Category Archives: Travel and Recipes

IN PRAISE OF FRESH LOCAL PRODUCE NEW ZEALAND, WAIHEKE ISLAND and the NORTH

I do like New Zealand and every time I visit I praise and enjoy its extraordinary food culture. Not to mention the amazing scenery.

There is so much fresh and flavoursome produce in shops, farmers markets and roadside stalls – ‘gate to the plate’, so as to speak.

Kumera (Sweet Potato ) baked in local Waiheke honey and thyme.

Restaurants and eateries where the owners or chefs grow or source their produce locally are not scarce.

Fish too is local and staff in shops or in restaurants seem ready and eager to answer questions about their suppliers.

…that is if the produce is not already labelled or written about in the menu i.e. line caught tuna supplied by a trusted small fishery.

Menus highlight the production of New Zealand’s local and wide-ranging supply of produce and fine wines.

We have friends on Waiheke Island so Auckland and Waiheke are always a must on each visit.

On this occasion we  were able to view the amazing sculptures on Waiheke Island (Headland Sculpture on the Gulf). Above, artist=Paora Toi-Te Rangiuaia.

Below , artist=Robert Jahnke Kaokao

Who needs the Venice Biennale…they have their own!

Below , artist= Virginia King

On this trip we hired a campervan and travelled to the Bay of Islands. Ever since my first trip to NZ I have been impressed by the apparent and increasing awareness and appreciation of organics and of locally-produced produce.

Of course great and diverse produce is more apparent in places like Waiheke but as we travelled around we found satisfactory local produce in the 4Squre stores and in supermarkets….local sweetcorn or avocados were  5  for $5.00.

Below  New Zealand Spinach (also known as Warrigal Greens) growing on Waiheke in our friend’s garden.

We even bought local fresh produce from the local garage, opportunity shop or news agent in country locations.

On beaches around Opononi I found some samphire and some wild fennel near Rawene.

We bought some local fish, picked some blackberries and I used all those ingredients that night for a meal.

I picked some blackberries and we ate them with some fresh cream.

Pity the prickly pears weren’t ripe! We could have pretended to be in Sicily!

It is amazing how in limiting circumstances, how little one needs to make food flavourful and healthy.

I cooked the above fish (very simply…what else can you do in a campervan!

Fish sautéed in red wine

I pan fried in a light amount of extra virgin olive oil, fish turned once – it will only need about one minute on each side,  add salt, pepper, a few herbs. Remove fish and then add about 3 tablespoons of red wine and evaporate. Return the fish to the pan, add a few more herbs if necessary. If I had some butter I may have whisked a little into the sauce.

Below, simple lunch at the New Zealand Gallery… a bed of spinach leaves, cured meat, soya beans, raw beetroot, radishes, and a Japanese soy/sesame sauce. Light, fresh and simple.

 

 

Food in Japan and I particularly enjoyed the pickles – tsukemono

I very much enjoyed all of the food I ate during my first and recent trip to Japan – I went to Kyoto and Tokyo. Like Italian Cuisine, Japanese cuisine has a huge diversity of regional and seasonal dishes and the Japanese people seem just as passionate about their food.

Below is an oden dish, in a special oden restaurant -it is mainly daikon, I could also taste turnip, boiled eggs served in stock made from dried bonito, konbu and soy sauce. Of course there were pickles and rice.

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We accompanied the oden dish with bean curd prepared in different ways… and I do like beancurd. Below is a photo of another beancurd  dish I had in another restaurant -silken tofu (Agedashi) in a flavorful tentsuyu broth of dashi, mirin and soy. This one had some other ingredients as well as tofu and broth. The red on top was a mild chili paste.

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Whether it be in my home town or elsewhere, I always place great effort in selecting the ‘right’ places to eat. I look closely at menus (in Japan, glossy pictures and the plastic replicas of food helped). I suss out the ambience and then take a plunge, and practically all of the time  my senses do not fail me.

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Japanese food is as much about the preparation and presentation as it is the food itself.

One place in Kyoto particularly stands out – no menus with pictures or models of food here – a tiny place with fabulous décor, a flamboyant, entertaining and creative chef (Mr. Fujita) and his courteous assistant who had a tiny sprinkling of English. We (my partner and I) got by, participated mainly with sign language, much laughter with the other eight guests and we ate extremely well. We pointed to particular ingredients that he had available – duck, fish, eel, eggs, mushrooms (what other guests were eating and via photos in an album) and left it up to him to come up with the food. We watched him slice and prepare top quality and seasonal ingredients and proudly come up with a variety of delicious offerings. Watching the chef prepare the food was as much fun as eating it.

