Category Archives: References to Cookery Books

SICILIAN CAPONATA DI MELANZANE as made in Palermo (Eggplant caponata and Eggplant caponata with chocolate)

Caponata has evolved over the ages to become the dish, which personifies Sicilian cuisine and is a popular dish during festivities ( perfect for Christmas). As you’d expect, there are many regional variations and enrichments of what must have been a very humble dish, as well as the personal, innovative touches from the chefs of ancient, Sicilian aristocracy (called monzu, a corruption of the French word monseur).

Sicilian 094 Caponato Eggplant.tif.p
Photograph by Graeme Gillies and food styling by Fiona Rigg. Cooking and recipe by Marisa Raniolo Wilkins (from Sicilian Seafood Cooking)

In Sicilian cooking the melanzana (eggplant) is said to be the queen of vegetables, second only to the tomato and the principal ingredient in caponata is the eggplant.

IMG_3183 (1)

If you eat caponata at my house you are likely to eat the version of caponata as made in Catania and it will include peppers as well as eggplant. This is because my mother was born in Catania and this is the caponata I grew up eating. The caponata which is common around Palermo has no peppers.

I prefer to keep my caponata di melanzane simple, but again, variations in the amounts of ingredients are endless. Some versions add garlic, some have oregano, several recipes include anchovies, others add sultanas and/or pine nuts or toasted almonds. These are all acceptable and authentic variations.

In keeping with the tradition of what is customary in Palermo, just before serving add a sprinkling of coarse breadcrumbs (toasted in a fry pan in a little hot extra virgin olive oil) or almonds — blanched, toasted and chopped.

<= h($product->name) ?>

For me, Peter Robb in his book Midnight in Sicily captures the essence of a Sicilian caponata, when he describes how very different the caponata he was savouring in Palermo was to the caponata he had been eating in Naples.

I realised caponata in Palermo was something very different. It was the colour that struck me first. The colour of darkness. A heap of cubes of that unmistakably luminescent dark, dark purply-reddish goldy richness, glimmerings from a baroque canvas, that comes from eggplant, black olives, tomato and olive oil densely cooked together, long and gently. The colour of southern Italian cooking. Caponata was one of the world’s great sweet and sour dishes, sweet, sour and savoury.

The eggplant was the heart of caponata. The celery hearts were the most striking component: essential and surprising. Pieces of each were fried separately in olive oil until they were a fine golden colour and then added to a sauce made by cooking tomato, sugar and vinegar with a golden chopped onion in oil and adding Sicilian olives, capers …….

As Robb discovered: eggplant is the purple heart of Sicilian caponata – and it is the principal ingredient.

IMG_7425 (1)

There are a variety of caponate (plural of caponata) and the variations and inclusions of different ingredients in the basic caponata recipe are many.

Some traditional recipes use tomato paste rather than chopped tomatoes, some add garlic, others include chocolate (or cocoa). Many recipes contain nuts – almonds or pine nuts or pistachio, fresh in some, in others they are toasted. In a few recipes the caponata is sprinkled with breadcrumbs and sometimes the breadcrumbs have been browned in oil beforehand. Frequently herbs are added – sometimes basil, at other times oregano or mint. Certain recipes also include raisins or currants and some fresh pears. Several include fish, singly or in combination and include canned tuna, prawns, octopus, salted anchovies and bottarga (tuna roe).

IMG_7375

You will need a deep, large fry pan. If you use a non-stick frypan you may not need as much oil, but the surface will not be as conducive to allowing the residue juices to form and caramelise as in a regular pan. (After food has been sautéed, the juices caramelise – in culinary terms this is known as fond. Non-stick pans do not produce as much fond).

Although the vegetables are fried separately, they are all incorporated in the same pan at the end. When making large quantities I sometimes use a wok.

extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup (depending how much the vegetables will absorb)
eggplants, 3-4 large, dark skinned variety
onion 1, large, chopped
red tomatoes, 2 medium size, peeled and chopped or 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and a little water or some canned tomatoes
capers, ½ cup, salted or in brine
green olives, ¾ cup, stoned, chopped
celery, 2-3 tender stalks and the pale green leaves (both from the centre of the celery)
white, wine vinegar, ½ cup
sugar, 2 tablespoons
salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut the eggplant into cubes (approx 30mm) – do not peel. Place the cubes into abundant water with about 1 tablespoon of salt. Leave for about 30 minutes – this will keep the flesh white and remove any bitter juices while you prepare the other ingredients. Although it is not always necessary to do this, the eggplant is said to absorb less oil if soaked previously.
Prepare the capers – if they are the salted variety, ensure that they have been rinsed thoroughly and then soaked for about 30 minutes before use, and then rinsed again.
Chop the onion.
Slice the celery into very fine slices and chop the green leaves.
Peel, and coarsely chop the tomatoes (or use tomato paste or canned tomatoes).
Drain the eggplants and squeeze them to remove as much water as possible – I use a clean tea towel.
Heat a large frypan over medium heat with ½ cup of the extra virgin olive oil.
Add eggplant cubes and sauté until soft and golden (about 10-12 minutes). Place the drained eggplants into a large bowl and set aside (all of the vegetables will be added to this same bowl).
Drain the oil from the eggplants back into the same frypan and re-use this oil to fry the next ingredients.
Add the celery and a little salt gently for 5-7 minutes, so that it retains some of its crispness (in more traditional recipes, the celery is always boiled until soft before being sautéed).
Remove the celery from the pan and add it to the eggplants.
Sauté the onion having added a little more oil to the frypan. Add a little salt and cook until translucent.
Add the tomatoes or the tomato paste (with a little water) to the onions, and allow their juice to evaporate.
Add the capers and olives. Allow these ingredients to cook gently for 1- 2 minutes.
Empty the contents of the frypan into the other cooked vegetables.

