PARMIGIANA, uncomplicated

When I first came to Australia with my parents (1956), eggplants (aubergines/ melanzane in Italian) were non-existent commercially in Adelaide and probably in the rest of Australia.  I remember friends moving to Canberra in the 80’s and they had to order eggplants from the Sydney markets.

Like so many vegetables that were unfamiliar in Australia, it took a few seed smugglers some time before eggplants were grown in home gardens, and even more years before they were found in produce markets and green grocers’ shops.

Now of course, there are many types of seeds that have been imported legally into Australia and sold in many Italian produce stores.

There are Asian varieties of eggplants as well as the Mediterranean ones in Australia. Trade and migration has made eggplants a typical Mediterranean plant, but they originated from the south-east Asia and in particular from India and China.

Eggplants come in different shapes and sizes – long, thin, wide, round, small and large and they cam be grown commercially as well as successfully in most home gardens . (The eggplant above is grown in my son’s home garden in Adelaide).

The colour of eggplants range from the traditional dark purple types through to violet, lavender, pink, green and creamy-white varieties. There are also variegated types.

When I think of eggplants, I think of Sicily where the most intense cultivation takes place in Italy.

Sicily has the highest numbers of eggplants in terms of cultivation and production; they are available at all times of the year because they can be grown in serre (greenhouses) in all seasons especially in the Ragusa area, where my father’s relatives are based.

And Sicily is where some of the most famous recipes for Italian eggplant dishes initiated, for example:  Eggplant Caponata from Palermo, Pasta alla Norma from Catania and Parmigiana di Melazane (Eggplant Parmigiana) with some slight variations from all over Sicily.

Parmigiana is now one of the best-known and widespread dishes of Italian cuisine but its origin is disputed between the regions of Sicily, Campania and Emilia-Romagna. However I have always believed Parmigiana to be Sicilian. Since I was a young child I have eaten many servings of Parmigiana cooked by family and friends, in homes and in restaurants all over Sicily and I support the theory that it is a Sicilian specialty.

Parmigiana is what I am going to write about in this post.

Recently a friend (and an excellent home cook) prepared Yotem Ottolenghi’s Aubergine Dumplings Alla Parmigiana, from the book Flavor. It was a marvellous dinner and I enjoyed eating these vegetarian meatballs very much.

The ingredients for Ottolenghi’s recipe are cubed eggplants, roasted till soft and caramelized, then mashed and mixed with herbs and spices, ricotta, Parmesan, basil, bound with eggs, breadcrumbs and flour. While the mixture rests, a tomato salsa needs to be made, the dumplings are fried and then baked in the tomato salsa.

When I looked at Ottolenghi’s recipe, I was amazed at just how many steps have to be covered compared with the time it would take to cook the traditional Parmigiana. A few days later a friend came to dinner and I made a simple Parmigiana.

I baked the eggplants this time rather than fried them..

Made the tomato salsa.

Proceeded to layer the salsa, eggplants, grated cheese and because the Ottoleghi recipe had ricotta, and because ricotta seems to have become an addition to the traditional Parmigiana recipe all over the web, I also added ricotta between the layers.

What it looked like before I placed it in the oven.

And I presented the Parmigiana with roast peppers and a green salad.

I don’t know how long my version took, but it tasted good.

Parmigiana can also be made with fried zucchini.

Parmigiana can also be made with fried zucchini. It is worth cooking it.

**** I  first wrote a post on my blog in 2009 about how the name of the recipe originated and recipe of a traditional Parmigiana. The recipe is also in my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking.  The background information about Parmigiana is  fascinating. The post is worth reading:

EGGPLANT or ZUCCHINI PARMIGIANA

PASTA CON LE SARDE (SARDINES)

Pasta Con Le Sarde (sardines) can only be a Sicilian dish.

Sardines are plentiful, so is the wild fennel (it is seasonal), and most Sicilians eat pasta in some form, every day.

The flavours and ingredients of pine nuts, saffron and currants are said to have been introduced by the Arabs.

Breadcrumbs toasted in a fry pan with a little bit of olive oil are popular in Sicily as a topping or dressing – called muddica/ mollica/pan grattato, it is sprinkled on pasta instead of grated cheese, and some vegetable dishes like Parmigiana di Melanzane (eggplants), Caponata, fried peppers (Peperonata), and Sfincione (a type of regional pizza) .

And I make Pasta Con Le Sarde when I know I can impress friends, those who appreciate being impressed.

Accept that not everyone likes sardines or fancy the idea of wild fennel. The photo below shows how some bunches of wild fennel are sold in Sicilian markets.

