Tag Archives: Almonds

PASTA CON SARDE – the baked version, Palermo, Sicily

Italy is a Catholic country and on Good Friday most Italians eat fish. Pasta con le Sarde is made with bucatini (thick long tubes of pasta) and the main ingredients are sardines (buy fillets for ease), wild fennel (or fennel bulbs) pine nuts, saffron and topped by fried breadcrumbs.

as you can see I have made this dish at other times.

Muslim Arabs took control of North Africa from the Byzantines and Berbers and began their second conquest of Sicily in 827 from Mazara, the closest point to the African coast and by 902 they well and truly conquered Sicily. The Muslims, were known as Moors by the Christians and by the time of the Crusades, Muslims were also referred to as Saracens.

The Muslim Arabs, via North Africa ruled Sicily till 1061 A.D.

This recipe can only be Sicilian and is particularly common in Palermo.

The origins of pasta chi sardi (Sicilian) are said to be Arabic. When a band Arab troops first landed in Sicily via North Africa, the Arab cook was instructed to prepare food for the troops. The cook instructed the troops to forage for food. He made do with what they presented – plentiful was the wild fennel and the fish (sardines). To these he added exotic ingredients and flavours of Arabs and North Africans –  the saffron, dried fruit and the nuts and so Pasta con le Sarde was born.

At this time of year, just before Easter, many readers look at my blog searching for Easter food ideas. The baked version is fancy enough to present on Easter Sunday – if you are that way inclined.

Pasta con le Sarde can be eaten hot or cold  and it can  be baked…..made into a tummàla (Sicilian word from the Arabic) – Italian timballo and French timbale – a dish of finely minced meat or fish cooked with other ingredients and encased in rice, pasta or pastry.  The dry breadcrumbs are used to line and cover the contents in the baking pan, the long bucatini can be coiled around the pan and the sardine sauce becomes the filling.

The recipe for Pasta con le Sarde is from my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking. This is a slightly modified version of the recipe.

I found very little wild fennel this time of year so I used fennel bulbs – there were a few available at the Queen Victoria Market. Because I only found a very small quantity of wild fennel I added some ground fennel seeds and a splash of Pernod to enhance the fennel taste.

Wild fennel

If you can get wild fennel, place it into some cold, salted water (enough to cook the pasta) and boil it for 10-15 minutes (it can be left in the water for longer). The green tinged, fennel-flavoured water is used to cook the pasta — it will flavour and colour the pasta. Reserve some of the tender shoots of wild fennel raw to use in the cooking of the sauce.

Drain the cooked fennel and keep the fennel-flavoured water to cook the pasta. Some of the cooked fennel can be added to the pasta sauce.

The recipe using bulb Fennel

  • bucatini, 500g
  • sardines, 500g
  • fennel a large bulb of fennel with the green fronds cut finely, a teaspoon of ground fennel seeds or a dash of Pernod
  • extra virgin olive oil, about ½ cup
  • onions, 1, finely sliced
  • anchovies, 4, cut finely
  • pine nuts, ¾ cup
  • almonds, ¾ cup, toasted
  • currants, ¾ cup, or seedless raisins or sultanas soaked in a little water beforehand
  • saffron, ½ – 1 small teaspoon soaked in a little water beforehand
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper or chili flakes to taste
  • coarse breadcrumbs, 100 grams made with day old, quality bread (sourdough/pasta dura) lightly fried in some oil. I added pine nuts (pine- nuts-overkill), grated lemon peel, a little cinnamon and sugar to my breadcrumbs.

Slice the fennel into thin slices and cut fronds finely.
Cut about two thirds of the sardine fillets into thick pieces. Reserve whole fillets to go on top and provide visual impact.
Heat oil in shallow wide pan.
Sauté the onions over medium heat until golden. Add the fennel and cook till slightly softened.
Add pine nuts, currants (drained) and almonds. Toss gently until heated.
Add the sliced sardines, salt and pepper or chili. Cook  for about 5-7 minutes, stirring gently. Add ground fennel seeds or a splash of Pernod to enhance the fennel taste – I did this because I only found a very small quantity of wild fennel.
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 saffron (and the soaking water) and continue to stir and cook gently.
Boil bucatini in the fennel water (if you have it) 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.
Mix the pasta with the sauce, sprinkle with some of the breadcrumbs and top with the sardine fillets.

