Category Archives: Seafood

TROTA CON OLIVE VERDI, LIMONE E ACCIUGHE – Pan fried trout with green olives, lemon slices and anchovies

Anchovies are often added to fish in Sicilian cuisine – they are either stuffed in the slashes made on the sides of the fish or gently melted with a little oil and added to the fish whilst it is cooking. Trout has flaky, delicate flesh and slashing it is not a good idea so I chose to do the latter.

I always use herbs for all my cooking and this time I selected sage that is often associated with veal and pork but I quite like it with trout. Sage is not a common herb in Sicilian cooking and you may prefer to use rosemary instead.

  • whole fish, one large trout (for 2-3 people)
  • lemons, 1-2 whole – ends trimmed, sliced into thick circles
  • extra virgin olive oil, 2-3 tablespoons
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • anchovies, 3-6 cut finely
  • green olives, a couple of tablespoons, well drained
  • sage or rosemary

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  • Prepare the fish – clean, dry and stuff a few herbs in the cavity.
  • Add a little oil (about one tablespoon depending on your pan) to the frying pan and over medium heat. Add the lemon slices and pan fry them until lightly browned – turn once. In order to brown the lemon slices they should not be overcrowded so you may need to pan fry them in two batches.
  • Remove the lemon slices from the pan with the oil and any of the juices.

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  • Add a little more oil to the fry pan, heat it and add the anchovies. Stir them around in the pan over medium-low heat until they dissolve.
  • Add the trout. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (remember that the anchovies are salty) and add the sage. Pan fry the fish on both sides and only turn once.
  • Add the olives half way the cooking.
  • Toss the slices of lemon and the juices back in the pan and heat through.

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When I was in Paris a couple of months ago I saw this  hand painted Fridge in a store window. This fridge is part of  Sicily is my Love, a colourful collaboration by Smeg fridges and Dolce&Gabbana’s signature decorative style. Each of the 100 fridges illustrate Sicilian folklore in bold, vibrant colour and are hand-painted by Sicilian artists.  They were released during the Milan Design Fair, Salone del Mobile di Milano in 2016.

 

‘NDUJA and CALAMARI as a pasta sauce

‘Nduja is a spicy, spreadable, pork salame originating from Calabria. ‘Nduja is appearing on many menus and recipes – it seems to be replacing chorizo as an ingredient. As tasty as chorizo is, there has been a glut of it in far too many dishes.

I have been buying ‘Nduja for a couple of years now – ask for it in places that sell Italian smallgoods. I always like friends to try new ingredients and I have mainly presented ‘Nduja at the beginning of the meal as an accompaniment to the first drink with some fresh bread (like Pâté ) or I have used ‘Nduja as an ingredient in sauces for pasta – I made an excellent ragù (a meat-based tomato sauce), I added it to sautéed cime di rape with Italian pork sausages and sautéed it with squid (use small to medium sized squid).

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I always enjoy eating squid and because squid cooks quickly I enjoy making pasta sauces with it. The photo of squid was taken in the Catania Fish Market a few years ago.

I have already written a post about NDUJA and a recipe for ‘Nduja and Squid as a pasta sauce  – SPAGHETTI with ‘NDUJA, SQUID, VONGOLE AND PAN GRATTATO. If you enjoy spicy food, it is worth doing.

See vegetable: CIME DI RAPE

Unfortunately I have made this pasta several times but I have not taken photos –  I am too busy dishing it up for guests.

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.

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

 

 

IN PRAISE OF FRESH LOCAL PRODUCE NEW ZEALAND, WAIHEKE ISLAND and the NORTH

I do like New Zealand and every time I visit I praise and enjoy its extraordinary food culture. Not to mention the amazing scenery.

There is so much fresh and flavoursome produce in shops, farmers markets and roadside stalls – ‘gate to the plate’, so as to speak.

Kumera (Sweet Potato ) baked in local Waiheke honey and thyme.

Restaurants and eateries where the owners or chefs grow or source their produce locally are not scarce.

Fish too is local and staff in shops or in restaurants seem ready and eager to answer questions about their suppliers.

