Category Archives: Regarding Marisa Raniolo Wilkins

BEING ELDERLY, TRAVELLING and COFFEE

We have been travelling for the last four weeks around parts of Victoria and South Australia. Along the way we have stopped in cafes that looked like they served a good coffee. And I admit we’ve been pretty selective. It’s obvious to any of us who’ve driven around country Australia the number of cafes, pubs and bakeries serving coffee are flourishing, but not all of them make good coffee.

And at a once great railway town south of Port Augusta, we took a chance on one when there was no other option. We have recently bought a modest VW campervan with a homemade conversion that comes with some compromises. For example, to boil a kettle or brew a coffee, you slide out the stove top through the cargo door, which means it’s open to weather. This day, it was raining heavily, blowing a gale, we were cold and we liked some of the buildings in the town and so we pulled up.

There were two people serving and three people who were waiting for takeaways. When one of the staff asked who was next another assistant said:  “That elderly couple over there.”

My partner and I burst out laughing but I do not think anyone got the joke. I explained with humour how we were indeed elderly and were not offended in any way by the comment, but that elderly people did not necessarily see themselves as being of a certain older age and being called that, may take them by surprise. I said this and meant it to mean that we knew the joke was on us.

But wait, there was still more to come.

I ordered coffees for both my partner and myself. I asked for two caffé e latte. The woman (who we assume to be the owner of the café) took issue with my order. Raising her voice so she could share her proprietorship with her two staff and the three customers waiting for their takeaways, she exclaimed: “What do you want? Oh, caffe lattes?” She emphasised.  “We make lattes here. We don’t have fancy names like you city people.” More added emphasis. “You want two lattes? Is that what want?”

My partner meekly said that we would like two lattes. I felt the need to explain that as a person born in Italy, I don’t abbreviate the order to just latte because if you did this in Italy you would be ordering a drink of milk. I even apologised. Then she said that I was in Australia and needed to fit in with Australians if this was my home.

But wait for it, the performance went on. She said that all the tables inside were booked and we had to sit outside. We looked at the weather and tables under the kerb-side veranda. We meekly said that was OK. But where were these customers, when were they arriving, wouldn’t we finish a cup of coffee before they arrived? However, we didn’t challenge the wet-weather option, we knew we were in dangerous territory here and just turned the other cheek.

The coffee took ages to arrive, the assistant who carried it out to us spilled it in the saucers. She said that she was sorry about this and that we would have to sip it from our saucers. Once again we chose to be agreeable and said that we did not mind it being spilled.

By the way, the coffee was nothing like a caffè e latte, no froth whatsoever and very little taste of coffee or milk. We drank it quickly in spite of it being almost undrinkable and exchanged looks of unbelief between us.

I was in shock and made my way to the car. Not only were we elderly but were from the city and I was a foreigner. When my partner went to pay she was going to charge him for a mug sized coffee rather than a cup. He did mediate and pointed out that we had the smaller size.

I looked up the information on the web about this township and was greeted with the description of it being a friendly, peaceful town, a great place to live and visit.

This experience was worlds away from the experience we had when we ordered caffè e latte in Horsham at the Farmhouse Providore & Cafe which was packed with locals and travellers. The café had been recommended by another brilliant roadside stop in Keith, Henry & Rose. The attendant at the Farmhouse did not blink an eyelid when I asked for caffè e latte and asked how we wanted our coffees. Did we want more coffee than milk or the other way around because she knew people had preferences and she wanted to satisfy each of their customers.

I nearly hugged her!

I take making  coffee and tea very seriously.

These are the camping coffee pots and teapot:

See post:

Do I take making coffee at home too seriously?

I sure do.

MARINETTI Filippo Tommaso, futurist, frequented a bar in Bologna

In Bologna I visited where Filippo Tommaso Marinetti hung out with his futurist friends and discussed the evils of eating pasta. I did not expect to find it to be part of a grand hotel.

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Cafe’ Marinetti is located in the Grand Hotel Majestic “Gia Baglioni”. It is an 18th-century palazzo across the street from the Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro and only a 5-minute walk from the Towers of Bologna.

CFBEA013-5359-47D5-86F8-07AA09D4BDB0The hotel is decorated with Baroque details, expensive paintings and photographs of famous visiting celebrities….Frank Sinatra, Eva Gardner, Princess Diana, Sting, Bruce Springsteen and others.

