Sometimes, some recipes are just so simple that I do not bother writing about them, but then I buy a new cookbook and notice that simple recipes are what we like and want…and besides, not everybody grew up in an Italian household and they may not be familiar with this style of cooking.
One simple way of cooking some vegetables, for example eggplants, zucchini or mushrooms is afunghettoinbianco ortrifolate.
A funghetto, translates asmushroom, i.e.in the style or method of how you would cook mushrooms – simply sautéed in extra virgin olive oil with garlic and parsley.
Inbianco translates as inwhite, i.e. without tomatoes. Photo above is of king mushrooms cooked afunghetto.
This style of cooking is a common way to cook either of these three vegetables throughout Italy, but it is typical of the Veneto. I grew up in Trieste, so I identify with this style of cooking very much.
Once again,I will write this recipe as an Italian – no measurements. The recipe is so simple, and the photos tell the story so who needs measurements!
eggplants/aubergines, cut into cubes
extra virgin olive oil,
cloves of garlic, chopped (to taste)
pepper and salt
extra virgin olive oil
Use gentle to medium heat throughout the cooking – the ingredients are not fried, they are sautéed till softened.
Heat a splash of oil in a frypan (I like to use a frypan with a heavy base).Add the garlic and stir it around for a very short time so that it begins to soften.
Add the eggplants and stir often until they have softened and have coloured. Add pepper and salt.
Add the chopped parsley and keep on stirring through for about 30 seconds…and I hate to say it…until it has softened.
Eat hot or cold – fabulous as a starter, side dish….as a dressing for pasta?
Just a quick post about this easy to make Sicilian soup…..if you can get the ingredients. It is easy if you have a friend called Mariana whose father grows tenerumi in his garden.
It is a summer dish and red tomatoes, a little garlic (optional) and basil are also added ingredients. Broken spaghetti are used to thicken the soup…when in Sicily you are unlikely to eat soup without pasta.
There was no zuccalunga but I had a few zucchini and the soup tasted just fine.
You take the long, hard curly tendrils off and use the soft tendrils and soft leaves.
zuccalunga (or zuccaserpente) is a long, pale green marrow. The tendrils and green leaves are from this plant.
There are the greens boiling away. Add a little salt and the broken spaghetti.
The tomatoes are fried and softened in a little extra virgin olive oil with some garlic and basil – it is just tomato salsa and the tomatoes are left cut in half.
Add the tomato mixture on top of the pasta. Drizzle on some good extra virgin olive oil, more basil leaves and some chilli flakes if this is your want.
You will find more photos (including the zucca lunga) and information about this recipe and ingredients on previous posts:
I am writing this post for a friend to demonstrate that making caponata is not difficult and I have therefore included many photos.
In my first book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking I have written a whole chapter about making various caponate (plural). This one is Catanese, as made in Catania, and the main ingredients are eggplants and peppers, but there are other caponate where the main ingredients are either eggplants or pumpkin or potato or celery (called Christmas caponata). I have also made a fennel caponata.
All caponate need to be made at least one day before to let the flavours develop. Caponate are eaten at room temperature.
Caponata Catanese is made with eggplants, peppers, celery, onions, chopped green olives and capers. A little sugar, vinegar and a splash of passata are used to make the agro- dolce sauce. Toasted pine nuts (or almonds) and fresh basil make good decoration and add extra taste. Caponata Palermitana, from Palermo, does not include peppers. I used roughly 1 kilo of eggplants and 1 kilo of peppers, 3 sticks of celery (pale green from near the centre), 1 onion. I used about 125g of capers and about the same amounts of chopped green olives. A true Sicilian making caponata would never weigh ingredients and may at times use more eggplants than peppers; these are rough amounts as a guide to illustrate ratios of ingredients. Always use extra virgin olive oil and as much as needed to prevent the ingredients sticking; access oil can always be drained off but bread makes a fine accompaniment to all caponate and the oil is particularly flavourful.
Each vegetable is fried separately but I usually combine the celery and the onion at the same time. the vegetables have different rates of cooking and you want to preserve the individual flavours as much as possible.
A frypan with a heavy base is good to use. I am making large quantities this time to take to a gathering so I am using my heavy wok (Le Creuset).
Fry the eggplants in some extra olive oil and add a little salt. Drain the eggplant in a colander with a container underneath to collect any oil. In the same pan add some new oil and the oil that you have drained from the eggplants. Fy the peppers and add a little salt. Drain them as you did the eggplants, collect the oil and add this to some new oil in the same pan.
Fry the celery and the onion.
