Category Archives: Wine, Spirits, Liquers and Drinks

Savarin and citrus flavoured liqueurs

Once upon a time, about 20 years ago when people had dinner parties and cooked for days to prepare a four -five course meal,  I sometimes used to make Savarins, 2-3 per time and I kept them in the freezer till I was ready to use them. Savarins took care of the dessert component for different guests on different occasions.

The dough is easy to make.

Savarins and Baba au rhum (as called by the French) are made of the same dough – a rich yeast cake or sponge made with eggs, flour, milk and butter saturated in syrup made with alcohol, usually rum, and sometimes filled with pastry cream.

A Savarin is a bigger version of a baba au rhum, and it is baked in a ring mold (with a hole in the centre) instead of a dariole mold and like a baba,  it is soaked in rum syrup .

Although the traditional alcohol to use is rum, there is no reason why other alcohol and liqueurs cannot be used. For example, you could have a good time matching fruit with various  types of alcohol:

Citrus flavoured liqueurs , e.g.  Cointreau,  Grand Manier,  Curacao, Mandarino,   Limoncello , Strega and Galliano  with citrus fruit,

Armagnac with prunes,

Maraschino with cherries,

Bacardi with berries,

Southern Comfort with peaches,

Apricot brandy with apricots etc.

I have three different sized Savarin tins and on this occasion I used the smallest tin:

Placed in the hole in the centre of the Savarin could be one or more of the following: pastry cream, Chantilly creme,  poached or fresh fruit.

Raisins, sultanas or currants may be included in the dough.

I decided to soak my Savarin with Cointreau a French liqueur with flavours of of sweet and bitter orange peel.

I poached mandarin segments in some sugar syrup –  2  cups  water and caster sugar.  I used less  than 1 cup, but this depends on how sweet you wish to have the syrup and traditionally  the ratio can be 3 cups of water to 2 cups of sugar.  Use a little vanilla too –  I keep my caster sugar in a large jar with plenty of vanilla pods.

I drained the mandarins from the syrup, added 1 cup Cointreau and used this to soak the Savarin. 

This amount of syrup was sufficient for the size of my Savarin.  I used the smallest Savarin tin I have =18cm, see photo above.

I kept the Savarin in the tin until i was ready to use it,  pricked it all over with a skewer and then added the hot syrup slowly – the Savarin needs to be saturated with the syrup.

Turned it out on a plate.

I  warmed a little apricot jam with a tiny bit of Cointreau and glazed   the dough. then filled the hole with pastry cream and decorated it with the mandarin segments.

See recipe and information about Baba and Savarins:

Babà al rum, Baba au rhum, Rum Baba and Savarin ; facts and legends

The baked Savarin dough, kept in the mold (baking tin) keeps well  in the freezer.

we all have our own way to store foods in our freezers. If you wish not to use plastic, wrap it tightly in a tea towel or in a couple of layers of  paper and then place it in a re-purposed plastic bag or glass or metal container (with a nice snug fit) and keep it in the freezer until ready to use it.

Babà al rum, Baba au rhum, Rum Baba and Savarin – facts and legends

 Go to Naples and eat Babà al rum. Neapolitans will claim them as their own.  But are they?

While I was looking for my Moulinex, a seldom used appliance in my top cupboard, I found other infrequently used appliances, like Baba and Savarin molds.

A Baba au rhum (as called by the French) is a rich yeast cake or sponge made with eggs, flour, milk and butter saturated in syrup made with alcohol, usually rum, and sometimes filled with pastry cream.

A Savarin is bigger version, baked in a ring mold and soaked in rum syrup and usually placed in the centre could be one or more of the following: pastry cream, Chantilly creme,  poached or fresh fruit. Raisins, sultanas or currants may be included in the dough.

The Neapolitan Babà al rum are usually made as mignons (small shapes) but the larger Savarins are also popular in Naples.

My partner has been experimenting and baking mainly with sourdough but also with fresh yeast. He bought too much yeast. I am not one to waste ingredients, so I suggested that he makes some rum babà – a very easy process but with enjoyable results. I gave him a few recipes and suggested that he may also like to look at how the French made them as well as the Neapolitans.

Before his bread baking sessions, my partner likes to find bakers/chefs demonstrating how they make the bread on YouTube, and he did the same this time when he was preparing to make the babà. Among the many YouTube videos he found, he showed me a very amusing one that had a highly reputed Italian pastry chef pinching up pieces of baba batter and twirling around his fingers to almost flick the very elastic batter into molds. Another YouTube demo featured Rita Chef who introduced her lesson on make babà with stories, about the origins and the legend of babà. Both chefs in these YouTube sessions speak in Italian so my partner didn’t quite understand Chef Rita was saying.

