Chillies are at their best in Autumn. I generally never waste produce and when friends give me some of their fresh seasonal crops I get enthusiastic and active.
These chillies were grown in Adelaide and this time I decided to make a chili paste that was not Harissa.
I have been making Harissa for a very long time since one of my Sicilian relatives who lives in Augusta introduced me to it about thirty five years ago. Augusta is in south eastern Sicily and is an important Sicilian and Italian naval base and trading port. Giacomo is a mechanical naval engineer and was often called out to work on naval vessels in the gulf, some vessels were from Tunisia, Algeria and Libya and he was introduced to this hot chilli paste through his contacts. There are many recipes for this paste and it is an important condiment in Middle Eastern Cuisine. Some make it with dry chillies, some with fresh chillies and some with roasted chillies. I usually use cumin and caraway seeds and garlic when I make it. I use Harissa in many ways and always to accompany cuscus.
I also like to make Salsa Romesco , a condiment popular around Barcelona in north-eastern Spain. Like when making harissa there are many variations to recipes but this condiment is commonly made with red peppers, garlic, tomatoes, white bread and almonds. Sometimes I have roasted the peppers and added some roasted chillies as well.
Crema di Peperoncino is a chilli paste that is very popular in Calabria. It is usually made with fresh chillies , salt, garlic and olive oil. I thought that would combine my experiences for making Harissa and Romesco and make a roasted chili paste. No spices, just chillies, salt, garlic and extra virgin olive oil – Crema di peperoncini.
Isn’t that what cooking is all about?
I kept is very simple.
I could have made a milder paste by adding some ordinary red peppers which are also very much in season but I decided to just keep the Crema di pepperoncini hot, hot. hot….And it was. I used the other red peppers in a salad.
The photos demonstrate what I did.
Use any type of red chillies that you have.
INGREDIENTS: red chillies, garlic to taste, 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, teaspoon of salt (preservative), more extra virgin olive oil to place on top.
Grill/ Roast the chillies on high heat. Turn once until blackened and charred all over. Do the same with unpeeled garlic cloves.
Allow to cool.
Remove the skins and seeds – you can leave some seeds if you would like it hotter!
Blend all the ingredients together.
Place in a sterilized jar and top with a layer of more oil to seal. I keep my jar in the fridge and make sure that each time I take some out of the jar I replace a layer of oil on top (to stop mold).
I very much enjoyed all of the food I ate during my first and recent trip to Japan – I went to Kyoto and Tokyo. Like Italian Cuisine, Japanese cuisine has a huge diversity of regional and seasonal dishes and the Japanese people seem just as passionate about their food.
Below is an oden dish, in a special oden restaurant -it is mainly daikon, I could also taste turnip, boiled eggs served in stock made from dried bonito, konbu and soy sauce. Of course there were pickles and rice.
We accompanied the oden dish with bean curd prepared in different ways… and I do like beancurd. Below is a photo of another beancurd dish I had in another restaurant -silken tofu (Agedashi) in a flavorful tentsuyu broth of dashi, mirin and soy. This one had some other ingredients as well as tofu and broth. The red on top was a mild chili paste.
Whether it be in my home town or elsewhere, I always place great effort in selecting the ‘right’ places to eat. I look closely at menus (in Japan, glossy pictures and the plastic replicas of food helped). I suss out the ambience and then take a plunge, and practically all of the time my senses do not fail me.
Japanese food is as much about the preparation and presentation as it is the food itself.
One place in Kyoto particularly stands out – no menus with pictures or models of food here – a tiny place with fabulous décor, a flamboyant, entertaining and creative chef (Mr. Fujita) and his courteous assistant who had a tiny sprinkling of English. We (my partner and I) got by, participated mainly with sign language, much laughter with the other eight guests and we ate extremely well. We pointed to particular ingredients that he had available – duck, fish, eel, eggs, mushrooms (what other guests were eating and via photos in an album) and left it up to him to come up with the food. We watched him slice and prepare top quality and seasonal ingredients and proudly come up with a variety of delicious offerings. Watching the chef prepare the food was as much fun as eating it.
This was a strongly flavoured stock with eel, spinach and egg. We were given bowls and spoons.
