LASAGNA OR LASAGNE? RECIPE FOR LASAGNA AL RADICCHIO

This post contains details about the use of the term Lasagna and Lasagne. In this post there is also a recipe for a Lasagna al Radicchio.

In Italian, baked pasta can be Pasta al forno, Pasta imbottita (stuffed pasta), Lasagna/ Lasagne or Pasticcio, (as it was called where we lived in Trieste, in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region.)

When my parents and I came to Australia we used to invite guests for Sunday lunch. Often on the menu, the finished baked dish was a Lasagna Bolognese. It consisted of layers of cooked green or white sheets of pasta (lasagne), interspersed with a slow-cooked ragù, béchamel, and Parmigiano.

But the Emilian Romanian people where the Bolognese version of this baked pasta dish originates, refer to the finished dish as Lasagne Bolognese.

A single, wide sheet of pasta is called a lasagna, the plural is lasagne. When we speak about the type and shape of pasta, it is always in the plural – spaghetti, penne, rigatoni, fettuccine etc. so lasagne is no different.

So, when we refer to the cooked dish, is it Lasagna or Lasagne?

 Recently I made a Lasagna from the Veneto region (stuffed with red radicchio, béchamel, ricotta and parmesan) and I intended to use the correct grammar. I have completed quite a bit of reading to research this issue.

It appears that over the centuries, the two usages have always alternated, but the plural (Lasagne) was more common. There are many theories about where the term comes from. There are various theories about the word lasagna and how it originated, one common and simple explanation is that it could have derived from the course Latin lasanum for cooking pot, or the ancient Greek and Roman laganum, the name for their flat pieces of dough.

Dictionaries are more likely to use Lasagne and because of this, recipes on the web also use Lasagne. Modern publishers because of the dictionary use of the term also prefer Lasagne, unless they are publishing traditional regional recipes from menus of local restaurants that have called their dish Lasagna. There appear not to be any set rules about the lexicon. This is confirmed in my three comprehensive Slow Food Editions of traditional, regional dishes that in total has 2,260 recipes from the Italian Osterie (local eateries).

Pellegrino Artusi has no references of Lasagna or Lasagne. His book is about home cooking and this baked form of pasta was rather lavish and not considered an everyday cooking dish. His book L’Artusi was first published in 1910, my edition is from 1978.

When I looked at the numerous books I have about Italian cuisine both in the Italian and English language I did not find many recipes for either Lasagne or Lasagna, but then I realized that when we are discussing traditional recipes of baked pasta from different regions (either layered or not) they use a variety of shapes of pasta and not sheets of lasagne and therefore cannot be called Lasana/Lasagne.

For example, some traditional Sicilian recipes for baked pasta are (language -Sicilian/ Italian / English):

Maccarona di zitu astufati/ Maccheroni di zite stufate/Baked pasta made with the zite shaped pasta.

Maccheruna au furnu amuricana /Maccheroni al forno alla modicana/ Baked pasta from Modica made with short shaped pasta.

Ncasciata/Pasta incassata/Pasta that has been encased.  This is a favourite dish of Montalbano. There are different versions of this dish, as the most popular versions are as made in Messina, Ragusa and in Palermo. In Messina and Ragusa the maccheroni could be short pasta such as rigatoni, ditali, zite or penne, while in Palermo the pasta are anelli or anellini (ring shapes). Montalbano would be eating the one fro Modica.

In my Sicilian texts there are also recipes for:

Timbale/Timballo that is also made with maccheroni but encased in slices of fried eggplant (derived from the word drum, encased/shaped like a drum).

Gattó, derived from the French word gâteau, (food baked or served in the form of a cake) and used by the Sicilian monsu (derived from the French word monsieur –chefs who embraced the French cuisine in the homes of the well to do).

All of these Sicilian recipes of baked pasta mentioned above use short pasta shapes, a strong sugo and a variety of extras, for example – meatballs, salame, boiled eggs, eggplant and cheese. These combinations of various ingredients could also just as likely be called a Pasticcio (Greek Pastitsio) from pastiche – mixed styles, a mess. The names and combinations of ingredients are explicable as they fit with the cultural and culinary history of Sicily that was settled by various cultures – Greeks, Arabs, French, Spaniards.

