Category Archives: Sicilian

SENAPE, a new type of mustard green vegetable

The Italian word senape, is mustard in English, therefore it is very appropriate that this green, leafy vegetable is called Senape.

A few weeks ago I bought one bunch from Il Fruttivendelo, Gus and Carmel’s stall in A shed at the Queen Victoria Market. Unfortunately, they have not been able to source any since.

I did some research and apparently – sinapis arvensis grows wild and around Ragusa in Sicily where my father’s relatives live. More research tells me that these leafy, mustard greens are also common around Etna and the Madonie Mountains.

I  remembered that I encountered Senape (also called Sanapu and Sinàpi) in the Market in Syracuse in 2007 and now realise that I also have a photograph of this wild green in my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking.

The bunch I purchased at the Queen Victoria Market is obviously the cultivated variety of Senape and it tastes very much like one other mustard tasting, leafy green of the Brassica tribe, Cime di rapa (broccoli raab, also known as rapini),

Recently, I was away camping for a couple of weeks and i do enjoy forging. apart from wild lettuce I picked two varieties of wild Brassicas. One variety, I am quite familiar with and I have written about this one many times; it looks and tastes like canola plants, the wild version. I notice that several Australian references call them ‘Wild Cabbage’. Sicilians may call them amareddi or cavuliceddi, rapudda, rapuzza, sanapuddhi and many more local terms.

The photo below demonstrates how in this plant’s advanced stage this variety looks so much like broccolini.

The other variety of wild green I foraged had an intense, fiery mustard taste with a hint of bitterness (photos below).

They tasted fabulous and after some research I think that in Australia these are referred to as ‘Mustard Greens’ and they could be related to the cultivated Indian mustard plant.

Both types have tiny, yellow flowers and unopened buds, similar to the distinctive flowers in broccoli heads,  the same as the Cime di rapa, or the bunch of Senape that I hope to be able to purchase again.

In the wild I foraged and collected the tips – the soft leaves and flowers of both of these wild plants.

In some places  there were plenty around and I made the most of them.

I cooked one harvest with Italian pork sausages and pasta, other yields with cannellini beans and plenty of shaved pecorino and another pasta dish with anchovies and feta.

It is a common practice to cook Cime di rapa or wild greens from the Brassica family by boiling them in plenty of salted water and once cooked they are drained before sautéing in the oil, garlic and chilli. I always omit the pre-cooking  phase and sauté the greens directly with the flavourings.

One disadvantage perhaps of not boiling the greens first is that I cannot use the drained water from the greens to cook the pasta, this being popular with Sicilian cooks. The pasta takes on a green hue and some of the flavour of the vegetables, but I prefer sautéed greens that still have some bite in them.

I cooked the bunch of the  Senape (about 500 gr) I bought from the QVM with ossocollo (smallgoods/cured pork neck), 3 cloves of chopped garlic, about 4 tbs extra virgin olive oil, salt and chilli flakes (or use fresh chilli). Speck or pancetta is also a good substitute for ossocollo, I chose this because I had some in my fridge.

Unlike the preferred quantity of 100g of pasta for each person, I think that 300g of pasta is sufficient for 4 people, however you may disagree.

Clean the green vegetables.

Fry the garlic and chilli, add the ossocollo and leave to  lightly brown in a pan.

Add the Senape and sauté it. I added some salt, a splash of white wine, put the lid on and cooked it till I was satisfied with the degree of done-ness.

Dress the drained pasta. I always like to drizzle some fresh extra virgin olive oil on the finished dish to add fragrance and accentuate the taste.

No grated Parmesan on pasta in Sicily, leave that to the northern Italians!

Parmesan can only be called Parmesan if produced in the neighbouring historical regions of Parma and Reggio (in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna). It is given the DOP label by the European Union (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta/Protected Designation of Origin). The DOP label guarantees that the product is “authentic,” or made in the original town or region with proper ingredients and process.