…that is if the produce is not already labelled or written about in the menu i.e. line caught tuna supplied by a trusted small fishery.

Menus highlight the production of New Zealand’s local and wide-ranging supply of produce and fine wines.

We have friends on Waiheke Island so Auckland and Waiheke are always a must on each visit.

On this occasion we  were able to view the amazing sculptures on Waiheke Island (Headland Sculpture on the Gulf). Above, artist=Paora Toi-Te Rangiuaia.

Below , artist=Robert Jahnke Kaokao

Who needs the Venice Biennale…they have their own!

Below , artist= Virginia King

On this trip we hired a campervan and travelled to the Bay of Islands. Ever since my first trip to NZ I have been impressed by the apparent and increasing awareness and appreciation of organics and of locally-produced produce.

Of course great and diverse produce is more apparent in places like Waiheke but as we travelled around we found satisfactory local produce in the 4Squre stores and in supermarkets….local sweetcorn or avocados were  5  for $5.00.

Below  New Zealand Spinach (also known as Warrigal Greens) growing on Waiheke in our friend’s garden.

We even bought local fresh produce from the local garage, opportunity shop or news agent in country locations.

On beaches around Opononi I found some samphire and some wild fennel near Rawene.

We bought some local fish, picked some blackberries and I used all those ingredients that night for a meal.

I picked some blackberries and we ate them with some fresh cream.

Pity the prickly pears weren’t ripe! We could have pretended to be in Sicily!

It is amazing how in limiting circumstances, how little one needs to make food flavourful and healthy.

I cooked the above fish (very simply…what else can you do in a campervan!

Fish sautéed in red wine

I pan fried in a light amount of extra virgin olive oil, fish turned once – it will only need about one minute on each side,  add salt, pepper, a few herbs. Remove fish and then add about 3 tablespoons of red wine and evaporate. Return the fish to the pan, add a few more herbs if necessary. If I had some butter I may have whisked a little into the sauce.

Below, simple lunch at the New Zealand Gallery… a bed of spinach leaves, cured meat, soya beans, raw beetroot, radishes, and a Japanese soy/sesame sauce. Light, fresh and simple.

 

 

COTECHINO AND LENTILS -NEW YEAR’S EVE and CHRISTMAS

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It is hot in Australia at this time of year and I am certainly not going to cook this popular and traditional Italian, New Year’s Eve dish – Cotechino e lenticchie – but some of you who are steeped into tradition may consider cooking this in hot or cold weather. If you do, make sure that as you dig into that sausage, you make a wish for the new year (it must be before midnight).

I cooked it last winter. Perfect for the cold weather. I first published this post on Dec 9th 2015 and it is time to publish it once more.

Cotechino is rather a large sausage which has a proportion of it made with some of the gelatinous meat from the pig trotter.  Lenticchie are lentils- the ordinary green lentils. Cotechino e lenticchie is a dish that is more common in the north of Italy. I do not think that it is very common in Sicily, however as a result of media and recipe books and travel, food habits change, recipes evolve.

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Just as we have adopted Panettone and Panforte at Christmas time in Australia, I gather that it is fairly hip to cook Christmas Pudding in Italy. So what do we think of that!
You will ned to visit an Italian delicatessen or butcher to buy a Cotechino sausage. If you live in Melbourne I go to Fairfield or Carlton. If you live in Adelaide Marino Food and Meat store at the Central Market. I know about and have visited Eataly in New York and they would definitely have it.

Cooking Cotechino and Lentils is very simple, and delicious. The onion, carrot and celery are the Italian usual suspects when making broth or a soffritto (from soffriggere – to lightly fry – the soffritto refers to the sautéed vegetables that are the basis for most braises, pot roasts and soups.)

This is definitely one of those dishes where you can add 1 kilo of lentils if you wish – it depends what proportion of lentils to cotechino that you prefer. Have a look at my photo and decide.

1 cotechino sausage
700 g of lentils
1 onion
1 stalk of celery
1 carrot
¼ cup olive oil
2-3 peeled tomatoes
2-3 bay leaves – I always prefer fresh, but i have a bay tree growing in a pot on my balcony  – you may not be as lucky.