In the more comprehensive collection of regional Italian recipe texts there are a couple of recipes that are referred to as Lasagne but they are made with lasagnette – narrow strips of pasta larger than fettucine; some types of lasagnette have curly edges.

And then there are recipes for Lagane/Laine, the traditional wide pasta strips  in Basilicata, Campania, Calabria and Puglia. It is traditionally served with legumes, mainly chick peas.

In my more modern Italian texts there are very few Lasagne recipes, but there are a few that are the Open Lasagne/ Lasagne deconstructed, i.e. the layers are constructed on the plate and and are not baked. Obviously the traditional Lasagna was out of favour.

My research tells me that in America, Lasagna is the more common usage, but in the UK the preferred usage is Lasagne. Once again I checked my books/web resources and this appeared to be true.

I also found it interesting that some references indicated that In Northern Italy the most common lexicon is Lasagne and in Southern Italy the preferred usage is Lasagna, but not so, the books/web resources I used did not reflect this. Although, every time I found the baked pasta from Napoli (in southern Italy), it was always called Lasagna, but one reference/example cannot apply to all of southern Italy.

After all of this (I am a sucker for punishment, it took me several days to research it), I can assume that the two forms are both still used and are equally correct. The terminology, whether in speech or in writing refers equivalently to the same thing:

Lasagna or Lasagne are both acceptable alternatives.

Lasagna al radicchio

*Cooked radicchio is much more intensely bitter than fresh radicchio. If you do not like bitter tastes don’t make this Lasagna.

The béchamel sweetens the taste and this is why I also used Ricotta. Nutmeg, for me, always adds a delicate sweetness to the taste, especially when used with milk.

I can only buy the round Radicchio at the Queen Victoria Market (Chioggia) and this is what I have used. Trevisano or Tardivo radicchio is used in Italy, both have narrow long leaves. All three are red radicchi (plural of radicchio).

I used a commercial pasta this time.

250 g lasagne. (9oz) fresh or dried

1 onion, chopped

2 -3 heads of radicchio,  cut into quarters and then sliced thickly

150g grated Parmesan and 350g of ricotta

Salt and black pepper to taste

4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and 3 tbs butter

100ml white wine

a few fresh bay leaves

For the béchamel:

110g butter

80 g corn flour

1litre whole milk milk, approx. 4 full cups (have some more on hand just in case the béchamel becomes too thick

 a little nutmeg, grated

Cook the radicchio

In a large frying pan, heat the extra virgin olive oil and butter, sauté the onion until it begins to soften. Add the radicchio and bay leaves and cook for about 10 minutes over gentle heat. Add salt and pepper and wine and evaporate the liquid. If there is too much liquid in the pan use tongs to pull out the radicchio and evaporate the wine further. (I like the taste of wine and therefore am prepared to use this process). Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Make the béchamel (white sauce)

Heat the milk but do not boil. Put the butter in a pan over a low heat, melt it, add the flour and mix until it forms a thick paste (roux). Remove it from the heat and slowly add the milk stirring continuously. Try to prevent lumps. Place the pan on heat and keep stirring constantly until it starts to thicken. It will take about 5 mins. If it is too thick add more milk (cold is fine as you won’t need much). Add grated nutmeg, add some salt. You may wish to taste it especially if you have used salted butter.

Pasta

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water. You may wish to cook half of the sheets per time to keep them from sticking together. Cook them till just before they are at the al dente stage as you will be baking them. Drain them and plunge them into cold water so that they do not stick together.

To Assemble

Begin the layering process in a baking tray.

Select a baking pan that will accomodate the contents. I played around with the baking trys i have and decided on one that was:  35x 25x 7 cm. Aim for 3 layers:  a little béchamel, a layer of pasta, radicchio, distribute some grated cheese, ricotta in small pieces. Begin again with the pasta, radicchio etc. Finish with a pasta layer and top with a little bechamel, some grated cheese and ricotta in small pieces. Grate more nutmeg on top.

Bake at 200°c degrees.

Cook for the first 20-25 mins covered with foil. Remove the foil and continue cooking for another 10 mins uncovered until the top is crisp, bubbly and golden on top). Remove from the oven, allow to rest for about 10 mins and serve.

