Category Archives: Recipes

BAR IDDA AND PADRE PIO

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Idda is Sicilian for “she” or “her”. Iddu is the masculine – “him” or “his” – and this word sounds much more uncompromising and abrupt than the Italian equivalents, lei and lui. To name a café, Bar Idda, is perhaps the Sicilian equivalent of the French chez, but it is not nearly as common. It implies homeliness and a feminine touch – welcome, warmth and simplicity – unsophisticated but authentic cooking and the use of simple ingredients which vary according to the availability of seasonal produce.

Bar Idda is a relatively new café at 132 Lygon Street, which I was introduced to by some friends who’d eaten there twice before while I was overseas. They thought I’d enjoy Bar Idda’s Sicilian menu. And I did, for all the above reasons.

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Chef and owner of Bar Idda is Alfredo La Spina, who named the café in honour of his grandmother – she is the idda. Alfredo is of Sicilian heritage and his wife and her brother are also on the staff. Their father is from Sicily and their mother is from Calabria – regions of Italy that could be neighbours if it weren’t for the Straits of Messina, but which are still close enough to grow and enjoy similar produce, sharing some dishes in common with local variations. The spiced polpette (meatballs) cooked in tomato sugo are more a Calabrese specialty than Sicilian.

The menu is short and changes often. Sicilian food, like all Italian food, is regional. Although Sicily is a small island, a third the size of Tasmania, the regional specialties and local variations are numerous and sometimes subtle. You don’t have to travel far in Sicily to experience the differences and Sicilians will point out to you – probably in a much more forceful way than their northern cousins – the distinguishing features and ingredients of their specialty dishes.

Cap & olives front_0059Take for example the archetypical Sicilian dish, caponata.

My recipe and photo (above) of capoanata: CAPONATA SICILIANA (CATANESE, Caponata as made in Catania)

Eggplant is the principal ingredient if in Palermo, but in Catania, on the other side of the island, peppers are the featured ingredient and some Catanesi would not dream of making caponata without potatoes! Put a Palermitano and a Catanese in the same room and they will argue endlessly about which one is the true caponata. They will never agree.

I can remember having a very animated argument waiting for some photos to be printed in a camera shop in Ragusa. I was telling the owner about my aunt’s skill in making ricotta ravioli (a specialty of the area) and he asked me if she used marjoram in her recipe. He was aghast when I told him she didn’t – his mother did – and soon everyone in the shop was voicing their opinion.

I appreciated the varied offerings on the Bar Idda menu. They suggest that Alfredo La Spina has read or researched Sicilian cuisine and is prepared to include dishes from all over the island (not just from his parents’ province).

The food is excellent value and the flavours are traditionally Sicilian which suggests to me that Alfredo has respect for the ingredients and will maintain the cultural integrity of the cuisine.

There are only Sicilian wines on offer and surprisingly the list includes a Pinot Grigio, which is a grape and style of wine grown and produced in the north of Italy. It goes to show, things change – even in Sicily.

The top image is of the Trinacria, the emblem in the Sicilian flag. The term trinacria means “triangle” as for the shape of Sicily. The Greeks called it Trinakrias, the Romans called it Trinacrium, meaning “star with 3 points”. There is a trinacria hanging in the restaurant.

Trinacria

This other image is of Padre Pio. One of the many versions of images of Padre Pio is also hanging in the restaurant (I said it is homely).

Padre Pio is not a Sicilian saint but his picture hangs in many houses (and some businesses – including the post office in Ragusa!) in Sicily.

Padre Pio was born May 25, 1887 in Pietrelcina, Italy, a small country town located in the Province of Benevento, in Campania, Southern Italy. He died in his parish of San Giovanni Rotondo, an agricultural community 180 miles from Rome on the Gargano Promontory in Puglia, a region in Southern Italy.

In 2004, Pope John Paul II dedicated the Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church and Shrine in San Giovanni Rotondo to the memory of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina.