Restaurant: Marufuji (まる藤) Kyoto

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This was a strongly flavoured stock with eel, spinach and egg. We were given bowls and spoons.

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A form of Yakiniku? – duck  cooked on a hot stone. We could have had tongue as well.

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I am particularly fond of good tableware and the food was presented with as much care of good quality crockery and lacquerware – with a variety of shapes, textures, colorful patterns, and colors.

And the chef came to see us off.

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I will not go on about all the food I tried in Japan – there were far too many  of the traditional popular Japanese dishes –  the steamed, simmered or grilled dishes, sliced raw,  the sushi, tempura, yakitori, ramen etc, but I would like to mention a couple of things I particularly enjoyed or was less familiar with.

I particularly enjoyed the very fresh fish prepared in various ways.

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In a different eatery in the backstreets of Kyoto I particularly liked the tomato tempura – small explosions of sweet and acid flavour.

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I also had burdock tempura – a distinctive and slightly bitter, crunchy and chewy( fibrous) root vegetable that also reminded me of the texture of meat.

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At the same restaurant I also ate pickled sardines. These were lightly floured first and fried and then pickled in a sweet and sour marinade which strangely enough reminded me very much of the varieties of Italian pickled sardines like the Sicilian Soused Fish recipes or the Sarde al Saor popular in Trieste and Venice. One large difference of course, was the grated fresh ginger, not a common ingredient in Italian cuisine.

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I am not a great lover of sweets but in Tokyo I watched two people prepare street food – waffles shaped like a fish called Taiyaki. The pancake batter forms the fish shaped outer shell. The filling was sweet red bean paste or sweet potato.

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I like persimmons – both the vanilla type and the squashy ones, both fresh and dried.  I found quantities of Mochi in the Food halls in basements of  famous and grand Department Stores. I particularly like the texture of the outer layers of  Mochi that are made with sticky rice: the rice is pounded into a smooth paste and molded around a filling  of usually sweet red bean paste .The outer layer is chewy and soft and sometimes flavoured with green tea.

I also liked the pumpkin ice cream, and the one made with spinach.

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For the first time I ate Kamameshi – rice is cooked in an iron pot, with  different flavourings such as  soy sauce, mirin, stock and other ingredients.  Ours also had minced chicken,  a few vegetables  . I liked it – homely.

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The burnt rice around the pot of Kamameshi is particularly flavourful.

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I tried different types of sake and Japanese beer (I am a wine drinker so both were new experiences for me). I  also drank good wine (grapes) made in Japan.!!!

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I did come cooking at home too – I like my vegetables and I never get enough when I am away from home and I especially purchased different types of mushrooms – it is autumn after all and they came in many colours, shapes, textures and flavours.

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In a Tokyo market I did try some street food – takoyaki (a dough-like wheat flour dumpling, with small pieces of octopus mixed in the batter, smothered with a brown sweet sticky sauce and topped with bonito fish flakes) The batter is  poured into a special hotplate with small half-circle molds and when the bottom half is cooked, the half-circle dumplings are turned over and become full spherical dumplings in the end.

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I had eaten these in Melbourne and they did not appeal to me then. They did not appeal to me now, but I always like the taste of bonito fish flakes and I like to watch them dance.

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I very much liked all the countless varieties of seaweed and pickles. Pickles are called tsukemono. Japanese food would not be the same without pickles that frequently accompany all meals in Japan providing flavours and pro-biotic cultures that promote digestion. They also provide a variety of colors, aromas and textures.

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Food markets are full of unpackaged pickles in vats of fish, fruit and vegetables. I particularly like the common umeboshi (pickled plums). Common vegetables that are pickled are: daikon, ginger, Japanese cucumbers, carrots, bamboo, turnips, Chinese cabbage, gobo (burdock root) and Japanese eggplant.

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Imagine the smells of these ingredients with their pungent smells of pickling ingredients like rice bran, vinegar, miso, soy sauce, sake. And seasonings like mirin, garlic, seaweeds, herbs and spices, konbu, chilies, honey and sugar.

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I also enjoyed the lightly pickled vegetables. I had these only in one of the restaurants  in Tokyo and on this occasion I was in the company of a local so we were able to discuss how pickles are  easily made at home.

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Now home in Melbourne, I did some research and found some recipes for making pickles in an old book I have about Japanese cuisine, Japanese Vegetarian Cookery, Lesley Downer, Jonathan Cape Press, 1986.

I used to use this book to make pickled plums and simple pickled vegetables…a long time ago.  Although many types of tsukemono are available commercially many people make pickles at home.

Here is a recipe adapted from this book.

Salt pickles.

