Category Archives: Wine, Spirits, Liquers and Drinks

PRODUCE IN GIPPSLAND – Campside Eating

If you are ever in Gippsland (Victoria) I recommend seeking out Oak and Swan sourdough made by Betsy and Greg Evans. Their produce is fabulous and their range is extensive for such a small, home bakery.

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Oak and Swan Sourdough is a small, wood fired organic bakery in Mardan, South Gippsland. They mill their own flour from organic Victorian grain and bake their sourdoughs in their wood fired oven. Now that is Special!.

I bought two loaves of sourdough bread – the Sifted Wheat and the Khorasan – and currant buns from the Foster Farmers Market – on the 3rd Saturday of every month from 8am until 12 noon in the Foster War Memorial Art Centre gardens. The buns had a hint of sweetness, you could smell and taste the yeast and they had a great texture.

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Each Saturday Betsy also sells their bread at one of the Farmers Market in the area, in Koonwarra , Coal Creek and the Prom Coast. If you cannot get to one of these Saturday Farmers Markets in this beautiful and lush part of Victoria, there are other stockists in Gippsland. A few local restaurants also include this exceptionally good bread in their restaurants.

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I like to buy 100% Spelt or Rye and did not know about Khorasan, an ancient variety of golden, coloured wheat, that has been largely unchanged by breeding over the last several hundred years. It takes its name from a historical region lying in northeast of Greater Persia, including part of northeastern Iran, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. It is being grown by various certified organic farmers from central Queensland to northern NSW. Khorasan wheat is distinctive and is about three times larger than most modern wheat.

The taste of well-fermented, natural sourdough matures and both loaves kept their texture and tasted great over the of six days that they lasted us – my partner and I mainly camped so we weren’t necessarily taking as much care of the bread as we would at home, but we did store it in a fabric bag so that it would not sweat.

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Wherever I travel, I buy local as much as possible and I was not disappointed – the organic pork was great (Amber Creek Farm), the extra virgin olive oil (Golden Creek Olives) as was the two cheeses we were able to purchase (Riverine Blue made with Buffalo Milk and Pangrazzi. camembert).

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I also purchased field mushrooms and I cooked them with the pork. When one is cooking in the bush, flavours seem to intensify – these mushrooms were big in size and flavour, rich and meaty. Once again, sautéed in extra virgin olive oil, garlic and a dash of good balsamic vinegar or wine.

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Most wineries are only open on weekends and this time we were not able to visit some of the wineries, however we drank and bought some Gippsland wine from the Fish Creek Bar/ Pub.

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A winery I would recommend is Waratah Hills, located on the road to Wilsons Promontory National Park.

We collected watercress from the Tarra River and we had a cabin Tarra Valley Caravan Park “Fernholme”. We had it in salads and there was so much of it that I also sautéed it with extra virgin olive oil and garlic.

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Oak and Swan Sourdough have a good informative website:

http://oakandswansourdough.com.au/

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BITTER GREENS and AMARI (Aperitivi and Digestivi)

When I was a child and had a tummy ache my mother used to give me an infusion of chamomile – and I bet that many other Italian children experienced the same remedy. I was also given it when I could not sleep and she rinsed my hair with chamomile – it was supposed to keep it fair and make it shiny. Chamomile was a magic herb.

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My father asserted that a canarino (canary) was better. It is made by boiling lemon peel in water. This concoction was another multi-purpose panacea used for tummy aches, nausea, insomnia, colds, coughs, sore throats and fevers when you felt cold and shivery. He also would share hi Dutch salted liquorice with me – aniseed and fennel are renown for assisting digestion.

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Carob tree near Ragusa

My father’s sister who lives in Sicily is a great advocate for the healing and nutritive properties of carob. She claims it cures respiratory tract infections and it treats diarrhoea.

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Ingredients for a simple salad- red radicchio,frisée and chicory

I was told that the more bitter the green, the better it was for my liver; the stimulation of bile flow was important to break down fats.

