Category Archives: Italian Regional

PASTA CON LE SARDE, Iconic Sicilian made easy

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.

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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.

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Remove the small dorsal spine from the fillets. Once again the paper comes in handy to wipe fishy fingers.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

PASTA CON LE SARDE, an iconic Sicilian recipe from Palermo. Cooked at Slow Food Festival Melbourne

PASTA CON SARDE – the baked version, Palermo, Sicily

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

PASTA CON FINOCCHIO (Pasta and fennel – preferably wild)

Zeally Bay Sourdough Panettone

A present from the bakers from Zeally Bay. It came unexceptionally in the mail:

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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.

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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.

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

The above quote is from Zeally Bay’s website.

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Good luck to those of you who live in Victoria, and enjoy it if you are able to purchase one.

About Zeally Bay bakers and sourdough panettone:

ABOUT PANETTONE AND SOURDOUGH

 Zeally Bay website:  https://zeallybaysourdough.com.au/

 

CAN I CALL IT PANFORTE?

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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

Previous posts about panforte:

PANETTONE AND PANFORTE for an ITALIAN CHRISTMAS

PANFORTE again and again

A SAVOURY COEUR À LA CRÈME to accompany a summer fresh tomato salad or summer vegetables

It is summer and time to celebrate a good tomato.

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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, straciatellaburrata or marinaded feta or a panna cotta made with feta or gorgonzola.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Add the thyme,  ground pink peppercorns and infused milk. 

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Line the mould with muslin (enough to cover the mold) and sprinkle with olive oil.

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Put cheese mixture into the mold, sprinkle with more olive oil and cover it with the left over muslin.

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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.

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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.

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Recipes of summer vegetables:

PEPERONATA – PIPIRONATA (Sicilian) Braised peppers

FRIED ZUCCHINI – ZUCCHINE FRITTE (Zucchini are called CUCUZZEDDI in Sicilian)

PUMARORU CA CIPUDDA (Tomatoes with onions). INSALATA DI POMODORO (Tomato salad)

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

ANTIPASTO – GRILLED SUMMER VEGETABLES AND A SCOOP OF SALADS

BURRATA, MOZARELLA, STRACCIATELLA

Coeur a la Crème made with Labneh

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CARCIOFI ALLA ROMANA

Carciofi alla romana are cooked upside down.

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Globe artichokes, if stuffed, are cooked upright.

I love globe artichokes and I usually stuff, braise them and eat them hot or cold. If peas or broad beans are in season, they too are added to the braise. A mixture of fresh breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic and grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese is probably my most frequent stuffing, but at other times I have used minced meat, or added black olives and anchovies, or for a delicate stuffing I have used ricotta and almond meal. Each globe artichoke is likely to hold about ½ cup of stuffing and some of the larger artichokes hold more.

Once stuffed, the globe artichokes are placed upright and packed tightly into a pan and braised in white wine and/or stock. Extra virgin olive oil is an essential ingredient and it is used liberally.

Small artichokes are ideal to cook alla romana – as the Romans do.

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The artichokes (carciofi) that are available and that are still in season in Melbourne are these little, purple, spiny ones. The globe artichokes that were in season prior to these have nearly finished, but there are still some of the baby ones around – those that will never develop into full size (like tomatoes at the end of the season that never ripen). These baby artichokes (carciofini) are usually preserved under oil.

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For carciofi alla romana, use the smallest artichokes you can find, but the small, purple, spiny ones would be my preference. In this recipe, the artichokes are also stuffed, but lightly …about a teaspoon of stuffing for each.

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For the stuffing for the number of artichokes I had (9) I used 1 large clove of garlic, ½ cup fresh parsley finely chopped, ½ cup fresh mint finely chopped, salt and pepper and all mixed with a little extra, virgin olive oil.

Carciofi alla romana are also braised, but they are placed upside down and I use greater amounts of oil in the braising liquid – a mixture of water and a little white wine, but  the  aim is to have very little, concentrated and flavourful liquid at the end of cooking, and this will be mostly oil.

