my photo and decide.

1 cotechino sausage
700 g of lentils
1 onion
1 stalk of celery
1 carrot
¼ cup olive oil
2-3 peeled tomatoes
2-3 bay leaves – I always prefer fresh, but i have a bay tree growing in a pot on my balcony  – you may not be as lucky.

Soak the lentils in water for 30 minutes.
Sauté the chopped celery, carrot, onion in the hot oil till golden. Drain the lentils and add cold water to cover them well.
Add peeled tomatoes and bay leaves, cover and cook them and cook over low heat until cooked.
In a separate pan add the sausage to cold water- sufficient water to cover the cotechino, bring it to the boil and then simmer it until it is cooked but not split – say 50 minutes.
Skim some of the fat off the broth, cut the sausage into thick slices, add them to the lentils with as much of the broth as you wish and serve.

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The flavours will intensify over the next few days so appreciate the leftovers – you could add more of the broth (from the cotechino) and eat it as soup. Great stuff, especially for those who are living in a cold climate!

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I have mentioned Panforte ( sweet). For recipe see:

Other Christmas recipes for sweets:

Fish for Christmas (especially Christmas Eve):

Meat and other Christmas specaialties:

My family always had brodo at some stage on Christmas day:

And there are so many other seafood, meat, vegetables and pasta recipes on my blog.

 

 

SAUCES for meat, fish and vegetables to brighten up your Christmas

Because one of the books that I have written is called Sicilian Seafood Cooking and because my blog is called All Things Sicilian And More many of my readers assume that at Christmas I will be cooking Sicilian food.

And what is the norm in Italy  or Sicily for Christmas?

As many have stated before me, there is no point in restricting the menu to a few common dishes because the food in Italy is very regional and depending where you live is likely to determine what you eat on Christmas day. When I was celebrating Christmas in Trieste (in Northern Italy), Brodo (broth) was always the first course on Christmas day. When I celebrated it in  Sicily I had entirely different food – home made gnucchiteddi ( small pasta gniocchi) or Ravioli di ricotta  were the norm.

See:
RAVIOLI DI RICOTTA
GNUCCHITEDDI

Sicily is relatively a small island, yet the food in Sicily is also very regional. All you need to do is look at the posts that I have written about Christmas food in Sicily to see that. For example when I celebrated Christmas in Ragusa, they always made and continue to make scacce,( baked dough with various fillings) and they make these during other festive occasions as well. Are Sicilians living in Australia likely to have scacce for Christmas? Not likely. They may be part of Christmas fare for those Sicilians coming from Ragusa and  the province of Ragusa,  but the menus from any Sicilian  living in Australia is going to be influenced by other offerings of either Sicilian or Italian origin and by Australian culture and the  Summer climate.

SCACCE

As I have already stated in my last post QUADRUCCI IN BRODO, Squares of home-made Pasta in Broth:

Time and time again I am asked what am I cooking for Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. The answer is that I do not know yet.  I can say is that on Christmas eve I like to eat fish as is traditionally observed in Italy and on Christmas day I usually cook something that I do not normally cook or have not cooked for a while, for example for first course I may cook Spaghetti/ Pasta with sea urchin (ricci) or bottarga or squid with black ink or crayfish or crab.

So for this Christmas fare post, I am going to provide links to some of my posts which highlight sauces and dressings. This is because, irrespective of whether you are presenting a seafood salad, baking a turkey, or using a BBQ for fish or meat you can always vary the sauce you present a- Let’s face it, sauces can make a lot of difference and if you wish, you can enliven any food with a new sauce.

Here are some sauces. that are suitable for Savoury food.

SALSA D’AGRESTO

It was a sauce which dates pre-Renaissance time and went out of fashion because lemons became popular in cooking and superseded the use of green grape juice. The recipes suggested that the juice of the green grapes can be extracted by using a mouli or a juicer. It is very good for any hot meat. Verjuice can be used instead and white wine works as well.

Walnuts and almonds are blanched to remove as much skin as possible. My sources indicated that there may have been more walnuts used than almonds in these sauces.

Onions, garlic and parsley and a few breadcrumbs are pounded together with the nuts. Add a bit of sugar, some chopped parsley and sufficient grape juice to make the amalgamated ingredients soft – like a paste.

Heat these ingredients and add a little broth as the sauce will thickened because the bread crumbs.

SALSA VERDE – ITALIAN GREEN SAUCE

Salsa verde can be used to jazz anything up – vegetables, roasts, cold meats, smoked fish, crayfish etc. I sometimes use it to stuff hard boiled eggs (remove the yolk, mix with salsa verde and return it to the egg). It is mainly parsley, anchovies, capers, green olives.

SARSA DI CHIAPPAREDDI

There may be times when an accompanying sauce for steamed, baked, grilled or fried fish will bring you greater compliments.

The sauce is called sarsa di chiappareddi in Sicilian and it is made with capers and anchovies.

For me it is most essential to use quality, extra virgin, olive oil. This is especially important for cold sauces, – when the cold sauce hits the hot food, the fragrance of the oil will be strongly evident.

 BAGNA CAUDA

Bagna Cauda, translated as “hot bath,” is a dip for any combination of firm vegetables- cooked or uncooked. I would not have it on roast potatoes and can enliven many vegetables.

It is a hot sauce mainly of garlic, anchovies and butter.

SALAMURRIGGHIU – SALMORIGLIO (salmorigano)

Such a simple Sicilian dressing made with extra virgin olive oil, lemon and oregano that will make an enormous difference to any grilled or BBQ food- whether fish meat or vegetable.

HOME-MADE MAYONNAISE OR SAFFRON MAYONNAISE OR TUNA MAYONNAISE

Excellent for any cold meat, fish, eggs, vegetable dishes.

See:
MAYONNAISE  and SAFFRON MAYONNAISE
INSALATA RUSSA
CHICKEN LAYERED WITH TUNA AND EGG MAYONNAISE
VITELLO TONNATO

 SALSA ROMESCO

Salsa Romesco is said to have originated from Tarragona, a town close to Barcelona in north-eastern Spain. It is an old Roman town so I can understand why you might think the sauce originated from Rome.

This sauce is usually associated as a condiment for shellfish and fish. It is also good with grilled and roasted vegetables (especially cold, left over ones that need dressing up the next day). Recently, I have been to two restaurants and this sauce was presented with cold asparagus. Garlic, red peppers, almonds and paprika are the main ingredients.

SALSA SARACINA (Saracen sauce)

Does a combination of green olives, pine nuts, sultanas and saffron appeal to you? It is a cold Sicilian sauce, especially suitable for fish but I use it for many other hot or cold food.

ANATRA A PAPAREDDA CU L’ULIVI

Last time I roasted a duck I made a special sauce for it and it tasted great –  green anchovies, parsley, the pale centre of a celery, garlic, stock and wine added to the roasting pan made an excellent gravy.

HOT MINT SAUCE

This is a recipe from Sam and Sam Clark’s Casa Moro, The Second Cookbook. I had this sauce at a friend’s house accompanying roast goat. It is made mainly with mint, cumin and garlic and red vinegar (or balsamic).

*There are many other posts for Christmas food.

BUON NATALE