A form of Yakiniku? – duck cooked on a hot stone. We could have had tongue as well.
I am particularly fond of good tableware and the food was presented with as much care of good quality crockery and lacquerware – with a variety of shapes, textures, colorful patterns, and colors.
And the chef came to see us off.
I will not go on about all the food I tried in Japan – there were far too many of the traditional popular Japanese dishes – the steamed, simmered or grilled dishes, sliced raw, the sushi, tempura, yakitori, ramen etc, but I would like to mention a couple of things I particularly enjoyed or was less familiar with.
I particularly enjoyed the very fresh fish prepared in various ways.
In a different eatery in the backstreets of Kyoto I particularly liked the tomato tempura – small explosions of sweet and acid flavour.
I also had burdock tempura – a distinctive and slightly bitter, crunchy and chewy( fibrous) root vegetable that also reminded me of the texture of meat.
At the same restaurant I also ate pickled sardines. These were lightly floured first and fried and then pickled in a sweet and sour marinade which strangely enough reminded me very much of the varieties of Italian pickled sardines like the Sicilian Soused Fish recipesor the Sarde al Saor popular in Trieste and Venice. One large difference of course, was the grated fresh ginger, not a common ingredient in Italian cuisine.
I am not a great lover of sweets but in Tokyo I watched two people prepare street food – waffles shaped like a fish called Taiyaki. The pancake batter forms the fish shaped outer shell. The filling was sweet red bean paste or sweet potato.
I like persimmons – both the vanilla type and the squashy ones, both fresh and dried. I found quantities of Mochi in the Food halls in basements of famous and grand Department Stores. I particularly like the texture of the outer layers of Mochi that are made with sticky rice: the rice is pounded into a smooth paste and molded around a filling of usually sweet red bean paste .The outer layer is chewy and soft and sometimes flavoured with green tea.
I also liked the pumpkin ice cream, and the one made with spinach.
For the first time I ate Kamameshi – rice is cooked in an iron pot, with different flavourings such as soy sauce, mirin, stock and other ingredients. Ours also had minced chicken, a few vegetables . I liked it – homely.
The burnt rice around the pot of Kamameshi is particularly flavourful.
I tried different types of sake and Japanese beer (I am a wine drinker so both were new experiences for me). I also drank good wine (grapes) made in Japan.!!!
I did come cooking at home too – I like my vegetables and I never get enough when I am away from home and I especially purchased different types of mushrooms – it is autumn after all and they came in many colours, shapes, textures and flavours.
In a Tokyo market I did try some street food – takoyaki (a dough-like wheat flour dumpling, with small pieces of octopus mixed in the batter, smothered with a brown sweet sticky sauce and topped with bonito fish flakes) The batter is poured into a special hotplate with small half-circle molds and when the bottom half is cooked, the half-circle dumplings are turned over and become full spherical dumplings in the end.
I had eaten these in Melbourne and they did not appeal to me then. They did not appeal to me now, but I always like the taste of bonitofish flakes and I like to watch them dance.
I very much liked all the countless varieties of seaweed and pickles. Pickles are called tsukemono. Japanese food would not be the same without pickles that frequently accompany all meals in Japan providing flavours and pro-biotic cultures that promote digestion. They also provide a variety of colors, aromas and textures.
Food markets are full of unpackaged pickles in vats of fish, fruit and vegetables. I particularly like the common umeboshi (pickled plums). Common vegetables that are pickled are: daikon, ginger, Japanese cucumbers, carrots, bamboo, turnips, Chinese cabbage, gobo (burdock root) and Japanese eggplant.
Imagine the smells of these ingredients with their pungent smells of pickling ingredients like rice bran, vinegar, miso, soy sauce, sake. And seasonings like mirin, garlic, seaweeds, herbs and spices, konbu, chilies, honey and sugar.
I also enjoyed the lightly pickled vegetables. I had these only in one of the restaurants in Tokyo and on this occasion I was in the company of a local so we were able to discuss how pickles are easily made at home.
Now home in Melbourne, I did some research and found some recipes for making pickles in an old book I have about Japanese cuisine, Japanese Vegetarian Cookery, Lesley Downer, Jonathan Cape Press, 1986.
