Rationale – CULINARY TRADITIONS

We cannot expect recipes to remain exactly the same, but there are some culinary traditions when it comes to Italian food. These may influence our thinking.

Just like food has evolved in Australia (and elsewhere) cooks are influenced by new ingredients, the wide exposure to the cooking of others (media, travel, migration/immigration, eating away from home) and perhaps the wider acceptance of not sticking to the rules, except perhaps as do the nonne (plural of nonna) and in my case, it was also the zie (plural of zia=aunt).

One simple example of how traditional recipes have evolved is to consider the range of toppings with Pizza. Once, there was Margheria, Marinara, Quattro Stagioni, Napoletana and Pugliese (if you were lucky.)  Modern combination of ingredients are now extensive and I consider some to be excellent and keeping with my tastes (ingredients like – stracciatella, gorgozola, roquette, roasted pumpkin etc), but somehow I can’t come to accept a BBQ PIZZA as described on the web (with smoked cheese, diced chicken breast, peppers, onions, baby plum tomatoes and barbecue sauce) or a TIKKA MASALA PIZZA (spiced chicken, green peppers, natural yogurt, mango chutney and coriander).

My knowledge about Italian cuisine and ingredients just doesn’t allow it.

I like to experiment in the kitchen, but I tend to stick with ingredients that I think are acceptable within tradition and regional culture. I base my cooking of my knowledge and experience. For example, I have seen recipes suggesting fish sauce as a substitute for anchovies in Italian recipes (by chefs and not necessarily Italian). And why not? But not me. Part of me still sticks some culinary regulations.

The following is an account of my thinking before I cooked dinner on a week night (not special).

I had some fennel and some zucchini in the fridge that needed using.

I needed to make some culinary decisions.

I felt like making a pasta dish but knew that I needed to add something else to these vegetables to pep up the flavour. I consider both these vegetables sweet tasting, and because my sweet marjoram plant is doing extremely well on my balcony, I decided to add this, too. Parsley always pairs with both vegetables as does a splash of white wine or/and stock. I could sauté either onion or garlic before adding the vegetables and I could cook them in butter as well as extra virgin olive oil; I would add a large amount of grated Parmesan at the end. Perhaps also a grind of nutmeg which would complement the marjoram and the sweet tastes of the vegetables. This set me thinking about adding a few walnuts too (influenced by the Ligurian pesto made with marjoram and walnuts). Such a recipe would result in a dish with northern Italian flavours.

If I wanted something spicier, I would need to add some of the following ingredients: olives (either black or green), capers, chilli, anchovies, tomatoes or better still tomato paste. Red wine is stronger than white wine and Pernod would complement the fennel in the ingredients.Either Italian pork sausages (with fennel or chilli,) or pancetta would be good, too. Borlotti or cannellini beans would enhance the taste and textures and add protein to the dish. Adding a contrasting bitter tasting vegetable could also work – radicchio, if I wanted to keep with northern Italian influences, chicory or endives, perhaps, would be more southern and wild fennel would be Sicilian or Calabrese.

I decided on anchovies, olives and a dash of white wine.

With strong flavours Pecorino is better than Parmesan. I always have feta marinating in my fridge (in extra virgin olive oil, fennel seeds, dried oregano, fresh bay leaves and peppercorns) and this would be suitable too. Ricotta would be a sweet contrast to the stronger flavours, but perhaps it would be better as a topping to the milder northern Italian influenced version. And least we forget pan fried dry breadcrumbs as a topping, popular in Sicily and Calabria.

Once I decided on the ingredients, cooking was simple.

INGREDIENTS

4 zucchini (in cubes), 1 head of fennel (cut into smaller cubes), 1 onion (sliced) – I only had a red onion, but because of the strong colour I would have preferred a white/ brown one), about 8 – 10 chopped anchovies (to taste), olives (mine were a mixture of green and black), cut parsley and marjoram and a splash of white wine. I used no salt because of the anchovies and olives. Extra virgin olive oil for the cooking.

