Tag Archives: Basil

PUMARORU CA CIPUDDA (Tomatoes with onions). INSALATA DI POMODORO (Tomato salad)

Simple tomato salads feature very frequently in my kitchen – not surprising as local tomatoes and basil in summer are at their best.

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When I say simple, I mean made with basic ingredients – in season tasty tomatoes, fresh basil, spring onion, the inside part of the celery, salt and extra virgin olive oil. In fact, so simple that I have not written the recipe for a tomato salad in my blog.

Just writing about tomato salad makes me want to have some – I can taste the fresh bread that I particularly like to use to mop up the juices. Good, extra virgin olive oil is as important as the quality of the tomatoes.

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I have inherited my like of tomato salads from my father; it is one of the things my father made well and my parents, especially when they were elderly would eat a tomato salad almost every day for lunch (accompanied with some sort of cheese, smallgoods, frittata, or left over meat or fish from the night before). This sort of tomato salad  was not considered special enough to present to guests – it was family, simple, every-day food and to a certain extent it has remained so in my present home.

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Apart from the simple tomato salad made with spring onion, my father excelled in the salad his mother used to make (she lived in Ragusa, Sicily) with squeezed onions or as he used to call cipolla dolce (sweet onion) – the onion is made sweet by having the bitter juices squeezed out of it before it is used.

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This makes the taste of the salad unique and my children and nephews still mention this legendary version of a nonno-tomato salad. When they were in season the large, fresh, salad onions were his favourites (sold in bunches with the bulbs and part of the green stalk still attached) but the ordinary white or the red onions sufficed at other times.

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Cipudda is the Sicilian word for onion and cipolla the Italian.

Probably because it is used extensively in Calabria, red onion is called cipolla calabrese or cipolla di Tropea in Italian, Tropea is a very picturesque, old fortified town built on a cliff overlooking a spectacular beach in Calabria.

I now have the old colander my father used to use to strain the onion – this was one of the very few, kitchen implements that came with us from Trieste where we lived before coming to Australia.

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Amusing: in Italian a colander or strainer is called a scolapasta scola means strain…and where would Italians be without an implement to drain their pasta!

To sweeten onion:

Expect to shed tears during this process.

Place 2 large, thinly sliced onions in a colander, sprinkle with about 2 heaped tablespoons of salt and leave it for about 30 minutes. Do not be concerned about the quantity of salt, it will draw out the onions’ strong juices. If fresh onions are in season, leave the sliced onions with the salt for about 15 minutes.

Use your fingers and palms to squeeze the onions inside the colander – the juices and the salt will just dribble through the perforations.

My parents have always made tomato salad with firm, slightly golden, unripe tomatoes. Interestingly in Italy, tomatoes (pomodoro) were first called pomo d’oro, apples of gold and these early specimens were not necessarily red in colour.

My father was making salad well before the heirloom varieties of tomatoes were available – he would have enjoyed using these tomatoes that come in a multitude of colours and variety of shapes. Interestingly, not all are coloured red.

In most parts of Sicily, the most common tomato salad is as follows:

6-8 tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil at least ½ cup
fresh basil (or dried oregano)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 stalk of celery from the inside part of the celery and include some of the pale green leaves – all sliced thinly
1 spring onion sliced thinly or replace the spring onion with the sweetened onions

Cut the tomatoes into bite size pieces and add everything else and serve.

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From Comiso and Vittoria (towns south of Ragusa) and popular inland (in Enna and Caltanissetta) it is common to cut large tomatoes called (cuore di bue — ox heart), horizontally into halves, remove the seeds and stuff each crevice with chopped garlic, salt and extra virgin olive oil. On visits to the South of France I found that these tomatoes are popular and eaten in the same way. Surprise, surprise!

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In my last post I made reference to Sicilian tomato salad. See post:

RICOTTA, TOMATOES and Basil. A perfect summer dish.

These little beauties below were left by a neighbour at my door.

I feel a tomato salad coming on.

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RICOTTA, TOMATOES and Basil. A perfect summer dish.

One of the things I like about eating out is that I come home full of ideas for reproducing my version of something I have eaten at a restaurant. Looking at the way that food is presented also gives me ideas.

This was a very simple thing. I was in Brisbane recently and went to Gauge restaurant and one of the dishes my friends and I shared was the Cow’s ricotta, sancho pepper, heirloom tomatoes, olive. 

IMG_0134In the restaurant the chefs used an Asian herb but really, there are many herbs that would compliment this dish and each would impart a different taste – I could see myself using common herbs like thyme, oregano or sweet marjoram, tarragon, dill or any of the different types of basil that are now easily available.

Summer to me means eating tomatoes almost every day. Ricotta is also a favourite.

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I arrived home from Brisbane and the next evening I had friends here for dinner and ricotta, tomatoes and the prolific amounts of basil that I am growing on my balcony seemed just right. It was the presentation of this dish that was as important as the taste. My photos do not do it justice, but it was such a a simple dish, full of natural flavours and it looked stunning at the same time. As a summer starter with good bread or crakers it was perfect.

