WHAT TO DO WITH A ZUCCA (An overgrown zucchini – a marrow).

Those zucchini grow rapidly and before you know it, they become zucche (plural of zucca,) The marrows I am talking about are no longer than 22 cms, still tender and have flavour – any larger than this they become tasteless and dry and are good for the compost. Usually, zucche are stuffed, but these can also be used successfully to make a salad.

I use a mandoline (kitchen utensil used for slicing and cutting) to cut the marrows into matchsticks and then use a method similar to the one for making Italian vegetable preserves.

Sicilians (and southern Italians) are fond of preserves – the most common are made with eggplants or green tomatoes, sliced, salted, squeezed dry (the next day), then placed in vinegar for a day, squeezed dry and finally placed in oil and oregano.

I treat marrows in a similar way, but because I want to eat them fresh it is unnecessary to go through the lengthy process I have described above – the salting process takes about 30 minutes and the rest is completed in no time at all. If I am using zucchini, I slice them long-wise and very thinly (a potato peeler can be good).

The following amounts are for processing 1 marrow…..and not too large or seedy.

INGREDIENTS

marrow, 1

salt, 1 teaspoon

white, wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon

extra virgin olive oil, 1/3cup

oregano, ½teaspoon dried is more pungent,

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

PROCESS

Cut marrow  into half, remove seeds. Cut into match sticks or use a mandoline or a turning slicer which cuts into spirals.

Place in a colander with salt. Leave to drain for at least 30mins. Squeeze dry.

Dress with the oil and vinegar and crushed oregano.

Leave for about 10 minutes for the flavours to infuse.

CIOCCOLATA CALDA (Hot chocolate)


One of my friends is enjoying drinking cocoa – the English way, as genteel ladies once drank it, made with good quality cocoa, water and a dash of milk. And in a fine cup.

I too like my cocoa unsweetened and made with good quality cocoa. During my many visits to Italy I have drank many hot chocolates in bars and each one I ordered was different in taste and thickness.

As a child living in Trieste, I grew up with drinking hot chocolate. It was my breakfast, it was drunk at childrens’ parties and at bars while the adults drank coffee. Trieste is close to Austria and the hot chocolate I was used to was always presented in a fine tea cup with a blob of whipped cream. It was always made with a generous quantity of quality cocoa powder and with milk. My mother always made it in a pentolino (we had a special small saucepan that we only used for heating milk) and she would stir the mixture until hot. When in bars the same ingredients were used, but the milk was foamed like in a cappuccino or caffé latte.

When my family travelled to Sicily (each summer), my relatives gave me milk with a dash of coffee for breakfast – hot chocolate did not seem very popular and I remember the hot chocolate in bars being rather watery and very sweet.

I tasted my first, thick hot chocolate when I first went to Mantova. It was almost the consistency of custard. Those of you who have ordered hot chocolate anywhere north of Rome (except Trieste) would know what I am talking about – milk, sugar, thickening (usually corn flour or potato starch), and chocolate (often cocoa powder). No thickening seems to be used anywhere south of Rome.

Traditionally, thick chocolate was made in the top of a double boiler, over boiling 
water – good quality, dark chocolate (not cocoa) is melted in water and stirred until it is dissolved. Still over heat, it is then whisked by hand for at least 3 minutes (in a modern kitchen, an electric wand can be used).

Another recipe for making a good tasting, thick, hot chocolate also contains some shaved good quality bittersweet chocolate (high level cocoa-70-80%) as well as the good quality cocoa, milk and sugar to taste (Italians like sugar). In a milk saucepan, mix the sugar and cocoa with a little bit of milk till smooth. Add milk and stir over medium heat. Add the bits of chocolate to taste (and preferred thickness). Keep on stirring till melted.

It can be an alternative to dessert.

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PAPPARDELLE (Pasta with Hare or game ragù)

My friend Kate has left a comment (see Spaghetti con pesce e pomodorini) about her liking pappardelle (the widest ribbons of pasta).

