Anchovies are often added to fish in Sicilian cuisine – they are either stuffed in the slashes made on the sides of the fish or gently melted with a little oil and added to the fish whilst it is cooking. Trout has flaky, delicate flesh and slashing it is not a good idea so I chose to do the latter.
I always use herbs for all my cooking and this time I selected sage that is often associated with veal and pork but I quite like it with trout. Sage is not a common herb in Sicilian cooking and you may prefer to use rosemary instead.
whole fish, one large trout (for 2-3 people)
lemons, 1-2 whole – ends trimmed, sliced into thick circles
extra virgin olive oil, 2-3 tablespoons
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
anchovies, 3-6 cut finely
green olives, a couple of tablespoons, well drained
sage or rosemary
Prepare the fish – clean, dry and stuff a few herbs in the cavity.
Add a little oil (about one tablespoon depending on your pan) to the frying pan and over medium heat. Add the lemon slices and pan fry them until lightly browned – turn once. In order to brown the lemon slices they should not be overcrowded so you may need to pan fry them in two batches.
Remove the lemon slices from the pan with the oil and any of the juices.
Add a little more oil to the fry pan, heat it and add the anchovies. Stir them around in the pan over medium-low heat until they dissolve.
Add the trout. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (remember that the anchovies are salty) and add the sage. Pan fry the fish on both sides and only turn once.
Add the olives half way the cooking.
Toss the slices of lemon and the juices back in the pan and heat through.
When I was in Paris a couple of months ago I saw this hand painted Fridge in a store window. This fridge is part of Sicily is my Love, a colourful collaboration by Smeg fridges and Dolce&Gabbana’s signature decorative style. Each of the 100 fridges illustrate Sicilian folklore in bold, vibrant colour and are hand-painted by Sicilian artists. They were released during the Milan Design Fair, Salone del Mobile di Milano in 2016.
Many of you would be familiar with the writings of Mary Taylor Simeti, one of the greatest authorities on Sicilian food. You may have a copy of her classic, in-depth, definitive book of the culinary history, traditions and recipes of Sicily called Pomp and Sustenance: Twenty Five Centuries of Sicilian Food. This was published in several editions and the same text was later republished as Sicilian Food: Recipes from Italy’s Abundant Isle.
Or you may have read her other books about Sicily: On Persephone’s lsland: A Sicilian Journal, Travels with a Medieval Queen or Bitter Almonds: Recollections and Recipes from a Sicilian Girlhood. She has also written other books published in Italian as well as travel and food articles for various American, Italian and British publications including the New York Times and the London Financial Times.
Her new book is called SICILIAN SUMMER: An Adventure in Cooking with My Grandsons.
This time Mary takes us to her farm at Bosco, located some 40 miles west of Palermo in the hills overlooking the Gulf of Castellammare. The farm has been in the Simeti family since 1933. Mary and her husband Tonino inherited it in 1966 and is now a diversified farm of less than forty acres of vineyards, olive groves, fruit and vegetables with organic certification for their Bosco Falconeria wine, olive oil and produce.
SICILIAN SUMMER: An Adventure in Cooking with My Grandsons, is an account and photographs of the food that Mary and her 4 grandsons (aged 13, 10, 7 and 5 years) cooked over 10 intensive, continuous days for the Simeti family – Mary and Tonino Simeti (the nonni), the four grandsons and the four children’s parents. The recipes that Mary and the boys prepare are all described and they use the abundant summer produce they themselves have helped to harvest from the fields: cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes, almonds, zucchini blossoms and zucchini.
And when you have abundance, you use the same vegetable to produce various dishes – there are numerous ways to eat tomatoes and the zucchini blossom is enjoyed battered, stuffed and cooked in pasta dishes.
But it is so much more than a book of recipes suitable for her grandsons of various ages. Mary captures the pleasure that family brings when the three generations of the Simeti family gather on the farm each summer and she meditates on the role food can play within the family in bonding, consolidating tradition and identity and creating memories of her own childhood and those of her children. In between memories and recollections there is a beguiling mix of a family history and an account of the development of the farm that Mary and Tonino now share with their daughter, her husband and two grandsons.
Mary’s honesty shines through the book. She questions her skill and ability to conduct these cooking experiences and is concerned about using safe implements for her young cooks. I loved the description of the very special garlic press:
A little boat of burnished steel, it has holes in its hull through which tiny pieces of garlic rise up as you press it into the peeled cloves rocking back and forth on a cutting board.
