I was at the Alphington Melbourne Farmers’ Market yesterday and found these beauties at the Sennsational berries stall.
It is not often that one finds such mature lemons. And what to do with large lemons?
Make a Sicilian salad like my father used to make (he grew up in Ragusa, Sicily before relocating to Trieste). I did wonder if it was a cedro rather than a lemon, but was told it was a lemon and it tasted like one.
I removed the skin and squeezed out some of the juice….this lemon was certainly juicy and the salad should not be too acidic.
This salad likes fresh garlic and I still had some in the fridge that I had bought the week before from the same market, however this time I bought some garlic shoots, added fresh mint, a little parsley and some of the fresh oregano I have growing on my balcony. This oregano plant came from my father’s garden in Adelaide. He died years ago.
The last time I bought garlic shoots was earlier this year when I was in the Maremma, Tuscany.
In our Airbnb in Castiglione della Pescaia I cooked them with zucchini and zucchini flowers as a dressing for Pici, the local pasta shape in Tuscany.
Back to the lemon salad in Melbourne, Australia:
Some good extra virgin olive oil and salt are a must. The salt brings out the sweetness of the lemon.
So, so good for summer. Think about it accompanying some seafood…BBQ fish? Very good. I took it to my friends place and we had it with a simple roast chicken, a succulent free range chicken.
I have written about lemon salad before. That post also explains what is a cedro and has a photo of a cedro from a Sicilian market.
This pork was simply and quickly cooked but delicious. The meat was tender and flavourful.
This Berkshire pork comes from Brooklands Free Range Farms in Blamfield, in the central highlands of Victoria.
If you live in Victoria, the pork is sold in some of Farmers Markets – see list on the photo below, it is on the back of their business card.
I used sage, thyme and juniper berries, northern Italian flavours. There are a couple of Sicilian recipes at the end of this post.
When I use juniper berries I like to deglaze the pan either with dry vermouth or gin rather than white wine. Juniper berries are a spice used in a wide variety of culinary dishes and best known for the primary flavouring in gin – you will not need much and it will enhance the taste of the sauce.
A little extra virgin olive oil at the bottom of a frypan, put in the meat, a little salt, herbs and some juniper berries. I used about 8. And look how lean and pink the pork is!
Turn them over when they are coloured on one side, cover and cook on low heat for about 6 minutes.
Turn again, deglaze. Turn off heat, rest for a few minutes before serving.
Thank you Brooklands Free Range Farms for producing top quality produce and what i particularly like is that these pigs not only frolic on rich volcanic soils but that other local producers contribute to feeding these pigs- local grain, vegetables and whey. The pigs also eat seasonal acorns…very European.
Andrea Calogero Camilleri, a Sicilian director and author, born 6 September 1925; died 17 July 2019.
The entire nation is in mourning: RAI 1 news, the state broadcaster, dedicated 80 per cent of its time slot to this news; writers, intellectuals and the highest representatives of the Italian state have expressed their condolences. Even his arch-enemy, Matteo Salvini, minister of the interior and leader of the xenophobic Northern League party — with whom Camilleri had several heated exchanges over the years — has paid tribute to the popular Sicilian writer.
The paragraph above is from an article published in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald on July 20. It is written by Barbara Pezzotti, a lecturer in Italian Studies at Monash University. She is the author of three monographs dedicated to Italian crime fiction and has extensively published on Andrea Camilleri.
Camilleri perhaps is best known for his Montalbano novels and has become one of the most-loved crime fiction writers in the world. Camilleri’s books have been published worldwide and translated into 32 languages, including Catalan and Gaelic. The highly successful TV series, inspired by Montalbano’s books became an international success and was broadcast in Australia by SBS. I am sure that the scenes of beautiful Sicily in the series have encouraged many travellers.
There have been many items from around the world in praise of Camilleri and the character Inspector Montalbano, who not only fight the Mafia and solves crimes is also a lover of good food and when Andrea Camilleri died last week, one of my relatives in Ragusa, Sicily sent me an article from Ragusa News, an on-line publication that covers news and interest stories from the Ragusa Province and nearby towns – Vittoria, Modica, Comiso, Scicli, Pozzallo and Ispica.
The article is called Domenica a pranzo onoriamo Camilleri con la pasta ‘Ncasciata (On Sunday for lunch let us honour Camilleri with pasta Ncasciata).