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My family always ate large quantities of bitter greens – all the  different types of radicchio (we lived in Trieste where it was plentiful). The photo above: radicchio Triestino – a very small leafed variety of radicchio.

There were different types of chicory, Belgium endives (whitlof), rocket, escarole, cardoons and globe artichokes. Vegetables that have strong sulphur smells like cime di rapa or cime di rape, Brussel sprouts and radishes were also favourites.

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When we visited Sicily, our relatives made sure to feed us edible weeds (erbe spontanie) – matalufo, agghiti (in Ragusa’s dialect), bitter chicory, different varieties of mustard greens and brassicas, wild rocket, puntarelle, wild fennel fronds and wild asparagus – the two types of wild asparagus are particularly bitter. Photos below and above: wild greens in Sicilian markets.

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So, as you can see, because of my history and my Italian culture I had my digestive health covered.

As an adult, I had an inherent appreciation of bitter flavours and much appreciated an Amaro, not just because I liked the taste but because I believed that it aids digestion.

Amaro (Italian for “bitter”) is usually drunk as a digestive before a meal (an aperitivo) or after meals (a digestivo). There are many local and regional versions of these alcoholic beverages – examples of some well-known Amari are Aperol, Averna, Cynar and Fernet-Branca.

These bitter, alcoholic beverages are usually referred to as being herb based, but they are made of various and numerous vegetables, fruit, berries, bark, flowers, herbs, roots and spices macerated in alcohol diluted with water to obtain the desired gradation. They are also sweetened and range from bittersweet to intensely bitter.

The oldest recipes for herb-based beverages were usually formulated by pharmacists, botanists, and enthusiasts, many in monasteries and convents. The recipes have been developed over time by wine and spirit companies and the alcohol content of Amari varies between 11% and 40%.

Restaurants in Italy may offer a dozen selections of Amari, especially after a meal, but unfortunately, Amari are not beneficial aids to digestion – the beneficial properties of the herbs are reduced or eliminated and the higher the alcohol content, the slower the breakdown of food.

If you want to eat more, it makes sense to drink an Amaro as an aperitivo – the bitter flavours may stimulate the taste buds and increase the secretion of saliva and gastric juices.

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Aperol has an alcohol content of 11%—less than half that of Campari. Averna is considered an excellent digestive liqueur, but the alcohol content is 29%, Ramazzotti is 30% and Fernet is 40%.

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Wild fennel in Catania market

Aniseed liqueur is distilled from the fruit of the green aniseed plant along with other aromatic ingredients – but Sanbuca is 48% alcohol.

If we really wish to help our digestion after a meal, we may be better off with the simple home-made infusions. Popular home-made infusions, apart from chamomile, often contain fennel seeds, peppermint, sage, ginger and rosemary.

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Kale 

I still enjoy my bitter greens and since living in Australia I have broadened the range of bitter greens that I eat – watercress, dandelions, the wide range of Asian mustard greens and varieties of kale and frisée.

Posts and recipes for bitter greens:

SICILIAN EDIBLE WEEDS and Greek VLITA

NETTLES (Ortiche), Culinary uses and gnocchi

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

CIME DI RAPE (A winter green)

MINESTRA MARITATA, peasant soup from Calabria

INSALATA DI FRISÉE ( Composite Salad made with frisée)

CICORIA (Chicory)

CICORETTA CON SALSICCIA (Chicory with fresh pork sausage)

KALE SALAD with Italian Flavours

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CARCIOFI (Artichokes)

CARCIOFI (Artichokes and how to clean them and prepare them for cooking)

CARCIOFI IMBOTTITI (Stuffed artichokes)IN PRAISE OF WINTER VEGETABLES

IN PRAISE OF WINTER VEGETABLES

CARRUBA (Carob) and its uses

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FISH STUDDED WITH SICILIAN FLAVOURS

As you can see this fish steak is cut vertically from a largish sized fish  and it is the perfect size to stud the four different sections with  different flavours.  On this occasion I used fennel, cloves, garlic and mint. I vary the flavours and I may use rosemary, a bit of cinnamon stick or lemon peel.

