Category Archives: Sicilian

ARTICHOKES and how we love them – CAPONATA DI CARCIOFI

This week, Richard Cornish’s regular column is about artichokes. (September 21, Brain Food in The Age). His commentary has certainly provided me with an excess  amount of food for thought – artichokes are one of my very favourite vegetables and I have written many recipes for artichokes on my blog.

Artichokes in Acireale Sicily

I have included some recipes in this post and more can be found on my blog. In Italian artichokes are called carciofi, in Sicilian they are cacocciuli. As Richard says, artichokes are thought to have originated from Sicily, and therefore Sicilians have had plenty of time to appreciate their versatility and have come up with some excellent recipes for artichokes cooked in many interesting ways.

This is not to say that the other regions of Italy don’t have their own local recipes for artichokes, but Sicilians seem to have the lot.

Artichokes in Italy are eaten as appetizers, contorni (sides), first and second courses, and stand-alone dishes. Artichokes can be stuffed with a wide variety of fillings, fried whole or sliced, and crumbed before being fried, sautéed, boiled, baked, braised and stewed, roasted in ashes, used in frittate (plural of frittata), pasta and risotti (plural of risotto).

When they are young, they are sliced thinly and eaten raw in salads. They are canned commercially and, at the end of plant’s life, the last of the artichokes that will never mature but will stay small and underdeveloped, are conserved, mostly in olive oil. When they are old, they are stripped of all the leaves and the bases are eaten.

CARCIOFINI SOTT’ OLIO (Preserved artichokes in oil) 

It is spring in Australia now and the very best time to celebrate artichokes when they can be combined with other spring produce such as broad beans, peas, asparagus and potatoes.

A couple of recipes in my blog make a special feature of spring flavours:

A QUICK PASTA DISH for Spring: asparagus, artichokes, peas

CARCIOFI IMBOTTITI (Stuffed artichokes)

ASPARAGUS and ARTICHOKES PASTA ALLA FAVORITA (Pasta with artichokes, broad beans, peas alla favorita)

FRITTEDDA (A sauté of spring vegetables)

Different varieties of artichokes are also available in autumn, but somehow pairing them with spring seasonal produce, deserves extra applause.

CARCIOFI (Artichokes and how to clean them and prepare them for cooking) 

In his Brain Food column about artichokes Richard says that artichokes contain a compound called cynarin which inhibits your tongue’s ability to detect sweetness. You don’t notice it until you have a bite or a drink of something else: the cynarin gets washed off the tongue, and suddenly, your brain tells you that what you have in your mouth is sweet, even when it is not!

Hence Cynar, one of the many Italian bitter alcoholic drinks (of the amaro variety) and made predominantly with artichokes. Cynar is classed as a digestive and it is said to have stomach-soothing qualities and cleansing and restorative properties for the liver. It can be drunk as an apéritif or after dinner drink.

BITTER GREENS and AMARI (Aperitivi and Digestivi)

Richard mentions how Richard Purdue, executive chef at Margaret in Sydney’s Double Bay, beams when the word artichoke is mentioned. ‘‘One of my favourite dishes is one I picked up in Sicily, where the artichokes are cooked in a kind of caponata – tomatoes, celery, pine nuts, currants, red wine and sugar.’’ So to finish off here is a recipe adapted from my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking for a caponata made with artichokes.

The recipe in my book suggests using 9 -10 artichokes and I intended the amount to be for 6 -8 people. Caponata di Carciofi (Artichoke Caponata) can only be made with young artichokes. It is also worth noting that you will need to remove the outer leaves and only use the tender centre, therefore reducing the amount of artichokes significantly.

CAPUNATA DI CARCIOFFULI – Caponata Di Carciofi  (Artichoke caponata)

I sauté each of the vegetable ingredients separately as is the traditional method of making caponata (as in a well-made, French dish Ratatouille). Frying the vegetables together does save time, but the colours and the flavours will not be as distinct. However, I have provided this method as a variation (see bottom of this recipe). Remove the outer, tougher leaves of the artichokes by bending them back and snapping them off the base until you come to the softer, paler leaves.

