Category Archives: Recipes

BITTER GREENS and AMARI (Aperitivi and Digestivi)

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

IMG_8449

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

carob tree - hero 0191 copy
Carob tree near Ragusa

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

IMG_8440
Ingredients for a simple salad- red radicchio,frisée and chicory

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

18767815_10203306879630629_6191171133798998534_n

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

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

DSC_0027 copy

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

Cicoria selvaggia_0114 copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_8447

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

wild fennel_0011
Wild fennel in Catania market

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

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

IMG_1249
Kale 

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

Posts and recipes for bitter greens:

SICILIAN EDIBLE WEEDS and Greek VLITA

NETTLES (Ortiche), Culinary uses and gnocchi

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

CIME DI RAPE (A winter green)

MINESTRA MARITATA, peasant soup from Calabria

INSALATA DI FRISÉE ( Composite Salad made with frisée)

CICORIA (Chicory)

CICORETTA CON SALSICCIA (Chicory with fresh pork sausage)

KALE SALAD with Italian Flavours

IMG_3187

CARCIOFI (Artichokes)

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

CARCIOFI IMBOTTITI (Stuffed artichokes)IN PRAISE OF WINTER VEGETABLES

IN PRAISE OF WINTER VEGETABLES

CARRUBA (Carob) and its uses

IMG_8069

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

IMG_8436

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

Use scissors and place the sea urchin face up.

IMG_8327

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

IMG_8335

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

IMG_8331

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

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

IMG_8336

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

IMG_8342

See:

RICCI DI MARE – Sea Urchins

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

IMG_8432

YEARNING FOR VITELLO TONNATO

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

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

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

I insert slices of garlic into the meat.

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

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

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

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

Cool the meat and slice thinly.

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

Blend  the ingredients. before adding the mayonnaise.

Add the mayonnaise and this is the sauce.

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

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

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

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

SEE:
VITELLO TONNATO

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

INSALATA RUSSA (Party time – Russian salad)

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

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

 

GREAT ITALIAN CHEFS’ RECIPES, 10 best Sicilian dishes

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

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

DSC_0023

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

10 best Sicilian Dishes:

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

I have written about them before:

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

PESCE CRUDO, raw fish dishes in Sicily

ALSO10 MUST-TRY DISHES WHEN YOU ARE IN SICILY

E57E8F68-80E6-4412-870C-2ED80BC43D90

LUGANIGHE CON CAPUZI GARBI – Sausages and sauerkraut, and yes, it is Italian regional cuisine

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.

IMG_8231

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.

IMG_8234

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).

IMG_8235

Adding a little white or savoy cabbage is optional.

IMG_8236

And with the cabbage also add the sauerkraut and the rest. A dash of white wine will keep it moist while it cooks.

IMG_8237

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.

IMG_8241

Remove the sauerkraut and slightly brown the sausages – only for appearance.

IMG_8244

A few of the other recipes from Trieste:

MARINADED FISH and a recipe for PESCE IN SAOR

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

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

Traditional Easter Sweets in Trieste in Friuli Venezia Giulia

INSALATA RUSSA (Party time – Russian salad)

APPLE STRUDEL (TRIESTE: Strucolo de pomi)

GULASCH (Goulash as made in Trieste)

PATATE as a contorno (Two recipes for ‘squashed’ potatoes).

STUFFED BAKED FENNEL WITH PANGRATTATO – FINOCCHI RIPIENI

Breadcrumbs are called Pangrattato (grated bread) in Italian.

Mollica is the soft part of the bread with crusts removed but in the culinary world both pangrattato and mollica have acquired new significances and have been enhanced. Both refer to breadcrumbs lightly toasted in in olive oil, herbs and seasonings and variations include anything from garlic, red pepper flakes, pine nuts, anchovies, lemon zest , cinnamon or nutmeg, salt and a little sugar.

IMG_7807

Mollica or pangrattato adds texture, fragrance and complex flavours and is usually used as a stuffing or topping, especially for pasta in Calabria, Puglia and Sicily. For example,  Pasta con le Sarde and Sarde a Beccafico are two Sicilian recipes that use enhanced breadcrumbs:

When I make pangrattato I store left overs in a jar in my fridge and use it to enhance other dishes: this time I used it to stuff fennel. For moisture and extra flavour I added  a little ricotta and a little grated cheese – pecorino or parmigiano.

IMG_8160

Cut the stems off the fennel and remove the toughest and usually damaged outer leaves Cut the fennel into quarters.

