I sent three recipes to SBS and this was one of them. All have been published on the website
One of my recipes, Sarde a beccafico was selected as part of the food series My Family Feast and cooked by Sean Connolly (chef). You can see it making it online during the broadcast of the series.
You cannot go to Sicily and not eat pasta con le sarde.There are many regional variations of pasta sauces made with sardines, all called by the same name, but the most famous is anancient, traditional dish from Palermo. The pasta can be eaten hot or cold (at room temperature).
I like the way Sicilians often skip between the sweet and savoury tastes – the sour and/or salty is often combined with the sweet and what makes this dish unique is the unusual combination of textures and strong fragrant tastes: the strong taste of the oily sardines, the cleansing flavour of the fennel, the sweetness of the raisins and the delicate aromatic taste of the pine nuts.
Pasta con le sarde is presented with toasted breadcrumbs as a topping, in the same way that grated cheese is used.
Originally the breadcrumbs may have been a substitute for cheese for the poor. In some versions of this dish the cooked ingredients are arranged in layers in a baking dish, topped with breadcrumbs and then baked – the breadcrumbs form a crust.
Unfortunately we are not able to buy bunches of wild fennel (finucchiu sarvaggiu in Sicilian) in Australia, but we do have the wild fennel that grows in neglected areas such as on the side of the road, vacant land and along banks of waterways. In Sicily it can be bought in small bunches. In Australia you will recognise it by its strong aniseed smell and taste, strong green colour and fine fern like fronds. I collect the soft, young shoots of this plant, recognised by their lighter colour. This fennel is unlike the Florentine fennel and has no bulb. Because of its strong smell and taste, animals and insects tend not to eat it, so it can be prolific. I always ensure that the plant looks healthy before I collect it, after all it is a weed and it could have been sprayed.
Fresh bulb fennel can replace the wild fennel, but the taste will not be as strong. If you are using bulb fennel try to buy bulbs with some of the green fronds still attached. I usually buy more than one fennel at a time and save the green fronds to use as a herb in cooking and I enhance the taste by using fennel seeds as well.
The addition of almonds is a local variation and is optional – it brings another layer of taste and texture to the dish. If you choose not to use the almonds, use double the quantity of pine nuts (see recipe).
The origins of pasta chi sardi (Sicilian) are said to be Arabic. In one story, an Arab cook was instructed to prepare food for the Arab troops when they first landed in Sicily. The cook panicked when he was confronted by a large number of people to feed, so the troops were instructed to forage for food. He made do with what they presented – wild herbs (the fennel) and the fish (sardines) to which he added Arabic flavourings, the saffron, dried fruit and the nuts.
I remember coming back to Australia and cooking this dish for friends after eating it in a restaurant in Palermo (Sicily) called L’ingrasciata (In Sicilian it means The dirty one!), and how much all of my guests enjoyed it. I have continued to cook pasta con le sarde over the years, especially since sardines are plentiful, sustainable and now widely available in Australia.
Pasta con le sarde is fairly substantial, and although in Sicily it would be presented as a first course (primo), in AustraliaI am happy to present it as a main (secondo) and I use greater quantities of fish. I follow the pasta course with a green salad as a separate course, but I never serve pasta and salad together. Part of me remains Italian to the core – in Italy a salad is a contorno (a side dish) and an accompaniment to a main course. Pasta, risotto and soup – which are all primi, cannot be accompanied by a side dish.
Traditionally the sauce is made with sardines that arebutterflied (i.e. remove the backbone), or as the Italians say, aperti come un libro (opened like a book). I buy fillets to save time.
fennel, wild is preferable, stalks and foliage, about 200g. If not, a large bulb of fennel with the fronds, cut into quarters and a teaspoon of fennel seeds to strengthen the flavour
extra virgin olive oil, about 1 cup
onions, 2, finely sliced
anchovies, 4, cut finely
pine nuts, 1 cup
almonds, 1 cup, toasted and chopped (optional)
currants, ¾ cup, or seedless raisins or sultanas
saffron, ½-1 small teaspoon
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
breadcrumbs, 4–5 tablespoons
Cook the fennel
The wild fennel is put into cold, salted water (to give maximum flavour to the water) and boiled for 10-15 minutes (it can be left in the water for longer). The green tinged, fennel-flavoured water will be used to cook the pasta – it will flavour and colour the pasta. The boiled fennel is added as an ingredient in the sauce. Reserve some wild fennel to use in the cooking the fish.