(Saint) Padre Pio has become one of the world’s most popular saints and there are prayer groups with three million members and devotees worldwide. A 2006 survey by the magazine Famiglia Cristiana found that more Italian Catholics pray to Padre Pio than to any other figure.
The Sicilians love him. A statue of Saint Pio in Messina, Sicily attracted attention in 2002 when it allegedly wept tears of blood. Now there seem to be statues of Padre Pio in all Sicilian towns.

Alfredo, I found this quote and photo of Father Pio’s on the web:

Humility and charity go hand in hand. One glorifies, the other sanctifies.

All the best Alfredo. I intend to visit often.

Marisa (and friends).

 

Bar Idda, 132 Lygon St, Brunswick East, VIC 305

 

FAVE ( Broad beans)

Fresh broad beans are only available for a short season in Spring, but walking around the Melbourne Victoria market in the last two weeks I have only seen them in a few stalls.

In spite of my love for broad beans I do not always buy them unless the pods are fresh, bright green in colour and most importantly they must be small or medium sized. Unfortunately most of the broad beans you see for sale are the puffy, larger broad beans, the most mature pods.

In Sicily these large pods are shelled and the beans are dried. Beans this size have to be soaked before cooking and each bean has to be, individually, peeled.

The size of the beans inside the pod determines how you prepare them.

Sicilians eat the tender, young broad beans (about the size of a fingernail) raw. Sadly, you are not likely to find these for sale – you will have to grow them yourself.

Broad beans are sold in their pods and they have to be shelled. And if you look at the photos you can imagine that the process takes time and you need to buy a large quantity of bean pods to get a decent feed. I paid $7 for these ($4 per kilo) so they are not exactly cheap.I ended up with less than 500 g.

When I bought my broad beans I was amused to see that the vendor had placed a packet of shelled broad beans on top of the bean pods. She said her daughter had shelled some because some people do not know what’s inside the pods and that they have to be shelled before eating.

Others may not know that the larger beans need to be skinned again (double-peeling or twice-peeled beans). They have a thick, outer skin, which can taste slightly bitter. Double peeling beans is a very time consuming process, which I try to avoid by selecting the smallest pods I can. (I like to select my own).

There are different brands of frozen broad beans and some brands are double peeled
(you can usually find them in Asian food shops). Although frozen beans are quite acceptable, the fresh ones certainly taste better. Think of the differences in taste and texture between frozen peas and fresh, young peas.

Broad beans are not difficult to cook. My favourite cooking method is to sauté them in a little oil and a little chopped onion, parsley and a little salt and pepper. To finish the cooking add a little liquid, cover and braise them until softened (cooked in umitu in Sicilian and in umido in Italian).

RECIPE:

Broad beans with mint

If the beans are not too big (or have been double peeled), a very simple way is to cook them in boiling water till softened (I do not cook them for long), drain them and dress them with a little good quality extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and a few leaves of mint. Mint is tender and lush at this time of year. If you do not have mint, dried oregano is always a good Sicilian choice.
See my other posts about broad beans: Cannulicchi a la Favuritaa – pasta,

Maccu – soup, made with dry broad beans

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PASTA DI MANDORLA (How to make Marzipan recipe)

This photo of marzipan fruit (also called Frutta di Martorama) was taken in a pastry shop in Catania. This pasticceria has shaped the marzipan into a variety of shapes: apples, apricots, oranges, prickly pears, different varieties of plums, cherries, green figs, pomegranates, pears , chestnuts and almonds.

I make marzipan when I make cassata di ricotta which I cover with a thin coat of pale green marzipan (I use a drop of green food colouring. In earlier days my mother used to use a little puree made with wilted spinach leaves). Sometimes I also add a proportion of ground pistachio nuts to the almond meal.

In one of my previous posts I have included a non traditional, simple recipe for making marzipan and for shaping marzipan fruit. I like this version because  it is less sweet.

