This site, Great Italian Chefs, is worth looking at. It is part of the Great British Chefs website and on this site you will find information about some of the different regions of Italy and regional recipes.
The recipes are ‘great’ and are by professional chefs.
I too have posted many of these recipes on my blog and a passatempo – pass-the-time, a diversion, you could compare their recipes with mine.
Time and time again I get asked about what I recommend as must-try dishes when in in Sicily.
You may be familiar with the websites for Great British Chefs (leading source of professional chef recipes in the UK) and their second sister website – Great Italian Chefs – dedicated to celebrating the wonderful food culture, traditions and innovations of Italy’s greatest chefs.
As their website informs us:
The Italians themselves are fiercely passionate about their culinary heritage, and with good reason – a large number of the world’s best dishes come from the cities, fields and shores of this deeply cultural, historic country.
Today, Sicily is one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations, and it’s the food that keeps people coming back year after year.
From Great Italian Chefs comes 10 must-try dishes when you’re in Sicily(29 September 2017).
There are really 11 dishes listed altogether as it is assumed that you already know about Arancini.
The Sicilian specialties are:
Raw red prawns
Busiate al pesto trapanese
Pasta con le sarde
Pasta alla norma
Cous cous di pesce
Involtini di pesce spada
You will find almost all of the recipes for these dishes in my blog and I have added links and some photos to the recipes in this post below. Some of the photos are from my first book Sicilian Seafood Cooking. I cooked the food, the food stylist was Fiona Rigg, Graeme Gillies was the food photographer.
Although I have no recipes on my blog for Fritto misto, Raw red prawns and Involtini di pesce spada, I have explained each of these these Sicilian specialties and where appropriate I have links to similar recipes on my blog.
Many of you may be familiar with Fritto misto (a mixed dish of mixed fried things: fritto = fried, misto = mixed) and know that it can apply to vegetables, fish or meat. These are cut into manageable size, are dusted in flour, deep fried and served plainly with just cut lemon.
The Fritto misto I knew as a child was what we ordered in restaurants and was the one that originated from Turin (Piedmont) and Milan (Lombardy). It was a mixture of meats and offal and I particularly liked the brains. Fritto misto was originally peasant food, the family slaughtered an animal for eating (usually veal) and the organs such as sweetbreads, kidneys, brains and bits of meat became the Fritto misto – it was a way to eat the whole animal and it was eaten as close to the slaughter and fresh as possible. Rather than having been dipped in flour the various morsels were crumbed. Seasonal crumbed vegetables were also often included – mostly eggplant and zucchini in the warm months, cauliflower and artichokes in the cooler season.
If we wanted to eat a fish variety of Fritto misto we would order a Fritto Misto di Mare/or Di Pesce (from the sea or of fish).
Sicily is an island and Sicilians eat a lot of fish and the Fritto misto you eat in Sicily is the fish variety – fresh fish is fundamental. In the Sicilian Fritto misto you will also find Nunnata (neonata (Italian) – neonate),
Sicilians are very fond of Nunnata – the Sicilian term used to call the minute newborn fish of different species including fish, octopi and crabs; each is almost transparent and so soft that they are eaten whole.
For Sicilians Nunnata is a delicacy but these very small fish are an important link in the marine biological food chain, and that wild and indiscriminate fishing endangers the survival of some fish species.
Many Sicilian fishers and vendors justify selling juvenile fish on the grounds that they are ‘bycatch’ (taken while fishing for other species). They argue that the fish are already dead or injured, so there is no point in throwing them back. It seems that for Sicilians, ‘sustainability’ means that all fish are fair game as long as they can catch their quota. However, it is important to acknowledge that the traditional fishing for juveniles is an important activity for small-scale fishers. It only takes place for 60 consecutive days during the winter and therefore has a high socio-economic impact at local level. When in Sicily I refuse to eat this and I only encountered one restaurant in Sciacca that refused to present it to patrons who specifically asked for it.
Fritto misto di mare or Fritto misto di pesce
For the recipe of mixed fried fish, select a variety of fish: squid and prawns, sardines/anchovies, some fleshy white fish, whitebait too. Carefully clean the prawns leaving the head attached and removing the internal alimentary canal; clean the squid and cut into rings or strips and gut the sardines /anchovies and leave the head attached if you can.