Sunday lunch is still an important family occasion in Sicily and pasta ‘Ncasciata is an Sicilian, oven baked pasta dish and one of Montalbano’s favorite things to eat. It is prepared for him by his housekeeper, Adelina. (Place above is where Montalbano lives in the TV series.
Camilleri in his Montalbano series of books describes almost every dish Montalbano eats. And every dish is traditionally Sicilian.
There are many versions of pasta ‘Ncasciata in Sicily, with different combinations of ingredients but the most noteworthy one is from Messina and the recipe in this article appears to be the Messinese version and is made with commercial, short shaped pasta in layers dressed with tomato meat sauce, mortadella or salami, fried eggplant, caciocavallo cheese, salami and hardboiled eggs. Although I have eaten pasta ‘Ncasciata, I have never liked the sound of this dish and have never made it.
Apart from Pasta ‘Ncasciata, Montalbano has other favourites and obviously I like them too as I have written them in my blog and my first book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking.
Looking at my stats for that post indicates that the interest for cooking rabbit must be fashionable at the moment. Is it because we are close to Easter and some in Australia consider rabbit to be a suitable Easter dish?
Chicken recipes seem also to be popular at Easter.
Not so in Italy.
If Italians are going to cook at home, they are more likely to cook spring produce – lamb or kid, artichokes, spring greens and ricotta is at its best.
If you live in Ragusa, Sicily, you are more likely to have a casual affair with family and friends and eat scacce or impanate – vegetables or vegetables and meat wrapped in oil pastry (see links at bottom of this post).
This is a common Italian saying that seems appropriate for Australia as well. Natalie con I tuoi, Pasqua con chi voi.
Christmas with yours (meaning family) and Easter with whom ever you choose.
There are several recipes for cooking rabbit and hare on my blog. There are also recipes for cooking chicken and I have chosen to list the chicken recipes that would be suitable to cook as chicken or to substitute the chicken with rabbit. If you are substituting rabbit for a chicken recipe, cook it for longer and you may need to add more liquid during the cooking process.
Just a quick post about this easy to make Sicilian soup…..if you can get the ingredients. It is easy if you have a friend called Mariana whose father grows tenerumi in his garden.
It is a summer dish and red tomatoes, a little garlic (optional) and basil are also added ingredients. Broken spaghetti are used to thicken the soup…when in Sicily you are unlikely to eat soup without pasta.
There was no zuccalunga but I had a few zucchini and the soup tasted just fine.
You take the long, hard curly tendrils off and use the soft tendrils and soft leaves.
zuccalunga (or zuccaserpente) is a long, pale green marrow. The tendrils and green leaves are from this plant.
There are the greens boiling away. Add a little salt and the broken spaghetti.
The tomatoes are fried and softened in a little extra virgin olive oil with some garlic and basil – it is just tomato salsa and the tomatoes are left cut in half.
Add the tomato mixture on top of the pasta. Drizzle on some good extra virgin olive oil, more basil leaves and some chilli flakes if this is your want.
You will find more photos (including the zucca lunga) and information about this recipe and ingredients on previous posts:
I am writing this post for a friend to demonstrate that making caponata is not difficult and I have therefore included many photos.
In my first book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking I have written a whole chapter about making various caponate (plural). This one is Catanese, as made in Catania, and the main ingredients are eggplants and peppers, but there are other caponate where the main ingredients are either eggplants or pumpkin or potato or celery (called Christmas caponata). I have also made a fennel caponata.
All caponate need to be made at least one day before to let the flavours develop. Caponate are eaten at room temperature.
Caponata Catanese is made with eggplants, peppers, celery, onions, chopped green olives and capers. A little sugar, vinegar and a splash of passata are used to make the agro- dolce sauce. Toasted pine nuts (or almonds) and fresh basil make good decoration and add extra taste. Caponata Palermitana, from Palermo, does not include peppers. I used roughly 1 kilo of eggplants and 1 kilo of peppers, 3 sticks of celery (pale green from near the centre), 1 onion. I used about 125g of capers and about the same amounts of chopped green olives. A true Sicilian making caponata would never weigh ingredients and may at times use more eggplants than peppers; these are rough amounts as a guide to illustrate ratios of ingredients. Always use extra virgin olive oil and as much as needed to prevent the ingredients sticking; access oil can always be drained off but bread makes a fine accompaniment to all caponate and the oil is particularly flavourful.