IMG_7384

For the agro dolce sauce (sweet and sour sauce):

Add the sugar to the frypan (already coated with the caramelised flavours from the vegetables). Heat it very gently until it begins to melt and bubble. Add the vinegar and allow it to evaporate.
Incorporate the cooked vegetables into the frypan with the agro dolce sauce.
Add ground pepper, check for salt and add more if necessary.
Gently toss in all of the cooked ingredients over low heat for 2-3 minutes to blend the flavours.
Remove the caponata from the pan and cool before placing it into one or more containers. Store in the fridge till ready to use and remove it from the fridge about an hour before eating– it will keep well in the fridge for up to one week.

When ready to eat, sprinkle with either toasted almonds or toasted breadcrumbs. I like to add fresh basil or mint leaves.

CAPONATA DI MELANZANE CON CIOCCOLATA (Caponata with chocolate)

In Sicilian cuisine there are a number of recipes, which include chocolate to enrich the flavour of a dish (see HARE or RABBIT COOKED IN CHOCOLATE) and chocolate in eggplant caponata is a common variation in certain parts of Sicily.

In the early 1500s, the Spanish conquistadors discovered a variety of unknown foods in the New World.Among these was xocolatl, (chocolate) obtained from ground cacao seeds. Spanish nobility arrived in Sicily during the 15th and 16th centuries and they brought their exotic ingredients from the New World to the island. This was also an ostentatious period of splendour and opulence for the clergy and the Sicilian aristocracy.

Although many traditional Sicilian dishes are said to be Spanish legacies, it is more accurate to say that some Sicilian cuisine incorporated both Sicilian and Spanish traditions.

Follow the recipe for eggplant caponata above and add cocoa or good quality, dark chocolate.

Cocoa: The majority of the recipes for caponata enriched with chocolate suggest the use of cocoa powder (about 2 tablespoons of cocoa to 2 tablespoons of sugar dissolved in a little water to form a thick paste). Add this mixture to the pan after you have made the agro dolce sauce and before you add the cooked vegetables.

Dark Chocolate: My most favoured alternative is to use 50g of dark, extra fine chocolate (organic, high cocoa content – 70%). Add the chocolate pieces into the agro dolce sauce and stir it gently as it melts, and then I add the cooked vegetables. This results into a much smoother and more luscious caponata.

In a modern Sicilian restaurant with a young chef, I was presented with an eggplant caponata where the chocolate was grated on top, much like grated cheese on pasta.

In my first book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking there is whole chapter devoted to caponata. I have also written other posts with recipes on the blog :

A MOUNTAIN OF CAPONATA – two days before Christmas 

CAPONATA SICILIANA (CATANESE – Caponata as made in Catania) 

FENNEL CAPONATA (Sicilian sweet and sour method for preparing certain vegetables)

CAPONATA (General information and recipe for Caponata di patate – potatoes)

Sicilian 059 Caponata Catanese.tif.p
Caponata Catanese

MARY TAYLOR SIMETI and her new book:SICILIAN SUMMER An adventure in cooking with my grandsons.

images

Many of you would be familiar with the writings of Mary Taylor Simeti, one of the greatest authorities on Sicilian food.  You may have a copy of her classic, in-depth, definitive book of the culinary history, traditions and recipes of Sicily called Pomp and Sustenance: Twenty Five Centuries of Sicilian Food. This was published in several editions and the same text was later republished as Sicilian Food: Recipes from Italy’s Abundant Isle.

Or you may have read her other books about Sicily:  On Persephone’s lsland: A Sicilian Journal, Travels with a Medieval Queen or Bitter Almonds: Recollections and Recipes from a Sicilian Girlhood. She has also written other books published in Italian as well as travel and food articles for various American, Italian and British publications including the New York Times and the London Financial Times.

Her new book is called SICILIAN SUMMER: An Adventure in Cooking with My Grandsons.

This time Mary takes us to her farm at Bosco, located some 40 miles west of Palermo in the hills overlooking the Gulf of Castellammare. The farm has been in the Simeti family since 1933. Mary and her husband Tonino inherited it in 1966 and is now a diversified farm of less than forty acres of vineyards, olive groves, fruit and vegetables with organic certification for their Bosco Falconeria wine, olive oil and produce.

SICILIAN SUMMER: An Adventure in Cooking with My Grandsons, is an account and photographs of the food that Mary and her 4 grandsons (aged 13, 10, 7 and 5 years) cooked over 10 intensive, continuous days for the Simeti family – Mary and Tonino Simeti (the nonni), the four grandsons and the four children’s parents. The recipes that Mary and the boys prepare are all described and they use the abundant summer produce they themselves have helped to harvest from the fields: cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes, almonds, zucchini blossoms and zucchini.

And when you have abundance, you use the same vegetable to produce various dishes – there are numerous ways to eat tomatoes and the zucchini blossom is enjoyed battered, stuffed and cooked in pasta dishes.

But it is so much more than a book of recipes suitable for her grandsons of various ages. Mary captures the pleasure that family brings when the three generations of the Simeti family gather on the farm each summer and she meditates on the role food can play within the family in bonding, consolidating tradition and identity and creating memories of her own childhood and those of her children. In between memories and recollections there is a beguiling mix of a family history and an account of the development of the farm that Mary and Tonino now share with their daughter, her husband and  two grandsons.

Mary’s honesty shines through the book. She questions her skill and ability to conduct these cooking experiences and is concerned about using safe implements for her young cooks. I loved the description of the very special garlic press:

 A little boat of burnished steel, it has holes in its hull through which tiny pieces of garlic rise up as you press it into the peeled cloves rocking back and forth on a cutting board.

And I loved the description of Tonino.  Grandson Matteo when young, would only see his grandfather once a year when he visited with his parents and brother from New York. Matteo was finding it difficult to relate to Tonino as he was unaccustomed and unfamiliar to him. But Mary describes how this all changed when the young Matteo … saw his grandfather drive up to the farmhouse on a tractor, a vision that in his mind would have outshone Apollo driving up in the chariot of the sun. Familiar or not, Tonino had achieved godhood.

