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.
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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

Sardines+crop_0018-200x200

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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SARDINE, CRUDE E CONDITE (Sardines – raw and marinaded)

Where would Sicilian food be without fish?

Sicily is an island, and a Catholic one at that, where the people were obliged to fast and abstain — refrain from eating meat — on certain days, mainly Lent and on Fridays.Catholics are no longer required not to eat meat on Fridays but Sicilians eat a lot of fish.
One very popular fish is the sardine, still relatively cheap in Sicily and easily available. The photograph was taken in the Palermo market in December 2008. At that time 4 euros were about $8.00 Australian.
 Sardines boxed
For example you cannot go to Sicily and not eat Pasta con le sarde. There are many regional variations of this sauce, often called by the same name, but the most famous is from Palermo made with wild fennel, pine nuts, saffron and currants.
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Sardines are perfect on a BBQ, and baked, but Sicilians also like them crude (raw) e conzate (and dressed), crude e condite in Italian. Although they are called raw, they are cooked by the lemon juice in the marinade.

Sardines are sustainable, and a good choice if you are concerned about the environment. Marinaded sardines make a great antipasto and lose that strong fishy taste that those people-who-do-not- like sardines hate.

When I first came to Australia we were unable to buy sardines, now they have become very popular (similar to squid, both were used for bait!).

The sardines must be fresh, freshly cleaned and filleted with no head, central spine or innards. Begin your preparations one day ahead.

INGREDIENTS

sardines, 1-3 per person
lemons, juice of 3-4
salt, pepper
garlic, 3 cloves, chopped
extra virgin olive oil
parsley and fresh oregano, ¾ cup, cut finely.

 

PROCESSES

Arrange the fish in one layer on a plate or wide vessel and pour the juice of the lemons on top (this lemon juice will be discarded).
Seal with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3-6 hours. They are ready when they have turned almost white.
Drain the juice well. I use a colander and then quickly dry the fish on a paper towel.
Arrange the fillets in a single layer on a large plate.
Sprinkle the fish with herbs, garlic and salt and pepper.
Dress with the extra virgin olive oil, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate again for about an hour until ready to serve.

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COZZE-Mussels, Crostini (canapés)

Crostini made with mussels.

I do like mussels (called cozzuli in Sicilian and cozze in Italian) and they are sustainable, but more often than not I cook too many (usually steamed in a little white wine, garlic, parsley, chili and eaten with bread). What to do with left over mussel meat? This is not ever a problem, but for something different try these.

Crostini (from the Latin, crusta – crust) are thin slices of toasted bread, cut small, brushed with olive oil and then toasted. Crostini are eaten like canapés spread with different toppings (usually chicken livers) and served with drinks. But these Sicilian crostini are different and remind me of French toast. In this recipe, the mussel shells are discarded; the mussel meat is made into a paste and is then sandwiched between two small slices of bread. It is then dipped in beaten egg, and fried. They make wonderful morsels.

Perhaps there is some French influence in this recipe because it contains besciamella. Some Italian culinary historians believe it was brought to France by the Italian cooks of Marie de Medici but the most common story is that the court chef named the sauce after an important steward in Louis fourteenth’s court – Louis de Béchameil. Originally béchamel was made by adding cream to a thickened stock but the more common and more modern version is made by adding hot milk to a roux of butter and flour. Some béchamel also contains the vegetables found in stock.

INGREDIENTS
mussel meat, about 1 cup (chopped, Australian mussels are much larger than those found in Catania)
bread, thin slices, good quality, sourdough or pasta dura, no crusts. Day old bread will cut better. (I like to use sourdough baguettes – good size for mouths)
pecorino cheese, ½ cup , grated
eggs, 3 extra virgin olive oil for frying
tomato salsa, 1 cup (made with 500g of tomatoes, 2 garlic cloves, fresh basil leaves, sea salt, ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil).
Place all of the ingredients and any liquid from the mussels in a saucepan and cook uncovered until reduced to about 1 cup. Use cool.