I was pleased and surprised to find that the Trevally had been cut into steaks because it is usually only available whole or as fillets. It is pleasing to see that there is a growing awareness that fish, like meat, can be partitioned into different cuts that lend themselves to different styles of cooking. Silver Trevally is also called White Trevally and has a firm, dense texture when cooked. It benefits from  a little liquid to deglaze it after it has been seared and can taste dry if it is overcooked.

I used a combination of white wine and Sicilian Marsala Fine – semisecco (semi dry). At other times I have used just white wine or fresh orange juice (with a little grated peel) or dry vermouth. I like to use dry vermouth particularly when I use tarragon – this is not a Southern Italian or Sicilian herb but it is used in the North and known as dragoncello -little dragon. Sage (salvia) is also good to use, but once again it is not widely used in Sicilian cooking.

Silver Trevally is fished in estuaries and coastal waters of southern Australian states and most of the Australian commercial catch is taken in NSW and eastern Victoria.

Other fish I have studded with flavours has been wild caught Barramundi shoulders

and Albacore tuna.

Not much detail is needed in this recipe – the photos tell the story.

Use a thin, sharp knife with a long blade and make slits into four sections of the slice of fish.  
Insert into each split half a clove of garlic and three other different flavours. Select from:  fennel, cloves, mint, sage, rosemary, a bit of cinnamon stick or lemon peel. .
Heat some extra virgin olive oil in a  frying pan that can accommodate the fish in one layer.
Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper. Sauté the fish, turn once (until it colours).
Add Marsala and white wine (about 1/2 cup) and evaporate the liquid leaving the fish in the pan.
 
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Above  – One Fish, One Chef, presentation by Josh Niland, and part of Melbourne Good Food Month. Josh butchered a large fish, head to tail  – that is correct, almost every part of the fish, innards as well are edible. (Mr Niland, Fish Butchery) 
 
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A bit of fish butchery at a fish market in Sicily where butchery has been going on for  centuries.
 
Swordfish display in LxRm5

Marmelade d’oranges sanguines – marmellata d’ arance sanguine – blood orange marmalade

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

Ingredients:
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)
2 oranges
Juice of 1 small lemon

Directions:
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.

Next day…

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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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LONG LIVE ZUPPA INGLESE and its sisters

Zuppa Inglese continues to be an impressive dessert. It is especially perfect for those Spring and Summer lunches outdoors.

The secret ingredient is Alchermes. The delicate  flavours of the Savoiardi or Pavesi (sponge-finger biscuits) and the egg custard do help but it would not be Zuppa Inglese without  Alchermes is a highly alcoholic, Florentine liqueur, red in colour and specifically used for making Zuppa Inglese.

 

Post written 10/10/2010:

Zuppa Inglese

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Post written 22/3/209:  Alchermes/ Alkermes

And, what I concocted from my knowledge and experiences of making  Zuppa Inglese and Cassata:

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Post written 13/12/2012: Cassata Deconstructed – A Postmodernist Take on Sicilian Cassata

Nothing stopping me from using dribbles from Alchermes/ Alkermes inside a sponge cake.

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Sicilian Wine and Food Experience and The Wine Depository

My next Sicilian cooking class will be:

Sicilian Wine and Food Experience, Thursday 1st October 7pm
An intimate event that will see you not only eat and drink in a Sicilian manner but learn as you go.

The event will be conducted by Phil Smith, owner and creator of The Wine Depository.

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The Wine Depository is a Melbourne-based bespoke wine retailer and consultancy here to challenge how and when we drink wine. We offer a hand picked (and rigorously tested) range of wines to either enjoy now or tuck in the cellar. We’re known for rare and hard to find wines, lesser known varietals and smaller producers.

The Wine Depository and Phil provide:
Wine Cellar Advice
Wine Sales
Private Tastings
Corporate Wine Services
**Wine Events and Education
Sicilian Wine and Food Experience is one of these events.

