Sometimes, some recipes are just so simple that I do not bother writing about them, but then I buy a new cookbook and notice that simple recipes are what we like and want…and besides, not everybody grew up in an Italian household and they may not be familiar with this style of cooking.
One simple way of cooking some vegetables, for example eggplants, zucchini or mushrooms is afunghettoinbianco ortrifolate.
A funghetto, translates asmushroom, i.e.in the style or method of how you would cook mushrooms – simply sautéed in extra virgin olive oil with garlic and parsley.
Inbianco translates as inwhite, i.e. without tomatoes. Photo above is of king mushrooms cooked afunghetto.
This style of cooking is a common way to cook either of these three vegetables throughout Italy, but it is typical of the Veneto. I grew up in Trieste, so I identify with this style of cooking very much.
Once again,I will write this recipe as an Italian – no measurements. The recipe is so simple, and the photos tell the story so who needs measurements!
eggplants/aubergines, cut into cubes
extra virgin olive oil,
cloves of garlic, chopped (to taste)
pepper and salt
extra virgin olive oil
Use gentle to medium heat throughout the cooking – the ingredients are not fried, they are sautéed till softened.
Heat a splash of oil in a frypan (I like to use a frypan with a heavy base).Add the garlic and stir it around for a very short time so that it begins to soften.
Add the eggplants and stir often until they have softened and have coloured. Add pepper and salt.
Add the chopped parsley and keep on stirring through for about 30 seconds…and I hate to say it…until it has softened.
Eat hot or cold – fabulous as a starter, side dish….as a dressing for pasta?
No exact quantities, just like an Italian. You can tell from the photos how easy it is to make Caponata Palermitana. Unlike Caponata Catanese there are no peppers (capsicums) in this caponata but the rest of the ingredients and processes for making any caponata are the same.
I used 2 egglants. Cooked each separately as I did not want the frying to be overcrowded. I use salt when I am cooking and not after the dish is cooked. I always use extra virgin olive oil.
A good heavy saucepan is good to use.
After the eggplants, sauté the onions and the celery. I used 1 large onion, 2 sticks of celery and some of the tender leavesof the celery. Add some salt.
When the onions and celery have softened to your liking, add green olives and capers.
I made a space in the centre of the saucepan, added a couple of teaspoons of sugar. Melted that and added about a quarter of a cup of red vinegar and evaporated it.
I made another space in the centre and added about 1/3 cup of passata.
Cooked it – you can see that there is very little liquid left.
Time to add the eggplants and combine all the ingredients.
This time I will decorate the caponata with fried breadcrumbs (day old bread mollica) toasted in a frypan with a little olive oil.
I could decorate the caponata with toasted pine nuts or almonds but I think the bread will add crunch but not too much taste so as not to compete with the eggplants. At this time of year, egglants are of excellent quality.
Mint rather than basil appealed to me more on this occasion.
There are numerous recipes for caponate (I can spell, it is the plural of caponata). Use the search button.
Just a quick post about this easy to make Sicilian soup…..if you can get the ingredients. It is easy if you have a friend called Mariana whose father grows tenerumi in his garden.
It is a summer dish and red tomatoes, a little garlic (optional) and basil are also added ingredients. Broken spaghetti are used to thicken the soup…when in Sicily you are unlikely to eat soup without pasta.
There was no zuccalunga but I had a few zucchini and the soup tasted just fine.
You take the long, hard curly tendrils off and use the soft tendrils and soft leaves.
zuccalunga (or zuccaserpente) is a long, pale green marrow. The tendrils and green leaves are from this plant.
There are the greens boiling away. Add a little salt and the broken spaghetti.
The tomatoes are fried and softened in a little extra virgin olive oil with some garlic and basil – it is just tomato salsa and the tomatoes are left cut in half.
Add the tomato mixture on top of the pasta. Drizzle on some good extra virgin olive oil, more basil leaves and some chilli flakes if this is your want.
You will find more photos (including the zucca lunga) and information about this recipe and ingredients on previous posts:
I am writing this post for a friend to demonstrate that making caponata is not difficult and I have therefore included many photos.
In my first book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking I have written a whole chapter about making various caponate (plural). This one is Catanese, as made in Catania, and the main ingredients are eggplants and peppers, but there are other caponate where the main ingredients are either eggplants or pumpkin or potato or celery (called Christmas caponata). I have also made a fennel caponata.
