Those zucchini grow rapidly and before you know it, they become zucche (plural of zucca,) The marrows I am talking about are no longer than 22 cms, still tender and have flavour – any larger than this they become tasteless and dry and are good for the compost. Usually, zucche are stuffed, but these can also be used successfully to make a salad.
I use a mandoline (kitchen utensil used for slicing and cutting) to cut the marrows into matchsticks and then use a method similar to the one for making Italian vegetable preserves.
Sicilians (and southern Italians) are fond of preserves – the most common are made with eggplants or green tomatoes, sliced, salted, squeezed dry (the next day), then placed in vinegar for a day, squeezed dry and finally placed in oil and oregano.
I treat marrows in a similar way, but because I want to eat them fresh it is unnecessary to go through the lengthy process I have described above – the salting process takes about 30 minutes and the rest is completed in no time at all. If I am using zucchini, I slice them long-wise and very thinly (a potato peeler can be good).
The following amounts are for processing 1 marrow…..and not too large or seedy.
salt, 1 teaspoon
white, wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon
extra virgin olive oil, 1/3cup
oregano, ½teaspoon dried is more pungent,
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cut marrow into half, remove seeds. Cut into match sticks or use a mandoline or a turning slicer which cuts into spirals.
Place in a colander with salt. Leave to drain for at least 30mins. Squeeze dry.
Dress with the oil and vinegar and crushed oregano.
Leave for about 10 minutes for the flavours to infuse.
My friend Kate has left a comment (see Spaghetti con pesce e pomodorini) about her liking pappardelle (the widest ribbons of pasta).
I am not surprised by this, she loved Tuscany, drinks red wine and she and her husband are marvellous cooks so I am including a recipe for a typical sauce usually associated with this shaped pasta.
Pasta shapes are synonymous with certain sauces. Generally, thin sauces which contain a lot of oil (for example made with seafood or with a few vegetables) are better suited to long thin pasta shapes (spaghetti, spaghettini).
Thicker sauces, made with meat or with larger vegetables are better suited to shapes with large, uneven surfaces (rigatoni, penne). Their shapes help to trap the ingredients in the thick sauce.
Pasta shapes are also regional. While the south of Italy may prefer small pasta shapes for thicker sauces (fusilli, casarecci, orecchiette) other parts of Italy enjoy long, flat ribbons of pasta (tagliatelle, fettucine). Fresh ribbon pasta made with a large number of eggs is enhanced by sauces made with delicate subtle flavours, often with cream.
Tuscany and Umbria specialize in sauces for pappardelle and I hope that all of you who have visited these regions of Italy were able to eat some when there. Now Kate, I do not want you to get jealous, but when I was in Tuscany in December 2008, I enjoyed many primi of pappardelle, one in particular in Sansepolcro ( very close to Umbria) – the accompanying sauce was made from wild boar and it included pieces of chestnut.
The photograph is of Alex, my small friend: it was taken in Greve. He is outside of the butcher shop (we were staying across the road) and he is patting the stuffed wild boar which decorates the front of the shop. Wild boar is very popular in the winter months in Tuscany but I have also eaten some very fine boar meat in Calabria. I bought a hare in Greve and cooked it the same way.
Pappardelle are usually the favourite shape of pasta for strong sauces made with strong tasting meat especially game: either cinghiale (wild boar) lepre (hare), capriolo (venison), coniglio (rabbit), anatra (duck). If not game, maybe salsicce di maiale (pork sausages) or funghi (mushrooms), and preferably the wild ones stronger in taste. Often the pappardelle may have a fluted edge to prevent the sauce dropping away off the sides. These are sometimes called reginette (regina- queen, crowns) but once again, there is local variation in the names.
Sauces made with strong tasting meats as above are usually cooked slowly in a ragout (ragù in Italian) and made in the same way as a Bolognese sauce. Because of their rich taste and choice of ingredients they are autumn and winter dishes, most probably enjoyed with a glass or two of red wine.
Sometimes porcini mushrooms are also added to the ragù.
“It will be maccheroni, I swear to you, that will unite Italy.”
Giuseppe Garibaldi, on liberating Naples in 1860
When eating in Italy, the usual structure of the meal will consist of two courses. Il primo (the first ) will be a soup, risotto or pasta and in Sicily (and in the south of Italy) it is more likely to be pasta
Il secondo (the second) is the main course – the protein component and one contorno (vegetable side dish) or two contorni.
There have always been two courses in my mother’s home, and in the homes of our Italian friends and relatives. Although this is not something that I have continued to observe in my own household, I generally prepare a primo and a secondo when I am cooking for friends. If this is the case, as is the customary practice in Italian homes, nibbles can just be a very simple plate of olives (or the like) and the dessert, fresh fruit.
These days, I am into easy recipes, something I can prepare in minutes.
Eating pasta with fish is still not very popular in Australia (at the time of writing) but it is very much so in Italy and of course – Sicily. It is an island after all.
Spaghetti is usually the preferred shape of pasta for fish sauces.
Cherry tomatoes appear to have become very common in restaurants in Italy in the last few years. They are called pomodorini, or cigliegini in Italian and most commonly known as pizzitelli in Sicilian – little things.
Some of the cherry tomatoes in Australia may be small but they lack flavour and sweetness (maybe from over watering if this is possible in Australia). One of my friends in Adelaide is growing a variety called currant tomatoes in pots – very small and sweet and ideal for this dish.
Use any fish which will hold together when you sauté it.
Sicilians prefer tuna or swordfish, but because I like to use sustainable fish (pesce sostenibile) I select Albacore tuna when I can get it, tailor or flathead or snapper and mackerel . To keep the fish moist and to prevent it from overcooking, i keep the fish in large pieces when I cook it and then break it up onto smaller pieces.
From Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide by Australian Marine Conservation Society – 2009 (AMCS)
Watermelon is related to the squash family.
There is a Sicilian saying that it does not matter whatever you do to a zucca (squash/pumpkin) it always remains such – tasteless.
This is not so with Gelu ‘i muluni (Sicilian for watermelon jelly) – an old Sicilian recipe and once a popular dessert. Many Sicilians say that this dessert has Arab origins and it is easy to see why. The addition of the extra flavourings – vanilla, cinnamon, rose water, chocolate and pistachio transform the taste of what is basically liquefied watermelon juice solidified with corn starch.
As a child living in Trieste, I always called watermelon, anguria as it is called in the north, but when we visited Sicily (my family went there every summer), it was called mellone (also melone).
Watermelon appears to be more popular with those of us in Australia who have come from a different cultural background. I always notice people buying big slabs or whole watermelons at the market. Have you noticed in Asian restaurants as it is often presented as a palate cleanser at the end of a meal? Or the Greek and Italian families eating watermelon at the beach?
When my son was young, he was very friendly with a Turkish family and he used to report that over summer, there was always watermelon at his friend’s house. They ate it with bread; this is not surprising when watermelon can be used as an ingredient for a watermelon salad, made with feta, black olives, sliced onion, extra virgin olive oil, seasoning and mint (one version of this salad, now popular in many Australian homes).
One kilo of watermelon is sufficient to make 4 desserts.INGREDIENTS ripe watermelon, 1k
I have a Brazilian friend who is still discovering the delights of Anglo–Saxon food in our Australian food culture and a true blue, born and bred, Australian friend who misses his mother’s cooking. They are coming to dinner tonight, so as a surprise I am cooking them corned beef (I managed to buy low salt, low saltpetre). Probably I have not eaten this since my English Mother in law last cooked it for me, and she died a long time ago.
Of course there will be the boiled vegetables and mustard. And I will present it with some of the homemade chutney that another friend has given me. But it is so very much like bollito (boiled meat) that it could be accompanied with a little salsa verde on the side – chopped parsley, capers, green olives, boiled eggs, extra virgin olive oil, anchovy and a little white bread with vinegar to thicken it as much as I like and on this occasion I want it thin.
Part of me remains Italian to the core. Will I sauté the carrots in a little onion with dry marsala and raisins? Or will I present it with sweet and sour pumpkin? ( Sicilian and called FEGATO DI SETTE CANNOLI).
Of course I will add peppercorns, a carrot, onion and some celery to the beef whilst it cooks, after all this is what I add when I make carne in brodo (meat cooked in broth). I will add the cloves to the broth (Sicilians use cloves in their savoury cooking) but I will not add the malt vinegar or the sugar.
Is it still corned beef?
See: SALSA VERDE (2015)
My zia Niluzza who lives in Ragusa is an excellent cook and when I visit her she fusses over me and cooks constantly.
Ricotta is one of the most common ingredients in her kitchen and she must eat it fresh – made on the day and preferably eaten warm. Any ricotta which is one day old (it is never older) is cooked.
One day, I had been speaking to her about frittate (plural) and how I had read in a book about Sicilian cuisine that frittate were not common in Sicily.
The next day I found her preparing this a simple frittata (see photo) made with crumbled fresh pork sausage, freshly laid free range eggs and ricotta. Sicilians do make frittata but in Sicilian, it is sometimes referred to as milassata and frocia. I have already written about this on Janet Clarkson’s blog: The Old Foodie, An authentic frittata).
A frittata is never baked; fritta means fried in Italian.
Fresh Taste, Simplicity and Low Cost.
Sometimes the most simple ingredients make the most sumptuous dish.
My friend and I have just been discussing how fresh, young zucchini can make a great pasta sauce. They can be the long, dark green skinned variety or the newer pale green ones. The round zucchini are becoming more common; these can be dark or pale green in colour and some are variegated.
Often, when guests come, I remind myself that having costly ingredients is not the most important factor. What is fresh, in season, and have they had it before, are far more important factors.
Pasta chi cucuzzeddi fritti (Sicilian), Pasta con zucchine fritte (Italian) is very common all over Sicily and consists of thinly sliced zucchini fried in extra virgin olive oil. Garlic is used to flavour the oil and is then discarded.
It is important to fry the zucchini in plenty of oil in a wide frypan – the zucchini will release liquid if they are overcrowded in the pan and if necessary fry the zucchini in batches.
My partner took some left over zucchini pasta to work and I was amazed when he reported to me that one of his collegues referred to this vegetable as tha blandest vegetable! I think I will need to invite this person to dinner.
Thin spaghetti is the favoured pasta for this dish – a coating of flavoured oil is preferred. Short, tubular or ridged, surfaced pasta may trap too much oil.
Like so many of the vegetable paste sauces it is made in minutes and makes me wonder why takeaways are seen as a quick solution.
Where would Sicilian food be without fish?
Sardines are perfect on a BBQ, and baked, but Sicilians also like them crude (raw) e conzate (and dressed), crude e condite in Italian. Although they are called raw, they are cooked by the lemon juice in the marinade.
Sardines are sustainable, and a good choice if you are concerned about the environment. Marinaded sardines make a great antipasto and lose that strong fishy taste that those people-who-do-not- like sardines hate.
When I first came to Australia we were unable to buy sardines, now they have become very popular (similar to squid, both were used for bait!).
The sardines must be fresh, freshly cleaned and filleted with no head, central spine or innards. Begin your preparations one day ahead.