COOKED RADICCHIO

RISOTTO AL RADICCHIO ROSSO

EMIGLIA ROMAGNA and their love of stuffed pasta

MONTALBANO’S FAVOURITE DISHES

 

TORTA PASQUALINA?

I would not blame you if you thought that Torta Pasqualina could be a cake called Pasqualina or made by a woman called Pasqualina.

But a torta in Italian isn’t just the word for a torte or cake that’s associated with a dessert, it can also be used to describe a tart or a pie.

A torta is very often baked with a pastry shell and can be filled with sweet ingredients, but however, it is more likely to be filled with savory ingredients and mainly with vegetables. Sometimes to differentiate a savoury pastry/ torta from the sweet it is called a salty torta – torta salata. The torta may have an enclosed pastry lid or it may have a lattice top pastry covering. A small torta is called a tortino.

Now that I have the torta issue, I am going to introduce you to another complication. Tarts in Italy are also called crostata . Think of a jam tart – crostata di marmellata (jam in Italian) or an apple tart. This tart consists of a filling over a pastry base with an open top or covered with a pastry latticed top. Crostata is the Italian word, and galette is the French.

I usually think of a torta as having a more substantial filling than a crostata. Picture the huge ornate pies served during the Renaissance banquets, that could be filled with live birds, hares and other creatures. Remember the nursery rhyme about four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie? Once the live creatures were released and the entertainment was over, there was an edible torta encased at the bottom that the guests feasted on.

There are even more different names for baked pastry relating to particular Italian regions, each with their own food culture and titles for particular dishes. And within each region there would be local variations both of the dish but also the local name of that particular dish. For example, I am familiar with the particular covered pastries in Sicily that are called impanate. An impanata is a wrapper of dough that contains a lamb meat filling. It is popular during Easter (Easter spring lamb). The Impanata is especially popular at Easter in Ragusa, an Iblean city in Southern Sicily, where my relatives live.

Sicily had Arab settlers and later French and Spaniards. These cultures have meat and/or vegetable filled pastries. Think empanadas (South American /Spanish speaking countries) and pastilla or bastilla (Morocco and countries with Arab influences) and the fine pastry made by the French. The Sicilians used the term monsù cuisine for a fusion of refined French food with agriculturally-based Sicilian produce and recipes. Monsù is derived from the word monsieur – a French or French-trained male cook employed in the homes of the wealthy in Sicily (and southern Italy) during the 18th and early 19th centuries.

There are more savoury pastries in Ragusa. My relatives make and eat Scacce for Easter. A Scaccia consists of two or more layers of leavened dough around a filling – vegetables, especially eggplant and tomato and ricotta and sausage.

By now you may have guessed that Pasqua means Easter, so a Torta Pasqualina is an Easter pie. It is also a Torta di Verdura/Verdure (vegetable/vegetables). There are many variations of these torte cooked all over Italy. They are usually made with a variety of green leafy vegetables – spinach, cavolo nero, endives, chicory etc. The vegetables are braised first and then bound with eggs. Some may have a little cheese, placed into a pastry base and fully or partially covered with pastry. All these pies are very regional and with variations. The Torta Pasqualina is a variation of a Torta di Verdure that comes from Liguria. Genova is in Liguria and some call the Torta Pasqualina, a Torta Pasqualina Genovese.

This regional specialty differs from the usual Torta di Verdure because apart from containing eggs to bind the vegetable filling there are also whole eggs (or whole egg yolks) embedded in the centre of the filling and baked inside the pie. Torta Pasqualina becomes more spectacular than a Torta di Verdure and sometimes even more so when the ricotta that is part of the filling is placed in a layer on top of the green vegetables rather than being mixed in with the greens. The greater visual display is due to the eggs embedded in the white ricotta layer. When the pie is cut you will see the egg sliced through the middle. It is after all Pasqua, a festive occasion.

The original recipe for Torta Pasqualina contained artichokes with or without green leafy vegetables – silverbeet/chard, spinach. The pie is now usually made with puff pastry made with extra virgin olive oil or a mixture of butter and oil. In the past it was made with thirty-three sheets of very thin pastry, one for every year of Christ’s life. Many recipes divide the dough into seven pieces and roll it into seven layers, each layer coated with oil before the next layer is placed on top. Usually there are four layers on the bottom (needs to be thicker than the top to hold the filling) and three on top. You could try using Phyllo pastry, but I would use more than seven layers of pastry especially if the filling is substantial.