When they have softened but the celery still has some crunch add the green olives and capers. Salt may not be necessary for this component of the dish.
Make a small depression in the centre of the vegetables and add about a flat tablespoon of sugar – this varies, some add more, some add less. Melt the sugar (caramelise it) and then add about 3 tablespoons of wine vinegar. Evaporate on high heat.
Add a splash of passata. Mix through the ingredients in the pan and cook it for a few minutes.
Incorporate all of the ingredients .
The caponata is now cooked. It needs to be placed in the fridge in a sealed container till you are ready to eat it and it will not suffer if it is made 3-4 days beforehand.
Decorate it with toasted pine nuts and fresh basil leaves when you are ready to present it.
There are other recipes on my blog for caponate made with different vegetables.
The Sicilian flavours are simple – grated lemon peel, lemon juice, anchovies, fresh mint and parsley.
Once you have pan fried one side of the fish, turn it over, top with the chopped herbs, anchovies cut into small pieces. Wait till the underside is cooked to your liking – do not overlook it as the fish will be flipped on the same side again for a very short time.
Turn the fish over once again and salt that side slightly and add lemon juice. Evaporate the lemon juice and it is done. The anchovies should have “melted” a bit.
A zucca in Italian can be an overgrown zucchino (singular) or a marrow, therefore to differentiate a pumpkin from a marrow a pumpkin is called a zucca gialla (yellow).
Not all Sicilian caponate are made with eggplants. For example there are celery, fennel, potato caponate and pumpkin can also be used as the main ingredient (Caponata di zucca gialla).
The principle for making any caponata is the same: onion, celery, X ingredient (eggplant or eggplant and peppers, fennel, potato etc.), capers, green olives, sometimes a splash of tomato puree, toasted pine nuts, or almonds and agrodolce – caramelised sugar and vinegar.
The ingredients a fried separately. Pumpkin first – sauté and then set aside.
Sauté onion and celery. Add olives and capers.
Add sugar, thenvinegar and salt to taste. Add the fried pumpkin and toasted almonds (or pine nuts).Let rest overnight or for at least half a day.
The other popular Sicilian way to cook pumpkin is also in an agrodolce sauce.
For this recipe, slices of pumpkin are also fried. I bake mine and it is not the traditional way of cooking it. The recipe book you can see in the background of the photo below is Sicilian Seafood Cooking – now out of print.
The recipe is called Fegato con sette cannoli. To see the recipe and find out why this recipe is called Liver with seven reeds:
An important ingredient for making Pasta con le sarde is wild fennel. The season for wild fennel has well and truly passed and all you will find at this time of year are stalky plants, yellow flowers/ seed pods and no green fronds.
What we call Florentine fennel is also going out of season and you will find for sale specimens with very small stunted bulbs. If you are lucky, your greengrocer may sell them with long stalks and fronds attached – perfect to use as a substitute for wild fennel and I certainly would not go near these stunted specimens otherwise.
Sardine fillets are easy to find. I use the paper that my fishmonger has wrapped the sardines to wipe dry the fish.
Remove the small dorsal spine from the fillets. Once again the paper comes in handy to wipe fishy fingers.
Prepare the ingredients:
Sardine fillets, chopped spring onions, the softer green fonds of the fennel, saffron soaking in a little water, currants soaking in a little water, fennel bulb cut finely, toasted pine nuts and chopped toasted almonds, salt and ground black pepper (or ground chili).
The preferred pasta shape are bucatini, but spaghetti or casarecce are good also.
You will also need some breadcrumbs (made from good quality day- old bread) toasted in a pan with a little oil. Add a bit of sugar, some cinnamon and grated lemon peel. toss it around in the pan so that the sugar melts and the flavours are mixed. This is the topping for the pasta. I have seen this referred to as pan grattato – this would not be my preferred tag – in Italian pan grattato is the term for plain breadcrumbs, but I accept that over time the terminology has evolved. The traditional Sicilian breadcrumb topping would not have had/ does not have the cinnamon or grated lemon peel.
The larger fennel fronds and stalks are used to flavour the water for the cooking of the pasta. Place them into salted cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for at least 10 minutes – you can leave the fennel in water as long as you like. The greenery can easily be fished out with tongs before the pasta goes into the boiling water to cook.
And then it is a very simple matter of cooking the ingredients.
Sauté the spring onion in some extra virgin olive oil. Add the fennel and chopped fronds and sauté them some more.
Depending on the quality of the fennel (degree of succulence) you may need to add a splash of water or white wine, cover it and continue to cook it for a few minutes more.
Add salt and pepper and put the sautéed vegetables aside.