Vegetables are salted and the pressure that is placed upon them causes them to release their liquids – this results in brine that pickles the vegetables. Each type of vegetable is usually pickled separately to keep flavours distinct.
Downer suggests that particularly suitable are:

2 Daikon (peeled, quartered, cut into 2.5 cm lengths),
1 Chinese cabbage halved, quartered 2.5 cm chunks,
4 Small cucumbers, halved, scrape out seeds, cut into 2.5cm lengths

30g sea salt

Rub salt into vegetables, place them in a ceramic bowl (narrow is preferable).
Cover vegetables with a small plate that will fit neatly inside the bowl.
Place a weight on top- perhaps a stone or a jar of water.
Leave the bowl in a cool dark place for 3-4 days– the brine will raise (or it should) above the vegetables.
To serve, remove vegetables, gently squeeze and cut into bite size pieces…… Taste a bit before you cut them and rinse them  if necessary to remove excess salt.
My Variations and suggestions:

Once there is sufficient brine covering the vegetables,  add a dash of Japanese vinegar (low in acid) and a small glug of Sake for extra flavor. A little Mirin or sugar will also help to sweeten the vegetables.These ingredients also help with the fermentation. It is worth experimenting with flavours.

Making pickles can produce smells, especially if you are using cabbage or daikon. A large wide mouthed ,glass jar or ceramic pot with a tight fitting lid is useful. If you are using a jar or pot make sure that you can apply pressure with a heavy weight on top of the vegetables to produce the brine.

Other vegetables can be used–  unpeeled Japanese eggplant…halved, quartered etc , peeled turnips and carrots…halved, sliced etc.

 

 

 

 

PIGEON BREAST cooked simply, from Borough Market in London

I will be travelling again and I have not even finished writing about the food and produce I experienced during my last overseas trip: Nottingham and environs- London – Oxford – Sicily – Rome – Berlin.

I have written a little about Nottingham and  of the last  trip to Sicily but nothing about the other cities. Time passes far too quickly.

I ate very well in  several restaurants in the UK especially in London including Ottolenghi’s NOPI and surprisingly in  Gee’s Restaurant and Bar in Oxford….those are artichokes with stems in the large plate and in the pan are salted Samphire –  a succulent,  vibrant green vegetable.

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But one of the places I wanted to promote is the Borough Market in London for its range of quality produce.

Here are some photos of some of the mushrooms:

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Even dried mushrooms:

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The range of vegetables, fish, small goods, bread and cheese were fabulous, too many photos to include in this post, but the game really impressed me. Here are just a few photos – there were two refrigerated window display cases full of  game meat and excellent produce made with game.

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I could not resist.  I bought some pigeon breasts and in the Airbnb I cooked them using minimalist equipment and ingredients. …and they were good.

Here they are and the accompanying photos illustrate how I cooked them.

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Marinated them with bay and rosemary,  extra virgin olive oil and a little good quality balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

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I bought prosciutto and softened it in a little  extra virgin olive oil in a small pan.

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I removed the prosciutto and  used the same small pan( that is all there was…no lid either) to sauté the pigeon.

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Added some white wine, bought it to the boil and cooked it for about 1 minute.

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Removed the pigeon and evaporated  the wine and juices to make a glaze.

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Presented them on tender green beans but also had a range of side vegetables.

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AND THEN THERE WAS PERFECTION – Making bread

“Put very simply, sourdough is made by mixing flour milled from the whole grain – dark rye or wholemeal, say – with water and leaving it for a few days until you see the first pinhead-sized bubble of life, as the yeast cells and bacteria exhale and start to puff tiny pockets of carbon dioxide into the mixture.” (Dan Lepard, baker, food writer and more)

This potent wild yeast mixture is sometimes known as  the “mother”… otherwise plainly called the “starter”.  The starter is what imparts the flavour and bubbles that go to making sour dough bread.

And this is the beginning.

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Inspired by a visit to a friend, Randy, who lives in Nottingham, England, my partner Bob decided to try his hand at making sour dough bread. And so he started with the starter, which bubbled away quietly but was  fed regularly.

It was mixed with good quality organic flour, left, fed and fed again. From this a “sponge” was made by mixing the starter with flour and water. The sponge is also known as the leaven.

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Add more flour to the sponge and then there is sticky dough.

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And more sticky dough.

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And more dough. Perhaps it was too sticky?

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So there was more dough proving.

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And there was more bread.

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There were breads of different shapes. There was even bread in our freezer.

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Some loaves lacked salt. Others were too dense. Some looked like cake.

Baked loaf on cooling rack

The smells of bread proving and bread baking wafted through our apartment. This must have made our neighbours very jealous.

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This dough looked right!

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Given enough time, it was worked into a shape that could be pulled into a loaf .

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The loaf was placed into a basket to prove.

