Category Archives: Main Course/ Secondo/Substantial

PUDDASTRI CA PIPIRATA: POLLASTRI CON PEPERATA (Chicken with a sauce containing pepper and spices)

These beautiful chickens (and dogs) belong to friends. The chicken with the speckled feathers around her neck (in the front of the top photo/ and in the second photo at the bottom) won 1st prize at the Royal Melbourne show in 2009.
My friends would not dream of eating their chickens.

In the hot weather,  I sometimes prepare a chicken salad, adapted from a Bugialli recipe called Insalata di cappone. I have made this salad over many years – the book was published in 1984 and Bugialli says that his recipe comes from a restaurant in Mantova (Mantua) and is the typical sweet and sour dish from the Renaissance period. In his recipe the capon is poached in broth and then pickled in the marinade for at least twelve hours. It is served cold.

Several years ago I found a very similar recipe in a book about Southern Italian cooking. The writer had eaten Piperata chicken in Trapani (Sicily) and acknowledges that it was probably not a traditional recipe. It contains chicken breasts and along with other things – zest and juice from a lemon, pine nuts and currants – the same flavours used in Bugialli’s recipe.

Making the Sicilian dish with chicken breasts indicates that it is a modern recipe, but most of the flavours could be Sicilian – the agrodolce (sweet and sour) taste and flavourings, the lemon juice, the peel, the currants, the pine nuts. The agrodolce and use of spices is attributed to the Arabs, but also to the Romans, and both of these peoples were in Sicily. Strong sauces were often used to disguise spoiled food, especially meat, and vinegar and sugar have been used throughout time as a preservative (Caponata contains vinegar and sugar and in ancient times was a useful dish to take to sea by fishermen because of its long lasting properties).

Could the recipe be Sicilian?I began to investigate the origins of the recipes.

I began my research with pipirata. From this, to piperatum, and in ancient Rome this was the “peppered broth” or “the water in which beef has been cooked in”. The broth contained garum and pepper.

Garum was made through the crushing and fermentation in brine of the innards of fish. It originally came from the Greeks and was very popular with the ancient Romans. Garum was a seasoning preferred to salt and when added to other ingredients like vinegar, wine, oil and pepper it became a condiment used for meat, fish and vegetables – a type of fish sauce similar to the Asian fish sauces of countries like Thailand and Vietnam.

Pevere in the Veneto (dialect spoken in the region of Northern Italy) means ‘pepper’ and peverada is a sauce used as a common condiment in modern,  Italian cooking (mostly northern Italian). It is a sauce for game, excellent with duck or poultry and roasted meats. The most well-known peverada originated in the Veneto area and it usually contains garlic, oil, pepper, parsley, lemon juice, vinegar, livers (from the fowl being cooked), soppressa (salame), anchovies and pomegranate juice. The ingredients are minced and then sautéed adding the liver last. These ingredients are gently poached in broth. Lastly lemon juice, pomegranate juice and wine vinegar are added, and the sauce is reduced.

The sweet and sour types of sauces were also popular with the French.

In Mediavel times, especially in the cooking of France most kitchens would have used vinegar or verjuice, lemon juice, or the juice of sour oranges, or pomegranate to add acidity to sauces. This would have been balanced with sweet ingredients, sugar or honey, dried fruit or concentrated grape juice or sweet wine. Meat was also preserved in a mixture of stock and vinegar. The sweet and sour taste and the use of strong spices were also popular in Renaissance times.  Chicken and the prized spices used in both recipes were once rare and expensive and the dish is not likely to be considered a poor person’s dish. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the nobility of southern Italy and Sicily employed a monsu’ – a monsieur or French-trained cook who could have used elaborate sauces to dress game or roast fowl.

I also found a recipe for Chicken in pomegranate juice in Barbara Santich’s book: The original Mediterranean Cuisine, medieval recipes for today.

In the recipe, the chicken is simmered in pomegranate juice and almond milk (made from blanched almonds) and flavoured with cinnamon and sugar. In the accompanying text Santich states that Maxine Robinson has traced the origins of this dish to an Arab dish, the recipe probably arriving in western Europe through early translations of Arab dietetic writing and appearing in most early Mediterranean collections and also early thirteenth century Andalusian text.

Bugialli does not use pomegranate in his recipe, but I have sometimes decorated the dish with pomegranate seeds. I have also used anchovies and both of these ingredients are popular in Sicilian cooking.

And just when I thought that the chicken salad dish could be Sicilian after all, I found one recipe called Jadduzzedi e Puddastri ca sarsa pipirata in Pino Correnti’s book: Il libro d’oro della cucina e dei vini di Sicilia.