Wipe the fish dry and dip the fish a little at a time into the flour and salt, sieve or shake to remove the excess flour and fry in very hot oil until golden and crispy. I use extra virgin oil for everything. Place on paper to drain and serve hot with lemon wedges and perhaps some more salt.
Raw red prawns
Gambero Rosso, (Aristaeomorpha foliacea) is a Sicilian red prawn.These prawns are blood-red and are generally wild caught in the Mediterranean.
All very fresh seafood can be eaten raw and is loved by Sicilians, usually served with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Most times the seafood is marinaded in these even if it is for a short time – the lemon juice “cooks” the fish.
Pesto trapanese (from Tapani in Western Sicily) is also called Matarocco. Busiate is the type of pasta traditionally made by coiling a strip of pasta cut diagonally around a thin rod (like a knitting needle).
I am saddened and distressed to say that recipes for Cous Cous di pesce and Cannoli have disappeared from my blog and I can only assume that because I have transferred my blog several times to new sites these posts have been lost in the process. I will add these recipes at a later date.
Particular dishes or ingredients come and go – for example remember the popularity and overuse of bocconcini or sun-dried tomatoes in so many dishes?
The novelty of certain produce or dishes wears off for a while and then they re-appear, sometimes creatively disguised and sometimes they become popular again.
Recently I enjoyed Steak Tartare in Paris, Venice, and Cividale del Friuli, Copenhagen and Malmo –– all prepared slightly differently, and some were better than others.
My father used to make his version of Beef Tartare –bistecca alla tartara. He used to pound slices of beef very thinly, add salt and pepper, a drizzle of good olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and leave it to marinate for a short time till it whitened – the meat changed colour, ‘cooked’ by the lemon juice.
The term Tartar is applied to nomadic Mongolic peoples. In the thirteenth century, the Tatars overran large parts of Russia and Europe (what is now Hungary, Germany and Bulgaria). The Tartars were reputed to be skilled horsemen, and this is where my father’s explanation of the origins of bistecca alla tartara comes from. The Tartars used to put slices of finely cut meat under their saddles and the sweat from the horse’s back would marinade and ‘cook’ the meat. When they camped for the night they had dinner ready.
Steak Tartare elsewhere is usually made with finely chopped beef and then it is either served with some condiments or the condiments are mixed with the meat before it is presented.
Popular condiments vary but the most common are finely chopped parsley and onion, capers, mustard, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and egg yolks. Sometimes there may be anchovies, cornichons, Worcestershire or Tabasco sauce. As you can see by some of the photos (I did not take photos of them all) garnishes and accompaniments vary.
I prefer my Steak Tartare simply dressed with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and egg yolk. I like an additional egg yolk on top and a few condiments on the side.
Any good quality beef (tenderloin to sirloin or fillet) is suitable but it must be freshly cut – red in colour. Beef eye fillet is good as it is not fatty.
Using a very sharp knife, remove any fat and slice the steak into thin slices (cut with the grain), then cut across the slices to create strips of meat.
Cut across the meat again until you have the size of the mince you prefer. Place into the refrigerator while you prepare the condiments to dress the meat.
Whisk egg yolk, add the lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Add the dressing to the meat and gently mix them together. Taste, and if necessary, add more of the above.
If you prefer your mixture highly seasoned add any of the following: Dijon mustard (Moutarde de Dijon), chopped anchovies, Worcestershire or Tabasco sauce, chopped onions, capers, cornichons, parsley.
Divide the meat on chilled dinner plates (form into disks) and press down firmly to pack tightly and remove any air holes.
Make a small dent in the centre of each disk and place a whole egg yolk on top of the meat.
I like to present the meat with a few garnishes on the side – a few capers, some chopped onion, a dollop of egg mayonnaise or mustard.
I serve it immediately as meat discolors quickly.
I enjoy scooping my meat with crisp, toasted slices of thin Rye bread (cold) or rye biscuits.
In one Paris restaurant, the Steak Tartare was presented with French fries, in Venice with bread croutons, in Cividale del Friuli it came with hot bread in a paper bag and curls of butter. Cividale del Friuli is close to Slovenia and the Steak Tartare was prepared alla Slovenia – it had chili in the mixture.