Each vegetable is fried separately but I usually combine the celery and the onion at the same time. the vegetables have different rates of cooking and you want to preserve the individual flavours as much as possible.
A frypan with a heavy base is good to use. I am making large quantities this time to take to a gathering so I am using my heavy wok (Le Creuset).
Fry the eggplants in some extra olive oil and add a little salt. Drain the eggplant in a colander with a container underneath to collect any oil. In the same pan add some new oil and the oil that you have drained from the eggplants. Fy the peppers and add a little salt. Drain them as you did the eggplants, collect the oil and add this to some new oil in the same pan.
Fry the celery and the onion.
When they have softened but the celery still has some crunch add the green olives and capers. Salt may not be necessary for this component of the dish.
Make a small depression in the centre of the vegetables and add about a flat tablespoon of sugar – this varies, some add more, some add less. Melt the sugar (caramelise it) and then add about 3 tablespoons of wine vinegar. Evaporate on high heat.
Add a splash of passata. Mix through the ingredients in the pan and cook it for a few minutes.
Incorporate all of the ingredients .
The caponata is now cooked. It needs to be placed in the fridge in a sealed container till you are ready to eat it and it will not suffer if it is made 3-4 days beforehand.
Decorate it with toasted pine nuts and fresh basil leaves when you are ready to present it.
There are other recipes on my blog for caponate made with different vegetables.
The Sicilian flavours are simple – grated lemon peel, lemon juice, anchovies, fresh mint and parsley.
Once you have pan fried one side of the fish, turn it over, top with the chopped herbs, anchovies cut into small pieces. Wait till the underside is cooked to your liking – do not overlook it as the fish will be flipped on the same side again for a very short time.
Turn the fish over once again and salt that side slightly and add lemon juice. Evaporate the lemon juice and it is done. The anchovies should have “melted” a bit.
A zucca in Italian can be an overgrown zucchino (singular) or a marrow, therefore to differentiate a pumpkin from a marrow a pumpkin is called a zucca gialla (yellow).
Not all Sicilian caponate are made with eggplants. For example there are celery, fennel, potato caponate and pumpkin can also be used as the main ingredient (Caponata di zucca gialla).
The principle for making any caponata is the same: onion, celery, X ingredient (eggplant or eggplant and peppers, fennel, potato etc.), capers, green olives, sometimes a splash of tomato puree, toasted pine nuts, or almonds and agrodolce – caramelised sugar and vinegar.
The ingredients a fried separately. Pumpkin first – sauté and then set aside.
Sauté onion and celery. Add olives and capers.
Add sugar, thenvinegar and salt to taste. Add the fried pumpkin and toasted almonds (or pine nuts).Let rest overnight or for at least half a day.
The other popular Sicilian way to cook pumpkin is also in an agrodolce sauce.
For this recipe, slices of pumpkin are also fried. I bake mine and it is not the traditional way of cooking it. The recipe book you can see in the background of the photo below is Sicilian Seafood Cooking – now out of print.
The recipe is called Fegato con sette cannoli. To see the recipe and find out why this recipe is called Liver with seven reeds:
An important ingredient for making Pasta con le sarde is wild fennel. The season for wild fennel has well and truly passed and all you will find at this time of year are stalky plants, yellow flowers/ seed pods and no green fronds.
What we call Florentine fennel is also going out of season and you will find for sale specimens with very small stunted bulbs. If you are lucky, your greengrocer may sell them with long stalks and fronds attached – perfect to use as a substitute for wild fennel and I certainly would not go near these stunted specimens otherwise.
Sardine fillets are easy to find. I use the paper that my fishmonger has wrapped the sardines to wipe dry the fish.
Remove the small dorsal spine from the fillets. Once again the paper comes in handy to wipe fishy fingers.
Prepare the ingredients:
Sardine fillets, chopped spring onions, the softer green fonds of the fennel, saffron soaking in a little water, currants soaking in a little water, fennel bulb cut finely, toasted pine nuts and chopped toasted almonds, salt and ground black pepper (or ground chili).
The preferred pasta shape are bucatini, but spaghetti or casarecce are good also.