Soak the lentils in water for 30 minutes.
Sauté the chopped celery, carrot, onion in the hot oil till golden. Drain the lentils and add cold water to cover them well.
Add peeled tomatoes and bay leaves, cover and cook them and cook over low heat until cooked.
In a separate pan add the sausage to cold water- sufficient water to cover the cotechino, bring it to the boil and then simmer it until it is cooked but not split – say 50 minutes.
Skim some of the fat off the broth, cut the sausage into thick slices, add them to the lentils with as much of the broth as you wish and serve.

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The flavours will intensify over the next few days so appreciate the leftovers – you could add more of the broth (from the cotechino) and eat it as soup. Great stuff, especially for those who are living in a cold climate!

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I have mentioned Panforte ( sweet). For recipe see:

Other Christmas recipes for sweets:

Fish for Christmas (especially Christmas Eve):

Meat and other Christmas specaialties:

My family always had brodo at some stage on Christmas day:

And there are so many other seafood, meat, vegetables and pasta recipes on my blog.

 

 

SORREL, Italians call it acetosa

I once lived in Adelaide and I successfully grew and cooked sorrel.

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I used it liberally in hollandaise and egg mayonnaises (wilted or raw and cut very finely). I loved these sauces with asparagus, beans and potatoes. I added young leaves to mixed-leaf salads, cut leaves into chiffonade to decorate and add an intense lemony tang to raw and cooked foods. I added it to soups and braises, fish, veal or pork stews and sautéed it with other vegetables. It was great in frittata, too. Because of its intense, sharp flavour you only need small amounts of leaves and when they’re cooked, the bright green spinach-like leaves melt to a yellow-green, mushy purée. It may not sound appealing but it is.

I eat extremely well when I visit South Australia both in restaurants and in homes. During my recent trip I encountered sorrel at three different times at different friends’ houses.

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I was delighted with a sorrel Granita by one friend in her house in Eden Hills (a suburb of Adelaide). It was presented with a sorbet made of elderflower cordial (she made this), golden caster sugar and water syrup and St Germain elderflower liqueur.  what you see in in the photo above are the Granita and sorbet, plus elderflowers (from her garden). These were topped with Prosecco. Amazing!

This was not dessert – it was presented as a palate cleanser in between courses. It could easily double up as a dessert- a  very simple solution is to pair it with vanilla ice cream rather than an  elderflowers sorbet….not every cook is as skilled as this friend.

See recipe for the sorrel Granita at end of post.

Friends in North Adelaide offered me potato and sorrel soup for lunch. I had  enjoyed this before at their house and it can be eaten hot or cold.

I also visited friends in Ardrossan (a coastal town on the Yorke Peninsula about 90 minutes from Adelaide) and found red sorrel growing in their garden. This friend presented some of the attractive young leaves in a leafy salad. She also wilts it like spinach and has made a quiche with some of the leaves.

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I told her I knew nothing about red sorrel. I thought that maybe Bunnings had made a mistake (she found it in the Herbs section of this store). Was it really a culinary herb or an ornamental plant? My friend, now concerned and thinking that she should sue Bunnings found a link on the web, and sure enough, red sorrel leaves are considered edible…. despite my misgivings.

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The story doesn’t stop there. Now back home in Melbourne I found a small bunch of red sorrel at my regular supplier of green vegetables – Gus and Carmel’s stall in The Queen Victoria Market, called IL FRUTTIVENDOLO . I stored it in the fridge in a container  partially filled with water. I store asparagus in the same way.

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Believe it or not there is a lot of information on the web about sorrel that is considered to be at its best in Spring. There is the French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) with distinctly small, bell-shaped or arrow-shaped leaves; English sorrel (Rumex acetosa) with broader leaves- both of these have leaves with a smooth texture. Red sorrel (Rumex sanguineus) is  very attractive and has tapered light green leaves with dark maroon veins and stems. Not surprisingly it is also called Bloody Dock. When cooked, it bleeds like beetroot leaves (which I eat). First discard the bottom tough part of the stalks and then wilt the leaves as you would silver beet or spinach.