In Malmo it came with a little sour cream and in Copenhagen with thick slices of fresh rye bread – it was perfect for their version of this dish – strips of beef and an excellent egg mayonnaise to use as a dressing.
I enjoyed this version of Steak Tartare the most. I do not usually mention the names of eateries but I will on this occasion:
Manfreds focuses on everyday food, which is aided by modern techniques and raw materials of the highest quality.
The raw materials are biodynamic vegetables from Kiselgården and Birkemosgård, roots from Lammefjord, pig from Hindsholm, lamb from Havervadgaard, ox from Mineslund and herbs from the forest.
At Manfreds the wine is natural wine, which has made the restaurant Copenhagen’s first natural wine bar.
During my last visit to France I travelled through Alsace with friends. This is France’s great wine growing region that produces great Rieslings and there were a couple of wineries I wanted to visit.
Located in a typical Alsatian, small village called Niedermorschwihr, I went to sample the wines of Albert Boxler.
Wine brings out the best in me and there I met a person who like me was also very interested in food and he asked me if I had visited Christine Ferber’s Au Relais des Trois Epis in the main street of this tiny town.
Until then, and much to my embarrassment I did not know about Christine Ferber or her recipe books, but I had certainly heard the names of some famous culinary greats who have championed her delicious creations such as Parisian pastry star Pierre Hermé, and chefs Alain Ducasse, the Troisgros family, and Antoine Westermann.
Christine Ferber is a master patissière but who is mostly recognised for her quality confitures – she is France’s revered jam maker.
Although her épicerie it is in the main street, it is so tiny and unassuming that I almost missed it.
Apart from the books she has written, the cakes, pastries, traditional breads and jams that she makes, it makes sense that in such a small town Ferber has other stock.
In her shop I saw ready-made/ take- away food, fruit and vegetables, newspapers, cheeses, small-goods, chocolates, pots, pans and local pottery.
One of the reasons that Ferber is so highly respected by her culinary peers is that she employs locals and sources local produce – she is from Niedermorschwihr and is a forth generation pastry chef who took over the family business from her father. Of course the fruit she uses for her confitures is seasonal and she makes it in small batches in her small commercial kitchen behind the shop. It is cooked in a relatively small copper cauldron and distributed into jars by hand so that the any solid fruit is evenly distributed in the jars. By making small batches of jam she is in better control of adding the correct amount of sugar – as we all know not all batches of the same type of fruit are the same – they vary in quantity and quality of ripeness , juice, sweetness and pectin. Ferber usually uses apples to add pectin to fruit lacking in pectin.
I suspect that Ferber also relishes the quality she achieves through her small-scale production and the satisfaction that comes from having contributed to the making of each batch of jam herself.
When I visited, Ferber had been making Blood orange marmalade – oranges sanguine in French. I an very fond of Blood Oranges and I was introduced to them as a child in Sicily. They are called arance sanguine in Italian. In Sicily, they are cultivated extensively in the eastern part of the island.
Marmelade d’oranges sanguines – Blood orange marmalade, 220 g ( See recipe below)
Description:The blood orange marmalade is very balanced and less bitter than traditional marmalade. Ingredients: Blood oranges, sugar, apple pectin, lemon juice. Origin: Alsace, France Brand:Christine Ferber Producer: Christine Ferber and her team prepare these wonderful jams in Niedermorschwihr, a small village nestled in the heart of vines. Not more than four kilograms of fruits are processed in copper pots for jams that have convinced the greatest chefs.
Blood Orange from Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber
About 2 3/4 pounds (1.2 kg) blood oranges, or 2 cups 1 ounce (500g/50cl) juice
1 3/4 pounds (750g) Granny Smith apples
4 2/3 cup (1 kg) sugar plus 1 cup (200 g)
3 cups 2 ounces (750 g/75 cl) water plus 7 ounces (200 g/20 cl)
Juice of 1 small lemon
Rinse the apples in cold water. Remove the stems and cut them into quarters without peeling them. Put them in a preserving pan and cover with 3 cups 2 ounces (75 g/75 cl) water.
Bring the apple mixture to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes on low heat. The apples will be soft.
Collect the juice by pouring the preparation into a chinois sieve, pressing lightly on the fruit with the back of the skimmer. Filter the juice a second time by pouring it through cheesecloth previously wet and wrung out, letting the juice run freely. It is best to leave the juice overnight refrigerated.