I am not surprised by this, she loved Tuscany, drinks red wine and she and her husband are marvellous cooks so I am including a recipe for a typical sauce usually associated with this shaped pasta.

Pasta shapes are synonymous with certain sauces. Generally, thin sauces which contain a lot of oil (for example made with seafood or with a few vegetables) are better suited to long thin pasta shapes (spaghetti, spaghettini).

Thicker sauces, made with meat or with larger vegetables are better suited to shapes with large, uneven surfaces (rigatoni, penne). Their shapes help to trap the ingredients in the thick sauce.

Pasta shapes are also regional. While the south of Italy may prefer small pasta shapes for thicker sauces (fusilli, casarecci, orecchiette) other parts of Italy enjoy long, flat ribbons of pasta (tagliatelle, fettucine). Fresh ribbon pasta made with a large number of eggs is enhanced by sauces made with delicate subtle flavours, often with cream.

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Tuscany and Umbria specialize in sauces for pappardelle and I hope that all of you who have visited these regions of Italy were able to eat some when there. Now Kate, I do not want you to get jealous, but when I was in Tuscany in December 2008, I enjoyed many primi of pappardelle, one in particular in Sansepolcro ( very close to Umbria) – the accompanying sauce was made from wild boar and it included pieces of chestnut.

The photograph is of Alex, my small friend: it was taken in Greve. He is outside of the butcher shop (we were staying across the road) and he is patting the stuffed wild boar which decorates the front of the shop. Wild boar is very popular in the winter months in Tuscany but I have also eaten some very fine boar meat in Calabria. I bought a hare in Greve and cooked it the same way.

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Pappardelle are usually the favourite shape of pasta for strong sauces made with strong tasting meat especially game: either cinghiale (wild boar) lepre (hare), capriolo (venison), coniglio (rabbit), anatra (duck). If not game, maybe salsicce di maiale (pork sausages) or funghi (mushrooms), and preferably the wild ones stronger in taste. Often the pappardelle may have a fluted edge to prevent the sauce dropping away off the sides. These are sometimes called reginette (regina- queen, crowns) but once again, there is local variation in the names.

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Sauces made with strong tasting meats as above are usually cooked slowly in a ragout (ragù in Italian) and made in the same way as a Bolognese sauce. Because of their rich taste and choice of ingredients they are autumn and winter dishes, most probably enjoyed with a glass or two of red wine.

Sometimes porcini mushrooms are also added to the ragù.

Ragù

Sauté in extra virgin olive oil: ½ onion, 1 carrot, ½ stalk of celery (all cut finely).
Add the hare, rabbit, boar chopped into sections complete with bones and brown (some add pancetta as well). If using sausages leave them whole but prick them, if using mushrooms slice into thick pieces.
Add 1 glass of red wine and evaporate briefly.
Dilute about 2 tablespoons of tomato puree in a little warm water and add to mixture. Stir carefully and add 1 cup of broth, salt, pepper, 3 bay leaves and a little grated nutmeg and simmer until liquid is almost evaporated and the meat is tender and falling off the bone (this could take 2-4 hours for the hare or boar). Continue to check on the liquid and add more as necessary.
Remove bones from the meat and return to the sauce. Some add a little cream and more nutmeg at this stage.
Dress the cooked pappardelle. Present with grated parmigiano, as a choice for each person. I for one do not add cheese to these sauces – I prefer the unadulterated taste of the ragù.

SPAGHETTI CON PESCE E POMODORINI (Spaghetti with fish and cherry tomatoes)

It will be maccheroni, I swear to you, that will unite Italy.”

Giuseppe Garibaldi, on liberating Naples in 1860

When eating in Italy, the usual structure of the meal will consist of two courses. Il primo (the first ) will be a soup, risotto or pasta and in Sicily (and in the south of Italy) it is more likely to be pasta

Il secondo (the second) is the main course – the protein component and one contorno (vegetable side dish) or two contorni.