All caponate need to be made at least one day before to let the flavours develop. Caponate are eaten at room temperature.
Caponata Catanese is made with eggplants, peppers, celery, onions, chopped green olives and capers. A little sugar, vinegar and a splash of passata are used to make the agro- dolce sauce. Toasted pine nuts (or almonds) and fresh basil make good decoration and add extra taste. Caponata Palermitana, from Palermo, does not include peppers. I used roughly 1 kilo of eggplants and 1 kilo of peppers, 3 sticks of celery (pale green from near the centre), 1 onion. I used about 125g of capers and about the same amounts of chopped green olives. A true Sicilian making caponata would never weigh ingredients and may at times use more eggplants than peppers; these are rough amounts as a guide to illustrate ratios of ingredients. Always use extra virgin olive oil and as much as needed to prevent the ingredients sticking; access oil can always be drained off but bread makes a fine accompaniment to all caponate and the oil is particularly flavourful.
Each vegetable is fried separately but I usually combine the celery and the onion at the same time. the vegetables have different rates of cooking and you want to preserve the individual flavours as much as possible.
A frypan with a heavy base is good to use. I am making large quantities this time to take to a gathering so I am using my heavy wok (Le Creuset).
Fry the eggplants in some extra olive oil and add a little salt. Drain the eggplant in a colander with a container underneath to collect any oil. In the same pan add some new oil and the oil that you have drained from the eggplants. Fy the peppers and add a little salt. Drain them as you did the eggplants, collect the oil and add this to some new oil in the same pan.
Fry the celery and the onion.
When they have softened but the celery still has some crunch add the green olives and capers. Salt may not be necessary for this component of the dish.
Make a small depression in the centre of the vegetables and add about a flat tablespoon of sugar – this varies, some add more, some add less. Melt the sugar (caramelise it) and then add about 3 tablespoons of wine vinegar. Evaporate on high heat.
Add a splash of passata. Mix through the ingredients in the pan and cook it for a few minutes.
Incorporate all of the ingredients .
The caponata is now cooked. It needs to be placed in the fridge in a sealed container till you are ready to eat it and it will not suffer if it is made 3-4 days beforehand.
Decorate it with toasted pine nuts and fresh basil leaves when you are ready to present it.
There are other recipes on my blog for caponate made with different vegetables.
The Sicilian flavours are simple – grated lemon peel, lemon juice, anchovies, fresh mint and parsley.
Once you have pan fried one side of the fish, turn it over, top with the chopped herbs, anchovies cut into small pieces. Wait till the underside is cooked to your liking – do not overlook it as the fish will be flipped on the same side again for a very short time.
Turn the fish over once again and salt that side slightly and add lemon juice. Evaporate the lemon juice and it is done. The anchovies should have “melted” a bit.
A zucca in Italian can be an overgrown zucchino (singular) or a marrow, therefore to differentiate a pumpkin from a marrow a pumpkin is called a zucca gialla (yellow).
Not all Sicilian caponate are made with eggplants. For example there are celery, fennel, potato caponate and pumpkin can also be used as the main ingredient (Caponata di zucca gialla).
The principle for making any caponata is the same: onion, celery, X ingredient (eggplant or eggplant and peppers, fennel, potato etc.), capers, green olives, sometimes a splash of tomato puree, toasted pine nuts, or almonds and agrodolce – caramelised sugar and vinegar.
The ingredients a fried separately. Pumpkin first – sauté and then set aside.
Sauté onion and celery. Add olives and capers.
Add sugar, thenvinegar and salt to taste. Add the fried pumpkin and toasted almonds (or pine nuts).Let rest overnight or for at least half a day.
The other popular Sicilian way to cook pumpkin is also in an agrodolce sauce.
For this recipe, slices of pumpkin are also fried. I bake mine and it is not the traditional way of cooking it. The recipe book you can see in the background of the photo below is Sicilian Seafood Cooking – now out of print.
The recipe is called Fegato con sette cannoli. To see the recipe and find out why this recipe is called Liver with seven reeds:
An important ingredient for making Pasta con le sarde is wild fennel. The season for wild fennel has well and truly passed and all you will find at this time of year are stalky plants, yellow flowers/ seed pods and no green fronds.
What we call Florentine fennel is also going out of season and you will find for sale specimens with very small stunted bulbs. If you are lucky, your greengrocer may sell them with long stalks and fronds attached – perfect to use as a substitute for wild fennel and I certainly would not go near these stunted specimens otherwise.