INGREDIENTS
almonds ground, 500 g – blanched and ground finely
icing sugar, 300 g, icing sugar
vanilla bean paste, to taste
egg white, 1
salt, a pinch

In a bowl whisk the egg white with the salt until frothy. Whisk in the vanilla. Gradually stir in the almonds and the sugar, kneading as you go to form a smooth, pliable dough. Add  more almond meal and/ or icing sugar if it is too soft.

The most authentic recipe that I have found is in the book called Bitter Almonds, Recollections and Recipes from a Sicilian girlhood. The book was researched and written by Mary Taylor Simeti and it contains recollections and recipes of Maria Grammatico, famous for making almond pastries. She has a wonderful pastry shop in Erice and I visited this recently (in September 2009).

This is the recipe as written in the book.

• 2 CUPS (3oo gr) whole blanched almonds
• 2 CUPS (4oo gr) granulated sugar
• 1/3 cup (0.,75 dl) water
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

In a meat grinder or a food processor, grind the almonds with about 2 tablespoons of the sugar until very fine, almost powdery.
In a food processor or in an electric mixer, combine the nuts, the rest of the sugar, the water, vanilla, and the almond extract, if using. Process or mix until the paste is very smooth. Remove to a marble slab or other cold work surface dusted with confectioners’ sugar and knead briefly by hand.
Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Marzipan will keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerator. This makes 800gr of marzipan.

A particular specialty at Easter time in Sicily are the pecorelle pasquali (marzipan lambs). These lambs are from Pasticceria Spinello in Modica Sicily (it is near Ragusa where my relatives live). In Sicilian they are called agneddi (lambs)or pecuredde (small sheep) di pasta riali. . They are often filled with citron jam or paste made from pistachio nuts.

I once bought one for my mother and she still has it, 20 years later. She said that it was too pretty to be eaten. It was never kept in the fridge – it is a little bit dusty!

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MARZAPANE also called Pasta Reale (Marzipan)


This photo was taken in Erice, one of Sicily’s most precipitous fortress towns that dates back to the Romans. It is said that from Erice, the Romans could see the ships in the harbour of Carthage. (Those of you who read my blog will know that my laptop was stolen in Paris about three weeks ago). I have lost most of my current photographs of Sicily because they had been downloaded onto the laptop. This is one of the few remaining photos still in the camera.

Anyone who has been to Sicily is almost certain to have seen displays of marzipan fruit like this one. Sicilians are the masters of marzipan. Real marzipan is made by cooking a strong syrup of sugar and water and then adding freshly ground almonds. Almond extract enhances the taste. The mixture is kneaded till smooth (like bread dough) and then shaped.

Seeing this array of marzipan in Erice reminded me that I had made marzipan to decorate a cassata I made about three months ago. Marzipan keeps. I wrap any left over marzipan in plastic wrap and store it in the fridge. I have just checked the left-over marzipan from the cassata, and it is still there – fresh and ready to be use.

This recipe is for the easier, non-traditional, uncooked marzipan.

INGREDIENTS
almonds ground, 500 g – blanched and ground very fine
sugar, 500 g,caster
vanilla bean paste, to taste
egg whites, 2
salt, a pinch

In a bowl whisk the egg whites with the salt until they are frothy. Whisk in the vanilla. Gradually stir in the almonds and the sugar, kneading as you go to form a smooth, pliable dough. Wrap tightly in foil or in a plastic bag or in an airtight container in the fridge.

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MARZIPAN FRUITS

Make at least 2 days ahead. The marzipan can be made up to 8 weeks in advance.

marzipan paste (at room temperature)
food colouring, for decorating
cloves, for decorating
icing sugar, to coat hands

Work with small pieces of marzipan at a time and keep the remaining marzipan covered tightly. Form the marzipan into a smooth ball by rolling it between the palms of your hands, and mould it gently into the desired shape. Wiping your hands occasionally with a damp cloth and using a little icing sugar to coat your palms (like you do with flour) helps stop it sticking.

If you wish to make the marzipan look like citrus fruit or strawberries roll it over a fine grater or sieve. Let the marzipan dry on sheets of foil overnight.