Correnti describes the dish as young chickens and roosters, pot roasted in oil, butter, bay leaves, rosemary, salt and pepper and deglazed with a little marsala (the dry variety). These were then served with a reduced salsa pipirata consisting of the following ingredients: vin cotto, broth flavoured with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and rosemary, grated lemon peel and pomegranate juice. Apparently this particular dish was appreciated by a noble in Palermo in the eighteenth century.  Unfortunately then Correnti  goes on to say that this dish was revealed to him by a medium, and that he has never found  any basis or documentation for this recipe.

I could not come to any definite conclusion – this dish does not seem to be clearly Sicilian or Montuan. All cuisines have cultural origins, but the cooking methods and flavours have altered and evolved throughout history to become what they are today.

Here is my version of Puddastri ca pipirata.

INGREDIENTS
chicken fillets, skinless or with skin. I use organic and depending on how large they are, estimate 1 per person.
The following recipe is sufficient for 6 people.

For the poaching liquid:
chicken stock, sufficient to cover the fillets (made beforehand)
celery, 2 stalks left whole
carrots, 3 young, scraped and left whole
onion,1 sliced into thick slices
spices, 5 whole cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, 6 pepper corns
bay leaves, 3
parsley, 4 sprigs
rosemary, 1sprig

For the marinade:
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup
spices, 1/2  teaspoon of each, ground cloves and cinnamon (I used whole cloves once and watched my friends picking them out from their mouths – not a good feel),
bay leaves, 3- 4 (fresh leaves look great as well as doing their job)
chilly flakes or black pepper, to taste (I use plentyt)
sugar, a small teaspoon
salt, to taste
red wine vinegar 1/3 cup
lemon, the juice of 1, and the peel , peeled with a potato peeler and kept in strips so it can easily be removed.

For the salad:
celery, 2 of the tender stalks sliced thinly, and some of the light green leaves, chopped
cooked chicken and carrots
spring onions, 3 chopped or cut lengthwise into thin , short pieces
pine nuts, 3/4 cup
seedless muscatels (or raisins or currants), 3/4 cup previously soaked in a little wine or marsala

PROCESSES
Prepare this dish at least the day before you serve it – this allows the flavours in the marinade to achieve the required results.(I have learned through experience that this dish tastes even better if left to marinade for at least 24 hours).
Use a wide, shallow sauce pan which allows the fillets to be placed in a single layer (if possible). If the chicken is in a double layer, ensure that during the poaching process you swap the ones on top with the ones in the bottom layer to allow even cooking.

Prepare the poaching liquid – I really like to make this strongly flavoured.
Use sufficient chicken stock to cover the chicken fillets. (I usually have some stock in the fridge or stored in the freezer made with chicken with bones, carrot, onion and celery stick, a little salt, boiled and then reduced – see BRODO earlier post).
Strain the stock through a colander, empty it into the saucepan and to the stock, add the ingredients in for the poaching liquid listed above.
Bring the stock with added flavourings to the boil.
Place the fillets gently into this poaching liquid – it should just cover the fillets. Adding the meat to the hot stock will seal the meat and preserve the flavou. Adding the meat to the cold liquid will enrich the taste of the broth. Because the meat is the focus, add the chicken to the hot liquid.
Cover with a lid and bring slowly to the boil again on medium heat. Leave the chicken to poach gently for about 7 minutes (I do not like to overcook them – they need to be white in colour and when pricked with a fork still have some resistance).
Remove the pan from the heat and leave the chicken in the poaching liquid till cool – the chicken will keep on cooking in the poaching liquid and be kept moist till you are ready to marinade it.
Marinade: Mix all of the ingredients together in a container.
To assemble the salad:
I like to use a deep glass bowl to see the chicken and salad ingredients in layers.
Take out chicken fillets and cut each fillet into thick slices.
Strain the poaching liquid, discard the solids but keep the carrots – these can be sliced into batons and added to the salad.
Place the chicken fillets and carrots in layers and cover with a little marinade and other ingredients as you go. The lemon peel and bay leaves can be at the bottom of the dish and between the layers. Sprinkle pine nuts and drained dried muscatels, the spring onions, celery and carrots between the layers.
Top the whole dish with some of the cooled poaching liquid until all the chicken is covered (this will keep it moist and a good colour) and leave to pickle in the fridge. Shake the dish occasionally to amalgamate the flavours. Remove it from the fridge about an hour prior to serving.

Presentation
Prior to presenting the dish you may like to drain off some of the liquid to make it more manageable. Ensure that each person receives some of the other solids as well as the chicken and serve some of the liquid separately if you wish.

It is at this stage that on numerous occasions I have taken more liberties with dish by:
•    adding one or more extra ingredients to the dressing: 1-2 chopped anchovies , 1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses instead of the sugar (molasses is definitely not Sicilian)
•   scattering pomegranate seeds on top of the salad.

