Tag Archives: Capers

Sicilian Cunnighiu (rabbit) as cooked in Ragusa, ‘a Portuisa’ 

One of my Sicilian aunt’s favourite ways to cook rabbit in Ragusa was Cunnighiu a Pattuisa (cunnighiu is coniglio in Italian, rabbit in English)I did some research and found that two other Sicilian food writers call it something different: Giuseppe Coria calls it Cunnighiu a Portisa, and Pino Correnti Cunnighiu a Portuisa. In Italian this becomes, alla Portoghese, that is in the Portuguese style.

I am not quite sure why the Portuguese are accredited for this recipe, but one can assume that it is because of the Spaniards in Sicily.

Sicily was ruled by Spaniards at various times by: House of Aragon (1282–1516), Kingdom of Spain (1516–1713), Duchy of Savoy (1713–1720), Habsburg Monarchy (1720–1735) and Kingdom of Naples (1735–1806).

Located on the southwestern tip of the European continent in the Iberian Peninsula are Spain, Andorra and Portugal and Portugal only gained independence from Spain in 1640. Olive oil, olives and capers are used extensively in Sicilian and Spanish cooking.

There are various versions of this recipe for rabbit cooked in the Portuguese style as cooked in Ragusa and most seem to contain green olives and capers. Some contain vinegar, others white wine. Some recipes suggest adding a spoonful of tomato paste (mainly to enrich the colour), some add a little sugar, others chilli.

I cooked a version of this rabbit for friends in Adelaide, the photos tell the story.

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In a fry pan I browned 1 rabbit in about ½ cup extra virgin oil. I sectioned the rabbit into 5 pieces (number of pieces is optional).

I then added some salt and pepper, some green olives and capers, 2-4 cloves garlic and some fresh thyme. Sicilians would use a few fresh bay leaves. If you are using salted capers make sure to rinse them and soak them in several changes of fresh water. 

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I then added about 1 glass of white wine mixed with ½ cup of white wine vinegar.  I covered it with a lid and cooked it slowly on low heat. 

*If it is a tender rabbit and if it is cut into small enough pieces, the rabbit may be cooked by the time all of the liquid has evaporated. If the rabbit is not as young or as tender as you had hoped, and you feel that it needs to be cooked for longer add a little water, cover with a lid and simmer it gently until it is soft – keep on adding more wine and water.

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I partly cooked some potatoes and placed them with the rabbit for the last 20-30 minutes of cooking. The green leaves are mint. These add colour and taste: Ragusani use quite a bit of mint in their cooking. 

One way to cook Rabbit like a Sicilian

POLLO OR GALLINA ALLA CONTADINA, ALLA PAESANA. Braised Chicken or rabbit with Olives, Sicilian style

RABBIT with cloves, cinnamon and red wine (CONIGLIO DA LICODIA EUBEA)

CONIGLIO A PARTUISA (Braised rabbit as cooked in Ragusa)

POLLO AL GUAZZETTO (Sardinian Chicken or rabbit braised with Saffron)

 

CAPONATA FROM PALERMO (made with eggplants)

No exact quantities,  just like an Italian.  You can tell from the photos how easy it is to make Caponata Palermitana. Unlike Caponata Catanese there are no peppers (capsicums) in this caponata but the rest of the ingredients and processes for making  any caponata are the same.

I used 2 egglants. Cooked each separately as I did not want the frying to be overcrowded. I use salt when I am cooking and not after the dish is cooked. I always use extra virgin olive oil.

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A good heavy saucepan is good to use.

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After the eggplants, sauté the onions and the celery. I used 1 large onion, 2 sticks of celery and some of the tender leavesof the celery. Add some salt.

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When the onions and celery have softened to your liking, add green olives and capers.

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I made a space in the centre of the saucepan, added a couple of teaspoons of sugar. Melted that and added about a quarter of a cup of red vinegar and evaporated it.

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I made another space in the centre and added about 1/3 cup of passata.

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Time to add the eggplants and combine all the ingredients.

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This time I will decorate the caponata with fried breadcrumbs (day old bread mollica) toasted in a frypan with a little olive oil.