This was the motivation: Cow’s ricotta, sancho pepper, heirloom tomatoes, olive.

Ricotta, heirloom tomatoes – easy stuff and easy to get.

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Sansho Pepper is also known as Japanese Pepper and it is unripe Sichuan pepper. It adds a lemon myrtle-like freshness to dishes. This too is easily available from Asian shops, however maybe not in your pantry, but there are alternatives. I have a variety of pepper corns and just recently I bought a range of dried Mexican chillies that I grind up and use like pepper –  some are particularly spicy, slightly tart with an earthy flavour, others are smoky and aromatic and some are very hot.  On this occasion I chose pink pepper corns – it looks good and tastes different.

There were no real olives in this presentation in the restaurant and the black olive favour was achieved with black olive salt. I was at another restaurant today where they used dehydrated olives – fantastic intense flavour and texture. In my version I could have used whole olives especially the shrivelled black, dried olives  but I thought that they would look too big so I used tiny capers and some of my Greek basil with the tiny leaves.

A little spring onion sliced finely also added flavour. Next time I may add a stalk of finely sliced celery – one of those pale green stalks from the inside of the celery. After all, the tomato salads that I learned to make in my family home always had both onion and celery…. this is how Sicilians make tomato salads.

I used cow’s ricotta that I whipped up to a cream with a little salt and pink pepper corns.

I made a basil oil by blending good- quality, extra virgin olive oil with and a little salt and basil picked from my balcony.

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I bought good tomatoes from a reliable stall holder at the Queen Victoria Market (as I always buy quality produce).

As a summer starter with good bread or crackers it was perfect. Good wine helps too.

 

 

 

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A MOUNTAIN OF CAPONATA – two days before Christmas

Mountains of eggplants, peppers, celery, onion, capers and green olives…..a few red tomatoes, pine nuts, basil and the characteristic caramelized sugar and vinegar to deglaze the pan that makes the agro – dolce sauce for caponata.

Two days before Christmas and the caponata needs to be made so that the flavours mellow.

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In a couple of days it will be perfect!

Ready for more fresh basil and pine-nuts and ready to be presented to guests. The first lot will be on Christmas eve – it will be served as the antipasto without any other food, just a little, good quality, fresh bread for those who wish to mop up the juices.

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For recipes see:

Caponata (General Information and Recipe for Caponata di Patate – potatoes)

Caponata Siciliana (Catanese – Caponata As Made in Catania). This one contains peppers (capsicums).

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Fennel Caponata (Sicilian Sweet and Sour Method for Preparing Certain Vegetables).

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This caponata is made with celery

PESTO GENOVESE CON TRIOFE, FAGGIOLINI E PATATE (Pesto with pasta, green beans and potatoes)

I visited friends recently who have a small, but very prolific vegetable garden – they have chooks, and that means fertilizer. I came home with huge bunches of basil and I made pesto. At this time of year it very handy to have pesto as standby in the fridge – in fact I have fed two lots of visitors pesto this week, this version with beans last night.

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Those of you who grow basil in your gardens probably do not want to hear about pesto ever again, but maybe you do not know about the classic recipe of pesto and triofe (Ligurian classic shape of pasta for this dish), green beans and potatoes (last night I omitted the potatoes – see photo). I was reminded of this dish when I saw the film  Summer in Genova recently. In the film, Colin Firth cooked this dish for his two daughters, a16-year-old and ten-year-old (all the children I know seem to like pesto). Their mother dies in a car accident and the family moves to Genova in Liguria – a new city, new start and a new recipe (one their mother had not cooked). There is probably only one positive thing that I can say about this film, and that is that it reminded me to cook this classic recipe.

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It is very simple to compose this dish – the potatoes and beans are cooked in the same water as the pasta, drained and dressed with the pesto.

Some of you may be aware that pesto alla Genovese can only be made exclusively from ingredients grown in that small area in northwest Italy called Liguria. This is the area where pesto originated and the Ligurians want to give it a D.O.P. status (Protected Designation of Origin) and it cannot be called pesto unless it comes from that part of the world.

However I do make pesto as many of us do with plenty of garlic, extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts, basil leaves and the mixture of parmigiano and pecorino.  (See post called SICILIAN PESTO – Mataroccu for an alternative recipe). If I am storing the pesto in the fridge, I always top it with olive oil to stop the oxidation.

See post called SICILIAN PESTO – Mataroccu for an alternative recipe.

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For 500g pasta I use about 300g of green beans cut diagonally to the length of the pasta (triofe are like penne in length) and 200g potatoes cut into small cubes (if I am using them). Ligurians tend to cook the vegetables and the pasta at the same time, but I like to stagger their cooking time, mainly to preserve some crunch to the beans.