Use small brushes dipped in the food colour to achieve the desired colours and shadings. You may need a second coat of colour but let the first coat dry. Use cloves to form the blossom end of fruits such as apples and pears.

Let the marzipan dry uncovered for one day, and once again with a soft brush add any fine details.

See:  CASSATA ( Post no. 2) Calls for a celebration!!!

Photo below shows one of the many  little lanes in Erice.

Feature photo is of marzipan fruit made by Libby, a friend in Adelaide.
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THE CHARLESTON Restaurant in Mondello (near Palermo)


Having been there on a previous trip to Sicily, we finally made it back to the famous Charleston Restaurant on the beach at Mondello. We did not enjoy our food as much as we expected.

However I did find the conversation that I had at the end of the meal with the waiter very interesting. I’ll get back to that.

The restaurant has changed hands in the last two years and the owner has decided that the Charleston’s menu of enduring, traditional favourites, needed refreshing. So alongside the menu Tradizionale, there is now a selection of dishes labelled Innovazione (Innovation).

Allowing ourselves to be rushed into ordering – fatal mistake – we thought we would honour the experiment and chose from the menu Innovazione. This after all was 2009 and I was ready for Innovation having appreciated the traditional food at this restaurant  at an earlier visit.

Good waiters recommend and advise – but maybe we looked too much like tourists who did not belong . We should not have been intimidated by the waiter standing at attention, pen poised over the pad, waiting to write our order. He looked impatient.

This is first of the innovative dishes I ate. It is called a Tououlet Con Verdure.
It is a small sformato (mould) of couscous topped with slices of very young squid (lightly pan fried) Surrounding it was a strong reduced fish sauce with some balsamic reduction for effect. The red blobs on the corners of the plate were the verdure (vegetables) and these were just sliced unseasoned tomatoes, which were not particularly tasty. It was a modern take on the traditional cous cous – the fish, the couscous, the concentrated fish stock – I had eaten an excellent the night before on the waterfront at Castellammare del Golfo. ( Broth, couscous and fish presented separately- traditional).

The rest of the food we ordered was just as unappealing. Where was the innovation?

The waiter who gave us the bill at the Charleston (there were several standing around and each had a different function but I have to say, little to do), when questioned about the quality of the food, admonished us for ordering from the menu Innovazione, as much to say we got what we deserved/ what did you expect. He explained the new owner’s demand for change, but said the menu Tradizionale was still the thing to eat at the Charleston, and that it was going to take the chefs another couple of years to get the innovations right .

Sicilians are good at cooking traditional dishes and these are what Sicilians like to eat. The menu in some restaurants may not look very exciting, but cooked well, the simple becomes a masterpiece. True…. and especially on this occasion.

MA2SBAE8REVW

CANNULICCHI A LA FAVURITA – CANNOLICCHI ALLA FAVORITA (pasta with braoadbeans, peas and artichokes alla favorita)


In Spring we get broad beans and fresh peas. Artichokes (one name for them is cannolicchi in Sicilian) are also available and the combination of these three vegetables is very common in Italian (includes Sicilian) Spring recipes.

The recipe and the name of this dish is taken from the menu of one of Sicily’s outstanding restaurants the Charleston, found in Mondello on the outskirts of Palermo. I do not know why the restaurant is called by this name, but speculate that its size and grandeur is reminiscent of the popular, dance halls of the twenties. It is a lively, glamorous restaurant on the water, with top food and reputed to be frequented by pezzi grossi (slang for people who mean business).

The Charleston is a popular restaurant and the menu represents the best of Sicilian traditional dishes, wines and quality produce. Each traditional dish is modern in its presentation and very different to Sicilian food one generally eats in Sicily.
Using tubular pasta will help to trap the sauce and cannolicchi are suggested in the recipe. These are cylindrical shaped, hollow pasta ranging from 50-60 mm in length with a smooth surface; other large tubular pasta can be used.

