I sent three recipes to SBS and this was one of them. All have been published on the website
One of my recipes, Sarde a beccafico was selected as part of the food series My Family Feast and cooked by Sean Connolly (chef). You can see it making it online during the broadcast of the series.
You cannot go to Sicily and not eat pasta con le sarde.There are many regional variations of pasta sauces made with sardines, all called by the same name, but the most famous is anancient, traditional dish from Palermo. The pasta can be eaten hot or cold (at room temperature).
I like the way Sicilians often skip between the sweet and savoury tastes – the sour and/or salty is often combined with the sweet and what makes this dish unique is the unusual combination of textures and strong fragrant tastes: the strong taste of the oily sardines, the cleansing flavour of the fennel, the sweetness of the raisins and the delicate aromatic taste of the pine nuts.
Pasta con le sarde is presented with toasted breadcrumbs as a topping, in the same way that grated cheese is used.
Originally the breadcrumbs may have been a substitute for cheese for the poor. In some versions of this dish the cooked ingredients are arranged in layers in a baking dish, topped with breadcrumbs and then baked – the breadcrumbs form a crust.
Unfortunately we are not able to buy bunches of wild fennel (finucchiu sarvaggiu in Sicilian) in Australia, but we do have the wild fennel that grows in neglected areas such as on the side of the road, vacant land and along banks of waterways. In Sicily it can be bought in small bunches. In Australia you will recognise it by its strong aniseed smell and taste, strong green colour and fine fern like fronds. I collect the soft, young shoots of this plant, recognised by their lighter colour. This fennel is unlike the Florentine fennel and has no bulb. Because of its strong smell and taste, animals and insects tend not to eat it, so it can be prolific. I always ensure that the plant looks healthy before I collect it, after all it is a weed and it could have been sprayed.
Fresh bulb fennel can replace the wild fennel, but the taste will not be as strong. If you are using bulb fennel try to buy bulbs with some of the green fronds still attached. I usually buy more than one fennel at a time and save the green fronds to use as a herb in cooking and I enhance the taste by using fennel seeds as well.
The addition of almonds is a local variation and is optional – it brings another layer of taste and texture to the dish. If you choose not to use the almonds, use double the quantity of pine nuts (see recipe).
The origins of pasta chi sardi (Sicilian) are said to be Arabic. In one story, an Arab cook was instructed to prepare food for the Arab troops when they first landed in Sicily. The cook panicked when he was confronted by a large number of people to feed, so the troops were instructed to forage for food. He made do with what they presented – wild herbs (the fennel) and the fish (sardines) to which he added Arabic flavourings, the saffron, dried fruit and the nuts.
I remember coming back to Australia and cooking this dish for friends after eating it in a restaurant in Palermo (Sicily) called L’ingrasciata (In Sicilian it means The dirty one!), and how much all of my guests enjoyed it. I have continued to cook pasta con le sarde over the years, especially since sardines are plentiful, sustainable and now widely available in Australia.
Pasta con le sarde is fairly substantial, and although in Sicily it would be presented as a first course (primo), in AustraliaI am happy to present it as a main (secondo) and I use greater quantities of fish. I follow the pasta course with a green salad as a separate course, but I never serve pasta and salad together. Part of me remains Italian to the core – in Italy a salad is a contorno (a side dish) and an accompaniment to a main course. Pasta, risotto and soup – which are all primi, cannot be accompanied by a side dish.
Traditionally the sauce is made with sardines that arebutterflied (i.e. remove the backbone), or as the Italians say, aperti come un libro (opened like a book). I buy fillets to save time.
fennel, wild is preferable, stalks and foliage, about 200g. If not, a large bulb of fennel with the fronds, cut into quarters and a teaspoon of fennel seeds to strengthen the flavour
extra virgin olive oil, about 1 cup
onions, 2, finely sliced
anchovies, 4, cut finely
pine nuts, 1 cup
almonds, 1 cup, toasted and chopped (optional)
currants, ¾ cup, or seedless raisins or sultanas
saffron, ½-1 small teaspoon
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
breadcrumbs, 4–5 tablespoons
Cook the fennel
The wild fennel is put into cold, salted water (to give maximum flavour to the water) and boiled for 10-15 minutes (it can be left in the water for longer). The green tinged, fennel-flavoured water will be used to cook the pasta – it will flavour and colour the pasta. The boiled fennel is added as an ingredient in the sauce. Reserve some wild fennel to use in the cooking the fish.
