Category Archives: Recipes

KALE (Winter green vegetable and how to cook it)

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This is Gus.

Kale is not an Italian vegetable, I could not even find the name of it in my very large Italian dictionary.

I can remember telling Carmel, Gus’ wife, about having to cook the kale the day that I buy it because I cannot fit the plant in my fridge. She told me about a Northern European customer who told her that in her country this winter plant is usually covered by snow and that she keeps her kale in the freezer (cut it up into separate branches). Apparently this softens the plant making it easier to cook. Fascinating!!

I clean and braise kale the same way as I cook cavolo nero – it is similar in taste and has almost the same texture but I usually cook it for longer. I also cook it the same way as I sometimes cook brussel sprouts.

In the photo below coloured kale is in the vase and black kale( also called cavolo nero and Tuscan cabbage) is in the vase.

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See:

CAVOLO NERO and three ways to cook it

THOSE OTHER BRASSICAS (Cabbages and Brussel Sprouts and how to cook them)

 

COOKED KALE IN A SALAD

Any left over cooked kale makes a wonderful addition to a quinoa or a lentil salad ( for example to the grain or pulse I may add: chopped tomatoes, spring onion, pepitas, sliced celery, roasted pumpkin, braised carrots or braised cooked zucchini (if I have some leftovers in the fridge). The dressing could be a simple Italian: extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and lemon juice. Or it may be a Moroccan type dressing: pomegranate molasses, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, cumin and lemon juice.

As you can see from the photo, one plant can be very  large in size. There are  bronze ans silver coloured kale plants as well (see photo below) but the green type is the first kale to became available. The green plant laying horizontally is a cavolo nero.

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CARCIOFI IMBOTTITI (Stuffed artichokes)

There are two words for carciofi in the Sicilian dialect, cacocciuli. and carcioffuli.
The Italian word for artichoke is carciofo and carciofi is the plural. And were would Italian cooking be without artichokes?

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My favourite way of cooking artichokes is the simple way that my mother has always cooked them. My maternal grandmother Maria (originally from Catania but who lived in Trieste for about 20 years) also cooked them this way. She used the same mixture to stuff sardines, tomatoes and artichokes. I researched Sicilian recipes for stuffed artichokes and found that they are all braised in the same way, but there are regional variations in the stuffing, for example in some parts of Sicily they add mint, others include eggs, some minced onion, or more cheese and even salame.

In Australia, although artichokes are now widely available, they are still thought of as exotic and possibly difficult to prepare. Exotic? Yes, maybe – for their unique taste and appearance, but once you know how to prepare them, they are simple to cook. You may need to tell your friends how to eat them (most will attempt to eat artichokes with a knife and fork).

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Selecting good artichokes is important. Time and time again I have chosen not to buy artichokes as they have been picked too late (too mature). I suspect that some of the inexperienced growers may think that big is better, however this is not necessarily the case (some of the green coloured ones can be large but also tender). And as with all vegetables, I never select ones that are bruised, blemished or withered

INGREDIENTS AND PROCESS
Select and clean the artichokes carefully (as described in my previous post, Carciofi – artichokes and how to clean them). Cut the bases off flat so that they can stand up in a saucepan. Select the size of the saucepan carefully – you do not want them falling over, the artichokes should be close together. Do not forget to include the cleaned stems to add to the braise and keep the artichokes in acidulated water as you work.

Carciofi hero

INGREDIENTS

I include one artichoke per person and each artichoke only needs 2-3 teaspoons of stuffing.

STUFFING: Combine the ingredients for the stuffing in a bowl. This ratio is good: 1 tablespoon of fresh breadcrumbs (made of good quality bread), 1 teaspoon of each – chopped parsley, extra virgin olive oil and grated cheese (you can use parmesan, but generally pecorino is traditionally Sicilian) and some chopped garlic to taste.

Drain the artichokes, spread the leaves (especially in the centre) and sprinkle salt and pepper in between the leaves. Push the stuffing mainly in the centre and if there is any left over, between the leaves. I use my fingers.