The vegetables are cooked very quickly. The softer centre and the fondi of the artichokes (the tender, fleshy parts at the base) are used in this dish, so you can purchase the larger, fleshy, artichokes which are very common in the Queen Victoria Market.

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The pasta dish is similar to a warm salad. I make the sauce while the pasta is cooking to better preserve the colours of the vegetables (the different shades of the colour green).

In my recipe I add herbs at the end of cooking – mint or fennel fronds (cut finely) or fresh basil (not yet in season). I also like to include a spoonful of fresh ricotta on each person’s plate.
The following recipe is for 6 people

INGREDIENTS
pasta, 400g cannolicchi or other tubular pasta
artichokes, the fondi (bases)-depending on the size of the artichokes I usually buy 5 large artichokes and use the stalk as well.
lemon, 1 for acidulated water.
broad beans, young, 1kg.
peas, young, 1kg.
onion, 1 large white, fresh (fresh onion are sweeter in taste ) sliced,
pecorino, 100g freshly grated
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil, 3/4 cup

PROCESSES
Shell the peas and broad beans. (Many remove the outer light green peel of the broad beans – I only buy young broad beans and only remove the skin of the larger beans)
Prepare the artichokes by first removing all of the leaves and only keeping the tender centre and its fleshy base. Remove the choke if there is one. The peeled stalks and the artichokes should be sliced finely. Keep in acidulated water until ready to use.
Boil the water, add salt and cook the pasta and make the sauce while the pasta is cooking.
Heat the oil and add the onion. Stir gently until golden and softened.
Add the vegetables and toss till they begin to change colour and have softened (about 7-10 mins). Add salt during cooking.
Add fresh, finely chopped herbs before the end of cooking..
Drain the pasta, add the sauce and toss gently.
Present it with grated pecorino and black pepper.

I hope to eat at the Charleston again (I arrive in Palermo within the next few days). Because it will be autumn, these will not be on the menu, but I am pretty certain that whatever I eat will be seasonal and fabulous.

MY FAMILY FEAST SBS ONE, my recipes have been selected

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I have some good news.
A few months ago I submitted three family recipes to the SBS Food website as part of a promotion for the upcoming SBS TV series MY FAMILY FEAST, which begins on Thursday, 27 August at 7:30pm on SBS ONE.

MY FAMILY FEAST is a weekly half hour television show that will take us into the lives and cooking traditions of Australian immigrants and their families, as seen through the eyes of award winning chef Sean Connolly.

The three recipes (as called on my web) are:
• SARDE A BECCAFICO (Sardines stuffed with currants, pine nuts, sugar and nutmeg)
• PASTA CON LE SARDE (Pasta with sardines, from Palermo, made with fennel, pine nuts and currants)
• EGGPLANT or ZUCCHINI PARMIGIANA (Milinciani or cucuzzeddi a parmiciana – parmigiana di melenzane or di zucchine).

All three recipes were selected and published on the SBS website. On their website they are called:
• Sardines a beccafico, stuffed with currants and pine nuts
• Eggplant or zucchini Parmigiana
• Pasta with sardines, fennel, pine nuts and currants

I have now been informed (by Shelley Hepworth Editor, SBS Food)
that one of my recipes Sardines a beccafico, stuffed with currants and pine nuts has been cooked by Sean Connolly and will be published as a video on the MY FAMILY FEAST website.

The SBS website is:
http://www.sbs.com.au/food

You can view the video on the SBS Food website here:
http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipe/893/Sardines_a_beccafico_stuffed_with_currants_and_pine_nuts

I have reproduced a photo of Sean Connolly from the web, therefore I will acknowledge it.
Executive Chef and restaurateur Sean Connolly poses at the official launch party for Sean’s Kitchen at Star City on September 10, 2008 in Sydney, Australia.
(September 10, 2008 – Photo by Gaye Gerard/Getty Images AsiaPac)

15th October 2009

My Family Feast

I have been overseas and have only had the opportunity to view three episodes of this adventurous, food series. I was very impressed by Sean’s obvious enjoyment and the respect he demonstrated to the people and the ingredients. I particularly enjoyed the informality of the interaction between the cooks and Sean. Congratulations, and I am sorry that I have not viewed them all.