Mary reflects on the current plight of the world that her grandsons are growing up in and wonders about the cooking project she has undertaken with them: Am I compiling an album of childhood memories, scenes that will have some relevance to their adult lives, or will this be the record – even for them – of a lost and irretrievable Golden age? 

She hopes that these experiences in her kitchen will make these moments more significant and render their memories more indelible.

The book ends with the preparation of the last meal for Tonino’s 79th birthday celebration.

Scattered as we soon would be, the shared memory of the past ten days, the cooking and the laughing and eating together would link us firmly together. I have never felt closer to my grandchildren, more sure than our sense of family.

Could this be the last summer that the Simeti family spends together?

Sicilian Summer: An Adventure in Cooking with my Grandsons. The publication date is 25 September, but it is already available for pre-ordering on line, either in paperback form or as an ebook (search for them on line). Obviously, if you would rather support your local bookshop and help promote Mary’s writing by doing so, you could ask your favourite bookshop to order it.

Mary Taylor Simeti is one of my heroes – I think that sometimes it takes a newcomer with a passion to observe and describe and rediscover what is Sicily and tease out the history behind the food (not that she is a newcomer any longer, she is part of Sicily, an expatriate who has spent all her adult life dedicated to her new homeland and appreciating its culture).

Marisa Raniolo Wilkins

Product details

  • Format Paperback | 138 pages
  • Dimensions 140 x 216 x 9mm | 231.33g
  • Publication date 25 Sep 2017
  • Publisher SilverWood Books Ltd
  • Publication City/Country Bristol, United Kingdom
  • Language English
  • Illustrations note colour photographs
  • ISBN10 1781326878
  • ISBN13 9781781326879

 

 

RICCI DI MARE – Sea Urchins

What are they?

Sea urchins and they are now available (July) at the Queen Victoria Market at George The Fish Monger.

They are called ricci in Italy (di mare means from the sea) and are considered a culinary delicacy – the two most common ways to eat them are very fresh and raw with a squeeze of lemon juice (like oysters) or in a dressing for pasta. The roe (the edible part) is never cooked directly – it is much too delicate in flavor and consistency. In the pasta dish it is the hot, cooked pasta that warms (and ‘cooks’) the roe – flip and toss the roe over and over until all of the ingredients of the pasta sauce are evenly distributed.

I have written a previous post about sea urchins and a recipe for preparing spaghetti SPAGHETTI CHI RICCI – SPAGHETTI CON RICCI DI MARE (Spaghetti with sea urchins). This recipe is also in my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking.

 

Marmelade d’oranges sanguines – marmellata d’ arance sanguine – blood orange marmalade

During my last visit to France I travelled through Alsace with friends. This is France’s great wine growing region that produces great Rieslings and there were a couple of wineries I wanted  to visit.

Located in a typical Alsatian,  small village called Niedermorschwihr, I went to sample the wines of Albert Boxler.

Wine brings out the best in me and there I met a person who like me was also very interested in food and he asked me if I had visited Christine Ferber’s Au Relais des Trois Epis in the main street of this tiny town.

Until then, and much to my embarrassment I did not know about Christine Ferber or her recipe books, but I had certainly heard the names of some famous culinary greats who have championed her delicious creations such as Parisian pastry star Pierre Hermé, and chefs Alain Ducasse, the Troisgros family, and Antoine Westermann.

Christine Ferber is a master patissière but who is mostly recognised for her quality confitures – she is France’s revered jam maker.

Although her épicerie it is in the main street, it is so tiny and unassuming that I almost missed it.

Apart from the books she has written, the cakes, pastries, traditional breads and jams that she makes, it makes sense that in such a small town Ferber has other stock.

In her shop I saw  ready-made/ take- away food, fruit and vegetables, newspapers, cheeses, small-goods, chocolates, pots, pans and  local pottery.

One of the reasons that Ferber is so highly respected by her culinary peers is that she employs locals and sources local produce – she is from Niedermorschwihr and is a forth generation pastry chef who took over the family business from her father.  Of course the fruit she uses for her confitures is  seasonal and she makes it in small batches in her small commercial kitchen behind the shop. It is cooked  in a relatively small copper cauldron and distributed into jars by hand so that the any solid fruit is evenly distributed in the jars. By making small batches of jam she is in better control of adding the correct amount of sugar – as we all know not all batches of the same type of fruit are the same – they vary in quantity and quality of  ripeness , juice, sweetness and pectin. Ferber usually uses apples to add pectin to fruit lacking in pectin.

I suspect that  Ferber also relishes the quality she achieves through her small-scale production and the satisfaction that comes from having contributed to the making of each batch of jam herself.

When I visited, Ferber had been making Blood orange marmalade – oranges sanguine in French.   I an very fond of  Blood Oranges and  I was introduced to them as a child in Sicily. They are called arance sanguine in Italian. In Sicily,  they are cultivated extensively in the eastern part of the island. 

 Marmelade d’oranges sanguines – Blood orange marmalade, 220 g ( See recipe below)

Description:The blood orange marmalade is very balanced and less bitter than traditional marmalade.
Ingredients: Blood oranges, sugar, apple pectin, lemon juice.
Origin: Alsace, France
Brand:Christine Ferber
Producer: Christine Ferber and her team prepare these wonderful jams in Niedermorschwihr, a small village nestled in the heart of vines. Not more than four kilograms of fruits are processed in copper pots for jams that have convinced the greatest chefs.

Blood Orange from Mes Confitures : The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber

Ingredients:
About 2 3/4 pounds (1.2 kg) blood oranges, or 2 cups 1 ounce (500g/50cl) juice
1 3/4 pounds (750g) Granny Smith apples
4 2/3 cup (1 kg) sugar plus 1 cup (200 g)
3 cups 2 ounces (750 g/75 cl) water plus 7 ounces (200 g/20 cl)
2 oranges
Juice of 1 small lemon

Directions:
Rinse the apples in cold water. Remove the stems and cut them into quarters without peeling them. Put them in a preserving pan and cover with 3 cups 2 ounces (75 g/75 cl) water.
Bring the apple mixture to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes on low heat. The apples will be soft.
Collect the juice by pouring the preparation into a chinois sieve, pressing lightly on the fruit with the back of the skimmer. Filter the juice a second time by pouring it through cheesecloth previously wet and wrung out, letting the juice run freely.  It is best to leave the juice overnight refrigerated.