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It  rested, and then rose and rose again.

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Bob placed the dough on a heated pizza stone and made a couple of slashes on top of the dough: this is also called “scoring”. Breaking the surface of the dough  creates a weak spot in the bread as it expands and prevents the bread from splitting. It also helps to make the bread attractive.

The loaf looked great in our oven.

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SUCCESS….and it was just right.

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Bob’s passion for bread making began in a kitchen in  Nottingham.

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Randy has adapted recipes from Dan Lepard’s book, The Handmade Loaf.

He uses a basket with a liner to prove his bread. It is heavily coated with flour.

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Randy is no ordinary bread maker.

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He is Randy of the Bagel Boys who once baked great bread in North Adelaide.

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This is before he went to live in Nottingham.  Now he bakes good bread for himself, his household and his house guests in his kitchen.

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While  the bread making demonstration went on, one of the dogs slept. She’s used to this baking.

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Randy uses a Le Creuset cast iron saucepan to bake the bread. It starts off  with a lid. The lid is removed towards the end of baking so that the top of the bread can brown. Here is the bread in the oven. It is nearly ready.

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As you would expect, Randy has perfection every time.

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Thank you Randy  for the demonstration in your kitchen and all of the  tutorials and  the bread-making advice you provided to Bob by email from Nottingham to our apartment in Melbourne.

And you are correct Randy, bread making  is just practice, persistence and patience.

No doubt,  Bob will make more bread  in our kitchen.

Bob says:
In baking my loaves, I have adapted the recipes and techniques of my friend and long-time baker, Randy Barber the former Bagel Boy, with that of sourdough virtuoso Dan Lepard, followed by some further advice from a book by Yoke Mardewi, particularly in relation to creating and maintaining the starter, and topping it all off by watching a Youtube video published by Danny McCubbin which showed off the techniques of his baking buddy, Hugo Harrison.
After all that, I’ve got to say my baking is still a work-in-progress, every loaf I’ve turned out so far is something of a surprise, mostly pleasant.
My latest effort was closest to what I’ve seen Randy do in his Nottingham (UK) kitchen.
First, I created a “sponge” made from:
200g of starter
250g of quality white flour
325g of natural spring water
I left the sponge to mature overnight.
The next morning, I added:
330g of flour [ultimately, I think I could have added a little more]
2 teaspoons of salt
I mixed this by hand and let it rest in the bowl for 10 minutes.
I next went through a sequence of mixing, by pulling the dough over itself (here the McCubbin/Harrison Youtube video was instructive) and resting it for 10 minutes another two times.
Then, I turned, pulled and slapped the dough together on an oiled surface for several minutes before letting it rest for 30 minutes.
I repeated the turning, slapping and pulling process, before letting it rest for another hour.
Next step, I turned the dough out onto a floured work-surface, where I did the traditional folding into thirds and turning process, until using the technique demonstrated by Harrison, I worked the dough into a loaf shape which I gently placed in a floured proving basket.
I left that to double in size. When it had risen, I preheated the oven and a pizza stone to about 230°C. Other times, I’ve used a Le Creuset casserole dish. I gently up-ended the proving basket to tip the loaf on to the heated pizza stone and returned it to the oven to bake for about 35-40 minutes above some water in tray for steam.

Once cooked, I left the loaf to cool on an oven rack.

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There is much information from Dan Lepard about bread making on the web.
Dan Lepard’s book, The Handmade Loaf, contains many illustrations and step by step recipes.
This link  for making sourdough bread is from The Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/nov/27/sourdough-recipe-dan-lepard

 

A Tale about QUINCES

There is nothing like baked quinces.

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When cooked slowly (4-5 hours) with sugar or /and honey they they transform from an indeterminate dirty cream, pale green colour to a deep coral. They look beautiful, smell good and taste great.

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Resting in their raw state on a bench or in a fruit bowl, they will also deodorize the environment.

In spite of being cooked for such a long time they retain some of their firmness and hold their shape and do not turn squashy like apples or pears.

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It is an autumnal fruit and although we are nearing the end of winter in Melbourne I bought some recently.  Usually when I buy quinces I buy them loose but each one of these  was individually wrapped in paper and packed firmly in a box. They were labelled as Australian. We are a big country and I would imagine that they would still be found in an other part of Australia. I also imagine that because we can store apples and pears successfully, we would be able to keep quinces in cold storage too.

My yearning for quinces this year began in Nottingham. I was there in early May which is not quince season, but as you may know  anything can be bought out of season in the UK from anywhere in the world.

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These quinces came from Morocco and my friend slowly baked them. These were smoother than any quince I had ever seen and much more round. My friend, Pat, is an Australian living in Nottingham and she agreed with me.