Sardine fillets are easy to find. I use the paper that my fishmonger has wrapped the sardines to wipe dry the fish.
Remove the small dorsal spine from the fillets. Once again the paper comes in handy to wipe fishy fingers.
Prepare the ingredients:
Sardine fillets, chopped spring onions, the softer green fonds of the fennel, saffron soaking in a little water, currants soaking in a little water, fennel bulb cut finely, toasted pine nuts and chopped toasted almonds, salt and ground black pepper (or ground chili).
The preferred pasta shape are bucatini, but spaghetti or casarecce are good also.
You will also need some breadcrumbs (made from good quality day- old bread) toasted in a pan with a little oil. Add a bit of sugar, some cinnamon and grated lemon peel. toss it around in the pan so that the sugar melts and the flavours are mixed. This is the topping for the pasta. I have seen this referred to as pan grattato – this would not be my preferred tag – in Italian pan grattato is the term for plain breadcrumbs, but I accept that over time the terminology has evolved. The traditional Sicilian breadcrumb topping would not have had/ does not have the cinnamon or grated lemon peel.
The larger fennel fronds and stalks are used to flavour the water for the cooking of the pasta. Place them into salted cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for at least 10 minutes – you can leave the fennel in water as long as you like. The greenery can easily be fished out with tongs before the pasta goes into the boiling water to cook.
And then it is a very simple matter of cooking the ingredients.
Sauté the spring onion in some extra virgin olive oil. Add the fennel and chopped fronds and sauté them some more.
Depending on the quality of the fennel (degree of succulence) you may need to add a splash of water or white wine, cover it and continue to cook it for a few minutes more.
Add salt and pepper and put the sautéed vegetables aside.
Cook the pasta.
Fry the sardines in a little extra virgin olive oil – they will cook very quickly and begin to break up. Combine the sardines with the cooked fennel, add saffron and drained currants and mix to amalgamate the flavours. Add the almonds and pine nuts.
Dress the cooked pasta with the sardine sauce.
Put the dressed pasta in a serving platter and sprinkle liberally with the toasted breadcrumbs – these add flavour and crunch to the dish.
For a more conventional Sicilian Pasta con le Sarde:
A present from the bakers from Zeally Bay. It came unexceptionally in the mail:
Panettone is traditionally eaten during the Christmas and New Year holiday period in Italy. Christmas is close. The best eat before date is 20th February so you will have plenty of time to eat it if you are lucky enough to buy one in Melbourne.
It is made with the best ingredients, and it is organic.
Zeally Bay were experimenting with making Panettone last year but they were not happy enough with the mixture in time for Christmas 2017. But this year – perfect.
Thank you Zealy Bay, I shall enjoy mine.
‘Like many great things, sourdough requires time, skill and patience’
The above quote is from Zeally Bay’s website.
Good luck to those of you who live in Victoria, and enjoy it if you are able to purchase one.
I almost always like to experiment with traditional recipes, often by including ingredients that traditionally are not tolerated by purist Italians. I persevere with my variations because I usually like the end result. It is a little like the situation with Sangiovese produced in Tuscany and the wine from Sangiovese grapes grown in Australia. I once had a lengthy discussion with a lovely wine bar owner in Firenze who could not believe that we would dare call our wine Sangiovese because Australia could not possibly have the traditional characteristics of the Tuscan region, the terroir and the climate. But how important are the skills of the winemaker and the subtle variations of in an aged old tradition?
I make panforte every year for Christmas. In traditional panforte recipes the most common nuts are almonds and hazelnuts. In recent times pistachio nuts, walnuts and macadamia have become common, especially in Australia.
We have also taken liberties with what we do with the nuts – whole or chopped nuts, skin-on, blanched or toasted? This time I used blanched almonds and hazelnuts with their skins – I blanched and toasted the almonds and toasted the hazelnuts and rubbed some of their skin off.
I like black ground pepper and plenty of it; traditional recipes do not add as much as I do, but then again I also like to add black pepper to my fruitcakes. The common spices are cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Some add coriander, and I too have done so in other panforte I have made.
I added cocoa powder and chopped dark chocolate pieces. I wanted colour, richness and a slight bitterness, a contrast with the sweetness of the fruit. I also thought that the chocolate would melt and once cool would solidify (like in a Florentine biscuit) and make the panforte texture less candied. I used citron and orange peel, figs and ginger (in syrup, but I drained it). I have also eaten panforte with cranberries, cherries and pineapple. Where does one draw the line?