Marisa


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SCACCE (focaccia-like stuffed bread)

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These scacce were made by one of my cousins, Franca. She lives in Ragusa and these focaccia-like stuffed breads are typical of that region of Sicily (south east and the chief cities are Ragusa, Modica, Noto).

There are many focaccia-like stuffed breads made all over Sicily. They have different names, they may be slightly different in shape and have some variations in the filling. In my previous posts I have written about sfincione di Palermo and impanata (in categories Snacks and Meat), but there are other regional specialties, for example the ‘nfigghiulata, fuazza, pastizzu, ravazzata and scacciata.

Scacce are probably classed as finger food and are usually made in large numbers. In the houses of my Ragusa relatives they are made for Christmas, Easter, birthdays, baptisms (few of those lately) and in fact, on any celebratory occasion.. Although the other cousins and their daughters and my aged aunt can all make scacce well, it is always Franca’s duty; she is deemed the campione (champion) maker.
There are several different fillings for scacce in their household. The ones in the photo are made with slices of fried eggplants, tomato salsa, toasted breadcrumbs, basil, pepper, caciocavallo cheese (use provola/ mozzarella- type cheese) and of course, extra virgin olive oil.

But if she is making one type of filling, she is likely to make other scacce with different fillings and they vary with seasonal ingredients.

Typical fillings are:
• tomato salsa (300g ripe tomatoes, garlic, oil, salt and pepper and reduced, basil, caciocavallo cheese (100g cut into very thin slices),
• caciocavallo cheese , parsley, seasoning and oil,
• young spinach leaves, sprinkled with salt and cut finely, dried grapes (currants), seasoning and a little salsa,
• fresh onion, cut finely, sprinkled with salt and left in a colander for about 30 mins, then squeezed, the onion is mixed with fresh drained ricotta,
• fresh drained ricotta and fresh pork sausage(casing removed) rubbed between the fingers, wild fennel,
• purple or green cauliflower (partly cooked in boiling water), dressed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt, chili, caciocavallo cheese, (anchovies are optional).

When I make a scaccia I put the filling on top of the dough in one layer, then roll it up like a strudel, but this is for the novices, the Ragusani do it differently. The dough is folded over, filled again, then folded again. I have difficulties explaining it but I will do my best.

The scaccia is cut into slices once it is baked.

INGREDIENTS and PROCEDURES
The dough is the same as for making pizza: good quality white flour, yeast (fresh or dry), salt, warm water, and some white wine (this ingredient is not usually added to a pizza and seems typical of the region). Try: 500g/ ¾ cup of liquid/25g yeast.

Combine all ingredients until you have soft dough. Stretch and place fingers through dough and add about ¾ cup of extra virgin olive oil.
Kneed well. Leave it covered for about one hour to rise.

When spreading the filling over the dough, spread the filling thinly.

Roll out the dough into a thin square sheet.
Place ½ of the filling of choice on top of the dough, but leave a border of about 2cm. on the four sides.
Fold two of the opposite borders into the centre. Place the rest of the filling on top of the two folded flaps.
Fold the other two opposite ends into the centre and seal the pastry with beaten egg.( make sure it is well stuck).
Bake the scaccia in a 200 C oven for about 30 minutes.

Remove the scaccia from the oven, let it rest, covered with a tea towel, for about 20 minutes.
Cut the scaccia into slices.

In the photo you will notice bottles of Nero D’Avola (typical Sicilian red wine) and some white mirtilli (these berries are the same species as blueberries, bilberries and cranberries). These are very much appreciated in Sicily.

See recipe:

Sfincione di Palermo 
Scacce and Pizza and a Sicilian Easter.

 

MACCU (a thick, broad bean soup, made at the end of winter to celebrate spring)

This is a photo of mature broad beans taken in the Palermo Market. If you were keen, you would extract the beans from the pods, dry them and store them. Now days  you would buy them dry.