Next day…

Measure 2 cups 1 ounce (500 g/50 cl) juice, leaving in the bowl the sediment that formed overnight, to have clearer jelly.
Squeeze the 2 3/4 pounds (1.2 kg) blood oranges. Measure 2 cups 1 ounces (500 g/50 cl) juice and put the seeds into a cheesecloth bag.
Rinse and brush the 2 oranges in cold water and slice them into very thin rounds. In a preserving pan, poach the rounds with 1 cup (200 g) sugar and 7 ounces (200 g/20 cl) water. Continue cooking at a boil until the slices are translucent.
Add the apple juice, 4 2/3 cups (1 kg) sugar, lemon juice, and seeds in the cheesecloth bag. Bring to a boil, stirring gently. Skim. Continue cooking on high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Skim again if need be. Remove the cheesecloth with the seeds. Return to a boil. Put the jam into jars immediately and seal.

Yield: 6-7 8-ounce jars (220 g)

One of the delights of Alsace were the numerous storks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

BREAD

Bread can be the perfect accompaniment for almost everything, but I particularly like eating it with cheese.

I have been staying in Paris and Alsace I have been making the most of of both.

I like artisan breads – handmade and hand-shaped breads of all shapes and sizes, thin baguettes with a maximum crust, two kilo loaves cut to size by weight –preferably dense,  and moist sourdoughs with a crusty outer and a chewy centre.

I like bread made with stone milled flours, whole grain breads with everything grainy from the larger sunflower and pumpkin seeds to millet, flax and poppy seeds,  all wholesome breads.

Those breads made with rye flour are almost always my favourites especially pains aux noix laden with walnuts.

I have always particularly liked heavy rye breads – the moist, sturdier breads flavoured with caraway and the heavy textured kind……and I could not have wished for better rye breads than the ones I sampled in Copenhagen and Malmö. 

I am sure that I could taste orange rind, fennel seeds, caraway seeds and cardamom in the bread in the photo above.

One of the only times I  like the drier, white bread is when I am eating tomatoes drizzled with a good extra virgin olive oil or a sweet gorgonzola. The bread in Northern Italy was perfect for this.

The following recipe is very easy to make and achieves a moist grainy textured bread. Although  there are no additional flavours in the recipe any of the following flavours can be added to the mixture – grated orange rind, fennel seeds, caraway seeds and powdered cardamom.

Lionel Vatinet is a successful artisan baker. He joined France’s prestigious artisans’ guild, Les Compagnons du Devoir, at age 16. After apprenticing with respected French and  European bakers for 7 years he gained the title of Maitre Boulanger (Master Baker).  He  is preserving the ancient art and science of bread baking in his bakery La Farm Bakery from North Carolina (of all places!).

 From A Passion for Bread: Lessons from a Master Baker

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup rye berries, rinsed and drained
  • 5 1/4 cups warm water
  • 1/2 cup millet, rinsed and drained
  • 1 envelope (1/4 ounce- 7.5 gm) active dry yeast
  • 4 cups whole-grain rye flour
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 2 tablespoons fine sea salt
  • 1 1/4 cups rolled oats
  • vegetable oil, for greasing

In a small saucepan, cover the rye berries with 2 cups of the water and bring to a boil. Simmer gently over moderately low heat until all of the water has been absorbed and the rye berries are al dente, about 40 minutes. Spread the rye berries on parchment paper and let cool completel

Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, cover the millet with 1 cup of the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to moderately low and simmer until all of the water has been absorbed and the millet is halfway to tender, about 12 minutes. Spread the millet on parchment paper and let cool completely.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, mix the yeast with the remaining 2 1/4 cups of water and let stand until foamy, 10 minutes. Add both of the flours and the salt and mix at low speed for 5 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 2 minutes. Mix in the cooled rye berries and millet along with 3/4 cup of the rolled oats. Scrape the dough into a greased large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm spot until doubled, about 2 hours.

Scatter the remaining 1/2 cup of oats on a work surface and scrape the dough onto them. Roll the dough until coated with the oats, then pat into a large brick shape. Transfer the dough to a greased 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan (23 x 13 x 7cm), loaf pan and cover with a damp kitchen towel. Let stand in a warm spot until slightly risen, about 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 450°. Bake the bread for 55 minutes to 1 hour, until lightly browned on top and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 200°. Transfer to a rack and let cool for 30 minutes. Take out of the mold and let cool completely.

 

PESCE CRUDO, raw fish dishes in Sicily

Eating fresh fish is a serious business in Sicily – it is eaten cooked in many ways but also raw (called pesce crudo).

Traditionally, Sicilians did not serve raw fish without marinating it first in lemon juice and then dressed with olive oil and referred to as condito (in Italian) or cunzato (in Sicilian). For example fresh anchovies are gutted, cleaned and have their heads removed. They are then left in lemon juice for at least a few hours. Sometimes, the anchovies are referred to in Sicilian as anchiva cotti d’a lumia, that is, anchovies cooked by the lemon juice, and that is exactly what has happened – the acid in lemon in the marinade has done the cooking. The anchovies are then drained and dressed with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

In Sicily, tuna and swordfish used to be the other most common types of fish eaten raw (especially as a starter) but eating other types of pesce crudo (raw fish) is becoming much more fashionable as Sicilian chefs respond to the inspirations and influences of the wider world and appreciate tastes and trends from other cultures.

Recently, I was commissioned to write an article about Sicily’s pesce crudo by Great British Chefs, a food multimedia company that publishes recipes and other cooking-related material via its website. Great British Chefs, has expanded into Italy . . . Great Italian Chefs and the article published on their website is called PESCE CRUDO.