I could decorate the caponata with toasted pine nuts or almonds but I think the bread will add crunch but not too much taste so as not to compete with the eggplants. At this time of year, egglants are of excellent quality.

Mint rather than basil appealed to me more on this occasion.

There are numerous recipes for caponate (I can spell, it is the plural of caponata). Use the search button.

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PUMPKIN – Zucca (gialla) – and two Sicilian ways to cook it

A zucca in Italian can be an overgrown zucchino (singular) or a marrow, therefore to differentiate a pumpkin from a marrow a pumpkin is called a zucca gialla (yellow).

Not all Sicilian caponate are made with eggplants. For example there are celery, fennel, potato caponate and pumpkin can also be used as the main ingredient (Caponata di zucca gialla).

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The principle for making any caponata is the same: onion, celery, X ingredient (eggplant or eggplant and peppers, fennel, potato etc.), capers, green olives, sometimes a splash of tomato puree, toasted pine nuts, or almonds and agrodolce –  caramelised sugar and vinegar.

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The ingredients a fried separately. Pumpkin first – sauté and then set aside.

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Sauté onion and celery. Add olives and capers.

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Add sugar, then vinegar and salt to taste. Add the fried pumpkin and toasted almonds (or pine nuts). Let rest overnight or for at least half a day.

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The other popular Sicilian way to cook pumpkin is also in an agrodolce sauce.

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For this recipe, slices of pumpkin are also fried. I bake mine and it is not the traditional way of cooking it. The recipe book you can see in the background  of the photo below is Sicilian Seafood Cooking – now out of print.

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The recipe is called Fegato con sette cannoli. To see the recipe and find out why this recipe is called Liver with seven reeds: 

Sicilian Pumpkin with vinegar, mint, sugar and cinnamon 

Use the search button to find other recipes for making a caponata on my blog.

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YEARNING FOR VITELLO TONNATO

Now and again I feel nostalgic for the “old” food. From my childhood, I often hanker for Vitello Tonnato. It is eaten cold, can be easily prepared beforehand and is a perfect dish as a starter or as a main meal. Left overs make a perfect panino.

There is an earlier post with the recipe for Vitello Tonnato,  but this time I will let the photos guide the cooking.

I used a grirello – the eye round steak. The vegetables are onion, celery, carrots, garlic and herbs. I have tied the herbs (bay, rosemary, thyme) with string so that they can be easily removed at the end of cooking. Usually I like to include sage, but I have none growing at the moment.

I insert slices of garlic into the meat.

Some recipes indicate that the vegetables and meat can be boiled. I do not always repeat what my mother did but like her I lightly brown the vegetables and meat and this does add to the taste.  I used a fish kettle for the cooking.

There is a bottle of white wine and some chicken stock ready to add. I added about 1 cup of wine and 2 cups of stock.

The liquid will add flavour and keep the meat moist. I always evaporate the juices at the end to concentrate the flavours of the sauce. Add seasoning.

Cook the meat to your liking. My mother always cooked it till it was very well done – that is how the older generation cooked meat in those times. My meat is lightly pink, but could have been rarer –  on this occasion I had guests who prefer their meat well done.

Cool the meat and slice thinly.

Now for the sauce: egg mayonnaise, drained tuna (packed in oil), capers, anchovies and some of the vegetables that were used in the cooking of the meat. If the reduced sauce has cooled and jellied, add a little of the sauce.

Blend  the ingredients. before adding the mayonnaise.

Add the mayonnaise and this is the sauce.

Build the layers – slices of meat, topped with the sauce. I made it the day before I served it. The sauce penetrates and softens the meat.

I have had modern versions of this dish in a number of places, both in Australia and Italy and the preference seems to be to place the sauce on top of some slices without covering each layer of meat.

I  like the meat to be smothered with the tuna sauce.

Decorate it as you wish. This time was not my best, I used the left over carrots, topped them with strips of anchovies, stuffed olives cut in half and pink peppercorns. My mother probably would not have approved.

