Tag Archives: Agro-dolce

Sicilian Pumpkin with vinegar, mint, sugar and cinnamon

Fegato di sette cannoli

It is autumn  in Australia and  there are plenty of pumpkins around. I like cooking pumpkin this way because it has unusual flavours and it can be made well in advance. I have presented it both as an antipasto and as an accompaniment to main dishes.

I cook this dish quite often and I am surprised that I have not written about it on my blog.

The following text is a condensed version from my first book  Sicilian Seafood Cooking. The photograph is also from the book. This all took place in my kitchen – I cooked it , Fiona Riggs styled it and Graeme Gillies photographed it.

This  Sicilian specialty  is sometimes called zucca in agro dolce (pumpkin in sweet and sour sauce) but I prefer the more colloquial Sicilian name, ficato ri setti canola – literally, ‘liver of the seven spouts (or reeds)’.

It is a colourful and aromatic dish. There is the strong colour of the pumpkin, tinged brown at the edges, and contrasted with bright green mint. The sweetness   of the pumpkin is enhanced by the flavours and fragrance of garlic, cinnamon and vinegar. It is better cooked ahead of time – the flavours intensify when left at least overnight, but it can be stored in the fridge for several days.

The dish is said to have originated among the poor, in what is known as one of the quartieri svantaggiati (‘disadvantaged suburbs’) of Palermo.

Sicilians are colourful characters and like stories. It is said that the pumpkin dish was first cooked and named by the herb vendors of the Piazza Garraffello a small square in Palermo. These were the days before refrigeration and balconies and windowsills were often used to cool and store food, especially overnight. As the story goes, the herb sellers could often  smell the aroma of veal liver coming from the balconies of the rich. At home, they cooked pumpkin the same way as the well-to-do cooked liver (fegato) and, wanting to create a bella figura, they hoped the fragrance of their cooking would mislead the neighbours into thinking that they too were well-to-do and could afford to eat liver.

The typical way of cooking liver is to slice it thinly, pan-fry it and then caramelise the juices in the pan with sugar and vinegar to make agro dolce (sweet and sour sauce).

As for the seven spouts (sette cannoli), they are the short cane-shapedspouts of an elegant 16th-century fountain in the piazza. Below – cathedral in Palermo.

In Australia I generally use the butternut or Jap pumpkin,The pumpkin is sliced 1cm (.in) thick and traditionally fried in very hot oil (if thicker, they take too long to cook).

Although baking the pumpkin slices is not traditional, I prefer this method .It certainly saves time in the preparation (see variation below). Serve it at room temperature as an antipasto or as a contorno (vegetable side dish).

1kg (2lb 4oz) pumpkin
10 cloves garlic
extra virgin olive oil (1. cup
if frying 1/3 cup if baking)
3 teaspoons sugar
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
small mint leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper

Fried Method

Peel and remove the seeds of the pumpkin and cut into 1cm (in) slices.
Peel and slice 4 cloves of garlic.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based frying pan. Add the garlic cloves.
Remove when it has coloured and fry the pumpkin slices, turning them only
once in case they break, until they become soft and begin to colour around
the edges. Add salt to taste. Remove the pumpkin and discard some of the oil,
but keep any juices.
Use the same frying pan for the agro dolce sauce: add the sugar, stir it around
the pan to caramelise it, and then add the vinegar and cinnamon.
Stirring constantly, allow the sauce to thicken slightly as the vinegar evaporates.
Add the remaining garlic cloves and few sprigs of mint to the warm sauce.

Add the pumpkin to the sauce, and sprinkle with pepper. Allow the sauce
to penetrate the pumpkin on very low heat for a few minutes. Alternatively,
pour the sauce over the pumpkin and turn the slices a couple of times. Cool
and store in the fridge once cool. Eat at room temperature.

When ready to serve, arrange the slices in a serving dish, remove the old
mint (it would have discoloured). Scatter slices of fresh garlic and fresh mint
leaves on top and in between the slices.

 

Baked version

Cut the pumpkin into thicker slices, about 2–3cm (1in).
Sprinkle with salt and place on an oiled baking tray.
Bake the pumpkin and garlic in a 200C (400F) oven (discard the garlic when the pumpkin
has cooked).
Make the agro dolce sauce (see the above) in the baking tray
instead of a frying pan.

I also add fresh bay leaves – like the look and the taste of it.

The mint must be fresh.

TONNO AL AGRO DOLCE – Sweet and sour tuna, Sicilian – ALBACORE TUNA

In Australia we have different types of tuna: Albacore, Bigeye, Southern Bluefin and Yellowfin tunas. Bonito and mackerel as well as tuna are part of the same family (Scombridae).

Albacore tuna is sustainable, cheap in price and much under-rated in Australia. It is not sashimi grade so the Asian export market does not want it and I think that this is the reason why in Australia we tend to undervalue it. It is denser in texture but excellent for braising (lightly or cooked for longer).  Generally it is sold as a wheel but I have also been able to buy it as a fillet – perfect for  baking and braising  in one piece.

When I see Albacore tuna I grab it. It is caught in winter on the coast of Southern New South Wales but unfortunately not many fish vendors stock it.

Michael displays albacore right #1

This is Mike holding one of the Albacore tuna at his stall in the Queen Victoria Market. He looks very noble in this photo.

In this recipe the tuna is lightly braised and has slivers of garlic and mint studded throughout the pieces of fish. The rest of the ingredients and cooking style are Sicilian through and through.

I prefer to use a large round piece of Albacore tuna for this dish, which can be separated into 4 portions.

Tuna-fillets-studded-with-sage-garlic-in-pan-300x253

The following recipe is for 4 people

INGREDIENTS and PROCESS

fish, 4 pieces
onion, 1 chopped thinly
garlic, 2 cloves, cut into halves (or thinner)
fresh mint, 4+ leaves (or sage leaves in winter because mint is not doing well)
4 anchovies
green olives, 8 -10
extra virgin olive oil, ¼ cup
salt and chilli flakes to taste
red wine vinegar, 1 splash – about 1 tablespoon
sugar, ¾ tsp
orange, 4 slices , these are optional and a modern take on this recipe. If you are going to add them sauté them before you add the sugar and vinegar
 
Cut the 4 portions of tuna from the round piece. Discard the skin around the outside.
Use a thin, sharp knife with a long blade and make 2-3 deep, regularly spaced slits into each hunk of fish (I made 3-4 slits in the biggest pieces of fish).
Insert into each split half a clove of garlic and in another a mint leaf.
Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a pan large enough to accommodate the fish in one layer.
Sauté the fish, turn once (until it colours), remove and set aside.
Sauté the onion in the same pan until it becomes golden and soft.
Add the anchovies and stir them around over moderate heat – they will dissolve.
Add olives and the seasoning. Add the orange slices (optional). Add the sugar, watch it melt (still over medium heat) then add the vinegar and evaporate it.
Return the tuna to the pan it and cook gently until it is cooked to your liking – this will depend on the size of your fish and how you prefer to eat it. For my tastes I return the tuna to the sauce mainly to reheat it as I do enjoy my tuna fairly underdone (this is in comparison to how Italians generally eat tuna).

I have also cooked the slice of tuna whole.