Over the years I don’t just toast the breadcrumbs in the frypan (made bread that’s several days old); I  also add a little cinnamon, a tiny bit of sugar and grated lemon peel. The lemon flavour really makes this pasta topping even more special. Sometimes I also add pine nuts to the pan.

Bucatini is the pasta I prefer – it’s slightly larger than spaghetti, long and hollow, like a tube.

But last time I made Pasta Con Le Sarde, I did use spaghetti. You can see how many pine nuts I sprinkled on top before folding them into the pasta. In a traditional dish there would be fewer.

Most of the time my Pasta Con Le Sarde looks like pretty ordinary, but still tastes magnificent. Sometimes I also add chopped, roasted almonds. Looking at this photo below can see that not all the almonds were chopped!

It is sometimes difficult to find wild fennel that is healthy looking or in season, so  sometimes I do add a fresh fennel bulb.

Below the photo shows fennel and onion sauté-ing (if there is such a word!)

This is followed by the addition of saffron, wild fennel and currants.

If I can get sufficient wild fennel I use it in the boiling water to flavour the pasta. The stalks from fresh fennel also work. Simply cook the stalks or wild fennel in the water and remove them before adding the pasta to cook.

Although Sardines are easy to clean, sardines are also sold as fillets.

I have written about Pasta Con Le Sarde before.

PASTA CON LE SARDE, Iconic Sicilian made easy

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

PASTA CON SARDE; the baked version, Palermo, Sicily

WILD FENNEL and photos

PASTA WITH BREADCRUMBS, anchovies and fennel (Pasta cca muddica)

From my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking.

NEW YEAR TRADITIONAL – Festive Season

It is far too late to write about Christmas recipes, although Christmas melds with New Year Festivities, especially in Australia.

I have to admit that usually my month of December is just so busy that I don’t have time to investigate new recipes. I tend to rely on old favourites that I can cook with my eyes closed. Some of these old favourites are:  Pasta con le sarde; baccalà cooked in various ways;  a risotto or pasta with squid and black ink with green peas; mussels; tuna steaks also cooked in different ways: insalata Russa; grilled seasonal vegetables like zucchini, peppers and eggplants; and for dessert, there is either Zuppa Inglese with Arkemes (Alchermes) or Cassata.

You will find all of these recipes on my blog.

This year I am in Adelaide for Christmas. I had given my family in Adelaide some options of what I could cook  for Christmas Eve, but they all asked for two old favourites –  Baccalà Mantecato and Caponata Catanese as antipasti….. same old, same old…

The Baccalà Mantecato is from the Veneto region in Italy and something that was very common in Trieste (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) where my parents and I lived when I was a child.  The baccalà is soaked in water for 3 days, then poached in milk, bay and a couple of garlic cloves, drianed and creamed with extra virgin oilve oil. It is spread on crostini – bread brushed with oil and toasted. The crostini my mother made were toased in a frypan and never in the oven. Crostini made with polenta are also favourites… but who has the time?

Photo below is the soaked baccalà.

The Caponata Catanese is from Catania in Sicily.  Unlike the Caponata from Palermo that is made with eggplants. This version is made with peppers as well as eggplants and the usual caponata ingredients of green olives, celery, a bit of tomato paste and the agro-dolce, (a sweet and sour sauce). This is topped with pine nuts and basil.

So let’s just share a recipe for Christmas, but remember that at this time of year it is hot in Australia (because it is summer), if it is winter where you are, you may not even consider cooking it.

It is braised lentils cooked with Cotechino…..Cotechino con le lenticchie.

Although I would never serve this at midnight as was customary in some parts of Emilia-Romagna where the dish originates, it is an interesting choice. The Cotechino is a rich seasoned pork sausage that I poach with the lentils. The thick  sausage is then sliced and served on top of a bed of  braised lentils.

The green lentils that resemble the shape of coins are intended to bring you prosperity in the New Year.

COTECHINO AND LENTILS; NEW YEAR’S EVE and CHRISTMAS

New Year’s Eve Baccalà Mantecato

BACCALÀ MANTECATO, risotto

CAPONATA recipes:

THE MANY VERSIONS OF CAPONATE

CAPONATA Catanese (from Catania) made easy with photos

CAPONATA FROM PALERMO (made with eggplants)

CAPONATA DI NATALE (Christmas, winter caponata made with celery, almonds and sultanas)

A MOUNTAIN OF CAPONATA: two days before Christmas

Photos of the caponata cooked in Melbourne and brought to Adelaide. once again I used my heavy wok to cook each of the vegetables separately.