  • Prepare artichokes for sautéing. The artichokes need to be sliced thinly and vertically into bite size pieces. Keep them in acidulated water as you work. The cleaned stalk is one of my favourite parts of the artichoke and will add flavour to the caponata. Trim the stalk with a small sharp knife to pull away the tough, stringy outer skin (just like the strings of celery) and leave the stem attached to the artichoke. This will expose the light-coloured, centre portion, which is very flavourful and tender and much appreciated by Italians.
  • Drain the artichokes from the acidulated water and squeeze dry (I use a clean tea towel).
  • Select a large, shallow, saucepan to sauté the artichokes. They should not be crowded and if you do not have a large enough pan, sauté them in batches – you want to create as little liquid as possible.
  • Place some of the extra virgin olive oil in the pan and sauté the artichokes on low heat until they are tender. This may take up to 10 minutes or more depending on the freshness and age of the artichokes (add a little water or white wine if the ingredients are drying out).
  • Remove the artichokes and set aside.
  • Add a little more, extra virgin olive oil to the pan (and/or you may be able to drain some from the sautéed artichokes) and sauté the other vegetables in the same pan, separately. Proceed as follows:
  • Sauté the onion until it begins to colour, remove from the pan and add to the artichokes.
  • Add a little more extra virgin olive oil and sauté the celery.
  • Add the olives, capers, salt and tomatoes to the celery. Simmer gently for about 5-7 minutes. Add a little water if needed (this mixture should have the consistency of a thick sauce.)
  • Remove the mixture from the pan and add it to the sautéed artichokes and onions.
  • To make the agro dolce (sweet sour) sauce:
  • Add the sugar to the pan and caramelise the sugar by stirring it until it melts and begins to turn a honey colour.
  • Add the vinegar and swirl it around to collect the flavours of the sautéed vegetables and evaporate it (2-3 minutes).
  • Place all of the sautéed vegetables and artichokes into the pan with the agro dolce sauce and gently toss the ingredients, as you would do a salad.
  • Simmer on very gentle heat to amalgamate the flavours for about 3-5 minutes.
  • Place caponata into a sealed container or jar and store in the fridge. Leave it to stand at least a day but preferably longer.

Now, for the easier version:

  • To make caponata, where the ingredients are not fried separately, proceed as follows:
  • Prepare and sauté the artichokes as in the proceeding recipe.
  • Add a little more extra virgin olive oil and heat it. Add the onion and the celery and sauté until they begin to colour.
  • Add the olives, capers, sugar, salt, vinegar and tomatoes. Cover and simmer gently until tender (5-10 minutes or more depending on the freshness and age of the artichokes).

KOHLRABI, as eaten in Sicily

As usual, I look forward to reading Richard Cornish’s regular column Brain Food in The Age on Tuesdays and today he is writing about Kohlrabi (September 7, 2021).

Just as listening to music has the power to bring up memories, reading about produce brings up memories of recipes for me.

When Richard chose to write about Sardines in his weekly column (August 24, 2021) I wrote about PASTA CON SARDE, an iconic Sicilian dish more common in Palermo then elsewhere, but now cooked in different regions of the island with local variations.

Below are recipes from my blog that use Kohlrabi quite differently to the chefs that Richard mentions in Brain Food including David Moyle, the creative director of Harvest Newrybar near Byron Bay, and Rosalin Virnik from Anchor Restaurant in Melbourne’s Elwood.

Here’s my bit about Kohlrabi and a couple of recipes below.

Just to be perverse, Kohlrabi are called cavoli in Sicily and in Italian it is cavolo rapa.

In Italian cavoli are cauliflowers, cavolo verza is a cabbage.

Just to confuse things even further, Sicilians call cauliflowers broccoli.

As well as the purple coloured Kohlrabi roots there are light green ones; the root is always sold complete with the leaves and the whole plant is eaten.

One way Kohlrabi is eaten in Ragusa (Sicily) where my father’s family is from, is boiled as a vegetable side dish with a dressing of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, but the preferred way is to cook it with pasta, as a wet pasta dish.

The pasta is homemade and is called Causunedda.

See recipe and photos:

A WET PASTA DISH WITH KOHLRABI

I have also seen Kohlrabi in markets in Vietnam

KOHLRABI and TENERUMI, shared between cultures of Sicily and Vietnam.

Not Sicilian, but a good salad:

KOHLRABI, FENNEL, CELERIAC AND DAIKON MAKE A GOOD SALAD (AND OTHER RECIPES)

PASTA CON LE SARDE recipes:

PASTA CON LE SARDE, Iconic Sicilian made easy

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

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

PASTA RIMESTATA COI CAVOFIORI – Pasta with cauliflower, sultanas, pine nuts and anchovies

The recipe for this pasta dish is from my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking (now out of print).

In the Sicilian  language the recipe is called : Pasta chi brocculi arriminata. In Italian = Pasta rimestata coi cavolfiori.

Rimestata, seems like a fancy word, but it just means stirred

In English, I have described this as Pasta with cauliflower, sultanas, pine nuts and anchovies. 