IMG_8247

Cook the fennel in salted water, bay leaves salt and lemon juice for about 10 minutes until it is slightly softened. Remove it from the liquid and cool.

Make the filling: Work the ricotta in a bowl with a fork, mix in the pangrattato and grated cheese.

IMG_8249

Prise open the leaves of the fennel and stuff with the pangrattato stuffing.

IMG_8251

Place the quarters into a baking bowl that allows them to stay compact and upright (like when you are cooking stuffed artichokes).

Drizzle olive oil on top (or a little butter) and bake at 180 – 190°C for about 15 minutes

IMG_8256

SPAGHETTI with PRAWNS and ZUCCHINI

SPAGHETTI with ‘NDUJA, SQUID, VONGOLE AND PAN GRATTATO

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

PASTA CON SARDE – the baked version, Palermo, Sicily

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

IMG_7805

DUCK AND MUSHROOM RAGÙ

A duck ragù is nothing new, but it always seems to be special. Pappardelle is the pasta of choice for game and duck.

IMG_8191

I bought a whole duck, dismembered it and trimmed away the obvious fat. I cooked the duck for the ragù over 2 days because ducks can be very fatty and I wanted to remove some of the fat.

IMG_8193

I left the cooked duck overnight and the liquid jellied (in the meantime the flavours also intensified) and the fat rose to the top making it easier for me to remove most of I with a spoon. I used some of the duck fat to sauté the mushrooms.

IMG_8208

1 duck
for the soffritto: 1 onion, 1 carrot,1 stalk of celery
fresh rosemary, bay leaves
½ cup of diced tomatoes or 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
2 cups dry red wine
3 cups chicken stock
salt and black pepper
250g mushrooms…on this occasion I used brown mushrooms.
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
fresh thyme and parsley

Wipe the duck pieces to dry them as much as possible.

Heat a heavy based casserole and over medium heat add the duck skin-side down and fry until browned and fat renders (6-9 minutes).

IMG_8196 (1)

Drain most of the fat. Turn and fry until browned (2-3 minutes), then set aside.

IMG_8198

To the same saucepan add onion and soften slightly before adding the carrot and celery and sauté until vegetables are tender (5-8 minutes).

IMG_8200

Return the duck pieces to the pan, add the wine, stock, tomatoes, seasoning, bay leaves and rosemary.

IMG_8207

Cover and cook slowly for about 1¾-2¼ hours, until the meat looks as it will be easy to separate from the bones.

Leave to cool. The fat will rise to the top making it easier to remove.

Reheat the duck braise very briefly, just sufficiently to melt the jelly.

Remove the duck pieces and set aside. When they are cool enough to handle remove the the skin and strip the meat from the bones in chunks. Discard herbs and the bones.

IMG_8212

Drain the solids from the liquid and add these to the duck. Place the liquid from the braise (i.e. that is yet to be reduced) in a separate container.

IMG_8215

Wipe the pan and use some of the fat to sauté the mushrooms and garlic. Add parsley and thyme and some seasoning.

IMG_8213

Deglaze the pan using about a cup of liquid and evaporate most of it. Repeat with the left over liquid until it has reduced.

IMG_8217

Add the duck, a couple of twists of nutmeg and the ragù is ready.

IMG_8220

Combine the cooked pasta with the duck ragù and serve.

IMG_8222

Pasta: I used egg Pappardelle.

Grated Parmigiano on top.

See Pappardelle with hare:

PAPPARDELLE (Pasta with Hare or game ragù)

PAPPARDELLE Continued…..

A Sicilian recipe for Duck:

Anatra a paparedda cu l’ulivi (Sicilian Duck with green olives and anchovies)

FISH STUDDED WITH SICILIAN FLAVOURS

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.
 
IMG_0236 (1)
 
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) 
 
IMG_0243 (1)
A bit of fish butchery at a fish market in Sicily where butchery has been going on for  centuries.
 
Swordfish display in LxRm5

MINESTRA MARITATA, peasant soup from Calabria

Minesta in Italian means soup. But it does not stop there – minestrone is a thick soup and minestrina is a more delicate or thin soup.  All minestre (plural) may or may not have pasta (or pastina) or rice or grains added to thicken them.