If using the bulb fennel, wash and cut the bulb fennel into quarters but reserve the green fronds to use raw in the cooking the fish. Add fennel seeds and boil until tender.
Drain the cooked fennel in colander, and then gently squeeze out the water. Discard the seeds and keep the fennel-flavoured water to cook the pasta.
Chop the fennel roughly, this will be added to the sauce later.
Cut about two thirds of the sardine fillets into thick pieces. The whole fillets go on top and are used to provide visual impact.
Heat oil in shallow wide pan, suitable for making the pasta sauce and to include the pasta once it is cooked.
Sauté the onions over medium heat until golden.
Add pine nuts, raisins and almonds (optional). Toss gently.
Add the sliced sardines, salt and pepper and the uncooked fennel. Cook on gentle heat for about 5-10 minutes, stirring gently.
Add the anchovies (try to remove any bones if there are any) and as they cook, crush them with back of spoon to dissolve into a paste.
Add the cooked chopped fennel and the saffron dissolved in a little warm water and continue to stir and cook gently.
Boil bucatini in the fennel water until al dente.
Fry the whole fillets of sardines in a separate frying pan, keeping them intact.
Remove them from the pan and put aside.
Drain the pasta.
At this stage the pasta can be assembled and presented, or baked.
Place the pasta into the saucepan in which you have cooked the fish sauce.
Leave the pasta in the saucepan for 5-10 minutes to incorporate the flavours and to preserve some warmth.
Gently fold in the whole sardines.
When ready to serve, tip the pasta and fish mixture into a serving bowl, arranging the whole fillets or butterflied sardines on top and dress the whole dish with the toasted breadcrumbs.
If you are baking the pasta:
Oil a baking tray or an ovenproof dish and sprinkle with toasted breadcrumbs to prevent sticking (it is not necessary that they be browned in oil, just browned in the oven).
Place a layer of pasta on the breadcrumbs, top with some of the fish sauce and some whole fillets of sardines. Form another layer and ensure that some of the whole fillets are kept for the top.
Cover with fresh breadcrumbs and sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil and bake in preheated 200C oven for approximately 10 minutes. A teaspoon of sugar can also be sprinkled on top of the breadcrumbs – this, with the oil will help the bread form a crust, adding yet another contrasting taste and a different texture.
SBS website withSarde a beccafico – part of the food series My Family Feast and cooked by Sean Connolly (chef):
Having relatives in Ragusa who celebrate Easter in a big way, I am very familiar with the ‘mpanata ri agnieddu – a focaccia typepie made withvery young lamb (unfortunately) complete with bones and enveloped with a bread dough crust. This is the traditional specialty for the Easter Sunday lunch in Ragusa and it is not the type of pie where you discard the pastry – the flavourful juices from the meat and herbs soak into the bottom crust and are appreciated as much as the filling. My relatives make large round pies, but as you can see in the photo above, individual sized pastries could be made as well, but these are not as traditional.
Sicilian food like Italian food is regional so ‘mpanata ri agnieddu may not be eaten in other parts of Sicily.
The word ‘mpanata (impanata in Italian) appears in a Sicilian lexicon in 1785 andis highly likely to have come from the Spanish word empanada, a derivative from the word empanar which means to wrap or coat with bread – the semi-circular stuffed pastries common in the Spanish speaking countries and in Spain.
Although it is commonly accepted that empanadas are a Spanish innovation it is possible that ‘mpanate may also have been adaptations of the breads of ancient civilizations in Sicily. The Greeks were renowned for their breads. The Romans continued this tradition and over time the breads in Sicily were enriched with flavours and fillings. There are many names for these, for example the ‘nfigghiulata, fuazza, pastizzu, ravazzata, scacciata, scacce and sfinciuni.
You will not believe just how simple the Easter ‘impanata is to make.
You will need 1.5- 2 kilos of cubed, lean lamb (from the shoulder or leg). The lamb the Ragusani use is very young and they include some of the bones, chopped into smallish pieces. As we all know bones add flavour, but I do not recommend you do this unless you tell your guests to be careful of the bones.
To the meat add, parsley, chopped garlic, salt and black pepper and a dash of extra virgin olive oil.