Different shapes of pasta hold the sauce and ingredients in a different way. An oily, creamy, thin sauce sticks better to long pasta, whereas a short pasta shape is more suited to a sauce where the bits of meat or vegetables can nestle within, for example, shapes that have a hole (penne, rigatoni, shells) or a ridge or twists (farfalle, casarecce, spiralli) I opted for short casarecce pasta to go with this sauce.

METHOD

Work out at what stage of cooking the sauce, you will need to cook the pasta. This will depend on your speed as a cook.

For the sauce: Dissolve anchovies in a saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil, then add the onion and sauté until it has wilted. Add the fennel and the anchovies and at the same time as sautéing the ingredients try to dissolve the anchovies. The darker colour in the photo above is red onion.  Cook for about 5 minutes until the fennel has softened.

Add zucchini, chopped herbs and olives. Sauté again and perhaps cover with a lid until the vegetables have softened to your liking (I didn’t have to)

Add a splash of white wine to deglaze.

Dress the pasta. Present with grated cheese. I selected Pecorino.

And I wasn’t to miss out about Radicchio and Borlotti, so I made a salad. I used celery rather than fennel because I had used fennel in the sauce, used spring onion and aa vinaigrette dressing.

Some examples of recipes that may have influenced my thinking:

PESTO DI NOCI (Walnut pesto/ sauce for pasta)

PASTA CON FINOCCHIO (Pasta and fennel; preferably wild)

PASTA WITH BREADCRUMBS, anchovies and fennel (Pasta cca muddica)

PASTA CON LE SARDE (SARDINES)

RADICCHIO and Borlotti salad 

AND BORLOTTI SALAD and BRAISED FENNEL WITH TAPENADE

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

NEW YEAR TRADITIONAL – Festive Season

It is far too late to write about Christmas recipes, although Christmas melds with New Year Festivities, especially in Australia.

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 Cassata.

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 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?

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 with 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 wok to cook each of the vegetables separately.

OVEN COOKED KID (capretto)

I am writing about kid, not goat. Unlike goat, there was very little fat and the meat did not exude that characteristic, heavy smell of game that is present when cutting goat and mutton.

Capretto, Italians call it and it is a meat that is not cooked regularly, but is often cooked on special occasions. I bought it from an Italian butcher. I went in to buy  some pork sausages but when I saw what the Italian customers that were lining up at the counter were all buying, I did the same. I bought capretto.

The Italian word for goat is capra and like mutton, goat is not generally eaten in Italy.

I marinaded it overnight with extra virgin olive oil, red wine, fennel seeds, bay leaves, rosemary, onion and sage. As you can see in the photo there is plenty of marinade; I wanted the meat to be quite well covered and intended to use the marinade in the cooking.

Nothing is wasted, the herbs are discarded and replaced with fresh herbs. This is because I have herbs growing on my balcony and I can afford to do this. I added garlic when i ws ready to cook the meat.

The important thing to do in this recipe is to cook the usual soffritto base that is omnipresent in Italian cooking – onion, carrot and celery – in extra virgin olive oil and make sure that the soffritto vegetables are caramilised before combining it with the drained marinaded meat.The meat does not need to be browned before hand making the cooking process easier and quicker. I have a cast iron baking pan that is very convenient for putting directly onto the stove.

The soffritto took about 15 minutes to soften and caramilise the vegetables ad this process adds a much enriched flavour to the dish. A dash of passata or some peeled red tomatoes also adds to the taste and colour to the braise.

Once you have drained the meat  and removed the old herbs use the marinade to the capretto. Add fresh herbs and some stock. As you can see in the photo there is enough liquid to almost cover the meat.

Cover the pan with some foil or a lid and leave it to cook in a slow oven. Mine was set at 170C degrees  and because I have two similar baking trays the spare one made a good lid.

Remove the foil after an hour. Move the meat around and add more broth or water and cook it uncovered until the meat is separated from the bones. I baked mine for about two hours without the foil, but made sure that if I needed to add more liquid, I had some stock to use.