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‘You must try the maccu,’ urged my host as we perused the menu in a small restaurant in the back blocks of Palermo. ‘It’s one of our local specialities.’ A wide, shallow bowl was filled with a drab beige puree enlivened by a spiral of olive oil. I tasted it and in an instant understood that this was minestra di fave, the puree of broad beans that had sustained people throughout the Mediterranean in the 14th and 15th centuries, a dish familiar to me from many culinary manuscripts. The taste was pure, elemental, almost mono-dimensional, but enhanced with the timelessness of tradition. With every spoonful I was connected to civilisations past, from medieval to Roman and even back as far as ancient Greek and Egyptian. And when I harvest my broad beans each spring, the echo of this experience returns.
Barbara Santich, author and culinary historian.
From article in The Australian Weekend magazine: Unexpected delights, compiled by John Lethlean and Necia Wilden, August 03, 2009

I am always thrilled to read anything by Barbara Santich. Her writing is always rich in detail, well researched and a pleasure to read.

Maccu, is a traditional Sicilian very thick soup and in most parts of Sicily it is made of dried fave (broad beans). It is mostly cooked over the winter months and as Barbara informs us , it has been a staple dish for the contadini (peasants) since ancient times.

In some parts of Sicily it is also a celebratory dish cooked at the start of spring. Spring in Sicily has a particular significance for me because March19 was my father’s name day. It is the Feast of San Giuseppe (Saint Joseph); this feast also coincides with the spring solstice and in many parts of Sicily maccu is particularly eaten on this day.

Maccu is a recipe with spring sentiments of renewal, use up the old, celebrate the new. To make maccu, the dried beans of the last season are used before the new harvest begins in spring. Broken spaghetti and any assortment of left over, dry pasta shapes are also added to the soup and particularly in the days when pasta was sold loose, there used to be quite a few pasta casualties. Many of the religious celebrations have pagan origins; the feast of Saint Joseph in the Catholic religion is at the end of Lent, a time traditionally used for fasting, both in the religious sense and over the lean winter season.

Dried fave (broad beans) are the main ingredient. They are light brown and smooth and shaped a little like lima beans. And because they have a very tough skin, they need to be soaked and peeled before cooking. As you would expect, there are local variations in the recipes. In some parts of Sicily a mixture of pulses are used – lentils, beans, chickpeas and some recipes include dried chestnuts. The greater selection of pulses is found in Il grande maccu of San Giuseppe, the grandest soup of them all. Wild fennel is added to most versions – it adds colour and taste. Those of us who do not have this, can use fennel seeds and a few fennel fronds; a little green leaf vegetable like cime di rape, chicory or silver beet (Sicilans would use the wild beets) will also add the green colour. Some recipes include a little chopped celery, others have dried tomatoes (they would be kept under oil over the cold months).

I realize that it is not March, but in Australia we are looking forward to spring which starts in September and writing about maccu now seems appropriate.

This is a recipe for a very simple maccu.

INGREDIENTS
dry broad beans, 500 g (use a variety of other dried pulses if you wish)
wild fennel, one bunch ( or fennel seeds, crushed, 2 teaspoons and fresh fennel fronds)
onion, 1, cut finely
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil

PROCESSES
Soak the dried broad beans overnight.
Drain them and peel the outer skin off the broad beans.
Cover the legumes with an ample amount of water, add fennel seeds and cook the soup slowly. After about 40 minutes add the onion, fennel (and some small amounts of chopped greens if you wish). Continue to simmer for another 30 minutes. To prevent the pulses from remaining hard, add the seasoning after the pulses are cooked. If you wish to add pasta, add more water, bring to the boil and cook the pasta in the maccu.

Drizzle with generous amounts of extra virgin olive oil and serve (I do this at the table and on individual portions).

In some parts of Sicily, left over maccu is also eaten cold (the pulses solidify).