Leave this to steep overnight.
The bread dough
flour, plain (durum wheat), 900g
yeast, 50gr (fresh) or dried yeast, follow instructions on packet
warm water, ½ cup
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
salt to taste
Dissolve the yeast in a little warm water and add to the flour. Mix into a dough, adding a little water until you get a firm consistency.
Sprinkle with some flour and leave under a tea towel to rise for about 1 hour.
After the dough has risen, add a little olive oil and knead again until the oil is totally absorbed. Traditionally, the Ragusani add lard – you choose.
Heat the oven 200 C
Roll out the dough to 1.5 cm thick. There will be two discs of dough to cover the filling. Make one slightly larger than the other – the biggest one will go on the bottom. You can use a large pie plate or just place it into a well-oiled baking pan so that if any juices escape they will be contained.
Add the meat in one single layer in the centre of the dough.
Cover the filling with the smaller disk of dough, moisten around the edges with water and seal the crusts (first fold the dough around the border and then pinch together). Make a couple of slits on top.
Brush with a little olive oil or with a little beaten egg.
Bake for about 1½ hours until the crust is golden.
After about 40 minutes, cover the pie with foil to keep it from burning.
Let the pie rest for 1 hour before eating to allow the meat juices to be absorbed by the bread dough on the bottom layer. For some, this is supposed to be the most memorable part of the pie.
A rice pudding is something I have always associated with English cooking – the very simple type of rice pudding my English mother-in law used to make with milk, a little rice, sugar and butter, topped with a sprinkling of cinnamon and then baked in a slow oven. But there are variations to this recipe even in England and not surprisingly there are rice pudding-type desserts made all over the world using either long grain, short grain or black rice, and cooked on the stove, or baked, or wrapped in leaves and steamed. Some eat them hot, others cold.
And even Sicilians have rice puddings, made like a rice custard – the rice is cooked in sweetened milk on the stove top and delicately flavoured with a cinnamon stick, almonds and candied fruit. Only the modern recipes include eggs, cream or butter, these probably used to enrich pasteurised milk. It is served cold. This particular Sicilian recipe has chocolate in it and in most references it is simply called Risu niru (Riso nero in Italian – Black rice). The flavours and origins of this particular Sicilian rice pudding are likely to be Arabic; they bought the more complex sweets and ingredients to Sicily – the cinnamon, sugar, and the rice, which they traded from Asia, the dried or candied fruits and more complex recipes that made greater use of almonds and pistachios. The Spaniards introduced chocolate much later to Sicily.
The type of rice used in the recipes is not specified, but in Italy originorio rice is the standard type with short, round grains and a pearly appearance, and similar to the short grain calrose rice.
This chocolate rice pudding is in honour of the Black Madonna of Tindari (on the north east coast of Sicily). Tindari’s history is one long cycle of conquest and colonisation. It was one of the last Greek colonies in Sicily; founded by the Syracusans in 396 B.C. Tindari also prospered under the Romans and became a diocese during the early Christian period before been captured by the Arabs.
There are many fascinating legends and miracles attributed to the wooden statue of the Black Madonna housed in Tindari. It is thought that the statue came from the Christian east, around the late 8th or early 9th Century. It could have been smuggled out of Constantinople during the period of Iconoclasm (which literally means image breaking – the destruction of images for religious or political reasons). In the Byzantine world, the production and use of figurative images, particularly in Constantinople and Nicea were banned. Existing icons were destroyed or plastered over and very few early Byzantine icons survived the Iconoclastic period.
One of the legends tells how a storm forced the ship carrying the smuggled statue of the Black Madonna into the port of Tindari. When the storm abated and the sailors tried to leave, they found that the ship would not move. They realised that it was the Madonna that was preventing them and so they off-loaded the statue in a casket. Local sailors found the Black Madonna and took her to the tallest spot in Tindari and there they built a sanctuary (rebuilt on a number of occasions). The sanctuary houses the statue and is richly decorated with mosaics. It has miraculously withstood the raids by pirates and invading armies – no doubt due to the defending, dark-skinned Mary. She is also credited with having protected believers from such afflictions as earthquakes and pestilence.
At the base of the statue is the Latin inscription: Nigra sum sed formos (I am black but beautiful) and riso nero is cooked and eaten in her honour – the chocolate is her dark, luscious skin, the almonds and fruit represent the stars in her gown and the coloured stones of the mosaics. Cocoa is used in the older recipes. In the more modern versions dark chocolate is added and melts in the rice custard.