I used to use this book to make pickled plums and simple pickled vegetables…a long time ago. Although many types of tsukemono are available commercially many people make pickles at home.
Here is a recipe adapted from this book.
Vegetables are salted and the pressure that is placed upon them causes them to release their liquids – this results in brine that pickles the vegetables. Each type of vegetable is usually pickled separately to keep flavours distinct.
Downer suggests that particularly suitable are:
2 Daikon (peeled, quartered, cut into 2.5 cm lengths),
1 Chinese cabbage halved, quartered 2.5 cm chunks,
4 Small cucumbers, halved, scrape out seeds, cut into 2.5cm lengths
30g sea salt
Rub salt into vegetables, place them in a ceramic bowl (narrow is preferable).
Cover vegetables with a small plate that will fit neatly inside the bowl.
Place a weight on top- perhaps a stone or a jar of water.
Leave the bowl in a cool dark place for 3-4 days– the brine will raise (or it should) above the vegetables.
To serve, remove vegetables, gently squeeze and cut into bite size pieces…… Taste a bit before you cut them and rinse them if necessary to remove excess salt.
My Variations and suggestions:
Once there is sufficient brine covering the vegetables, add a dash of Japanese vinegar (low in acid) and a small glug of Sake for extra flavor. A little Mirin or sugar will also help to sweeten the vegetables.These ingredients also help with the fermentation. It is worth experimenting with flavours.
Making pickles can produce smells, especially if you are using cabbage or daikon. A large wide mouthed ,glass jar or ceramic pot with a tight fitting lid is useful. If you are using a jar or pot make sure that you can apply pressure with a heavy weight on top of the vegetables to produce the brine.
Other vegetables can be used– unpeeled Japanese eggplant…halved, quartered etc , peeled turnips and carrots…halved, sliced etc.
This year’s olives…… hardly worth it. Larger than last year’s crop, but probably just as few.
I think that my tree is refusing to produce many olives because it is objecting to being in a pot. It gets root bound and every year we pull it out of the pot and trim the roots – this probably traumatizes it.
It has given me many years of pleasure and I have certainly experimented with processes for curing the olives and dressing them.
Once pickled, my olives do not keep their colour – I pick them when they are a green- violet colour but the pickling process turns them into a uniform light brown colour.
I was horrified when I read this article in The Age (Melbourne news paper):
Olives painted with copper sulphate top largest-ever Interpol-Europol list of fake food
A statement by Interpol on Wednesday said a record 10,000 tonnes and 1 million litres of hazardous fake food and drink had been recovered across 57 countries, with Australia also making the list.
Italian olives painted with copper sulphate solution, Sudanese sugar tainted with fertiliser, and hundreds of thousands of litres of bogus alcoholic drinks top Interpol’s annual tally of toxic and counterfeit food seized by police agencies across the world. The haul of bogus diet supplements, adulterated honey and ……….etc.
I have often been asked about the colour of Sicilian Olives (those bright green ones as in photo above) and I really do not know how they are pickled and how the bright green colour eventuates.
My tree has given me a great deal of pleasure and I have certainly experimented with processes for curing its olives and dressing them.
There are many posts written about pickling olives and recipes using olives on my blog…. key in OLIVES in the search button. I have just tried this and there are 72 posts about olives! Here is one of them:
I have been meaning to write a post from NYC during the last two weeks but have had no time to do this – too much to do, friends to see, many art galleries to visit and so much good food to eat. We ate at many good restaurants and for those that do not like to cook, there was so much good prepared food to buy (not in all neighbourhoods).
I have decided that posting some photos may tell the story.
Bistecca Fiorentina was very good at one of the restaurants.
Some magnificent salumerie (small goods shops) were a delight to see.
These providores also sold a wide range of raw food as well as high quality take a way food.
You could also eat it there.
You will recognise these vegetables.
Good looking already prepared meat.
There was a variety of ready to eat fish.
Prepared dips and the antipasto selection. Caponata is one of the selections.
Seafood – fresh and sustainable at one of the many Farmers Markets.