Arrange the artichokes standing upright in a pan, put the stems between them and drizzle well with more extra virgin olive oil. Add enough cold water to reach to about 1cm below the artichokes. Cook slowly with a lid for about an hour. Having lived in Trieste, I always add a splash of white wine and sometimes a little stock or a good quality vegetable stock cube to the poaching liquid.

If you are adding peas, broadbeans and/or potatoes just add them to the poaching liquid. The potatoes can go in at the same time, the peas and broadbeans about 15 minutes before the artichokes are cooked. ‘Those Italians’ would cook them all at the same time –they like their food overdone, but maybe they are right and there is more flavour.

I like to present carciofi as a single course – they are too fiddly to eat as an accompaniment to a main course.

Fabulous!!

Key in “artichokes” in search button for more artichoke recipes.

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

Last time I was in Sicily in winter  I we saw masses of artichokes everywhere – in markets, growing in fields, sold by the roadside from the back of utes, in restaurants, and in the homes of relatives.

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When my family first came to Australia, we used to notice that some Italians collected wild artichokes to eat (in Australia they are known as thistles). There were no artichokes for sale for at least a decade so they collected the buds and stripped off all leaves. Only the bases were stuffed or preserved in oil.

Artichokes are now more readily available in Australia and the quality seems to be getting better. I am now more able to find artichokes that feel crisp and dense, with a tightly clenched shape and petals that will snap off crisply when bent back. I have generally found that the purplish coloured ones to be more fibrous and I prefer the green coloured ones that look like roses.

Artichokes have been around for a long time. The Romans called the artichoke cynara, the Arabs al kharsciuf, (this sounds more like the Italian carciofo).

Artichokes contain a chemical called cynarin and it is said that it stimulates the production of bile. This is why artichokes are often used as the basis of digestivi (drinks that aid the digestion – a vital issue among Italians. There are those that prepare the stomach before food (aperitivi) and those drunk after a meal (amari, literally translated as ‘bitters’).

 

Many will be familiar with Cynar, the Italian artichoke-based alcoholic aperitivo manufactured by Campari in Milan. The are many amari manufactured all over Italy, but Averna, the amaro siciliano is a specialty from Caltanissetta (which is close to the centre of Sicily) and is a real indulgence.

Preparing artichokes for cooking
Artichokes in Sicily are sold with long stalks often up to 1 metre in length – do not ever discard the stalks. The stalks are particularly wonderful in risotti (plural of risotto) and braises made with artichoke. Trim the stalk with a small sharp knife to pull away the tough, stringy outer skin (just like the strings of celery) and leave the stem attached to the artichoke. This will expose the light-coloured, centre portion, which is very flavourful and tender and much appreciated by Italians.

When trimming, to prevent discolouration, squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a big bowl of water and keep cleaned artichokes submerged in the mixture. This is referred to as acidulated water. Drain the artichokes by inverting them upside down for about 5 minutes when ready to stuff or cook. Alternatively rub the surfaces with a lemon.

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Preparing artichokes for stuffing
Remove the stalk so that the artichoke will sit on its base in the saucepan. Clean the stalk and pull the tough outside leaves off the base one by one until you have reached the paler less fibrous centre. Then trim about 1cm across the top. Keep them in acidulated water as you work.

Turn the artichoke upside down and bang it on a hard surface and then gently ease the leaves apart to expose the heart. If you place the artichokes in warm water you will be able to ease apart the leaves more easily. I start by easing the outer leaves and working my way to the centre.

There may or may not have a fuzzy choke (it depends on the maturity of the plant). If there is, remove the choke with a teaspoon, inserting it into the centre and carefully turning it without snapping the sides of the choke.

Preparing carciofi Romana

Preparing the base of the artichoke
Those of you who have travelled to Italy would be familiar with the spectacle of men and women preparing artichokes at vegetable markets. They sit with their mound of artichokes, skilfully paring off all the leaves with very sharp kitchen knives.
(Photos of cleaned artichokes taken in the Campo dei Fiori market in December 2009, when I was last in Rome).
These are called fondi di carciofi – they are the bases of mature artichokes. The fondi can be stuffed, braised, sautéed, added to frittata – their intense flavour and meaty texture are a definite taste sensation.