Use Pecorino, a strong-tasting alternative for a strong tasting dish. Pecorino is made from sheep’s milk and  Pecorino cheeses that have DOP protection are the Pecorino from Sardinia, Lazio and the Tuscan Province of Grosseto and Pecorino Toscano from Tuscany, and from Sicily.

Other Posts about wild greens:

EDIBLE WEEDS: Orecchiette e Broccoletti Selvatici (and cime di rape)

SICILIAN EDIBLE WEEDS and Greek VLITA

CIME DI RAPE (or Rapa) with pasta, anchovies and lemon peel

ONE OF MY FAVOURITE VEGETABLES ; Cime di Rape

PESCE SALATO in SIcilia (Salted Fish in Sicily)and BOTTARGA revisited

I always look forward to Richard Cornish’s Brain Food column on Tuesdays in The Age. For his first article this year he has kicked off with Bottarga (January 25 issue).

What a great start!

He says that we love bottarga because it has the power to enrich and enhance dishes, much the same way as Parmesan cheese  improves pasta and jamon makes everything more delicious.  I always think of anchovies and how widely they are used not just in Sicilian cooking but in Italian cooking  generally an dhow much they enrich the taste of many dishes.

The bottarga that Richard is writing about is Bottarga di Muggine:  ‘the salted, processed and sun-dried mullet roe that is pale orange to yellow in colour.”

Having roots in Sicily, I am more accustomed with Bottarga di Tonno, made from tuna. In comparison to the mullet roe,  bottarga  from tuna can be darker in colour and more pungent in taste.

I bought this  lump of bottarga (in the photo below) from Enoteca Sileno in Melbourne. Mullet bottarga is easier to find.

In Sicily bottarga has been used for millennia and is only one of many parts of the tuna that are salted.

Many years ago, when bottarga would have been next to impossible to purchase in Australia, I purchased many packets of plastic wrapped bottarga  and various salted parts or the tuna from a vendor in the Market in Syracuse who specialised in salted and dried fish. I brought them back to Australia in my suitcase. I declared them, but because they were sealed securely  I was cleared through customs.

In my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking, I begin the section of the book PESCE SALATO (Salted Fish) by saying:

Salted fish has been greatly valued and an important industry in Sicily. During medieval times the standard Lenten diet was based on pulses and dried salted fish. Still popular in Sicily, salted fish were popular with the ancient Romans. Anchovies, which still flavour many dishes, probably replaced the gurum used widely by ancient Romans.

Gurum was made by crushing and fermenting fish innards. It was very popular during Roman times, an import from the Greeks. It was a seasoning preferred to salt and added to other ingredients like vinegar, wine, oil and pepper to make a condiment used for meat, fish and vegetables – much like the fish sauce used in some Asian cuisines.

Two early cookery books, The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery Book by Martino of Como and On Right Pleasure and Good Health by Platina, praise the taste and quality of salted tuna (particularly the middle section of tuna called tarantellum or terantello). Salted tuna (sometimes called mosciam in Sicily) was introduced by the Arabs (who called it muscamma) in about the 10th century. It has firm, deep red-brown flesh that needs only paper-thin slicing and is mainly eaten softened in oil with a sprinkling of lemon juice.

Salted tuna is also produced in southern Spain; they refer to it as air-dried tuna or sun-dried tuna and Mojama tuna.

Bottarga (called buttarica or buttarga in Sicilian) are the eggs in the ovary sacs of female tuna. These are pressed into a solid mass, salted and processed. The name bottarga is thought to have evolved from the Arabic buarikh or butarah – raw fish eggs, once made made by dipping the sac in beeswax and leaving it to dry. Making bottarga is a much more complicated process now and is only produced in Favignana. It is grated to flavour dishes, or sliced finely and eaten as an antipasto.

I have eaten bottarga mainly grated over pasta dishes and eggplant caponata, but in Syracuse I enjoyed baked eggplant stuffed with seafood and topped with grated bottarga.