The results were delicious. The vegetables almost melted, the meat was easily detached from the bone, it smelled great and tasted even better. And yes, it was a special meal.

I presented it with baked potatoes and braised endives sautéed with anchovies.

The kid weighed 2 kilos. as you can see there was very little fat.

This is not the first time I have cooked capretto – kid/goat

BRAISED KID (capretto) in a simple marinade of red wine, extra virgin olive oil and herbs

RICETTE per capretto (e capra); Recipes for slow cooked kid and goat

RAGU` DI CAPRETTO; Goat/ kid ragout as a dressing for pasta

SPEZZATINO DI CAPRETTO (Italian Goat/ Kid stew)

KID/GOAT WITH ALMONDS (SPRING IN SICILY, CAPRETTO CON LE MANDORLE)

SLOW COOKED LEG OF GOAT WITH HOT MINT SAUCE

SICILIAN SEAFOOD COOKING, ITALIANICIOUS and READER’S FEAST Bookstore. Recipe for Slow cooked goat in Nero D’Avola

 

BAKED FISH WITH POTATOES, VINEGAR and ANCHOVIES

It is the season to begin thinking about fish and how to cook it to make it special.

This recipe is from my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking (now out of print) and it is so simple to cook that I could do it with my eyes closed.

The fish is a locally caught sustainable Snapper. You can see that I make slits in the fish’s sides and in the slits I insert a couple of anchovies. If you don’t like anchovies use fresh herbs; good for this fish are wild fennel, thyme, rosemary or tarragon.

I made the marinade and marinaded the fish in your baking tray for an hour before cooking.

In the marinade you can see that I have used chopped parsley, quite a bit of onion and grated lemon peel. The liquid is: extra virgin olive oil, some wine vinegar and some lemon juice. Add a bit of salt and pepper also. I have included some quantities in the recipe below, but really, the fun of cooking is also experimenting.

Mix up the marinade and let the fish steep in it for about an hour. Turn it over a few times before you bake it. You can bake potatoes with it if you wish and the potatoes take on that lemon flavour that often Greek baked potatoes have when baked with lemon (usually cooked with chicken).

The Greeks did settle in Sicily after all!

I usually part- cook my potatoes and put them in to bake with the fish about 15mins before I think the fish is ready. Raw slices of potatoes are used in the recipe but do whatever you think is easier for you.

 

PESCE INFORNATO CON PATATE
Sicilian – Pisci o furno chi patati
Baked fish with potatoes (and vinegar and anchovies)
Ingredients
1–1.5kg (2lb 4oz–3lb 5oz) whole fish
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 onions, finely chopped a small bunch parsley, finely chopped
250g (9oz) potatoes, thinly sliced or par-boiled potatoes in chunks
3–6 anchovies, finely chopped (see above)
juice of 2 lemons, plus grated zest of 1 lemon
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Suitable fish
Any whole fish or large, thick fillets of medium to firm fish, preferably with the skin on. The fish is cooked whole, filleted and portioned at the table.
Method
If using whole fish or fillets with skin, make a series of slashes in the skin. Mix
the oil with the vinegar, onions and parsley. Add seasoning and marinate the
fish for about an hour, turning frequently.
Place the fish in an ovenproof dish, spoon half of the marinade over it and bake for 10 minutes in a 200°C (400°F) oven. Arrange the sliced potatoes around the fish. Sprinkle the potatoes and the fish with more marinade, the anchovies, lemon juice and grated zest. Bake for another 20–35 minutes, depending on the type of fish. Serve hot.
To see if the fish is cooked to your liking, you can test  the fish with a fork held at an angle. Insert it at the thickest point of the fish and twist the fork. it should flake easily.
Variation
 Place rosemary and bay leaves underneath the fish in the baking pan.
See:
There is a photo in this post where I used red onion and it can look quite spectacular.

I LOVE ARTICHOKES

My partner who does the shopping came home with these artichokes from the Queen Victoria Market.