There have always been two courses in my mother’s home, and in the homes of our Italian friends and relatives. Although this is not something that I have continued to observe in my own household, I generally prepare a primo and a secondo when I am cooking for friends. If this is the case, as is the customary practice in Italian homes, nibbles can just be a very simple plate of olives (or the like) and the dessert, fresh fruit.

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These days, I am into easy recipes, something I can prepare in minutes.

Eating pasta with fish is still not very popular in Australia (at the time of writing) but it is very much so in Italy and of course – Sicily. It is an island after all.

Spaghetti is usually the preferred shape of pasta for fish sauces.

Cherry tomatoes appear to have become very common in restaurants in Italy in the last few years. They are called pomodorini, or cigliegini in Italian and most commonly known as pizzitelli in Sicilian – little things.

Some of the cherry tomatoes in Australia may be small but they lack flavour and sweetness (maybe from over watering if this is possible in Australia). One of my friends in Adelaide is growing a variety called currant tomatoes in pots – very small and sweet and ideal for this dish.

Use any fish which will hold together when you sauté it.

Sicilians prefer tuna or swordfish, but because I like to use sustainable fish (pesce sostenibile) I select Albacore tuna when I can get it, tailor or flathead or snapper and mackerel . To keep the fish moist and to prevent it from overcooking, i keep the fish in large pieces when I cook it and then break it up onto smaller pieces.

From Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide by Australian Marine Conservation Society – 2009 (AMCS)

INGREDIENTS

spaghetti, 500g
fish, 500g, cut into dice
garlic, 5 cloves, chopped finely
cherry tomatoes, 1 punnet, if too big cut in half,
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup
fresh herbs, use either: a handful of basil or parsley, or fresh mint,
white wine, 1 glass
salt and freshly ground pepper (or chilli flakes)
Cook pasta and make sauce as it cooks.
Heat the oil in a frying pan.
Sauté the fish ( you can keep it all in one piece if you wish), add the cherry tomatoes. Remove the fish and tomotoes from the pan but leave the juices in the pan.
Add the white wine and reduce .
Add the herbs and stir through the sauce.
Return the fish and tomatoes to the pan. Separate the fish into the size pieces that you wish.
Drain the pasta and return to the pan where it was cooked.
Mix in the sauce and serve.
Australia:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GELO DI MELLONE ( Jellied watermelon)

Watermelon is related to the squash family.

There is a Sicilian saying that it does not matter whatever you do to a zucca (squash/pumpkin) it always remains such – tasteless.

This is not so with Gelu ‘i muluni (Sicilian for watermelon jelly) – an old Sicilian recipe and once a popular dessert. Many Sicilians say that this dessert has Arab origins and it is easy to see why. The addition of the extra flavourings – vanilla, cinnamon, rose water, chocolate and pistachio transform the taste of what is basically liquefied watermelon juice solidified with corn starch.

As a child living in Trieste, I always called watermelon, anguria as it is called in the north, but when we visited Sicily (my family went there every summer), it was called mellone  (also melone).

Watermelon appears to be more popular with those of us in Australia who have come from a different cultural background. I always notice people buying big slabs or whole watermelons at the market. Have you noticed in Asian restaurants as it is often presented as a palate cleanser at the end of a meal? Or the Greek and Italian families eating watermelon at the beach?

When my son was young, he was very friendly with a Turkish family and he used to report that over summer, there was always watermelon at his friend’s house. They ate it with bread; this is not surprising when watermelon can be used as an ingredient for a watermelon salad, made with feta, black olives, sliced onion, extra virgin olive oil, seasoning and mint (one version of this salad, now popular in many Australian homes).

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Although this dessert is very easy to make, it does look very attractive and your guests will think that you have gone to a lot of effort – much more so than just serving up slices of watermelon.