I have always enjoyed fish markets in Sicily and this is a small segment from the article PESCE CRUDO

Fish markets and marinas

Walking through the fish markets in Sicily is always a joy; the hustle and bustle of locals seeking out the best produce among the colourful stalls and traders is what makes the island such a charming place. There is more than one fish market in Catania, but the principal market in the southwest of the Cathedral Square is one of the largest in Sicily. However, wherever you are on the island will never be too far from fresh fish.

Sicily’s fish markets have vast, colourful, varied displays of exotic specimens such as sea urchins and edible algae to the more conventional octopus, squid, tuna and swordfish. Small, live fish swim circles in buckets of sea water, snails crawl about and all types of shellfish, especially the gamberi rossi (red prawns of Sicily), look dazzling. You know the fish is fresh – their shells and scales glisten in the sun.

Swordfish and tuna, the traditional staples of Sicilian cuisine, are the centrepieces of the market stalls. They are often displayed whole, the swordfish bill like a spear thrusting upwards. At other times, their massive round carcasses lie like a trunk on the fishmonger’s bench, while the tuna is sliced vertically and horizontally before being filleted along the length of its spine, while all its parts are laid out, testifying to its freshness.

Links:
Great British Chefs web site: http://www.greatbritishchefs.com/
Great Italian Chefs:  http://www.greatitalianchefs.com/
Scroll down to Latest from Great Italian Chefs:
PESCE CRUDO: http://www.greatitalianchefs.com/features/pesce-crudo-sicily
From my blog recipe for marinaded sardines: SARDINE CRUDE E CONDITE CON LIMONE

The photos in this article were taken over my numerous trips to Sicily (Thank you also to Bob Evans and Angela Tolley). Some of these photos are in my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking.

Sicilian Pumpkin with vinegar, mint, sugar and cinnamon

Fegato di sette cannoli

It is autumn  in Australia and  there are plenty of pumpkins around. I like cooking pumpkin this way because it has unusual flavours and it can be made well in advance. I have presented it both as an antipasto and as an accompaniment to main dishes.

I cook this dish quite often and I am surprised that I have not written about it on my blog.

The following text is a condensed version from my first book  Sicilian Seafood Cooking. The photograph is also from the book. This all took place in my kitchen – I cooked it , Fiona Riggs styled it and Graeme Gillies photographed it.

This  Sicilian specialty  is sometimes called zucca in agro dolce (pumpkin in sweet and sour sauce) but I prefer the more colloquial Sicilian name, ficato ri setti canola – literally, ‘liver of the seven spouts (or reeds)’.

It is a colourful and aromatic dish. There is the strong colour of the pumpkin, tinged brown at the edges, and contrasted with bright green mint. The sweetness   of the pumpkin is enhanced by the flavours and fragrance of garlic, cinnamon and vinegar. It is better cooked ahead of time – the flavours intensify when left at least overnight, but it can be stored in the fridge for several days.

The dish is said to have originated among the poor, in what is known as one of the quartieri svantaggiati (‘disadvantaged suburbs’) of Palermo.

Sicilians are colourful characters and like stories. It is said that the pumpkin dish was first cooked and named by the herb vendors of the Piazza Garraffello a small square in Palermo. These were the days before refrigeration and balconies and windowsills were often used to cool and store food, especially overnight. As the story goes, the herb sellers could often  smell the aroma of veal liver coming from the balconies of the rich. At home, they cooked pumpkin the same way as the well-to-do cooked liver (fegato) and, wanting to create a bella figura, they hoped the fragrance of their cooking would mislead the neighbours into thinking that they too were well-to-do and could afford to eat liver.

The typical way of cooking liver is to slice it thinly, pan-fry it and then caramelise the juices in the pan with sugar and vinegar to make agro dolce (sweet and sour sauce).

As for the seven spouts (sette cannoli), they are the short cane-shapedspouts of an elegant 16th-century fountain in the piazza. Below – cathedral in Palermo.

In Australia I generally use the butternut or Jap pumpkin,The pumpkin is sliced 1cm (.in) thick and traditionally fried in very hot oil (if thicker, they take too long to cook).

Although baking the pumpkin slices is not traditional, I prefer this method .It certainly saves time in the preparation (see variation below). Serve it at room temperature as an antipasto or as a contorno (vegetable side dish).

1kg (2lb 4oz) pumpkin
10 cloves garlic
extra virgin olive oil (1. cup
if frying 1/3 cup if baking)
3 teaspoons sugar
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
small mint leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper

Fried Method

Peel and remove the seeds of the pumpkin and cut into 1cm (in) slices.
Peel and slice 4 cloves of garlic.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based frying pan. Add the garlic cloves.
Remove when it has coloured and fry the pumpkin slices, turning them only
once in case they break, until they become soft and begin to colour around
the edges. Add salt to taste. Remove the pumpkin and discard some of the oil,
but keep any juices.
Use the same frying pan for the agro dolce sauce: add the sugar, stir it around
the pan to caramelise it, and then add the vinegar and cinnamon.
Stirring constantly, allow the sauce to thicken slightly as the vinegar evaporates.
Add the remaining garlic cloves and few sprigs of mint to the warm sauce.

Add the pumpkin to the sauce, and sprinkle with pepper. Allow the sauce
to penetrate the pumpkin on very low heat for a few minutes. Alternatively,
pour the sauce over the pumpkin and turn the slices a couple of times. Cool
and store in the fridge once cool. Eat at room temperature.

When ready to serve, arrange the slices in a serving dish, remove the old
mint (it would have discoloured). Scatter slices of fresh garlic and fresh mint
leaves on top and in between the slices.

 

Baked version

Cut the pumpkin into thicker slices, about 2–3cm (1in).
Sprinkle with salt and place on an oiled baking tray.
Bake the pumpkin and garlic in a 200C (400F) oven (discard the garlic when the pumpkin
has cooked).
Make the agro dolce sauce (see the above) in the baking tray
instead of a frying pan.

I also add fresh bay leaves – like the look and the taste of it.