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It is easy to see how Pat prepared her quinces – she cut the quinces horizontally and made neat regular hollows removing the core. Then she placed them upright in a ceramic baking dish she had buttered beforehand. She placed honey and small pieces of butter in the hollowed cores and added a little more butter around the quinces.

Cloves, bay leaves, a little sugar and water and surrounded the quinces. She covered them with foil and baked them at about 150C for about 3hours. The foil came off for the last hour. And the quinces in Nottingham were superb!

While we enjoyed an array of British produce and ate warm quinces  with excellent rich  British cream and drinking Italian liqueurs and Scotch, another happening was going on in her front garden, so you can see what season we were heading into in Nottingham.

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And very close to their house this was going on in the  small river.

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First we met an egret poised to fish on the water’s edge. Then we saw a swan  sitting on a nest … the companion was floating nearby.  Shortly after we left Nottingham, cygnets hatched and made their parents proud.

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Back to quinces in Melbourne Australia.

Here is what ingredients I used and what I did.

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I wiped the fuzz off the quinces and preheated my oven to 140C (fan-forced).

You can basically flavour quinces with whatever takes your fancy.

I wanted to eat the quinces cold and therefore used no butter.

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INGREDIENTS

3 quinces, star anise, cinnamon quills, cloves, black peppercorns, bay leaves.
1 lemon, zest (grated), peel from 3/4 of an  orange – I used a potato peeler.
About 200g sugar, 100g honey.
1 cup of white wine and 1  cup of water.

I put the spices  and peel and the liquid in a baking dish.

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I cut the quinces in half lengthways and lay them in a baking dish, cut side down, skin side  up. I cored them but did not peel them.

Mine didn’t look as good but they too tasted great.

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I then drizzled them with honey and scattered sugar over them. I them made sure that there was sufficient liquid around the sides of the quinces, but not enough to cover them.  I then  used foil to cover them and I baked them for two hours.

I finished off the cooking for another two hours without the foil.  And it is during this time that magic happens and the colour changes .

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I presented my quinces with some homemade  Mascarpone.

And shortly after we left Nottingham and were on our way to Sicily, the Peonies joined the numerous poppies in the front garden. The good weather had arrived.

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Palermo and GoEuro competition

Here are more photos of Palermo and Mondello and details of a GoEuro Travel Inspiration Competition that  I have entered.

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Some time ago, I was contacted by a member of the marketing Team at GoEuro, a travel search engine/website that combines and compares rail, bus and air travel in one site. They are based in Berlin. GoEuro was preparing a blog feature about Sicily, with tips from well-travelled bloggers and had found my site. They asked if I’d be interested in sharing some of my recommendations within the region.

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I did so, and the result was:

18 Secrets of Sicily Revealed by Top Travel Bloggers

Recently I was contacted by GoEuro again, this time inviting me to enter a travel blog competition:

Write a post on your blog detailing how you would spend your perfect holiday in Europe: where would you go? Why? One lucky writer wins £500 towards their next European adventure.

How could I resist?

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I wrote a blog about visiting Palermo because it is the most diverse and complex city in Sicily.

Palermo and Sicily … peeling the onion

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GoEuro Travel Inspiration Competition

http://www.goeuro.co.uk/travel/travel-writing-competition

Post  Mortum….I did not win this competition but I hope that some readers may feel motivated to travel there.

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Many thanks

Marisa

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Palermo and Sicily … peeling the onion

“Sicily is the pearl of this century for its qualities and its beauty, for the uniqueness of its towns and its people […] because it brings together the best aspects of every other country.”

This was written almost a thousand years ago by an Arabian geographer, Muhammed Al-Idrisi, in his book of “pleasant journeys into faraway lands” for the Norman King of Sicily, Roger II.

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As Al-Idrisi discovered, Sicily may be small, but it has the best of everything and although I may visit some places again and again, I always manage to discover something new. And this is what brings me back to Sicily again and again. I grew up in the far north of Italy in Trieste but each summer as a child, I would travel to Sicily for our summer holidays – both of my parents have relatives in Sicily. For me Sicily was an exotic place of sunshine, colour and warmth, the outdoors and the sea. Wherever I go in Europe, I always visit Sicily as well.

On my latest trip I concentrated on Southeastern Sicily and went to little towns and villages that I had not been to before as well as familiar places where I’m always interested to see what’s changed and what has stayed the same.

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Next time I visit I plan to spend more time in the city that is the essence of Sicily – Palermo.  While Al-Adrisi called Sicily a “pearl” Roberto Alajmo, a journalist and blogger born and raised in Palermo compared his home town to an onion, una cipolla – its multiple layers have to be peeled to be appreciated.