C28BCA23-F038-4C67-ACC5-88A72257BAEC The hotel is very luxurious…when I was there there was a Bentley Ferrari and a sports BMW out the front collecting and dropping off guests.

0A5F4284-3E7B-454D-838C-57A58180EAE1Cafe’ Marinetti is frequented by well heeled guests as I imagine it was then during Marinetti’s time.

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But who was Marinetti?

And really why would I expect someone who had such strong views about pasta to be anything else but part of the well heeled set?

It is interesting to see that pasta features on the menu at Cafe Marinetti and there is no risotto.

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, one of the founders of Futurism in the early 1900:

ADELAIDE REVIEW OF ‘SICILIAN SEAFOOD COOKING

Bolognese recipe, from Great Italian Chefs.

My mother used to add cream rather than milk, and a little grated nutmeg.

BOLOGNESE RAGÙ

  • 300g of beef mince 85% fat
  • 150g of pork mince
  • 50g of unsalted butter
  • 50g of onion finely chopped
  • 50g of carrot finely chopped
  • 50g of  celery finely chopped
  • 125ml of red wine
  • 30g of  tomato paste, triple concentrated
  • 125ml of whole milk
  • salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
Place a large thick-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. Add the minced pork belly to the pot and cook until all the liquid from the meat has evaporated, then add the minced beef and cook until golden, stirring frequently. Transfer the meat to a bowl and set aside.
Add the butter to the saucepan and place over a medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook until the onions are very soft and translucent. Finally, add the tomato paste and sauté for 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally.
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Return the meat to the saucepan, turn up the heat and pour in the red wine. Cook over a high heat for 2 minutes, then cover the pan and turn the heat down to low
Leave the ragù alla Bolognese to simmer very gently for at least 3 hours. The meat must not be excessively dry. Pour in the whole milk and cook for a further 40 minutes just before serving
Ragù alla Bolognese is very tasty when just cooked, but is even better the next day. Reheat the sauce over a very low heat with a little bit of milk and use it to season pasta.

……or tortellini or to make a lasagna.

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Pork Hock, Polish Wedding Sausage, Borlotti and Sauerkraut =IOTA (a lean version)

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Iota (also Jota) is always a delight to eat and to talk about with friends, many of them surprised to discover that it is a regional and traditional Italian  dish from Trieste, a town in the region of Fruili Venezia Giulia and north of Venice.

The fat content in Iota can be high, but there are ways to make Iota less fatty.

Borlotti beans, soaked overnight and then cooked.

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Pork Hock, placed in cold water and simmered until soft and used to make broth. Add potatoes about 30 minutes before the end of cooking.  Remove the lean meat and use this for  when you assemble the ingredients together. Skim the fat off the pork hock broth.

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Use the broth to cook the sauerkraut . When the sauerkraut is cooked, add half the borlotti beans and potatoes.  Use a potato masher to mash the contents.

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Assemble the Iota  by combining all of the different components.

Add the whole beans and the rest of the potatoes (cubed) with the mashed  ingredients. Add the pork hock meat and the Wedding Sausage (I prefer to use this type of sausage  because it is lean meat).

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And there you have it – a lean Iota.

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There are other posts for making Iota and these include quantities of ingredients:

IOTA (Recipe, a very thick soup from Trieste) Post 1

IOTA FROM TRIESTE, Italy, made with smoked pork, sauerkraut, borlotti beans – Post 2

GREAT ITALIAN CHEFS’ RECIPES, 10 best Sicilian dishes

This site, Great Italian Chefs, is worth looking at. It is part of the Great British Chefs website and on this site you will find information about  some of the different regions of Italy and regional recipes.

The recipes are ‘great’ and are by professional chefs.

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I too have posted many of these recipes on my blog and a passatempo – pass-the-time, a diversion, you could compare their recipes with mine.