Both French sorrel and English sorrel are used interchangeably. It is also sold interchangeably and usually just labelled as ‘Sorrel.’ The French variety with the smaller arrow shaped leaves is hard to find . Both sorrels have very similar tastes – the flavour is tangy and pleasantly acidic. This is not surprising as sorrel is related to rhubarb, recognized for its tartness that comes from oxalic acid. Some texts advise to use sorrel sparingly and warn that it can be toxic to animals. The red sorrel has been primarily grown as a decorative foliage but can also be eaten. The taste is not as sharp and sour as the French and English sorrels and the larger leaves are tougher and slightly bitter rather than tangy., however when cooked they do break down considerably.

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Sorrel has been used as a culinary ingredient by the early Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It was used during medieval and in Tudor times in England and France and it is still popular in French cuisine.

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Italians have many words for sorrel. They call it acetosa and acetina, acetosella, ossalina or erba brusca. There are even names for sorrel in dialect. It is known as pan e vin in Friuli, Veneto and Treviso regions. The Sicilians call it aghira e duci or agra e duci. The list of the various regional Italian names for sorrel can be found on a site by the Dipartimento di Scienze della Vita, Università di Trieste. The culinary uses in Italian cuisine suggested in the texts that I have seen are the same as in other cuisines: the young leaves are served raw in salads and the cooked leaves accompany fish, meat or eggs and in cream sauces and soups.
Sorrel is also found in some Asian cuisines for example in Vietnam it is known as rau chua (sour herb) or rau thom.  It is not surprising that in Vietnamese it translates as sour herbfrom old French surele, from sur, sour. I had one quick look for a Vietnamese recipe that uses sorrel and ‘sour soup’ seems to be popular.

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Notice that my bunch is just  called ‘Sorrel’. So unfair for those who are not familiar with the other sorrels!

And what did I do with my small bunch of red sorrel?

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There were no leaves in the bunch that I considered ‘small’ so I did not add them to a salad. I  added the leaves to some hot extra virgin olive oil and garlic, added the leaves and wilted them. I then added some cooked Puy lentils. I was pleased with the results and presented and made a nice accompaniment to fish cooked with with tarragon and vermouth , cauliflower and baked tomatoes.

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My friend’s recipe for  Sorrel Granita

Equal weight of French sorrel leaves (with that lovely sour taste) and simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water). The sorrel must not be cooked. Just blitz the leaves with the syrup and then strain through a fine strainer. Add a squeeze of lime juice and a pinch of salt to taste and then pour into a container and put in the freezer. About every 30 mins or so I stir it to move the ice crystals that evenly through it. When it is completely frozen (and it isn’t rock hard anyway) I just scrape it with a fork to break it into crystals.

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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.

 

 

 

 

A NEW LIFE for shop bought MARINADED WHITE ANCHOVIES

Out with the old marinade of vinegar, sunflower oil, tired sliced garlic and herbs.

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And in with the new marinade – extra virgin olive oil, fresh parsley, garlic and a little dry oregano (optional).

Sounds better already. New life, fresh taste!

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These are handy to have in the fridge to dip into at anytime, or to present as an antipasto on fresh bread or crostini , or inside a leaf from the centre of a small cos lettuce or radicchio or witlof – in fact any salad green that has cone shaped head and cup shaped leaves that can hold a few marinaded anchovies.

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The pictures tell the story. Simple to make, good to eat.

Leave in marinade at least one day but as long as you keep them under oil they will last for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

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I used :

500g of white marinaded anchovies ( alici fresche marinate  are usually packed in Sicily or Liguria… and the Spaniards call them boquerones),
2-3 cloves of garlic ½ cup chopped parsley, both finely chopped.
extra virgin olive oil to cover – the amount will depend of the container you use. I always  use glass.

Drain the anchovies and discard the old marinade and the solids.

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Layer the anchovies with the herbs and the garlic and top with the oil.