At the end of the season, when the artichokes are large and past their prime, they are trimmed even further. In Australia, we have to do this ourselves. Pare off the leaves of a mature artichoke and just leave the base (no leaves) – it will look like a very shallow cup. The texture of the base will be covered with a pattern of small dots much like the eyes of flies (like a fine etching, delicate and quite beautiful).

There are many recipes for artichokes on my blog:

ARTICHOKES from the growers

THE AMAZING ARTICHOKE

GLOBE ARTICHOKES AND JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES

Stuffed artichokes: with meat and with olives and anchovies)

CARCIOFI FARCITI (Stuffed artichokes: with meat and with olives and anchovies)

A QUICK PASTA DISH for Spring: asparagus, artichokes, peas

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

STUFFED ARTICHOKES WITH RICOTTA AND ALMOND MEAL

CARCIOFI ALLA ROMANA

 

CAVOLO NERO and three ways to cook it

Cavolo nero  is also called black Tuscan cabbage. I have also seen it called Black kale. It is not black in colour, it is a very deep green, the leaves long, thin and curly. I constantly find myself in situations where I end up explaining to others how to clean and how to cook it. It gives me great satisfaction (I feel like a know-all). This morning it happened twice at the Queen Victoria Market. Once at the stall where I was buying it, and again a little later as I was walking along carrying it in my basket. And it happened last week as well.

Here are three ways you can enjoy it:

  • Ribollita (soup)
  • Crostini
  • Contorno ( vegetable side dish)

RIBOLLITA

Cavolo nero is prolific in Tuscany and is one of the main ingredients in the famous Tuscan soup called ribollitaBollita (soup is a feminine word) means boiled, so the soup is called reboiled, and it is.

 Ribollita is made with cannellini, other greens (beets, cabbage), tomatoes, red onion, garlic, celery, carrots, leeks and cavolo nero. Once the soup is made, it is then layered with good quality 1-2 day old bread and left to rest for at least 24 hours; the flavours intensify when it rests.

When the soup is ready to eat, a little extra virgin olive oil is added and then it is reboiled. It is one of those soups that never die – leave it all week.

Have you ever eaten Tuscan bread? Wonderful stuff. Thickening and eating soup with the bread is what contadini, (peasants, on the land) have always done. This custom is very much like the French who ladle soupe over a slice of bread – pain de campagne. The quality and character of the bread is important, it adds flavour. Good bread lasts one week and many say that it improves with age.

 

On CROSTINI

One other way to eat cavolo nero is on crostini.

Use slices of good quality bread, grill them, and while they’re still hot rub them with a cut clove of garlic and drizzle with good quality extra virgin olive oil.

Strip the leaves off the tough stalks (I usually only remove the toughest bits of the stalks at the end of the leaf), wilt till soft, drain well and cool.

Add salt freshly ground black pepper, and a little extra virgin olive oil.

Mix well and place a little of the cooked vegetable on the hot crostini. Drizzle with more olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Place on slices of bread fried in extra virgin olive oil until crisp (crostini).

 

As a CONTORNO (a vegetable accompaniment)

I cook cavolo nero the same way as Italians cook most greens: it is first wilted then tossed around in oil and garlic and salt. Unlike most Italians who like their vegetables soft, I skip the wilting process and sauté them in oil and garlic, add salt and pepper, a splash of liquid (stock, white wine or water) and cook till softened (It is tougher than silverbeet and will take longer to cook).

In photo below, braised greens as an accompaniment to sauteed  chicken livers.

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BRODO DI GALLINA (Chicken Broth)

 

If you aren’t feeling well, especially if you have an upset stomach Italians say that you are debole di stomaco; this seems to be a common malady with Italians. The home cure is to eat in bianco – white food (bianco is Italian for white). In bianco is the culinary term used to refer to a dish, which is served plain and with little seasoning.

