Tag Archives: Antipasto

CAPONATA DI NATALE (Christmas, winter caponata made with celery, almonds and sultanas)

Not all caponate include eggplants.

This  Sicilian caponata is certainly different to the Christmas fare we are used to in Australia, but it makes a perfect antipasto or salad as an accompaniment to meat or fish .

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Eggplants and peppers are summer vegetables and not in season in winter for Christmas, so this caponata is made with celery hearts, traditionally boiled first before being sautéed. In some parts of Sicily green, leafy winter vegetables (for example chicory, spinach, endives) are also used with the celery.

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I do not pre-cook the celery; I prefer to slice it very finely and just sauté it till it is slightly softened.

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It is a very unusual caponata with a combination of textures and flavourssweet, salty, sour… soft and crunchy. This recipe is one of the many caponate in my first book Sicilian Seafood Cooking.

Sultanas or currants are both good to use. Muscatels and raisins are OK as well, but their size may not be as visually pleasing.

Sometimes I toast the almonds, sometimes I do not. I made this caponata in a friend’s kitchen and on this occasion I used whole almonds rather than chopped ( the was no food processor/ kitchen wizz). On other occasions I have used pine nuts.

I have paired this with meat and fish but I really like to eat it on by it self… especially at the start of a meal.

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INGREDIENTS

almonds, 1 cup, blanched, toasted and chopped
celery, 1 large, but remove the outer leaves and only use the centre, pale green stalks and some of the fine leaves
onion 1, large, chopped
sultanas or currants, ¾ cup, sun-ripened
capers, ½ cup, salted or in brine
green olives, ¾ cup , stoned, chopped
white vinegar, ½ glass
sugar, 3 tablespoons
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
salt and freshly ground pepper

Optional
These can be sprinkled on top when the caponata is ready to serve:
Coarse Toasted Breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons, made from good quality 1-2 day old bread and then toasted in a frypan with hot oil.

PROCESSES

Slice the celery finely and chop the leaves.
Sauté the celery with the onion in a deep frypan until it has softened, add salt and cook for about 10 minutes.
Add the olives, sultanas and capers and cook for another 2 minutes.
Empty the cooked ingredients into a bowl.
Agro dolce sauce (sweet and sour sauce): To the frypan already coated with caramelised flavours, add the sugar and heat it very gently until it begins to melt and bubble. Add the vinegar and allow it to evaporate.
Add the vegetables to the sauce and some of the almonds, reserving some for decoration if you are not going to use the toasted breadcrumbs.

Leave the caponata in the fridge, at least overnight. Serve at Room temperature. Top with the rest of the almonds or breadcrumbs when ready to serve.

RADISH (RAVANELLO OR RAPANELLO)

This photo of this bunch of radishes was taken in France.

I was in France with friends and stayed in Mercadiol (a small hamlet) in the South West of France. It is the same restored barn that Stephanie Alexander stayed (with Maggie Beer and Colin her husband) when she researched material for her book Cooking & Travelling in the South-West France.

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My friends and I sampled much of the local cuisine, but we also enjoyed shopping in the local markets in the various nearby towns and villages and cooked some fabulous dishes together.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this variety of radish for sale at one of my favourite vegetable stalls at the market. Carmel, one of the stall’s proprietors proudly announced that a couple of her customers had said that they had seen this variety in France. She was pleased to hear that I verified this and had a photo of them.

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The following is a section from the vegetable chapter from my manuscript to be published in 2011.

Radish (ravanello or rapanello) is another vegetable that is probably over-looked in Australia – they are available all year round but are sweeter in spring. Radishes should be crisp, juicy, and peppery with sparkling white flesh.

My father grew them in his small garden in Adelaide because they reminded him of the times when he was a boy growing up in Sicily and he would help himself to the radish patch. When in Sicily, if in spring, it is quite common in people’s homes to be presented with small, firm radishes with fresh, unblemished tops at the beginning of a meal. Serve with a separate small bowl of salt, or extra virgin olive oil and salt, for dipping. Other tender vegetables such as broad beans, fennel or peas are also commonly placed on the table in the same way – it is a celebration of the vegetable and the season.

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Last week, my friend The Old Foodie wrote about radish.

When I select bunches of radish or kohlrabi, baby turnips or beetroot I partly select them for the quality of their leaves. In fact I cooked the leaves from the bunch of radish and baby turnips the night before you posted your blog – I sauté them in extra virgin olive oil and garlic.My father used to grow radishes in his garden and used to collect the young leaves for salads – not to be eaten alone, but as part of a mixed salad. He also grew rocket and radicchio and chicory and collected ‘salad ‘ leaf by leaf. And I support the theory that radish was used to stimulate appetite. My father used to talk about Sicilians just presenting a bowl of radishes (in season and fresh) with salt (to dip the radish into) before a meal.

Antipasto (or nibbles) before a meal is still not a common practice in Sicily, it is a modern invention, stimulated by tourists and their expectations. Because Sicilians to always begin a meal with a primo (first course), which for the majority of the time is pasta; they do not wish to spoil their appetite. The primo is followed by a secondo (main) and then fruit, and dessert for special occasions. A few nibbles, for example olives, a few cubes of marinaded pecorino could be the ‘nibbles’ for special occasions or part of an extended meal.

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BRESAOLA (Air-dried beef, a specialty from Lombardia)

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Bresaola is not Sicilian; it is a specialty of Lombardy. It is beef that has been salted and air dried and then eaten dressed with good quality extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and pepper.Air-dried beef is hard and dark, and like prosciutto it needs to be sliced paper-thin. A little goes a long way.

I needed to prepare something quickly for our Saturday lunch (2 friends visiting from Adelaide) so I made two salads – a tomato salad (with a little celery, basil and spring onion) and a rocket, radicchio and fennel salad. I baked some ricotta (see link to recipe) and prepared some bresaola. It was an easy and perfect lunch.

Good quality bread and good extra virgin olive oil to make the dressings are a must.

Although some bresaola is made by a small number of smallgoods manufacturers in Australia, it is not always easy to buy, however, I am able to purchase quality, local, air-dried beef (made by people of German, Dutch or Polish origins) which can be prepared the same way.

I often present bresaola as an antipasto. It is remarkably tasty and ever so easy.

PROCESS:

Lay thin slices of meat (one layer thick) on a plate and then drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on top. This softens the meat; I do not leave the meat to marinate for very long (up to an hour) unless it is particularly dry. Just before it is ready to serve, add lemon juice and grind some black pepper over the top.

Although bresaola is not Sicilian, I was presented with this as an antipasto in Sicily when I was invited to dinner by one of the younger relatives of the family. I should not have been so surprised. Although their mothers generally only cook Sicilian food, their daughters read about food, watch food programs and experiment with different ingredients and recipes from elsewhere.

Those of you who have eaten at Cumulus (Melbourne Restaurant) may have eaten the bresaola of Wagyu beef; here it is presented with shaved fresh horseradish sprinkled on top. Not bad.

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