10 best Sicilian Dishes:

https://www.greatitalianchefs.com/features/10-best-sicilian-dishes

I have written about them before:

GREAT BRITISH CHEFS, GREAT ITALIAN CHEFS, Feature articles by Marisa Raniolo Wilkins

PESCE CRUDO, raw fish dishes in Sicily

ALSO10 MUST-TRY DISHES WHEN YOU ARE IN SICILY

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LUGANIGHE CON CAPUZI GARBI – Sausages and sauerkraut, and yes, it is Italian regional cuisine

As a child, I lived in Trieste with my parents, and Ragusa, Catania and Augusta were the towns in Sicily where my Sicilian relatives lived. Both Trieste (located at the head of the Gulf of Trieste in the  region Friuli-Venezia Giulia) and Sicily are at the extreme ends of Italy, and as you would expect, the cuisines are very different.

I grew up with both cuisines and appreciate them both for very different reasons.

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Capuzi garbi  (or crauti/krauti) is sauerkraut in Triestino (the Triestine dialect) and it is a very popular ingredient in Triestine cuisine especially when mixed in Gulash (made with pork or beef), or with a lump of smoked pork, or luganighe (Triestine) – salsicce di maiale in Italian, and pork sausages for us mere mortals in the English speaking world.

When you look at a map of Italy, it is easy to see why this part of Italy has common roots with the cooking of Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Istria.

I have German and Polish friends and they too are fond of sauerkraut, and like my relatives and friends from Trieste, they tend to overcook it; my mother also did this when she cooked capuzi garbi.

But as we know, cuisine evolves and some of us have taken on new methods of cooking traditional foods.

In my kitchen, I cook sauerkraut for about a quarter of the time as the traditional method and at times, I also like to add a little fresh cabbage to lighten the taste and to add a different texture.  A little flour  browned in a little oil is added to the sauerkraut towards the end of cooking, but not me, and unlike my Triestine contemporaries I also add caraway seeds, bay leaves and a dash of white wine.

The ingredients are: pork sausages, sauerkraut, bay leaves and caraway seeds. Onion, extra virgin olive oil and pepper (the sauerkraut could be sufficiently salty). Fresh cabbage and a dash of white wine are optional.

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Drain the sauerkraut and squeeze out the moisture. Soften some onion in a little oil (in Trieste lard is also common and added to the oil).

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Adding a little white or savoy cabbage is optional.

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And with the cabbage also add the sauerkraut and the rest. A dash of white wine will keep it moist while it cooks.

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Cover and cook for about 15- 20 minutes on low heat until the sausages are nearly cooked and the flavours have had a chance to meld.

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Remove the sauerkraut and slightly brown the sausages – only for appearance.

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A few of the other recipes from Trieste:

MARINADED FISH and a recipe for PESCE IN SAOR

IOTA (Recipe, a very thick soup from Trieste) Post 1

IOTA FROM TRIESTE, Italy is made with smoked pork, sauerkraut, borlotti beans-Post 2

Traditional Easter Sweets in Trieste in Friuli Venezia Giulia

INSALATA RUSSA (Party time – Russian salad)

APPLE STRUDEL (TRIESTE: Strucolo de pomi)

GULASCH (Goulash as made in Trieste)

PATATE as a contorno (Two recipes for ‘squashed’ potatoes).

PASTA CON LE SARDE, an iconic Sicilian recipe from Palermo. Cooked at Slow Food Festival Melbourne

Slow Fish Festival: Save Our Seafood

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To those of you who attended the successful event at Spotswood – Kingsville, Slow Fish Festival: Save Our Seafood.

As promised, here is an update of the recipe Pasta con le Sarde I cooked at this event.

There are already two posts about this recipe:

PASTA CON LE SARDE (Pasta with sardines, from Palermo, made with fennel, pine nuts and currants)

PASTA CON SARDE – the baked version, Palermo, Sicily

Here are some useful photographs to compliment the recipes:

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Wild fennel plant.

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Wild fennel shoots.

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Packing wild fennel for the winter season – used to flavour the pasta water.

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Extra flavour with sachet of fennel seeds. It can be removed when you also remove the boiled wild fennel.

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Wild fennel sold in bunches at Catania Market.

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You will need a plate to serve it. This is an Alessi Plate ( not THE Alessi, the Sicilian Alessi) They use old stencils, colours and images from the past to decorate their plates.

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Recipe in Sicilian Seafood Cooking, Tim White from Books For Cooks (Melbourne) may have a couple of this book left for sale.

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Timballo, made with left over Pasta con Sarde

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Reference was made to  Il Gattopardo – The Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampadusa. Film made by Visconti, an historical epic, based on Lampedusa’s novel.