A salad of grilled soya beans and heirloom carrots in one of the many organic, vegetarian restaurants.
A radish carpaccio as a starter in another restaurant.
A variety of oysters from many places around NYC (not just Long Island) were one of the many the highlights in this fish restaurant.
Of course we shopped and ate at Eataly.
We saw many sea urchins at several seafood markets; they were relatively inexpensive and full of roe.We also had pasta and sea urchins in one of the restaurants.
I took very few photos in restaurants but I ate well. Bunches of broccoli de rave (cime di rape) and kale were very common in super markets and on on restaurant menus.
I always know when it is picking olive season by the number of people looking at the posts on my blog about pickling olives.
Yesterday there were 162 people looking at How To Pickle Olives, the day before there were 188; I can only assume that these readers are living in the southern parts of Australia and some maybe from New Zealand where olives are in season.
I have written about olives in a number of posts but this one seems to remain the most popular. Rather than write about olives again I will have links to other posts about olives and include a few photos of how I am processing olives at the moment.
In the photo below the olives in the jar are from my tree on the balcony – slim pickings this year. These small olives have been placed in vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and salt.
In the colanders below are olives that my friend collected from her tree. I have separated them into green olives (unripe) and violet olives.
The photos explain how it is done. In this process the stone must be removed. Some suggest using a rolling pin. My father used to use a stone or a wooden mallet. I have placed the olives on my pastry mat and then folded it over. You will need to apply quite a bit of pressure.
I usually use a meat tenderizer . On this occasion I used a rolling pin and then finished them off with a meat tenderizer – take no prisoners!
Olives can be very beautiful.
I place the cracked olives in a large jar and cover them with plastic netting to keep the olives submerged.
I will keep on changing the water for about 7 days. The water is quite cloudy and I wonder how much goodness will be left in the water.
After 7 days the olives are ready. There are not many there.
You can see that I am soaking the black olives in water. I will change the water daily for about 10 days and then place them in brine.
Some of the most popular posts on my blog are about pickling olives or how to dress them once they are pickled.
And I have also had many conversations with people about how to pickle olives so it is time to reveal another pickling method that has worked for my olives for the last couple of years.
I have to say that my olives are small in size and if your olives are larger, this pickling process may take a much longer time. What you could do, is put a split on the side of each olive – this will assist the pickling process.
My tree is in a large pot on my balcony and I bought is from a plant nursery where it was labelled as a Paragon olive tree – it would be called a Frantoio olive tree in Tuscany. Frantoio (Paragon) olives are small and oval in shape and they are mainly used for extracting oil. In the photo below the Paragon olives are on the left and Kalamata olives are on the right.
A ‘Frantoio’ is also the hydraulic press used to extract oil and the processing plant or factory is also called a ‘Frantoio’.
The color of an olive is an indication of its ripeness. Green olives ripen and go from green to light brown and purple, to black. If I am using brine (salt and water) I pick the olives when they begin to turn from green to violet and I go through the usual process of keeping them submerged in a bucket of water and changing the water every day before I place them into brine. Because olives do not all ripen at once I may need to pick the olives in stages and follow through to the pickling process in batches – I cannot say that it is one of my favourite occupations.
However for the last couple of years olive ripening time has coincided with travelling and not wanting to waste the olives I have collected them all at once – green, purple and black – I eliminated the process of the changing of water and all the olives went straight into pickling using water, salt, wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.
And this process has worked (for the past two years). The olives are probably more bitter than previous years but I do not mind that at all. I usually leave them about 5-6 months before I eat them.
Every two years the tree produces a large crop and I may collect about 2 kilos of olives. I pickle my olives in a crockpot which I leave on my balcony (there is no room for a crockpot inside my small apartment).
When they are ready I transfer them to jars and add fennel seeds and dry oregano to them. Notice that there is always oil on top and that the olives are submerged.
There are various other ingredients that I add to olives when I dress them (See my other posts about olives).
2 kg olives
1 ½ litres water
5 tbsp heaped salt (I use sea salt for everything)
600 ml wine vinegar
600 ml extra virgin olive oil
Wash and drain the olives and place them in a clean glass jar; I use a crockpot.