Measure 2 cups 1 ounce (500 g/50 cl) juice, leaving in the bowl the sediment that formed overnight, to have clearer jelly.
Squeeze the 2 3/4 pounds (1.2 kg) blood oranges. Measure 2 cups 1 ounces (500 g/50 cl) juice and put the seeds into a cheesecloth bag.
Rinse and brush the 2 oranges in cold water and slice them into very thin rounds. In a preserving pan, poach the rounds with 1 cup (200 g) sugar and 7 ounces (200 g/20 cl) water. Continue cooking at a boil until the slices are translucent.
Add the apple juice, 4 2/3 cups (1 kg) sugar, lemon juice, and seeds in the cheesecloth bag. Bring to a boil, stirring gently. Skim. Continue cooking on high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Skim again if need be. Remove the cheesecloth with the seeds. Return to a boil. Put the jam into jars immediately and seal.
Yield: 6-7 8-ounce jars (220 g)
One of the delights of Alsace were the numerous storks.
Bread can be the perfect accompaniment for almost everything, but I particularly like eating it with cheese.
I have been staying in Paris and Alsace I have been making the most of of both.
I like artisan breads – handmade and hand-shaped breads of all shapes and sizes, thin baguettes with a maximum crust, two kilo loaves cut to size by weight –preferably dense, and moist sourdoughs with a crusty outer and a chewy centre.
I like bread made with stone milled flours, whole grain breads with everything grainy from the larger sunflower and pumpkin seeds to millet, flax and poppy seeds, all wholesome breads.
Those breads made with rye flour are almost always my favourites especially pains aux noix laden with walnuts.
I have always particularly liked heavy rye breads – the moist, sturdier breads flavoured with caraway and the heavy textured kind……and I could not have wished for better rye breads than the ones I sampled in Copenhagen and Malmö.
I am sure that I could taste orange rind, fennel seeds, caraway seeds and cardamom in the bread in the photo above.
One of the only times I like the drier, white bread is when I am eating tomatoes drizzled with a good extra virgin olive oil or a sweet gorgonzola. The bread in Northern Italy was perfect for this.
The following recipe is very easy to make and achieves a moist grainy textured bread. Although there are no additional flavours in the recipe any of the following flavours can be added to the mixture – grated orange rind, fennel seeds, caraway seeds and powdered cardamom.
Lionel Vatinet is a successful artisan baker. He joined France’s prestigious artisans’ guild, Les Compagnons du Devoir, at age 16. After apprenticing with respected French and European bakers for 7 years he gained the title of Maitre Boulanger (Master Baker). He is preserving the ancient art and science of bread baking in his bakery La Farm Bakery from North Carolina (of all places!).
From A Passion for Bread: Lessons from a Master Baker
1/2 cup rye berries, rinsed and drained
5 1/4 cups warm water
1/2 cup millet, rinsed and drained
1 envelope (1/4 ounce- 7.5 gm) active dry yeast
4 cups whole-grain rye flour
1 cup bread flour
2 tablespoons fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
vegetable oil, for greasing
In a small saucepan, cover the rye berries with 2 cups of the water and bring to a boil. Simmer gently over moderately low heat until all of the water has been absorbed and the rye berries are al dente, about 40 minutes. Spread the rye berries on parchment paper and let cool completel
Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, cover the millet with 1 cup of the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to moderately low and simmer until all of the water has been absorbed and the millet is halfway to tender, about 12 minutes. Spread the millet on parchment paper and let cool completely.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, mix the yeast with the remaining 2 1/4 cups of water and let stand until foamy, 10 minutes. Add both of the flours and the salt and mix at low speed for 5 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 2 minutes. Mix in the cooled rye berries and millet along with 3/4 cup of the rolled oats. Scrape the dough into a greased large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm spot until doubled, about 2 hours.
Scatter the remaining 1/2 cup of oats on a work surface and scrape the dough onto them. Roll the dough until coated with the oats, then pat into a large brick shape. Transfer the dough to a greased 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan (23 x 13 x 7cm), loaf pan and cover with a damp kitchen towel. Let stand in a warm spot until slightly risen, about 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 450°. Bake the bread for 55 minutes to 1 hour, until lightly browned on top and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 200°. Transfer to a rack and let cool for 30 minutes. Take out of the mold and let cool completely.