They were pretty big specimens and nearing the end of aritchoke growing season (when they turn woody and their fibrous chokes develop), but not having eaten artichokes for quite a while, I was excited about them.

They did prove to be quite fibrous – vecchi – Italians would say, but I did clean them as best I could, removing most of the outer leaves and really digging in to remove their chokes. I also cut more of the tops off than I usually do with younger artichokes.  Although the stems were long, once I stripped off the outer fibre, I was only able to use very little of them.

Really, I should have taken off all the leaves and used only the base – fondi – Italians call them.

Artichokes can be cooked in many ways and you will find several recipes on my blog, but I particularly like them stuffed. The stuffing was easy – day old breadcrumbs, garlic, grated pecorino, parsley and a good amount of extra virgin olive oil.

Last of all, I added some toasted pinenuts and some grated lemon peel to the stuffing.

And then I stuffed the artichokes.

These are ready to cook. They are nearly submeged in stock, white wine,  extra virgin olive oil and a little salt. I always add fresh bayleaves, but this time I also added thyme.

Cover and braise slowly.

And they did cook for much longer than I usually cook artichokes. After about 60 mins of cooking on a slow flame, I added chunks of potatoes and when the potatoes were nearly cooked (about 20 mins) , I added broadbeans and peas (Spring vegetables) and all cooked a further 10 – 15 minutes.

Like most Italians, I rarely do the cooking at the last minute. With braised dishes the flavours need to develop, and resting is a good thing. I cooked these in the afternoon, ready for the evening. This also gave me time to concentrate on accompanying food.

Where would we be without seasonal broadbeans!! My partner even double peeled them, something that I refuse to do.

In spite of all my fears, we chewed on the ends of the leaves and the bases (the fondi) just melted in our mouths…. They tasted pretty heavenly.

Some of these posts were written a long time ago!

THE AMAZING ARTICHOKE

CARCIOFI (Artichokes and how to clean them and prepare them for cooking)

ARTICHOKES and how we love them; CAPONATA DI CARCIOFI

CARCIOFI (Artichokes)

CARCIOFI FARCITI (Stuffed artichokes: with meat and with olives and anchovies)

STUFFED ARTICHOKES WITH RICOTTA AND ALMOND MEAL

There are more recipes for artichokes – use the search button.

CAMPING AND COOKING IN W.A.

For me, it is very important to eat well, wherever I am.

I have recently returned from a nine week trip in Western Australia. It was in a very simple campervan with a basic pull out stove, but as always, I manage to eat well even if some supplies were difficult to purchase.

I realize that the range of vegetables I am accostomed to where I live (Melbourne and previously Adelaide) were not to be found even in the larger towns I visited.  Supply and demand is important and I consider myself lucky to live in cities where the the different ethnicities have contributed to what is grown and available.

But maybe I am expecting far too much.

I need to acknowledge that much of the produce I bought was in small, often remote communities and, as in the rest of country Australia, what was mostly available was limited to pumpkins, iceberg lettuces, carrots, cauliflower, cabbages and tomatoes (not the greatest). Potatoes, onions and sweet potatoes were everywhere. Beetroot, sometimes – but without their leaves. the sort of vegetables that my family was able to purchase when we first settled in Adelaide and I was eight years old.

In some places I found broccoli, green beans, spring onions and sometimes boc choy and red cabbage. On rare occasions there was asparagus and, if I was lucky, there were good bunches of silverbeet. I made sure to buy bunches of this leafy green vegetable wherever I could and cooked it in various ways: braised with chillies and anchovies, sautéed  in butter with a final dash of lemon juice, sautéed and deglazed with vinegar and a bit of sugar, or mixed with other vegetables.

Sometimes, I found curly Kale, but never Tuscan Kale, the Italian Cavolo Nero. Having said that, I acknowledge that growing seasons may be different in the West, especailly the North West, but if there was Kale there was never Cavolo Nero/Tuscan Kale which grows in the same season. I saw and bought Brussel sprouts in a few places but they were extremely expensive.