Store in the fridge until ready to use. If you are taking some  anchovies out,  make sure to once again cover them with oil.

If you are presenting the anchovies inside leaves use a colander to drain the anchovies and then place 1-3 inside each leaf- this will depend on the size of the leaf and how much you (or your guests) like anchovies.

If you are presenting them on bread, there is no need to drain them with a colander – the oil tastes good too.

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As you can see, finding small suitable leaves and keeping them whole can be time consuming.

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I first wrote about Marinaded Anchovies in 2011.

They have remained as  one of my favourite things to do for a large gathering. The recipe is also in my second book  Small Fishy Bites as Zucchini and Mint Fritters with Marinaded Anchovies.

SPAGHETTI with ‘NDUJA, SQUID, VONGOLE AND PAN GRATTATO

In a restaurant in London recently I ordered a plate of Spaghetti alla Chitarra – square cut spaghetti that was cooked with some very spicy pork sausage.  Square cut spaghetti are popular in Abruzzo, but also in Molise, Lazio and Puglia and obviously can now be found elsewhere in the world.

I had also found them on a menu in Marin County a year before London. There I ordered Rustichella d’Abruzzo Chitarra with Manila clams, Pacific squid and ‘Nduja with anchovy and breadcrumbs (this is how it was written on the menu).

There is a little bit of Italian regional fusion in this dish:

The pasta is from Rustichella d’Abruzzo  –  a pasta manufacturer in the central region of Abruzzo on the Adriatic coast, famous because it uses traditional methods for quality pasta production and quality ingredients. For example the durum wheat is from growers in Italy as well as Canada and Australia. The Italian square-cut spaghetti was originally shaped by the dough being rolled over a box strung with guitar strings (chitarra= guitar) to create the straight edges. Now of course, it is all machine made.

‘Nduja is a spicy, soft spreadable salame  from Calabria.

The use of toasted breadcrumbs as a topping for pasta is both Calabrese and Sicilian.

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I do not have a recipe from the restaurant for Rustichella d’Abruzzo Chitarra with Manila clams, Pacific squid,  ‘Nduja and anchovy and breadcrumbs, however, I have a pretty good palate and a sharp sense of smell.  This is my interpretation of this recipe.

The estimation of amounts and is based on my tastes and preferences.

Recipe for 6 people

Breadcrumbs, anchovies and garlic mixture (often called pangrattato in Italian) is used to sprinkle on top of the dish instead of cheese.

1 cup bread crumbs made from 1-2 day old good quality bread
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more if needed
6 anchovies, chopped finely
1 garlic clove, chopped finely

In a fry pan (I use a non stick one) heat the oil, add the anchovies and toss them around for about 30 seconds before adding the garlic. Stir over medium heat until fragrant – the anchovies will break up and ‘dissolve’ into the oil.

Add breadcrumbs and continue to stir them until the crumbs are golden and toasted. Remove from the pan when they are ready otherwise they will continue to cook; set aside until you wish to use them.

700g of squid sliced into rings (optional – add 200g of vongole or clams without their shell per person )– adjust to your tastes.
150g of’ ‘Nduja (add more if you like more spice)
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1-2 red onions, sliced thinly
2-3 tablespoons of passata

In a frypan sauté the onion in the olive oil. When it is soft and golden add the ‘Nduja and stir gently on low heat until it is dissolved. Add the squid and toss it around till it is transparent and cooked (I do not cook squid for long). Add the passata half way through cooking, stir over medium-low heat until you have the consistency of a thick tomato sauce. You may need to add a little more liquid if necessary.

400 g spaghetti. Use good quality durum wheat spaghetti. The recommended amount on packets is 100 g per person. I always think that this is far too much especially for a first course, but adapt amounts accordingly. If you increase the amount of pasta you could also increase the amount of squid.

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Cook the pasta, drain it and dress it with the sauce.
Dish it out into separate plates or into a large serving plate, top with the breadcrumb mixture and serve.

I have written about ‘Nduja in an earlier post. See: Nduja, A Spreadable and Spicy Pork Salame From Calabria