Once you start peeling back the layers of Palermo what you find is a city where history meets infamy and splendor encounters squalor, antiquities stand beside modernity. All of it evidence of a fantastic overlay of cultures from Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, French and Spanish. This cultural fusion shows up in the food and drink, the art and architecture, the palaces, the temples and churches and the entire Sicilian way of life.

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Last time I visited Palermo was three years ago, but each time I go I’m always happy to revisit the historic quarter with its Arabo-Norman monuments.

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Among my favourites are the Palazzo dei Normanni and its Cappella Palatina with their dazzling Byzantine mosaics and frescoes. There’s also King Roger II’s La Martorana, where the spectacular mosaic of Christ the Pantocrator overlooks Olivio Sozzi’s baroque Glory of the Virgin Mary, painted six centuries later. I enjoy admiring the simple, geometric shapes of the Norman palaces, La Cuba and La Zisa, built entirely by Arabic craftsmen and the distinctive Arabo-Norman red domes on San Cataldo and San Giovanni degli Ermiti.

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On my not-to-miss list is the Cattedrale which is another masterpiece of overlaid period styles, begun by the Normans in the 12th Century, with 15th Century Catalan Gothic porch, capped off with a neo-classical 18th Century neo-classical dome. The timeline continues inside with tombs of Norman and Swabian kings and queens: Roger II and his daughter, Costanza d’Altavilla and their son Frederick II and his wife of Costanza of Aragon. You can admire her imperial gold crown in the cathedral’s treasury.

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Palermo also has a fountain to rival the best of Rome. La Fontana Pretoria was once prudishly called the “fountain of shame” because of the multiple nude statues. Judge for yourself!

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The baroque also makes a grand stand in the four elegant palazzo facades of the Quattro Canti, framing the intersection of Palermo’s two main boulevards.

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I know I’m at the heart of the onion that is Palermo when I enter the labyrinth of laneways in the city’s sprawling markets – especially La Vucciria and Ballarò – with their clustered stalls that remind me of an Arabic souk. I like to listen to the clamour of the traders’ shouted Sicilian dialect. Sheltered from the sun under red canvas awnings you find the fish stalls. In his book, Midnight in Sicily Peter Robb described how the diffused red light of the market “enhanced the translucent red of the big fishes’ flesh and the silver glitter of the smaller ones’ skins”.

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Wandering the old quarters of Palermo, you’ll pick up the aroma of traditional street-food fried in large vats such as panelle (chickpea flour fritters), cazzilli (potato croquettes) or meusa (spleen) which are typical dishes of the friggerie. You will smell char-grilled peppers. And if I want to eat these treats in doors I go to classic restaurants like L’Antica Foccaceria San Francesco which has been cooking the same thing for decades.

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I find it interesting to see how traditional cuisine has developed and one of my favourite things to do in Palermo (or anywhere I go in Sicily) is to find restaurants that re-invent traditional dishes and present them with contemporary twists.  And if I want to contrast the old-style dishes with contemporary versions there are still typical trattorie like La Casa del Brodo that have classic Palermo dishes like sarde a beccafico, caponata, pasta con la sarde.

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I’m also seriously interested in discovering the ever increasing new hip bars that serve glasses of Sicilian wine varieties like grillo and nero d’avola and boutique beers matched with interesting snacks that reflect modern Sicilian cuisine.

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When the time comes to escape the close-quarter hustle of the city, I can catch a bus to the north-west side of Palermo to admire the Liberty-style residences of the capital’s once-wealthy merchants. I can travel to the picturesque seaside town of Mondello, where I can dine out on the waterfront, drink in the view, scoop up a granita or gelato, eat a cannolo or a slice of cassata. It is definitely a place to eat fish and enjoy a drink or two.

Mondello Harbour

Back in town I can always book a ticket to the opera or ballet at the Teatro Massimo and eat a delicious cold treat on my way back to where I am staying.

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Palermo’s gardens are another escape. I love to wander in the greenery of the Villa Giulia or the Piazza Marina with its massive fig trees, which are spectacular. The modern art galleries are another diversion. There’s the GAM (La Galleria d’Arte Moderna), Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea, Nuvole Incontri d’Arte and Palazzo Riso which I was told about on my last visit to Palermo, when I saw an exhibition of works by Francesco Simeti.

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Palazzo Riso is a baroque neo-classical edifice built in the 1780s. It was Mussolini’s temporary headquarters in World War II and bombed by the Americans in a failed attempt to kill the Italian dictator (who had left town only days before the air-raid). For years the Palazzo stood in ruins and when it was finally restored during the late-1990s, the restorers preserved some of the damage as evidence of its history.