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TUNNU `A STIMPIRATA – TONNO ALLA STEMPERATA (Tuna with onions, vinegar, capers and green olives)

Albacore tuna is sustainable, cheap in price and much under rated in Australia. It is not sashimi grade so the Asian export market does not want it and therefore in Australia we also tend to undervalue it. It is denser in texture but still excellent for cooking (lightly or cooked for longer).  As in Australia, Blue fin tuna is the preferred tuna in Sicily; if it is sustainable depends on how and where it is caught – it should be wild caught and aquaculture is not an option.

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Unfortunately I rarely find albacore tuna where I live in Melbourne and if I do, I always grab it when I can and cook it as I would cook blue fin tuna.

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I like tuna seared and left rare centrally but my Sicilian relatives eat tuna very well done and this is also how it is presented in the traditional home-style restaurants in Sicily.

In Sicily there are numerous ways tuna but Tonno alla stemperata is one of the favourites  in the south eastern part of Sicily. It was first cooked for me by one of my cousins, Rosetta, who lives in Ragusa. She and her husband have a holiday house on the beach at Marina di Ragusa, and she usually buys most of her fish from the fishermen on the beach.

Although Rosetta prefers to use tuna in this recipe, any firm-fleshed fish, thickly sliced, is suitable. She prefers to cut the tuna into large cubes – this allows greater penetration of the flavours in the sauce and of course, it will cook to a greater degree and more quickly.

Rosetta cooked the fish in the morning and we ate it for lunch, at room temperature…in Australia you may find this unusual but eating it at room temperature and some time after it has been cooked allows the flavours time to develop.

A version of this recipe is also in my first book: Sicilian Seafood Cooking.

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I have used Albacore tuna, trevally, mackerel or flathead (better choice category) successfully in this recipe.

tuna or firm-fleshed fish, 4 slices
sliced white onions, 2
capers, ½ cup, salted variety, soaked and washed
white wine vinegar, about 2 tablespoons or for a milder taste use 1 tablespoon of white wine and one of vinegar
extra virgin olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
salt, black pepper or red chilli flakes (as preferred by the relatives in Ragusa),
celery heart, 2 or 3 of the pale green stalks and young leaves, chopped finely
green olives, ½ cup, pitted, chopped
bay leaves, 4

Soften the onion and celery in about half of the extra virgin oil, and cook until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

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Add the fish, olives, capers, seasoning and bay leaves and sear the fish. The pieces of fish only need to be turned once.

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Add the vinegar and allow the vinegar to evaporate and flavour the dish.

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Remove the fish from the pan if you think that it will overcook and continue to evaporate.

Optional: Decorate (and flavour) with mint just before serving.

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You can tell I am in South Australia by some of the photos of the fabulous varieties of fish I am able to purchase in Adelaide when I visit.

Food in Japan and I particularly enjoyed the pickles – tsukemono

I very much enjoyed all of the food I ate during my first and recent trip to Japan – I went to Kyoto and Tokyo. Like Italian Cuisine, Japanese cuisine has a huge diversity of regional and seasonal dishes and the Japanese people seem just as passionate about their food.

Below is an oden dish, in a special oden restaurant -it is mainly daikon, I could also taste turnip, boiled eggs served in stock made from dried bonito, konbu and soy sauce. Of course there were pickles and rice.

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We accompanied the oden dish with bean curd prepared in different ways… and I do like beancurd. Below is a photo of another beancurd  dish I had in another restaurant -silken tofu (Agedashi) in a flavorful tentsuyu broth of dashi, mirin and soy. This one had some other ingredients as well as tofu and broth. The red on top was a mild chili paste.

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Whether it be in my home town or elsewhere, I always place great effort in selecting the ‘right’ places to eat. I look closely at menus (in Japan, glossy pictures and the plastic replicas of food helped). I suss out the ambience and then take a plunge, and practically all of the time  my senses do not fail me.

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Japanese food is as much about the preparation and presentation as it is the food itself.

One place in Kyoto particularly stands out – no menus with pictures or models of food here – a tiny place with fabulous décor, a flamboyant, entertaining and creative chef (Mr. Fujita) and his courteous assistant who had a tiny sprinkling of English. We (my partner and I) got by, participated mainly with sign language, much laughter with the other eight guests and we ate extremely well. We pointed to particular ingredients that he had available – duck, fish, eel, eggs, mushrooms (what other guests were eating and via photos in an album) and left it up to him to come up with the food. We watched him slice and prepare top quality and seasonal ingredients and proudly come up with a variety of delicious offerings. Watching the chef prepare the food was as much fun as eating it.