Cook the pasta.
Fry the sardines in a little extra virgin olive oil – they will cook very quickly and begin to break up. Combine the sardines with the cooked fennel, add saffron and drained currants and mix to amalgamate the flavours. Add the almonds and pine nuts.
Dress the cooked pasta with the sardine sauce.
Put the dressed pasta in a serving platter and sprinkle liberally with the toasted breadcrumbs – these add flavour and crunch to the dish.
For a more conventional Sicilian Pasta con le Sarde:
Citrus fruit is grown extensively in Sicily and citrus groves are found throughout the island region. Apart from different types of oranges (including the blood oranges) there are mandarins, tangerines, lemons, cedri (citrons) and limette (Sicilian limes).
Sicily is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of citrus especially of lemons; the climate fosters a long, growing season and the harvesting of different varieties of lemons over three distinct periods in the year.
Lemons are extensively used in Sicilian cuisine – fresh lemon juice and the rind (or grated zest) are added to savoury or sweet dishes to balance and enhance flavours and even the leaves are often used in between pieces of meat or fish to add flavour.
Lemon juice is often used in marinates and to avoid discolouration of fresh fruit and vegetables (for example in fruit salads or when cleaning artichokes).
Lemons are used profusely for making drinks, liqueurs, essences, jams and marmalades. Candied or preserved peel is used significantly in Sicilian pastries and confectionary (for example in cassata and cannoli).
Used also and mostly in Sicilian pastries is cedro (citron). This citrus fruit grows in Sicily (and Calabria); the fruit is large and spherical with a thick wrinkled skin that turns from green to yellow during ripening. It has a strong fragrance and flavour, even stronger than lemons. The thick peel is candied and the fruit and peel is used to make a sweet paste also used in Sicilian patisserie.
Sicily benefits greatly from the production of lemons. Lemons have anti-bactericidal and antiseptic qualities; they are known for their therapeutic properties and are therefore beneficial in aromatherapy, pharmacology and medical and scientific applications. The essential oils are prominent in perfumes and the cosmetic industry. They are also widely used in cleaning products and citric acid (derived from lemons) is used extensively as a preservative.
The flowers and leaves are used for ornamental purposes. The white and pale violet blossoms have a strong and appealing scent and are often used in bride’s bouquets and inserted in button holes in men’s jackets at weddings.
When Sicilians (and other southern Italians) came to Australia, one of the first thing they planted was a lemon tree. Many are grafted to produce different types of lemons or different citrus.
You may be familiar with making Sicilian orange salads (especially with blood oranges), but you may not have considered enjoying a Sicilian lemon salad. I particularly like serving a lemon salad as an accompaniment to grilled fish, especially sardines. Last time I made one I presented it to accompany a meat terrine made with pork.
Use large, mature lemons – the larger, the more pith, the better. Many of the large lemons are more round in shape.
You will be amazed by the sweetness of the lemon in the salad. The use of salt will make the lemons taste sweeter (just like balsamic vinegar brings out the sweetness of strawberries).
Peel the skin off the lemons with a potato peeler, leaving as much pith as possible.
Cut the lemons in half and squeeze out some of the juice (otherwise the salad will be too acidic).
Cut the lemons into quarters and then into slices or manageable chunks (slices cut into four). Remove any pips.
Add finely chopped parsley or mint.
Dress with extra virgin olive oil, freshly ground pepper and salt.
My mother would often say that I was ‘fissata’….fixed, almost obsessed….and I guess I am at the moment with making terrines and pâtes. And the many I have made lately are turning out just fine. (I have made three terrines and two pâtes in two weeks – all taken to friends’ places)
I think that one of the many things I like about making the above is that weights and measurements are not important. You can have a rough idea about the meats you want to buy, the herbs you would like to use, the alcohol you wish to use as a flavouring, texture you wish to achieve (layered strips of meat, shredded, minced, mousse) and off you go.
For the terrine above I used minced chicken, minced pork and twice the amount of yearling beef (low fat – I hate beef fat!) – all free range and preservative free. At times, I have used my food processor to mince different meats. Quantities were roughly 450g of pork, 450g of chicken and about 800g of yearling.
The herbs are fresh thyme and sage.
The alcohol was white wine and brandy. The only type of brandy I had at home was Vecchia Romagna, too good to cook with, but never mind.
I used nutmeg and salt and ground black pepper. I added pistachio nuts and more thyme.
I mixed it all up and left it overnight, but is OK to macerate just for a few hours.