Broth, boiled rice, boiled chicken/veal, certain boiled vegetables, steamed white fish, bistecca di vitello a bagnio maria (veal steak cooked in a baine marie), latte di mandorla (almond milk) and bianco mangiare (dessert= thickened almond milk) are some of the foods which are considered mangiare (food) in bianco.

The perfect in bianco food and the cure for any ailment of course, is brodo (broth).

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I usually use a whole, organic chicken and eat the flesh after I have made the broth. If I use a veal shin I also eat the flesh (try it with a salsa verde). If I am eating the meat, I remove the chicken or veal from the broth after about  60-80 minutes of gentle cooking and then evaporate the broth on high heat.

Obviously the more solids, the more taste. To concentrate the flavours, cook the broth for longer and towards the end of cooking, leave it uncovered to evaporate.

If you do not wish to eat the meat, fleshy bones from organic chickens are a suitable substitute. Because stock is the foundation for cooking, the quality of the bones is important, cheap bones from battery hens will not produce flavourful stock and it is likely to be full of concentrated chemicals.

 

Gallina vecchia fa` buon brodo (Ancient Italian proverb).

An old chicken makes good broth.

 

Ingredients: 1 large onion, chicken (or carcasses, necks and wings and/or veal bones) salt, peppercorns(optional), celery stick, carrot, 1-2 red tomatoes) and water to cover ingredients.
Processes: Peel and halve the onion, remove obvious fat from meat, clean the celery and carrot (no need to peel as it will be discarded). Add all of these ingredients and the seasoning to a saucepan or stockpot and cover the contents with cold water. Cover with a lid and slowly bring the broth to a boil. Simmer for 2 hours (or up to 3 hours if using large bones), skimming frequently. Strain the broth, discarding solids (unless you are eating the meat).

See  Gnocchetti di semolino

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N’ZALATA CAPRICCIOSA – INSALATA CAPRICCIOSA (Fennel,olives etc)


This is a very simple and colourful salad, full of different flavours and it includes fennel –very prolific and in season in Australia at the moment. I always find this vegetable very refreshing and cleansing.

Capricciosa means whimsical or fanciful in Italian and the salad lives up to its name. I found this salad in a book about Sicilian recipes that I bought at a railway station. It is listed as N’ZALATA CRAPICIOSA – a misprint, surely? But capricious to the end!

INGREDIENTS and PROCESSES

This salad consists of finely sliced fennel, chopped green olives, capers and red salad onion. In Italy this type of onion is called cipolla calabrese or cipolla Tropea. The name is appropriate – it grows extensively in Calabria and is a dominant ingredient in Calabrese cooking.

Red onions do not just grow in the South of Italy, I also found fresh red onions (sold with their green tops) all over Tuscany and Rome at the end of last year. (The photo was taken in the Greve market, held each Saturday morning in the Piazza where we were staying in December 2008).

Onions, like all vegetables are seasonal. As well as using fresh onions raw in salads, Sicilians also use mature ones (those with dry skin) but usually they “sweeten” them first.

My father always did this, especially for his famous tomato salads. Raw onions are first sliced and then sprinkled with salt (some soak them in cold, salted water) for about 20 minutes – use a colander. The onions are then squeezed to remove the excess liquid and the strong flavour (my father wore his glasses for this process); he also quickly rinsed the onions at the end. 

As a variation, for colour and flavour I have used some chopped finely fennel fonds and sometimes finely chopped mint for extra zing.

For the dressing use quality extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and a dash of vinegar. Dress and toss the salad just before serving.
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RICOTTA FRISCA‘NFURNATA – RICOTTA FRESCA INFORNATA (Baked, fresh ricotta)

I love baked ricotta, but not the bastardized versions blended with eggs and herbs I have seen for sale. I do not know where these originated – not in Italy and definitely not Sicily!

I like to make the authentic, baked ricotta – unadulterated, white and fresh tasting in the centre, with a golden-brown crust. I particularly like it as a first course accompanied by a tomato salad and presented as a light meal.

