Sometimes, it is easier to tell a story and describe a recipe by photos.
Goat or kid if you can get it has been available for a while this season (Autumn in Australia). The mint on my balcony is doing well, celeriac is in season, the last of the red tomatoes also and there is a glut of carrots in Victoria at the moment. And all of these ingredients, cooked on low heat and for a long time made a fabulous ragout (ragù in Italian). On this occasion I used the braise as a pasta sauce. Good quality Pecorino cheese is a must.
Goat cut into cubes – you can tell that it is not an old goat by the pale colour of the meat. It is trimmed of fat.
The usual onion , part of the soffritto in most Italian soups and braises.
Add a chopped carrot and instead of celery I used some celeriac and some of the inner leaves of the celeriac.
Remove the soffritto, add a little more extra virgin olive oil and brown the meat.
Add the herbs and spices. Recognise them? Salt and pepper too.
A couple of red tomatoes.
Top with liquid. I added a mixture of chicken stock (always in my freezer) and some Marsala, to keep it in the Sicilian way of things. On another occasion I may add white wine or dry vermouth.
Cover the pan and braise slowly.
It does not look as good as it tasted…the perfume was fabulous too.
Serve with fresh mint leaves and grated Pecorino.
N.B. Real Pecorino is made from pecora (sheep)..i.e. sheep’s milk. I used a Pecorino Romano. See how white it is in colour?
I recently made Pasta alla norma and although this post was first posted on May 4, 2012 and I am posting it again on 25th April 2018. Ripe tomatoes and eggplants continue into autumn and although the basil may have finished, fresh mint leaves add an interesting fresh taste to the dish.
Pasta alla Normaisone of those dishes Sicilians are extremely fond ofespecially in late summer when the tomatoes are ripe, the basil is abundant and the eggplants are at their best.
There are some summer pasta dishes which call for uncooked, ripe tomatoes and when possible I try not to substitute tinned tomatoes for Pasta alla Norma.
All it is = a salsa of fresh tomatoes, short pasta (caserecce are good) and fried eggplants – usually cubed and added to the pasta once it has been dressed with the tomato salsa. Ricotta salata tops it all off. Easy stuff. Failing ricotta salata, use a strong pecorino cheese… both these cheeses are preferred by Sicilians; parmigiano is the preferred cheese in Northern Italy.
The dish originates from Catania, the city that my mother’s family comes from. Many presume that the dish is named after the opera, La Norma, by the composer Vincenzo Bellini who was born in Catania (1801-1835), but there are others who think that the expression ‘anorma’ (in Sicilian)was commonly used in the early 1900s to describe food that was cooked true to form (i.e. as normal, as it should be) and according to all the rules and regulations specified in the recipe.
I ate a version of Pasta alla Norma in a seafood restaurant in San Leone (on the coast, near Agrigento). The tagliatelle were presented on top of half an eggplant, (that had been cut in half and then fried). The sauce also contained a few currants and a few anchovies, thin slices of bottarga (dry, salted tuna roe) and cubes of ricotta salata on top. It does look very spectacular, but if you intend to do this, and are using a large round eggplant, cut the eggplant horizontally and remove a slice from the centre of it to make it thinner – the eggplant will cook more evenly. Follow the recipe below and to the salsa, add a tablespoon of currants and a couple of chopped anchovies. In Sicily bottarga is salted, cured fish tuna roe rather than bottarga made with grey mullet as common in Sardegna (Sardinia).
I have used casarecce, 500g
eggplants, 500g or more
extra virgin olive oil, 1 ½ cups ( ½ cup for the tomato salsa,1 cup to fry the eggplant)
garlic, 3 cloves
ripe tomatoes, 1k, peeled and chopped
salt (a little) and freshly ground black pepper to taste
basil, fresh leaves (10-15) some for the salsa and some for decoration
Remove the stem end of eggplant and without peeling and slice or cut into cubes. I do not usually salt my eggplant; sometimes I briefly soak it in salted water so that the eggplant does not absorb as much oil. Pat-dry the eggplant and fry in 1 cup of olive oil until golden. Drain on paper towels.
Make the tomato salsa: place the tomatoes in the pan with garlic, oil, salt and some basil leaves: cook uncovered on medium heat till it is thick.
Cook pasta and drain.
Mix the pasta with the tomato sauce, place in a large serving bowl and top with the eggplants and the remaining basil (or mint).
Present with grated cheese, preferably ricotta salata.
‘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.
Culturally In Australia Easter is no big deal, however in Italy it is tied to religious observances and fish is traditionally eaten on Good Friday by Italian Catholics even if they are not practising Catholics.
I plan to cook something simple – a pasta dish with Mussels. Cozze in Italian, cuzzili in Sicilian.
This is not a complicated dish. It is made with fresh mussels and a little fresh tomato, but not so much to mask the taste of the other ingredients.