IMG_8086

Then there is zuppa and this Italian word shares the common root with soupe (French), suppe (German) and sopa (Spanish and Portuguese).  These days the differences between a minestra and a zuppa are probably interchangeable and there are always regional and cultural variations (as the Calabrese minestra below), but a zuppa relies on an accompaniment of a slice of bread; usually this is placed in the bowl and the zuppa is ladled on top. The bread soaks up the juice and therefore no pasta, or rice, or grains (barley, wheat) are needed.  Traditionally, a zuppa has a broth base, whereas the liquid in a minesta is more likely to be water and relies on the vegetables, pulses, fish, meat (or smoked meat) for flavour. In modern times, recipes for minestra may include the addition of water, stock or broth as the liquid base .

So why am I taking such an interest in the specific Calabrese minestra?

I was recently in Adelaide and ate at Minestra, a small home style eatery in Prospect and ordered minestra with my pork and veal and eggplant polpette – the minestra in this case was presented less soupy and more like a side for the polpette, but it could also be ordered unaccompanied as a one course dish – with a little more liquid and more a like soup.  It is not only the food that I like at this eatery where the daily menu is chalked on a black board, and when they run out of a dish, they erase it. The other exciting change to the menu is that it can feature produce the locals bring in … YES, like the sign below says: locals are invited to bring in their produce.

IMG_8018

Minestra’s owner and head chef is Sandy Cenin (as you can see by the surname there is a bit of northern Italian in him) and his grandmother is Calabrese.

IMG_8020

Inspired by Sandy’s minestra, once home in Melbourne, I was determined to conduct some research and to make it.

IMG_8017

Minestra in Calabria takes on a different significance and is a traditional, peasant dish suited to the people who were used to working very hard on the land.  And it does not use pasta in this dish … the Calabrese have a reputation for being different (I say this as a pun). This Calabrese minestra has a certain degree of austerity about it, it is not sophisticated or complicated and it is made from simple frugal ingredients – wild greens if possible, and if one was lucky, perhaps a little pork. It also contains beans – dried broad beans or borlotti or cannellini. Hence the description of this minestra being maritata (married in Calabrese dialect) – several green vegetables and the beans (and bits of pork) are ‘married’ or combined to produce a very thick, stew like soup.  Some variations include potatoes and as for the pork, it can be fresh meat ribs or rind. I have also seen a recipe that includes the rind of grating cheese (pecorino) for flavourings.

IMG_8057

In Calabria, as in Sicily, wild foraged greens are much appreciated and not just due to necessity (as they once were). In Australia we may not be familiar with the range of edible plants available or have access to as many, but we do have some very good, green, leafy vegetables that provide contrasting and strong flavours.

IMG_8051

A mixture of three or four of seasonal, green, leafy vegetables, is sufficient –  I am using  endives (or escarole) and chicory, that are both bitter, cime di rapa (a brassica) for the mustard taste and sow thistle that was sold to me as milk thistle and tastes mild and grassy.

IMG_8055

I bought this mixture of greens from my regular fruttivendolo at the Queen Victoria Market (see photo below). If I had foraged for dandelions (bitter taste) or wild broccoletii (wild brassica) I would have used these  instead of the more conventional chicory, escarole (bitter) or cime di rapa (mustard).

IMG_8070

There are many brassicas that could be suitable – kohlrabi (root and leaves), cabbage,  kale (not Italian, but who cares!), cavolo nero, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts (not a Calabrese vegetable)and cabbage.

Wild fennel, amaranth, nettles are also wild greens that could be accessible to you or you may be growing borage in your garden (photo below).

IMG_8022

I am going to be Italian when I write this recipe. There are no measurements for the ingredients but my photos can give you an indication and it is ‘cucina povera‘- peasant cooking – that is, use what you can get, make it to your taste, add as much liquid as you wish, but keep it thick.

Use a variety of green leafy seasonal vegetables – whatever you can get – go for combinations of taste – bitter, sweet, peppery, grassy, aniseed taste (as in fennel).

RECIPE for minestra

Soak, cook pulses (borlotti, cannellini, dried broad beans) … or buy tinned beans if that is what you do. In my photo you will see that i have used black-eyed beans – this is not an Italian bean, but it is what I had on hand at the time and I do not think that my breaking of tradition mattered. Drain the pulses you intend to use. Keep the liquid (broth) in case you want to add it as the liquid for the minestra.

Clean the greens, separate them from any tough stems but keep the softer ones.

Soften the greens – boil them in as much or as little salted water as you cook all your green leafy vegetables. Drain them but reserve some liquid for the minestra. I did not have to discard any because I did not use much water to cook my greens.