In Italian the word for cauliflower is cavolfiore. Just to be different, the Sicilian name for cauliflower is brocculi.  

In Sicily coloured cauliflowers are the most common (unfortunately most of the colour fades when they are cooked). As well as the familiar white or cheddar (pale yellow) varieties, there are beautiful purple ones (cavolofiore viola in Italian) that range in colour from pink through violet to dark purple. A friend  in Australia is growing a variety called purple cape cauliflower and one that is light green and pink called cavolfiore romanesco precoce

There are also the bright, pale green ones and a sculpted, pointy pale green variety called Roman cauliflower; I have seen these in Rome and throughout Tuscany.

Every time I cook this pasta dish, there is great applause from guests.

Over time recipes evolve and each time I make it I  may vary it slightly, mainly by increasing the amounts of some of the ingredients, for example: I tend to use more bayleaves (or rosemary), pine nuts, anchovies (for people who like them and remove them for those who do not).

I also like to add some fresh fennel (at the same time as I place the cauliflower into the pan) and a little stock and white wine.

I present the pasta with both pecorino cheese and breadcrumbs. Sometimes I add cubes of feta or ricotta whipped with a little pepper. Feta is Greek, but I like it as it adds creaminess to the dish.

The ingredients and the method of cooking the pasta with cauliflower below is how the recipe appears in the book. The recommended  amount of pasta is 100g per person. In our household this is far too much and 500g of pasta is OK as first course for 6-8 people. As with all recipes I hope that you  vary it to suit your tastes. 

500g dry, short pasta

2 tablespoons sultanas or currants 

1 medium cauliflower

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

4–5 anchovies, finely chopped

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1 small teaspoon saffron soaked in a little warm water

grated pecorino or toasted breadcrumbs

salt and crushed dried chillies to taste

Soak the sultanas or currants in a cup of warm water. To prepare the cauliflower, remove the outer green leaves and break the cauliflower into small florets.

In a frying pan large enough to accommodate all the ingredients, saute the chopped onion in the olive oil. Add the anchovies and let them melt in the oil, stirring with a wooden spoon. Then add the cauliflower florets, bay leaves and the fennel seeds. Stir gently over the heat to colour and coat the vegetable with oil.

Add the pine nuts, the saffron (and water) and the sultanas or currants with the soaking water, salt and crushed chillies.

At this stage I add a splash of white wine and a little stock). Cover, and allow to cook gently for about 20 minutes, until the florets are soft.

Cook the pasta. Drain and toss with the cauliflower sauce. Coat the pasta evenly and allow to absorb the flavours for about 5 minutes. Serve with toasted breadcrumbs or grated pecorino cheese.

The breadcrumbs add texture and flavour.  Over time, instead of tossing coarse breadcrumbs, (100 grams made with day old, quality bread  – sourdough/pasta dura) lightly fried in some oil, I also add grated lemon peel, a little cinnamon and sugar to the breadcrumbs while they are being toasted.

Below: Saffron

WAYS TO COOK RABBIT – with chocolate sauce

 I cooked rabbit in a chocolate sauce and somehow, it seemed appropriate for Easter.  Easter has passed, but rabbit or hare cooked with chocolate can be enjoyed at anytime. 

Religious Easter celebrations in Sicily go back to pagan times – the continuation of ancient rites and traditions.

Easter in Sicily is also a celebration of spring, a time for revival and new beginnings, casting away winter with particular attention to spring produce. Therefore I was not surprised when one of my favourite cousins who lives in Ragusa in Sicily told me that during the Easter lunch they ate: …  le classiche impanate di agnello,  le scacce,  la frittata di carciofo e il risotto agli asparagi.

And, as he also told me: tutto molto buono – it was all good.  For those of you who do not understand menu Italian, these particular Sicilian relatives ate two traditional Easter specialties from Ragusa –  the lamb impanate and scacce, accompanied by an artichoke frittata and an asparagus risotto … the produce is a celebration of spring.

The impanate are focaccia like pies  stuffed with lamb – spring lamb of course. 

The scacce are pastries made with a variety of fillings. The pastry is folded like in a concertina over the filling and my favourite are those that contain sheep’s milk ricotta:  the milk is at its best in spring, after the rich winter pastures. 

But probably, my favourite would have been the frittata made with young artichokes. In Australia it is often difficult to purchase young artichokes unless you grow  them yourself. Sometimes young spring asparagus (also wild asparagus) is cooked  as a frittata, but on this occasion the asparagus went into a risotto.