Restaurant: Marufuji (まる藤) Kyoto

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This was a strongly flavoured stock with eel, spinach and egg. We were given bowls and spoons.

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A form of Yakiniku? – duck  cooked on a hot stone. We could have had tongue as well.

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I am particularly fond of good tableware and the food was presented with as much care of good quality crockery and lacquerware – with a variety of shapes, textures, colorful patterns, and colors.

And the chef came to see us off.

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I will not go on about all the food I tried in Japan – there were far too many  of the traditional popular Japanese dishes –  the steamed, simmered or grilled dishes, sliced raw,  the sushi, tempura, yakitori, ramen etc, but I would like to mention a couple of things I particularly enjoyed or was less familiar with.

I particularly enjoyed the very fresh fish prepared in various ways.

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In a different eatery in the backstreets of Kyoto I particularly liked the tomato tempura – small explosions of sweet and acid flavour.

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I also had burdock tempura – a distinctive and slightly bitter, crunchy and chewy( fibrous) root vegetable that also reminded me of the texture of meat.

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At the same restaurant I also ate pickled sardines. These were lightly floured first and fried and then pickled in a sweet and sour marinade which strangely enough reminded me very much of the varieties of Italian pickled sardines like the Sicilian Soused Fish recipes or the Sarde al Saor popular in Trieste and Venice. One large difference of course, was the grated fresh ginger, not a common ingredient in Italian cuisine.

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I am not a great lover of sweets but in Tokyo I watched two people prepare street food – waffles shaped like a fish called Taiyaki. The pancake batter forms the fish shaped outer shell. The filling was sweet red bean paste or sweet potato.

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I like persimmons – both the vanilla type and the squashy ones, both fresh and dried.  I found quantities of Mochi in the Food halls in basements of  famous and grand Department Stores. I particularly like the texture of the outer layers of  Mochi that are made with sticky rice: the rice is pounded into a smooth paste and molded around a filling  of usually sweet red bean paste .The outer layer is chewy and soft and sometimes flavoured with green tea.

I also liked the pumpkin ice cream, and the one made with spinach.

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For the first time I ate Kamameshi – rice is cooked in an iron pot, with  different flavourings such as  soy sauce, mirin, stock and other ingredients.  Ours also had minced chicken,  a few vegetables  . I liked it – homely.

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The burnt rice around the pot of Kamameshi is particularly flavourful.

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I tried different types of sake and Japanese beer (I am a wine drinker so both were new experiences for me). I  also drank good wine (grapes) made in Japan.!!!

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I did come cooking at home too – I like my vegetables and I never get enough when I am away from home and I especially purchased different types of mushrooms – it is autumn after all and they came in many colours, shapes, textures and flavours.

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In a Tokyo market I did try some street food – takoyaki (a dough-like wheat flour dumpling, with small pieces of octopus mixed in the batter, smothered with a brown sweet sticky sauce and topped with bonito fish flakes) The batter is  poured into a special hotplate with small half-circle molds and when the bottom half is cooked, the half-circle dumplings are turned over and become full spherical dumplings in the end.

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I had eaten these in Melbourne and they did not appeal to me then. They did not appeal to me now, but I always like the taste of bonito fish flakes and I like to watch them dance.

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I very much liked all the countless varieties of seaweed and pickles. Pickles are called tsukemono. Japanese food would not be the same without pickles that frequently accompany all meals in Japan providing flavours and pro-biotic cultures that promote digestion. They also provide a variety of colors, aromas and textures.

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Food markets are full of unpackaged pickles in vats of fish, fruit and vegetables. I particularly like the common umeboshi (pickled plums). Common vegetables that are pickled are: daikon, ginger, Japanese cucumbers, carrots, bamboo, turnips, Chinese cabbage, gobo (burdock root) and Japanese eggplant.

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Imagine the smells of these ingredients with their pungent smells of pickling ingredients like rice bran, vinegar, miso, soy sauce, sake. And seasonings like mirin, garlic, seaweeds, herbs and spices, konbu, chilies, honey and sugar.