Save any left over liquid to use as a stock to flavour braised rabbit, chicken, pork and venison dishes.

A bit of trivia:
I read recently that pomegranate juice has anti-inflammatory compounds, cancer-killing isoflavones and antioxidant properties. Italians call it melograna, melograno granato, pomo granato, or pomo punico. The generic term, punica, was the Roman name for Carthage, and the best pomegranates came to Italy from Carthage.

 

MAIALINO ARROSTO (Roast, suckling pig)

Cooking large pigs roasted on a spit is a festive dish in many parts of Italy. Ariccia is a town south of Rome famous for its maiale (pork) especially popular at festivals and sold as street food.

Smaller versions of this dish are cooked in homes – the piglet is called a maialino di latte (it is still being fed by its mother’s milk) and the cooked dish is called porchetta (roast suckling pig) a popular dish in in the Lazio region of Italy and Rome is its principal city.

This maialino di latte- milk fed /suckling (and one other piglet) was cooked by a chef at Libertine, a French restaurant in North Melbourne. It was one of the courses for a festive occasion – a farewell lunch for friends who were going to live overseas for six months. It was also their twentieth wedding anniversary.

The piglet needs a fair sized oven. In villages in rural Italy the piglet was often roasted in the local baker’s large wood-burning oven – this would be made available to the local residents usually on a Sunday when the baker was not likely to be working.

In Italy some cooks bone the piglet before cooking – this makes carving and stuffing easier (usually a flavourful mixture of minced meat and often the organs of the pig).

The piglet can also be stuffed simply with herbs (regional Italian variations exist – in Sardinia it is called porceddu and it is likely to be flavoured with myrtle leaves, in Rome it could be rosemary and garlic and in other parts of Italy fennel seeds are used. Grated lemon rind also goes well.

Maialino is not something I cook, but I am familiar with this dish which is often cooked as the celebratory meal at New Year by some Italian families living in Australia (Porchetta). If you intend to use your oven, make sure that the piglet fits.

Begin preparations a day before cooking – the piglet will benefit from steeping in the herb mixture overnight.
Cooking time is approx. one hour per kilo (piglets available for sale in Australia are usually 7-10 kilos in weight or larger).

INGREDIENTS
1 small suckling pig
extra virgin olive oil,1 cup for basting
wine (or water) approx 2 cups

Mixture to rub into piglet:
About 1 cup of fresh rosemary leaves cut finely, 3-4 tablespoons of crushed fennel seeds, 6-10 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed, salt
(liberal amount), and black pepper, 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil.

PROCESSES
Ensure that the cavity of the piglet is clean with organs removed.
Make the mixture that you will use to rub into the pig.
Make slashes on its skin (at least two over the hips and two over the shoulders and others evenly spaced elsewhere) and insert some of the mixture into the slashes and on the inside cavity.
Place the piglet on a wire rack, over a tray, cover it with a large plastic bag and place it in the fridge overnight (keeping the outside skin of the piglet dry will help the crackling to form).
Preheat your oven with the fan on to 220 C.
Place the piglet in an oiled roasting pan (belly down, with its legs close to its body and tied together with string).
To prevent burning wrap the ears and tail in foil.
Place about 1 cup of white wine in the bottom of the pan to create steam and keep the meat succulent.
Rub the skin with more oil all and sprinkle salt over it (for crackling).
Place into the oven and roast it at 220C for 30 mins.
Lower the temperature to 200 C and cook it for the required number of hours. Turn the pan (but not the piglet – handle it gently) around every 30 mins and baste it with more oil and place some more wine
(or water) in the bottom of the pan each time.
Increase the temperature to 210-220 C in the final 30 minutes of cooking – remove the foil from the ears to allow the whole piglet to brown. The piglet should be a golden brown
Take the piglet out of the oven and leave to rest for 20-30 minutes to set.
Add more water or wine to the roasting pan and make a sughetto (gravy)
Carve it and serve with the sughetto.

See posts:

PORK SALUMI  (smallgoods). Tasting Australia 2010

NOT QUITE PORCHETTA – Rolled belly pork

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


I bought a book called Le Ricette Regionali Italiane by Anna Gosetti della Salda in the 1980’s; this large and heavy book was the first of many books which I transported back from Italy over my many visits.

In the Sicilian section of this book, there is a recipe for Pollo alla Messinese, a dish which is well suited when inviting guests, particularly in the hot weather (and in Melbourne we have recently experienced some unusually hot temperatures). It can also be served as an antipasto.

Pollo alla Messinese could well be called Pollo Tonnato and is made with chicken instead of veal. The recipe suggests cooking a whole chicken in broth, but I use large chicken breasts – it is easier to cut the breasts into thin slices and then to layer them with tuna mayonnaise. I use organic chicken (estimate one chicken breast per person) and canned yellowfin tuna, dolphin-safe. I always use greater quantities of anchovies and capers in the mayonnaise than the recipe suggests (recipe below is my adaptation).