From The Wine Depository’s website:
Phil knows that every time you taste a wine it is an event and it can be educational. He effortlessly brings these elements together in his wine tasting events, whether a casual tasting or a Masterclass over dinner. The emphasis is on good wines that will broaden your wine drinking knowledge or at the very least be extremely yummy. The Wine Depository often brings a knowledgeable and engaging speaker to take you through the wine selection.

Information on the Wine Depository’s website about Sicilian Wines

Website:
The Wine Depository

Sicilian Wine and Food Experience Event

 

MICHIGAN, DETROIT, GRAND RAPIDS food and produce. Beef Spare Ribs Recipe.

This is our second port of call in the US. After New York we went to Michigan and stayed with friends in Okemos. They took us to see many places mainly around Detroit and Grand Rapids and we have met many of their friends.

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We covered some considerable distances in Michigan including a trip in their spacious motor home with an overnight stay on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Michigan has a very different food culture and life style from our previous destination, New York City. We appreciated observing the very different landscape and land use. Looking at the expansive, lush, green fields of corn, sugar beet and wheat I was very aware that this was summer and that their rainfall must be very high. I kept on looking for the sheep and cattle that are so very much part of the Australian landscape, but there were none.

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I was once again impressed by organic produce. It seems very much appreciated by the inhabitants and there is also a wide range of organic produce sold in supermarkets. We visited a number of farmers’ markets and I was dazzled by the quantities and low prices of quality farm produce, especially berries.

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Blueberries reigned supreme. Fresh seasonal tomatoes, apples, cherries, carrots, potatoes and pickling cucumbers were as fresh as could be.

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I did find a very small stall in one of the markets selling Asian greens. This was most unusual. I bought and stir fried some pea shoots that night in olive oil and garlic.

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I also took a photo of a stall that sold chard, small eggplants and basil – this too was not the norm. I spoke to the vendor and praised her stall.

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There were no artichokes or broccoli rabe and the like, as we saw in NYC. Is this because they are seen as exotic vegetables or is it more because farmers sold local, seasonal produce? Artichokes and broccoli rabe do not grow in summer.

There were simple cheeses (cheddar mainly) and I particularly liked the fresh curds. I remembered how when cheese cakes were fashionable in the 70’s (pre-Philadelphia cheese cheesecakes) I used to use cottage cheese instead of curds….ignorant me, cottage cheese is nothing like fresh curds.

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As always we ate and drank very well both at home and in several restaurants including one Mexican and one Middle Eastern restaurant where the food was very good.

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I am not a beer drinker, but I enjoyed the tastings of the different varieties of ales and lagers that the area around Grand Rapids produces. This consisted of sampling 6-12 different types of beer per couple so between us all we sampled quite a bit of beer in the three breweries we visited; some beers had very pronounced aromas and complex tastes including flavours of coffee and chocolate. Some were dry and not very bitter or tasted like wine and I can now more easily understand how beer could easily accompany food instead of wine.

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Once again there was very little time to write or to take many photos of the food, but I hope that some of the photos tell the story but accept that this is not the whole picture. I noticed that in the US diners do not seem to be obsessed as Australians are about taking photos of the food they are about to eat – Americans just dig into it. Do what the locals do – a good motto!!

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Pizzas as in NYC seem to be popular. I do not usually eat pizza, but these had good quality, thin pastry and interesting toppings. Pizza was a good soak-up food in one small brewery restaurant.

This is meat country.

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These photos are from the meat market in Detroit.

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At our friends’ house we ate venison. We watched some deer frolicking at the back of their house. Deer are so common and can be seen in people’s gardens nibbling flowers.

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We ate local pork and chicken and the only fish we ate was local, fresh water fish- Michigan has many fresh water lakes and rivers.

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In Milford we were invited for dinner by one of their friends. We ate bison prepared à la bourguignonne. How kind of these friends. We had never communicated or met and they cooked bison for us. It was very tasty. Unfortunately I did not take a photos of these meals, there was much going on, talking and enjoying our conversations with new friends.