The photos are of left over pasta that I made into a timballo. It was only for my household, nothing fancy and was a way of using leftovers.

Oil a baking tray or an ovenproof dish (traditionally a round shape is used) and sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs to prevent sticking.


Place a layer of the dressed pasta on the breadcrumbs – I coiled the bucatini around the baking pan, then added the sauce (solids- sardines, nuts etc) and placed more coiled bucatini on top.

if you want a deeper crust you will need greater quantities of breadcrumbs.

Cover with more breadcrumbs, sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil, cover with foil and bake in preheated 200°C for approximately 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes. When the dish is baked, the breadcrumbs form a crust.

LINKS:
WILD FENNEL, link with photos
PASTA WITH ANCHOVIES , wild fennel and breadcrumbs recipe
EASTER IN SICILY
SCACCE, Focaccia stuffed bread

 

 

ANTIPASTO – GRILLED SUMMER VEGETABLES AND A SCOOP OF SALADS

You really cannot beat a plate of grilled vegetables, especially when eggplants and peppers are so prolific at this time of year.

Zucchini, although not in this selection are also a good choice.  Grilled vegetables are perfect as an antipasto but they can just as easily be part of a main course.

The vegetables can be grilled on a BBQ or Grill press or in the oven.

To the array, throw in some of the cooked green beans, asparagus or broccolini (that perhaps are left over from the night before), add a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil, some chopped garlic, a little parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice.

You could also add to the cooked vegetables different textures with a bit of crunch – some of that celery, fennel, cucumbers and apples that are probably in your fridge. Or it could be tomatoes, celery, spring onions and fresh basil leaves, once again a drizzle of that good olive oil that will add fragrance as well as taste.

So easy, so simple.

Just recently, in two different restaurants I ordered versions of grilled vegetables and they both were presented with Romesco sauce dolloped separately on the side of the vegetables.  In one of the restaurant it was grilled asparagus, topped with fried breadcrumbs. In the other it was eggplant. This had been grilled and rather than presenting it in slices it was pulped to a medium texture. Bread is a perfect accompaniment for scooping up the eggplant and the Romesco sauce. A drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil is a must.

Recipes in earlier posts:

 

PEPPERS WITH BREADCRUMBS- PIPI CA MUDDICA – PEPERONI CON LA MOLLICA

SALSA ROMESCO (Romesco sauce, this recipe is made with roasted peppers, tomatoes and almonds)

In this version of this sauce almonds are added to the the vegetables (garlic, peppers and tomatoes). These are roasted/chargrilled on a BBQ or Grill press:

Roast/chargrill the peppers whole, peel, remove seeds and break them into strips. If using fresh tomatoes cut them into pieces. If you are roasting / chargrilling the peppers do them at the same time.
*Click on above link to see a list of ingredients and how to make it.

A different Recipe for Romesco sauce made with hazelnuts

This recipe uses hazelnuts instead of almonds. Also the vegetables are roasted. in the oven rather than grilled.

Use the same ingredients as the recipe above, substitute the hazelnuts for the almonds, but roast the vegetables:

Place the tomatoes, peppers and a whole head of garlic in a roasting tray with a little oil and roast in a 190C oven. Take the vegetables out as they become soft, i.e. the tomatoes will take about 10 minutes,  the peppers and the garlic could take about 30-40 minutes..

 

MATARROCCU, a Sicilian pesto

At this time of year basil is plentiful and many of us enjoy pasta with pesto, so it is time to revisit a post I first wrote in February, 2009 about the Sicilian pesto called Mataroccu (and also Ammogghia in some parts of Sicily).