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I also enjoyed the lightly pickled vegetables. I had these only in one of the restaurants  in Tokyo and on this occasion I was in the company of a local so we were able to discuss how pickles are  easily made at home.

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Now home in Melbourne, I did some research and found some recipes for making pickles in an old book I have about Japanese cuisine, Japanese Vegetarian Cookery, Lesley Downer, Jonathan Cape Press, 1986.

I used to use this book to make pickled plums and simple pickled vegetables…a long time ago.  Although many types of tsukemono are available commercially many people make pickles at home.

Here is a recipe adapted from this book.

Salt pickles.

Vegetables are salted and the pressure that is placed upon them causes them to release their liquids – this results in brine that pickles the vegetables. Each type of vegetable is usually pickled separately to keep flavours distinct.
Downer suggests that particularly suitable are:

2 Daikon (peeled, quartered, cut into 2.5 cm lengths),
1 Chinese cabbage halved, quartered 2.5 cm chunks,
4 Small cucumbers, halved, scrape out seeds, cut into 2.5cm lengths

30g sea salt

Rub salt into vegetables, place them in a ceramic bowl (narrow is preferable).
Cover vegetables with a small plate that will fit neatly inside the bowl.
Place a weight on top- perhaps a stone or a jar of water.
Leave the bowl in a cool dark place for 3-4 days– the brine will raise (or it should) above the vegetables.
To serve, remove vegetables, gently squeeze and cut into bite size pieces…… Taste a bit before you cut them and rinse them  if necessary to remove excess salt.
My Variations and suggestions:

Once there is sufficient brine covering the vegetables,  add a dash of Japanese vinegar (low in acid) and a small glug of Sake for extra flavor. A little Mirin or sugar will also help to sweeten the vegetables.These ingredients also help with the fermentation. It is worth experimenting with flavours.

Making pickles can produce smells, especially if you are using cabbage or daikon. A large wide mouthed ,glass jar or ceramic pot with a tight fitting lid is useful. If you are using a jar or pot make sure that you can apply pressure with a heavy weight on top of the vegetables to produce the brine.

Other vegetables can be used–  unpeeled Japanese eggplant…halved, quartered etc , peeled turnips and carrots…halved, sliced etc.

 

 

 

 

Palermo and Sicily … peeling the onion

“Sicily is the pearl of this century for its qualities and its beauty, for the uniqueness of its towns and its people […] because it brings together the best aspects of every other country.”

This was written almost a thousand years ago by an Arabian geographer, Muhammed Al-Idrisi, in his book of “pleasant journeys into faraway lands” for the Norman King of Sicily, Roger II.

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As Al-Idrisi discovered, Sicily may be small, but it has the best of everything and although I may visit some places again and again, I always manage to discover something new. And this is what brings me back to Sicily again and again. I grew up in the far north of Italy in Trieste but each summer as a child, I would travel to Sicily for our summer holidays – both of my parents have relatives in Sicily. For me Sicily was an exotic place of sunshine, colour and warmth, the outdoors and the sea. Wherever I go in Europe, I always visit Sicily as well.

On my latest trip I concentrated on Southeastern Sicily and went to little towns and villages that I had not been to before as well as familiar places where I’m always interested to see what’s changed and what has stayed the same.

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Next time I visit I plan to spend more time in the city that is the essence of Sicily – Palermo.  While Al-Adrisi called Sicily a “pearl” Roberto Alajmo, a journalist and blogger born and raised in Palermo compared his home town to an onion, una cipolla – its multiple layers have to be peeled to be appreciated.

Once you start peeling back the layers of Palermo what you find is a city where history meets infamy and splendor encounters squalor, antiquities stand beside modernity. All of it evidence of a fantastic overlay of cultures from Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, French and Spanish. This cultural fusion shows up in the food and drink, the art and architecture, the palaces, the temples and churches and the entire Sicilian way of life.

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Last time I visited Palermo was three years ago, but each time I go I’m always happy to revisit the historic quarter with its Arabo-Norman monuments.

