I hesitate to write recipes that are just so simple, but recently I was reminded how a simple herb butter can enhance simply grilled or steamed fish, meat or vegetables, bread etc. Grilled vegetables seem to be the pick of the month – enhance them with a flavoured butter.
While in South Australia I ate and drank very well in a number of restaurants, most had unusual combinations of excellent South Australian produce, others like Skillogalee Winery Restaurant in the Clare Valley had simple fare, more conventional and perfectly geared to the wide range of people who visit wineries and can enjoy a relaxing afternoon.
Our group of four sat in the garden and one of the dishes we chose to share was Port Lincoln whole sardines served with lime and parsley butter with bread. We ordered 2 serves of these sardines.
So modest, but so delicious. Sometimes we forget how something so quickly and simply made can really enhance a dish.
Some of you may remember the craze for the Beurre Maître d’Hôtel, also referred to as Maître d’Hôtel butter or Compound butter – It is simply butter combined with herbs, pepper and lemon juice and typically formed into a cylinder and sliced. A circular disc of Maître d’Hôtel butter was centrally plonked on top of a grilled steak – a technique used by many high-end steak houses in the eighties and early nineties…. people in Adelaide may remember The Arkaba Steak Cellar.
With a little imagination, different herbs instead of parsley will impart different flavours and grated lemon or lime peel will boost the citrus taste.
To make lime and parsley butter sufficient for 4-6 sardines and bread begin with 1 cup unsalted good quality butter at room temperature, 1-2 teaspoons of lime zest, 2 teaspoons of fresh lime juice, 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley chopped very finely and a little salt and pepper to taste.
Use a fork to beat the butter in a bowl until smooth and creamy. Mix zest, juice and gradually add parsley salt, and black pepper into the butter until thoroughly combined.
Taste it and if it is necessary to alter it add more of any of the ingredients to make it to your taste. Rest in the fridge to return consistency and enhance the flavour.
If you wish to store it and give it that 1980’s shape, wrap it in foil or in baking paper keep it in the fridge until ready to use.
All grilled fish and not just sardines can be used, as all meat and vegetables.
Instead of parsley, add different herbs – rosemary, thyme, sage, dill, basil, fennel fronds, tarragon, chives, oregano, marjoram, coriander are simple examples.
Garlic, ginger, horseradish, paprika, pink pepper, spices….need I go on?
Only to say that I rather like finely chopped anchovy fillets combined in butter – begin with 1 tablespoon of chopped anchovies to 1 cup pf butter and add more if it is not to your taste.
For miso butter – begin with 1 tablespoon of white miso and proceed as above. Red or brown miso can also be used.
Recently I also tried mixing some chopped lavender leaves into butter to present with scones. Not too much lavender or it could taste medicinal.
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.
As a child, I lived in Trieste with my parents, and Ragusa, Catania and Augusta were the towns in Sicily where my Sicilian relatives lived. Both Trieste (located at the head of the Gulf of Trieste in the region Friuli-Venezia Giulia) and Sicily are at the extreme ends of Italy, and as you would expect, the cuisines are very different.
I grew up with both cuisines and appreciate them both for very different reasons.
Capuzi garbi (or crauti/krauti) is sauerkraut in Triestino (the Triestine dialect) and it is a very popular ingredient in Triestine cuisine especially when mixed in Gulash (made with pork or beef), or with a lump of smoked pork, or luganighe (Triestine) – salsicce di maiale in Italian, and pork sausages for us mere mortals in the English speaking world.
When you look at a map of Italy, it is easy to see why this part of Italy has common roots with the cooking of Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Istria.
I have German and Polish friends and they too are fond of sauerkraut, and like my relatives and friends from Trieste, they tend to overcook it; my mother also did this when she cooked capuzi garbi.
But as we know, cuisine evolves and some of us have taken on new methods of cooking traditional foods.
In my kitchen, I cook sauerkraut for about a quarter of the time as the traditional method and at times, I also like to add a little fresh cabbage to lighten the taste and to add a different texture. A little flour browned in a little oil is added to the sauerkraut towards the end of cooking, but not me, and unlike my Triestine contemporaries I also add caraway seeds, bay leaves and a dash of white wine.
The ingredients are: pork sausages, sauerkraut, bay leaves and caraway seeds. Onion, extra virgin olive oil and pepper (the sauerkraut could be sufficiently salty). Fresh cabbage and a dash of white wine are optional.