The pudding is prepared in two stages, the basic rice cream is cooked and cooled before the other ingredients are added and shaped into a pudding.
INGREDIENTS (for the rice cream)
full cream milk, 9-10 cups (I like to use organic, unpasturised milk when I can get it. Modern versions of this dish replace one cup of milk with cream)
short grain rice, 1 ½ cups a little
salt, a little
white sugar, 1 cup
cinnamon sticks, 2
lemon peel, large strips from 1 lemon.
sugar, ½ cup
bitter cocoa, ¾ cup of (mixed together with a little milk) or 250 g block of good quality, dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
almonds, 1½ cups of (blanched, toasted and chopped)
candied or glace fruit, 1 cup – a mixture of chopped orange, lemon and/or citron, but save some of the nuts and fruit to decorate the top.
Pour 8 cups of milk and all of the ingredients for cooking the rice into a large (heavy bottom) saucepan and mix gently. Because rice has different absorption rates you may need to add the extra cup of milk as you cook it.
Simmer the contents gently and stir frequently until creamy and add the extra milk as you cook it if necessary.
Remove from the heat and take out the lemon peel (could taste bitter if it is left) and the cinnamon sticks. Cool slightly before adding cocoa and sugaror dark chocolate. Mix thoroughly.
Add some almonds and fruit, but save some to decorate the top.
Traditionally the pudding isshaped into a mound on a plate. Decorate the pudding with the almonds and candied fruit before serving.
A Sicilian prayer
Beddra ‘n terra, beddra ‘n celu, beddra siti ‘n paradisu; beddru assai, è lu Vostru visu.
Bella in terra, bella in cielo, bella sei in paradiso; molto bello e il Vostro viso
Beautiful on earth, beautiful in the sky, beautiful you are in paradise; very beautiful is your face.
Black Madonnas are found in various parts of the world. This photo below is de Nuestra Señora del Sagrario in the Cathedral of Toledo. She is beautiful.
“It will be maccheroni, I swear to you, that will unite Italy.”
Giuseppe Garibaldi, on liberating Naples in 1860
When eating in Italy, the usual structure of the meal will consist of two courses. Il primo (the first )will be a soup, risotto or pasta and in Sicily (and in the south of Italy) it is more likely to be pasta
Il secondo (the second) is the main course – the protein component and one contorno (vegetable side dish) or two contorni.
There have always been two courses in my mother’s home, and in the homes of our Italian friends and relatives. Although this is not something that I have continued to observe in my own household, I generally prepare a primo and a secondo when I am cooking for friends. If this is the case, as is the customary practice in Italian homes, nibbles can just be a very simple plate of olives (or the like) and the dessert, fresh fruit.
These days, I am into easy recipes, something I can prepare in minutes.
Eating pasta with fish is still not very popular in Australia (at the time of writing) but it is very much so in Italy and of course – Sicily. It is an island after all.
Spaghetti is usually the preferred shape of pasta for fish sauces.
Cherry tomatoes appear to have become very common in restaurants in Italy in the last few years. They are called pomodorini, or cigliegini in Italian and most commonly known as pizzitelli in Sicilian – little things.
Some of the cherry tomatoes in Australia may be small but they lack flavour and sweetness (maybe from over watering if this is possible in Australia). One of my friends in Adelaide is growing a variety called currant tomatoes in pots – very small and sweet and ideal for this dish.
Use any fish which will hold together when you sauté it.
Sicilians prefer tuna or swordfish, but because I like to use sustainable fish (pesce sostenibile) I select Albacore tuna when I can get it, tailor or flathead or snapper and mackerel . To keep the fish moist and to prevent it from overcooking, i keep the fish in large pieces when I cook it and then break it up onto smaller pieces.
From Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide by Australian Marine Conservation Society – 2009 (AMCS)
fish, 500g, cut into dice
garlic, 5 cloves, chopped finely
cherry tomatoes, 1 punnet, if too big cut in half,
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup
fresh herbs, use either: a handful of basil or parsley, or fresh mint,
white wine, 1 glass
salt and freshly ground pepper (or chilli flakes)
Cook pasta and make sauce as it cooks.
Heat the oil in a frying pan.