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I would liked to have had presented information about the origins of Pollo alla Messinese and although there appear to be many recipes, they are usually pieces of chicken stewed or braised in tomatoes or wine and sometimes with olives .

INGREDIENTS
chicken breasts, 6
bay leaves, 2
carrots, 2 halved length wise
onion, 1, cut into quarters
celery stalks, 1 halved length wise
parsley, 2 stalks and leaves
basil, 2 stalks and leaves
peppercorns, 4-5
salt to taste
stock or water to cover
mayonnaise, made with 2 egg yolks extra virgin olive oil, juice of 1-2 lemons and salt and pepper to taste
anchovy fillets, 6
tinned tuna (300 gm)
capers, 3 tablespoons

PROCESSES
Place the whole breasts into a large pot and intersperse with bay leaves, carrots, onion, celery, parsley, basil, salt and black peppercorns. Cover the breasts with hot stock or water.
Bring slowly to boil, turn down heat, cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes .
Leave the chicken in the stock to finish cooking.
Cool and leave the chicken in the stock till ready to use (I usually cook the chicken the day before).
When cold, drain well and slice the meat thinly. Keep the broth for another time and discard the vegetables.
Make a thick mayonnaise with the egg yolks, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning. I use my blender.
Drain the tuna and separate it with a fork before adding it to the thick mayonnaise.
Add chopped anchovies and capers. Briefly pulse the mixture in the blender or use a fork to incorporate these ingredients into the mayonnaise – the mixture should be relatively smooth.

The recipe says to place the slices on a large platter and to spread a thin layer of sauce over each slice. I prefer to line a container with foil and beginning with a layer of mayonnaise, make 3-4 layers of chicken slices and mayonnaise.
Cover with more foil and store in the fridge till ready to present.
Turn out the chicken from the container, sprinkle with capers, cut into portions and serve.
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TONNO (Tuna, albacore)

IMG_3181The sustainable albacore tuna (better choice category in the Marine Conservation Seafood Guide).

As you might expect many Sicilian fish recipes are for the aristocrats of Sicilian fish – the blue-fin tuna and swordfish – but these species have been overfished and are no longer sustainable, not just in Sicily, but worldwide.

A century ago in Sicily, during tuna fishing season, it was easy to catch thousands of tuna, each weighing approximately 300 kilograms, but their numbers have fallen drastically.

Unfortunately, the situation with swordfish (pesce spada) is much the same as with blue-fin tuna. Once it would not have been unusual for fishers to haul into their fishing boats, swordfish measuring more than five metres long. Now, especially in the Mediterranean, stocks have rapidly reduced due to overfishing.

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Albacore tuna
For all the Sicilian recipes intended for tuna and swordfish I use the sustainable albacore tuna. My vendor stocks it when he can get it, but not all fishers are interested in catching it because it does not fetch high prices – it is not in demand as an export to Japan (where tuna is preferred eaten raw and red) and therefore it is the cheaper alternative. I have sometimes seen albacore tuna for sale at only one other stall at the Queen Victoria Melbourne Market – it has never looked appealing; it has been cut roughly and with high proportion of red flesh. When I am able to purchase it from my vendor (Happy Tuna Seafood), he has either cut it into quality thick steaks, or as a larger fillet left whole, or in a vertical slice from the centre of the tuna (see photo).

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This cut is called a rota (in Sicilian). In Italian the word is ruota – a round or a wheel. I have stuffed the slices of tuna with garlic and rosemary. The rota is cooked in one piece and is separated into portions when it is ready to serve. I have found the slices of tuna I purchase in Australia to be smaller than those I remember in my childhood and will only feed 2–4 people. I remember my grandmother Maria in Catania cooking a very large rota of tuna during one of our visits to Sicily. It must have weighed about 2 kilos and it fitted very tightly in a shallow fry pan (an indication of how large the fish once were).

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The pale flesh and versatility of Australian albacore tuna is very under rated. It is known as the chicken of the sea – the flesh turns white when cooked.

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Cooking albacore tuna and RECIPE
I generally braise albacore tuna, usually with tomatoes, capers and herbs. I always insert flavours into the flesh (slivers of garlic, herbs or cloves). Sometimes I use white wine, but on this occasion I softened some onion in some extra virgin olive oil, sealed the slices of tuna and then added some dry marsala , orange slices and bay leaves. When I am braising food, I always cover the pan with a lid and cook it slowly.

Yellow-fin tuna and Big-eye
Both of these species of tuna are wild-caught, but catch rates are declining so they are in the think twice category (Marine Conservation Seafood Guide).
Big-eye is the second most popular tuna for sashimi and unfortunately numbers are declining very fast.