The potatoes may take the longest time to cook, so begin by placing the potatoes into a large saucepan  of cold, salted water.
Bring to the boil and cook the potatoes for about 10 mins before adding the pasta.
Add the beans  about 7 mins before the pasta and potatoes are cooked.
Drain, coat the pasta and vegetables with pesto and add the cheese last of all.

Easy, very fragrant, different, and much appreciated, especially by those who have never made fresh pesto.

MINESTRA DI TENERUMI (Summer soup made with the tendrils of a Sicilian squash)

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When I was in Palermo last September there were bunches of tenerumi on sale at the markets – these are the stems, leaves and tendrils of those long, twisted green zucche (squashes) that grow in Sicily and Calabria. The long serpent like squashes are called zucche serpente and you can guess why.

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Those of you who have travelled to Sicily in summer may have seen these very unusual vegetables and perhaps not known what they were. Both the squash and the greens are eaten and are considered rinfrescanti (cooling and refreshing for the body). The zucca (singular) and the greens are a Sicilian summertime specialty and I have not seen this type of squash growing in Australia.

The greens are usually made into a wet pasta dish and, unfortunately, it is not a dish you will find in a Sicilian restaurant. It is a typical, home-cooked, soupy dish with the flavours of summer: red summer tomatoes, garlic, basil, thickened with broken spaghetti and enhanced with a drizzle of good, extra virgin olive oil.

I first ate this soup in Augusta and it was cooked by one of my cousins, Lidia. In her version, Lidia used both the zucca and the greens. My relatives in Ragusa do not cook minestra di tenerumi very often – it is considered to be a dish typical of the regions of Palermo and Catania. (My mother’s side of the family originally came from Catania).

I was very pleased to eat minestra di tenerumi again recently when I visited a friend’s home in Bosco Falconeria, close to Castellammare (on the north coast, west of Palermo). I appreciated this simple, flavoursome dish for many reasons. Firstly, it was all produce picked fresh from Mary’ Taylor Simeti’s own garden. This included the olives used to make the fragrant, extra virgin olive oil and the organic wine we drank made by her husband, Tonino. Photo above is  the soup and how  Mary presented.

Mary Taylor Simeti is one of my heroes – I think that sometimes it takes a “foreigner ‘ with a passion to rediscover and tease out the history behind the food ( not that she is a foreigner, she is part of Sicily, having dedicated so many years to  writing about it in numerous books and articles).

Secondly,I was very pleased to be presented with such a simple dish. In my normal diet I eat a lot of vegetables and when I travel and eat in restaurants and trattorie, I crave freshly cooked vegetables – I can’t wait to get back to friends and relatives. Besides, these are not the typical vegetables or cooking found in Sicilian eateries and Mary, our host, knew that some of us who had been invited to eat at her table would never have eaten this. We all loved it. Mary presented this simple dish with small cubes of caciocavallo – a special DOP Sicilian cheese (cascavaddu in Sicilian) produced mainly in the province of Ragusa.

I once used the very young shoots of the zucchini plants (complete with the flowers and young zucchini) to make this soup – different, but nevertheless, rinfrescante and a celebration of summer.

Although we may not be able to buy tenerumi in Australia at this stage, we may not have long to wait.

I was fascinated to see one of the episodes of Sean Connelly’s Family Feast on SBS. It featured the food of a family of Africans from the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are living in the Western suburbs of Sydney and are growing African leaf vegetables; on the program the family were harvesting and eating tendrils very like tenerumi. These tendrils were the shoots from a different type of squash plant, but would probably taste very similar to the Sicilian variety.

As in all Sicilian food, there are local variations. Some substitute the garlic with finely chopped fresh onion, others add anchovies, but personally, if it is to be rinfrescante, anchovies are not suitable. Here is a recipe which suits my tastes for making minestra di tenerumi (excuse me Mary if this is different to your recipe).

The wet pasta dish is cooked very quickly.

INGREDIENTS
tenerumi, equivalent to a large bunch, 500g
garlic cloves , 3-4 chopped finely
ripe tomatoes , 300g seeded and cut into dice (I think Mary used cherry tomatoes)
fresh basil leaves , torn, about 15
spaghetti , broken into small pieces, 200g
extra virgin olive oil, to taste
hot chilli (optional)
grated pecorino cheese (optional)

PROCESSES
Prepare the shoots and tendrils, discard the tough stems separate into small bits.
Add the tenerumi to boiling, salted water and bring to the boil again (estimate 3 cups of water per person.
Add the pasta and cook.
While the pasta is cooking, toss the tomatoes into a hot frying pan with about 3 tablespoons of the oil, add garlic( and chilli),salt and some of the basil and heat through (a few minutes).
When the pasta is cooked, check that you have the correct consistency – it should be like a very thick soup. You may need to drain some of the liquid
You may need to drain some of the liquid.
Add the warm tomato mixture and more basil.
Drizzle with your best extra virsgin olive oil and serve. Cheese is optional. I prefer it without and appreciate the fresh taste of the dish.