You will also need some breadcrumbs (made from good quality day- old bread) toasted in a pan with a little oil. Add a bit of sugar, some cinnamon and grated lemon peel. toss it around in the pan so that the sugar melts and the flavours are mixed. This is the topping for the pasta. I have seen this referred to as pan grattato – this would not be my preferred tag – in Italian pan grattato is the term for plain breadcrumbs, but I accept that over time the terminology has evolved. The traditional Sicilian breadcrumb topping would not have had/ does not have the cinnamon or grated lemon peel.
The larger fennel fronds and stalks are used to flavour the water for the cooking of the pasta. Place them into salted cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for at least 10 minutes – you can leave the fennel in water as long as you like. The greenery can easily be fished out with tongs before the pasta goes into the boiling water to cook.
And then it is a very simple matter of cooking the ingredients.
Sauté the spring onion in some extra virgin olive oil. Add the fennel and chopped fronds and sauté them some more.
Depending on the quality of the fennel (degree of succulence) you may need to add a splash of water or white wine, cover it and continue to cook it for a few minutes more.
Add salt and pepper and put the sautéed vegetables aside.
Cook the pasta.
Fry the sardines in a little extra virgin olive oil – they will cook very quickly and begin to break up. Combine the sardines with the cooked fennel, add saffron and drained currants and mix to amalgamate the flavours. Add the almonds and pine nuts.
Dress the cooked pasta with the sardine sauce.
Put the dressed pasta in a serving platter and sprinkle liberally with the toasted breadcrumbs – these add flavour and crunch to the dish.
For a more conventional Sicilian Pasta con le Sarde:
Citrus fruit is grown extensively in Sicily and citrus groves are found throughout the island region. Apart from different types of oranges (including the blood oranges) there are mandarins, tangerines, lemons, cedri (citrons) and limette (Sicilian limes).
Sicily is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of citrus especially of lemons; the climate fosters a long, growing season and the harvesting of different varieties of lemons over three distinct periods in the year.
Lemons are extensively used in Sicilian cuisine – fresh lemon juice and the rind (or grated zest) are added to savoury or sweet dishes to balance and enhance flavours and even the leaves are often used in between pieces of meat or fish to add flavour.
Lemon juice is often used in marinates and to avoid discolouration of fresh fruit and vegetables (for example in fruit salads or when cleaning artichokes).
Lemons are used profusely for making drinks, liqueurs, essences, jams and marmalades. Candied or preserved peel is used significantly in Sicilian pastries and confectionary (for example in cassata and cannoli).
Used also and mostly in Sicilian pastries is cedro (citron). This citrus fruit grows in Sicily (and Calabria); the fruit is large and spherical with a thick wrinkled skin that turns from green to yellow during ripening. It has a strong fragrance and flavour, even stronger than lemons. The thick peel is candied and the fruit and peel is used to make a sweet paste also used in Sicilian patisserie.
Sicily benefits greatly from the production of lemons. Lemons have anti-bactericidal and antiseptic qualities; they are known for their therapeutic properties and are therefore beneficial in aromatherapy, pharmacology and medical and scientific applications. The essential oils are prominent in perfumes and the cosmetic industry. They are also widely used in cleaning products and citric acid (derived from lemons) is used extensively as a preservative.
The flowers and leaves are used for ornamental purposes. The white and pale violet blossoms have a strong and appealing scent and are often used in bride’s bouquets and inserted in button holes in men’s jackets at weddings.
When Sicilians (and other southern Italians) came to Australia, one of the first thing they planted was a lemon tree. Many are grafted to produce different types of lemons or different citrus.
You may be familiar with making Sicilian orange salads (especially with blood oranges), but you may not have considered enjoying a Sicilian lemon salad. I particularly like serving a lemon salad as an accompaniment to grilled fish, especially sardines. Last time I made one I presented it to accompany a meat terrine made with pork.
Use large, mature lemons – the larger, the more pith, the better. Many of the large lemons are more round in shape.
You will be amazed by the sweetness of the lemon in the salad. The use of salt will make the lemons taste sweeter (just like balsamic vinegar brings out the sweetness of strawberries).
Peel the skin off the lemons with a potato peeler, leaving as much pith as possible.
Cut the lemons in half and squeeze out some of the juice (otherwise the salad will be too acidic).
Cut the lemons into quarters and then into slices or manageable chunks (slices cut into four). Remove any pips.
Add finely chopped parsley or mint.
Dress with extra virgin olive oil, freshly ground pepper and salt.