Southern Blue-fin tuna
Southern blue-fin tuna always seems to be available for purchase. This is because much of it is farmed, but some is wild-caught.
We need to say no (Marine Conservation Seafood Guide) to the most popular species of tuna because it has been severely over-fished in and outside the Australian fishing zone. Most are caught wild and then fattened in sea-cage aquaculture farms, especially around Port Lincoln in South Australia.

Sea-cage aquaculture
For a long time I had thought that fish produced by, such as tuna, ocean trout and salmon was sustainable and was surprised to find that the Marine Conservation Seafood Guide totally apposes sea-cage aquaculture – penned, dense schools of fish in large floating cages moored in bays and estuaries.

Although sea-cage aquaculture may sound preferable to the wild-caught fish, there are problems associated with sea-cage aquaculture. Views expressed by a variety of environmentalists are:

• Tuna farming is a large and profitable industry and it involves herding juvenile tuna from the wild into pens to fatten in cages – it is called fish ranching.
• Fish farms are established in bays and estuaries to avoid damage from storms and currents and they need clean and frequent water exchange. Unfortunately other wild fish and marine life also favour these and their habitat is affected.
• Significant amounts of waste can be discharged from fish farms back into the ocean – the nutrients in unused fish feed, fish faeces and the chemicals and pharmaceuticals used to keep the fish healthy and the pens clean. These can be toxic to many aquatic species and impact on the surrounding environment.
• There is also the potential for some farmed fish to escape. These could spread diseases and can threaten local, wild species by competing for food and habitat and interfering with their breeding.
• Farmed tuna are fed large quantities of wild, whole fish (pilchards, sardines, herrings and anchovies, chosen for their high oil content and mostly imported). Penned tuna are fed three times a day, whereas in the wild, they may eat once a week.

In the hands of an able cook, fish can become an inexhaustible source of perpetual delight.
Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)

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SFINCIONE DI PALERMO (A pizza/focaccia type pie)

One of my regular readers (from Philadelphia) is passionate about Sicily. She has sent me some wonderful photographs from her trip (mainly from Palermo) and she has very kindly given me permission to use them on my blog.

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I asked her about this particular photograph because I could not identify what was being served. The photo was taken in front of Antica Focacceria San Francesco during Sunday brunch (al fresco). The piazzetta in front of the Antica Focacceria is across from the wonderful church of Saint Francis of Assisi which has the sculpture of Serpotta.

She has identified it as a sfincione di Palermo. It is a type of focaccia /pizza sold in the streets of Palermo but also known in some other parts of the north- western part of the coast. There are many bread dough /focaccia like pastries made all over Sicily with different fillings and called by different names.( See  ‘MPANATA (A lamb pie, Easter treat)

Sfincione is definitely a recipe from Palermo. It has a bit of a unique appearance and is baked for a short time with about 1/2 of the sauce, then taken out of the oven and recovered with the remaining sauce, “dredged with fried bread crumbs” and baked again.

It is the bread crumbs in the end that give it the look.

A typical recipe for Sfincione is:
500 gr. bread dough, 500 gr. fresh tomatoes, 100 gr. fresh caciocavallo or provola cheese (cubed), 50 gr. pecorino (grated) 50 gr. bread crumbs, 4 anchovy fillets, 1 large onion, a bunch of parsley 125 ml olive oil.

Prepare a basic pizza dough using fresh or active dry yeast, warm water, a little salt and approx. 3 cups of good quality unbleached flour. Leave it to prove in a bowl covered it with a folded tea towel/ tablecloth for about an hour.
Work about 1 glass of olive oil and the grated cheese (the pecorino) into the leavened dough. Leave it to prove again till doubled in size.

The tomatoes are made into a salsa: soften the sliced onion until golden, then add the parsley and the peeled, chopped tomatoes. Simmer till thickened
(about 20 minutes). Allow to cool slightly.

Add the anchovies and the caciocavallo.

Oil a deep sided baking pan and spread out the dough to about 3cm thick. Using your fingers make a few depressions into the dough.

Pour half of the sauce over the dough and bake it in a hot oven. After about 15 minutes, pour on the remaining sauce and dredge with fried breadcrumbs.

Drizzle with a little more oil and bake it for about 30 minutes.

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PESCE IN PADELLA (Pan fried fish)

I have just purchased this beautiful print of a Murray cod. It is a dry-point etching, by Clare Whitney, a Melbourne based printmaker and painter.

Murray cod is raised in fish farms and is rare in the wild, but this was not always so.
John Oxley, an explorer of the Murray-Darling basin in inland New South Wales wrote in his journal in 1817:
If however the country itself is poor, the river is rich in the most excellent fish, procurable in the utmost abundance.