Chef Rita, does mention France and Poland but the account of the origins of babà is slightly twisted.

Chef Rita tells us that a sovereign who lived in Poland did not enjoy what his chefs had made as a dessert … a dry cake. The angry sovereign forcefully pushed the cake to the end of the table. And guess what?

At the end of the table was a bottle of rum and when the cake hit the bottle, the rum was spilled on the cake. In Chef Rita’s version of events the sovereign and his courtiers at the table were ‘inebriated’ by the combined fragrance of the cake and the rum and so the cook was given a reprieve and ordered to experiment with the ingredients and perfect the making of a rum-soaked cake.

At the time, this Polish sovereign was reading and enjoying the Arabian classic, A Thousand And One Nights. You can guess what’s coming … he called the dessert Ali Baba.

In a further twist to Chef Rita’s story, the Polish sovereign was later exiled to France. There the French chefs refined the recipe and soaked it in a syrup with alcohol of some sort, but it was only when it came to Naples that the Ali was dropped from Ali Baba and rum was added.

The Neapolitan chef’s story is very amusing, but there seem to be more realistic accounts about babà. Here are some:

  • Poland and Ukraine have a tall, cylindrical yeast cake called babka meaning “old woman” or “grandmother” and in most Slavic languages; babka is a diminutive of baba.
  • There are many similar versions to the Babka in Eastern Europe but also the Gugelhupf of Alsace Lorraine, France.
  • The deposed King Stanislas Leszczynska was exiled from Poland and came to France in the 1600s because Stanislas’s daughter married King Louis XV.
  • King Stanislas Leszczynska either returned from a trip to Poland with a Babka cake or he found a Gugelhupf version in the area. The alcohol he added to sweeten and moisten it may have been Hungarian sweet wine.
  • Stanislaus’ daughter’s pastry chef, Stohrer, went with her to Versailles and he added rum for the first time. Later he opened a pastry shop in Paris, Patisserie Stohrer and the Rum Baba became famous and claimed the French it as their own.
  • Rum Babà was brought to Italy by visiting French pastry chefs.
  • The legends vary in different texts but this one seems the most popular: Stanislas found the French cakes too dry and dipped them in rum. The chefs then experimented using brioche dough, and some added raisins.
  • In Larousse Gastronomique it says that a Parisian Maitre Patissier omitted raisins from the dough, giving the cake another shape and soaked it with a syrup made with secret ingredients and created and called it the Brillat-Savarin (celebrated French gourmet and writer on gastronomy), which later became simply savarin.
  • Alan Davidson in the Oxford Companion says that in the 1840s one of the Julien family of Parisian pastry-makers, set his mind to experimenting with the baba recipe and he named this rich and tasty dessert in honour of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826).

My partner used a combination of recipes but in the end this is what he did:

The recipe is for 6 babas and one small savarin, or 8 small babas

220g flour, 12g fresh yeast, salt, 50g sugar, 2 eggs, 70ml milk 100g butter

Stir the yeast, a little sugar in the warm milk together into a mixer bowl (to use with a dough hook in your electric mixer) and allow the yeast to dissolve and froth (about 5 minutes).

Mix in 25g of flour, place in a warm place until double in size.

Once the dough has risen, slowly start mixing the dough and gradually add the remaining flour, sugar, salt in a bowl and then add eggs, one at a time, blending after each.

Progressively add butter and beat it until the dough then increase speed to high speed and beat it until it is smooth and glossy and almost coming away from the sides.

Cover the dough with a tea towel and allow to rise in a warm space for about 30 mins.

Divide dough among 8 greased dariole moulds, cover with a tea towel and set aside to prove until dough reaches tops of moulds. Use 180 C oven and bake until golden.

Turn out to cool completely, prick them all over with a skewer then place them in a large airtight container until required.

All of the recipes use an incredible amount of sugar (400g per litre), we used 2 litres of water 400g sugar 400ml rum and we found that sweet enough.

For the rum syrup, in a saucepan mix water, sugar, lemon zest from1 lemon and juice from 1/2 lemon and over medium heat stir until sugar dissolves, then simmer until syrupy (5 minutes). Add the rum and gently place the babas in the syrup, turning lightly until soaked through.

Drain them and leave until ready to serve.

I presented them with poached pears and egg custard.

To Make Custard:

3 egg yolks, tablespoons caster sugar infused with a vanilla bean, a pinch of salt 2 tablespoons of cornflour, 400 ml of milk, rind of 1 lemon, and a cinnamon stick.