BAKED FISH WITH POTATOES, VINEGAR and ANCHOVIES

It is the season to begin thinking about fish and how to cook it to make it special.

This recipe is from my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking (now out of print) and it is so simple to cook that I could do it with my eyes closed.

The fish is a locally caught sustainable Snapper. You can see that I make slits in the fish’s sides and in the slits I insert a couple of anchovies. If you don’t like anchovies use fresh herbs; good for this fish are wild fennel, thyme, rosemary or tarragon.

I made the marinade and marinaded the fish in your baking tray for an hour before cooking.

In the marinade you can see that I have used chopped parsley, quite a bit of onion and grated lemon peel. The liquid is: extra virgin olive oil, some wine vinegar and some lemon juice. Add a bit of salt and pepper also. I have included some quantities in the recipe below, but really, the fun of cooking is also experimenting.

Mix up the marinade and let the fish steep in it for about an hour. Turn it over a few times before you bake it. You can bake potatoes with it if you wish and the potatoes take on that lemon flavour that often Greek baked potatoes have when baked with lemon (usually cooked with chicken).

The Greeks did settle in Sicily after all!

I usually part- cook my potatoes and put them in to bake with the fish about 15mins before I think the fish is ready. Raw slices of potatoes are used in the recipe but do whatever you think is easier for you.

 

PESCE INFORNATO CON PATATE
Sicilian – Pisci o furno chi patati
Baked fish with potatoes (and vinegar and anchovies)
Ingredients
1–1.5kg (2lb 4oz–3lb 5oz) whole fish
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 onions, finely chopped a small bunch parsley, finely chopped
250g (9oz) potatoes, thinly sliced or par-boiled potatoes in chunks
3–6 anchovies, finely chopped (see above)
juice of 2 lemons, plus grated zest of 1 lemon
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Suitable fish
Any whole fish or large, thick fillets of medium to firm fish, preferably with the skin on. The fish is cooked whole, filleted and portioned at the table.
Method
If using whole fish or fillets with skin, make a series of slashes in the skin. Mix
the oil with the vinegar, onions and parsley. Add seasoning and marinate the
fish for about an hour, turning frequently.
Place the fish in an ovenproof dish, spoon half of the marinade over it and bake for 10 minutes in a 200°C (400°F) oven. Arrange the sliced potatoes around the fish. Sprinkle the potatoes and the fish with more marinade, the anchovies, lemon juice and grated zest. Bake for another 20–35 minutes, depending on the type of fish. Serve hot.
To see if the fish is cooked to your liking, you can test  the fish with a fork held at an angle. Insert it at the thickest point of the fish and twist the fork. it should flake easily.
Variation
 Place rosemary and bay leaves underneath the fish in the baking pan.
See:
There is a photo in this post where I used red onion and it can look quite spectacular.

HOW ONE FISH RECIPE CAN EVOLVE INTO A DIFFERENT DISH

Somehow, I ended up eating fish for most of the week, and part of the first recipe lead into the second, and part of the second led into the third, but each dish was unique.

Of course there were also left overs.

I made Baccalà Mantecato on the weekend. The baccalà has to be soaked for a couple of days before it is poached in milk with some bay leaves and a clove of garlic. It is a dish that comes from the Veneto region and is also particularly popular in Trieste (Friuli Venezia Giulia).

Cooking the garlic in milk softens the taste and once blended with the baccalà and extra virgin olive oil, the taste of the garlic is less aggressive.

I always save the poaching liquid whether I poach the baccalà in milk or in water, and I did this a couple of days later when I made Baccalà Mantecato for a friend who is allegic to diary.

I cooked fish again. I bought some fish cutlets, slices cut horizontally, each steak usually has four distinct fleshy segments and each segment can be studded with a different flavour. Below is a photo of what I expect when I buy this cut of fish that I use regularly. I have included a link to a full recipe at the end of this post.

The photo below shows the four distinct segments of fish that surround the central spine, each receptive to a different flavour. It looks like on that occasion I studded the segments with cloves, oregano, fennel and garlic. At other times I have used sage, cinnamon, dill, thyme, rosemary or tarragon. The flavours I use for the stuffing will also determine what use to deglaze the pan after I have sauteed the fish, for example on various occasions I have used dry marsala (especially for Sicilian cooking), vermouth, Pernod and a variety of white wines that impart different flavours to the fish. Lemon juice or vinegar is also good.

When I opened the parcel and was ready to stud my fish, I noticed that only one slice was as I expected (cut from the tail end of the fish), but the other slices included what I call ‘flaps’, the often long and bony sides of fish encasing the gut of the fish.