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Among my favourites are the Palazzo dei Normanni and its Cappella Palatina with their dazzling Byzantine mosaics and frescoes. There’s also King Roger II’s La Martorana, where the spectacular mosaic of Christ the Pantocrator overlooks Olivio Sozzi’s baroque Glory of the Virgin Mary, painted six centuries later. I enjoy admiring the simple, geometric shapes of the Norman palaces, La Cuba and La Zisa, built entirely by Arabic craftsmen and the distinctive Arabo-Norman red domes on San Cataldo and San Giovanni degli Ermiti.

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On my not-to-miss list is the Cattedrale which is another masterpiece of overlaid period styles, begun by the Normans in the 12th Century, with 15th Century Catalan Gothic porch, capped off with a neo-classical 18th Century neo-classical dome. The timeline continues inside with tombs of Norman and Swabian kings and queens: Roger II and his daughter, Costanza d’Altavilla and their son Frederick II and his wife of Costanza of Aragon. You can admire her imperial gold crown in the cathedral’s treasury.

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Palermo also has a fountain to rival the best of Rome. La Fontana Pretoria was once prudishly called the “fountain of shame” because of the multiple nude statues. Judge for yourself!

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The baroque also makes a grand stand in the four elegant palazzo facades of the Quattro Canti, framing the intersection of Palermo’s two main boulevards.

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I know I’m at the heart of the onion that is Palermo when I enter the labyrinth of laneways in the city’s sprawling markets – especially La Vucciria and Ballarò – with their clustered stalls that remind me of an Arabic souk. I like to listen to the clamour of the traders’ shouted Sicilian dialect. Sheltered from the sun under red canvas awnings you find the fish stalls. In his book, Midnight in Sicily Peter Robb described how the diffused red light of the market “enhanced the translucent red of the big fishes’ flesh and the silver glitter of the smaller ones’ skins”.

Palermo market_go_

Wandering the old quarters of Palermo, you’ll pick up the aroma of traditional street-food fried in large vats such as panelle (chickpea flour fritters), cazzilli (potato croquettes) or meusa (spleen) which are typical dishes of the friggerie. You will smell char-grilled peppers. And if I want to eat these treats in doors I go to classic restaurants like L’Antica Foccaceria San Francesco which has been cooking the same thing for decades.

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I find it interesting to see how traditional cuisine has developed and one of my favourite things to do in Palermo (or anywhere I go in Sicily) is to find restaurants that re-invent traditional dishes and present them with contemporary twists.  And if I want to contrast the old-style dishes with contemporary versions there are still typical trattorie like La Casa del Brodo that have classic Palermo dishes like sarde a beccafico, caponata, pasta con la sarde.

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I’m also seriously interested in discovering the ever increasing new hip bars that serve glasses of Sicilian wine varieties like grillo and nero d’avola and boutique beers matched with interesting snacks that reflect modern Sicilian cuisine.

Palermo granite stall_go_

When the time comes to escape the close-quarter hustle of the city, I can catch a bus to the north-west side of Palermo to admire the Liberty-style residences of the capital’s once-wealthy merchants. I can travel to the picturesque seaside town of Mondello, where I can dine out on the waterfront, drink in the view, scoop up a granita or gelato, eat a cannolo or a slice of cassata. It is definitely a place to eat fish and enjoy a drink or two.

Mondello Harbour

Back in town I can always book a ticket to the opera or ballet at the Teatro Massimo and eat a delicious cold treat on my way back to where I am staying.

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Palermo’s gardens are another escape. I love to wander in the greenery of the Villa Giulia or the Piazza Marina with its massive fig trees, which are spectacular. The modern art galleries are another diversion. There’s the GAM (La Galleria d’Arte Moderna), Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea, Nuvole Incontri d’Arte and Palazzo Riso which I was told about on my last visit to Palermo, when I saw an exhibition of works by Francesco Simeti.

Palermo Palazzo Riso_go_

Palazzo Riso is a baroque neo-classical edifice built in the 1780s. It was Mussolini’s temporary headquarters in World War II and bombed by the Americans in a failed attempt to kill the Italian dictator (who had left town only days before the air-raid). For years the Palazzo stood in ruins and when it was finally restored during the late-1990s, the restorers preserved some of the damage as evidence of its history.

Although I have seen Guttoso’s painting of the Vucciria Market hanging in the Palazzo Chiaramonte Steri, I have yet to see the basement where thousands of prisoners accused of heresy through the Holy Inquisition were imprisoned. These prison walls are covered in prisoners’ simple etchings, which were plastered over in the 19th Century.