Drain the sauerkraut and squeeze out the moisture. Soften some onion in a little oil (in Trieste lard is also common and added to the oil).
Adding a little white or savoy cabbage is optional.
And with the cabbage also add the sauerkraut and the rest. A dash of white wine will keep it moist while it cooks.
Cover and cook for about 15- 20 minutes on low heat until the sausages are nearly cooked and the flavours have had a chance to meld.
Remove the sauerkraut and slightly brown the sausages – only for appearance.
As you can see this fish steak is cut vertically from a largish sized fish and it is the perfect size to stud the four different sections with different flavours. On this occasion I used fennel, cloves, garlic and mint. I vary the flavours and I may use rosemary, a bit of cinnamon stick or lemon peel.
I was pleased and surprised to find that the Trevally had been cut into steaks because it is usually only available whole or as fillets. It is pleasing to see that there is a growing awareness that fish, like meat, can be partitioned into different cuts that lend themselves to different styles of cooking. Silver Trevally is also called White Trevally and has a firm, dense texture when cooked. It benefits from a little liquid to deglaze it after it has been seared and can taste dry if it is overcooked.
I used a combination of white wine and Sicilian Marsala Fine – semisecco (semi dry). At other times I have used just white wine or fresh orange juice (with a little grated peel) or dry vermouth. I like to use dry vermouth particularly when I use tarragon – this is not a Southern Italian or Sicilian herb but it is used in the North and known as dragoncello -little dragon. Sage (salvia) is also good to use, but once again it is not widely used in Sicilian cooking.
Silver Trevally is fished in estuaries and coastal waters of southern Australian states and most of the Australian commercial catch is taken in NSW and eastern Victoria.
Other fish I have studded with flavours has been wild caught Barramundi shoulders
and Albacore tuna.
Not much detail is needed in this recipe – the photos tell the story.
Use a thin, sharp knife with a long blade and make slits into four sections of the slice of fish.
Insert into each split half a clove of garlic and three other different flavours. Select from: fennel, cloves, mint, sage, rosemary, a bit of cinnamon stick or lemon peel. .
Heat some extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan that can accommodate the fish in one layer.
Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper. Sauté the fish, turn once (until it colours).
Add Marsala and white wine (about 1/2 cup) and evaporate the liquid leaving the fish in the pan.
Above – One Fish, One Chef, presentation by Josh Niland, and part of Melbourne Good Food Month. Josh butchered a large fish, head to tail – that is correct, almost every part of the fish, innards as well are edible. (Mr Niland, Fish Butchery)
A bit of fish butchery at a fish market in Sicily where butchery has been going on for centuries.
‘Nduja– a spicy, spreadable, pork salame originating from Calabria is sold in places that sell Italian smallgoods.
I have mainly presented ‘Nduja with some fresh bread (like Pâté) or I have used ‘Nduja as an ingredient in sauces for pasta –an excellent ragù (a meat-based tomato sauce), sautéed with cime di rape and Italian pork sausages and I oftenadd it to squid either for a sauce for pasta/polenta/rice or on their own.
As you can see by the photos, this is a very simple recipe and it is cooked very quickly – onions, ‘Nduja, squid and olive oil. Most of the time I also add finely chopped parsley at the same time as the squid.
Use small to medium sized squid.
1,5 kg of Squid, 150g ‘Nduja, ½ onion, extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice at the end.
Sauté onion in olive oil on medium low heat. Add ‘Nduja, it will dissolve, release some fat and fragrance.
Add squid, a little chopped parsley and stir fry it until it colours (about 10 minutes).
Sprinkle with lemon juice, more chopped parsley or mint and present it.
Time and time again I get asked about what I recommend as must-try dishes when in in Sicily.
You may be familiar with the websites for Great British Chefs (leading source of professional chef recipes in the UK) and their second sister website – Great Italian Chefs – dedicated to celebrating the wonderful food culture, traditions and innovations of Italy’s greatest chefs.
As their website informs us:
The Italians themselves are fiercely passionate about their culinary heritage, and with good reason – a large number of the world’s best dishes come from the cities, fields and shores of this deeply cultural, historic country.
Today, Sicily is one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations, and it’s the food that keeps people coming back year after year.
From Great Italian Chefs comes 10 must-try dishes when you’re in Sicily(29 September 2017).
There are really 11 dishes listed altogether as it is assumed that you already know about Arancini.