It is part of the fish’s anatomy, but what I objected to was that the slices in the display cabinet were all the same size. These slices were not at all suitable for inserting with four different flavours; they were also difficult to fit into the frypan comfortably.

I cut the flaps off and only used two flavours to stud into the flesh of the fish – garlic and thyme.

I pan fried the fish, added some herbs – fresh fennel fronds and parsley. I deglazed the pan with a splash of white wine, evaporated it, added a little of the stock from the baccalà, added some capers.

What to do with the flaps?

The next day I poached the flaps in water flavoured with some onion, whole peppercorns, bay leaves, a little celery. This gave me some extra fish stock as well as an opportunity to remove the flesh and discard the skin and bones. I discarded the greenery.

I had the makings of a fish risotto.

Making a risotto is easy. I decided to add peas, frozen at this time of year and herbs of course, as in all of my cooking.

I softened one chopped onion in butter and extra virgin olive oil, added 1 cup of rice to the pan and toasted the rice. A splash of white wine, evaporated it, added 1 cup of peas and some chopped parsley and fennel. Tossed them all in the hot pan, added a little salt and then proceeded to add the milk stock from the baccalà and the stock used to poach the flaps of the fish to cook the risotto.

I added the fish pieces to the risotto when it was nearly cooked (to warm it), the grated rind and juice of a lemon and at the very end some butter and black pepper.

There was enough for lunch the next day and the evolving fish meals stopped there!

FISH STUDDED WITH SICILIAN FLAVOURS

BACCALÀ MANTECATO (Creamed salt cod, popular in the Veneto region and Trieste)

New Year’s Eve Baccalà Mantecato

BACCALÀ MANTECATO, risotto

 

PEPERONATA(SICILIAN SWEET AND SOUR PEPPERS)

When it comes to making a Peperonata I become a testa dura (a hard head, someone who resists change).

For me, like so many other Sicilian recipes, I never include tomatoes or passata.

My maternal grandmother from Catania used to make it and I always remember her adding some water. You may find this strange, but it does soften the peppers and this water does evaporate.

The other thing I like to include in my Peperonata is vinegar and a little sugar. This also makes it an agro-dolce dish.

Yellow and red peppers are common in a Peperonata, simply because they are sweeter in taste. The multi coloured peppers add visual impact.

On this occasion I just used red peppers becausein South Australia red peppers are still abundant, they were firm and fresh specimens. 

There are variations to making Peperonata, and this will not surprise you one bit.  For example, apart from adding tomatoes, some add black olives or cubed potatoes.

But not me!

In some parts of Sicily, the Peperonata is topped with toasted breadcrumbs (good white bread, coarse crumbs tossed in a frypan with hot extra virgin olive oil). I must admit that the breadcrumbs (as the cubed potatoes) do soak up some of the juices and add a different texture.

But not me… well, not always!

I like to present it as an antipasto with good bread.
I always serve it cold.

Peperonata is relatively easy to make, you just have to make sure that there is sufficient liquid in the pan so that the peppers don’t stick.

Obviously, you can also imagine this dish paired with baked ricotta or burrata. Because of the vinegar and the sugar, and just like a pickle, it pairs well with some small goods – breasaola, lomba, ossocollo…those lean thin slices of meat.

It is delicious as a stuffing for a panino or for a bruschetta…not that I ever make bruschetta, it is far too trendy!

3 white onions, 1 clove of garlic chopped finely

6 peppers of mixed colours, but the red and yellow peppers are sweeter

 ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons of white or red wine vinegar

salt and black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoons of sugar, to taste

Slice the onions finely. Core the peppers and cut them into strips.

Heat the oil, soften the onion and then add the peppers and the garlic and sauté the ingredients.
Cover with a lid and continue cooking for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent onions and peppers from sticking to the bottom.

When the peppers start to soften add about 1/4 cup of water. Stir to coat all the peppers well.

Cover with the lid again, add salt and pepper and continue cooking them on slow heat for about 10 minutes. Remove the lid, turn up the heat, add the vinegar and the sugar. Turn up the heat, stir the ingredients to coat them and evaporate some of the liquid.

Add fresh basil leaves or fresh oregano. Place into a container and leave the peperonata for at least 4 hours for the flavours to intensify. I like to leave it overnight in a covered container in the fridge.

Serve at room temperature.

At the time of serving you may wish to remove the spent oregano / basil and replace it with fresh leaves.