 

Purchase the solid ricotta, in Australia usually sold by weight from four kilo shapes . The creamy variety sold in plastic tubs is not suitable.
In Sicily the ricotta is drained (on a rack overnight in the fridge) and just rubbed with salt and baked slowly uncovered until it becomes a dark golden colour. Sometimes, olive oil is rubbed over the ricotta before the salt is added, but not always. I also like to add a few herbs for flavour at the bottom of the ricotta while it is cooking and sometimes pepper (or red chili flakes) but this is not strictly traditional.

 

 

INGREDIENTS

ricotta, fresh and a solid piece

extra virgin olive oil, to coat the ricotta
herbs:¼-½ cup dried oregano, enough to sprinkle as a covering and on the bottom
fresh rosemary and/or bay leaves (optional) placed under the ricotta
black pepper, ¼-½ cup or dried red chili flakes, 1 teaspoon (optional)
salt (flakes or coarse), to sprinkle on top.

 

PROCESSES

The following cooking time is for a piece of ricotta weighing about 1 kilo.
Pre heat your oven to 180 C.
Oil the bottom of a baking tray, place a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper, and oregano (also the bay leaves and/or rosemary if you wish to include these).
Place the lump of ricotta (or wheel) on top of the flavourings.
Oil, the ricotta lightly – use your hands to coat it.
Sprinkle with the salt (I use flakes) and oregano – use your hands to ensure that it is well seasoned.

Cover with foil and bake in a 180 C for 15 minutes . Remove the foil and bake uncovered until the it has just begun to turn golden brown – it may take about 40 minutes or more, depending on the size.

Allow to cool before eating.

Cover with foil – this dish will keep well in the fridge for 3 days. A perfect dish to prepare well ahead of time.

VARIATION
In a restaurant in Syracuse I was presented with warm baked ricotta sprinkled with a coating of toasted pistachio nuts.
To make this version, rub the ricotta with olive oil and a little salt. Add the nuts in the last 20 minutes of cooking.

It can also double up as a dessert if dribbled with honey.

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MINISTRA DI FINOCCHIO E PATATE (Soup – fennel and potatoes)

Several of my friends are beginning to discover and appreciate the taste of fennel. It is prolific at present in Melbourne and most refreshing eaten raw. It can be cooked – braised, baked, made into a tortino (see recipe in blog tortino di finocchio) and as in this recipe, made into a soup (not a very common way to cook fennel).

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Traditionally this recipe should be made with wild fennel and this is how I first tasted this soup.Obviously if this ingredient is not close by, the bulb can be used. If you can collect some wild fennel (make sure it looks healthy, see recipe in blog pasta con le sarde), experiment with this recipe and use both the wild and the cultivated bulb with some of its tender fronds and stalks (choose round, shiny bulbs, as in photo taken in the market of Syracuse).

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It is one of the simplest soups to make and when it was first made for me (using wild fennel) all of the vegetables went into a pot with the water and once softened, broken spaghetti were added – soup without pasta is rarely presented. The broken spaghetti were once the way to use them up, by all means use some short, small sout pasta shape. 

I am always amazed how Sicilian soups cooked so simply can be so appetising. My relative presented the minestra with a drizzle of the very flavourful oil given to her by a relative in Noto. Maybe the oil is the secret ingredient! Boiled vegetables cooked this way and presented with the water is considered rinfrescante, calming and soothing for the digestive system and very common as the evening meal (Sicilians still eat their main meal at lunch time).

I have intensified the flavours by varying the method of cooking and I sauté the vegetables before adding the liquid, this being a common way to make soup in the north of Italy. I also like to add stock instead of water, but when I cook this version it is no longer traditionally Sicilian.