Sauté the fish ( you can keep it all in one piece if you wish), add the cherry tomatoes. Remove the fish and tomotoes from the pan but leave the juices in the pan.
Add the white wine and reduce .
Add the herbs and stir through the sauce.
Return the fish and tomatoes to the pan. Separate the fish into the size pieces that you wish.
Drain the pasta and return to the pan where it was cooked.
There is a Sicilian saying that it does not matter whatever you do to a zucca (squash/pumpkin) it always remains such – tasteless.
This is not so with Gelu ‘i muluni (Sicilian for watermelon jelly) – an old Sicilian recipeandonce a popular dessert. Many Sicilians say that this dessert has Arab origins and it is easy to see why. The addition of the extra flavourings – vanilla, cinnamon, rose water, chocolate and pistachio transform the taste of what is basically liquefied watermelon juice solidified with corn starch.
As a child living in Trieste, I always called watermelon, anguria as it is called in the north, but when we visited Sicily (my family went there every summer), it was called mellone (also melone).
Watermelon appears to be more popular with those of us in Australia who have come from a different cultural background. I always notice people buying big slabs or whole watermelons at the market. Have you noticed in Asian restaurants as it is often presented as a palate cleanser at the end of a meal? Or the Greek and Italian families eating watermelon at the beach?
When my son was young, he was very friendly with a Turkish family and he used to report that over summer, there was always watermelon at his friend’s house. They ate it with bread; this is not surprising when watermelon can be used as an ingredient for a watermelon salad,made with feta, black olives, sliced onion, extra virgin olive oil, seasoning and mint (one version of this salad, now popular in many Australian homes).
Although this dessert is very easy to make, it does look very attractive and your guests will think that you have gone to a lot of effort – much more so than just serving up slices of watermelon.
One kilo of watermelon is sufficient to make 4 desserts.
ripe watermelon, 1k
pure vanilla extract, ½ teaspoon
rosewater, 2-3 tablespoons (or jasmine water – steep flowers in some hot water overnight)
cornstarch , 40g
pistachios , chopped, 50g
chocolate, chopped, 50g
candied citron,( Sicilians use Zuccata – candied zucca (squash/pumpkin family) 50g
cinnamon, 1 stick.
Remove rind and seeds and liquefy in food processor or blender (1k of watermelon gave me 1 litre of juice).
Combine sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan and add some watermelon juice gradually to form a smooth paste.
Add rest of the juice and the cinnamon stick and on low heat, stir constantly with a wooden spoon until thickened
Remove from heat, stir in vanilla extract and rose water.
Discard the cinnamon stick, pour it into a bowl (or individual bowls) and place it into the refrigerator until required. The pistachio and chocolate can be sprinkled on top when ready to eat or wait till the gelo is cool and then fold in the solids before refrigerating.
My zia Niluzza who lives in Ragusa is an excellent cook and when I visit her she fusses over me and cooks constantly.
Ricotta is one of the most common ingredients in her kitchen and she must eat it fresh – made on the day and preferably eaten warm. Any ricotta which is one day old (it is never older) is cooked.
One day, I had been speaking to her about frittate (plural) and how I had read in a book about Sicilian cuisine that frittate were not common in Sicily.
The next day I found her preparing this a simple frittata (see photo) made with crumbled fresh pork sausage, freshly laid free range eggs and ricotta. Sicilians do make frittata but in Sicilian, it is sometimes referred to as milassata and frocia. I have already written about this on Janet Clarkson’s blog: The Old Foodie, An authentic frittata).
eggs 7, lightly beaten (free range)
pork, Italian sausages 2 ( made from good pork mince with sometimes fennel or orange peel or white wine)
salt and pepper
Heat some olive oil into a large heavy-based fry pan.
Crumble the sausage and sauté into the frypan till cooked.
Add the ricotta slices and lightly fry it.
Pour the eggs, mixed with the seasoning into hot oil.
Process for cooking all frittate:
Fry the frittata on the one side. Turn the heat down to low and, occasionally, with the spatula press the frittata gently on the top. Lift the edges, tilting the pan. This will allow some of the runny egg to escape to the sides and cook. Repeat this process until there is no more egg escaping.
Invert the frittata onto a plate, carefully slide the frittata into the pan and cook the other side.
A frittata is never baked; fritta means fried in Italian.