If using the bulb fennel, wash and cut the bulb fennel into quarters but reserve the green fronds to use raw in the cooking the fish. Add fennel seeds and boil until tender.
Drain the cooked fennel in colander, and then gently squeeze out the water. Discard the seeds and keep the fennel-flavoured water to cook the pasta.
Chop the fennel roughly, this will be added to the sauce later.
Cut about two thirds of the sardine fillets into thick pieces. The whole fillets go on top and are used to provide visual impact.
Heat oil in shallow wide pan, suitable for making the pasta sauce and to include the pasta once it is cooked.
Sauté the onions over medium heat until golden.
Add pine nuts, raisins and almonds (optional). Toss gently.
Add the sliced sardines, salt and pepper and the uncooked fennel. Cook on gentle heat for about 5-10 minutes, stirring gently.
Add the anchovies (try to remove any bones if there are any) and as they cook, crush them with back of spoon to dissolve into a paste.
Add the cooked chopped fennel and the saffron dissolved in a little warm water and continue to stir and cook gently.
Boil bucatini in the fennel water until al dente.
Fry the whole fillets of sardines in a separate frying pan, keeping them intact.
Remove them from the pan and put aside.
Drain the pasta.
At this stage the pasta can be assembled and presented, or baked.
Place the pasta into the saucepan in which you have cooked the fish sauce.
Leave the pasta in the saucepan for 5-10 minutes to incorporate the flavours and to preserve some warmth.
Gently fold in the whole sardines.
When ready to serve, tip the pasta and fish mixture into a serving bowl, arranging the whole fillets or butterflied sardines on top and dress the whole dish with the toasted breadcrumbs.
If you are baking the pasta:
Oil a baking tray or an ovenproof dish and sprinkle with toasted breadcrumbs to prevent sticking (it is not necessary that they be browned in oil, just browned in the oven).
Place a layer of pasta on the breadcrumbs, top with some of the fish sauce and some whole fillets of sardines. Form another layer and ensure that some of the whole fillets are kept for the top.
Cover with fresh breadcrumbs and sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil and bake in preheated 200C oven for approximately 10 minutes. A teaspoon of sugar can also be sprinkled on top of the breadcrumbs – this, with the oil will help the bread form a crust, adding yet another contrasting taste and a different texture.
SBS website withSarde a beccafico – part of the food series My Family Feast and cooked by Sean Connolly (chef):
It may be apparent that I am very passionate about authentic recipes, especially the ones which claim to be Italian or Sicilian.
One of the recipes is parmigiana. I have read about it in a number of sources, I have tasted it in a number of places in restaurants in Australia and have also seen it cooked on television. I have been determined to get the real story across, so much so, that I have sent this information and the recipe to two sources and I hope that they publish it. SBS have now published it on their website.
I have written this not necessarily because I am a purist, but because I always like to be aware of the origins of traditional recipes and their names. I believe that like language, recipes evolve and if someone adds a personal touch, well and good, but I do like to acknowledge the origins of the authentic recipe – once one knows the basics, there is always room for creativity.
This is how my family has always cooked parmigiana. It is how it was cooked by my mother, her mother and (more than likely) her mother before her. It represents generations of preparing and eating parmigiana in Sicilian kitchens. And those of you who are Italian, this is how the ‘existing firsts’ made it.
A parmigiana made with eggplants or with zucchini is a very common contorno (vegetable accompaniment) all over Sicily. (See variation below if using zucchini). It was once a seasonal dish of summer and autumn, but now in Sicily eggplants are grown successfully in the numerous serre (greenhouse farms) which have sprouted in most parts of the island and allow the production of summer vegetables well before and after their normal season.
Contrary to expectations it does not contain parmigiano (Parmesan cheese) nor does it originate in Parma, the home of parmigiano and the prosciutto di Parma. Pamigiana isan old Sicilian dish, most likely an adaptation and development from the fried eggplant dishes introduced by the settlers from the Middle East (the Persians). One common dish still prepared today in Iran is Kashk-e Baadenjaan. It consists of layers of fried eggplants (baadenjaan in Iranian), covered with a thick whey (kashk – a Iranian product similar to yogurt) and then sprinkled it with mint.