PEPERONATA; PIPIRONATA (Sicilian) Braised peppers

PEPPERS WITH BREADCRUMBS- PIPI CA MUDDICA – PEPERONI CON LA MOLLICA

 

RICCI, the ‘curly’ ones (SEA URCHINS)

Ricci, they all called and in Italian and this means the ‘curly’ ones. Spiny, perhaps, rather than curly.

At first sight, before they are sliced in half to be displayed or eaten, sea urchins or ricci (in Italian) look most like small explosive mines, covered as they are in dark glossy spikes.

Sea Urchins- Spaghetti chi Ricci – Sicilian

Whatever they are called in either English or Italian, the name of these forbidding looking delicacies is a puzzle.

A riccio di mare is an urchin (Ricci di mare is the plural).

riccio in Italian is also a porcupine. Both of these creatures have spikes and neither are curly so I have yet to fathom why the name ‘riccio’ is applicable to both of these creatures.

 As to why they are called “urchins” in English – who knows?

Richard Cornish in his regular Brain Food column for the Good Food section in the The Age. (February 14 / 2023) has written about Sea Urchins.

His articles always stir up memories and give me an opportunity to use the produce in the recipes he mentions, or refer to recipes I have already written. This time I shall provide links to posts about sea urchins I have written about in the past. His article also alerts me to the fact that sea urchins are available to purchase now and I must buy some again soon.

When ricci are mentioned I always conjure up an image of me as a child walking with my father,  early in the morning on a beach  somewhere in Sicily. My mother and father and I went to Sicily every summer. One of my dad’s brothers who lived in Sicily had driven the three of us there to collect ricci.  On this deserted beach, my father lifted rocks. He wore gloves.  My task was to lift small rocks and alert my dad if I found  a sea urchin.  My uncle had his own bag and he was collecting ricci on another part of the beach. We took them home, sliced them open, and like Joseph Vargetto (as mentioned in Richard‘s article), removed the black bits and we ate them raw like oysters with lemon.  On another occasion more members of the family came to the beach and we ate them at the beach with lemon.  I do not remember ever having ricci in Trieste, where we lived; ricci are popular in some other parts of southern Italy, but not in the north.

The other memories are eating them as an adult in Sicilian restaurants, always with spaghettini with some slight variations in the ingredients.

When I have bought ricci and used them I have found them to be incredible variable in the size and number of tongues of roe.  There are supposed to be five delicate tongues of gonads – the gonads are the roe, these are the edible parts (gonads function as both the reproductive organs and as nutrient storage).

The roe tongues can vary in colour from off-white to a deep orange, but the colour is not necessarily an indication to the taste.

How do I describe the taste? I can’t, it is not a pungent taste like say, anchovies, but it is definitely a marine taste, creamy but tasty.  Pasta is a great recipient for a quickly prepared sauce to dress the pasta. The roe is added raw, the heat of the pasta does the cooking. The pasta is traditionally spaghettini, (the thinner the better, more opportunities for the sauce to coat the greater surface), but hey! Not conventional, but I have also used egg pasta with great success, and I shall definitely experiment with using roe as a topping for steak tartare.

This is Richard’s article:

Everything you need to know about Sea urchins

The spiny armour of these simple sea creatures hides a rich and luscious interior. They’re a delicacy in Europe and Asia. In Australia, chefs are making the most of native species, using umami-rich urchins in pasta sauce and to top steak tartare.

What is it?

Ancient denizens of the sea, sea urchins are endemic to most of the globe’s waters. They live on the sea floor and dine mostly on algae. Inside these prickly, globe-shaped creatures is a simple alimentary canal and five large lobes of roe. The edible roe has a slippery yet creamy, buttery texture and a fresh, salty seafood flavour with a clean finish . Australia has many urchin species but one of particular interest is the long spine sea urchin, which has moved with warmer currents from its home off the NSW coast to Victoria and Tasmania. There, it devastates the kelp (brown algae) forests. These pests are targeted as a food species, alongside indigenous species, and hand-harvested by divers.

Why do we love it?

‘‘ Sea urchin is rich and buttery, a decadent and naughty food,’’ says Pip Pratt, executive chef at The Rover in Surry Hills, Sydney. ‘‘ Most rich food fills you up, but urchin is light. I love it because you
can spread it, eat the roe whole as is or use it in a sauce as a fresh, sea-like flavour enhancer.’’ At The Rover, lobes of roe are draped over a mound of finely chopped steak tartare, the creaminess working with the minerality of the raw beef. Melbourne chef Joseph Vargetto used to dive
for urchins off the beach at Brighton, treating them like oysters and eating the flesh raw with lemon, washed down with a crisp white wine. At his Kew restaurant, Mister Bianco, he serves fine hand-cut fresh spaghettini with a creamy sauce of cultured butter, pureed sea urchin roe and vermouth, garnished with fresh urchin roe.