 He did not mention the sweets, but there would have been cassatedde half-moon shaped pockets of pastry stuffed with ricotta and/or cassata or cannoli, all made with sheep’s milk ricotta. 

I know many of you may  disagree, but for me traditional hot cross buns do not appear to be as appetising as what my Sicilians relatives ate for Easter (see below for the full descriptions and recipes).

Rabbit with Chocolate sauce

Rabbit with chocolate sauce is a Sicilian recipe, probably introduced by the Spaniards who ruled Sicily from 1282 to 1516: the Aragonese and from 1516 – 1713: the Spanish Habsburgs.

Rabbit in chocolate sauce is not traditionally cooked at Easter but in Australia it seemed appropriate.

You  begin with a rabbit(s).

As you can see, the rabbits have been cut into sections – legs and backs. I kept the front legs for another time.

The rabbit pieces have been in a marinade that is mainly a mixture of  extra virgin olive oil, chopped celery leaves,  some fennel seeds, a few cloves,  fresh bay leaves (I like bay) and 1 small chopped onion. In the past on some occasions I have also added cinnamon bark.  I left the meat in the marinade for about 3 hours, however overnight is OK too and judging by the time the rabbits took to cook they could have done with a longer time in the marinade.

You will also need more carrots and onions and celery to add to the rabbit when you cook it.

During cooking, you will  also add good quality dark chocolate, pine nuts, currants, stock, wine, a little sugar and some vinegar.  The rabbit is cooked the same way as if cooked in a sour and sweet sauce but with chocolate to enrich the sauce.

The rabbit needs browning … drain the meat from the marinade and leave as much as the solids behind … don’t crowd the pan.

The rabbit browned quite quickly.

Remove the pieces of rabbit from the pan.

Have ready some chopped celery , carrots and onions.  

Next, make a soffritto –  the aromatic base composed of sautéed carrots, celery, and onion that forms the foundation to many Italian dishes. Sauté the vegetables in some more oil.

Remove the vegetables, add about a dessert spoon of sugar to the frypan and wait for it to melt.

Traditionally only vinegar is added to the sweet and sour rabbit dish, but I also like to add wine; for my quantity of rabbit, I added about a half a cup of white wine and about a tablespoon of white wine vinegar and I also added about a half a cup of red wine that somehow seemed more appropriate with the brown colouring of the dish.

Return all of the meat and vegetables to the pan.  Add currants and pine nuts, broth/stock to cover, salt and some chocolate. I added  half a block and the rest of the chocolate at the very end to enrich the sauce. Taste it, and  depending on how much you like the taste of chocolate, add more if you wish.

Cover and cook  it slowly till the rabbit is cooked. If it is a farmed rabbit  it will take as long as cooking chicken, mine was wild rabbit and it took about three hours of slow cooking.

i served it with sweet and sour pumpkin (fegato di sette cannolli) and pears quickly fried in a little oil and butter.

For a more complete recipe see:

RABBIT, CHICKEN, Easter recipes

Sicilian Pumpkin with vinegar, mint, sugar and cinnamon
RABBIT AND HARE:

HARE OR RABBIT COOKED IN CHOCOLATE. LEPRE O CONIGLIO AL CIOCCOLATO (‘NCICULATTATU IS THE SICILIAN TERM USED)

RABBIT with cloves, cinnamon and red wine (CONIGLIO DA LICODIA EUBEA)

ONE WAY TO COOK RABBIT LIKE A SICILIAN

CONIGLIO A PARTUISA (Braised rabbit as cooked in Ragusa)

PAPPARDELLE (PASTA WITH HARE OR GAME RAGÙ)

LEPRE ALLA PIEMONTESE (HARE – SLOW BRAISE PIEDMONTESE STYLE

EASTER SPECIALTIES IN RAGUSA

SCACCE and PIZZA and SICILIAN EASTER

‘MPANATA (A lamb pie, Easter treat)

I  have relatives  in Sicily but  my parents and I lived in Trieste in Northern Italy. Just for interest, here are  the traditional  Easter sweets of Trieste:
Traditional Easter Sweets in Trieste in Friuli Venezia Giulia

CASSATA Explained with photos

I have written about  making cassata many times and rewriting the recipe is not necessary so I will provide links at the bottom of this post.

I did take a few photos. The photos and a few notes tell the story.

Make or buy a sponge cake.

Slice the sponge and line the mould with the sponge cake. It helps to line the mould with some foil  to ensure that the cassata can be inverted easily. You may also like to use a little apricot jam to stick the different parts of the sponge together. I did not have any apricot jam and I used marmalade… not too much, it should not taste bitter. Honey could be OK too.

