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Sicilian Cunnighiu (rabbit) as cooked in Ragusa, ‘a Portuisa’ 

One of my Sicilian aunt’s favourite ways to cook rabbit in Ragusa was Cunnighiu a Pattuisa (cunnighiu is coniglio in Italian, rabbit in English)I did some research and found that two other Sicilian food writers call it something different: Giuseppe Coria calls it Cunnighiu a Portisa, and Pino Correnti Cunnighiu a Portuisa. In Italian this becomes, alla Portoghese, that is in the Portuguese style.

I am not quite sure why the Portuguese are accredited for this recipe, but one can assume that it is because of the Spaniards in Sicily.

Sicily was ruled by Spaniards at various times by: House of Aragon (1282–1516), Kingdom of Spain (1516–1713), Duchy of Savoy (1713–1720), Habsburg Monarchy (1720–1735) and Kingdom of Naples (1735–1806).

Located on the southwestern tip of the European continent in the Iberian Peninsula are Spain, Andorra and Portugal and Portugal only gained independence from Spain in 1640. Olive oil, olives and capers are used extensively in Sicilian and Spanish cooking.

There are various versions of this recipe for rabbit cooked in the Portuguese style as cooked in Ragusa and most seem to contain green olives and capers. Some contain vinegar, others white wine. Some recipes suggest adding a spoonful of tomato paste (mainly to enrich the colour), some add a little sugar, others chilli.

I cooked a version of this rabbit for friends in Adelaide, the photos tell the story.

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In a fry pan I browned 1 rabbit in about ½ cup extra virgin oil. I sectioned the rabbit into 5 pieces (number of pieces is optional).

I then added some salt and pepper, some green olives and capers, 2-4 cloves garlic and some fresh thyme. Sicilians would use a few fresh bay leaves. If you are using salted capers make sure to rinse them and soak them in several changes of fresh water. 

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I then added about 1 glass of white wine mixed with ½ cup of white wine vinegar.  I covered it with a lid and cooked it slowly on low heat. 

*If it is a tender rabbit and if it is cut into small enough pieces, the rabbit may be cooked by the time all of the liquid has evaporated. If the rabbit is not as young or as tender as you had hoped, and you feel that it needs to be cooked for longer add a little water, cover with a lid and simmer it gently until it is soft – keep on adding more wine and water.

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I partly cooked some potatoes and placed them with the rabbit for the last 20-30 minutes of cooking. The green leaves are mint. These add colour and taste: Ragusani use quite a bit of mint in their cooking. 

One way to cook Rabbit like a Sicilian

POLLO OR GALLINA ALLA CONTADINA, ALLA PAESANA. Braised Chicken or rabbit with Olives, Sicilian style

RABBIT with cloves, cinnamon and red wine (CONIGLIO DA LICODIA EUBEA)

CONIGLIO A PARTUISA (Braised rabbit as cooked in Ragusa)

POLLO AL GUAZZETTO (Sardinian Chicken or rabbit braised with Saffron)

 

CAPONATA FROM PALERMO (made with eggplants)

No exact quantities,  just like an Italian.  You can tell from the photos how easy it is to make Caponata Palermitana. Unlike Caponata Catanese there are no peppers (capsicums) in this caponata but the rest of the ingredients and processes for making  any caponata are the same.

I used 2 egglants. Cooked each separately as I did not want the frying to be overcrowded. I use salt when I am cooking and not after the dish is cooked. I always use extra virgin olive oil.

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A good heavy saucepan is good to use.

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After the eggplants, sauté the onions and the celery. I used 1 large onion, 2 sticks of celery and some of the tender leavesof the celery. Add some salt.

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When the onions and celery have softened to your liking, add green olives and capers.

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I made a space in the centre of the saucepan, added a couple of teaspoons of sugar. Melted that and added about a quarter of a cup of red vinegar and evaporated it.

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I made another space in the centre and added about 1/3 cup of passata.

CFB15A9B-AE28-48E3-A9E7-E05752A95BF3Cooked it – you can see that there is very little liquid left.

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Time to add the eggplants and combine all the ingredients.

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This time I will decorate the caponata with fried breadcrumbs (day old bread mollica) toasted in a frypan with a little olive oil.

I could decorate the caponata with toasted pine nuts or almonds but I think the bread will add crunch but not too much taste so as not to compete with the eggplants. At this time of year, egglants are of excellent quality.

Mint rather than basil appealed to me more on this occasion.

There are numerous recipes for caponate (I can spell, it is the plural of caponata). Use the search button.

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CAPPERI – CAPERS



Caper bushes are everywhere in Sicily, growing wild in small crevices on stone walls.

The flower is beautiful and delicate but unfortunately the bush I have photographed in Sicily was not in flower when I was there in December.

I can remember my father being very excited when he found some caper bushes growing in the crevices of the wall of a very old church called San Giusto in Trieste (the patron saint) – my father never imagined that capers could grow so far north. They grow well in countries around the Mediterranean – Cyprus, Turkey, Greece.

I prefer to use capers preserved in rock salt rather than in brine – they taste like unadulterated capers rather than capers in vinegar. Salted capers need to be thoroughly rinsed, then soaked for about 30 minutes and rinsed again, but this will depend on the brand of capers – the easiest way to tell if they are still too salty is to taste them and then soak them again. Capers in the vinegar brine impart a particular flavour and are more acceptable in recipes where wine or vinegar is one of the ingredients.

They are extensively used in Sicilian cooking and Sicilians prefer the smaller capers. Good quality ones come from Salina (one of the Aeolian islands) or Pantelleria (an island, southwest of Sicily and closer to North Africa).

You will be pleased to know that we now have Australian capers growing on the dry rocky slopes of the River Murray. Some nurseries sell the seeds or plants and they are being grown in some home gardens.

Apparently in some parts of Sicily, it is common to boil the leaves and the young shoots in salty water, then they need to be drained well, dressed with good quality olive oil and lemon juice and eaten as a vegetable.

The caper flower/buds need to be soaked in water for at least 2-3 days (apparently they have some bitter taste, like olives) and then are preserved under salt or under vinegar.

Those of you living in Australia may remember how nasturtium berries used to be pickled in vinegar and called capers – we Italians knew better. Mind you, my family knew nothing about rhubarb. Our neighbours gave us some and we threw away the stalks and boiled the leaves to eat as a vegetable. Fortunately, because they tasted so bad, we did not eat them.

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