How do you use it?

If using live urchins, wear a sturdy glove. Find the mouth opening at the base and use sturdy kitchen scissors to make two equal and opposite cuts halfway down the urchin. It will now split apart easily. Remove the five lobes of roe. Wash in salted water and remove darker membrane. The roe is now ready to use. Lay fresh lobes over nigiri rice to make the classic Japanese uni sushi. Serve roe as a side to Spanish cold almond soup. Add to seafood risotto with cold butter for extra creaminess and umami. Whisk raw urchin through eggs and a little cream to make silky smooth, just-set scrambled eggs topped with salmon caviar.

Where do you get it?

Buy live sea urchin from fish markets and fishmongers . Look for fresh processed roe from local processors. Keep live urchins in the fridge for two days if you are going to eat them raw, or five days if you are going to cook them.

The spiny armour of these simple sea creatures hides a rich and luscious interior. They’re a delicacy in Europe and Asia. In Australia, chefs are making the most of native species, using umami-rich urchins in pasta sauce and to top steak tartare.

What is it?

Ancient denizens of the sea, sea urchins are endemic to most of the globe’s waters. They live on the sea floor and dine mostly on algae. Inside these prickly, globe-shaped creatures is a simple alimentary canal and five large lobes of roe. The edible roe has a slippery yet creamy, buttery texture and a fresh, salty seafood flavour with a clean finish . Australia has many urchin species but one of particular interest is the long spine sea urchin, which has moved with warmer currents from its home off the NSW coast to Victoria and Tasmania. There, it devastates the kelp (brown algae) forests. These pests are targeted as a food species, alongside indigenous species, and hand-harvested by divers.

Why do we love it?

‘‘ Sea urchin is rich and buttery, a decadent and naughty food,’’ says Pip Pratt, executive chef at The Rover in Surry Hills, Sydney. ‘‘ Most rich food fills you up, but urchin is light. I love it because you

can spread it, eat the roe whole as is or use it in a sauce as a fresh, sea-like flavour enhancer.’’ At The Rover, lobes of roe are draped over a mound of finely chopped steak tartare, the creaminess working with the minerality of the raw beef. Melbourne chef Joseph Vargetto used to dive

for urchins off the beach at Brighton, treating them like oysters and eating the flesh raw with lemon, washed down with a crisp white wine. At his Kew restaurant, Mister Bianco, he serves fine hand-cut fresh spaghettini with a creamy sauce of cultured butter, pureed sea urchin roe and vermouth, garnished with fresh urchin roe.

How do you use it?

If using live urchins, wear a sturdy glove. Find the mouth opening at the base and use sturdy kitchen scissors to make two equal and opposite cuts halfway down the urchin. It will now split apart easily. Remove the five lobes of roe. Wash in salted water and remove darker membrane. The roe is now ready to use. Lay fresh lobes over nigiri rice to make the classic Japanese uni sushi. Serve roe as a side to Spanish cold almond soup. Add to seafood risotto with cold butter for extra creaminess and umami. Whisk raw urchin through eggs and a little cream to make silky smooth, just-set scrambled eggs topped with salmon caviar.

Where do you get it?

Buy live sea urchin from fish markets and fishmongers . Look for fresh processed roe from local processors. Keep live urchins in the fridge for two days if you are going to eat them raw, or five days if you are going to cook them.

Recipes and information on my blog about Sea Urchins:

SEA URCHINS ; how to clean and eat them (RICCI DI MARE)

RICCI DI MARE ; Sea Urchins

SPAGHETTI CHI RICCI – SPAGHETTI CON RICCI DI MARE (Spaghetti with sea urchins)

I found sea urchins in Footscray Melbourne. The roe is from Tasmania:

A SOUP MADE WITH SICILIAN VEGETABLES and where to buy the seeds

This soup tastes magnificent, but unless you have a Sicilian friend whose mother grows tenerumi you don’t have a chance!

I have only been lucky once and I was able to buy tenerumi from a Sicilian grower who was selling them at a Farmers’ Market. This was a rare and lucky find!

The tenerumi are only part of that soup and they are the green leaves that you can see in the soup and in the photos below. They are the leaves (together with tendrils in the photo) of a long,  snakelike squash (Cucuzza) plant that is grown on trellises. It is a seasonal summer plant.