Tub ricotta is not very good, both in taste and texture. Buy full cream ricotta from a good deli.

Beat the ricotta with some cream, castor sugar and good vanilla essence. The amount of cream you use will depend on the creaminess of your ricotta. I do not like my cassata sweet and may not add as much castor sugar as someone else would. Taste the mixture and see if it tastes to your liking, then add chopped  pistachio nuts,  citrus peel including some cedro.

Next some cinnamon  powder and some chopped dark chocolate. Fold through.

Dampen the sponge cake with some liqueur, some use marsala, I like an orange based  liqueur and mostly use Cointreau, but do not make it soggy.  Most cooks dilute the liqueur with sugar and water. I do not – give me the full  taste anytime.

Fill the ricotta cream into the mould lined with sponge cake.

Put a slice of the sponge cake on top as a lid. Dampen it with liqueur, cover it with foil and put a weight on top. Keep it in the fridge till ready to decorate. I like to make the cassata  the day before I decorate it and eat it.

Marzipan. Make it the day before and keep it wrapped in foil or baking paper or whatever you use :

As you can see I use  much more almond meal than icing sugar. Mix it with a little water and a little vanilla and knead it to bring it together. Like when baking dough, add more almond meal or icing sugar to make it the correct consistency.

Most cassate are coated with ‘glassa’ made of sugar and water. I find this sickly sweet and prefer the old fashion marzipan. Traditionally the more commonly decorated cassate include a pale green colour. This may have been because the green may have been made with pistachio meal and the white with almond meal. Some people do not like eating marzipan so  do not be surprised if you find some guests struggling to eat it.

I made two lots. of marzipan. The green vegetable dye was far too intense., but i was not going to throw the ingredients away. next time i shall use a dropper.

Roll the marzipan out… rolling it between two pieces of greaseproof paper may help.

Ready to decorate.

I really enjoyed this part, however the way I decorated my cassata may not be like the cassate you are likely to see in Sicily.  Most people buy cassate from pastry shops, they leave it to the experts. This is also the case for cannoli.

My cassata  over all is definitely less sweet. I used every bit of the marzipan. I used toothpicks to keep the flowers in place.

Sicilian cassata coated with  a shiny ‘glassa’ is the most common cassata. Usually glace fruit is used to decorate the top.

Ornate cassate: in noteworthy pasticcerie.

 

I decorate cassate as the mood takes me. Thesa are some cassate I have made in the past:

For greater details and recipes see:

SICILIAN CASSATA and some background (perfect for an Australian Christmas)

SICILIAN CASSATA and MARZIPAN AT EASTER (Food and Culture in Sicily, La Trobe University)

CASSATA (It is perfect for an Australian Christmas)

CASSATA ( Post no. 2) Calls for a celebration!!!

 

RICETTE per capretto (e capra) – Recipes for slow cooked kid and goat

Quite a bit of cooking went on over the Christmas and the New Year period and there was no time to write about it. Most of the time I do not  even manage to take photos, however for this dish, I did.

This is a slow cooked goat with mushrooms. The Sicilian bit in this dish is that the goat pieces were marinated in Marsala Fine (semi dry) and cooked with Marsala too. Most recipes eventuating from the rest of Italy would use wine – red and perhaps white.

I used the goat ragout to dress egg  pappardelle.

I hope the photos tell the story.

I bought a leg and a shoulder of capretto… the italian word for kid and the etto at the end of the word makes it diminutive…however, judging by the size of it, it was a capra…a goat.

There were seven of us for lunch and I also bought a kilo of mushrooms.

Below is the photo of the marinade:

Marsala Fine,  extra virgin olive oil, herbs – bay,  cloves, rosemary –

these herbs are used in sicilian cooking but I also used nepitella and sage  –  herbs that are more common in the north and central Italy.

I cut most of the meat off the bone but kept the bones in with the meat to marinade overnight.

Drain the meat and bones and sauté  the meat in some extra virgin olive oil in small batches.

Place the sautéed meat aside and finish sautéeing all the meat and the bones.

Prepare the sofritto – white onion, carrot and celery, chopped pretty small.

Use the same pan.

Sauté the onion first in some extra virgin oil,  then add the carrots and celery and sauté some more.

Add the meat and bones.

Add the marinade, the herbs (and some new ones too).

Add salt and pepper and some good meat stock and more Marsala.

Cover  and cook on slow heat. Check level of moisture regularly and if needed add more stock. I cooked mine for just below four hours. Remove the bones….they should be clean.