The Sicilian specialties are:
Raw red prawns
Busiate al pesto trapanese
Pasta con le sarde
Pasta alla norma
Cous cous di pesce
Involtini di pesce spada
You will find almost all of the recipes for these dishes in my blog and I have added links and some photos to the recipes in this post below. Some of the photos are from my first book Sicilian Seafood Cooking. I cooked the food, the food stylist was Fiona Rigg, Graeme Gillies was the food photographer.
Although I have no recipes on my blog for Fritto misto, Raw red prawns and Involtini di pesce spada, I have explained each of these these Sicilian specialties and where appropriate I have links to similar recipes on my blog.
Many of you may be familiar with Fritto misto (a mixed dish of mixed fried things: fritto = fried, misto = mixed) and know that it can apply to vegetables, fish or meat. These are cut into manageable size, are dusted in flour, deep fried and served plainly with just cut lemon.
The Fritto misto I knew as a child was what we ordered in restaurants and was the one that originated from Turin (Piedmont) and Milan (Lombardy). It was a mixture of meats and offal and I particularly liked the brains. Fritto misto was originally peasant food, the family slaughtered an animal for eating (usually veal) and the organs such as sweetbreads, kidneys, brains and bits of meat became the Fritto misto – it was a way to eat the whole animal and it was eaten as close to the slaughter and fresh as possible. Rather than having been dipped in flour the various morsels were crumbed. Seasonal crumbed vegetables were also often included – mostly eggplant and zucchini in the warm months, cauliflower and artichokes in the cooler season.
If we wanted to eat a fish variety of Fritto misto we would order a Fritto Misto di Mare/or Di Pesce (from the sea or of fish).
Sicily is an island and Sicilians eat a lot of fish and the Fritto misto you eat in Sicily is the fish variety – fresh fish is fundamental. In the Sicilian Fritto misto you will also find Nunnata (neonata (Italian) – neonate),
Sicilians are very fond of Nunnata – the Sicilian term used to call the minute newborn fish of different species including fish, octopi and crabs; each is almost transparent and so soft that they are eaten whole.
For Sicilians Nunnata is a delicacy but these very small fish are an important link in the marine biological food chain, and that wild and indiscriminate fishing endangers the survival of some fish species.
Many Sicilian fishers and vendors justify selling juvenile fish on the grounds that they are ‘bycatch’ (taken while fishing for other species). They argue that the fish are already dead or injured, so there is no point in throwing them back. It seems that for Sicilians, ‘sustainability’ means that all fish are fair game as long as they can catch their quota. However, it is important to acknowledge that the traditional fishing for juveniles is an important activity for small-scale fishers. It only takes place for 60 consecutive days during the winter and therefore has a high socio-economic impact at local level. When in Sicily I refuse to eat this and I only encountered one restaurant in Sciacca that refused to present it to patrons who specifically asked for it.
Fritto misto di mare or Fritto misto di pesce
For the recipe of mixed fried fish, select a variety of fish: squid and prawns, sardines/anchovies, some fleshy white fish, whitebait too. Carefully clean the prawns leaving the head attached and removing the internal alimentary canal; clean the squid and cut into rings or strips and gut the sardines /anchovies and leave the head attached if you can.
Wipe the fish dry and dip the fish a little at a time into the flour and salt, sieve or shake to remove the excess flour and fry in very hot oil until golden and crispy. I use extra virgin oil for everything. Place on paper to drain and serve hot with lemon wedges and perhaps some more salt.
Raw red prawns
Gambero Rosso, (Aristaeomorpha foliacea) is a Sicilian red prawn.These prawns are blood-red and are generally wild caught in the Mediterranean.
All very fresh seafood can be eaten raw and is loved by Sicilians, usually served with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Most times the seafood is marinaded in these even if it is for a short time – the lemon juice “cooks” the fish.
Pesto trapanese (from Tapani in Western Sicily) is also called Matarocco. Busiate is the type of pasta traditionally made by coiling a strip of pasta cut diagonally around a thin rod (like a knitting needle).
I am saddened and distressed to say that recipes for Cous Cous di pesce and Cannoli have disappeared from my blog and I can only assume that because I have transferred my blog several times to new sites these posts have been lost in the process. I will add these recipes at a later date.
I do not buy prawns very often but when I do they have to be as sustainable.