Local mussels are prolific in Victoria and I regularly buy them at the Queen Victoria Market; these are generally farmed in Port Phillip Bay and recently from Mount Martha; when I get the chance, I like to go to Portarlington, where they are sold straight off the boats. Mussels are sustainable.
Red, ripe tomatoes are fabulous at this time of year, but tinned tomatoes are OK too. I even used some ripe, yellow, heirloom tomatoes in this sauce!
Spaghettini (thin spaghetti) are used for this dish – the thin strands result in a greater surface area and allow greater absorption of the sauce.
The sauce is prepared quickly while the pasta is cooking. The same ingredients and method of cooking this dish can also be used with other fish – try squid.
Do not be horrified and think me a phony for using grated cheese with fish! The rest of Italy may not, but Sicilians do it. Using cheese is not necessary, especially if you like to savor the fresh taste of the tomatoes.
mussels, 2 kg fresh, live mussels
red tomatoes, fresh, 500 g, chopped and peeled
garlic, 3 chopped…to taste
parsley, 1 cup finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil, ½ – ¾ cup
salt and pepper
basil, fresh, some stalks and leaves in the sauce and some leaves to decorate and provide a last-minute aroma
grated pecorino, (optional), to taste
Clean the mussels by rubbing them against each other in cold water (or use a plastic scourer). Pull the beards sharply towards the pointy end of the shell.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep pan.
Add the mussels.
Cover and cook over a brisk flame, shaking the pan every now and then, until the mussels have opened. Turn off the flame and let them cool slightly, then remove and discard the shells of about ¾ of them. Use the whole mussels for decoration.
If you have given the mussels sufficient time to open and some have remained closed, there is no need to discard them. They are very much alive, place them back on heat and they will eventually open.
Save the juice from the mussels in a separate vessel.
Add the onion to a new pan, sauté till golden.
Add the chopped tomatoes and some basil stalks with leaves attached (these can be removed at time of serving).
Simmer the sauce for about 8-10 minutes, just to blend the flavours and to evaporate some of the tomato juice. Place the tomato sauce aside.
Cook the spaghettini.
Add some extra virgin olive oil and garlic to a new pan (or wipe down the same pan that you have used to cook the sauce). Soften the garlic and add the parsley.
Add the mussel meat to the pan and toss the ingredients around for a few minutes before adding the tomato sauce and as much of the mussel juice as you think you will need for the sauce. Remove the cooked basil (it has done its job).
Add the mussels in their shells (gently) to warm through.
Drain the pasta. Add it to the pan with the rest of the ingredients toss them around till they are well coated. Be gentle with the cooked mussels in their shells as you want to keep the mussel meat in the shell.
Add fresh basil leaves.
Present with grated cheese for those who wish.
Pasta with cozze is eaten all over Italy but in Northern Italy parsley and garlic are the preferred flavourings and no tomatoes.
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):
‘Nduja is a spicy, spreadable, pork salame originating from Calabria. ‘Nduja is appearing on many menus and recipes – it seems to be replacing chorizo as an ingredient. As tasty as chorizo is, there has been a glut of it in far too many dishes.
I have been buying ‘Nduja for a couple of years now – ask for it in places that sell Italian smallgoods. I always like friends to try new ingredients and I have mainly presented ‘Nduja at the beginning of the meal as an accompaniment to the first drink with some fresh bread (like Pâté ) or I have used ‘Nduja as an ingredient in sauces for pasta – I made an excellent ragù (a meat-based tomato sauce), I added it to sautéed cime di rape with Italian pork sausages and sautéed itwith squid (use small to medium sized squid).
I always enjoy eating squid and because squid cooks quickly I enjoy making pasta sauces with it. The photo of squid was taken in the Catania Fish Market a few years ago.
Around ANZAC DAY in Victoria I go foraging . This is my latest harvest of saffron coloured, pine mushrooms (Lactarius deliciosus), also called saffron milk caps and red pine mushrooms.
There are 3k of mushrooms in this bag above.
We have eaten some twice already.
Above = with taglatelle.
Below = as a vegetable side dish with Italian pork sausages.
And these jars are in my freezer.
These mushrooms bruise very easily so I cook them as soon as possible after I have collected them.
Unfortunately the mushrooms’ gills when bruised discolour to a very unattractive green-grey tinge. I ignore most of the bruising and cut off the worst bits of the discoloured mushrooms that show too much wear and tear or obvious decay.
Most of the time the saffron coloured, pine mushrooms I collect cannot just be wiped clean with a damp cloth and I often have to clean them under softly running water to remove any sand, soil , grass or pine needles. I always completely remove the woody hollow stems because I have often found some bugs harbouring inside the stems. Having said all of this I make them sound as if they are not worth the effort but they are!
How do I cook them? …..very simply. I have written about wild mushrooms before.