IMG_8071

Chop garlic ( I used quite a bit), sauté the drained greens, add  beans. My ratio was about 2/3 greens and 1/3 beans.

IMG_8073

Add chopped chilli at the same time as the garlic if you wish or serve chopped chilli or chilli paste separately (Calabresi a fond of pepper paste). 

Add as much liquid as you wish, dish it up, drizzle some extra virgin oil on it and eat it with some good bread.

IMG_8079

See recipe for the Sicilian Maccu – another of those peasant soups and this one has even more traditions than the Calabrese minestra.

 

MARINADED FISH and a recipe for PESCE IN SAOR

Sousing fish was a way of preserving it before refrigeration by saturating the fish with acid – vinegar in this case which, like salt,  prevents the growth of microbes. Sugar is also added and to create an agro dolce dish (sweet and sour). The fish is first fried in olive oil and then marinaded in the vinegar base. Slowly sautéed onions are a common ingredient in soused fish and different flavourings are added to the pickling mix. My Sicilian grandmother would put mint, bay leaves and slivers of garlic in her vinegar marinade (pisci ammarinatu in Sicilian), but the pesse in saor made in Venice and in Trieste where I lived as a child, has raisins and pine nuts in it. Pesse is Triestiane for pesce – fish in Italian.

IMG_6125

Soused fish is found all over Italy, for example pesce alla scapace is cooked in central and southern Italy and the Molise version is flavoured with saffron, minced garlic and sage. Pesce in carpione from Lombardy has celery and carrot for flavourings, the Ligurian scabeccio has garlic, whole pepper and rosemary, and the Sardinian marinade has chilli, garlic, and tomato sauce.

Soused fish is also common in other cultures – Nordic countries thrive on soused fish and different versions of escabeche are found in Spanish, Portuguese, French and in North African cuisines. I have a German friend who also cooks soused fish – he adds coriander seeds to his.

My maternal grandmother always had soused fish (in pottery terrines and covered with plates as lids) in her kitchen in Sicily.

IMG_6161

When she visited us in Trieste she did the same and our kitchen then also smelt of fish and vinegar. She particularly liked to souse eel – eel was good in Trieste. We would walk to the Pescheria together, she would choose the eel she wanted from a big tank and the fishmonger would kill it and chop it into pieces.

images

I did not much like this part, but I liked going to the Pescheria on the waterfront in the bay of Trieste. The imposing building is now home to Eataly.

images-1

Triestine pesse is mostly made with sardines and is often eaten with white polenta (yellow polenta is usually an accompaniment to meat).

Traditionally, the fish is lightly dusted with flour and salt before it is fried in very hot, extra virgin, olive oil. Although the flour helps to hold the fish together, the oil used to fry the fish will need to be discarded (the sediment will taint the taste of the oil) and the flour coating will often come away from the fish in the marinade.

On my way to Adelaide from Melbourne I drove through Meningie (at the northern end of the Coorong on the shores of Lake Albert) and I bought freshly-caught Coorong mullet. On this occasion I used them instead of sardines to make pesse in saor.

IMG_7875

2-3 fish per person /12-16 fresh sardines or small fish (sand whiting, mullet, garfish, flathead, leather jackets), cleaned and filleted with heads and backbone removed.

plain flour and salt for dusting
olive oil for frying
2-3 large white onions, sliced finely
1 cup of raisins
1 cup of pine nuts, toasted
sufficient white wine to soak the raisins
250 ml of white wine vinegar
freshly ground black pepper

Dust the fish fillets in a little flour and salt, shake off as much flour as possible and fry them in plenty of oil until golden and crisp. Place them on kitchen paper to remove excess oil and set aside.
Soak the raisins in the white wine for about 30minutes.
Sauté the onions gently in some olive oil until they are soft. Add the vinegar and pepper and cook the mixture for a few minutes. Set aside.

Select a terrine deep enough to hold the fish, ingredients and vinegar marinade – a narrow, deep terrine is best. Place a layer of fish, add some onions (dig them out of the vinegar mixture), raisins (drained) and pine nuts. Continue layering the ingredients, finishing with a layer of onions, raisins and pine nuts on top. Pour the vinegar over the layers. Cover it, place it in the fridge and allow to marinate at least 24 hours before serving.  Serve at room temperature.

IMG_7877

See: PISCI ALL’ AGGHIATA – PESCE ALL’AGLIATA (Soused fish with vinegar, garlic and bay)