Having lived in South Australia (before moving to Melbourne) I am always attracted to prawns from the Spencer Gulf, Prawn Trawl Fishery in South Australia and in December were some available at the Queen Victoria Market, but I had to search for these. Around the same time and much to my delight, I discovered T.O.M.S Sustainable Seafood stall at the South Melbourne Market. This small stall has limited produce but all of the fish is certified MSC (marine stewardship council) and FOS (friend of the sea) seafood.Here I bought sustainable prawns from Queensland.
I buy both cooked prawns in their shells and green peeled prawns to cook. One favourite and easy summer dish is spaghetti, prawns and zucchini.
Last year I bought a spiralizer – this turns zucchini into strands like spaghetti. I need to admit that I really enjoyed using this gadget the first one or two times and then the novelty wore off (it is stored in cupboard in spare room = out of sight, out of mind). Before I had this gadget, I used sliced zucchini – same taste, different appearance.
Before I had this gadget, I used sliced zucchini. The taste is the same, the appearance is different and when I use the spiralizer, rather than short pasta I use spaghetti to compliment the long strands of zucchini.
What makes this pasta and zucchini dish ultra special is the topping of toasted breadcrumbs – an embellished “mollica” or “pan grattato” – breadcrumbs made with day old bread and made golden in a hot frypan in olive oil. To this I add pine nuts, a little cinnamon, sugar and grated lemon peel – flavours of Sicily.
For fried breadcrumbs (often called mollica or pangrattato in Italian) use 1-3 day old good quality white bread (crusty bread, sourdough or pasta dura).
The term for breadcrumbs, in Italianispane grattugiato/ grattato – it means grated bread. Mollica is the white inside part of the bread.
Remove crust, break into pieces, place into a food processor and make into coarse crumbs. They can also be crumbled with fingertips or grated. You will need about 1 cup.
Heat about ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan and add breadcrumbs . Stir continuously on low temperature until they are just beginning to colour.
Add 1/2 cup pf pine nuts and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, stir until the nuts and breadcrumbs are an even, light golden brown.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and grated peel of one small lemon.
Remove from the pan when they are ready otherwise they will continue to cook; set aside until you wish to use them. they can be made and stored in a glass jar with a lid in the fridge up to a week.
For 6 people
extra-virgin olive oil
4 green zucchini, use spiralizer or sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
600g green prawns, peeled
a large handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped finely
salt and pepper to taste
Add some olive oil in a large frying pan on high heat. Add the zucchini, salt and pepper and cook until slightly softened. Remove from the pan and place them aside. If the zucchini have released liquid drain the liquid and set aside.
Add more olive oil to the same pan and on high heat add the garlic and prawns. Toss them around until they begin to colour. Add the parsley, a little salt and pepper and cook until the prawns are cooked and the parsley has wilted.
Cook the pasta.
Sometimes the prawns release liquid. If this is the case remove the prawns and set them aside and evaporate the liquid to concentrate the flavours. The zucchini juice can also be added to be evaporated.
Once the juice has been reduced, add the prawns and zucchini and heat through.
Dress the drained pasta.
Serve with the pangrattato sprinkled on top. Add torn basil or mint leaves for visual effect and a fresh taste.
Another simple pasta and zucchini recipe (posted in 2009):
I do like New Zealand and every time I visit I praise and enjoy its extraordinary food culture. Not to mention the amazing scenery.
There is so much fresh and flavoursome produce in shops, farmers markets and roadside stalls – ‘gate to the plate’, so as to speak.
Kumera (Sweet Potato ) baked in local Waiheke honey and thyme.
Restaurants and eateries where the owners or chefs grow or source their produce locally are not scarce.
Fish too is local and staff in shops or in restaurants seem ready and eager to answer questions about their suppliers.
…that is if the produce is not already labelled or written about in the menu i.e. line caught tuna supplied by a trusted small fishery.
Menus highlight the production of New Zealand’s local and wide-ranging supply of produce and fine wines.
We have friends on Waiheke Island so Auckland and Waiheke are always a must on each visit.
On this occasion we were able to view the amazing sculptures on Waiheke Island (Headland Sculpture on the Gulf). Above, artist=Paora Toi-Te Rangiuaia.
Below , artist=Robert Jahnke Kaokao
Who needs the Venice Biennale…they have their own!
Below , artist= Virginia King
On this trip we hired a campervan and travelled to the Bay of Islands. Ever since my first trip to NZ I have been impressed by the apparent and increasing awareness and appreciation of organics and of locally-produced produce.
Of course great and diverse produce is more apparent in places like Waiheke but as we travelled around we found satisfactory local produce in the 4Squre stores and in supermarkets….local sweetcorn or avocados were 5 for $5.00.