And I loved the description of Tonino. Grandson Matteo when young, would only see his grandfather once a year when he visited with his parents and brother from New York. Matteo was finding it difficult to relate to Tonino as he was unaccustomed and unfamiliar to him. But Mary describes how this all changed when the young Matteo … saw his grandfather drive up to the farmhouse on a tractor, a vision that in his mind would have outshone Apollo driving up in the chariot of the sun. Familiar or not, Tonino had achieved godhood.
Mary reflects on the current plight of the world that her grandsons are growing up in and wonders about the cooking project she has undertaken with them: Am I compiling an album of childhood memories, scenes that will have some relevance to their adult lives, or will this be the record – even for them – of a lost and irretrievable Golden age?
She hopes that these experiences in her kitchen will make these moments more significant and render their memories more indelible.
The book ends with the preparation of the last meal for Tonino’s 79th birthday celebration.
Scattered as we soon would be, the shared memory of the past ten days, the cooking and the laughing and eating together would link us firmly together. I have never felt closer to my grandchildren, more sure than our sense of family.
Could this be the last summer that the Simeti family spends together?
Sicilian Summer: An Adventure in Cooking with my Grandsons. The publication date is 25 September, but it is already available for pre-ordering on line, either in paperback form or as an ebook (search for them on line). Obviously, if you would rather support your local bookshop and help promote Mary’s writing by doing so, you could ask your favourite bookshop to order it.
Mary Taylor Simeti is one of my heroes – I think that sometimes it takes a newcomer with a passion to observe and describe and rediscover what is Sicily and tease out the history behind the food (not that she is a newcomer any longer, she is part of Sicily, an expatriate who has spent all her adult life dedicated to her new homeland and appreciating its culture).
This spell of cold windy weather in Melbourne has encouraged me to make Castagnaccio, made with chestnut flour, raisins, grated lemon peel, fresh rosemary, extra virgin olive oil, a little sugar, pine nuts and walnuts, mixed with water and made into batter, then baked.
The recipe for making castagnaccio is on a blog post I wrote in May 2011 – as you can see I have been making it for a very long time.
I am now using Australian chestnut flour rather than the Italian imported variety.
‘Nduja is a spicy, spreadable, pork salame originating from Calabria. ‘Nduja is appearing on many menus and recipes – it seems to be replacing chorizo as an ingredient. As tasty as chorizo is, there has been a glut of it in far too many dishes.
I have been buying ‘Nduja for a couple of years now – ask for it in places that sell Italian smallgoods. I always like friends to try new ingredients and I have mainly presented ‘Nduja at the beginning of the meal as an accompaniment to the first drink with some fresh bread (like Pâté ) or I have used ‘Nduja as an ingredient in sauces for pasta – I made an excellent ragù (a meat-based tomato sauce), I added it to sautéed cime di rape with Italian pork sausages and sautéed itwith squid (use small to medium sized squid).
I always enjoy eating squid and because squid cooks quickly I enjoy making pasta sauces with it. The photo of squid was taken in the Catania Fish Market a few years ago.
Particular dishes or ingredients come and go – for example remember the popularity and overuse of bocconcini or sun-dried tomatoes in so many dishes?
The novelty of certain produce or dishes wears off for a while and then they re-appear, sometimes creatively disguised and sometimes they become popular again.
Recently I enjoyed Steak Tartare in Paris, Venice, and Cividale del Friuli, Copenhagen and Malmo –– all prepared slightly differently, and some were better than others.
My father used to make his version of Beef Tartare –bistecca alla tartara. He used to pound slices of beef very thinly, add salt and pepper, a drizzle of good olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and leave it to marinate for a short time till it whitened – the meat changed colour, ‘cooked’ by the lemon juice.
The term Tartar is applied to nomadic Mongolic peoples. In the thirteenth century, the Tatars overran large parts of Russia and Europe (what is now Hungary, Germany and Bulgaria). The Tartars were reputed to be skilled horsemen, and this is where my father’s explanation of the origins of bistecca alla tartara comes from. The Tartars used to put slices of finely cut meat under their saddles and the sweat from the horse’s back would marinade and ‘cook’ the meat. When they camped for the night they had dinner ready.
Steak Tartare elsewhere is usually made with finely chopped beef and then it is either served with some condiments or the condiments are mixed with the meat before it is presented.
Popular condiments vary but the most common are finely chopped parsley and onion, capers, mustard, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and egg yolks. Sometimes there may be anchovies, cornichons, Worcestershire or Tabasco sauce. As you can see by some of the photos (I did not take photos of them all) garnishes and accompaniments vary.