Add sliced mushrooms, cover and cook for 20 – 30 minutes more.

Dress the cooked pasta with the ragout.

Present  the pappardelle with grated pecorino and fresh mint leaves.

See:

RAGU` DI CAPRETTO Goat/ kid ragout as a dressing for pasta

SPEZZATINO DI CAPRETTO (Italian Goat/ Kid stew)

SLOW COOKED LEG OF GOAT WITH HOT MINT SAUCE

KID/GOAT WITH ALMONDS (SPRING IN SICILY, CAPRETTO CON LE MANDORLE)

SICILIAN SEAFOOD COOKING, ITALIANICIOUS and READER’S FEAST Bookstore. Recipe for Slow cooked goat in Nero D’Avola

Parco Nazionale Degli Iblei – a documentary – and recipes from this part of Sicily

Corrado, one of my relatives in Ragusa (in the south eastern corner of Sicily) has sent me a link to watch Storie e luoghi di un Parco (Stories and places of a Park) on Vimeo. It’s a documentary by Vincenzo Cascone.

I sat for over an hour mesmerized, and although not all of you will understand the Italian dialogue, the visuals are sufficient to get the gist of what is being presented.

The soundtrack is also evocative.

Storie e luoghi di un Parco is striking and very comprehensive documentary mainly about the preservation and restoration of biodiversity in a nature reserve to be established in south eastern Sicily.

The park is referred to as the Parco Nazionale Degli Iblei. The Hyblaean Mountains (Italian: Monti Iblei) is a mountain range in south-eastern Sicily, Italy. It straddles the provinces of Ragusa, Syracuse and Catania.

I need to tell you that it is over an hour long, but you can fast forward  bits,  perhaps  the speaking parts , especially if you do not understand Italian.

Establishing and maintaining wildlife reserves and giving nature the space and protection it needs is an obvious solution to preserving biodiversity and healthy ecosystems. For each nature reserve, there are legislated rules, regulations and penalties established to restrict the types and amount of human activities or mismanagement by the community so as protect the habitats, fauna, flora and the geology of the natural area.

This documentary is made even more compelling by the representation of a group of diverse professions supporting and involved in the implementation of this project. The interviews with this group of specialists provide insights and observations on the archaeological, natural, scientific, cultural, historical and aesthetic features of this region of Sicily.  These individuals are continuing to conduct studies and research that aim to restore a healthy biodiversity and promote better understanding of our natural heritage.

The team of professional scientists that are exploring this ecosystem explain how biodiversity can only have occurred over millions of years of evolution and by the different cultural groups who settled in this part of Sicily.

Biodiversity and ecosystems that are undamaged, healthy and finely balanced, contribute to a healthy, sustainable planet.

We all have a responsibility to revitalize our planet and it is up to all of us to prevent widespread ecological damage.

Now for the disappointing bit.

After having given the project a glowing report I decided to do some research. Unfortunately, this worthy project is at a standstill. After all of the support from many noteworthy people and local residents in this area of Sicily, Sicilian bureaucracy has stalled the project.

I do hope there will be sufficient support to make it happen.

Storie e luoghi di un Parco (Stories and places of a Park).

Un documentario di Vincenzo Cascone.

https://vimeo.com/163017225

Some recipes from this part of Sicily:

SCACCE (focaccia-like stuffed bread)

KOHLRABI with pasta (Causunnedda )

CONIGLIO A PARTUISA (Braised rabbit as cooked in Ragusa)

RAVIOLI DI RICOTTA e MULINO DI CEREALI A PIETRA (Ricotta ravioli and stone ground flour in Chiaramonte)

ALL ABOUT MAKING FRITTATA and Podcast with Maria Liberati

I was very surprised when one of my friends said that she had baked a zucchini frittata following a recipe in Ottolenghi’s Simple. I opened my copy of the cookbook to see if Ottolenghi really had baked a frittata. Afterall he has Italian heritage! It is not called a frittata for nothing!(I am joking here – I really like and respect Ottolenghi – but all jokes aside, if I were to bake a mixture of zucchini and eggs, I would call it a Zucchini Bake.

Fritta, means fried (feminine) and fritto, as in Fritto Misto is fried (masculine) and misto means mixed. I would enjoy continuing with a lesson in Italian grammar, but this post is about frittata.

Recently I was contacted by Maria Liberati and invited to participate in an interview about Frittata, for a podcast. So there I was  from Melbourne in lockdown chatting to Maria Liberati in Pennsylvania.