SEE:
VITELLO TONNATO

CHICKEN LAYERED WITH A TUNA AND EGG MAYONNAISE,  A cold Chicken dish

INSALATA RUSSA (Party time – Russian salad)

PESCE IN BIANCO (Plain fish). MAIONESE (Mayonnaise)

POLLO ALLA MESSINESE (A cold chicken dish similar to Vitello Tonnato from Messina)

 

TUNNU `A STIMPIRATA – TONNO ALLA STEMPERATA (Tuna with onions, vinegar, capers and green olives)

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 therefore in Australia we also tend to undervalue it. It is denser in texture but still excellent for cooking (lightly or cooked for longer).  As in Australia, Blue fin tuna is the preferred tuna in Sicily; if it is sustainable depends on how and where it is caught – it should be wild caught and aquaculture is not an option.

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Unfortunately I rarely find albacore tuna where I live in Melbourne and if I do, I always grab it when I can and cook it as I would cook blue fin tuna.

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I like tuna seared and left rare centrally but my Sicilian relatives eat tuna very well done and this is also how it is presented in the traditional home-style restaurants in Sicily.

In Sicily there are numerous ways tuna but Tonno alla stemperata is one of the favourites  in the south eastern part of Sicily. It was first cooked for me by one of my cousins, Rosetta, who lives in Ragusa. She and her husband have a holiday house on the beach at Marina di Ragusa, and she usually buys most of her fish from the fishermen on the beach.

Although Rosetta prefers to use tuna in this recipe, any firm-fleshed fish, thickly sliced, is suitable. She prefers to cut the tuna into large cubes – this allows greater penetration of the flavours in the sauce and of course, it will cook to a greater degree and more quickly.

Rosetta cooked the fish in the morning and we ate it for lunch, at room temperature…in Australia you may find this unusual but eating it at room temperature and some time after it has been cooked allows the flavours time to develop.

A version of this recipe is also in my first book: Sicilian Seafood Cooking.

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I have used Albacore tuna, trevally, mackerel or flathead (better choice category) successfully in this recipe.

tuna or firm-fleshed fish, 4 slices
sliced white onions, 2
capers, ½ cup, salted variety, soaked and washed
white wine vinegar, about 2 tablespoons or for a milder taste use 1 tablespoon of white wine and one of vinegar
extra virgin olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
salt, black pepper or red chilli flakes (as preferred by the relatives in Ragusa),
celery heart, 2 or 3 of the pale green stalks and young leaves, chopped finely
green olives, ½ cup, pitted, chopped
bay leaves, 4

Soften the onion and celery in about half of the extra virgin oil, and cook until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

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Add the fish, olives, capers, seasoning and bay leaves and sear the fish. The pieces of fish only need to be turned once.

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Add the vinegar and allow the vinegar to evaporate and flavour the dish.

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Remove the fish from the pan if you think that it will overcook and continue to evaporate.

Optional: Decorate (and flavour) with mint just before serving.

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You can tell I am in South Australia by some of the photos of the fabulous varieties of fish I am able to purchase in Adelaide when I visit.

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.

SICILIAN CAPONATA DI MELANZANE as made in Palermo (Eggplant caponata and Eggplant caponata with chocolate)

Caponata has evolved over the ages to become the dish, which personifies Sicilian cuisine and is a popular dish during festivities ( perfect for Christmas). As you’d expect, there are many regional variations and enrichments of what must have been a very humble dish, as well as the personal, innovative touches from the chefs of ancient, Sicilian aristocracy (called monzu, a corruption of the French word monseur).

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Photograph by Graeme Gillies and food styling by Fiona Rigg. Cooking and recipe by Marisa Raniolo Wilkins (from Sicilian Seafood Cooking)

In Sicilian cooking the melanzana (eggplant) is said to be the queen of vegetables, second only to the tomato and the principal ingredient in caponata is the eggplant.

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If you eat caponata at my house you are likely to eat the version of caponata as made in Catania and it will include peppers as well as eggplant. This is because my mother was born in Catania and this is the caponata I grew up eating. The caponata which is common around Palermo has no peppers.

I prefer to keep my caponata di melanzane simple, but again, variations in the amounts of ingredients are endless. Some versions add garlic, some have oregano, several recipes include anchovies, others add sultanas and/or pine nuts or toasted almonds. These are all acceptable and authentic variations.

In keeping with the tradition of what is customary in Palermo, just before serving add a sprinkling of coarse breadcrumbs (toasted in a fry pan in a little hot extra virgin olive oil) or almonds — blanched, toasted and chopped.