In the feauture photo the maccu is served with Lolli,  a type of hand-made pasta still customary today in the Modica area.  I ate this in Trattoria a Punta Ro Vinu in Modica.

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ZUPPA DI PISCI A SIRAUSANA – ZUPPA DI PESCE ALLA SIRACUSANA (Fish soup from Syracuse)

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You can see from the photo taken when I was last in Syracuse, that fish is plentiful in their markets.

I ate zuppa di pesce as often as I could in Syracuse – rich and fragrant and made with a great variety of fish; one zuppa had a greater variety of molluscs and also included octopus.

The zuppa di pesce (also known as ghiotta di pesce) from Syracuse is a signature dish. It is different from other zuppe di pesce because unlike cucina povera (food made from very meagre ingredients) it is made with quality, prime fish. It contains powerful flavours and is very aromatic.

A zuppa in Sicilian and Italian is a soup (zuppa, a word from Middle English and French soupe). A zuppa di pesce is usually served over slices of bread like a bouillabaisse. Sometimes it is also called a ghiotta di pesce because it is cooked in a tomato-based stock.

The line dividing a fish braise from a zuppa di pesce is blurry. Generally a zuppa contains more liquid and a braise will involve cooking in a small amount of liquid that is reduced and concentrated.

I do buy a mixture of whole fish and fillets. Do not associate cost with quality. Fish with bones (like meat with bones, add flavour).

I have chosen a very simple recipe. Naturally, Sicilians can’t help using some wild fennel (if it is in season) and a few ground fennel seeds would not be wasted.

fish-for-zuppa-di-pesceDSC_0140-300x201

Suitable fish:
A variety of seafood is preferable, but avoid oily fish (like sardines, tailor, mackerel, Australian salmon, trevally). Select at least:
• two different types of fleshy fish. I use: flathead, leatherjacket, albacore tuna, all types of whiting, snapper and blue-eye trevalla if line caught (better choice). Red emperor, snapper, blue-eye trevalla (think twice and if line caught are in the better choice category).
• one crustacean – green (uncooked) shellfish –prawns, lobster (mostly in the think twice), crabs and fresh water yabbies (better choice)
• one cephalopod – cuttlefish, octopus or squid (better choice).
• one mollusc – mussels and vongole (also known as pipis) are the most common in Australia (better choice).

(See my previous posts for categories of sustainable fish)

INGREDIENTS
fish, 1.5 kg, mixed.
tomatoes, 500g peeled, seeded, and chopped
extra virgin olive oil, I/2 cup
celery heart, 2 – 3 pale green stalks and leaves, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
bay leaves, 3 – 4, fresh
garlic, 4- 8 cloves, chopped finely
flat leaf parsley, 2 tablespoons, chopped finely
water, 1 litre

PROCESSES
Prepare the fish: You will need chunks of fish for this recipe (for convenience you could use fillets). Clean, shellfish, molluscs and squid appropriately and cut into mouth-sized pieces.

Make la ghiotta in a shallow wide pan, large enough to accommodate the fish and the ingredients.
For the ghiotta:
Soften the celery in the extra virgin olive oil, for about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic, tomatoes, seasonings and herbs, cover and allow this to simmer gently for 10 minutes.
Add as much water as you think necessary and bring the ghiotta gently to the boil – it is a thick soup.
Add the fish, cover and gently poach it for 5-10 minutes or until the fish is cooked to your liking. Do not stir or move the fish around during cooking or it is likely to result in the fish breaking up.

Serve with crisp, oven toasted bread.

VARIATIONS

  • For additional flavour I use fish stock rather than water.
  • Some of the restaurateurs I spoke to also add a thin peel of orange peel.

Apologies to my overseas readers.

I am astounded about the number of you that there are ( I use a stat counter), and I am sorry that I am writing about Australian species of fish. One day, maybe when (and if) my manuscript about Sicilian recipes (using sustainable fish) is ever published, I will embark on greater research about the fish (sustainable) you have in your oceans.

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