The simplest of ingredients can give so much pleasure.
I have always liked Italian fresh cheeses and while in Venice and Trieste I ate as much fresh mozzarella, burrata and stracciatella as I could. The tomatoes have been excellent also.
Fresh mozzarella whether made from cow or buffalo milk (di bufala) is fairly easy to find in other countries apart from Italy, burrata is more difficult to
find but it is very speedily finding fame and fortune in other countries and replacing the very popular Caprese salad that had dominated menus for places where tourists gather.
Stracciatella is a soft cream almost runny cheese, a combination of shredded fresh mozzarella curd and cream. Straccia (“rag” or “shred) from the verb stracciare“- to tear.
Burrata, like mozzarella can be made from cow or buffalo milk. The outer layer is made of fresh mozzarella – a pulled or stretched cheese – but the centre is filled with oozing, creamy and delicate tasting stracciatella. Cut it open, and wow… you get that double whammy!
Because I love the Italian language I want to tell you that burrata (buttered) is derived from burro – butter. Burrata hails from southern Italy, from the Puglia region where orecchiette come from. Rather than being filled with stracciatella it can also be filled with heavy cream – this of course is what becomes butter.
In the photos there are two types of burrate (plural of burrata), the rounded shape or sealed sphere, and the one tied together with vegetal string. Both burrate delicious and both enveloping a creamy filling.
Burrata is eaten as fresh as possible – ideally within 24 hours of being made and is usually sold in its water like whey.
So when you find heirloom tomatoes and very tasty ordinary or cherry tomatoes and burrata you get a triple+++ whammy…. mild acidity of tomatoes, basil super-duper good quality extra virgin olive oil and you have pretty much ecstasy.
I actually made this tomato and salad in Paris… from Italian ingredients (apart from tomatoes and basil and a little red onion from the countries around the Mediterranean.
I am in Alsace and I have bought some Pain d’épices.
Apart from the Natural or original Pain d’épices , the Rum and Raisins, Figs and Orange and Cointreau varieties appealed to me.
My first choice was the one with Orange and Cointreau but it was too sweet. As you can see there were a few different flavoured Pain d’épices to choose from.
I finally settled for the one with figues – figs. Superbe!
Pain d’épices or pain d’épice is French for “spice bread” and it has been around for a very long time. According to Le Dictionnaire de l’Académie française (1694) it is made with rye flour, honey and spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, black pepper and aniseed. The perfume of the spices and the honey was pleasantly overwhelming.
It is sold by the slice and although this looks thin it is a fairly thick slice (otherwise the Pain d’épices would crumble).
We ate it with a runny French cheese. Say no more!
Pain d’épices is a specialty of Alsace and and I bought mine in Strasbourg. I saw other specialty vendors in Gertwiller, Roppenheim, Kaysersberg, Riquewihr and Colmar (were I am writing this post).
Wasn’t at all bad accompanied by some of the excellent white wines from Alsace.
There are many recipes I found on the web for Pain d’épices – honey seems to provide the moisture but I am pretty sure that the one I bought also has butter. The range of spices vary and some add coffee. I shall search for a recipe and make some Pain d’épices when I get back home – it does not appear to be difficult.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This was a strongly flavoured stock with eel, spinach and egg. We were given bowls and spoons.
A form of Yakiniku? – duck cooked on a hot stone. We could have had tongue as well.
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.
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.
In a different eatery in the backstreets of Kyoto I particularly liked the tomato tempura – small explosions of sweet and acid flavour.
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.
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 recipesor 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.
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.
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.
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.
The burnt rice around the pot of Kamameshi is particularly flavourful.
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.!!!
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.
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.
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 bonitofish flakes and I like to watch them dance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Even dried mushrooms:
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.
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.
Marinated them with bay and rosemary, extra virgin olive oil and a little good quality balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
I bought prosciutto and softened it in a little extra virgin olive oil in a small pan.
I removed the prosciutto and used the same small pan( that is all there was…no lid either) to sauté the pigeon.
Added some white wine, bought it to the boil and cooked it for about 1 minute.
Removed the pigeon and evaporated the wine and juices to make a glaze.
Presented them on tender green beans but also had a range of side vegetables.