Tag Archives: Fried Breadcrumbs

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..

 

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.

 

PASTA CON FINOCCHIO (Pasta and fennel – preferably wild)

 

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No it is not wild fennel, it just looks like it.

I found this bunch of fennel at one of my favourite stalls in the Queen Victoria market this week.  Apart from many other vegetables, I always buy my cime di rape, radicchio, chicory, kale, broadbeans, coloured cauli, violet eggplants – name any of the out of the norm vegetables and this is where I go: to Gus and Carmel’s. I even bought some milkweed this morning. This is where I also buy my vlita – another weed.

At the end of the fennel season (and it is well and truly this in Victoria, Australia) the fennel plant (called Florentine fennel) produces some flat bulbs, which never mature.

My friend Libby who grows fennel in her wonderful garden in the Adelaide Hills first alerted me to these flat bulbs last year – at the time we thought that this would be very suitable to use with pasta con le sarde which includes wild fennel as one of the ingredients. After speaking to her I saw some bunches of these small flat bulbs for sale at the Queen Victoria Melbourne Market. And here they were again for sale today. I spoke to the vendor (Gus) who said that rather than wasting them he thought that he could try to sell bunches of them. This fennel may become very marketable – good on you Gus.

Gus is Calabrese. He knows that I like to use this type of fennel for my Sicilian pasta con le sarde, but he told me how he uses the fennel to make a pasta sauce and he uses anchovies.

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He slices the whole plant finely (the green fronds and non-developed bulbs) and cooks it all in some boiling water with a little salt. Then he drains it well.

Anchovies are the secret ingredient.

In a large frypan dissolve a few chopped anchovies in some hot extra virgin olive oil (the anchovies are crushed using a wooden or metal spoon until they melt in the oil).

Add the garlic (chilli is optional). Add the cooked fennel and toss it in extra virgin olive oil and flavours. This is your pasta sauce.

Sicilians would select bucatini. Calabresi would like to be Sicilians so they would as well.

Present the pasta dressed with the fennel, topped with toasted breadcrumbs (the alternative to grated cheese not only in Sicily, but obviously also in Calabria).

For breadcrubs: use 1-3 day old white bread (crusty bread, sourdough or pasta dura).

Remove crust, break into pieces, place into a food processor and make into coarse crumbs. They can be crumbled with fingertips or grated. The term for breadcrumbs, in Italian is pane grattugiato/ grattato – it means grated bread.

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.

Obviously if you do not have access to someone who has fennel growing in their garden, or to wild fennel, or to Gus and Carmel’s stall you may need to use bulb fennel with as much green frond as you can get. Nearly as good, but not quite!!

I also bought this garlic at the same time- not bad.

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SPAGHETTI CA SARSA MURISCA (Sicilian) – Spaghetti with Moorish sauce

IMG_2644Salsa moresca is an interesting name for a pasta sauce. The sauce is eaten in and around the town of Scicli, a beautiful baroque town not far from Modica (also beautiful) which is close to Ragusa (where my father’s relatives live). The ingredients are a combination of the sweet and the savoury and include bottarga (tuna roe), sugar, pine nuts, cinnamon and the juice and peel of citrus.

I was interested in the name – murisca (moresca is Italian for Moorish). The ingredients could well be of Moorish origins but it is also the name of a dance – la moresca. It is still performed in some regions of Sicily, especially on certain religious feast days.

The dance is said to have been introduced by the Moors into Spain and became popular all over Europe during the 15 th and 16th Centuries. Dances with similar names and features are mentioned in Renaissance documents throughout many Catholic countries of Europe – Sicily, France, Corsica and Malta – and, from the times of the Venetian Republic, Dalmatia – also through Spanish trade, Flanders and Germany.

La moresca is remarkably like the English Morris dance (or Moorish dance) a folk dance usually accompanied by music where the group of dancers use implements such as sticks, swords, and handkerchiefs. In Sicily they only use handkerchiefs, but this may have been modified over time. La Moresca and the Morris dance are considered to be one of the oldest traditional European dances still performed and inspired by the struggle of Christians against the Moors, in some places Christians and Turks, in other places between Arabs and Turks. In parts of England, France, the Netherlands and Germany the performers still blacken their faces but it is uncertain if it is because they represent the Moors. This custom is not observed in Sicily.

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Each year in May, there is a sacred performance in Scicli that recalls the historical battle in 1091 between Arabs and Christians. Legend says that “La Madonna delle Milizie” came astride a white horse to champion the Christians. Pasta alla moresca is still cooked to commemorate this event.

Salsa moresca (the sauce for the pasta) is not cooked – it is an impasto – a paste or mixture, and probably traditionally made with a mortar and pestle.

INGREDIENTS: 500g long pasta, (spaghetti or bucatini), 150g grated bottarga, ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, 1-2 chopped red chili, 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic, 4 finely cut anchovies, juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon, peel of ½ lemon, ½ teaspoon of powdered cinnamon, 1 large spoonful of sugar and 1 of vinegar,1 cup pine nuts, ½ cup finely cut parsley, 1 cup breadcrumbs ( from 1-2 day old bread) lightly browned in a little extra virgin olive oil.

PROCESSES

Pound all of the ingredients together preferably in a mortar and pestle: begin with the garlic the bottarga and anchovies. Follow with the sugar, cinnamon, pine nuts, breadcrumbs, parsley, peel and chilies – lubricating the paste gradually with the oil and juices as you pound.

Add the vinegar last of all.

And by now, having read about it, you can probably smell it.

Use this to dress spaghetti or bucatini. I scattered basil leaves on top to decorate the pasta dish.
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