It is Spring in Melbourne and artichokes (carciofi) and asparagus (asparagi) season.

We do not see the numerous artichokes in large bunches with long stems that one sees all over Sicily but artichokes in the larger Australian cities have become more common and I have even seen some in supermarkets, but not necessarily fresh and crisp as they should be.

Artichokes in Siracusa Sicily

Last year I was able to buy artichokes from a grower in Werribee – not far from Melbourne.

Artichokes in Werribee Victoria

Asparagus are everywhere in Melbourne (other places in Australia as well). Mostly they are the thin variety of asparagus sold in bunches but in the last few years the thick asparagus sold by weight are easily found. Those of you who eat out or read recipes may have noticed that more and more vegetables are presented char grilled (rather than steamed) and the large asparagus are perfect for this.

In Australia (or at least in Melbourne) we have not yet reached the wild asparagus trend (photos above and below). Wild asparagus are appreciated all over Italy.

I  quite often cook asparagus and artichokes together. I have a friend who eats gluten free food so I stuffed these artichokes with almond meal, parsley, garlic and one egg (make a stiff paste). I braised the artichokes in stock and white wine and because I did not have the correct sized saucepan (I am not living in my apartment at the moment) I had to use a large saucepan.


No problems – I used whole potatoes to support the artichokes in an upright position. I then added asparagus a few minutes before I was ready to present the artichokes.

IMG_7324I have written many recipes for artichokes on my blog… Use the search button and type in ‘artichokes’ if you wish to find how to clean artichokes and recipes.


Stripped of their tough outer leaves artichokes are perfect for eating with just a fork and a knife. The artichokes in this photo were cooked by a friend and she braised them with beans (pulses).


MARZAPANE also called Pasta Reale (Marzipan)

This photo was taken in Erice, one of Sicily’s most precipitous fortress towns that dates back to the Romans. It is said that from Erice, the Romans could see the ships in the harbour of Carthage. (Those of you who read my blog will know that my laptop was stolen in Paris about three weeks ago). I have lost most of my current photographs of Sicily because they had been downloaded onto the laptop. This is one of the few remaining photos still in the camera.

Anyone who has been to Sicily is almost certain to have seen displays of marzipan fruit like this one. Sicilians are the masters of marzipan. Real marzipan is made by cooking a strong syrup of sugar and water and then adding freshly ground almonds. Almond extract enhances the taste. The mixture is kneaded till smooth (like bread dough) and then shaped.

Seeing this array of marzipan in Erice reminded me that I had made marzipan to decorate a cassata I made about three months ago. Marzipan keeps. I wrap any left over marzipan in plastic wrap and store it in the fridge. I have just checked the left-over marzipan from the cassata, and it is still there – fresh and ready to be use.

This recipe is for the easier, non-traditional, uncooked marzipan.

almonds ground, 500 g – blanched and ground very fine
sugar, 500 g,caster
vanilla bean paste, to taste
egg whites, 2
salt, a pinch

In a bowl whisk the egg whites with the salt until they are frothy. Whisk in the vanilla. Gradually stir in the almonds and the sugar, kneading as you go to form a smooth, pliable dough. Wrap tightly in foil or in a plastic bag or in an airtight container in the fridge.



Make at least 2 days ahead. The marzipan can be made up to 8 weeks in advance.

marzipan paste (at room temperature)
food colouring, for decorating
cloves, for decorating
icing sugar, to coat hands

Work with small pieces of marzipan at a time and keep the remaining marzipan covered tightly. Form the marzipan into a smooth ball by rolling it between the palms of your hands, and mould it gently into the desired shape. Wiping your hands occasionally with a damp cloth and using a little icing sugar to coat your palms (like you do with flour) helps stop it sticking.

If you wish to make the marzipan look like citrus fruit or strawberries roll it over a fine grater or sieve. Let the marzipan dry on sheets of foil overnight.

Use small brushes dipped in the food colour to achieve the desired colours and shadings. You may need a second coat of colour but let the first coat dry. Use cloves to form the blossom end of fruits such as apples and pears.

Let the marzipan dry uncovered for one day, and once again with a soft brush add any fine details.

See:  CASSATA ( Post no. 2) Calls for a celebration!!!

Photo below shows one of the many  little lanes in Erice.

Feature photo is of marzipan fruit made by Libby, a friend in Adelaide.
Erice DSC_0060