Bacon is an important ingredient in terrines – moisture and fat. I trimmed the bacon and lined the terrine with the strips. My bacon rashes were not long enough to hang over the side, but this did not matter as I used other bacon strips to cover the terrine
I added the minced meats on top.
And placed more bacon to cover it. I used baking paper and a lid from my other terrine mold and placed it in a baine -marie, i.e. a hot water bath – mine was made with a roasting pan large enough to hold the terrine and deep enough for the water to come at least half way up. The purpose of cooking food via a bain-marie is that it creates a gentle heat around the food and results in a uniform cooking process.
I cooked it on 195C for two hours.
When you take off the lid and paper you will notice that the terrine has shrunk and there will be liquid around the meat. All good news – the liquid will turn into very flavourful jelly and the meat will need to be pressed. This is easily done by putting a wight on top.
I used a new piece of paper and an another terrine pan filled with water to press it. At other times I have used bricks and stones – be adventurous (another reason why I like making them).
Leave it overnight in the fridge for the flavours to mature (longer if you wish). When you are about to serve it, run a knife around the edges, turn it upside down and WOW.This one was taken to a holiday house at Balnarring Beach, Terrines are just so portable!
OK, it may not be Sicilian butI think that Sicilians would like it. if you wish to make a Sicilian Terrine see Gelatina:
Those of you who have been around as long as I have and were making terrines in the 80’s may be familiar with using finely minced chicken (mousseline) as a binder for layering vegetables.
My bible at the time for making terrines was Terrine, Pâtés & Galantines. It is one of many books in this Time Life Books, The Good Cook.
I had not used this book in years as terrines and pâtés have dropped out of vogue in Australia but I was in France the year before last and particularly in Paris terrines were very much still eaten and I have wanted to make a terrine or pâté ever since. Today was my chance and I am taking this one to a friend’s place to eat on her balcony while we celebrate Christmas eve – terrines are very portable, great for picnics too.
When I looked at this book I also found a number of magazine cut outs with recipes inserted between the pages and on one of them was this very same recipe (published 1981), but it was accredited as being a recipe from Fanny’s restaurant in Melbourne (opened in 1960 and closed in 1993). There was no mention or credit given to the origins of this recipe. The original recipe is called Chicken and Vegetables Terrine and is as cooked in the three star restaurant Les Frères Troisgros, in Roanne, France.
I used chicken fillets for making the mousseline. Cut them into chunks. Place in a food processor and blend until broken down and smooth. Egg and flavourings are added to the pureed chicken; it is the main component of the terrine and used as a binder for the vegetables.
The original Les Frères Troisgros recipe is in six layers. The vegetables are parboiled for a few minutes and cooled. The chicken puree is divided into 3 bowls – in one bowl the carrots are added (cut into batons); in the other the green beans and the third is plain. The vegetable mixtures are then placed in layers – plain, carrot, beans, a thin layer of black olives in a row in the centre, plain, carrot, beans.
Now that I am looking at the original recipe I am wondering why I am giving you all this information – mine is quite different, but let us give credit where credit is due and it did provide inspiration and brought back fond memories of making terrines.
I used my Le Creuset, Enamelled Cast Iron Pâté Terrine w/ Lid that I bought in the 80’s, and is still being produced by Le Creuset. If you do not have one of these pans, use a loaf pan (roughly 20cm/x10cm).
What I did.
5-6 chicken fillets cut into chunks
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
5 spring onions sautéed in a little oil (original recipe used shallots)
1 tablespoon white wine or champagne vinegar * I used sherry vinegar (softer tasting)
a handful of green beans, parboiled for 1-2 minutes and cooled, (*I dressed them with a little vinaigrette)
a handful pitted black olives (*mine were marinaded In fennel seeds, oregano and extra virgin olive oil)
*a handful of pistachio nuts
*juice and grated peel of ½ lemon
* ground pepper (I used pink peppercorns)
*fresh sage leaves to line the bottom of the pan
* ½ cup almond or hazelnut butter = grind nuts into meal with oil to make a paste (I used this for taste but also because my friend is allergic to diary)
Sauté chopped spring onions in a little oil and cool.
Mince chicken fillets in a food processor. Add ¼ cup of the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Add cooked spring onions, egg, lemon juice and peel, marjoram, almond or hazelnut butter and puree until very smooth.
Oven to 180C
Lightly grease the pan you will use. Place fresh sage leaves on bottom for visual impact and taste. Sage and marjoram are doing well in my planter box and marjoram goes well with chicken, however other herbs, e.g. thyme, rosemary, tarragon will also be suitable.
Divide puree into 3 lots.