Clean and prepare the artichokes as you would the globe artichokes. Use acidulated water (1 lemon). Peel off the tough outer leaves until you get to the softer paler leaves. The stems of my artichokes were not worth peeling, but it they are peel the outer layer of the stem and as is usually the way with this recipe, keep the stems attached to the base if you can. Cut approximately 1/3 of the top of the artichoke to remove the spiny leaves. Using your fingers ease the leaves apart in the centre of each artichoke to form a space for the stuffing.

Mix the garlic, parsley, seasoning and mint together with 1 tablespoon of oil. Stuff the artichokes with this mixture.

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Place about 1 cm of olive oil in the bottom of a narrow pot and arrange the artichokes close together and side by side…. but upside down. Add a little white wine and enough water to reach about 1/3 from the top of the height of the artichoke. Add salt and pepper, cover and simmer over low heat until the artichokes are soft and can be easily pierced with a fork.

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Check them occasionally and if they are too dry add a little water if necessary in small amounts.

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When the artichokes are cooked, remove the lid, turn up the heat and evaporate the liquid until you have mainly oil.  Remove the artichokes from the pot, drizzle the liquid over them and serve them at room temperature.

There are a number of recipes on my blog about artichokes and accompanying  photos. Artichokes are not difficult to prepare and cook, and they are delicious. To find other recipes, use the search button on my blog and key in Artichokes.

 

BITTER GREENS and AMARI (Aperitivi and Digestivi)

When I was a child and had a tummy ache my mother used to give me an infusion of chamomile – and I bet that many other Italian children experienced the same remedy. I was also given it when I could not sleep and she rinsed my hair with chamomile – it was supposed to keep it fair and make it shiny. Chamomile was a magic herb.

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My father asserted that a canarino (canary) was better. It is made by boiling lemon peel in water. This concoction was another multi-purpose panacea used for tummy aches, nausea, insomnia, colds, coughs, sore throats and fevers when you felt cold and shivery. He also would share hi Dutch salted liquorice with me – aniseed and fennel are renown for assisting digestion.

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Carob tree near Ragusa

My father’s sister who lives in Sicily is a great advocate for the healing and nutritive properties of carob. She claims it cures respiratory tract infections and it treats diarrhoea.

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Ingredients for a simple salad- red radicchio,frisée and chicory

I was told that the more bitter the green, the better it was for my liver; the stimulation of bile flow was important to break down fats.

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My family always ate large quantities of bitter greens – all the  different types of radicchio (we lived in Trieste where it was plentiful). The photo above: radicchio Triestino – a very small leafed variety of radicchio.

There were different types of chicory, Belgium endives (whitlof), rocket, escarole, cardoons and globe artichokes. Vegetables that have strong sulphur smells like cime di rapa or cime di rape, Brussel sprouts and radishes were also favourites.

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When we visited Sicily, our relatives made sure to feed us edible weeds (erbe spontanie) – matalufo, agghiti (in Ragusa’s dialect), bitter chicory, different varieties of mustard greens and brassicas, wild rocket, puntarelle, wild fennel fronds and wild asparagus – the two types of wild asparagus are particularly bitter. Photos below and above: wild greens in Sicilian markets.

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So, as you can see, because of my history and my Italian culture I had my digestive health covered.

As an adult, I had an inherent appreciation of bitter flavours and much appreciated an Amaro, not just because I liked the taste but because I believed that it aids digestion.

Amaro (Italian for “bitter”) is usually drunk as a digestive before a meal (an aperitivo) or after meals (a digestivo). There are many local and regional versions of these alcoholic beverages – examples of some well-known Amari are Aperol, Averna, Cynar and Fernet-Branca.

These bitter, alcoholic beverages are usually referred to as being herb based, but they are made of various and numerous vegetables, fruit, berries, bark, flowers, herbs, roots and spices macerated in alcohol diluted with water to obtain the desired gradation. They are also sweetened and range from bittersweet to intensely bitter.