Boil the water and add the salt – make sure that it is dissolved. The way to test if the water is salty enough is to float an egg in the water and if the egg’s surface remains above the water, there is enough salt in the water. If it sinks add more salt. Wait till it is cool.
Add the vinegar and cover the olives in the jars finishing with a good layer of olive oil to seal. Use some mesh to keep them submerged – they must be covered.
Set aside until the olives are ready.
Definitely over festive food…..Christmas was great, but…
And now for something completely different.
Tomatoes usually fail to ripen at the end of the season (in autumn) and usually Southern Italians wait till then to preserve green tomatoes. However if you can spare a few, pick some unripe tomatoes (or buy them as I did at the Queen Victoria Market) and make this pickle.
It is very convenient to have this – to eat plain with bread or as an accompaniment to cold meats or cheese.
The photos tell the story.
You need green tomatoes.
Wash, dry and slice into thick slices
Put them in a large colander, and sprinkle with salt….generous amounts.
Leave to drain for 24 hours.
Squeeze them and put them into a bowl and cover them with a mixture made of 1 part vinegar to 1 part water. Make sure that they are covered and put a weight on top. Leave at least 6- 8 hours.
Drain, and squeeze as dry as you can.
Place the tomatoes into sterilized jars and mix with olive oil (I use extra virgin olive oil), garlic slivers, dried fennel seeds and oregano (add chili flakes if you wish). Make sure they are well covered with oil and keep submerged – I save those plastic rings that keep pickles submerged that are often found in Italian pickles; there is one in the photo above.
Keep in fridge; they are ready to eat in a few days and will keep for months. Make sure that when you remove some of the pickle to eat, the remainder is always covered with oil.
They can be stored in a pantry, but omit the garlic if you do this, as it tends to go off.
Helping my mother to make Insalata Russa was my job throughout my childhood and teenage years. It was a legacy from Trieste and a reliable antipasto served on special occasions. She kept making it well into the 80s and then it would re-appear intermittently throughout the years. She would present it before we would sit at a table for a meal, as a nibble… she would pass around a spoonful of Insalata Russa on a slice of bread from a French stick.
Those of you who are of a certain age may remember Rosso Antico (a red aperitif) or a Cinzano (vermouth) or a martini. Sometimes it would be a straight gin with a twist of lemon. Today you may prefer a different aperitif like Aperol or a glass of Prosecco or a Campari – you get the idea!
It keeps well in the fridge and is an easy accompaniment for drinks – I am thinking of those unexpected guests who may pop in …. a drink, a small plate of Insalata Russa and some good bread. If my mother was still alive she would probably be making it on Christmas eve or Christmas day.
Insalata Russa is made with cooked vegetables: peas, green beans, carrots and potatoes cut into small cubes and smothered with homemade egg mayonnaise. She always decorated the top with slices of hard-boiled eggs and slices of stuffed green olives. Sometimes she also placed on top small cooked prawns or canned tuna.
***** Modern Times…..Try it sprinkled with Yarra Valley caviar (fish roe) instead.
Ensaladilla rusa is the Spanish version of this salad and it is a very common tapas dish; It was certainly still popular as a Tapas in Madrid and Barcelona when I was there last year.
The Spaniards make it the same way, but the canned tuna is often mixed in the salad rather than being placed on top. Some versions have olives, roasted red peppers or asparagus spears arranged on top in an attractive design or just plain with boiled eggs around the edge of the bowl.
Making it with my mother, we never weighed our ingredients, but the following combination and ratios should please anyone’s palate.
This recipe (and the photos of the pages in the book) are from my second book – Small Fishy Bites.
2-3 medium sized potatoes, waxy are best
1 cup of shelled peas
3 hard-boiled eggs
3/4 -1 cup of green beans cut into 1cm pieces
1/2 cup of Italian giardinieria (mixed garden pickles in vinegar) or cetriolini (small pickled gherkins)
1 and 1/2 cups of homemade egg mayonnaise
Cook potatoes and carrots in their skins in separate pans; cool, peel and cut them into small cubes.Cook the peas and beans separately; drain and cool. Hard boil the eggs; peel them and cube 2 of them.Cut the giardiniera into small pieces (carrots, turnips, cauliflower, gherkins).Mix all of these ingredients together with a cup of home made egg mayonnaise.Level out the Russian salad either on a flat plate or in a bowl and leave in the fridge for at least an hour before decorating it by covering it with the remaining mayonnaise.Have a good old time placing on the top slices of hard-boiled eggs, drained tuna or small cooked prawns and caviar. Bits of giardiniera will also add colour.