Maria asked me to speak about frittate (plural), she found of a post I had been invited to write by Janet Clarkson’s very popular blog called ‘The Old Foodie’. The post was called An Authentic Frittata (December 2008). I had forgotten that I had written it, but what I said then still stands.

Apart from discussing frittate in general and providing a  Sicilian recipe for frittata I made a comment about Claudia Roden. She is one of my heros,  but I disagreed with what she must have said at some stage:” Frittate are common throughout Italy but not Sicily and Sardinia’.

But just how popular are frittate anyway? When do we eat frittate? and could it be that frittate are such ordinary fare that they do not appear in cookery books very often?

In An Authentic Frittata, my first sentence is:
‘Every National Cuisine has certain rules and customs.’

Baking a frittata in Italy is not one of them.

But I can understand why frying a frittata is scary.  This is a simple zucchini and cheese frittata. It is spring in Melbourne and we had some new season’s zucchini tossed quickly in a frypan with some extra virgin olive oil, a little parsley and garlic. I turned the leftovers  and some grated pecorino cheese into a simple frittata. 

Frittata is cooked on one side before being inverted onto a plate and then slid into the frypan again  to cook on the other side. It is not that scary.

Pour the mixture of beaten eggs (a fork will do),  zucchini, salt, pepper into hot oil. Use the spatula to press the frittata gently on top and lift the edges tilting the pan. This allows some of the runny egg to escape on the side to cook. when there is no more egg escaping you are ready to turn it over.

As Maria said in the interview, perhaps cooks could try this with a smaller pan. I think it is worth it.

When making frittata, using a round frypan makes sense, and not making it a huge frittata makes it more manageable.

Depending on the quantities of the other ingredients to be added to the frittata, I think about 8 eggs is the maximum.

Maria and I certainly agreed about how the cooking of Italy is very regional and how this may also apply to frittata. I grew up in Trieste (the north eastern Italian cooking of Friuli Venezia Giulia is similar to the Veneto and Trentino Alto Adige) but I also have a Sicilian heritage.

Cuisine is localised , each region has prepared specialities based on their produce and cultural influences. Sicily was an important trade route in a strategic location in the Mediterranean and was settled by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians,  Arabs, Normans, French, Spaniards. Trieste was a very important port  for much of that north eastern part of Italy that  were part of the Austro – Hungarian Empire. Surrounding countries that influenced the history and culture were Austria, Switzerland, France, Germany,and Croatia are not too far away.

Here are some basic differences  between the making of frittate in the north and the south , some are no longer hard and fast rules, for example:

  • butter or butter and oil is used for frying in the north, oil in the south,
  • use of local produce in both – I have had quite a few frittate with ricotta in Sicily and made with fruit in the north, especially with apples,
  • because left-overs are good ingredients for a frittata, you may see more vegetable based frittate in the south and more smallgoods based ones in the north, e.g. prosciutto, different cheeses,
  • breadcrumbs are common additions to a frittata in the south (to soak up liquid from vegetables), a little flour and even a dash of milk is evident in many northern recipes,
  • a little grated cheese is common in all frittate, Parmigiano in the north, pecorino or aged caciocavallo or ricotta salata in Sicily.

Like language, cooking evolves and when I cook, I do not invent or modify recipes without knowing what came first – what is the traditional recipe?  What are the ingredients and how was it cooked? Experimentation can only come after respect for the ingredients and method of cooking that traditional recipe, and accepting that although the recipe may have been right for the time, there are changes that i would like to make. When I modify a recipe I ask myself if modifying it will improve it, is it a healthier way to cook it, quicker? And this applies to all traditional recipes.

A very simple example is how my mother always overcooked her vegetables, but she found my sautéed vegetables very undercooked. She either used onions or garlic, never the two together, meat and fish in the same recipe? Never.

Using Warrigal Greens (Australian bush tucker,  like English spinach). Do not even think about that, I am definitely breaking the rules. These are growing on my balcony.

I am looking forward to using other spring produce to make frittate , especially artichokes, spring peas/snow peas, zucchini and zucchini flowers.

Maria and I talked amicably about many things, and there were many details that I had intended to say, but we ran out of time.

Thank you Maria for giving me this opportunity.

Below is a frittata I cooked with  wild asparagus.

Some links:

  • Recipes on my blog for making Frittata:

ASPARAGI DI BOSCO and FRITTATINA (Wild Asparagus continued, and Frittata)

WILD ASPARAGUS IN SICILY AND TUNIS (ASPARAGI SELVATICI)

BOOK SIGNING OF SICILIAN SEAFOOD COOKING AT READINGS (and Fennel Frittata)

FRITTATA: SAUSAGE and RICOTTA

The recipe I provided in this post is a version of Giuseppe Coria’s but variations of this same recipe are in a couple of Sicilian cookbooks written in Italian. I do wonder if that recipe is still made now.