I also found a version of a recipe for maccu (a very Sicilian soup) made in the Madonie which is very similar but uses wild fennel , dried broadbeans (soaked overnight and peeled) and no potato. The dried broadbeans add a very different taste and as they are floury, also thicken the soup as does the potato.
Photo below in restaurant in Modica.
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INGREDIENTS 

potatoes 250g, cut into small cubes 

onion 1 large 

parsley,1cup of chopped 

salt and pepper 

bulb fennel 1-2 (about 600g), with green top leaves chopped and sliced very finely 

tomatoes 3 large peeled, chopped 

spaghetti 300 g of broken roughly into little pieces 

extra virgin olive oil ½ cup and some quality extra virgin to dribble on top 

bay leaves, 2 preferably fresh (optional) 

water,1 ½ litres (I use stock)

 

PROCESSES 

Traditional: 

Add all all the vegetables to the water and proceed as described above. 

Not traditional: 

Saute the onion in the oil until softened. 

Add the fennel and potatoes and stir till coated, add about 2 cups of liquid and the bay leaves . 

Cover and allow to braise very gently and without drying out for about 10 minutes. 

Add the tomatoes , parsley, seasoning and the rest of the liquid. 

Bring to the boil, add the pasta, stir , cover and allow to cook . 

Drizzle with the quality olive oil and sprinkle with fresh black pepper and serve. 

 

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SPAGHETTI CA SARSA MURISCA (Sicilian) – Spaghetti with Moorish sauce

IMG_2644Salsa moresca is an interesting name for a pasta sauce. The sauce is eaten in and around the town of Scicli, a beautiful baroque town not far from Modica (also beautiful) which is close to Ragusa (where my father’s relatives live). The ingredients are a combination of the sweet and the savoury and include bottarga (tuna roe), sugar, pine nuts, cinnamon and the juice and peel of citrus.

I was interested in the name – murisca (moresca is Italian for Moorish). The ingredients could well be of Moorish origins but it is also the name of a dance – la moresca. It is still performed in some regions of Sicily, especially on certain religious feast days.

The dance is said to have been introduced by the Moors into Spain and became popular all over Europe during the 15 th and 16th Centuries. Dances with similar names and features are mentioned in Renaissance documents throughout many Catholic countries of Europe – Sicily, France, Corsica and Malta – and, from the times of the Venetian Republic, Dalmatia – also through Spanish trade, Flanders and Germany.

La moresca is remarkably like the English Morris dance (or Moorish dance) a folk dance usually accompanied by music where the group of dancers use implements such as sticks, swords, and handkerchiefs. In Sicily they only use handkerchiefs, but this may have been modified over time. La Moresca and the Morris dance are considered to be one of the oldest traditional European dances still performed and inspired by the struggle of Christians against the Moors, in some places Christians and Turks, in other places between Arabs and Turks. In parts of England, France, the Netherlands and Germany the performers still blacken their faces but it is uncertain if it is because they represent the Moors. This custom is not observed in Sicily.

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Each year in May, there is a sacred performance in Scicli that recalls the historical battle in 1091 between Arabs and Christians. Legend says that “La Madonna delle Milizie” came astride a white horse to champion the Christians. Pasta alla moresca is still cooked to commemorate this event.

Salsa moresca (the sauce for the pasta) is not cooked – it is an impasto – a paste or mixture, and probably traditionally made with a mortar and pestle.

INGREDIENTS: 500g long pasta, (spaghetti or bucatini), 150g grated bottarga, ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, 1-2 chopped red chili, 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic, 4 finely cut anchovies, juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon, peel of ½ lemon, ½ teaspoon of powdered cinnamon, 1 large spoonful of sugar and 1 of vinegar,1 cup pine nuts, ½ cup finely cut parsley, 1 cup breadcrumbs ( from 1-2 day old bread) lightly browned in a little extra virgin olive oil.

PROCESSES

Pound all of the ingredients together preferably in a mortar and pestle: begin with the garlic the bottarga and anchovies. Follow with the sugar, cinnamon, pine nuts, breadcrumbs, parsley, peel and chilies – lubricating the paste gradually with the oil and juices as you pound.

Add the vinegar last of all.

And by now, having read about it, you can probably smell it.

Use this to dress spaghetti or bucatini. I scattered basil leaves on top to decorate the pasta dish.
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MONTALBANO’S PASTA WITH BLACK INK SAUCE

Fans of the television series Montalbano (was a big, hit in Italy and Australia) are likely to be enchanted with the beauty of the Sicilian landscape and the array of specialty Sicilian food featured in the series.