Capsicums/ peppers were pretty abundant, especially red ones.

In the larger cities produce was more varied. One of the things that I found quite perculiar is that zucchini were were exceptionally large and old singly. I only once found small zucchini (the size they should be) which was in Albany and I bought all they had. Green grocers seem few and far between and people shopped in supermarkets, but perhaps, on reflection supermarkets don’t necessarily have a wide range  .

The produce in the Fremantle market was certaily fresh and excellent in quality and i stocked up there as much as I could. Occasionally, we’d pass through a place that had a Saturday Market but most of the stalls had a limited range, usually more of the same. On one rare occasion I found a market stall that had broadbeans and English spinach, fresh bunches of basil, coriander and parsley. Heaven! I’m an opportunistic shopper and while I do pine for leafy green vegetables, I know I can always make a meal of whatever I have in the pantry. The occasional tin of  borlotti, canellini or black beans came in very handy as a mixer.

Whenever I saw red, teardrops tomatoes, as I did in the market in Fremantle and Saturday Market in Carnarvon I bought plenty.

I made many salads using what vegetables I had. In one supermarket in Denmark I found a celeriac. I teemed this with beetroot and dressed it with a mustard vinaigrette.

I  bought fennel in Fremantle and on another occasion radicchio in Albany. As well as salad I braised some with leeks and chicken breasts. Pretty good with mashed potatoes.

I bought a 2k tub of bocconcini and a burrata in Margaret River.

That was a real find!

My pantry in the campervan is always well stocked with extra virgin olive oil, vinegars, capers, olives, nuts, anchovies and a farly generous supply of spices including different types of pepper. The only dry herb I use is oregano. I am a big consumer of fresh herbs and I picked fresh rosemary wherever I saw it and kept it fresh in a container in the small fridge in the van. In some places I was able to buy fresh basil. I make harissa – strong and fragrant and take this with me.

For camping trips, I also marinade feta in extra virgin olive oil, bay leaves and black peppercorns and store it in the fridge. Feta is very versatile and when it is marinaded it lasts for a long time. I add this to salads, dress pasta with it and spread it on bread.

I also use wine or one of the vinegars (cider,wine, balsamic, chinese brown) for deglazing.

I bought fish wherever I could and even made fish stock for a risotto with the crayfish shells.

Meat was pentiful and there was some grass fed and organic in the larger places. I even braised a whole chicken. And there was stock.

And with stock, there is risotto.

Pulses are also plentiful in my camp kitchen as are different types of rice and pasta of various shapes. I have quinoa and couscous as well.

So as you can see, not much is impossible to cook when camping and I do enjoy making do with what I have.

Harissa made with fresh Chillies

HARISSA (A hot chilli condiment)

CAMPING and COOKING

GLAM COOKING ON THE ROAD; Camping

EATING WELL, Camping in Tasmania, BBQ chicken-Pollo alla Diavola

 

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

 

PASTISSADA (and Equine meat)

 

I first ate horse meat as a young child living in Trieste because I was anaemic.

Children were taken to a paediatrician, not a GP, and when my mother took me to see Dr. Calligaris he suggested that my mother buy horse meat steaks and singe them quickly in a hot pan and feed me this rare meat. I don’t know if the horse meat gave me rosy cheeks but it did put me off horse meat for a while. Horse meat tastes slightly sweet but flavourful and it is surprisingly soft and tender. It wasn’t the taste so much that I objected to, it was the look of disdain on my mother’s face as she cooked it that put me off.

Equine butchers in Italy are common and they not only sell various cuts of horse and donkey meats, but also sell smallgoods made of equine meats, especially salame. On my last trip to Sicily, I was invited to a BBQ where I ate female donkey meat; it is said that it is milder in taste than the male donkey meat. The people who invited us owned a small eatery in Chiaramonte (south eastern part of Sicily near Ragusa) and our hosts took us to a very famous butcher and smallgoods maker in Chiaramonte before we went to their place.