IMG_2610

The name pesto comes from the word for pestle or to pound. The ingredients are pounded in a mortar and the results are much sweeter than ingredients chopped in a food processor – the differences are much the same as the results obtained from chopping herbs by hand and using a food processor fitted with the steel blade (will taste grassy).

12642876_10201325770064128_1974345076042326006_n

Most associate pesto with the traditional combination of basil, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and good quality grated cheese; pesto originates from the region of Liguria.

Some of us would be amused about the way that Ligurians discuss a genuine pesto- Ligurian pesto can only be made with basil grown in Genoa and close environs (region of Liguria) and that Ligurians generally use as the cheese component, half Parmigiano and half Pecorino sardo – Sardinian (sardo) Pecorino is a much sweeter tasting and less salty than other pecorino. As it should be, Pecorino is made from sheeps’ milk – the word pecora is Italian for sheep.

To dress pasta, also like to make a Sicilian alternative, a pesto from around Trapani – Mataroccu or Ammogghia and sometimes Pesto Pantesco (if it is from the island of Pantelleria, south-west of Sicily).

IMG_20160128_131744

As expected there are different regional versions of the same pistu (Sicilian word for pesto)  It contains similar ingredients as the Ligurian pesto but also raw, fresh, ripe tomatoes, which at this time of year, like basil, should not be a problem. Some Trapanesi prefer to use blanched almonds instead of the pine nuts.

I never weigh ingredients when I make pesto, but the following amounts should provide a balanced sauce for pasta. As I may have written at other times, in Australia we tend to overdress our pasta – the pesto should coat the pasta (and it is assumed that you will use good quality, durum wheat pasta) but not overpower the taste.

INGREDIENTS:
almonds or pine nuts, 1 cup
garlic, 8-10 cloves,
ripe tomatoes,  400g, peeled, seeded, and chopped
basil, 1 ½ cups loose leaves
parsley ½ cup, cut finely
extra virgin olive oil (your most fragrant), about 1 cup or as much as the pesto absorbs
salt, and red pepper flakes to taste

PREPARATION:
Pound garlic in a mortar with a little salt to obtain a paste (I like it fine but with some uneven bits).
Add some of the tomato, some herbs and a little oil and pound some more.
Keep on adding a few ingredients at the time, till they have all been used and until you have a homogeneous, smooth sauce.

Because we live in a modern age you may wish to use a food processor.  First grind the nuts. Add the rest of the ingredients gradually and process until creamy.

 

 

 

SALSA ROMESCO (Romesco sauce, this recipe is made with roasted peppers, tomatoes and almonds)

I had some left over cooked prawns I wanted to use up and thought that a sauce would liven them up.

Romesco+5-640x600

Salsa Romesco is said to have originated from Tarragona, a town close to Barcelona in north-eastern Spain. It is an old Roman town so you can be partly forgiven if you thought that the sauce originated from Rome.
I consulted many sources and there are so many variations to making this Catalan condiment, but the most common ingredients seem to be garlic, red peppers, tomatoes, white bread and almonds. Most interesting is that the recipes from respected food writers, e.g. in Honey From a Weed, (Patience Gray), Mediterranean Seafood (Alan Davison) and Mediterranean Food (Elizabeth David) the main ingredients are tomatoes and the peppers are either paprika or chillies or dried red pepper flakes.

Some recipes include sherry vinegar or wine (rather than wine vinegar). Some have hazelnuts or walnuts as well as the almonds.

There are a few recipes where the bread is first soaked in vinegar and then squeezed dry before it is added to the blend (like when making salsa verde) and others where the bread is toasted in the oven.

Those who are serious romesco – makers make it in a mortar and pestle and also roast or char the tomatoes. If peppers are used these are also charred. I have found references to small red peppers which are often referred to as romesco peppers in Catalonia, so perhaps this is why the name.

Because my grandmothers were Sicilian and this is a Catalan recipe, I cannot say that this is how it is made in my family, however I can give you what has worked for me. There is always room for improvement and I will keep on experimenting.

This sauce is usually associated as a condiment for shellfish and fish. It is also good with grilled and roasted vegetables (especially cold, left over ones that need dressing up the next day).