I have inserted links at the bottom of this post so that you can see what the plants look like and where you can purchase some seeds.  Maybe you can plant them in time for next summer!

The other components for the soup are easily identified: ripe tomatoes, garlic and zucchini. There is also fresh basil in the soup, but somehow I have omitted  them in the photo.

This time, my Sicilian friend did not bring me the Sicilian Cucuzza but she brought me two types of zucchini that  she is growing in her garden and that I have not encountered before – Zucchini Costata Romanesco and Zucchini Tromboncino.

The Zucchini Costata Romanesco are the two at the front of the photo above and in the photo below.

In the main photo, the one behind the Zucchini Costata Romanesco is a Zucchini Tromboncino (means small trumpet in Italian), and you can see why.

And this Zucchino (singular of Zucchini) tasted amazing! It was much longer when my friend brought it but we nibbled away at it raw in salads. It is much sweeter tasting and not at all as watery as the standard Zucchini. It grows on a vine!

Then there was the broth. Interestingly enough adding broth or stock or wine to cooking is not necessarily a common procedure for Sicilian cooking. The broken spaghetti are added to the soup last of all and I need to add, in greater quantities.

So, some links to recipes first. When you read the recipes you will notice that the Tenerumi do not necessarily have to be cooked with the Cucuzza or zucchini, but on this occasion I combined the two.

Tenerumi and Sicilian Zucca

You will need to have, sufficient broth/water in the pan if you intend to cook the pasta in the soup (this is the usual method). I cooked the pasta separately and then added to each dish last of all. Some like more pasta, some do not…. unheard of in Sicily!

A drizzle on top of good extra virgin olive oil, is always a good thing, on any dish!

Each of the recipes below are different versions of the same soup:

ZUCCA LUNGA SICILIANA  long, green variety of squash

MINESTRA DI TENERUMI (Summer soup made with the tendrils of a Sicilian squash)

TENERUMI (and I did not have to go to SICILY to buy it). The Melbourne Showgrounds Farmers Market

KOHLRABI and TENERUMI, shared between cultures of Sicily and Vietnam

MINESTRA ESTIVA CON ZUCCA LUNGA SICILIANA, Sicilian Summer soup made with the long, green variety of squash

Now for the seeds:

For Zucchini Tromboncino and Zucchini Costata Romanesco look them up in:

https://www.diggers.com.au

Zucchini 'Costata Romanesco'

Zucchini 'Tromboncino'

And for the Cucuzza:

https://veggiegardenseeds.com.au

https://veggiegardenseeds.com.au/products/squash-cucuzza-vegetable-seeds

 

 

 

 

THE MANY VERSIONS OF CAPONATE

Any cooking and eating is greatly influenced by the variations in weather especially the temperature and the available seasonal produce. Abundant in summer are eggplants, tomatoes, zucchini and peppers/capsicum and at this time of year I like to use this produce as much as possible. Summer is also a time for grilled food.

I particularly like grilled sardines but strangely enough, for the past three weeks at the Queen Victoria Market where I shop, there have not been any,  however they seem to be abundant on restaurant menus.

Squid has been available and tastes fantastic grilled, the charring adds so much flavour and character.  The tentacles are good too and apart from having a more intense flavour they offer a different texture. Squid will not need much cooking, especially if it has been marinading beforehand for an hour or so: cook the squid quickly – about 5 mins on one side, flip it over and cook the other side for less. The marinade can be as uncomplicated as a little extra virgin olive oil, salt and a few herbs of your choice. To the marinade this time, I also added a splash of white wine.

A simple drizzle of good, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice could be sufficient as a finishing dressing, especially it you are accompanying the squid with some flavourful side dishes.

As for the accompanying dishes, I made two different Sicilian caponate (plural of caponata) and a green salad. Not many guests cook caponate themselves and they especially appreciate the different versions of caponata .

Caponate taste better if cooked days before. They are presented at room temperature, so take them out of the fridge about 30 mins before serving. Caponate also make good starters.

I cooked one of the caponate in the oven and used eggplants, onions, celery and peppers/capsicums. To make it different,  apart from baking the vegetables, I also added fennel seeds, plenty of basil and garlic as well as the customary green olives, capers, sugar, vinegar and pine nuts. I definitely prefer the traditional method of sautéing  of each of the vegetables in hot oil. Although I roasted the vegetables at high temperatures, they released far too many juices that I had to evaporate and fiddle excessively with the flavours. In the end it did taste good, but the flavour took far too long to fix.

Place the basil and toasted pine nuts on the caponata at the time of serving and stir them through the cooked ingredients.