The mint must be fresh.

PASTA CON SARDE – the baked version, Palermo, Sicily

Italy is a Catholic country and on Good Friday most Italians eat fish. Pasta con le Sarde is made with bucatini (thick long tubes of pasta) and the main ingredients are sardines (buy fillets for ease), wild fennel (or fennel bulbs) pine nuts, saffron and topped by fried breadcrumbs.

as you can see I have made this dish at other times.

Muslim Arabs took control of North Africa from the Byzantines and Berbers and began their second conquest of Sicily in 827 from Mazara, the closest point to the African coast and by 902 they well and truly conquered Sicily. The Muslims, were known as Moors by the Christians and by the time of the Crusades, Muslims were also referred to as Saracens.

The Muslim Arabs, via North Africa ruled Sicily till 1061 A.D.

This recipe can only be Sicilian and is particularly common in Palermo.

The origins of pasta chi sardi (Sicilian) are said to be Arabic. When a band Arab troops first landed in Sicily via North Africa, the Arab cook was instructed to prepare food for the troops. The cook instructed the troops to forage for food. He made do with what they presented – plentiful was the wild fennel and the fish (sardines). To these he added exotic ingredients and flavours of Arabs and North Africans –  the saffron, dried fruit and the nuts and so Pasta con le Sarde was born.

At this time of year, just before Easter, many readers look at my blog searching for Easter food ideas. The baked version is fancy enough to present on Easter Sunday – if you are that way inclined.

Pasta con le Sarde can be eaten hot or cold  and it can  be baked…..made into a tummàla (Sicilian word from the Arabic) – Italian timballo and French timbale – a dish of finely minced meat or fish cooked with other ingredients and encased in rice, pasta or pastry.  The dry breadcrumbs are used to line and cover the contents in the baking pan, the long bucatini can be coiled around the pan and the sardine sauce becomes the filling.

The recipe for Pasta con le Sarde is from my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking. This is a slightly modified version of the recipe.

I found very little wild fennel this time of year so I used fennel bulbs – there were a few available at the Queen Victoria Market. Because I only found a very small quantity of wild fennel I added some ground fennel seeds and a splash of Pernod to enhance the fennel taste.

Wild fennel

If you can get wild fennel, place it into some cold, salted water (enough to cook the pasta) and boil it for 10-15 minutes (it can be left in the water for longer). The green tinged, fennel-flavoured water is used to cook the pasta — it will flavour and colour the pasta. Reserve some of the tender shoots of wild fennel raw to use in the cooking of the sauce.

Drain the cooked fennel and keep the fennel-flavoured water to cook the pasta. Some of the cooked fennel can be added to the pasta sauce.

The recipe using bulb Fennel

  • bucatini, 500g
  • sardines, 500g
  • fennel a large bulb of fennel with the green fronds cut finely, a teaspoon of ground fennel seeds or a dash of Pernod
  • extra virgin olive oil, about ½ cup
  • onions, 1, finely sliced
  • anchovies, 4, cut finely
  • pine nuts, ¾ cup
  • almonds, ¾ cup, toasted
  • currants, ¾ cup, or seedless raisins or sultanas soaked in a little water beforehand
  • saffron, ½ – 1 small teaspoon soaked in a little water beforehand
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper or chili flakes to taste
  • coarse breadcrumbs, 100 grams made with day old, quality bread (sourdough/pasta dura) lightly fried in some oil. I added pine nuts (pine- nuts-overkill), grated lemon peel, a little cinnamon and sugar to my breadcrumbs.

Slice the fennel into thin slices and cut fronds finely.
Cut about two thirds of the sardine fillets into thick pieces. Reserve whole fillets to go on top and provide visual impact.
Heat oil in shallow wide pan.
Sauté the onions over medium heat until golden. Add the fennel and cook till slightly softened.
Add pine nuts, currants (drained) and almonds. Toss gently until heated.
Add the sliced sardines, salt and pepper or chili. Cook  for about 5-7 minutes, stirring gently. Add ground fennel seeds or a splash of Pernod to enhance the fennel taste – I did this because I only found a very small quantity of wild fennel.
Add the anchovies (try to remove any bones if there are any) and as they cook, crush them with back of spoon to dissolve into a paste.
Add saffron (and the soaking water) and continue to stir and cook gently.
Boil bucatini in the fennel water (if you have it) until al dente.
Fry the whole fillets of sardines in a separate frying pan, keeping them intact. Remove them from the pan and put aside.
Drain the pasta.
Mix the pasta with the sauce, sprinkle with some of the breadcrumbs and top with the sardine fillets.

The photos are of left over pasta that I made into a timballo. It was only for my household, nothing fancy and was a way of using leftovers.

Oil a baking tray or an ovenproof dish (traditionally a round shape is used) and sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs to prevent sticking.


Place a layer of the dressed pasta on the breadcrumbs – I coiled the bucatini around the baking pan, then added the sauce (solids- sardines, nuts etc) and placed more coiled bucatini on top.

if you want a deeper crust you will need greater quantities of breadcrumbs.

Cover with more breadcrumbs, sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil, cover with foil and bake in preheated 200°C for approximately 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes. When the dish is baked, the breadcrumbs form a crust.

LINKS:
WILD FENNEL, link with photos
PASTA WITH ANCHOVIES , wild fennel and breadcrumbs recipe
EASTER IN SICILY
SCACCE, Focaccia stuffed bread

 

 

SAUCES for meat, fish and vegetables to brighten up your Christmas

Because one of the books that I have written is called Sicilian Seafood Cooking and because my blog is called All Things Sicilian And More many of my readers assume that at Christmas I will be cooking Sicilian food.

And what is the norm in Italy  or Sicily for Christmas?

As many have stated before me, there is no point in restricting the menu to a few common dishes because the food in Italy is very regional and depending where you live is likely to determine what you eat on Christmas day. When I was celebrating Christmas in Trieste (in Northern Italy), Brodo (broth) was always the first course on Christmas day. When I celebrated it in  Sicily I had entirely different food – home made gnucchiteddi ( small pasta gniocchi) or Ravioli di ricotta  were the norm.