The layers of eggplants resemble the horizontal slats of outside, louvered shutters for blocking sunlight while allowing ventilation. These are called parmiciane (in old Sicilianand persiane in Italian). In English they are commonly called Persian blinds or persiennes (from the French. Consequently the name milinciani a parmiciana, later distorted in translation from the Sicilian into Italian to parmigiana. The Italian word for eggplant is melanzana (Solanum melongena) and once called mad apple or apple of madness by some Europeans, either because it was heard as mala insana or because the eggplant belongs to the nightshade family and therefore associated with toxins, madness and death.
To make parmigiana, the eggplants or zucchini are fried before they are placed in layers (2-3 in a baking dish) each covered with a little tomato salsa, a sprinkling of grated pecorino cheese and basil and then baked.
In some parts of Sicily, instead of grated pecorino, fresh tuma or primo sale can be used. Both are very fresh pecorino cheeses in different stages of production. The primo sale is the second stage of maturation when the first sprinkling of salt is added to the outside of the cheese. These are available from Italian fresh cheese manufactures, but pecorino fresco (fresh pecorino) can be a good substitute.
I ate a version of parmigiana in Agrigento and it had hard- boiled eggs in it. There are regional variations for making parmigiana in Sicily.
Traditionally the eggplants are fried in plenty of oil, but a non-stick fry pan using a little oil can also achieve the wanted results.
Salting slices of eggplants to remove bitter juices was once thought necessary for all eggplants, but a fresh, in season eggplant is very unlikely to be bitter when cooked.
Soaking slices of eggplants in salted water while you work, however, will prevent the eggplant from discolouring and minimize the absorption of oil.
An Italian signora (one of the many women stallholders I have befriended in the Queen Victoria Market) told me how to tell if the eggplants are going to be good ones. She said that as well as looking at the colour (shiny and deep purple) I needed to look at the eggplant’s bellybutton (the mark at the base and where the blossom once was). If the eggplant is fresh, the bellybutton should be either a narrow line or a line stretched into an oval shape but never round (evidence of seeds). I must look odd when I shop for eggplants, turning them upside down to check their belly buttons! I have now shared this tip with all my friends (many who live in Adelaide) and wonder how long it will be before stallholders are wondering what this new craze is all about!
It is the wilted, softer eggplants, or the ones that are not quite dark purple and are tinged with green (a result of not enough sun or being grown out of season) that are likely to be bitter. When cut, it is probable that these eggplants are likely to have many dark bitter seeds.
Eggplants discolour quickly so they need to be cooked soon after being cut and this is why soaking them in salt water may not be a bad idea when you are cooking large amounts.
Eggplants are cooked in many ways by Sicilians and similar to meat (they are fried, baked, grilled, stuffed, boiled, sautéed and roasted). Their versatility is a demonstration of the cucina povera (the cuisine of the poor, making the most of simple common ingredients), central to Sicilian life.
eggplants, 2 large peeled and sliced thinly, lengthways
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup or more (see above)
tomatoes, 1k, ripe, peeled, seeded and diced (or use canned)
onion, 2 sliced
garlic 1 clove
basil leaves, fresh about 1 cup, small, tender and whole
salt and freshly ground black pepper
grated pecorino cheese, ¾ cup
Slice the eggplants (soak in slated water, optional).
Pat dry gently and fry the slices of eggplants in several batches until golden brown.
Place fried eggplants on paper towels to drain the oil.
Make the salsa: heat a little of the olive oil over a medium flame and sauté the garlic. When it is golden brown remove it and discard. Add the chopped tomato, salt and pepper and some basil leaves and cook till thick.
Heat the oven to 200C
Oil an ovenproof dish and cover the bottom with a thin layer of tomato sauce, sprinkle with the cheese and a few basil leaves. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up and you have 2-3 layers, leaving a little cheese for the topping.
Bake for about 20 minutes.
Present at room temperature garnished with basil leaves.
There are local variations. Many add slices of hard-boiled eggs between the layers.