Italy is a Catholic country and on Good Friday most Italians eat fish. Pasta con le Sarde is made with bucatini (thick long tubes of pasta) and the main ingredients are sardines (buy fillets for ease), wild fennel (or fennel bulbs) pine nuts, saffron and topped by fried breadcrumbs.
as you can see I have made this dish at other times.
Muslim Arabs took control of North Africa from the Byzantines and Berbers and began their second conquest of Sicily in 827 from Mazara, the closest point to the African coast and by 902 they well and truly conquered Sicily. The Muslims, were known as Moors by the Christians and by the time of the Crusades, Muslims were also referred to as Saracens.
The Muslim Arabs, via North Africa ruled Sicily till 1061 A.D.
This recipe can only be Sicilian and is particularly common in Palermo.
The origins of pasta chi sardi (Sicilian) are said to be Arabic. When a band Arab troops first landed in Sicily via North Africa, the Arab cook was instructed to prepare food for the troops. The cook instructed the troops to forage for food. He made do with what they presented – plentiful was the wild fennel and the fish (sardines). To these he added exotic ingredients and flavours of Arabs and North Africans – the saffron, dried fruit and the nuts and so Pasta con le Sarde was born.
At this time of year, just before Easter, many readers look at my blog searching for Easter food ideas. The baked version is fancy enough to present on Easter Sunday – if you are that way inclined.
Pasta con le Sarde can be eaten hot or cold and it can be baked…..made into a tummàla (Sicilian word from the Arabic) – Italian timballo and French timbale – a dish of finely minced meat or fish cooked with other ingredients and encased in rice, pasta or pastry. The dry breadcrumbs are used to line and cover the contents in the baking pan, the long bucatini can be coiled around the pan and the sardine sauce becomes the filling.
The recipe for Pasta con le Sarde is from my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking. This is a slightly modified version of the recipe.
I found very little wild fennel this time of year so I used fennel bulbs – there were a few available at the Queen Victoria Market. Because I only found a very small quantity of wild fennel I added some ground fennel seeds and a splash of Pernod to enhance the fennel taste.
If you can get wild fennel, place it into some cold, salted water (enough to cook the pasta) and boil it for 10-15 minutes (it can be left in the water for longer). The green tinged, fennel-flavoured water is used to cook the pasta — it will flavour and colour the pasta. Reserve some of the tender shoots of wild fennel raw to use in the cooking of the sauce.
Drain the cooked fennel and keep the fennel-flavoured water to cook the pasta. Some of the cooked fennel can be added to the pasta sauce.
The recipe using bulb Fennel
fennel a large bulb of fennel with the green fronds cut finely, a teaspoon of ground fennel seeds or a dash of Pernod
extra virgin olive oil, about ½ cup
onions, 1, finely sliced
anchovies, 4, cut finely
pine nuts, ¾ cup
almonds, ¾ cup, toasted
currants, ¾ cup, or seedless raisins or sultanas soaked in a little water beforehand
saffron, ½ – 1 small teaspoon soaked in a little water beforehand
salt and freshly ground black pepper or chili flakes to taste
coarse breadcrumbs, 100 grams made with day old, quality bread (sourdough/pasta dura) lightly fried in some oil. I added pine nuts (pine- nuts-overkill), grated lemon peel, a little cinnamon and sugar to my breadcrumbs.
Slice the fennel into thin slices and cut fronds finely.
Cut about two thirds of the sardine fillets into thick pieces. Reserve whole fillets to go on top and provide visual impact.
Heat oil in shallow wide pan.
Sauté the onions over medium heat until golden. Add the fennel and cook till slightly softened.
Add pine nuts, currants (drained) and almonds. Toss gently until heated.
Add the sliced sardines, salt and pepper or chili. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, stirring gently. Add ground fennel seeds or a splash of Pernod to enhance the fennel taste – I did this because I only found a very small quantity of wild fennel.
Add the anchovies (try to remove any bones if there are any) and as they cook, crush them with back of spoon to dissolve into a paste.
Add saffron (and the soaking water) and continue to stir and cook gently.
Boil bucatini in the fennel water (if you have it) until al dente.
Fry the whole fillets of sardines in a separate frying pan, keeping them intact. Remove them from the pan and put aside.
Drain the pasta.
Mix the pasta with the sauce, sprinkle with some of the breadcrumbs and top with the sardine fillets.
The photos are of left over pasta that I made into a timballo. It was only for my household, nothing fancy and was a way of using leftovers.
Oil a baking tray or an ovenproof dish (traditionally a round shape is used) and sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs to prevent sticking.
Place a layer of the dressed pasta on the breadcrumbs – I coiled the bucatini around the baking pan, then added the sauce (solids- sardines, nuts etc) and placed more coiled bucatini on top.
If you want a deeper crust you will need greater quantities of breadcrumbs.
Cover with more breadcrumbs, sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil, cover with foil and bake in preheated 200°C for approximately 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes. When the dish is baked, the breadcrumbs form a crust.