What I particularly like in the Torta Pasqualina is the use of sweet marjoram, a herb that is quite common in Liguria, especially in Genova. Nutmeg compliments ricotta and spinach, so add this as well. I have seen many recipes that do not use either marjoram or nutmeg and I dismiss those recipes.

I usually don’t weigh ingredients when I cook but if you use the following quantities for a base and pastry, you will be OK.

It will not matter if you make the pastry before the filling. Thy both can be made in advance and rest.

The filling:

1kg of silverbeet/chard/ spinach green leafy vegetables – washed cut into small bits and well drained as you don’t want too much moisture when sauté them.

8 eggs – 2 to bind the greens and 6 to place inside for a visual effect chopped sweet marjoram – to taste but is like it and use about 8 sprigs one onion and a little garlic to taste – all finely sliced/chopped.

80g grated parmesan

700g of ricotta (not from a tub)

salt, pepper, a little nutmeg

extra virgin olive oil (½ cup) and a good sized lump of butter to braise the greens – I am always generous but you don’t have to be.

Cooking the filling:

Sauté the onions and garlic, add the greens and marjoram, some salt and pepper and braise them until they wilt – 15 – 20mins

Make sure that they are not wet or the pastry will be soggy. Either evaporate the liquid while cooking the greens or drain the vegetables and then evaporate the liquid.

Leave to cool.

When ready to assemble the pie combine the vegetables with ricotta, two eggs,  nutmeg and parmesan. Check the seasoning.

For the pastry:

I like to make my own pastry, but you may prefer to use a commercial variety. I also enjoy using my fingers, however food processors work well.

In this recipe I have used standard cup measurements and approximate weight, but let your intuition guide you and vary the amounts as needed. Different flours will absorb differing amounts of liquid I have estimated the approximate amount of water which could be used. Pastry making is also influenced by the weather, use cold water, and rinse your hands to cool them under the cold-water tap and keep the pastry in a cool place when you allow it to rest.

The pastry should be compact and may not need any extra liquid, but if you feel that you will not be able to roll it out, add more oil or a little water.

400g/3 cups and 1 tbsp ’extra.

quarter teaspoon of salt, to taste

4 tablespoons good quality virgin olive oil plus a few tablespoons for  glossing the top of the torta

half a glass of water

Process:

Sieve the flour into a big bowl and mix in the salt.

Make a well in the flour and add the oil and cold water gradually.

Stir till the pastry comes together (adding a little more liquid or flour depending on which is necessary).

Knead very quickly to make a light elastic ball of dough but don’t overwork.

Cover in clingfilm and let it rest half an hour in the fridge.

I also have satisfactory results with the recipe for Pasta Frolla Fatta Con Olio (Short pastry made with oil). This is a much richer pastry and it contains eggs. Link is at the bottom of this post.

Assembling the pie:

I like to sprinkle some breadcrumbs (fresh bread is OK) to help absorb some of the moisture from the vegetables.

Cover the pastry base with the filling. Dig 6 holes in the freshly placed filling at equal distances from each other, crack an egg into each hole and on each yolk add a pinch of salt and a dollop of butter.

Gently fold the edges of the pastry and seal the pie. Paint the top of the pie with oil (or some beaten egg). Score a pattern on the top of the pie with a sharp knife. You could also consider placing a mark on the pastry where the eggs are embedded so that when you cut the pie you will be successful in cutting through the baked egg.

Cook at 180° degrees for about an hour.

The pie is either eaten warm or cold. It makes fabulous picnic food., perhaps on Pasquetta – literally “little Easter,” but is taken to mean Easter Monday.

***The link below is for a Torta di Verdura with a mix of green leafy vegetables. It also has  the recipe for the short pastry.

TORTA DI VERDURA (A vegetable flan or pie)

SCACCE (focaccia-like stuffed bread)

‘MPANATA (A lamb pie, Easter treat)

 

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.

TRADITIONAL FOOD – Festive Season

It is far too late to write about traditional recipes for the upcoming festive season.

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 a Sicilian Cassata., made with ricotta.

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 part of the 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?

In the 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 wit 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 large 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