Parmigiana di Zucchine
Sprinkle thin slices of zucchini with a little salt. Leave them for about 20-30mins – this will help to draw out some of the liquid.
Fry the zucchini in batches and proceed as above.
My relatives in Sicily prefer to use the violet coloured eggplants they call violette in preference to the dark skinned variety they call Tunisian (they believe that they are originally from Tunisia). The violette are seedless and sweet. There is a heirloom variety (seed) available in Australia called listada di gadia – it is purple striped and almost seedless.
In Trieste, while the Sicilian relatives were eating their celebratory desserts at Easter, we were either eating presniz or gubana (alsocalled putiza) – both are made with similar pastry (gubana has yeast) and fillings containing different amounts of a mixture of nuts, sultanas, peel and chocolate. A little grappa or a little rum always helps.
The presniz or gubana are then placed into a round baking tin and coiled inside the tin so that when baked, the sides will join up and form a round shape when removed from the tin.
The preparation of gubana requires several steps in order to allow a sourdough to develop using very little yeast.
Pastry with yeast:
500 g flour 00
20 g of yeast
2 cups milk
130 g sugar
100 g butter
1 lemon, peel
1 egg yolk to complete
butter for the plate
FOR THE FILLING:
150 g raisins,
60 g Mixture: candied citron, candied orange, prunes, dried figs
150 g of walnuts
60 g of pine nuts
60 g almonds
100 g of dark chocolate
1 glass of grappa or brandy
2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs
30 g butter
grated zest of ½ orange and ½ lemon
Heat 4 tablespoons of milk and when it is warm, add the yeast and let it bubble.
Mix 100 g of flour with a teaspoon of sugar and the yeast dissolved in milk. Cover and allow to rise. When it has doubled in volume, add the remaining flour and remaining sugar, eggs, softened butter, a pinch of salt, grated lemon peel and milk. Work this into a dough. Allow to rest 24 hours.
Prepare the filling:
Soak the walnuts and almonds in boiling water, remove their skins and chop them finely.
Soak the raisins in alcohol for a couple of hours. Add the rest of the fruit cut into small piece sand soak for another hour.
Add grated chocolate peel and pine nuts.
Add 1 beaten egg (beaten with a fork) and soft or melted butter .
Roll out the dough on a towel in a thin rectangular shape (about 5 mm thick).
Fry the breadcrumbs in a little butter and when cool spread them over the dough.
Cover with the filling and leave a boarder around the edge (2 cm) . Roll it up on itself, in the shape of a coiled snake. Arrange on baking paper or buttered and floured baking tray.
Brush the surface with 1 beaten egg yolk, sprinkle with a little sugar and bake in a preheated oven at 190 ° C for about 45 minutes. Serve luke warm or cold (it cuts better and it is usually made well in advance of being eaten).
All you need to do is look at a map of Italy to understand why much of the cuisine in Trieste (Friuli-Venezia Giulia), is influenced by Austro-Hungarian and Yugoslav traditions.
The apple strudel that is celebrated throughout the year and is a standard dessert in the kitchens of Triestini, has yet again a variation of the pastry, some of the nuts, peel and chocolate, but also raw apple. My mother always used the delicious apples because they were the sweetest. In all three desserts, the pastry is rolled around the filling. See Strucolo de Pomi
One year I went to Sicily for Easter and brought a presniz for the Sicilian relatives to try. I had gone to considerable trouble, buying it from what was considered to be the best pastry shop in Trieste and handling it carefully so that it would not be damaged while travelling.
There was no enthusiasm when I put it on the table, most of the relatives were too full to try it (it was presented with coffee and liqueurs after the big Sicilian Easter lunch after all), and those who did try the presniz did not express any great enthusiasm.
Tradition and only Sicilian food is everything for most Sicilians and I could probably say the same about any other region in Italy.
The traditional desserts for Easter in most of Sicily are made with ricotta. Many have cassata, made with sponge cake, ricotta, chocolate and candied peel, others, like the Ragusani have cassatedde, small, baked ricotta filled tarts made with short pastry (cassatedde can be different shaped ricotta filled pastries in various parts of Sicily – some versions are smaller adaptations of cassata, some cassatedde are fried instead of baked). Very different, quite delicious and perhaps as interesting as presniz and gubana.