For me, Peter Robb in his book Midnight in Sicily captures the essence of a Sicilian caponata, when he describes how very different the caponata he was savouring in Palermo was to the caponata he had been eating in Naples.

I realised caponata in Palermo was something very different. It was the colour that struck me first. The colour of darkness. A heap of cubes of that unmistakably luminescent dark, dark purply-reddish goldy richness, glimmerings from a baroque canvas, that comes from eggplant, black olives, tomato and olive oil densely cooked together, long and gently. The colour of southern Italian cooking. Caponata was one of the world’s great sweet and sour dishes, sweet, sour and savoury.

The eggplant was the heart of caponata. The celery hearts were the most striking component: essential and surprising. Pieces of each were fried separately in olive oil until they were a fine golden colour and then added to a sauce made by cooking tomato, sugar and vinegar with a golden chopped onion in oil and adding Sicilian olives, capers …….

As Robb discovered: eggplant is the purple heart of Sicilian caponata – and it is the principal ingredient.

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There are a variety of caponate (plural of caponata) and the variations and inclusions of different ingredients in the basic caponata recipe are many.

Some traditional recipes use tomato paste rather than chopped tomatoes, some add garlic, others include chocolate (or cocoa). Many recipes contain nuts – almonds or pine nuts or pistachio, fresh in some, in others they are toasted. In a few recipes the caponata is sprinkled with breadcrumbs and sometimes the breadcrumbs have been browned in oil beforehand. Frequently herbs are added – sometimes basil, at other times oregano or mint. Certain recipes also include raisins or currants and some fresh pears. Several include fish, singly or in combination and include canned tuna, prawns, octopus, salted anchovies and bottarga (tuna roe).

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You will need a deep, large fry pan. If you use a non-stick frypan you may not need as much oil, but the surface will not be as conducive to allowing the residue juices to form and caramelise as in a regular pan. (After food has been sautéed, the juices caramelise – in culinary terms this is known as fond. Non-stick pans do not produce as much fond).

Although the vegetables are fried separately, they are all incorporated in the same pan at the end. When making large quantities I sometimes use a wok.

extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup (depending how much the vegetables will absorb)
eggplants, 3-4 large, dark skinned variety
onion 1, large, chopped
red tomatoes, 2 medium size, peeled and chopped or 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and a little water or some canned tomatoes
capers, ½ cup, salted or in brine
green olives, ¾ cup, stoned, chopped
celery, 2-3 tender stalks and the pale green leaves (both from the centre of the celery)
white, wine vinegar, ½ cup
sugar, 2 tablespoons
salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut the eggplant into cubes (approx 30mm) – do not peel. Place the cubes into abundant water with about 1 tablespoon of salt. Leave for about 30 minutes – this will keep the flesh white and remove any bitter juices while you prepare the other ingredients. Although it is not always necessary to do this, the eggplant is said to absorb less oil if soaked previously.
Prepare the capers – if they are the salted variety, ensure that they have been rinsed thoroughly and then soaked for about 30 minutes before use, and then rinsed again.
Chop the onion.
Slice the celery into very fine slices and chop the green leaves.
Peel, and coarsely chop the tomatoes (or use tomato paste or canned tomatoes).
Drain the eggplants and squeeze them to remove as much water as possible – I use a clean tea towel.
Heat a large frypan over medium heat with ½ cup of the extra virgin olive oil.
Add eggplant cubes and sauté until soft and golden (about 10-12 minutes). Place the drained eggplants into a large bowl and set aside (all of the vegetables will be added to this same bowl).
Drain the oil from the eggplants back into the same frypan and re-use this oil to fry the next ingredients.
Add the celery and a little salt gently for 5-7 minutes, so that it retains some of its crispness (in more traditional recipes, the celery is always boiled until soft before being sautéed).
Remove the celery from the pan and add it to the eggplants.
Sauté the onion having added a little more oil to the frypan. Add a little salt and cook until translucent.
Add the tomatoes or the tomato paste (with a little water) to the onions, and allow their juice to evaporate.
Add the capers and olives. Allow these ingredients to cook gently for 1- 2 minutes.
Empty the contents of the frypan into the other cooked vegetables.