Richard Cornish says :

‘Grated bottarga is sensational over buttered pasta. You need nothing other than a glass of wine to complete the dish. Try it grated over spaghetti with tomatoes and a little chilli, or on hot flatbread drizzled with oil as an aperitivo. Make a delicious salad of finely sliced fennel and radicchio topped with bottarga. Grate bottarga into aioli to make a dressing for a Caesar salad. Make softly scrambled eggs, grate over 50g of bottarga and enjoy on hot buttered sourdough’.

Sounds good and I am looking forward to trying some of these.

I have a post on my blog  for  the recipe:

PASTA CON BOTTARGA ( Pasta with Grated Bottarga)

PASTA ALLA NORMA and a variation (Pasta with tomato salsa and fried eggplants; and currants, anchovies and bottarga) …photo, as eaten on the coast near Agrigento.

GELO DI MELONE, a simple summer, Sicilian dessert

Gelo Di Melone  is pureed watermelon thickened with a little corn flour or rice flour with the addition of  some rose water, vanilla and a little sugar.  Once made and poured into the mould to set,  I add little jewels  of colour and flavours on top –  chopped dark chocolate, candied citron and roasted pistachio nuts. This is the basic, traditional recipe. Arab influenced?  Except for the chocolate, I think so.

But chocolate is also made in Sicily and those who have been to Modica  may be familiar with the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto where chocolate is made using the original methods in the style of the Aztecs and brought by the Spaniards in the 16th century – the Spaniards ruled Sicily at various times and foods from the “New World” (including cocoa beans) were introduced.

Gelo Di Melone is very simple to make, but it takes time to get the flavours right. Why?

The answer is simple. It all depends on the flavour of the melone (watermelon).

The puree is thickened with a little flour and stirred on heat like a custard. This time I used rice flour and I stirred it through a little melon puree to make sure it was not lumpy.

Add a little rosewater, vanilla essence and a little sugar, but then you have to taste it. Is it sweet enough? Does it need more rosewater? Shall I add a little lemon juice to lift the flavour?

Once you have decided that you like the taste, you could then experiment with the recipe.  For example I like to add roasted almonds through the thickened mix, a little cinnamon can also be good and if I have run out of citron peel, good quality orange peel does the trick.

On occasions instead of rosewater I have used  rose liqueur or violet liqueur. This is strictly not the traditional recipe, but if I am not making it for Sicilians I feel comfortable to experiment. And I have fun doing it.

I prefer to present the Gelo di Melone in little glass bowls, however, it doesn’t look bad in a large bowl and it takes up less room in the fridge.

The black bowl below is made of glass.

Once decorated they taste and look even more stunning.

RECIPES:

GELO DI MELONE (Jellied watermelon)

GELO DI LIMONE (Sicilian Jellied Lemon)

MODICA and HONEY and Sicilian biscuits called nucatuli

ARABS IN SICILY, some sweets, petrafennula

PETRAFENNULA also called PETRAMENNULA, a Sicilian sweet with possible Arabic origins

MAKING RICOTTA, Paneer or curd cheese

I think I have fallen in love with rich Jersey milk.

It is so easy to make the curds  to make ricotta.

All it takes is full cream milk and some lemon juice. The only other things you’ll need are a slotted spoon and a colander lined with cheese cloth (muslin) to strain the curds.

You may have a ricotta basket handy – if you buy ricotta it is often sold in a plastic basket and you can use it to drain the curds and shape the ricotta.

A slotted spoon will be handy to gently scoop out the curds.

Making ricotta is very simple.

I used 3 litres of milk, two lemons and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Bring the milk almost to a simmer on medium heat, add some salt and wait till little bubbles form close to the edge of the pot before you add the lemon juice; stir it in gently. The milk should separate into clumps of curds, and the whey will be thin and watery. If not enough of the milk has separated, reheat it and add a little bit more lemon juice and once again stir it gently. Once it has separated leave it undisturbed for about 10  minutes; stirring will make the curds dense.

Gently scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon – do not pour – into a large ricotta basket or a colander lined with cheese cloth that you have placed over a bowl to catch the whey.

A culinary specialty and a way of serving ricotta in Sicily (especially in the Ragusa region) is to ladle the curds with the whey into a bowl and to eat it with a spoon and bread.