Having relatives in Ragusa who celebrate Easter in a big way, I am very familiar with the ‘mpanata ri agnieddu – a focaccia typepie made withvery young lamb (unfortunately) complete with bones and enveloped with a bread dough crust. This is the traditional specialty for the Easter Sunday lunch in Ragusa and it is not the type of pie where you discard the pastry – the flavourful juices from the meat and herbs soak into the bottom crust and are appreciated as much as the filling. My relatives make large round pies, but as you can see in the photo above, individual sized pastries could be made as well, but these are not as traditional.
Sicilian food like Italian food is regional so ‘mpanata ri agnieddu may not be eaten in other parts of Sicily.
The word ‘mpanata (impanata in Italian) appears in a Sicilian lexicon in 1785 andis highly likely to have come from the Spanish word empanada, a derivative from the word empanar which means to wrap or coat with bread – the semi-circular stuffed pastries common in the Spanish speaking countries and in Spain.
Although it is commonly accepted that empanadas are a Spanish innovation it is possible that ‘mpanate may also have been adaptations of the breads of ancient civilizations in Sicily. The Greeks were renowned for their breads. The Romans continued this tradition and over time the breads in Sicily were enriched with flavours and fillings. There are many names for these, for example the ‘nfigghiulata, fuazza, pastizzu, ravazzata, scacciata, scacce and sfinciuni.
You will not believe just how simple the Easter ‘impanata is to make.
You will need 1.5- 2 kilos of cubed, lean lamb (from the shoulder or leg). The lamb the Ragusani use is very young and they include some of the bones, chopped into smallish pieces. As we all know bones add flavour, but I do not recommend you do this unless you tell your guests to be careful of the bones.
To the meat add, parsley, chopped garlic, salt and black pepper and a dash of extra virgin olive oil.
Leave this to steep overnight.
The bread dough
flour, plain (durum wheat), 900g
yeast, 50gr (fresh) or dried yeast, follow instructions on packet
warm water, ½ cup
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
salt to taste
Dissolve the yeast in a little warm water and add to the flour. Mix into a dough, adding a little water until you get a firm consistency.
Sprinkle with some flour and leave under a tea towel to rise for about 1 hour.
After the dough has risen, add a little olive oil and knead again until the oil is totally absorbed. Traditionally, the Ragusani add lard – you choose.
Heat the oven 200 C
Roll out the dough to 1.5 cm thick. There will be two discs of dough to cover the filling. Make one slightly larger than the other – the biggest one will go on the bottom. You can use a large pie plate or just place it into a well-oiled baking pan so that if any juices escape they will be contained.
Add the meat in one single layer in the centre of the dough.
Cover the filling with the smaller disk of dough, moisten around the edges with water and seal the crusts (first fold the dough around the border and then pinch together). Make a couple of slits on top.
Brush with a little olive oil or with a little beaten egg.
Bake for about 1½ hours until the crust is golden.
After about 40 minutes, cover the pie with foil to keep it from burning.
Let the pie rest for 1 hour before eating to allow the meat juices to be absorbed by the bread dough on the bottom layer. For some, this is supposed to be the most memorable part of the pie.
Olive trees have become very common in many Australian gardens. In South Australia where I used to live, olive trees grow wild and prolifically, and I miss not being able to collect and marvel at the range of shapes, sizes and tastes of olives I had for free. I used to enjoy looking at my collection of different jars of olives, collected from different trees and in different locations. I remember once finding a tiny, round olive in Botanic Park and after some research found that it was a descendant of one particular French variety introduced in very early times of Adelaide’s history.
A friend contacted me recently and suggested that I publish something on my blog about how to pickle olives. She is ready to pick hers and had looked through her collection of recipe books and was able to find many suggestions for how to marinade olives, but not how to pickle them.
There are many ways to preserve olives in all their stages of maturity – green, black and those that are turning colour from green to violet. Because I only have one small tree growing in a pot on my balcony, it is those in-between colour olives that I collect to preserve.
Water and salt seem to be a common ways to leach out the bitterness.
I place them into a crock pot after the leaching process and cover them in brine. As you can see I place a weight on top to keep them submerged and then cover them with a sturdy lid and leave them there until they are pickled.