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For the agro dolce sauce (sweet and sour sauce):

Add the sugar to the frypan (already coated with the caramelised flavours from the vegetables). Heat it very gently until it begins to melt and bubble. Add the vinegar and allow it to evaporate.
Incorporate the cooked vegetables into the frypan with the agro dolce sauce.
Add ground pepper, check for salt and add more if necessary.
Gently toss in all of the cooked ingredients over low heat for 2-3 minutes to blend the flavours.
Remove the caponata from the pan and cool before placing it into one or more containers. Store in the fridge till ready to use and remove it from the fridge about an hour before eating– it will keep well in the fridge for up to one week.

When ready to eat, sprinkle with either toasted almonds or toasted breadcrumbs. I like to add fresh basil or mint leaves.

CAPONATA DI MELANZANE CON CIOCCOLATA (Caponata with chocolate)

In Sicilian cuisine there are a number of recipes, which include chocolate to enrich the flavour of a dish (see HARE or RABBIT COOKED IN CHOCOLATE) and chocolate in eggplant caponata is a common variation in certain parts of Sicily.

In the early 1500s, the Spanish conquistadors discovered a variety of unknown foods in the New World.Among these was xocolatl, (chocolate) obtained from ground cacao seeds. Spanish nobility arrived in Sicily during the 15th and 16th centuries and they brought their exotic ingredients from the New World to the island. This was also an ostentatious period of splendour and opulence for the clergy and the Sicilian aristocracy.

Although many traditional Sicilian dishes are said to be Spanish legacies, it is more accurate to say that some Sicilian cuisine incorporated both Sicilian and Spanish traditions.

Follow the recipe for eggplant caponata above and add cocoa or good quality, dark chocolate.

Cocoa: The majority of the recipes for caponata enriched with chocolate suggest the use of cocoa powder (about 2 tablespoons of cocoa to 2 tablespoons of sugar dissolved in a little water to form a thick paste). Add this mixture to the pan after you have made the agro dolce sauce and before you add the cooked vegetables.

Dark Chocolate: My most favoured alternative is to use 50g of dark, extra fine chocolate (organic, high cocoa content – 70%). Add the chocolate pieces into the agro dolce sauce and stir it gently as it melts, and then I add the cooked vegetables. This results into a much smoother and more luscious caponata.

In a modern Sicilian restaurant with a young chef, I was presented with an eggplant caponata where the chocolate was grated on top, much like grated cheese on pasta.

In my first book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking there is whole chapter devoted to caponata. I have also written other posts with recipes on the blog :

A MOUNTAIN OF CAPONATA – two days before Christmas 

CAPONATA SICILIANA (CATANESE – Caponata as made in Catania) 

FENNEL CAPONATA (Sicilian sweet and sour method for preparing certain vegetables)

CAPONATA (General information and recipe for Caponata di patate – potatoes)

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Caponata Catanese

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

This Sicilian recipe – Pipi ca Muddica – begins with roasted peppers.

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I made a large batch of these recently for a gathering (I used 4 k of peppers) but when I am busy I do not always have time to take photos. These are the leftovers so as you can see, they were popular.

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To roast peppers

Roasting peppers is easy and great for the hot weather as they can be roasted (or grilled) over an open flame on a barbecue. I have never used my oven to roast peppers, but some people do.

Select a variety of colours. Peppers should be, whole, firm and unbroken.

Place whole peppers on the hot metal grill over an open flame or coals. Turn them over a few times and the skin should soften and their skin will char after 15-20 minutes of cooking. and you get a nice smoky flavor.

Once you’ve roasted your peppers, you will need to complete the cooking and the softening of the peppers by steaming. This process will help you peel the tough skin. My mother used to place them in a heavy brown paper bag or a plastic bag and seal it. I place them into a casserole with a lid and leave them there for at least 30 minutes.

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Peel the peppers and seed them and tear them into strips. The roasted peppers are now ready to make into a salad. By far the most common Sicilian recipe for roasted peppers is to add a couple of red tomatoes that you have also charred on the open flame and use this to make the dressing.

Remove their skin, mash with a fork add slivers of garlic, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, salt, pepper and some lemon juice.  Dress the peppers, mix well and once dressed serve them within an hour.