Murray cod is Australia’s iconic, freshwater fish, once found naturally thorough-out most of the Murray-Darling River System. It is a native fish, which features strongly both in Aboriginal mythology and Australian folklore, though it is called by different names. It provided food to Aboriginal Australians and early settlers, but later suffered a significant decline due to overfishing and environmental degradation. In the 1950s, annual catches were still above 150,000 tonnes and Australians were proud of this fish – in 1954, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were presented with Murray cod at a State Banquet at Parliament House on their first visit to Australia.

There are many tales told by anglers, who are reputed to have caught enormous fish. Unfortunately, these stories may be true. Murray cod can live for up to a century, grow more than a metre long and weigh more than 100kg (the biggest on record was 1.8m long, weighed 114kg and was over 100 years old).

The major problem the cod face today is the inconsistent supply of water in the Murray-Darling River system, partly due to the prolonged drought and exacerbated by the amount of water taken from the river (regulated by locks, removed for irrigation), which has altered the river flow and the shape of the river. This has resulted in changes of habitat and adverse conditions for breeding.

Fish plate_2057The introduction of redfin perch in the 1950’s (carnivorous predators and competitors), followed by the European carp, and the use of toxic chemicals from farming practices have all compounded the impact on the stocks of Murray cod.

Although different states operated on different premises and priorities some positive strategies were initiated and have been supported by the Australian Government since the early 1980’s to help the cod recover. These include: improved fisheries and environmental management and protection of stocks through fishing regulations; imposed closed seasons for fishing; breeding and release of hatchery-reared fingerlings.

While these approaches have contributed to some increases in numbers in certain parts of the river system, the drought (some are calling it the worst in 1,000 years) is now adding further stresses.
Aquaculture
Murray cod is being successfully grown in pond culture and tank-based re-circulating systems and is regaining the status it deserves as a superb tasting fish. It is difficult to purchase, although it seems to be available in certain restaurants (in Melbourne).

Murray cod is particularly appetizing– baked, pan fried, poached or steamed.

Murray Cod Dreaming
The Ngarrindjeri people of the lower Murray have a Dreamtime legend about Ponde, the great Murray cod that helped form the Murray River and the waterways all the way down to Lake Alexandrina (in the south East of Adelaide in South Australia). Ponde was chased by one of the men from the Ngarrindjeri tribe, but Ponde was so big and fast that when he swam, he carved out the existing little river into a very large waterway known as the River Murray, complete with cliffs and bends. The persuer’s brother- in-law also joined in the chase and when he caught him in Lake Alexandrina he cut Ponde into little pieces.
These became the different fish – mulloway, mullet, bream and others, once plentiful in the Coorong (The Coorong is a unique, long shallow pool of salty water, stretching for over 100 kilometres from the Murray mouth up to Lakes Albert and Alexandrina. – unique for its beauty, its isolation and once, for its abundance of fish and bird life).

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RECIPE: PESCE IN PADELLA (Pan fried fish)
Food cooked in padella, (‘n or `na padedda in Sicilian) is cooked in a fry pan. This is generally the culinary term used for sautéed, shallow frying or pan-frying.

The method is relatively fast and the medium to high heat required is easily controlled. It suits almost any whole fish (river or sea), fillets or cutlets. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the fish and whether you prefer the fish to be cooked through. I often find that when I use my heavy based frypan instead of my non- stick pan, the cooking is faster, the fish is crisper and the juices left in the pan are more caramelized and tasty.

The original recipe is for river trout (Trout is caught in the Manghisi River near Noto, which is not far from Ragusa). It is cooked with wild fennel, green and black olives and very thin slices of lemon. Fresh thyme is also a strong flavouring and can be (probably needs to be) substituted for the fennel. I have also used fresh dill (more Greek than Italian).

Do buy good quality olives to get the real intended flavour!! Need I also say that there is ‘good salt’ and that ‘freshly ground pepper’ is best.
This method of cooking fish can be used to cook either whole small fish or any fillets or cutlets.

Suitable fish
Murray cod is difficult to get – ask your fish vendor.
Suitable fish: red mullet, mullet, sand whiting, flathead and garfish, trevally, kingfish and albacore tuna.
Murray cod (farmed) and barramundi (grown in a fully closed system of aquaculture or accredited, line wild-caught, snapper if line caught (better choice).
Snapper, blue-eye travalla and mackerel are from the (think twice) category.

See previous post: Where I buy my sustainable fish. Categories from Australia’s Sustainable Seafood guide- www.amcs.org.au .