Commissario Salvo Montalbano is a police commissioner and he lives in the south-east of Sicily, near Marina di Ragusa where my relatives have their holiday houses. Montalbano’s beach house  is in Punta Secca is a small fishing village, in the Santa Croce Camerina comune, in Ragusa province, Sicily.

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Andrea Camilleri is the writer of the crime stories and the books abound with delicious Sicilian food references.

Montalbano is an extremely appealing character who loves to eat. He savours his food, relishing all that is prepared for him with appreciation and gratitude. He readily accepts invitations to the homes of others and has his favourite trattorie (small restaurants). Montalbano is a detective who uses food to cheer himself up, plan his next moves and to weigh up the evidence. In the evenings he anticipates what Adelina (his housekeeper and cook) has left for him to eat and he hates to be interrupted over his dinner, but the phone often rings. He often seems to be thinking of what he will eat next or what he has eaten and in the books, Camilleri describes almost every dish Montalbano eats. And every dish is traditionally Sicilian.

On my last trip to Sicily, I ate in a couple of trattorie in Palermo where Camilleri and his friend Leonardo Sciascia (Sicilian writer) have been frequent patrons. One of Camilleri’s favourite dishes must be pasta or rice with black ink sauce – there are references made in a number of the books in the Montalbano series. In Siracusa I ate ricotta ravioli with black ink sauce.

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Camilleri lives and works in Rome but spent a great number of years in Sicily before he moved north. He was born in Porto Empedocle, which is not far from Ragusa, and although Camilleri has given the places in Sicily fictitious names, the locations are recognisable. For example the scenes in Montalbano’s beautiful house overlooking the sea in Marinella near the fictional town of Vigàta is really of Punta Secca in Porto Empedocle (see photo). Fiacca is Sciacca, Fela is Gela, and Montelusa is Agrigento. The police station is a building in Ragusa Ibla and all of these towns are close to Ragusa, where my relatives live. The trattorie and restaurants in these south-eastern part of Sicily where the series were shot, have capitalised on this – a traveller visiting this part of Sicily can always sit down to eat pasta (or rice – risu) cu niuru di sicci

This is how I cook it.

INGREDIENTS
pasta, 500 g (spaghetti, linguine or bucatini)
squid or cuttlefish, 600g, and 2-3 ink sacks
ripe tomatoes, 300g, peeled and chopped
tomato paste, 1 large tablespoon
salt (a little) and, chili flakes or freshly ground black pepper to taste
onion, 1 medium or/and garlic 2 cloves
white wine, 1 cup
parsley, 1 cup finely cut
grated pecorino or ricotta to serve (optional)

 

PROCESSES
Clean the squid carefully and extract the ink sac (see pg…). Cut the squid into 1cm rings and set them aside. The tentacles can be used also.
For the salsa:
Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil. Add the tomatoes, chopped parsley, salt, white wine and tomato paste. Bring to a boil and evaporate until the salsa is thick.
Cook pasta.
Add the squid ink, red pepper flakes to the salsa and mix well.
Add the squid rings and cook over a medium-high heat until the squid is cooked to your liking (for me it is only a few minutes). If you prefer to cook the squid further (as the Italians do), add a little water, cover the pan and braise for longer.
Present the pasta with grated pecorino (or topped with a little ricotta – you do not want to end up with grey ricotta, so do not mix through).

Although Sicily is relatively small, the food is very local and there are always regional variations:

Keep the squid white – sauté it in a little oil for a few minutes (add a 1 chopped clove of garlic and 1-2 tablespoons of finely cut parsley). Fold it through the dressed pasta gently and reserve some for on top.
·Add 1 cup of shelled peas at the same time as the tomatoes.
·Add bay leaves at the same time as the squid.
·Reserve some of the salsa and present the black pasta with a spoon of salsa and a spoon of ricotta on top.

Photos of Ravioli and Pasta are by Graeme Gilles, stylist Fiona Rigg, from my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking.

 

 

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