I usually add a couple of roasted tomatoes to my roasted pepper salads and I conveniently had some in the fridge left over from the night before. I keep roasted garlic covered in olive oil in the fridge, and using up ready made ingredients is often a strong reason why I make certain things in the first place.

INGREDIENTS
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 slice stale sourdough bread
2 large red peppers
1 cup blanched almonds
1 tsp smoked paprika (preferred) or sweet paprika
2 tbsp sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
2 ripe medium size tomatoes
salt to taste
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil and ½ cup when you blend the ingredients
water (a little) to thin down the sauce

PROCESSES
Prepare the ingredients before hand:
Roast/chargrill the peppers whole, peel, remove seeds and break them into strips. If using fresh tomatoes cut them into pieces. If you are roasting / chargrilling the peppers do them at the same time.
Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a fry pan sauté the bread until golden.
Roast the garlic whole (Preheat oven to 200 °C, wrap in foil and bake). An easier option is to sauté the peeled cloves of garlic in the same frypan after you have pan-fried the bread.
Toast the blanched almonds or alternatively sauté them in the same frypan.
Place the bread, and almonds in a blender and pulverize.
Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until it forms into a thick, smooth-ish sauce. If the sauce is a too thick, add a little water to thin it down.

MA2SBAE8REVW

KID/GOAT WITH ALMONDS (SPRING IN SICILY, CAPRETTO CON LE MANDORLE)

In Sicily, spring is the celebration of life, which in cultural and religious terms is expressed in Easter; Primavera (Spring) and Pasqua (Easter) are synonymous – a fusion of nature, culture, family and food.

When it is spring in Australia, it is autumn in Sicily. but we seem to be able to buy goat in Australia during both seasons.

A popular spring meat and Easter Sunday lunch treat is kid or lamb, commonly roasted or braised, and all depending on how one’s mother cooked it.

My relatives in Ragusa traditionally eat mpanata ri agnieddu a focaccia type pie made with very young lamb (complete with bones) and enveloped with a bread dough crust, and this is because it is what my grandmother made at Easter and probably her mother before her.

In Australia the meat I buy is likely be considered as goat in Italy.

Saanen goat

The kid recipe I have chosen to write about is a variation of capretto con le mandorle (kid with almonds), a recipe from the north western area of Sicily which includes Trapani, Marsala and Mazara del Vallo.

It is from the book La Cucina Tradizionale Siciliana by Anna Pomar, published in 1984. The book was given to me by Rosetta my cousin on one of the many occasions when I visited her home in Ragusa – this was her own copy and has her annotations all over it…. a bit like the books I inherited from my mother.

uu7ZALWxjzW_ef7QBw4ThEyeF-aRsfQ_uK0F0VG3zj4

I love the texture that the almonds provide in the thickening of this dish.

I always like to make recipes my own and modify them to my tastes.

To this recipe I added more onions, bay leaves, stock rather than water and dry Marsala. Is it still the same recipe?

INGREDIENTS

3k kid/goat, the younger the better, compete with some bones,
2 onions, finely sliced,
3-4 bay leaves,
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil,
½ cup Marsala Fina (dry version, if not substitute with white wine)
3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped (or cannned)
300g almonds, blanched and ground to powder,
broth/ stock or stock cube and water (approx. 3 cups of liquid)
salt and pepper to taste

 

PROCESSES

Cut the goat into medium sized pieces (so that you have to use a knife and fork to cut it on your plate). Trim off access fat and wipe the meat dry.
Heat the oil, add the goat and the onion and brown it lightly.
Add the Marsala and deglaze the contents in the pan.
Add the tomatoes, herbs,  broth and seasoning.
Cover and cook on low heat and until meat pulls off the bone. Pomar’s recipe suggests cooking it for 45 minutes, my goat (rather than kid) can take up to 2 hours of cooking.
Add the almond meal and reheat gently. If the sauce is too dense, add a little more broth.

 

Although Sicilians and Italians tend to eat their food lukewarm, the recipe states to eat it hot.

 

goatseller_0092-403x600