INGREDIENTS
fish, 1 serve per person (350g each)
green olives, 5 per fish portion, stoned and sliced
black olives or caper berries, 5 per fish portion, stoned and sliced
extra virgin olive oil, 1-2 large tablespoon per fish
salt, pepper or chilli flakes to taste
lemon, 1 slice per fish, sliced thinly, and then quartered

saffron, a pinch – soak in about a tablespoon of water at least 10mins before cooking
herbs: thyme, dill or fennel, to taste

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Wild fennel is used in Sicily. Alternatively use:
• The green feathery part found at the top of the cultivated bulb fennel.
• Bulb fennel cut vertically and very thinly sliced.
• Some crushed fennel seeds (½ teaspoon)

PROCESSES
Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan and pan fry the fish, add a little salt. and pepper.
Remove the fish.

Use the same fry pan.  If using fresh fennel sauté it till caramelized and then add
olives, saffron, herbs and lemon slices and heat through.
Return the fish to the pan and toss it around in the hot ingredients for 1 minute and serve.

 

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

Last time I was in Sicily in winter  I we saw masses of artichokes everywhere – in markets, growing in fields, sold by the roadside from the back of utes, in restaurants, and in the homes of relatives.

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When my family first came to Australia, we used to notice that some Italians collected wild artichokes to eat (in Australia they are known as thistles). There were no artichokes for sale for at least a decade so they collected the buds and stripped off all leaves. Only the bases were stuffed or preserved in oil.

Artichokes are now more readily available in Australia and the quality seems to be getting better. I am now more able to find artichokes that feel crisp and dense, with a tightly clenched shape and petals that will snap off crisply when bent back. I have generally found that the purplish coloured ones to be more fibrous and I prefer the green coloured ones that look like roses.

Artichokes have been around for a long time. The Romans called the artichoke cynara, the Arabs al kharsciuf, (this sounds more like the Italian carciofo).

Artichokes contain a chemical called cynarin and it is said that it stimulates the production of bile. This is why artichokes are often used as the basis of digestivi (drinks that aid the digestion – a vital issue among Italians. There are those that prepare the stomach before food (aperitivi) and those drunk after a meal (amari, literally translated as ‘bitters’).

 

Many will be familiar with Cynar, the Italian artichoke-based alcoholic aperitivo manufactured by Campari in Milan. The are many amari manufactured all over Italy, but Averna, the amaro siciliano is a specialty from Caltanissetta (which is close to the centre of Sicily) and is a real indulgence.

Preparing artichokes for cooking
Artichokes in Sicily are sold with long stalks often up to 1 metre in length – do not ever discard the stalks. The stalks are particularly wonderful in risotti (plural of risotto) and braises made with artichoke. Trim the stalk with a small sharp knife to pull away the tough, stringy outer skin (just like the strings of celery) and leave the stem attached to the artichoke. This will expose the light-coloured, centre portion, which is very flavourful and tender and much appreciated by Italians.

When trimming, to prevent discolouration, squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a big bowl of water and keep cleaned artichokes submerged in the mixture. This is referred to as acidulated water. Drain the artichokes by inverting them upside down for about 5 minutes when ready to stuff or cook. Alternatively rub the surfaces with a lemon.

Winter greens 1

Preparing artichokes for stuffing
Remove the stalk so that the artichoke will sit on its base in the saucepan. Clean the stalk and pull the tough outside leaves off the base one by one until you have reached the paler less fibrous centre. Then trim about 1cm across the top. Keep them in acidulated water as you work.

Turn the artichoke upside down and bang it on a hard surface and then gently ease the leaves apart to expose the heart. If you place the artichokes in warm water you will be able to ease apart the leaves more easily. I start by easing the outer leaves and working my way to the centre.

There may or may not have a fuzzy choke (it depends on the maturity of the plant). If there is, remove the choke with a teaspoon, inserting it into the centre and carefully turning it without snapping the sides of the choke.

Preparing carciofi Romana

Preparing the base of the artichoke
Those of you who have travelled to Italy would be familiar with the spectacle of men and women preparing artichokes at vegetable markets. They sit with their mound of artichokes, skilfully paring off all the leaves with very sharp kitchen knives.
(Photos of cleaned artichokes taken in the Campo dei Fiori market in December 2009, when I was last in Rome).
These are called fondi di carciofi – they are the bases of mature artichokes. The fondi can be stuffed, braised, sautéed, added to frittata – their intense flavour and meaty texture are a definite taste sensation.

At the end of the season, when the artichokes are large and past their prime, they are trimmed even further. In Australia, we have to do this ourselves. Pare off the leaves of a mature artichoke and just leave the base (no leaves) – it will look like a very shallow cup. The texture of the base will be covered with a pattern of small dots much like the eyes of flies (like a fine etching, delicate and quite beautiful).