In one restaurant in Detroit we had ribs and chicken wings. I am pleased to have been given the opportunity to sample these. They were not as greasy as I had imagined because they are cooked very slowly and  most of the fat drains off.

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The salads in this restaurant however were not the salads I am used to. The wide range of salad dressings we were offered were sweet and thickened and not what I expected. What they called French dressing was a deep red colour and it was sweet and sticky.

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Blue cheese also seems to be a favourite ingredient crumbled on salads.

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This is how my friends cook ribs but is not to say that this is how others cook ribs.

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How my friends cook ribs (pork or beef)

Pre-heat oven to 250- 270 F.( roughly 120- 130 C)

Cut ribs into manageable sizes so that they fit into the rack standing upright and do not over crowd. Season both sides of the ribs with  a little salt and pepper. (Many season the ribs with spices and sugar).

Into the bottom of the baking pan place about  2-3 inch layer of water (roughly 6-8cm) . Add one sliced onion and some garlic cloves.  Cover the baking dish with the lid or foil and place on center rack of pre-heated oven. Bake for approximately 3-4 hours. Check on the water level now and again as the ribs are meant to keep moist with the steam.

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Remove the ribs from oven and place them on the BBQ for about five minutes to brown. Serve with your favourite BBQ sauce. I asked about this – the sauce is a prepared sauce usually made with tomatoes, vinegar, spices and hot pepper.

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It’s Tiger country!

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CHRISTMAS AT DOLCETTI in 2014 (and Recipe for Spicchiteddi – Sicilian biscuits)

It is Christmas time and this small Pasticceria/ Patisserie in Melbourne (callled Dolcetti) is packed to the ceiling!

Marianna with her angels and her elves have been very busy; they have been filling Dolcetti with delicious sweets, artfully wrapped and displayed.

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There is no need for me to say much, the photos speak for themselves.

Last year I asked her to provide a simple recipe (it was for Pistachio shortbread in 2013 ) and this year the recipe is for Spicchiteddi/ Spicchiteddi (Spicchitedda in Sicilian). I will  include the recipe at the end of the post.

Marianna has arranged her sweets and produce in a number of attractive packages.

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The price for the large box above is $85.There is even a gluten-free smaller hamper.

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Buccelati are definitely Sicilian…..those types of ingredients are a legacy of the Arabs.

Another Sicilian favourite is Pignolata… I must not leave out the Calabresi as Pignolata is also common in Calabria. The small Pignolata is $11

Notice one of her angels packing a child’s apron with a biscuit…..something for everyone! There are two types of children’s aprons…Both beautiful.

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Marianna makes a Dark and a White version of Panforte – this Christmas sweet originates from Siena.

I always fiddle around with Carol Field’s recipe when I make Panforte. I have written her recipe in a much older post called Per Natale, Cosa Si Mangia? At Christmas, What Do You Eat…apart From Panforte?  

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This Italian inspired fruit cake comes in three sizes: $5.20, $22.50, $64

Notice that Marianna uses Australian apricots – to me this is very important and demonstrates her use of local and quality ingredients.

Vincotto and biscotti

The small- snail like biscuits are spicchiteddi (spicchitedda in Sicilian). They are typical Christmas sweets from the Sicilian, Aeolian islands and contain almonds, citrus peel, cinnamon and cloves.  They also have vincotto ( vinocotto, vino cotto – ‘cooked wine’) and once again Marianna is using some local produce. This one is made by Paul Virgona.

I have used Vincotto in savoury dishes – it has many uses and I have written about this in an earlier post.

As you can see by the shape of the spicchiteddi, children could shape them – they could wear an apron (as mentioned above).