See:
RAVIOLI DI RICOTTA
GNUCCHITEDDI

Sicily is relatively a small island, yet the food in Sicily is also very regional. All you need to do is look at the posts that I have written about Christmas food in Sicily to see that. For example when I celebrated Christmas in Ragusa, they always made and continue to make scacce,( baked dough with various fillings) and they make these during other festive occasions as well. Are Sicilians living in Australia likely to have scacce for Christmas? Not likely. They may be part of Christmas fare for those Sicilians coming from Ragusa and  the province of Ragusa,  but the menus from any Sicilian  living in Australia is going to be influenced by other offerings of either Sicilian or Italian origin and by Australian culture and the  Summer climate.

SCACCE

As I have already stated in my last post QUADRUCCI IN BRODO, Squares of home-made Pasta in Broth:

Time and time again I am asked what am I cooking for Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. The answer is that I do not know yet.  I can say is that on Christmas eve I like to eat fish as is traditionally observed in Italy and on Christmas day I usually cook something that I do not normally cook or have not cooked for a while, for example for first course I may cook Spaghetti/ Pasta with sea urchin (ricci) or bottarga or squid with black ink or crayfish or crab.

So for this Christmas fare post, I am going to provide links to some of my posts which highlight sauces and dressings. This is because, irrespective of whether you are presenting a seafood salad, baking a turkey, or using a BBQ for fish or meat you can always vary the sauce you present a- Let’s face it, sauces can make a lot of difference and if you wish, you can enliven any food with a new sauce.

Here are some sauces. that are suitable for Savoury food.

SALSA D’AGRESTO

It was a sauce which dates pre-Renaissance time and went out of fashion because lemons became popular in cooking and superseded the use of green grape juice. The recipes suggested that the juice of the green grapes can be extracted by using a mouli or a juicer. It is very good for any hot meat. Verjuice can be used instead and white wine works as well.

Walnuts and almonds are blanched to remove as much skin as possible. My sources indicated that there may have been more walnuts used than almonds in these sauces.

Onions, garlic and parsley and a few breadcrumbs are pounded together with the nuts. Add a bit of sugar, some chopped parsley and sufficient grape juice to make the amalgamated ingredients soft – like a paste.

Heat these ingredients and add a little broth as the sauce will thickened because the bread crumbs.

SALSA VERDE – ITALIAN GREEN SAUCE

Salsa verde can be used to jazz anything up – vegetables, roasts, cold meats, smoked fish, crayfish etc. I sometimes use it to stuff hard boiled eggs (remove the yolk, mix with salsa verde and return it to the egg). It is mainly parsley, anchovies, capers, green olives.

SARSA DI CHIAPPAREDDI

There may be times when an accompanying sauce for steamed, baked, grilled or fried fish will bring you greater compliments.

The sauce is called sarsa di chiappareddi in Sicilian and it is made with capers and anchovies.

For me it is most essential to use quality, extra virgin, olive oil. This is especially important for cold sauces, – when the cold sauce hits the hot food, the fragrance of the oil will be strongly evident.

 BAGNA CAUDA

Bagna Cauda, translated as “hot bath,” is a dip for any combination of firm vegetables- cooked or uncooked. I would not have it on roast potatoes and can enliven many vegetables.

It is a hot sauce mainly of garlic, anchovies and butter.

SALAMURRIGGHIU – SALMORIGLIO (salmorigano)

Such a simple Sicilian dressing made with extra virgin olive oil, lemon and oregano that will make an enormous difference to any grilled or BBQ food- whether fish meat or vegetable.

HOME-MADE MAYONNAISE OR SAFFRON MAYONNAISE OR TUNA MAYONNAISE

Excellent for any cold meat, fish, eggs, vegetable dishes.

See:
MAYONNAISE  and SAFFRON MAYONNAISE
INSALATA RUSSA
CHICKEN LAYERED WITH TUNA AND EGG MAYONNAISE
VITELLO TONNATO

 SALSA ROMESCO

Salsa Romesco is said to have originated from Tarragona, a town close to Barcelona in north-eastern Spain. It is an old Roman town so I can understand why you might think the sauce originated from Rome.

This sauce is usually associated as a condiment for shellfish and fish. It is also good with grilled and roasted vegetables (especially cold, left over ones that need dressing up the next day). Recently, I have been to two restaurants and this sauce was presented with cold asparagus. Garlic, red peppers, almonds and paprika are the main ingredients.

SALSA SARACINA (Saracen sauce)

Does a combination of green olives, pine nuts, sultanas and saffron appeal to you? It is a cold Sicilian sauce, especially suitable for fish but I use it for many other hot or cold food.

ANATRA A PAPAREDDA CU L’ULIVI

Last time I roasted a duck I made a special sauce for it and it tasted great –  green anchovies, parsley, the pale centre of a celery, garlic, stock and wine added to the roasting pan made an excellent gravy.

HOT MINT SAUCE

This is a recipe from Sam and Sam Clark’s Casa Moro, The Second Cookbook. I had this sauce at a friend’s house accompanying roast goat. It is made mainly with mint, cumin and garlic and red vinegar (or balsamic).

*There are many other posts for Christmas food.

BUON NATALE 

QUADRUCCI IN BRODO, Squares of home-made Pasta in Broth

Time and time again I am asked what am I cooking for Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. The answer is that I do not know yet.  I can say is that on Christmas eve I like to eat fish as is traditionally observed in Italy and on Christmas day I usually cook something that I do not normally cook or have not cooked for a while, for example for first course I may cook Spaghetti/ Pasta with sea urchin (ricci) or bottarga or squid with black ink or crayfish or crab.( SEE links to recipes at the bottom of this post.)

Traditionally my immediate family always ate brodo (broth) on Christmas day and lately I have been thinking about something that I have not made since 1984. I know it is this date because the recipe was in a book which was published in 1984 andI bought it the year it was published = Giuliano Bugialli, The Taste Of Italy.