Although I have seen Guttoso’s painting of the Vucciria Market hanging in the Palazzo Chiaramonte Steri, I have yet to see the basement where thousands of prisoners accused of heresy through the Holy Inquisition were imprisoned. These prison walls are covered in prisoners’ simple etchings, which were plastered over in the 19th Century.

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I take great pleasure in returning to a place as rich and varied as Sicily and why revisiting a city as layered as Palermo is top of my European travel wish list. It may not have the reputation of Rome (the eternal city) or Florence (la serenissima) but it has depth and diversity.

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SPAGHETTI with ‘NDUJA, SQUID, VONGOLE AND PAN GRATTATO

In a restaurant in London recently I ordered a plate of Spaghetti alla Chitarra – square cut spaghetti that was cooked with some very spicy pork sausage.  Square cut spaghetti are especially widespread in Abruzzo, but also in Molise, Lazio and Puglia and obviously can now be found elsewhere in the world.

It reminded me how, about a year previously in one restaurant  in Marin County I ordered Rustichella d’Abruzzo Chitarra with Manila clams, Pacific squid and ‘Nduja with anchovy and breadcrumbs. The Italian square-cut spaghetti were originally rolled over a box strung with guitar strings to create its straight edges.

There is a little bit of Italian regional fusion in this dish:  The pasta is from Abruzzo, ‘Nduja from Calabria,  and anchovy and breadcrumbs are very Sicilian.

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I do not have a recipe for Rustichella d’Abruzzo Chitarra with Manila clams, Pacific squid,  ‘Nduja and anchovy and breadcrumbs, however, I have a pretty good palate and a sharp sense of smell.

I am also able to discern flavours and identify ingredients. I know about cooking methods and this is my interpretation of this recipe. Obviously there may be many differences in the way they would cook this dish, for example in my recipe for simplicity, I have cooked Part 2 and 3 separately and I have then joined the components together. This is not to say that the next time, I would cook this in the same way. I always adapt and experiment with recipes and I am pretty lucky that the majority of times the food tastes OK.

Clearly, this is on my estimation of amounts and is based on my tastes and preferences.

Recipe for 6 people

300 g spaghetti. Use good quality durum wheat spaghetti for example the recommended amount is 100 g per person. I always think that this is far too much- 50g per person is fine in my household but adapt amounts accordingly.

Part 1. Breadcrumbs, anchovies and garlic mixture (often called pangrattato in Italian) is used to sprinkle on top of the dish instead of cheese.

  • 1 cup bread crumbs made from 1-2 day old good quality bread
    ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more if needed
    12 anchovies, chopped
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, chopped finely

In a fry pan (I use a non stick one) heat the oil. Add garlic and toss them around for about 30 seconds before adding the anchovies. Stir over medium heat until fragrant. Add breadcrumbs and continue to stir them until they are golden and toasted. Remove from the pan when they are ready otherwise they will continue to cook.

Part 2

  • 5-6 tablespoons of’ ‘Nduja per person
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 red onions, sliced thinly

In a frypan sauté the onion in the olive oil. When it is soft and golden add the ‘Nduja and stir gently on low heat until it is dissolved. You may need to use a little water.

Part 3

  • Estimate about 150g of both squid sliced into small pieces and vongole or clams (without their shell) per person – adjust to your tastes. In the restaurant version there were tiny baby squid and octopi used, just as they do in Sicily. This makes me think that in the US they must be allowed to fish for baby fish.
  • 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • a little salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons of passata

Sauté the fish in the oil until it is golden. Add the passata, stir over medium-low heat until you have the consistency of a thick tomato sauce. You may need to add a little more liquid if necessary.

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Complete Part 1.
Prepare the ingredients for Part 1 and 2.
Cook the pasta and while it is cooking make part 1 and part 2 using different saucepans.
To the fish mixture add the ‘Nduja mixture.
Drain the pasta and dress it with the sauce.
Dish it out into separate plates or into a large serving plate, top with the breadcrumb mixture and serve.

I have written about ‘Nduja in an earlier post. See: Nduja, A Spreadable and Spicy Pork Salame From Calabria

 

OUT AND ABOUT IN SICILY

It is always good to visit Sicily  in May 2016 and this time I spent most of my time mainly in  South-eastern Sicily.  But we did wander elsewhere – distances are not that great.

As usual, the relatives in Ragusa and Augusta made sure that I was well fed, but I do enjoy getting out and about and seeing the changes and trends that are evident in their food culture. I do that here in Australia as well, or for that matter any place I revisit.

Below are some photos of Sicily and links to existing recipes from the blog … more writing and more recipes soon.

Stunning scenery

Acireale

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And Granmichele,

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A Nature Reserve near Donna Fugata

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Antiquity

A very old church in Modica.