One kilo of watermelon is sufficient to make 4 desserts.

INGREDIENTS
ripe watermelon, 1k
sugar, 100g
pure vanilla extract, ½ teaspoon
rosewater, 2-3 tablespoons (or jasmine water – steep flowers in some hot water overnight)
cornstarch , 40g
pistachios , chopped, 50g
chocolate, chopped, 50g
candied citron,( Sicilians use Zuccata – candied zucca (squash/pumpkin family) 50g
cinnamon, 1 stick.
 
Remove rind and seeds and liquefy in food processor or blender (1k of watermelon gave me 1 litre of juice).
Combine sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan and add some watermelon juice gradually to form a smooth paste.
Add rest of the juice and the cinnamon stick and on low heat, stir constantly with a wooden spoon until thickened
Remove from heat, stir in vanilla extract and rose water.
Discard the cinnamon stick, pour it into a bowl (or individual bowls) and place it into the refrigerator until required. The pistachio and chocolate can be sprinkled on top when ready to eat or wait till the gelo is cool and then fold in the solids before refrigerating.

 

SALSA VERDE ( Green Sauce – serve with boiled meats and corned beef)

My take on corned beef

I have a Brazilian friend who is still discovering the delights of Anglo–Saxon food in our Australian food culture and a true blue, born and bred, Australian friend who misses his mother’s cooking. They are coming to dinner tonight, so as a surprise I am cooking them corned beef (I managed to buy low salt, low saltpetre). Probably I have not eaten this since my English Mother in law last cooked it for me, and she died a long time ago.

Of course there will be the boiled vegetables and mustard. And I will present it with some of the homemade chutney that another friend has given me. But it is so very much like bollito (boiled meat) that it could be accompanied with a little salsa verde on the side – chopped parsley, capers, green olives, boiled eggs, extra virgin olive oil, anchovy and a little white bread with vinegar to thicken it as much as I like and on this occasion I want it thin.

Part of me remains Italian to the core. Will I sauté the carrots in a little onion with dry marsala and raisins?  Or will I present it with sweet and sour pumpkin? ( Sicilian and called FEGATO DI SETTE CANNOLI).

Sicilian 277 Pumpkin w Vinegar mint sugar cinnamon.tif.p

 

Of course I will add peppercorns, a carrot, onion and some celery to the beef whilst it cooks, after all this is what I add when I make carne in brodo (meat cooked in broth). I will add the cloves to the broth (Sicilians use cloves in their savoury cooking) but I will not add the malt vinegar or the sugar.

Is it still corned beef?

 

See:  SALSA VERDE (2015)

 

 

FRITTATA: SAUSAGE and RICOTTA

My zia Niluzza who lives in Ragusa is an excellent cook and when I visit her she fusses over me and cooks constantly.

Ricotta is one of the most common ingredients in her kitchen and she must eat it fresh – made on the day and preferably eaten warm. Any ricotta which is one day old (it is never older) is cooked.

One day, I had been speaking to her about frittate (plural) and how I had read in a book about Sicilian cuisine that frittate were not common in Sicily.

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The next day I found her preparing this a simple frittata (see photo) made with crumbled fresh pork sausage, freshly laid free range eggs and ricotta. Sicilians do make frittata but in Sicilian, it is sometimes referred to as milassata and frocia. I have already written about this on Janet Clarkson’s blog: The Old Foodie, An authentic frittata).

INGREDIENTS

eggs 7, lightly beaten (free range)
pork, Italian sausages 2 ( made from good pork mince with sometimes fennel or orange peel or white wine)
ricotta, 200g
salt and pepper

PROCESSES

Heat some olive oil into a large heavy-based fry pan.
Crumble the sausage and sauté into the frypan till cooked.
Add the ricotta slices and lightly fry it.
Pour the eggs, mixed with the seasoning into hot oil.
Process for cooking all frittate:
Fry the frittata on the one side. Turn the heat down to low and, occasionally, with the spatula press the frittata gently on the top. Lift the edges, tilting the pan. This will allow some of the runny egg to escape to the sides and cook. Repeat this process until there is no more egg escaping.
Invert the frittata onto a plate, carefully slide the frittata into the pan and cook the other side.