Below New Zealand Spinach (also known as Warrigal Greens) growing on Waiheke in our friend’s garden.
We even bought local fresh produce from the local garage, opportunity shop or news agent in country locations.
On beaches around Opononi I found some samphire and some wild fennel near Rawene.
We bought some local fish, picked some blackberries and I used all those ingredients that night for a meal.
I picked some blackberries and we ate them with some fresh cream.
Pity the prickly pears weren’t ripe! We could have pretended to be in Sicily!
It is amazing how in limiting circumstances, how little one needs to make food flavourful and healthy.
I cooked the above fish (very simply…what else can you do in a campervan!
Fish sautéed in red wine
I pan fried in a light amount of extra virgin olive oil, fish turned once – it will only need about one minute on each side, add salt, pepper, a few herbs. Remove fish and then add about 3 tablespoons of red wine and evaporate. Return the fish to the pan, add a few more herbs if necessary. If I had some butter I may have whisked a little into the sauce.
Below, simple lunch at the New Zealand Gallery… a bed of spinach leaves, cured meat, soya beans, raw beetroot, radishes, and a Japanese soy/sesame sauce. Light, fresh and simple.
When a food is Agglassato (from a French word glacer) it is glazed. For example if it is a cake it could be glazed with glacé icing, glace cherries are glazed with sugar, the surface of a meat Pâté or any meat or fish to be eaten cold could be glazed with a jellied stock. And to me this implies that the glaze has a sheen.
In Sicily there is a traditional dish called Agglassato also Aggrassato ( to further complicate matters it can be spelled Agrassato and Aglassato) and it is braised meat (veal, lamb, kid, tongue) cooked with large amounts of onions.It is also referred to as Carne Agrassata -meat carne =meat and it is a feminine word, therefore the ‘a’ at the end.
Once cooked, the onions become very soft, the sauce is reduced and the onions became a thick puree Agglassato can also be eaten cold. This is when the onion sauce jellies, thickens and glazes the meat.
Although this particular dish may have been influenced by French cuisine, lard rather than butter is used – lard being more common in Sicilian cuisine.
Agglassato seems to be a method of cooking meat which is fairly wide spread across Sicily with a few variations. Some use less onions, others add potatoes and in some parts of Sicily, especially in the South-eastern region grated pecorino cheese is added at the end of cooking. Sometimes the meat is cooked in one piece and held together with string, at other times it is cubed as in a stew.
The sauce (without potatoes) can also be used to dress pasta – remove some of the onion sauce for the first course (pasta) then present the meat for the second course with contorni (side vegetable dishes).
The recipe is simple.
The ratio is:
1 kg meat to 1 kg onions
200 g lard or a mixture of lard and extra virgin olive oil
½ -1 glass of white wine
rosemary or sage or bay leaves
meat stock (optional)
In a pan suitable for making a stew heat the lard, add the sliced onions, and herbs. Soften the onions on low heat and then add the meat (cubed or in one piece).
Toss the meat around until it is white on the surface (unlike other stews do not brown).
Add the wine, cover and cook it over low heat for about 70 minutes per kilo of meat, less if the meat is in small pieces. Remove the lid about 15-20 minutes if the contents look too watery and allow the sauce to thicken.
If you are cooking kid or lamb (this is a common recipe for Easter especially in the south east of Sicily), the following ratio of ingredients is a useful guide.
2 kg kid, or lamb on the bone, cut into stew-size pieces
100g lard or a mixture of lard and extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic (whole)
1 glass of white wine
rosemary or sage or bay leaves
1 cup of parsley cut finely
meat stock (optional)
100 g grated pecorino cheese
In a pan suitable for making a stew heat the lard, add the sliced onions, garlic and herbs (but not the parsley).
Soften the onions and then add the meat.
Toss the meat around until it is white on the surface. Add the wine, cover and cook it over low heat for about 50-60 minutes. Check for moisture and add splashes of stock or water if the stew looks too dry. In Sicily kid and lamb are slaughtered as young animals and depending on the age and tenderness of your meat you may need to cook it for longer.
Peel and cut the potatoes into small chunks and add them to the stew. Add parsley and stock or water to almost cover the potatoes and cook until they are done (probably 30 minutes).
At the end of cooking sprinkle with grated pecorino.
In a previous post I have written about how my father used to cook tongue (lingua) in this way. Now and again he would also cook meat instead of tongue