Green olives can be soaked whole in salt water or be cut with a sharp knife across on one side or cracked with a brick (called oliveschiacciate).
Very ripe black olives can be dried outdoors in the shade and then packed in jars in salt. My father placed black olives on rock salt in shallow trays with a layer of open weave made of plastic (available from the hardware and used to prevent leaves from getting into gutters) suspended close to the bottom of the trays. The juice of the olives dribbles down to the bottom of the tray (to collect the juice, he used to place newspaper there, discard and replace it regularly) and eventually the olives dry out and they can be packed in oil, fennel seeds and oregano.
Some people use ash, others place green olives in water with caustic soda – the soda preserves the firmness, but it is not environmentally friendly and not a process I favour. This method is a common procedure used in commercial pickling and can change the colour of the olive from green to black.
I have one small tree on my balcony and the easiest thing I can do is collect my small crop when my olives are turning colour from green to pink and preserve them in brine till I am ready to use them.
Submerge the olives into fresh water in a large bowl or bucket. Change the water every day for a fortnight. I place a clean plate or mesh on top to keep the olives under the surface.
The olives are now ready to be placed in jars into a strong solution of brine.
Estimate how much brine you require (salt is cheap and maybe you will waste some brine or you can measure the last lot of water you pour off the olives).
Dissolve salt in boiling water, I use about one cup of coarse rock salt to 8 cups of water. (My father used to boil the water and keep on adding salt till an egg floated on top). Allow the water to cool.
Place olives in clean jars (with good lids). I scatter some fennel seeds in between the layers and then pour the brine over them until the olives are completely submerged. Once again that gutter wire comes in handy and I cut some to size to place on top of the olives to keep them submerged. Alternatively coiled branches of dry wild fennel stalks are also effective for this purpose.
Topping up the bottles with up to one centimeter of olive oil to seal and stop air getting to the olives is not thought to be essential, I do it. Screw on the lids and store for at least 6 months in a cool place.
When you are ready eat your olives take out as many as you want, drain them and taste them. If they are too salty, soak them in fresh water, till they are ready to dress.
Unlike the Greeks, I do not use vinegar to pickle or to dress olives. Unless I am pretending to be Moroccan rather than Italian, my olives are mostly dressed very simply with extra virgin olive oil, dry oregano, bay leaves, fennel seeds and chili flakes.
******This post was published in Mar 23, 2009 and it us still one of my most popular posts.
Having said that ‘Unlike the Greeks, I do not use vinegar to pickle or to dress olives’, check out what I have said in a post written in Jan 11, 2015
It is interesting how some dessert recipes never die, for example Trifle.
Recently I ate a very nice trifle at a friend’s house. Our Californian friends were also guests and I was surprised to discover that they were not familiar with our common dessert made with sponge-cake, flavoured with wine or spirit, and served with custard and whipped cream.
Zuppa Inglese is the Italian version of an English trifle and literally translated it means English soup. This renowned Italian dessert contains sponge fingers, liqueur and crema inglese (crème anglaise). It may well be a tarted-up adaptation of English trifles introduced by the many wealthy English residents either living or visiting Italy in the late 18th – 19th century (World War 2).
Zuppa (meaning soup) could refer to the moist consistency of the dessert. But zuppa could also be derived from inzuppare, meaning to soak, andin the Zuppa Inglese, Italians replaced the jelly and jam (often red in colour) with a strong liqueur called Alchermes (or Alkermes).
Alchermes is ahighly alcoholic, Florentine liqueur, red in colour and specifically used for making zuppa inglese. It is reputed to have been a secret recipe of the Medici family. The modern Alchermes is likely to be the development of an eighth century tonic which as well as rose-water, cinnamon, sugar and honey, was said to contain ground pearls, leaf gold, raw silk, musk, ambergris (produced in the digestive of system of sperm whales and used in perfumes).
When I was a child living in Italy in the late 1950’s, Zuppa Inglese was a very in-style, traditional dessert and served in Italian restaurants.
Generally Italians living in Italy do not make desserts at home; if we had guests, my mother bought tortes or small cakes (as is the practice to buy from the experts, in this case from the pasticceria). This was not the norm in Australia and my mother made Zuppa Inglese for special occasions. I have continued to make this to the present day.