A frittata is never baked; fritta means fried in Italian.

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SALSA SARACINA (Saracen sauce)

IMG_1038Summer is the time for BBQs and grilled fish with a simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil, parsley cut finely (do not use a food chopper – it will taste grassy), lemon juice and seasoning.
But sometimes, a different dressing can make it more special and will bring more compliments when you present the fish to guests.
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There are no set weights and measures for making sauces – the measures are purely my estimation of the ratio or balance of ingredients and flavours.
Sarsa saracina  (Sicilian) Salsa saracina (Saracen sauce). It is a cooked sauce and has that particular set of ingredients which are so common to Sicilian cooking – olives, pine nuts (or almonds) and seedless sultanas. The sauce contains sugar and saffron – Saracen ingredients particularly popular in foods from the north-western side of Palermo.

INGREDIENTS

green olives, 1 cup, stoned and chopped finely
anchovies, 2-3 cut finely
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil, about ½  cup
sugar, 1 teaspoon
pine nuts or almonds ¾ , toasted and chopped finely
oregano, 1 tablespoon fresh, cut finely or ½  teaspoon dry
sultanas, ½ cup seedless (soaked in some warm water for 30 mins beforehand, then drained, chopped)
saffron, 2 good pinches (it will depend on the potency and quality of your saffron – you need to be able to taste it and see some yellow tinge).

PROCESSES

Heat the oil in a pan and add anchovies and stir to dissolve.
Add the olives and the other ingredients and stir to amalgamate the flavours.
Add the saffron mixed in a little warm water and heat through.
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PASTA CON ZUCCHINE FRITTE (Pasta and fried zucchini)

Fresh Taste, Simplicity and Low Cost.

Sometimes the most simple ingredients make the most sumptuous dish.

My friend and I have just been discussing how fresh, young zucchini can make a great pasta sauce. They can be the  long, dark green skinned variety or the newer pale green ones. The round zucchini are becoming more common; these can be dark  or pale green in colour and some are variegated.

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Often, when guests come, I remind myself that having costly ingredients is not the most important factor. What is fresh, in season, and have they had it before, are far more important factors.

Pasta chi cucuzzeddi fritti (Sicilian), Pasta con zucchine fritte (Italian) is very common all over Sicily and consists of thinly sliced zucchini fried in extra virgin olive oil. Garlic is used to flavour the oil and is then discarded.

It is important to fry the zucchini in plenty of oil in a wide frypan – the zucchini will release liquid if they are overcrowded in the pan and if necessary fry the zucchini in batches.

My partner took some left over zucchini pasta to work and I was amazed when he reported to me that one of his collegues referred to this vegetable as tha blandest vegetable! I think I will need to invite this person to dinner.

Thin spaghetti is the favoured pasta for this dish – a coating of flavoured oil is preferred. Short, tubular or ridged, surfaced pasta may trap too much oil.

Like so many of the vegetable paste sauces it is made in minutes and makes me wonder why takeaways are seen as a quick solution.

 
spaghettini, 400g
zucchini 800g, sliced into approx 10 mm slices
garlic cloves, 4 squashed with the back of a knife
extra virgin olive oil, 1cup
salt and pepper
ricotta salata or pecorino pepato, grated
Heat the oil in a wide frypan and add the garlic. When it is golden discard it.
Ensure that the oil is very hot and add the zucchini – this will seal the surfaces. You could do this in a couple of batches but keep the oil very hot and add fresh oil to fry each batch.
Turn and toss till golden.
Place the fried zucchini into a bowl and add salt ( the salt is added at this stage otherwise the zucchini would have released their liquid).
Cook the pasta in salted water till al dente and drain.
Toss zucchini, oil and pasta together and add plenty of freshly ground pepper.
Serve with abundant freshly grated cheese and pepper.
 