Place first lot on top of the sage leaves and spread it with a spatula to cover entire bottom surface. Place green beans keeping the beans in straight lines going in the same direction. Then cover with a layer of chicken mixture.
Place olives on top, add pistachio nuts. Then cover with a layer of chicken mixture.
Place pan in a larger pan filled with enough boiling water to reach about ½ to ¾ of the way up the sides of the pan. Set in oven and bake for 35 mins.
Remove the pan from the oven and let the terrine rest for about an hour in the pan. or until it is cooler. Run a sharp knife between the terrine and the pan to loosen it and carefully turn it upside down on a plate to catch any juices. Wrap in with baking paper, place a weight on top ( I used the lid of the Le Creuset pan) and let it cool in fridge for at least 3 hours or overnight to set.
The original recipe presents the terrine with a tomato vinaigrette. I made some egg mayonnaise – easier to transport.
I almost always like to experiment with traditional recipes, often by including ingredients that traditionally are not tolerated by purist Italians. I persevere with my variations because I usually like the end result. It is a little like the situation with Sangiovese produced in Tuscany and the wine from Sangiovese grapes grown in Australia. I once had a lengthy discussion with a lovely wine bar owner in Firenze who could not believe that we would dare call our wine Sangiovese because Australia could not possibly have the traditional characteristics of the Tuscan region, the terroir and the climate. But how important are the skills of the winemaker and the subtle variations of in an aged old tradition?
I make panforte every year for Christmas. In traditional panforte recipes the most common nuts are almonds and hazelnuts. In recent times pistachio nuts, walnuts and macadamia have become common, especially in Australia.
We have also taken liberties with what we do with the nuts – whole or chopped nuts, skin-on, blanched or toasted? This time I used blanched almonds and hazelnuts with their skins – I blanched and toasted the almonds and toasted the hazelnuts and rubbed some of their skin off.
I like black ground pepper and plenty of it; traditional recipes do not add as much as I do, but then again I also like to add black pepper to my fruitcakes. The common spices are cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Some add coriander, and I too have done so in other panforte I have made.
I added cocoa powder and chopped dark chocolate pieces. I wanted colour, richness and a slight bitterness, a contrast with the sweetness of the fruit. I also thought that the chocolate would melt and once cool would solidify (like in a Florentine biscuit) and make the panforte texture less candied. I used citron and orange peel, figs and ginger (in syrup, but I drained it). I have also eaten panforte with cranberries, cherries and pineapple. Where does one draw the line?
Could I still call what I made panforte? Not likely.
Zenzero (ginger) is not common in Italian cuisine and is not found in panforte, nor are dark chocolate pieces included in the traditional mix.
I used equal amounts of honey and sugar – the sugar, like toffee makes it brittle, the honey adds flavour and gives the panforte a softer, less brittle consistency.
A little flour and a little butter – the more flour you add, the firmer the texture of the panforte; the more butter the richer and shorter the mixture. I used the chocolate and too much of it and because of the chocolate’s fat high content I should not have used. the butter. My panforte did not end up as chewy as the classic variety of panforte.
I ended up with a fabulous tasting concoction – how could it not be with all of those good ingredients and flavours. The ginger and pepper makes it very more-ish. But is it panforte?
I enjoyed making it and shall enjoy eating it and sharing it with friends but not call it a panforte – an experiment perhaps, so that I could make use of all of the ginger in syrup that I had in my pantry.
A friend went overseas and left me with an incredible amount of candied ginger. I made a syrup and turned the candied ginger into moist ginger in a very flavourful syrup with the texture of honey.
370 g of nuts – almonds, hazelnuts
370 fruit – figs, citrus, lemon and orange peel
4 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp ground spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, less quantity of cloves
150g plain flour
4 tsp cocoa powder 150g chopped dark chocolate
1 tsp butter (I used 1 tbs and this was too much)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup honey
Roughly chop the figs, place then into a bowl with the peel and drained ginger
In a different bowl put in the nuts.
Into a large heatproof mixing put in the flour, cocoa and spices. Combine these and stir in the fruit and the nuts.
Heat the oven to 200C
Line containers with baking paper.
Put the white sugar and honey into a pan and gently heat until it bubbles. Keep it on the gentle heat for another minute. Place in the butter.
Work quickly and stir the hot liquid into the other ingredients until well combined, then scrape into the prepared tins and press down. Bake the small ones for about 15mins and larger shapes about 30 minutes. They harden as they cool.
Cool the panforte before turning out. Wrap them in more baking paper until you are ready to gift wrap them in cellophane and sprinkle with icing sugar.