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Here is the recipe that Marianna gave me:
100gms unsalted butter
250 mls vinocotto
150 gms sugar
grated rind of 1 orange
675gms plain flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 pinch of ground cloves
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1/2 cup blanched almonds

In a saucepan gently melt the butter and vinocotto.
Remove from heat and add the sugar and orange rind, stir well and allow to cool.
Sift together the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda.
Add the cooled vinocotto mix and mix lightly to form a dough.
Leave to rest for 10 mins.
Pinch off a tablespoon at a time and roll into a long thin rope approx 2cm thick.
Roll each end into a snail shape.
Decorate with blanched almonds.
Bake at 180c for 10 to 15 mins.
Brush lightly with extra vinocotto whilst still warm.

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INSALATA RUSSA (Party time – Russian salad)

Helping my mother to make Insalata Russa was my job throughout my childhood and teenage years. It was a legacy from Trieste and a reliable appetizer served on special occasions. She kept making it well into the 80s and then it would re-appear intermittently throughout the years. She would present it before we would sit at a table for a meal, as a nibble…  she would pass around a spoonful of Insalata Russa on a slice of bread from a French stick. Those of you who are of a certain age may remember Rosso Antico (a red aperitif) or a Cinzano (vermouth) or a martini. Sometimes it would be a straight gin with a twist of lemon.  Today you may prefer a different aperitif like Aperol or a glass of Prosecco or a Campari  you get the idea!

It keeps well in the fridge and is an easy accompaniment for drinks – I am thinking of those unexpected guests who may pop in …. a drink, a small plate of Insalata Russa and some good bread. If my mother was still alive she would probably be making it on Christmas eve or Christmas day.

Insalata Russa is made with cooked vegetables: peas, green beans, carrots and potatoes cut ino small cubes and smothered with homemade egg mayonnaise. She always decorated the top with slices of hard-boiled eggs and  slices of stuffed green olives. Sometimes she also placed on top small cooked prawns or canned tuna.

***** Modern Times…..Try it sprinkled with Yarra Valley caviar (fish roe) instead.

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Ensaladilla rusa is the Spanish version of this salad and it is a very common tapas dish; It was certainly still popular as a Tapas in Madrid and Barcelona when I was there last year.

The Spaniards make it the same way, but the canned tuna is often mixed in the salad rather than being placed on top. Some versions have olives, roasted red peppers or asparagus spears arranged on top in an attractive design or just plain with boiled eggs around the edge of the bowl.

Making it with my mother, we never weighed our ingredients, but the following combination and ratios should please anyone’s palate.

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This recipe (and the photos of the pages in the book) are from my second book – Small Fishy Bites.

2-3 medium sized potatoes, waxy are best
1 cup of shelled peas
3 carrots
3 hard-boiled eggs
3/4 -1 cup of green beans cut into 1cm pieces
1/2 cup of Italian giardinieria (mixed garden pickles in vinegar)
1 and 1/2 cups of homemade egg mayonnaise

Cook potatoes and carrots in their skins in separate pans; cool, peel and cut them into small cubes.
Cook the peas and beans separately; drain and cool. 
Hard boil the eggs; peel them and cube 2 of them.
Cut the giardiniera into small pieces (carrots, turnips, cauliflower, gherkins).
Mix all of these ingredients together with a cup of home made egg mayonnaise.
Level out the Russian salad either on a flat plate or in a bowl and leave in the fridge for at least an hour before decorating it by covering it with the remaining mayonnaise.
Have a good old time placing on the top slices of hard-boiled eggs, drained tuna or small cooked prawns and caviar. Bits of giardiniera will also add colour.

Maionese (Mayonnaise)

My mum made maionese with a wooden spoon. I use a food processor or an electric wand to make mayonnaise:

Mix 1 egg with a little salt in the blender food processor, or in a clean jar (if using the wand).
Slowly add 1–1 ½ cups of extra virgin olive oil in a thin, steady stream through the feed tube while the blender or processor is running, Before adding additional oil, ensure that the oil, which has previously been added has been incorporated completely.
Add a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice when the mayonnaise is creamy. If you are not making the traditional Italian version, it is common to add vinegar instead of lemon juice and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
As an alternative, the Spaniards like to add a little saffron (pre-softened in a little warm water). Add this once the mayonnaise is made.
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