I say ‘within and hour’ because roasted peppers if left to stand begin to weep their juices and you will find that the dressing has been diluted significantly. An alternative is to leave the peppers (can be stored in the fridge), drain them well and dress them just before serving.

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The recipe for Pipi ca Muddica – Peperoni con la mollica (Italian) uses some breadcrumbs and this is one way to absorb some of the juices that are released.

Breadcrumbs are very important in Sicilian Cuisine and there are many recipes that use either coarse, fried bread crumbs or fine and dry (for coating food to fry).

Use 1-3 day old white bread (crusty bread, sourdough or pasta dura).

Breadcrumbs (Coarse).

These are used as a topping for baked recipes and stuffings. Remove crust, break into pieces, place into a food processor and make into coarse crumbs. They can be grated or crumbled with fingertips.

Fried Breadcrumbs.

These provide greater flavour and texture and are usually sprinkled on cooked foods, for example: Pasta con Sarde or Caponata.Heat about ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan and add 1 cup of coarse breadcrumbs (see above). Stir continuously on low temperature until an even, golden brown.

Depending on in what I am using the bread crumbs, I may add all sorts of goodies to these, for example there may be: grated lemon peel, pine nuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, a little sugar.

 

Pipi ca Muddica – Peperoni con la mollica

There are a number of versions of this Sicilian recipe from different parts of the island and the most common are those versions that add fried onion or some raisins, or pine nuts. This version of  Pipi ca Muddica is from the area around Syracuse.

It can be an entrée (as a small course served before a larger one) or as a vegetable side dish.

1.5 k of roasted peppers torn into strips
1 cup of bread crumbs (Coarse, see above)
2-3 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of capers
3-4 tablespoons wine vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper

Lightly and gently sauté the chopped garlic in the oil, add the breadcrumbs and stir them around in the hot pan until golden. Add the roasted peppers, the capers and the wine vinegar. Add the seasoning and toss the contents around over moderate- to hot heat until the vinegar evaporates 5-10 mins. Some cooks add a little bit of sugar- the sweet and sour taste is very common in some Sicilian cuisine.

Place the contents into a dish and let cool – Pipi ca Muddica should be served cold. They can be placed in the refrigerator for about 1-2 days. Remove them from the refrigerator about half an hour before serving.

Basil leaves are not compulsory, but I do like this herb.

 

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

CAPPERI (Capers and caper bushes)


Caper bushes are everywhere in Sicily, growing wild in small crevices on stone walls.

I can remember my father being very excited when he found some caper bushes growing in the crevices of the wall of a very old church called San Giusto in Trieste (the patron saint) – my father never imagined that capers could grow so far north. They grow well in countries around the Mediterranean – Cyprus, Turkey, Greece.

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I prefer to use capers preserved in rock salt rather than in brine – they taste like unadulterated capers rather than capers in vinegar. Salted capers need to be thoroughly rinsed, then soaked for about 30 minutes and rinsed again, but this will depend on the brand of capers – the easiest way to tell if they are still too salty is to taste them and then soak them again. Capers in the vinegar brine impart a particular flavour and are more acceptable in recipes where wine or vinegar is one of the ingredients.

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They are extensively used in Sicilian cooking and Sicilians prefer the smaller capers. Good quality ones come from Salina (one of the Aeolian islands) or Pantelleria (an island, southwest of Sicily and closer to North Africa).

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We now have Australian capers growing on the dry rocky slopes of the River Murray. Some nurseries sell the seeds or plants and they are being grown in some home gardens.

Apparently in some parts of Sicily, it is common to boil the leaves and the young shoots in salty water, then they need to be drained well, dressed with good quality olive oil and lemon juice and eaten as a vegetable.

The caper buds need to be soaked in water for at least 2-3 days (apparently they have some bitter taste, like olives) and then are preserved under salt or under vinegar.

Those of you living in Australia may remember how nasturtium berries used to be pickled in vinegar and called capers – we Italians knew better. Mind you, my family knew nothing about rhubarb. Our neighbours gave us some and we threw away the stalks and boiled the leaves to eat as a vegetable. Fortunately, because they tasted so bad, we did not eat them.

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