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Inside this old church that has been a stable for many years.

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Area Archeologica di Cava d’Ispica

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The old stone walls, some being repaired or rebuilt.

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Wandering around in Baroque towns

Ragusa Ibla

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Noto

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Modica

 

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Caltagirone

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Brushes with fame

Moltalbano’s apartment in Punta Secca

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Some traditional food from S.E. Sicily

*Links to these recipes:

*Maccu

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*Ravioli con ricotta

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*Scacce

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New ways of preparing old recipes

*Marinaded Fish

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*Sarde a beccafico

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Deconstructed cannolo

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Festive Occasions Infiorata in Noto

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And more carpets of flowers,

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Catania  Fish Market below

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Various cuts of Tuna.

Key in the word “Tuna “and you will find many recipes, but suggesting sustainable fish.

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*Zucca Lunga

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Gnocchetti Sardi dressed with a Tomato and a Pork Sausage Ragú and Differences between Ragú, Sugo and Salsa

I ate at a Sardinian restaurant in Melbourne recently and ordered Malloreddus Campidanese – Homemade traditional semolina pasta with slow cooked sausage ragú, wild fennel, chili and Sardinian pecorino cheese.

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Another name for Malloreddus are Gnocchetti Sardi (small, gnocchi shaped pasta). These are made with hard wheat flour (durum wheat), salt and water…no eggs. The mixture is kneaded for a long time and then shaped into small concave gnocchi with the help of one’s thumb and a small tool to make the ribs/ grooves– the indentation traps the sauce.
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Campidano is the name of the vast plain in Sardegna (Sardinia) so the dish originates from that part of Sardegna.

Pecorino Sardo – is strong tasting and obviously local and the preferred grating cheese. Wild fennel grows freely in Sardegna.

Sardo (masculine, singular), Sardi (masculine, plural) = Sardinian.

RAGÚ and SUGO
The ragú implies that the sauce was reduced, i.e. the flavours are concentrated and the ingredients are usually cooked for a long time. The resulting sauce is used to dress pasta, fregola, polenta, rice.  The Italian expression ‘ragú’ is derived from the French ‘ragout’-it is a thick stew of meat, poultry or fish with or without vegetables.

A ‘sugo’ is often used interchangeably with ‘ragú’- different regions of Italy prefer one term above the other, but generally a ragú is cooked on low heat for a long time and the flavours are concentrated.

Because sausages cook quickly I would probably hesitate to refer to this pasta dressing as a ragú, unless I had added some pieces of pork meat which would benefit with longer cooking.

I had some commercially bought Gnocchetti Sardi in my pantry. I also had crushed tomatoes. I bought some Italian pork sausages. I also know where to collect wild fennel, but if you purchase Italian pork and fennel sausages (and perhaps add a few fennel seeds) you will have similar results.

The dish is so easy to replicate.

6 Italian pork sausages or pork and fennel sausages (hot or mild)

1 onion, finely chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup of dry white or red wine
800g crushed tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, whole
seasoning: salt and crushed chili flakes, or pepper to taste
some wild fennel sprigs or ½ tsp fennel seeds
fresh basil (optional)

100g of pasta per person. I cooked 400g of Gnocchetti Sardi
grated Pecorino (of good quality). I sometimes use Pecorino Pepato (has pepper corns in it)

Heat the oil in a pan, add the onion, and allow to soften over a moderate heat.
Remove the casings from the sausages and crumb the meat, separating it into small pieces. Add the sausage meat, brown, add the wine and evaporate.
Add the crushed tomatoes, seasoning, garlic, fennel and basil.
Cover and cook slowly on  low heat until thickened for about 30- 40 minutes.
Remove the garlic before dressing the pasta.

Cook the pasta, dress and present with grated pecorino.

SALSA
As an alternative you could make a simple tomato salsa…  so what is the difference between a tomato based sugo and a tomato salsa?

To an Italian this is important.

A tomato salsa is made quickly with pureed tomatoes…. No meat or vegetables, easy, fragrant and perfect for summer as a dressing for pasta:

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
800g crushed tomatoes (fabulous with fresh tomatoes, peeled)
2 garlic cloves, whole
fresh basil
salt and pepper

Put all of the ingredients together in a pan and cook uncovered until thickened.
Remove the casings from the sausages and crumb the meat, separating it into small pieces.
Heat the oil in a pan, add the sausage meat, brown it and add this (meat and juices) to the prepared salsa.

Check out one of my old posts, great photos of my Sicilian aunt making Sicilian Gnocchetti:

Gnucchiteddi (Making Small Gnocchi Shapes Using My Great Grandmother’s Device)