My mum made maionese with a wooden spoon. I use a food processor or an electric wand to make mayonnaise:
Mix 1 egg with a little salt in the blender food processor, or in a clean jar (if using the wand).
Slowly add 1–1 ½ cups of extra virgin olive oil in a thin, steady stream through the feed tube while the blender or processor is running, Before adding additional oil, ensure that the oil, which has previously been added has been incorporated completely.
Add a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice when the mayonnaise is creamy. If you are not making the traditional Italian version, it is common to add vinegar instead of lemon juice and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
As an alternative, the Spaniards like to add a little saffron (pre-softened in a little warm water). Add this once the mayonnaise is made.
Caper bushes are everywhere in Sicily, growing wild in small crevices on stone walls.
I can remember my father being very excited when he found some caper bushes growing in the crevices of the wall of a very old church called San Giusto in Trieste (the patron saint) – my father never imagined that capers could grow so far north. They grow well in countries around the Mediterranean – Cyprus, Turkey, Greece.
I prefer to use capers preserved in rock salt rather than in brine – they taste like unadulterated capers rather than capers in vinegar. Salted capers need to be thoroughly rinsed, then soaked for about 30 minutes and rinsed again, but this will depend on the brand of capers – the easiest way to tell if they are still too salty is to taste them and then soak them again. Capers in the vinegar brine impart a particular flavour and are more acceptable in recipes where wine or vinegar is one of the ingredients.
They are extensively used in Sicilian cooking and Sicilians prefer the smaller capers. Good quality ones come from Salina (one of the Aeolian islands) or Pantelleria (an island, southwest of Sicily and closer to North Africa).
We now have Australian capers growing on the dry rocky slopes of the River Murray. Some nurseries sell the seeds or plants and they are being grown in some home gardens.
Apparently in some parts of Sicily, it is common to boil the leaves and the young shoots in salty water, then they need to be drained well, dressed with good quality olive oil and lemon juice and eaten as a vegetable.
The caper buds need to be soaked in water for at least 2-3 days (apparently they have some bitter taste, like olives) and then are preserved under salt or under vinegar.
Those of you living in Australia may remember how nasturtium berries used to be pickled in vinegar and called capers – we Italians knew better. Mind you, my family knew nothing about rhubarb. Our neighbours gave us some and we threw away the stalks and boiled the leaves to eat as a vegetable. Fortunately, because they tasted so bad, we did not eat them.
Spring in Sicily is welcomed ‘big time’ and spring produce is embraced.
Sicilians make a fuss about the preparation and eating of seasonal spring produce: asparagus, artichokes, broad beans, fennel and ricotta. It is the time when the island comes alive – flowers bloom, vines sprout and vegetables ripen.
The menu at Waratah Hills Vineyard was a celebration of Spring, and all who attended the class enjoyed all of that produce and the occasion in such a beautiful vineyard.
We ate local garfish rolled around a Sicilian stuffing (commonly used for sardines called Beccafico), stuffed artichokes and a pasta with a dressing made from sautéed spring vegetables, moistened with wine and stock and topped with nutmeg and creamy ricotta.
We drank excellent, matching wines with each course and used local, extra virgin olive oil made by Judy and Neil’s (proprietors of Waratah Hills Vineyard and organizers of this event) neighbours .
Cassata of course was the final culinary jewel; I coated it with not-too-sweet marzipan…..and I have my tongue out in anticipation…(I do not know what I was saying!)
A few dressed Sicilian Green olives at the start did not go astray (garlic, orange rind, chilli flakes, wild fennel fronds, bay leaves, extra virgin olive oil) and a fennel and orange salad as a palate cleanser eaten after the fish was a good choice .
Thank you to all those eager and friendly people who made the event a success.