** See post, A visit to Massaro,  link below.

How long you let the curds drain or how firmly you press them down will determine how solid the curds will be. If the curds are too solid you may need some whey to mix back into the curds. But if you think of how many recipes suggest that you drain the ricotta before using it for making cannoli, cassata, frittata, ravioli, baked ricotta, ricotta salata, scacce,  having firm ricotta is advantageous.

There are many recipes using ricotta on my blog that can easily be found by using the search button.

Traditionally, ricotta is made by heating the left-over whey from other cheese-making. The curds are worked to make and shape cheeses like mozzarella, trecce, fior di latte, bocconcini, and reheating the whey produces the fine-grained curd that traditionally makes ricotta – ri-cotta, translated as re-cooked/twice cooked. Usually more rich milk is added to the whey to make a full cream ricotta.

The curds can also be formed to make quark, cottage cheese and paneer. When I make paneer I do not add salt to the milk and I drain the curds or press them for longer.

however, the three links below are about making ricotta. The photo above is how ricotta is shaped and sold in Sicily .

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

RICOTTA how to make it (using rennet)

RICOTTA and FRIED PEPPERS (Peperoni fritti). The Butter Factory at Myrtleford

The whey has many uses especially for baking. My partner bakes bread, flatbreads and cracker biscuits). I have not yet used whey for marinating meat, but I do braise pork in milk – a Bolognese specialty. The milk separates and forms a caramel when heated slowly at a low temperature for a few hours. I will write a recipe for this in my next post.

 

PASTA e FAVE (Pasta with broad beans – a wet or dry pasta dish)

Pasta e fave (broad beans) is a spring-time, Italian, rustic dish.

There are many Italian, regional combinations of pasta e fave, some add chicory or wild fennel, or tomatoes. Guanciale is an Italian cured meat made from pork’s cheek (guancia – cheek) and it is also a favourite flavouring. Thick bacon can be substituted, but somehow this is not produce I associate with  fresh spring  flavours and I always omit it. In keeping with the theme of spring, on this occasion I added a couple of zucchini. Fresh mint leaves can be added  at the time of serving the pasta.

Peas are also in season in spring and the same dish can be prepared with peas or a combination of broad beans and peas.

Depending on which part of Italy you favour, you can add Pecorino or Parmigiano, but once again, I prefer to keep the taste “clean” and the drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, fresh mint and freshly ground black pepper is enough for me.

Short to medium sized pasta that is suitable for zuppa or minestra (soup) is used in this dish and the pasta can be presented with the broad beans, served either wet or dry. You can choose whether to obtain a rather dry or slightly brothy dish – I always like it wet, just as I like a wet pasta e fagioli (borlotti beans).

I like to cook my pasta in with the beans, however, the pasta can be cooked separately, drained and then added to the beans. If this is your preferred method, cook the broad beans for 20-30 minutes, until soft, cook the pasta until al dente, then drain and dress the pasta with the broad beans and the broth.

1.5 kg fresh broad beans

2 spring onions
1 or 2 fresh garlic cloves
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and to taste pepper to taste
2 zucchini (optional)
chopped parsley
1 litre or more of chicken or vegetable broth (or water)
short pasta, a couple of handfuls or more, depending on how much pasta you prefer
your best and fruitiest, extra virgin olive oil to drizzle on top

Heat extra virgin olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic.
Add the shelled beans, zucchini and parsley and sauté briefly. Add broth, season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes. Make sure that the liquid is boiling  before adding the pasta. Add more hot broth or water if needed.

When the pasta is , turn off the heat and serve, but remember to drizzle your best extra virgin olive oil on top….it will be very fragrant!

Add more black pepper and/or fresh mint leaves when serving.

Grated cheese is optional.

Other Recipes with broad beans:

FAVE ( Broad beans)

Two Sicilian favourites:

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

FRITTEDDA (A sauté of spring vegetables)

And for those of you in the Northern hemisphere, a Sicilian specialty:

MACCU (a thick, broad bean soup, made at the end of winter to celebrate spring)

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 (cavolfiore 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!!!