The caponata in the photo below is made with celery. This caponata is much quicker to cook and the addition of sultanas accentuate the sweet taste. The vinegar (present in all caponate) provides the sour taste and this cooked salad tastes very much like a pickle.

This celery caponata has the addition of toasted almonds rather than pine nuts.

The celery caponata is very easy to cook because the celery and onions are the only two vegetable ingredients and they can be sautéed in the same pan at the same time. Once they are slightly softened, add the drained and plump sultanas that have been soaking in water for an hour or so.  Add a little sugar and once the sugar begins to caramelise, add a splash of vinegar and evaporate.

The next caponata I intend to present to friends will be a chocolate version. Pieces of dark chocolate are added in the final stages of cooking the eggplant version of caponata that is characteristic of Palermo and its region. The caponata that includes peppers is typical of Catania and its region.

GRILLED CALAMARI (CALAMARI ‘NTA BRACI (Sicilian) – CALAMARI ALLA BRACE (Italian)

*The recipe for squid also has recipes for two accompanying,  Sicilian green, traditional sauces  –  Salmoriglio and Zoggiu

CAPONATA FROM PALERMO (made with eggplants)

CAPONATA Catanese (from Catania) made easy with photos

CAPONATA DI NATALE (Christmas, winter caponata made with celery, almonds and sultanas)

For more recipes for different versions of Caponata, use the search button.

DELICIOUS ITALIAN SUMMER FAVOURITES

November and December are my least favourite months, they are always very busy and although much cooking gets done there is not the time to take photos or to write about it.

Although I am not one to stick to particular traditional, festive foods over the Christmas period there were some occasions where I was asked to make a particular dish.

 Zuppa Inglese and Caponata Catanese must have made such a favourable impression on many friends because there are the preferred requests.

 

The Zuppa Inglese for one of the shared Christmas lunch this year was topped with Chantilly cream, preserved cherries soaked in Maraschino and bits of Torrone with pistachio. Instead of  sherry  traditionally used in English trifle,  Alchermes/Alkermez is the traditional, ancient Florentine liqueur drizzled over the Savoiardi biscuits. I spooned egg custard between the layers.

Recipe for Zuppa Inglese:

ZUPPA INGLESE, a famous, Italian dessert

LONG LIVE ZUPPA INGLESE and its sisters

ALCHERMES/ALKERMES (The liqueur used to make Zuppa Inglese)

The essential ingredients of my Caponata Catanese, a Sicilian caponata from Catania, are eggplant, red and green peppers, celery and onion with green olives (I also added capers). Each of the vegetables in the caponata are separately cooked in olive oil and not mixed together until some sugar is caramelised before adding white wine vinegar that is evaporated and finally some tomatoes that are cooked till reduced to a cream.

Caponata is eaten cold.

I scattered this one with fresh leaves of basil, pine nuts and breadcrumbs toasted in some extra virgin olive oil. The breadcrumbs added the crunch.

Recipes for Caponata:

CAPONATA Catanese (from Catania) made easy with photos

A MOUNTAIN OF CAPONATA  two days before Christmas

CAPONATA SICILIANA (CATANESE  Caponata as made in Catania)

Home-made egg mayonnaise and  Zogghiu, a garlic, mint and parsley green dressing are others; both sauces are fabulous for almost anything, the green sauce is particularly good for grilled food.

Both were excellent with crayfish and the green sauce was particularly good with grilled squid.

Recipes:

ZOGGHIU (Sicilian pesto/dressing made with garlic, parsley and mint)

GRILLED CALAMARI (CALAMARI ‘NTA BRACI (Sicilian) – CALAMARI ALLA BRACE (Italian)

PESCE IN BIANCO (Plain fish). MAIONESE (Mayonnaise)

I do like a meat broth and one dish I had not made for a very long time was  Stracciatella, so quick and easy and so delicious.

Stracciatella can refer to a Roman soup, a soft and creamy, fresh cheese from Puglia, or a gelato flavour that originated in Lombardy.

The soup is named for the beaten eggs, which look like little straccetti (shredded little rags). The centre of the cheese also has straccetti – heavy cream with shards of soft, fresh mozzarella type cheese.

It is simply meat broth with eggs, chopped fresh parsley, grated nutmeg and Parmigiano.

To prepare, bring the meat broth to a boil.  Using a fork beat the eggs with chopped parsley, nutmeg and grated Parmigiano and add the mixture to the broth over low heat, whisking constantly. You can make the soup as thick as you like.

Although the Christmas period is over, all of the recipes I have provided are summer recipes.

I hope that you enjoyed your Christmas period.