VARIATION
· After the zucchini have been fried and set aside, reheat the oil (or add more), add about a cup of chopped parsley and 2 cloves of chopped garlic and fry this mixture for a few minutes before adding it to the pasta.
· For a favourite summer dish add a dollop of tomato salsa and fresh basil on top.
· Add a dollop of ricotta either with or without the tomato salsa.
· Chopped mint sprinkled on top of the dressed pasta is probably not traditional, but I like to do it – it accentuates the fresh zucchini taste.
And by the way… the ini at the end of any Italian word (zucchini) means small, those bigger than a finger are zucche (marrows).
Pick them young as they are intended to be.

 

WHERE I BUY MY SUSTAINABLE FISH (Happy Tuna, Queen Victoria Market)

I have always established and maintained a good relationship with all the businesses from whom I buy my produce and have been rewarded – I get very good service and the freshest produce. My fish vendor is a great example.
Happy+tuna+40125_96I consider myself very fortunate.

The seafood is always fresh, the small business is family run, and the sellers show respect for the product. I always know what I am buying because the names of the fish are clearly displayed (From 30 October 2007, The Australian Fish Names Standard – a joint initiative by the seafood industry and the Commonwealth Government – has required vendors and restaurants to use correct, nationally uniform names for all fish). Sometimes their labels also inform the buyer where they have been caught; I also know that I can always ask information about all the fish I purchase.

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At my fish vendor’s, from the counter, I can easily see whole fish being cleaned and cut into saleable portions. As part of the service, when I buy whole fish, I am asked if I would like it filleted on the spot or the few bones removed from the fillets and I know I can request different cuts or ask to vary the size of the portions without feeling embarrassed. I could not wish for better service from all the staff.

The best seafood is fresh, local and what is in season.

My first choice is to select fish, which are not in danger of extinction – sustainable fish.

I do not buy frozen or imported seafood and I am also very fussy about aquaculture.

Naples fish market 4

How fish is caught is crucial to ecological sustainability. The most common methods of commercial fishing are trawling, dredging, netting and trapping – all of which can have considerable impact through the bycatch (other fish and marine life and non-target species). All trawling and dredging damage the seafloor and seabed habitats. Wild fish, line caught (hook and line method) is the preferred, least evasive method of fishing and if I want quality produce, and if I wish to encourage Australian fishers to use more sustainable methods of fishing, I am prepared to pay for it. This may not always mean that I can afford my first choice of fish, however, in spite of my fish vendor being a small business, I can always find a selection of sustainable fish from the better choice category (classification used in the publication, Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide, by the Australian Conservation Society – AMCS).

There are specific websites/resources listing sustainable seafood in different countries.

Useful sites about sustainable fish:

 Australia:

Australian Conservation foundation
ACF is working with a number of environment groups to urge Australia’s governments to create a network of marine sanctuaries. You can find out more about these campaigns at Southwest Marine Sanctuaries, Coral Sea Heritage Park and East Coast Marine Sanctuaries.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society
Ocean watch
http://www.oceanwatch.org.au/OceanWatchAustralia-SustainableSeafoodForums.htm
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Italy:

http://www.moebiusonline.eu/fuorionda/Consumi_ittici.shtml

Canada:

http://www.seachoice.org/profile/result?rating=3

UK:

http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/oceans/what-we-are-doing/sustainable-seafood/sustainable-seafood-frequently-asked-questions

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US:
Also:
Friend of the sea
http://www.friendofthesea.org/
Fisheries and Aquaculture Department (different countries)
http://www.fao.org/fishery/countryprofiles/search/en
Marine Stewartship Council
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Sustainable seafood guides (Marine Stewardship Council)

 

 

Of interest
AVAAZ.org

 

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