Alchermes wasunavailable for many years and I had to use Maraschino – the zuppa inglese was a pale imitation of the Italian original and in the 1980’s I began making my own Alchermes.
Alchermes is reminiscent the Sicilian rosaliu – the generic name for a homemade liqueur– the flavourings are steeped in alcohol for a time, then sugar and water are added. Rosaliu possibly dates back to the 15th Century and was originally a pink cordial, made from rose petals (hence the name), it may have been an adaptation to rose sharbat (still popular in the middle east). Progressively and by the mid 18th Century it became an alcoholic drink generally made with lemons, oranges or mandarins and these became favoured over rose as flavourings. My elderly Sicilian aunt, zia Niluzza is a champion rosoliu maker and I make Alchermes by using a very similar procedure.
Pure grain alcohol is sold freely in Italy but in Australia I make Alchermes with grappa or vodka. Generally I do not measure quantities of spices – the following amounts are an approximation.
vodka or grappa (bottles are 700ml, I use about two-thirds of a bottle)
cinnamon sticks, 3,
orange peel from 1 orange,
fennel, cardamom pods, coriander seeds and cloves, 1 heaped tablespoon of each (cracked/bruised),
mace or nutmeg, shavings or powder, equivalent to 1 tablespoon
saffron, 1 large pinch of and/or ½ vanilla bean (spilt)
cochineal, ½ teaspoon or more
rose water, 1 tablespoon
Use a large wide mouth jar with a screw on lid. Place the alcohol into the jar and add all of the above flavourings, except for cochineal and rose water.
Leave undisturbed to steep in the alcohol in a cool dark place for at least 14 days.
Dissolve about 500g of sugar in 1 litre of hot (boiled) water. When cooled add some cochineal (to colour) and rose water. Add this to the to the alcohol and spices.
Strain through a piece of cheesecloth into a large jug or jar.
Transfer the contents into bottles (with a strong seal).
It keeps indefinitely.
Quannu ‘na cosa piaci, nun fa dannu (Sicilian proverb).
Quando una cosa piace, non fa` danno (Italian translation).
When one likes something, it can’t do any damage.
Zuppa Inglese continues to be glorified in my present household. For Christmas, we sometimes go to Albury where my partner’s family live and one year I was asked to make a trifle. I made a Zuppa Inglese and was nervous about presenting this variation.
But I needn’t have worried and I have been asked to make Zuppa Inglese again and again – it is the homemade Alchermes that does it, and keeps everyone happy!
A rice pudding is something I have always associated with English cooking – the very simple type of rice pudding my English mother-in law used to make with milk, a little rice, sugar and butter, topped with a sprinkling of cinnamon and then baked in a slow oven. But there are variations to this recipe even in England and not surprisingly there are rice pudding-type desserts made all over the world using either long grain, short grain or black rice, and cooked on the stove, or baked, or wrapped in leaves and steamed. Some eat them hot, others cold.
And even Sicilians have rice puddings, made like a rice custard – the rice is cooked in sweetened milk on the stove top and delicately flavoured with a cinnamon stick, almonds and candied fruit. Only the modern recipes include eggs, cream or butter, these probably used to enrich pasteurised milk. It is served cold. This particular Sicilian recipe has chocolate in it and in most references it is simply called Risu niru (Riso nero in Italian – Black rice). The flavours and origins of this particular Sicilian rice pudding are likely to be Arabic; they bought the more complex sweets and ingredients to Sicily – the cinnamon, sugar, and the rice, which they traded from Asia, the dried or candied fruits and more complex recipes that made greater use of almonds and pistachios. The Spaniards introduced chocolate much later to Sicily.
The type of rice used in the recipes is not specified, but in Italy originorio rice is the standard type with short, round grains and a pearly appearance, and similar to the short grain calrose rice.
This chocolate rice pudding is in honour of the Black Madonna of Tindari (on the north east coast of Sicily). Tindari’s history is one long cycle of conquest and colonisation. It was one of the last Greek colonies in Sicily; founded by the Syracusans in 396 B.C. Tindari also prospered under the Romans and became a diocese during the early Christian period before been captured by the Arabs.