Summer is the time for BBQs and grilled fish with a simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil, parsley cut finely (do not use a food chopper – it will taste grassy), lemon juice and seasoning.
But sometimes, a different dressing can make it more special and will bring more compliments when you present the fish to guests.
There are no set weights and measures for making sauces – the measures are purely my estimation of the ratio or balance of ingredients and flavours.
Sarsa saracina (Sicilian) Salsa saracina (Saracen sauce). It is a cooked sauce and has that particular set of ingredients which are so common to Sicilian cooking – olives, pine nuts (or almonds) and seedless sultanas. The sauce contains sugar and saffron – Saracen ingredients particularly popular in foods from the north-western side of Palermo.
green olives, 1 cup, stoned and chopped finely
anchovies, 2-3 cut finely
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil, about ½ cup
sugar, 1 teaspoon
pine nuts or almonds ¾ , toasted and chopped finely
oregano, 1 tablespoon fresh, cut finely or ½ teaspoon dry
sultanas, ½ cup seedless (soaked in some warm water for 30 mins beforehand, then drained, chopped)
saffron, 2 good pinches (it will depend on the potency and quality of your saffron – you need to be able to taste it and see some yellow tinge).
Heat the oil in a pan and add anchovies and stir to dissolve.
Add the olives and the other ingredients and stir to amalgamate the flavours.
Add the saffron mixed in a little warm water and heat through.
Sometimes the most simple ingredients make the most sumptuous dish.
My friend and I have just been discussing how fresh, young zucchini can make a great pasta sauce. They can be the long, dark green skinned variety or the newer pale green ones. The round zucchini are becoming more common; these can be dark or pale green in colour and some are variegated.
Often, when guests come, I remind myself that having costly ingredients is not the most important factor. What is fresh, in season, and have they had it before, are far more important factors.
Pasta chi cucuzzeddi fritti (Sicilian), Pasta con zucchinefritte (Italian) is very common all over Sicily and consists of thinly sliced zucchini fried in extra virgin olive oil. Garlic is used to flavour the oil and is then discarded.
It is important to fry the zucchini in plenty of oil in a wide frypan – the zucchini will release liquid if they are overcrowded in the pan and if necessary fry the zucchini in batches.
My partner took some left over zucchini pasta to work and I was amazed when he reported to me that one of his collegues referred to this vegetable as tha blandest vegetable! I think I will need to invite this person to dinner.
Thin spaghetti is the favoured pasta for this dish – a coating of flavoured oil is preferred. Short, tubular or ridged, surfaced pasta may trap too much oil.
Like so many of the vegetable paste sauces it is made in minutes and makes me wonder why takeaways are seen as a quick solution.
spaghettini, 400gzucchini 800g, sliced into approx 10 mm slicesgarlic cloves, 4 squashed with the back of a knifeextra virgin olive oil, 1cup
salt and pepperricotta salata or pecorino pepato, gratedHeat the oil in a wide frypan and add the garlic. When it is golden discard it. Ensure that the oil is very hot and add the zucchini – this will seal the surfaces. You could do this in a couple of batches but keep the oil very hot and add fresh oil to fry each batch. Turn and toss till golden. Place the fried zucchini into a bowl and add salt ( the salt is added at this stage otherwise the zucchini would have released their liquid). Cook the pasta in salted water till al dente and drain. Toss zucchini, oil and pasta together and add plenty of freshly ground pepper. Serve with abundant freshly grated cheese and pepper. VARIATION· After the zucchini have been fried and set aside, reheat the oil (or add more), add about a cup of chopped parsley and 2 cloves of chopped garlic and fry this mixture for a few minutes before adding it to the pasta. · For a favourite summer dish add a dollop of tomato salsa and fresh basil on top. · Add a dollop of ricotta either with or without the tomato salsa. · Chopped mint sprinkled on top of the dressed pasta is probably not traditional, but I like to do it – it accentuates the fresh zucchini taste.
And by the way… the ini at the end of any Italian word (zucchini) means small, those bigger than a finger are zucche (marrows).
Sicily is an island, and a Catholic one at that, where the people were obliged to fast and abstain — refrain from eating meat — on certain days, mainly Lent and on Fridays.Catholics are no longer required not to eat meat on Fridays but Sicilians eat a lot of fish.