And so the other night when I pulled out of my freezer some strong duck broth, I decided to experiment with making some home-made pasta cut into squares  with parsley embedded in the centre. I had made it many years ago on several occasions . Only my daughter was coming for dinner, so if the results were not satisfacory, it did not matter so much. I am always in a hurry (I once had a friend who used to call me (Ms sempre in fretta – always in a hurry) and had no time to find the recipe. Besides I could not remember what the recipe was called or in in which Bugialli book would I find it, so I just went ahead and made it.

Because there were just the three of us eating the brodo I only wanted to make small amounts and use a rolling pin; there was no way I wanted to get out/ dirty/ and clean my pasta rolling machine….I was in a hurry.

And it was great. How could I go wrong? It is just homemade pasta with whole parsley leaves added to the dough. The parsley pasta is then cut into squares. The thinly rolled pasta with the whole parsley leaves are very attractive and resemble embroidery.

I had some asparagus (now in season) and I wanted to add a light summery feel to the brodo. Perfect for an Australian Christmas?

I found the recipe and not surprisingly Bugialli calls them Quadrucci – small squares. A quadro is Italian for square.

In Bugialli’s recipe, he suggests making the broth with Turkey- meat and bones.  My duck stock was made with the carcase/carcass of a duck – I had removed the breast and legs for another dish.

WHAT I DID

  • good meat broth, fat skimmed off, solids passed through a fine mesh strainer,
  • sprigs of Italian parsley (I also tried some with basil leaves),
  • home-made pasta = *1 large egg per 100 grams of hard flour (like unbleached, bread making flour, high in protein) is sufficient for 3 persons. Double or triple accordingly.

Sift the flour and place it in a large bowl or on a bench (depending how you like to mix flour to make into a dough).

Make a well in the centre and add the egg and a little salt.

Begin to knead with your fingers; I begin by adding flour from the edges into the centre. Mix everything well. At this stage you may need to add a little bit more of flour if the mixture is too wet or a tiny bit of water if it is too dry. This is because of the differences in the size of the eggs and the absorbency of the flour. Work the dough till the pasta feels elastic.

Shape the dough into a ball, cover it (cloth or plastic wrap) and leave it for about one hour.

Using a rolling pin (or a pasta machine especially if making greater quantities) roll/ stretch the pasta quite thin.

Place whole parsley leaves on top of half the length of the layer of pasta. Fold the other half of the layer of pasta over the parsley, and press the layers together.

Roll it again until it is very thin and you will see the parsley through the top layer of the pasta – sandwiched in the centre and looking like embroidery. I also used basil leaves for some quadri (squares).

Cut the pasta into squares ( like ravioli). These do not need to be of regular size and shape. trim off irregular bits of pasta.

Bring the broth to a boil and add the pasta squares. Cook for 1-3 minutes- they will rise to the surface when cooked.

Once I added the pasta to the broth I added the asparagus. The ingredients were cooked in a very short time.

This is what my version looked like:

I did find Bugialli’s recipe and he adds grated Parmigiano and black pepper to his pasta dough. He also says that this is a representative dish from Puglia. Bugialli is from Florence.

Here is Bugialli’s recipe:

FOR THE BROTH:

900g/2lbs dark turkey meat, with bones
1 medium-sized red onion, peeled
1 stick celery
1 medium-sized carrot, scraped
1 medium-sized clove garlic, peeled but left whole
1 cherry tomato
4 sprigs Italian parsley
3 extra large egg whites
coarse-grained salt

FOR THE PASTA:

40g (1 1/2 oz) (1/2 cup) freshly grated Parmesan
5 eggs
pinch of salt
6 twists black pepper
450g (1 lb) (3 1/2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
30 sprigs Italian flat-leaf parsley, leaves only

Prepare the broth: put the turkey, coarse-grained salt to taste, the whole onion, celery, carrot, garlic, tomato, and parsley sprigs in a large stockpot. Cover with cold water and put the pot over medium heat, uncovered. Simmer for 2 hours, skimming off foam from the top.

Remove the meat from the pot and reserve it for another dish. Pass the rest of the contents of the pot through a fine strainer into a large bowl, to remove the vegetables and impurities. Let the broth cool, then place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight to allow the fat to rise to the top and solidify.

Use a metal spatula to remove the solidified fat then clarify the broth. Pour 4 tablespoons of the broth into a small bowl and mix it with the egg whites. Pour the broth and egg white mixture into the rest of the cold broth and whisk very well. Transfer the broth to a pot and place it on the edge of a burner. Bring to the simmering stage, half covered, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the egg whites rise to the top with the impurities, and the broth becomes transparent.

Meanwhile, place a clean, wet cotton tea towel in the freezer for 5 minutes. Then stretch the tea towel over a colander and strain the broth through it to clarify it completely. The broth should be absolutely clear.

Prepare the pasta with the ingredients listed, placing the grated Parmesan, salt, pepper, and eggs in the well in the flour. With much care and patience, gradually work the eggs into the flour until you have a slab of dough. Shape this into a ball and leave under a towel or in cling film (plastic wrap) to rest.

Stretch the pasta as thinly as possible by hand or with the pasta machine. Place the whole parsley leaves on top of half the length of the layer of pasta. Fold the other half of the layer of pasta over the parsley, and press the layers together. Continue to roll out the layer of pasta until it is very thin. Using a scalloped pastry cutter, cut the pasta into squares of about 5cm/2in.

Bring the broth to a boil and add the pasta. Cook for 1-3 minutes, depending on how dry the pasta is. Serve hot, without adding cheese, which would spoil its purity.

This is what Bugialli’s  pasta looked like. With a little more effort and a pasta machine, mine will look like that too.

Other recipes mentioned in this blog.

For first course I may cook:

SPAGHETTI CON RICCI DI MARE

PASTA CON BOTTARGA

SPAGHETTI WITH CRAYFISH OR CRAB

PASTA WITH BLACK INK SAUCE