Podcast: A Sicilian Frittata Story
 54 mins

This week Maria discusses the power of food to take us to new places – this time, to Sicily – where we’ll enjoy a simple frittata. Joining her today is Marisa Raniolo Wilkins, a passionate food writer, blogger and recipe developer from Sicily.

To hear this podcast, click HERE

 

 

 

 

 

 

Formaggio all’Argentiera (pan fried, fresh cheese, Sicilian)

I had forgotten how much I particularly like Formaggio Fresco, pan fried with a sliver or two of garlic in a smidgen of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled with a little dry oregano and de-glazed with a little red vinegar and a pinch of sugar (optional). This is how Sicilians like it.

Formaggio Fresco = Cheese Fresh….Fresh Cheese.

This  Sicilian recipe is called Formaggio all’Argentiera.

Why All’ Argentiera?

An argentiere in Italian is a silversmith.

All’argentiera means “in the style of…as an argentiere would cook it”.

Why this name?

An argentiere can afford the price of meat, a poor person cannot, however, the poor can afford to buy and cook cheese and pretend that he is eating meat. The lovely smells dissipating from the windows of the poor will give passers-by the impression  that just like a silversmith he can afford to eat meat. It is all to do with the making a bella figura syndrome.

The recipe is quick and easy, the difficulty could be finding what is called Formaggio Fresco. What is ‘fresh cheese?’

Some producers call Formaggio Fresco,  Fresh Pecorino,  but they are  both young cheese (aged typically 15- 45 days depending on the manufacturer). It is a white, semi soft, smooth and milky cheese,  good for slicing and for partially melting.

Pecorino is made from the milk of a pecora, (sheep), however, most Pecorino Fresco or Formaggio Fresco, especially in Australia  is made from cows’ pasteurized milk, salt and culture (usually rennet).

Aged Pecorino, whether Romano (Roman), Sardo (Sardinian), Toscano, or Siciliano is the firm, salty and sharp cheese we are familiar with and used for grating – you can eat it too.  In Italy they are DOP cheeses and made in the place of origin.

Stores that have Italian Produce are likely to have Formaggio Fresco  but I have also seen some in a few good supermarkets.

In Melbourne I can buy Formaggio Fresco made by these manufacturers: That’s Amore cheese, they call it cacciotta  and Pantalica make Bacio and Pecorino Fresco.

In Adelaide the manufacturers are: La Casa Del Formaggio and La Vera. I have seen La Vera sold in other Australian cities as well.

 

Formaggio all’Argentiera

A little extra virgin olive oil to fry the cheese.

Also: 1 large clove of garlic (cut into slivers), pinches of dried oregano,  1-2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a pinch of sugar.

I prefer to use a non-stick fry pan.

Heat the oil; use medium heat.

Add the garlic, the slices of cheese and lower the heat. Sprinkle the cheese with some of the dry oregano.

Cook that side of cheese until golden in colour, turn the cheese over and repeat with the dry oregano….cook for as long again.

Add the vinegar and sugar ( I sometime do) and deglaze the pan.

See also:

SICILIAN CHEESE MAKING. A VISIT TO A MASSARO (farmer-cheese maker) IN RAGUSA. Formaggio all’argentiera

Sicilian Cheese and more cheese

A WET PASTA DISH WITH KOHLRABI

Kohlrabi, can be green or purple. it is a root vegetable with dark green leaves that shoot out from the top. All parts of the kohlrabi can be eaten, both raw and cooked.

GreenKohlrabi.jpg

In Ragusa where my father’s family is from, they make a wet pasta dish. In the days when fresh pasta was made at home and when my elderly aunt was still alive they use to make a short pasta shape called causineddi. The younger members of the family sometimes make this pasta  on special occasions.

I bought two kohlrabi recently and ate the green leaves braised and mixed with kale . I later regretted this because when I decided to make the wet pasta dish I had to substitute kale for the green component.

The “real” recipe is in a much earlier post: KOHLRABI with pasta (Causunnedda )

I used chifferi rigati (shape) as the pasta.

Under the circumstances may be forgiven for substituting kale or cavolo nero for the green kohlrabi leaves , however I also used a strong chicken stock instead of the pork rind  for flavouring ….I cannot therefore call this a Sicilian traditional recipe.

The drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil  as the finishing touch makes this dish very fragrant and tasty.