There are many recipes for artichokes on my blog:

ARTICHOKES from the growers

THE AMAZING ARTICHOKE

GLOBE ARTICHOKES AND JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES

Stuffed artichokes: with meat and with olives and anchovies)

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

A QUICK PASTA DISH for Spring: asparagus, artichokes, peas

CANNULICCHI A LA FAVURITA – CANNOLICCHI ALLA FAVORITA (pasta with braoadbeans, peas and artichokes alla favorita)

STUFFED ARTICHOKES WITH RICOTTA AND ALMOND MEAL

CARCIOFI ALLA ROMANA

 

SARDE A BECCAFICO (Sardines stuffed with currants, pine nuts, sugar and nutmeg)

I am really pleased that the three recipes I sent to SBS have been published on the SBS website.

One of the recipes may be selected as part of upcoming food series My Family Feast. Selected recipes will be cooked by Sean Connolly (chef) in a short website and published online during broadcast of the series.

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This is one of the recipes:

 Sarde a Beccafico

When I invite friends for a meal I like to present something that they may not have tasted before.

A beccafico is a small bird, which feeds on ripe figs – becca (peck) and fico (fig). The sardines when stuffed resemble a beccafico and sarde a beccafico demonstrates a sign of respect for this type of bird, a gourmand who stuffs himself on fresh figs. The beccafichi (plural of beccafico) are also eaten stuffed and cooked in the same way as the sarde (sardines). That is if this bird still exists in Sicily – Italians fancy themselves as great hunters (cacciatori).

There are local variations in the ingredients used for the stuffing, the method of cooking and for the names of the dish in other parts of Sicily. These are my favourite ingredients for this recipe from a combination of local recipes.

INGREDIENTS
fresh sardines, fillets, 700g,
breadcrumbs, 1 cup made with good quality1-3 day old bread
anchovy fillets, 5-8 finely, cut finely
currants, ½ cup
pine nuts, ½ cup
parsley, ¾ cup, cut finely
bay leaves, 10, fresh
garlic, 2 cloves, chopped
lemon, 1, juice and zest
sugar, 1 tablespoon
nutmeg, ½ teaspoon
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup

PROCESSES
Prepare sardines: Scale, gut, butterfly and clean sardines and leave the tail. If you buy fillets, they are sometimes sold without tails – this may not matter, but when the fillet of the sardine is closed around the stuffing, the tail is flicked upright to resemble a bird – and this may be missing. (In the photo there are no tails – photo taken in a restaurant in Monreale, Palermo, December 2007)
Wipe each sardine dry before stuffing.
Preheat oven to 190 C
Prepare the stuffing:
Toast breadcrumbs until golden in about 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (I use a non stick fry pan) over a low flame.
Take off heat and cool.
Stir in pine nuts, currants, parsley, anchovies, lemon zest, nutmeg, salt, pepper and garlic.
Add a little more extra virgin olive oil if the mixture is dry.
Place a spoonful of the stuffing in each opened sardine and close it upon itself to resemble a fat bird (any leftover stuffing can be sprinkled on top to seal the fish)
Position each sardine, closely side by side in an oiled baking dish with tail sticking up and place a bay leaf between each fish.
Sprinkle the sardines with lemon juice and any left over stuffing, the sugar the left over oil.
Bake for 20-30 minutes.

 

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FRITTATA: SAUSAGE and RICOTTA

My zia Niluzza who lives in Ragusa is an excellent cook and when I visit her she fusses over me and cooks constantly.

Ricotta is one of the most common ingredients in her kitchen and she must eat it fresh – made on the day and preferably eaten warm. Any ricotta which is one day old (it is never older) is cooked.

One day, I had been speaking to her about frittate (plural) and how I had read in a book about Sicilian cuisine that frittate were not common in Sicily.

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The next day I found her preparing this a simple frittata (see photo) made with crumbled fresh pork sausage, freshly laid free range eggs and ricotta. Sicilians do make frittata but in Sicilian, it is sometimes referred to as milassata and frocia. I have already written about this on Janet Clarkson’s blog: The Old Foodie, An authentic frittata).

INGREDIENTS

eggs 7, lightly beaten (free range)
pork, Italian sausages 2 ( made from good pork mince with sometimes fennel or orange peel or white wine)
ricotta, 200g
salt and pepper

PROCESSES

Heat some olive oil into a large heavy-based fry pan.
Crumble the sausage and sauté into the frypan till cooked.
Add the ricotta slices and lightly fry it.
Pour the eggs, mixed with the seasoning into hot oil.
Process for cooking all frittate:
Fry the frittata on the one side. Turn the heat down to low and, occasionally, with the spatula press the frittata gently on the top. Lift the edges, tilting the pan. This will allow some of the runny egg to escape to the sides and cook. Repeat this process until there is no more egg escaping.
Invert the frittata onto a plate, carefully slide the frittata into the pan and cook the other side.

A frittata is never baked; fritta means fried in Italian.

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