I prefer my Steak Tartare simply dressed with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and egg yolk. I like an additional egg yolk on top and a few condiments on the side.
Any good quality beef (tenderloin to sirloin or fillet) is suitable but it must be freshly cut – red in colour. Beef eye fillet is good as it is not fatty.
Using a very sharp knife, remove any fat and slice the steak into thin slices (cut with the grain), then cut across the slices to create strips of meat.
Cut across the meat again until you have the size of the mince you prefer. Place into the refrigerator while you prepare the condiments to dress the meat.
Whisk egg yolk, add the lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Add the dressing to the meat and gently mix them together. Taste, and if necessary, add more of the above.
If you prefer your mixture highly seasoned add any of the following: Dijon mustard (Moutarde de Dijon), chopped anchovies, Worcestershire or Tabasco sauce, chopped onions, capers, cornichons, parsley.
Divide the meat on chilled dinner plates (form into disks) and press down firmly to pack tightly and remove any air holes.
Make a small dent in the centre of each disk and place a whole egg yolk on top of the meat.
I like to present the meat with a few garnishes on the side – a few capers, some chopped onion, a dollop of egg mayonnaise or mustard.
I serve it immediately as meat discolors quickly.
I enjoy scooping my meat with crisp, toasted slices of thin Rye bread (cold) or rye biscuits.
In one Paris restaurant, the Steak Tartare was presented with French fries, in Venice with bread croutons, in Cividale del Friuli it came with hot bread in a paper bag and curls of butter. Cividale del Friuli is close to Slovenia and the Steak Tartare was prepared alla Slovenia – it had chili in the mixture.
In Malmo it came with a little sour cream and in Copenhagen with thick slices of fresh rye bread – it was perfect for their version of this dish – strips of beef and an excellent egg mayonnaise to use as a dressing.
I enjoyed this version of Steak Tartare the most. I do not usually mention the names of eateries but I will on this occasion:
Manfreds focuses on everyday food, which is aided by modern techniques and raw materials of the highest quality.
The raw materials are biodynamic vegetables from Kiselgården and Birkemosgård, roots from Lammefjord, pig from Hindsholm, lamb from Havervadgaard, ox from Mineslund and herbs from the forest.
At Manfreds the wine is natural wine, which has made the restaurant Copenhagen’s first natural wine bar.
You may have noticed that use of nettles in culinary dishes are gaining popularity. Some Melbourne restaurants have included nettles and there were bunches for sale at the Queen Victoria Market a couple of weeks ago (Il Fruttivendolo – Gus and Carmel’s stall). Gus and Carmel have not been able to procure any nettles for the last couple of weeks so maybe demand by restaurants has increased.
Nettles (ortiche in Italian) are part of the assortment of wild greens – considered unwanted weeds by many and appreciated edible plants by others. Wild greens in Italian are referred to as piante selvatiche (wild plants) or a term that I find very amusing: erbe spontanee (spontaneous herbs).
Nettles are high in nutrients such iron, magnesium and nitrogen and can be eaten in many recipes – I ate them not so very long ago incorporated in the gnocchi dough in a trattoria in Cividale del Fruili, a lovely little town in the Province of Udine, part of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northern Italy.
Once back in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago I enjoyed them on several occasions as a sauce for gnocchi at Osteria Ilaria and at Tipo 00 nettles have been part of a risotto since it opened– both excellent eateries are owned by the same team.
Matt Wilkinson, of Brunswick’s Pope Joan has also been a fan of nettles for a long time.
Nettles are easily found anywhere where weeds can grow. If you have ever touched nettles you would know that they sting, cause redness and itching so use rubber gloves when you harvest them. Nettles need to be cooked before eating and because they reduce significantly when cooked, you will need a large amount of them.
Remove the stems and choose the best leaves – the tender young leaves from the tips are best; wash and drain them as you do with any other green vegetable. Blanch a few handfuls of the leaves in a pot of boiling water for minute or so – this softens them and removes the sting and you will end up with a dark green soft mass which you may choose to puree even further to gain a smooth, soft paste. Drain and use them – once cooled they can be included in a gnocchi or pasta dough or in a sauce to dress the pasta or gnocchi. Incorporate them as part a soup – great with cannellini or chickpeas. Mix them with eggs and a little grated cheese to make a frittata. For a risotto either use the already softened nettles or sauté the leaves with whatever ingredients you are using for the risotto and then add the rice and broth.