The oldest recipes for herb-based beverages were usually formulated by pharmacists, botanists, and enthusiasts, many in monasteries and convents. The recipes have been developed over time by wine and spirit companies and the alcohol content of Amari varies between 11% and 40%.

Restaurants in Italy may offer a dozen selections of Amari, especially after a meal, but unfortunately, Amari are not beneficial aids to digestion – the beneficial properties of the herbs are reduced or eliminated and the higher the alcohol content, the slower the breakdown of food.

If you want to eat more, it makes sense to drink an Amaro as an aperitivo – the bitter flavours may stimulate the taste buds and increase the secretion of saliva and gastric juices.

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Aperol has an alcohol content of 11%—less than half that of Campari. Averna is considered an excellent digestive liqueur, but the alcohol content is 29%, Ramazzotti is 30% and Fernet is 40%.

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Wild fennel in Catania market

Aniseed liqueur is distilled from the fruit of the green aniseed plant along with other aromatic ingredients – but Sanbuca is 48% alcohol.

If we really wish to help our digestion after a meal, we may be better off with the simple home-made infusions. Popular home-made infusions, apart from chamomile, often contain fennel seeds, peppermint, sage, ginger and rosemary.

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Kale 

I still enjoy my bitter greens and since living in Australia I have broadened the range of bitter greens that I eat – watercress, dandelions, the wide range of Asian mustard greens and varieties of kale and frisée.

Posts and recipes for bitter greens:

SICILIAN EDIBLE WEEDS and Greek VLITA

NETTLES (Ortiche), Culinary uses and gnocchi

EDIBLE WEEDS: Orecchiette e Broccoletti Selvatici (and cime di rape)

CIME DI RAPE (A winter green)

MINESTRA MARITATA, peasant soup from Calabria

INSALATA DI FRISÉE ( Composite Salad made with frisée)

CICORIA (Chicory)

CICORETTA CON SALSICCIA (Chicory with fresh pork sausage)

KALE SALAD with Italian Flavours

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CARCIOFI (Artichokes)

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

CARCIOFI IMBOTTITI (Stuffed artichokes)IN PRAISE OF WINTER VEGETABLES

IN PRAISE OF WINTER VEGETABLES

CARRUBA (Carob) and its uses

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SEA URCHINS – how to clean and eat them (RICCI DI MARE)

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Sea urchins are messy to clean and you may feel cheated when find that not all of them are as endowed of gonads as the others, but they are worth it.

Use scissors and place the sea urchin face up.

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To extract the gonads (this is what we eat), enter through the mouth and cut around the top of the urchin with scissors. Wear thick gloves.

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The gonads of both male and female sea urchins are usually referred to as ‘roe’ or ‘corals’ and they can vary in colour from yellow- orange to light brown.

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Lift off what you have cut and do not be put off by the amount of “black gunk”.

Pour out the black liquid and discard. Use a small coffee spoon or tweezers to extract the roe. Use the tweezers to pluck any residue black matter.

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I like to eat them with a sauce on some bread. It is the same sauce that I use to make Spaghetti con Ricci – Spaghetti with Sea Urchins.

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See:

RICCI DI MARE – Sea Urchins

SPAGHETTI CHI RICCI – SPAGHETTI CON RICCI DI MARE (Spaghetti with sea urchins)

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Pork Hock, Polish Wedding Sausage, Borlotti and Sauerkraut =IOTA (a lean version)

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Iota (also Jota) is always a delight to eat and to talk about with friends, many of them surprised to discover that it is a regional and traditional Italian  dish from Trieste, a town in the region of Fruili Venezia Giulia and north of Venice.

The fat content in Iota can be high, but there are ways to make Iota less fatty.

Borlotti beans, soaked overnight and then cooked.

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Pork Hock, placed in cold water and simmered until soft and used to make broth. Add potatoes about 30 minutes before the end of cooking.  Remove the lean meat and use this for the. Skim the fat off the pork hock broth.