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I take great pleasure in returning to a place as rich and varied as Sicily and why revisiting a city as layered as Palermo is top of my European travel wish list. It may not have the reputation of Rome (the eternal city) or Florence (la serenissima) but it has depth and diversity.

Palermo Cathedral facade_go

 

 

TASMANIA, FOOD, ART, HOBART and Bagna Cauda

One week ago today  I was having lunch in Templo, an Italianate, very small restaurant in Hobart.

Duck Polenta. On the side some pickled red radicchio.

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Twelve days before that I was in Berlin.  Four days before Berlin I was in Rome and before that Sicily, and prior that London and Nottingham.

And why  go to Tasmania three days after I returned to Melbourne after seven weeks in Europe?

Tasmania had been arranged before Europe because our friend Valerie Sparks was part of an exhibition curated by Julianna Engberg called TEMPEST at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG). It was part of MOFO. Two whole walls of this type of imagery – wallpapers.

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I  ate well in Tasmania, but I manage to eat well wherever I go.

I work hard at it – researching via books and web (I do not take much notice of Trip Advisor), taking note of restaurants I pass that look as if they may suit and looking at menus displayed, but most of all taking advice from others whose opinions I think I can trust (strangers as well as friends).

I feel that I should start with Nottingham, my first destination, but I have decided to start with Tasmania – my most recent experience.

View from Mt. Wellinghton.

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The evening before I had lunch at Templo in Hobart, I was at Aloft, that has an Asian inspired menu and is a totally different dining experience to the Italian-ate Templo.

I am not a food critic and as you may have noticed in my posts I do not elaborate or philosophize about what I eat, but I will say that although I enjoyed the ambiance, service and some of the food in Aloft, I often thought that some of the dishes were overwhelmed by strong, salty flavours, whether  they were garnishes, pickles or sauces.

I like robust flavours and certainly I had some at Templo but the flavours were well rounded….  the various tastes are balanced. Check the wine list too!

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The food originated from humble beginnings – regional Italian on this occasion – but was adventurous, modern in taste and presentation. And not at all fussy – whether in name/ description or presentation.

Templo is a very small restaurant with only one engaging  waiter – very personable and knowledgeable . As you can see by the menu on the board, there is little choice.

Below,  Broccoli and Bagna Cauda. (Recipe below for Bagna Cauda).

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This was described as Beef, celeriac…. I picked what type of cut the beef was as soon as I cut it and put it in my mouth – heart!!! Fantastic stuff… lean,  great taste, all muscle. Waiter was impressed that I knew what it was. My father used to cook it for me- how could I forget!

We ate other stuff but how many photos can I include!

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I  love Tasmania – the scenery and the bountiful produce.

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I did eat and drink well at other places in Hobart and on Bruny Island.

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And, as on any trip I cooked in the places I stayed in , in Tasmania.

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I appreciate the high-quality fresh produce along with the locally-produced meats, cheeses and  fish.

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I ate so much cheese.

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And there is MONA. I could go on and on.

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Bagna Cauda  (it is Piedmontese)

I am amazed that I do not have a recipe for Bagna Cauda on my blog.

Bagna Cauda, translated as “hot bath,”  is a dip for any combination of firm vegetables- cooked or uncooked.

A fondue-style fork will help. Slices of quality bread can be held underneath to catch the drippings and eaten also, if liked.

Here is a very simple recipe:

2 heads of garlic – separate cloves, peel
enough milk to cover garlic cloves in a small saucepan
about 25 anchovy fillets in oil, drained
300g unsalted butter, cut into pieces
300ml extra virgin olive oil
about 1 tablespoon double cream

Place the garlic cloves into a small pan, cover with milk. Gently simmer on very low heat until the garlic is soft.
Crush/mash the garlic into the milk (I use the back of a spoon), add the anchovies and dissolve them in the milk and garlic over gentle heat, stirring all the time. Add the butter and olive oil, bits and slurps slowly and stir gently to combine (without boiling).Take off the heat and mix in the cream.
Pour the mixture into a fondue dish or similar container that can be kept warm over a lighted candle or an appropriate burner.

I use this. I have a choice of two containers.

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Place in centre of the table and dip in the vegetables.

Link to post :SEDANO RAPA (Celeriac and how to eat it)