On my recent travels to Northern Italy I ate gnocchi with nettles in a trattoria in Cividale dei Fruili. The cheese used to top the gnocchi is smoked ricotta.
You will find many recipes for making potato gnocchi and I generally use about 500 grams of boiled potatoes, 150 grams of softened/ blanched cold nettles, 1 egg, 150 grams of flour.
You could also try gnocchi made with bread.
Equal amounts of nettles and bread, i.e.
300 g of nettles, blanched and drained
300 g of good quality white bread (crusts removed and preferably 1-2 days old)
milk to soften the bread
1 large egg
seasoning – salt, pepper, grated nutmeg
about 2 – 4 tablespoons plain flour to bind the mixture (try to use as little as possible) and
grated parmesan can also replace some of the quantities of the flour
N.B. Spinach instead of nettles can be used in the recipe.
Dampen the bread with some milk and squeeze any moisture from out before using. Mix the cooled nettles with the bread in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, add the egg and knead well. Add the flour gradually and make small balls with the dough. Flatten them slightly with a fork. Boil in salted water until they float to the top.
A simple sauce can be some lightly browned melted butter with sage leaves and a good sprinkling of parmesan cheese.
The simplest of ingredients can give so much pleasure.
I have always liked Italian fresh cheeses and while in Venice and Trieste I ate as much fresh mozzarella, burrata and stracciatella as I could. The tomatoes have been excellent also.
Fresh mozzarella whether made from cow or buffalo milk (di bufala) is fairly easy to find in other countries apart from Italy, burrata is more difficult to
find but it is very speedily finding fame and fortune in other countries and replacing the very popular Caprese salad that had dominated menus for places where tourists gather.
Stracciatella is a soft cream almost runny cheese, a combination of shredded fresh mozzarella curd and cream. Straccia (“rag” or “shred) from the verb stracciare“- to tear.
Burrata, like mozzarella can be made from cow or buffalo milk. The outer layer is made of fresh mozzarella – a pulled or stretched cheese – but the centre is filled with oozing, creamy and delicate tasting stracciatella. Cut it open, and wow… you get that double whammy!
Because I love the Italian language I want to tell you that burrata (buttered) is derived from burro – butter. Burrata hails from southern Italy, from the Puglia region where orecchiette come from. Rather than being filled with stracciatella it can also be filled with heavy cream – this of course is what becomes butter.
In the photos there are two types of burrate (plural of burrata), the rounded shape or sealed sphere, and the one tied together with vegetal string. Both burrate delicious and both enveloping a creamy filling.
Burrata is eaten as fresh as possible – ideally within 24 hours of being made and is usually sold in its water like whey.
So when you find heirloom tomatoes and very tasty ordinary or cherry tomatoes and burrata you get a triple+++ whammy…. mild acidity of tomatoes, basil super-duper good quality extra virgin olive oil and you have pretty much ecstasy.
I actually made this tomato and salad in Paris… from Italian ingredients (apart from tomatoes and basil and a little red onion from the countries around the Mediterranean.
Around ANZAC DAY in Victoria I go foraging . This is my latest harvest of saffron coloured, pine mushrooms (Lactarius deliciosus), also called saffron milk caps and red pine mushrooms.
There are 3k of mushrooms in this bag above.
We have eaten some twice already.
Above = with taglatelle.
Below = as a vegetable side dish with Italian pork sausages.
And these jars are in my freezer.
These mushrooms bruise very easily so I cook them as soon as possible after I have collected them.
Unfortunately the mushrooms’ gills when bruised discolour to a very unattractive green-grey tinge. I ignore most of the bruising and cut off the worst bits of the discoloured mushrooms that show too much wear and tear or obvious decay.
Most of the time the saffron coloured, pine mushrooms I collect cannot just be wiped clean with a damp cloth and I often have to clean them under softly running water to remove any sand, soil , grass or pine needles. I always completely remove the woody hollow stems because I have often found some bugs harbouring inside the stems. Having said all of this I make them sound as if they are not worth the effort but they are!
How do I cook them? …..very simply. I have written about wild mushrooms before.
I do like Cumquats and Quinces – both are Autumn fruit.
The photos were taken at my friends’ house in the south – east of South Australia. Each time that we are together we get productive in her kitchen.
My friend likes to make preserves – cumquat and whisky marmalade, pickled cumquats and cumquats preserved in brandy. She also makes quince jelly and quince paste. On this particular weekend we used some of her abundant autumn harvest.
She has the round shaped cumquats. The elongated variety of cumquats are much sweeter and are very good eaten fresh and whole . I like to eat both varieties raw and whole.