There are many fascinating legends and miracles attributed to the wooden statue of the Black Madonna housed in Tindari. It is thought that the statue came from the Christian east, around the late 8th or early 9th Century. It could have been smuggled out of Constantinople during the period of Iconoclasm (which literally means image breaking – the destruction of images for religious or political reasons). In the Byzantine world, the production and use of figurative images, particularly in Constantinople and Nicea were banned. Existing icons were destroyed or plastered over and very few early Byzantine icons survived the Iconoclastic period.
One of the legends tells how a storm forced the ship carrying the smuggled statue of the Black Madonna into the port of Tindari. When the storm abated and the sailors tried to leave, they found that the ship would not move. They realised that it was the Madonna that was preventing them and so they off-loaded the statue in a casket. Local sailors found the Black Madonna and took her to the tallest spot in Tindari and there they built a sanctuary (rebuilt on a number of occasions). The sanctuary houses the statue and is richly decorated with mosaics. It has miraculously withstood the raids by pirates and invading armies – no doubt due to the defending, dark-skinned Mary. She is also credited with having protected believers from such afflictions as earthquakes and pestilence.
At the base of the statue is the Latin inscription: Nigra sum sed formos (I am black but beautiful) and riso nero is cooked and eaten in her honour – the chocolate is her dark, luscious skin, the almonds and fruit represent the stars in her gown and the coloured stones of the mosaics. Cocoa is used in the older recipes. In the more modern versions dark chocolate is added and melts in the rice custard.
The pudding is prepared in two stages, the basic rice cream is cooked and cooled before the other ingredients are added and shaped into a pudding.
INGREDIENTS (for the rice cream)
full cream milk, 9-10 cups (I like to use organic, unpasturised milk when I can get it. Modern versions of this dish replace one cup of milk with cream)
short grain rice, 1 ½ cups a little
salt, a little
white sugar, 1 cup
cinnamon sticks, 2
lemon peel, large strips from 1 lemon.
sugar, ½ cup
bitter cocoa, ¾ cup of (mixed together with a little milk) or 250 g block of good quality, dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
almonds, 1½ cups of (blanched, toasted and chopped)
candied or glace fruit, 1 cup – a mixture of chopped orange, lemon and/or citron, but save some of the nuts and fruit to decorate the top.
Pour 8 cups of milk and all of the ingredients for cooking the rice into a large (heavy bottom) saucepan and mix gently. Because rice has different absorption rates you may need to add the extra cup of milk as you cook it.
Simmer the contents gently and stir frequently until creamy and add the extra milk as you cook it if necessary.
Remove from the heat and take out the lemon peel (could taste bitter if it is left) and the cinnamon sticks. Cool slightly before adding cocoa and sugaror dark chocolate. Mix thoroughly.
Add some almonds and fruit, but save some to decorate the top.
Traditionally the pudding isshaped into a mound on a plate. Decorate the pudding with the almonds and candied fruit before serving.
A Sicilian prayer
Beddra ‘n terra, beddra ‘n celu, beddra siti ‘n paradisu; beddru assai, è lu Vostru visu.
Bella in terra, bella in cielo, bella sei in paradiso; molto bello e il Vostro viso
Beautiful on earth, beautiful in the sky, beautiful you are in paradise; very beautiful is your face.
Black Madonnas are found in various parts of the world. This photo below is de Nuestra Señora del Sagrario in the Cathedral of Toledo. She is beautiful.
I read your bit about pappardelle. We had pappardelle sulla lepre alla cacciatora at La Pentola dell’Oro in Firenze. It includes cinque cucchiai di aceto rosso ( 5 spoons of red wine vinegar).
your recipe which includes five spoons of red vinegar does not surprise me. There are recipes where the hare, rabbit and boar are soaked in water and vinegar before it is cooked to remove the wild taste – my mother always did this with rabbit. It bleached the meat and left some of the taste. I think that Anglo-Australians soaked wild rabbit in salt water.
I bought a rabbit at the butcher’s in Greve in December 2008 and was given three parcels, one with the rabbit, the other had the head and the third, the liver – these enrich the sauce. The other variation is the use of herbs – the addition of parsley, sage and rosemary.
There is of course the recipe for hare cooked with bitter chocolate. Now there’s a good taste!
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.
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
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.
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.