In a saucepan, mix the egg yolks with the sugar and slowly add the flour, salt and a little milk to make a smooth paste – a whisk could be useful. If you do not have sugar that has been infused with a vanilla bean, use a little vanilla essence (not artificial).
Add the rest of the milk and incorporate to dilute the mixture evenly.
Using a vegetable peeler remove the rind in one piece from ½ lemon. Add this to the milk mixture. Add the cinnamon stick.
Use low – medium heat, stir it constantly with a whisk or a wooden spoon and slowly bring it to the boil- the custard should have thickened.
To make a creamier pastry cream, add a few pieces of room temperature butter while the custard is warm. Add a bit at a time, and whisk until well blended.
Cool before using. To prevent a skin from forming, I place a piece of baking paper or butter paper on its surface.
You may like this Italian dessert:

ZUPPA INGLESE, a famous, Italian dessert

MORE AUTUMN PRODUCE… lemons and quinces, wild mushrooms and homemade pasta

The old autumn favourites are back.

I have bought Cime di rapa, sautéed them with Italian pork sausages (chilli flavoured) and ate them with orecchiette and grated, strong, pecorino cheese.

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There were artichokes, fennel and even chicory for sale, and because of the colder weather the heads of red Radicchio seemed firmer than two weeks ago.

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This week one friend dropped off a bag of  fresh lemons from her father’s tree. A generous amount. and a welcome gesture.

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I had a couple of quinces left over from last week and I added  slices of four large lemons when I baked them.  Yet again, I baked the quinces with different flavours. Honey as the sweetener and Tuaca from Livorno –  this is a sweetish, golden brown liqueur, and the ingredients include brandy, citrus essences, vanilla, and other secret spices – probably ordinary simple cinnamon and nutmeg .

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I included quite a few black peppercorns, cinnamon quills and star anise in the mix.

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The lemons turn out like marmalade, only crispy at the edges…I like the texture and intense taste.

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I also added a dash of Vanilla and some water. It is not necessary to use ample amounts of alcohol unless you want to, but probably if you did, the taste would be superb.

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Another surprise, another gift from different friends who live in Red Hill. On their morning walk they collected some saffron coloured, pine mushrooms (Lactarius deliciosus), also called  saffron milk caps and red pine mushrooms. He who works in the city on occasions let me know that he had some for me. The small mushrooms look fabulous left whole and perfect for showing off and the bigger ones get sliced… they are very meaty.

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Holly,  the Cocker Spaniel loves  any opportunity to have her photo taken. She is like Photographer William Wegman’s photographic,  Weimaraner dogs.

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I cooked the mushrooms with garlic, parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary and nepitella and a dash of white wine.

The mushrooms made a flavourful pasta sauce and went well with the home made egg tagliatelle.

Making pasta is easy – 100g of flour per egg. I use hard flour (durum wheat, high protein, the same as I use for making bread).

I used 300g of flour and 3 eggs and this fed two of us with a small bit left over for a snack the next day.

Place the flour in a bowl. Make a well in the centre, crack the eggs into it, add a bit of salt and stir the eggs with a fork.

Use your fingers to mix the eggs with the flour, incorporating a little at a time, until everything is combined.

Knead to make one smooth lump of dough.

You can also make your dough in a food processor –  put everything in, mix with the paddle attachment until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs, then remove the attachment and use your hands and bring the dough together into one lump.

I then divide the large ball into 3 smaller lumps, wrap them in film and put it in the fridge to rest for about 1 hour or so. The approx. 100g quantities balls makes it easier when you roll out the pasta or feed the pasta through the rolling machine. Flattern the ball before you feed it through, do this several times before you use the tagliatelle cutting section of the pasta machine.

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During the week I also made some pasta made with rye flour and with a rolling pin flattened each ball between two pieces of  baking paper. Cut into strips.

Very simple.

Mushrooms and home made Pasta:

WILD MUSHROOMS, I have been foraging again

PASTA WITH MUSHROOMS – Pasta ai funghi

WILD MUSHROOMS – Saffron Coloured, Pine Mushrooms and Slippery Jacks

QUADRUCCI IN BRODO, Squares of home-made Pasta in Broth

GNUCCHITEDDI (Making small gnocchi shapes using my great grandmother’s device)

Pasta with cime di rapa (rape is plural):

ONE OF MY FAVOURITE VEGETABLES – Cime di Rape

PASTA with ‘NDUJA, CIME DI RAPA and PORK SAUSAGES

CIME DI RAPE (A winter green)

About Nepitella:

STUFFED BAKED MUSHROOMS with Nepitella

Quinces:

AUTUMN FRUIT and baked quinces

A Tale about QUINCES

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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.

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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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

Alchermes is also good dribbled on 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