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Use the broth to cook the sauerkraut . When the sauerkraut is cooked add half the borlotti beans and potatoes and with a potato masher mash the contents.

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Add more whole beans the rest of the potatoes (cubed) the pork hock meat and the Wedding Sausage (I like this because it is lean meat).

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And there you have it – a lean Iota.

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There are other posts for making Iota and these include quantities of ingredients:

IOTA (Recipe, a very thick soup from Trieste) Post 1

IOTA FROM TRIESTE, Italy, made with smoked pork, sauerkraut, borlotti beans – Post 2

YEARNING FOR VITELLO TONNATO

Now and again I feel nostalgic for the “old” food. From my childhood, I often hanker for Vitello Tonnato. It is eaten cold, can be easily prepared beforehand and is a perfect dish as a starter or as a main meal. Left overs make a perfect panino.

There is an earlier post with the recipe for Vitello Tonnato,  but this time I will let the photos guide the cooking.

I used a grirello – the eye round steak. The vegetables are onion, celery, carrots, garlic and herbs. I have tied the herbs (bay, rosemary, thyme) with string so that they can be easily removed at the end of cooking. Usually I like to include sage, but I have none growing at the moment.

I insert slices of garlic into the meat.

Some recipes indicate that the vegetables and meat can be boiled. I do not always repeat what my mother did but like her I lightly brown the vegetables and meat and this does add to the taste.  I used a fish kettle for the cooking.

There is a bottle of white wine and some chicken stock ready to add. I added about 1 cup of wine and 2 cups of stock.

The liquid will add flavour and keep the meat moist. I always evaporate the juices at the end to concentrate the flavours of the sauce. Add seasoning.

Cook the meat to your liking. My mother always cooked it till it was very well done – that is how the older generation cooked meat in those times. My meat is lightly pink, but could have been rarer –  on this occasion I had guests who prefer their meat well done.

Cool the meat and slice thinly.

Now for the sauce: egg mayonnaise, drained tuna (packed in oil), capers, anchovies and some of the vegetables that were used in the cooking of the meat. If the reduced sauce has cooled and jellied, add a little of the sauce.

Blend  the ingredients. before adding the mayonnaise.

Add the mayonnaise and this is the sauce.

Build the layers – slices of meat, topped with the sauce. I made it the day before I served it. The sauce penetrates and softens the meat.

I have had modern versions of this dish in a number of places, both in Australia and Italy and the preference seems to be to place the sauce on top of some slices without covering each layer of meat.

I  like the meat to be smothered with the tuna sauce.

Decorate it as you wish. This time was not my best, I used the left over carrots, topped them with strips of anchovies, stuffed olives cut in half and pink peppercorns. My mother probably would not have approved.

SEE:
VITELLO TONNATO

CHICKEN LAYERED WITH A TUNA AND EGG MAYONNAISE,  A cold Chicken dish

INSALATA RUSSA (Party time – Russian salad)

PESCE IN BIANCO (Plain fish). MAIONESE (Mayonnaise)

POLLO ALLA MESSINESE (A cold chicken dish similar to Vitello Tonnato from Messina)

 

GREAT ITALIAN CHEFS’ RECIPES, 10 best Sicilian dishes

This site, Great Italian Chefs, is worth looking at. It is part of the Great British Chefs website and on this site you will find information about  some of the different regions of Italy and regional recipes.

The recipes are ‘great’ and are by professional chefs.

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I too have posted many of these recipes on my blog and a passatempo – pass-the-time, a diversion, you could compare their recipes with mine.

10 best Sicilian Dishes:

https://www.greatitalianchefs.com/features/10-best-sicilian-dishes

I have written about them before:

GREAT BRITISH CHEFS, GREAT ITALIAN CHEFS, Feature articles by Marisa Raniolo Wilkins

PESCE CRUDO, raw fish dishes in Sicily

ALSO10 MUST-TRY DISHES WHEN YOU ARE IN SICILY

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