One very popular fish is the sardine, still relatively cheap in Sicily and easily available. The photograph was taken in the Palermo market in December 2008. At that time 4 euros were about $8.00 Australian.
For example you cannot go to Sicily and not eat Pasta con le sarde.There are many regional variations of this sauce, often called by the same name, but the most famous is from Palermo made with wild fennel, pine nuts, saffron and currants.
Sardines are perfect on a BBQ, and baked, but Sicilians also like them crude (raw) e conzate (and dressed), crude e condite in Italian. Although they are called raw, they are cooked by the lemon juice in the marinade.
Sardines are sustainable, and a good choice if you are concerned about the environment. Marinaded sardines make a great antipasto and lose that strong fishy taste that those people-who-do-not- like sardines hate.
When I first came to Australia we were unable to buy sardines, now they have become very popular (similar to squid, both were used for bait!).
The sardines must be fresh, freshly cleaned and filleted with no head, central spine or innards. Begin your preparations one day ahead.
sardines, 1-3 per person
lemons, juice of 3-4
garlic, 3 cloves, chopped
extra virgin olive oil
parsley and fresh oregano, ¾ cup, cut finely.
Arrange the fish in one layer on a plate or wide vessel and pour the juice of the lemons on top (this lemon juice will be discarded).
Seal with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3-6 hours. They are ready when they have turned almost white.
Drain the juice well. I use a colander and then quickly dry the fish on a paper towel.
Arrange the fillets in a single layer on a large plate.
Sprinkle the fish with herbs, garlic and salt and pepper.
Dress with the extra virgin olive oil, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate again for about an hour until ready to serve.
I do like mussels (called cozzuli in Sicilian and cozze in Italian) and they are sustainable, but more often than not I cook too many (usually steamed in a little white wine, garlic, parsley, chili and eaten with bread). What to do with left over mussel meat? This is not ever a problem, but for something different try these.
Crostini (from the Latin, crusta – crust) are thin slices of toasted bread, cut small, brushed with olive oil and then toasted. Crostini are eaten like canapés spread with different toppings (usually chicken livers) and served with drinks. But these Sicilian crostini are different and remind me of French toast. In this recipe, the mussel shells are discarded; the mussel meat is made into a paste and is then sandwiched between two small slices of bread. It is then dipped in beaten egg, and fried. They make wonderful morsels.
Perhaps there is some French influence in this recipe because it contains besciamella. Some Italian culinary historians believe it was brought to France by the Italian cooks of Marie de Medici but the most common story is that the court chef named the sauce after an important steward in Louis fourteenth’s court – Louis de Béchameil. Originally béchamel was made by adding cream to a thickened stock but the more common and more modern version is made by adding hot milk to a roux of butter and flour. Some béchamel also contains the vegetables found in stock.
mussel meat, about 1 cup (chopped, Australian mussels are much larger than those found in Catania)
bread, thin slices, good quality, sourdough or pasta dura, no crusts. Day old bread will cut better. (I like to use sourdough baguettes – good size for mouths)
pecorino cheese, ½ cup , grated
eggs, 3 extra virgin olive oil for frying
tomato salsa, 1 cup (made with 500g of tomatoes, 2 garlic cloves, fresh basil leaves, sea salt, ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil).
Place all of the ingredients and any liquid from the mussels in a saucepan and cook uncovered until reduced to about 1 cup. Use cool.
Besciamella (besciamelle or béchamel sauce), 1 cup:
1 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoons flour, 1 cup milk, freshly ground nutmeg, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Melt the butter and add the flour in a saucepan over a moderate heat, cook the mixture while stirring with a wooden spoon for 1-2 minutes. Over the heat gradually add the milk while stirring to stop lumps occurring. When all the milk is added continue to cook while stirring until the mixture thickens (it should be quite thick). Season, add nutmeg, remove the pan and allow to cool.
Mix the salsa, besciamella, ground pepper, mussel meat and cheese.
Cut the bread to size and thickness about 1cm.
Spread this mixture thickly between slices of bread, like when making sandwiches.
Dip the sandwiches briefly in the egg but allow the egg to soak in. Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan and fry the sandwiches on each side. Serve hot.
Chine va chjanu, va sanu e va luntanu (Sicilian proverb).
Chi va piano, va sano e va lontano. (Le cose fatte con calma sono le migliori).
The best things are made when calm.