Tag Archives: Currants

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

 

 

FISH BALLS with Sicilian flavours

My last post was about marinaded white anchovies – a great crowd pleaser.  This is easy finger food that can be presented on crostini (oven toasted or fried bread) or on small, cup shaped  salad leaves.

Another small fishy bite which never fails to get gobbled up are fish balls poached in a tomato salsa. I took these to a friend’s birthday celebration recently.

The fish is Rockling.   At other times I have made them with other Australian wild caught fish for example Snapper and Flathead,  Blue-eye and Mahi Mahi.

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Here are some photos of the ones I made recently.

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Cut the fish into chunks and mince it in a food processor.

You can see the ingredients I use to make these fish balls, mainly currants, pine nuts, parsley and fresh bread crumbs . There is also some garlic and grated lemon rind, cinnamon….. and on this occasion I added nutmeg too.

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These ingredients are common in Sicilian cuisine but also in Middle Eastern food. This is not surprising when you look at Sicily’s legacy.

For a variation use other Mediterranean flavours: preserved lemon peel instead of grated lemon, fresh coriander instead of parsley, omit the cheese, add cumin.

Combine the mixture and add some grated Pecorino  and salt and pepper to taste.

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Eggs will bind the mixture.

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The mixture should be quite firm and hold together. You may need to add more eggs – the number of  eggs you will need  will vary because it will depend on the texture of the fish and the bread.  I always use 2-3 day old sourdough bread.

On this occasion I added 2 extra eggs,(4 small eggs altogether)  however I used 1 k of fish.

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In the meantime make a tomato salsa.  I added a stick of cinnamon.

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Shape the mixture into small balls and poach them gently in the salsa.

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This  is the link to the recipe  that is also in my second book, Small Fishy Bites.

FISH BALLS IN SALSA – POLPETTE DI PESCE (PURPETTI in Sicilian)

I presented the fish balls in Chinese soup spoons – easy to put into one’s mouth. You can see that there were only very few fish balls left over on the festive table. There are also only five anchovies in witlof leaves left over.

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Of course  these fish balls are not just limited to party food. They make a great antipasto or main course.

Spaghetti and fish balls? Why not?

KALE SALAD with Italian Flavours

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Kale was everywhere in the places I visited in the US recently and I made this salad when I was visiting friends  in Okemos, Michigan. I bought a bunch of kale at a Farmers’ Market – it was local, in season, very fresh, and so why not?

When I make any salad I think of flavours and ingredients that I like and have used in other recipes. For example I have always enjoyed the flavours that go with sautéed spinach – pine nuts and dried grapes, usually currants.

With the addition of a little nutmeg this was originally a Tuscan/ Ligurian dish. Pine nuts and dried fruit are also found in Sicilian cooking but this dish is not Sicilian. Various Italian regions have adapted this dish to suit their culinary cultures, for example some Southern Italians may add chilli, in some regions they may add chopped anchovies that have been dissolved by sautéing in a little extra virgin olive oil. Broccoli or other leafy greens (like cavolo nero – Tuscan cabbage – or kale) are cooked in this way also.

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Although in Michigan I could have cooked the kale in the same way as I would have cooked spinach and eaten it as a cold cooked salad, I chose to use raw kale.

This was the US after all and there were plenty of cranberries in the pantry (they weren’t too sweet) so I chose these instead of currants. If I had dried, sour cherries (used in Middle Eastern cooking) I may have used those. Dried figs sliced thinly could have been OK as well.

In the photo, just to show their sizes, from left to right: top – dried sour cherries, muscatels, below – currants, cranberries.

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If I had no pine nuts, I may have used another kind of nut, for example walnuts, hazelnuts or pepitas (green kernels from pumpkin seeds).

On another occasion I may use walnut oil or hazelnut oil instead of extra virgin olive oil or perhaps a mixture of two.

I often use grated lemon peel as an ingredient in either a raw dish or in my cooking (quite Sicilian) so I also added this to the salad.

This salad is so simple that I almost feel embarrassed writing about it. No amounts for the ingredients are necessary, make it to suit your tastes.

For the photo of the ingredients used in the salad, I have used baby kale leaves.

INGREDIENTS

Kale, spring onions, pine nuts (lightly toasted), dried small fruit: such as dried grapes – currants, sultanas, raisins, or cranberries or dried cherries.

Dressing: extra virgin olive oil, grated lemon peel from 1 lemon and juice, a pinch of nutmeg, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

PROCESSES

Strip the leaves of the kale, removing the tough ribs/ stalks then tear it into small pieces or cut it finely. Slice the spring onions thinly.  Combine kale and onions and add the nuts and dried fruit. Mix  all of the dressing ingredients together and dress the salad.

This salad is quite suitable as a starter and of course, it can be part of a main course.

See also:

Kale (Winter Green Vegetable and How to Cook It)

Cavolo Nero and Three Ways to Cook It

Michigan, Food and Produce. Spare Ribs Recipe

SARDE A BECCAFICO (Sardines stuffed with currants, pine nuts, sugar and nutmeg)

I am really pleased that the three recipes I sent to SBS have been published on the SBS website.

One of the recipes may be selected as part of upcoming food series My Family Feast. Selected recipes will be cooked by Sean Connolly (chef) in a short website and published online during broadcast of the series.

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This is one of the recipes:

 Sarde a Beccafico

When I invite friends for a meal I like to present something that they may not have tasted before.

A beccafico is a small bird, which feeds on ripe figs – becca (peck) and fico (fig). The sardines when stuffed resemble a beccafico and sarde a beccafico demonstrates a sign of respect for this type of bird, a gourmand who stuffs himself on fresh figs. The beccafichi (plural of beccafico) are also eaten stuffed and cooked in the same way as the sarde (sardines). That is if this bird still exists in Sicily – Italians fancy themselves as great hunters (cacciatori).

There are local variations in the ingredients used for the stuffing, the method of cooking and for the names of the dish in other parts of Sicily. These are my favourite ingredients for this recipe from a combination of local recipes.

INGREDIENTS
fresh sardines, fillets, 700g,
breadcrumbs, 1 cup made with good quality1-3 day old bread
anchovy fillets, 5-8 finely, cut finely
currants, ½ cup
pine nuts, ½ cup
parsley, ¾ cup, cut finely
bay leaves, 10, fresh
garlic, 2 cloves, chopped
lemon, 1, juice and zest
sugar, 1 tablespoon
nutmeg, ½ teaspoon
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup

PROCESSES
Prepare sardines: Scale, gut, butterfly and clean sardines and leave the tail. If you buy fillets, they are sometimes sold without tails – this may not matter, but when the fillet of the sardine is closed around the stuffing, the tail is flicked upright to resemble a bird – and this may be missing. (In the photo there are no tails – photo taken in a restaurant in Monreale, Palermo, December 2007)
Wipe each sardine dry before stuffing.
Preheat oven to 190 C
Prepare the stuffing:
Toast breadcrumbs until golden in about 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (I use a non stick fry pan) over a low flame.
Take off heat and cool.
Stir in pine nuts, currants, parsley, anchovies, lemon zest, nutmeg, salt, pepper and garlic.
Add a little more extra virgin olive oil if the mixture is dry.
Place a spoonful of the stuffing in each opened sardine and close it upon itself to resemble a fat bird (any leftover stuffing can be sprinkled on top to seal the fish)
Position each sardine, closely side by side in an oiled baking dish with tail sticking up and place a bay leaf between each fish.
Sprinkle the sardines with lemon juice and any left over stuffing, the sugar the left over oil.
Bake for 20-30 minutes.

SEE: MY FAMILY FEAST SBS ONE, my recipes have been selected

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