What is remaining of my father’s family lives/lived in Ragusa and knew all about donkey /ass salame which is delicious. Yes, I squirmed initially, but accepted the fact that in other countries and in this case Italy. Horsemeat and donkey meat is still is an important part of cuisine in many parts of Italy, including the Veneto and Sicily,

I have also had a few friends contact me recently about Stanley Tucci’s tour of Italy program on TV and these friends have all said that donkey meat was something he sampled in this particular Sicilian episode. I watched it. Nothing new, and I think that in recent years there has been a real resergence on eating donkey meat in Sicily.

The paragraphs above are my introduction to the recipe of Pastissada de caval, an ancient horse meat stew and still a specialty of the Veronese cuisine. Caval is horse, and pastissada is a stew cooked for a long time – it consists mainly of horse meat, onions, cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon, and nutmeg and red wine, preferably local wine from the Veneto region. I am always amused at the name: pastissada means fiddled with, messed up in the veneto dialect.

I did taste Pastissada de caval many years ago when my then husband ordered this in a restaurant in Verona (city in the Veneto region of Italy) and once again as the serving was placed on the table, I was reminded of its smell. I tasted some and it tasted sweet, the sweetness perhaps enhanced by the large quantity of onions in the recipe. As it should have been, it was presented with polenta.

In Adelaide recently I made pastissada with beef. In Australia we aren’t necessarily familiar with cuts of meat; usually for braising, those who shop in supermarkets may know it as ‘diced beef’. This is likely to consist of offcuts from – topside, rump, and chuck steak, gravy beef and bolar.

What we call chuck steak, gravy beef and bolar come from the forequarter of the animal consisting of parts of the neck, shoulder blade, shin and upper arm. These parts have low external fat and high levels of connective tissue that is gelatinous in structure when the meat is cooked.

I actually had enough for 2 meals. We ate one with polenta (as it should be) and the other with potatoes: I added these towards the end of the cooking (about 30 minutes before).

If the stew is made in advance and stored in the fridge, the fat in the stew will harden and can be lifted off the top before serving.

Ingredients:

 2 k beef cut into rather large chunks

2 large onions

2 cloves of garlic

1 stick of celery and some leaves

5 cloves, 1/2 cinnamon stick, black pepper, salt

½ cup of a mixture of /lard/butter/extra virgin olive oil (or at least butter and oil)

fresh herbs: bay leaves, thyme, rosemary

1 bottle of flavourful red wine

Process:

I marinaded the meat overnight. And if possible rest the cooked Passistada for 1 – 3 hours (with the lid on) before eating. This matures/enhances the taste.

The Marinade: Place the herbs and spices, crushed garlic and a little salt in a container with a lid that will hold the meat and the 1 bottle of wine.  The wine must completely cover the meat. Add water or more wine if necessary. I tested the container before I used it.

Drain the meat in a colander and save the wine. Remove the herbs and spices and return these to the wine.

Add some lard, butter and oil in a saucep, add the 2 coarsely chopped onions and celery. Toss the vegetables around the pan till coated and beginning to brown.

Scrape the vegetables out and place them in the marinade and in the same pan, add more lard, butter and oil and get ready to sear the meat.

When browning any meat, sear it in batches and don’t overcrowd the pan.

As soon as the meat has browned, pour in the wine, vegetables, herbs and spices.

At this stage because I had many fresh herbs I refreshed some of them, but this is optional. Cover the pan with the lid and simmer gently for 2-3 hours depending on the quality of the beef. Poke it and taste it after two hours and if the meat is not tender extend the cooking time. Check the contents periodically, turning the meat occasionally and if it needs more liquid add wine, water or stock.

Remove the spices and herbs from the braised meat in the pan, turn off the heat and leave the pastissada to rest. If there is too much liquid at the time of serving, heat the pastissada, remove the meat and evaporate some of the juice. I always add pepper at this stage and pastissada likes a bit of pepper.

Do look at:

CHIARAMONTE in South-Eastern and the best butcher in Sicily

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