Could I still call what I made panforte? Not likely.
Zenzero (ginger) is not common in Italian cuisine and is not found in panforte, nor are dark chocolate pieces included in the traditional mix.
I used equal amounts of honey and sugar – the sugar, like toffee makes it brittle, the honey adds flavour and gives the panforte a softer, less brittle consistency.
A little flour and a little butter – the more flour you add, the firmer the texture of the panforte; the more butter the richer and shorter the mixture. I used the chocolate and too much of it and because of the chocolate’s fat high content I should not have used. the butter. My panforte did not end up as chewy as the classic variety of panforte.
I ended up with a fabulous tasting concoction – how could it not be with all of those good ingredients and flavours. The ginger and pepper makes it very more-ish. But is it panforte?
I enjoyed making it and shall enjoy eating it and sharing it with friends but not call it a panforte – an experiment perhaps, so that I could make use of all of the ginger in syrup that I had in my pantry.
A friend went overseas and left me with an incredible amount of candied ginger. I made a syrup and turned the candied ginger into moist ginger in a very flavourful syrup with the texture of honey.
370 g of nuts – almonds, hazelnuts
370 fruit – figs, citrus, lemon and orange peel
4 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp ground spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, less quantity of cloves
150g plain flour
4 tsp cocoa powder 150g chopped dark chocolate
1 tsp butter (I used 1 tbs and this was too much)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup honey
Roughly chop the figs, place then into a bowl with the peel and drained ginger
In a different bowl put in the nuts.
Into a large heatproof mixing put in the flour, cocoa and spices. Combine these and stir in the fruit and the nuts.
Heat the oven to 200C
Line containers with baking paper.
Put the white sugar and honey into a pan and gently heat until it bubbles. Keep it on the gentle heat for another minute. Place in the butter.
Work quickly and stir the hot liquid into the other ingredients until well combined, then scrape into the prepared tins and press down. Bake the small ones for about 15mins and larger shapes about 30 minutes. They harden as they cool.
Cool the panforte before turning out. Wrap them in more baking paper until you are ready to gift wrap them in cellophane and sprinkle with icing sugar.
I like making tomato salads like my parents used to make – with tomatoes, celery, fresh onion, basil or oregano, salt and good extra virgin olive oil.
And as the mood takes me, I sometimes like to accompany a tomato salad with one of the following simple dairy trimmings, like: bocconcini or mozzarella,treccia,ricotta, straciatella , burrata or marinaded feta or a panna cotta made with feta or gorgonzola.
Including the protein makes an excellent starter …..or as my parents did – eat a tomato salad with ricotta or bocconcini for lunch almost every day of summer.
I was in Gippsland yesterday and visited Bassine; they make a range of cheeses on the premises.
I have been there before and have purchased various cheeses, but yesterday I came home with some quark and thought that would experiment and make a savoury coeur à la crème.
Coeur à la crème is usually served with berries but I thought that I could accompany my savoury coeur à la crème with a tomato salad. Alternatively roasted (or charred) peppers or slow roasted baby tomatoes would also be great… or fried red peppers (peperonata) or lightly sautéed zucchini and mint could be terrific…I could go on.
You need muslin and a mold or container that allows drainage. I used a traditional ceramic, heart shape dish for making a coeur à la crème, but any container that is perforated with holes to drain off the excess moisture of the cheese or a colander can be used as an alternative.
I used the following ingredients:
250 gm each quark, 1 cup of Greek yogurt, 100g of marinaded feta, fresh thyme leaves ground pink peppercorns, 1 peeled clove of garlic, ½ cup pf milk, ½ cup good quality olive oil.
In a small sauce pan warm the milk over low heat. Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes and then strain out.
Combine cheeses and yogurt – you want the mixture fairly smooth so use a food processor or work it with a spoon.
Add the thyme, ground pink peppercorns and infused milk.
Line the mould with muslin (enough to cover the mold) and sprinkle with olive oil.
Put cheese mixture into the mold, sprinkle with more olive oil and cover it with the left over muslin.
Place the mold into a container or tray to catch the whey (liquid that drains away). Stand overnight in the fridge.
Carefully turn the mold out onto a serving plate.
Serve with a tomato salad or anything thing else that catches your fancy.
Next time I make a ‘Coeur,’ I may try ricotta and herbs – no feta, no yogurt.