Besciamella (besciamelle or béchamel sauce), 1 cup:

1 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoons flour, 1 cup milk, freshly ground nutmeg, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Melt the butter and add the flour in a saucepan over a moderate heat, cook the mixture while stirring with a wooden spoon for 1-2 minutes. Over the heat gradually add the milk while stirring to stop lumps occurring. When all the milk is added continue to cook while stirring until the mixture thickens (it should be quite thick). Season, add nutmeg, remove the pan and allow to cool.

PROCESSES
Mix the salsa, besciamella, ground pepper, mussel meat and cheese.
Cut the bread to size and thickness about 1cm.
Spread this mixture thickly between slices of bread, like when making sandwiches.
Dip the sandwiches briefly in the egg but allow the egg to soak in. Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan and fry the sandwiches on each side. Serve hot.

Chine va chjanu, va sanu e va luntanu (Sicilian proverb).
Chi va piano, va sano e va lontano. (Le cose fatte con calma sono le migliori).
The best things are made when calm.

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SICILIAN EDIBLE WEEDS and Greek VLITA

I have shopped at the Queen Victoria Market ever since I moved to Melbourne from Adelaide. I am always excited by new produce, whether it is new in season or because it is new to me. I saw the vlita at one of the stalls where I often buy my vegetables. I had never seen vlita before – sold as a very large bunch of a long, green leafy plant with its roots still attached. Greens leafy vegetables in January are not very common.

One of the stall owners is a Calabrese (from the region of Calabria in Southern Italy) so I assumed – incorrectly – that it was a wild green, traditionally eaten like spinach in Italy and one I was not familiar with.

As I continued my way down the aisle, the vlita was attracting a lot of attention, but from people of Greek heritage, not Italians. I was stopped four times and they were surprised to hear that I knew the name and that I intended to sauté it in olive oil with garlic. A couple of them mentioned the word horta.

Further down the aisle, I was stopped by yet another woman who told me these plants were much appreciated in her country – India. She said that she was more familiar with a purple tinged variety. So home I went with my various bits of information, determined to discover more.

Yes, vlita is a common weed in Australia, but it is a wild green and one of many gathered and eaten in other parts of the world including Greece, Japan, India, South America and Taiwan. The taste is a little like a beet or spinach, only more grassy.

Vlita belongs to the amaranth family and this variety is known as palmer amarynth.

The amaranthus tricolor or red amaranth is sold more in commercial quantities than the green variety and is a very attractive plant; the leaves are much more colourful than palmer amaranth and it is sold in many stalls which sell Asian vegetables.

Alternative names are een choi (Chinese) phak khom suan (Thai) radên (Vietnamese) bayam (Indonesian).

In different parts of Greece, it is usually served as a cooked green salad. Horta are leafy green vegetables or wild greens and vlita is one of these.

Some varieties of the plant are grown as a grain crop for their seeds – which are very nutritious and can be made into flour – and amaranth flour is becoming increasingly well known as a nutritious alternative to wheat, especially in America.

The young leaves and tender stalks are picked and eaten before the plant flowers. They were sold to me in large bunches with the roots attached – picked this way, they last longer.

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Wild greens are called erbe spontanie in Italian (spontaneous herbs) and Sicilians are very fond of them. They forage for them and can also buy them at the market.
segale_0053
Weeds, like vegetables are seasonal and collected by many people. Some of these wild greens are also sold in markets.
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Gira (or giriteddi), sparaceddi (wild asparagus) or amareddi are particularly popular.
wild greens seller_ seller_0030
Last October–December), when I was in Sicily there were lassine, sanapu, agghiti (wild spinach), urrania (borage) and wild fennel.
Borage_0214
Wild greens/ Edible weeds can be cooked alone or mixed with other green leaf vegetables.
See TORTA DI VERDURA (A vegetable flan or pie).
wild fennel BP1010291

Italians cook greens, as the Greeks do: blanched/ whilted and drained, then seasoned with salt, olive oil and lemon juice and presented hot or cold as a cooked salad.

My favourite cooking method (common mostly in the South of Italy) is to precook the greens in boiling, salted water, drain them well and then sauté them in olive oil, chilli and garlic. They can be eaten hot or cold.

 

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