Here are photos of some of the methods used to make the cumquats in brandy or Cointreau or a mixture of both. Rum or Whisky is also good.
You could add some extra flavourings if you wish: cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, star anise or glace or crystallized ginger.
The jars and lids will need to be sterilised. You may have your own way to this, for example:
Use the hot cycle in your dishwasher
cover them with hot water and boil them, for about 10 minutes
fill them with boiling water, place them on a baking tray lined with a tea towel and put them into a 110 C oven for about 15 minutes.
Although my friend had several kilos of cumquats, the recipe is based on using 1 kilo of cumquats.
You can use as much alcohol of your choice as you wish, for example a ratio of 3 cups of alcohol to 2 cups of water – adjust according to taste. You will not necessarily know how much liquid you will need to cover the cumquats in the jars but you can always make more if you run out of the alcohol and water mixture.
Sugar – use 800g per kilo of fruit.
Use only whole fruit that are bright orange in color and have firm, undamaged skins. Make sure that they have stems.
Wash and dry them and remove the leaves. Leave the little green stems, then prick each one a couple of times with a thick needle.
Cover with water and bring them slowly to the boil. Simmer them uncovered for about 10 minutes – the must not collapse.
Drain them carefully and gently – they must remain whole. Reserve the water to use in the alcohol mixture. Combine water with sugar, bring to the boil and boil for about 5 minutes. Take off the stove, add alcohol and mix well.
Place the fruit gently into the prepared jar. Add some spices or ginger among the cumquats if you wish. Top with the syrup. Do not crowd them too much as they may break. Cover with lids. Allow to stand for at least two weeks before using.
4 quinces, cinnamon quills, 3 lemons, sliced,
About 200g sugar,
2 cups of water
I wiped the fuzz off the quinces and preheated my oven to 140C (fan-forced). I cut the quinces into quarters and sliced lemons and placed them in between the pieces of quinces.
Added sugar and water.
Covered them with foil and baked for at least 3 hours until quinces are soft and a rich red – I removed the foil about 15 minutes before they finished cooking.
Jelly ( from the juices) in the left over quinces.
Chillies are at their best in Autumn. I generally never waste produce and when friends give me some of their fresh seasonal crops I get enthusiastic and active.
These chillies were grown in Adelaide and this time I decided to make a chili paste that was not Harissa.
I have been making Harissa for a very long time since one of my Sicilian relatives who lives in Augusta introduced me to it about thirty five years ago. Augusta is in south eastern Sicily and is an important Sicilian and Italian naval base and trading port. Giacomo is a mechanical naval engineer and was often called out to work on naval vessels in the gulf, some vessels were from Tunisia, Algeria and Libya and he was introduced to this hot chilli paste through his contacts. There are many recipes for this paste and it is an important condiment in Middle Eastern Cuisine. Some make it with dry chillies, some with fresh chillies and some with roasted chillies. I usually use cumin and caraway seeds and garlic when I make it. I use Harissa in many ways and always to accompany cuscus.
I also like to make Salsa Romesco , a condiment popular around Barcelona in north-eastern Spain. Like when making harissa there are many variations to recipes but this condiment is commonly made with red peppers, garlic, tomatoes, white bread and almonds. Sometimes I have roasted the peppers and added some roasted chillies as well.
Crema di Peperoncino is a chilli paste that is very popular in Calabria. It is usually made with fresh chillies , salt, garlic and olive oil. I thought that would combine my experiences for making Harissa and Romesco and make a roasted chili paste. No spices, just chillies, salt, garlic and extra virgin olive oil – Crema di peperoncini.
Isn’t that what cooking is all about?
I kept is very simple.
I could have made a milder paste by adding some ordinary red peppers which are also very much in season but I decided to just keep the Crema di pepperoncini hot, hot. hot….And it was. I used the other red peppers in a salad.
The photos demonstrate what I did.
Use any type of red chillies that you have.
INGREDIENTS: red chillies, garlic to taste, 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, teaspoon of salt (preservative), more extra virgin olive oil to place on top.
Grill/ Roast the chillies on high heat. Turn once until blackened and charred all over. Do the same with unpeeled garlic cloves.
Allow to cool.
Remove the skins and seeds – you can leave some seeds if you would like it hotter!
Blend all the ingredients together.
Place in a sterilized jar and top with a layer of more oil to seal. I keep my jar in the fridge and make sure that each time I take some out of the jar I replace a layer of oil on top (to stop mold).