It is always good to visit Sicily in May 2016 and this time I spent most of my time mainly in South-eastern Sicily. But we did wander elsewhere – distances are not that great.
As usual, the relatives in Ragusa and Augusta made sure that I was well fed, but I do enjoy getting out and about and seeing the changes and trends that are evident in their food culture. I do that here in Australia as well, or for that matter any place I revisit.
Below are some photos of Sicily and links to existing recipes from the blog … more writing and more recipes soon.
A Nature Reserve near Donna Fugata
A very old church in Modica.
Inside this old church that has been a stable for many years.
Area Archeologica di Cava d’Ispica
The old stone walls, some being repaired or rebuilt.
This was one of the workshops offered by La Trobe University as part of the 2013 lecture series. It was held on Saturday 23 March 2013.
The session began with a very interesting lecture on the history of food and feasting in Sicily, Italy and the Mediterranean. Dr Gillian Shepherd is Lecturer in Ancient Mediterranean Studies and Director of the A.D. Trendall Research Centre for Ancient Mediterranean Studies at La Trobe University. During her lecture she focused on the literary and archaeological evidence for food production and consumption in the ancient world.
I accompanied the lecture with a food workshop and cooking demonstration that reflected the ways Sicilian cuisine has been influenced by the dominant cultures of the Mediterranean from ancient times to the modern day, which includes Greek, Roman, Arabic, French and Spanish cultures.
Caponata (eggplants, peppers, nuts, breadcrumbs). Will be eaten with bread.
Pasta che sardi – Pasta con le sarde(Sardines, breadcrumbs, currants, pine nuts, wild fennel)
Ficatu ri setti cannola – Fegato di sette cannoli (Pumpkin, sweet sour sauce, mint)
For the workshop I collected some wild greens and the audience was able to see the differences between the wild variety and the cultivated species; wild fennel is one of the ingredients in Pasta Con le Sarde.
Cassata (pan di Spagna/sponge cake, ricotta, nuts, marsala, citrus peel, chocolate and marzipan)
Those of you who live in the UK may have already watched Sicily Unpacked with London based historian Andrew Graham-Dixon and chef Giorgio Locatelli. We have viewed two episodes in Australia and have one to go. I always find great pleasure in seeing Sicily promoted. In these two episodes we have seen some beautiful scenes mainly of Palermo, Noto and Modica and I have included a few of the photos I have to remind you of how beautiful Sicily is.
I have Giorgio Locatelli’s Made In Italy and have enjoyed it. Giorgio’s book on Sicily was released at the same time as mine (Sicilian Seafood Cooking). I have yet to buy his book on Sicily, but I will, as it is always good to compare one’s recipes with someone else’s.
In the two episodes that I have watched Giorgio has cooked three recipes, but although you saw preparing these he did not provide them (a good strategy to motivate you to buy the book).
When I cook I always like to look at more than one recipe of the one dish and then decide how I am going to cook mine. You may wish to do the same.
The three recipes that Giorgio cooked are on my blog and from what I could see they were quite different to mine. To view these recipes on my blog click on the links below. Those of you who have a copy of my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking will find two of these recipes written in greater detail.
This is a photo of mature broad beans taken in the Palermo Market. If you were keen, you would extract the beans from the pods, dry them and store them. Now days you would buy them dry.
‘You must try the maccu,’ urged my host as we perused the menu in a small restaurant in the back blocks of Palermo. ‘It’s one of our local specialities.’ A wide, shallow bowl was filled with a drab beige puree enlivened by a spiral of olive oil. I tasted it and in an instant understood that this was minestra di fave, the puree of broad beans that had sustained people throughout the Mediterranean in the 14th and 15th centuries, a dish familiar to me from many culinary manuscripts. The taste was pure, elemental, almost mono-dimensional, but enhanced with the timelessness of tradition. With every spoonful I was connected to civilisations past, from medieval to Roman and even back as far as ancient Greek and Egyptian. And when I harvest my broad beans each spring, the echo of this experience returns.
Barbara Santich, author and culinary historian.
From article in The Australian Weekend magazine: Unexpected delights, compiled by John Lethlean and Necia Wilden, August 03, 2009
I am always thrilled to read anything by Barbara Santich. Her writing is always rich in detail, well researched and a pleasure to read.
Maccu, is a traditional Sicilian very thick soup and in most parts of Sicily it is made of dried fave (broad beans). It is mostly cooked over the winter months and as Barbara informs us , it has been a staple dish for the contadini (peasants) since ancient times.
In some parts of Sicily it is also a celebratory dish cooked at the start of spring. Spring in Sicily has a particular significance for me because March19 was my father’s name day. It is the Feast of San Giuseppe (Saint Joseph); this feast also coincides with the spring solstice and in many parts of Sicily maccu is particularly eaten on this day.
Maccu is a recipe with spring sentiments of renewal, use up the old, celebrate the new. To make maccu, the dried beans of the last season are used before the new harvest begins in spring. Broken spaghetti and any assortment of left over, dry pasta shapes are also added to the soup and particularly in the days when pasta was sold loose, there used to be quite a few pasta casualties. Many of the religious celebrations have pagan origins; the feast of Saint Joseph in the Catholic religion is at the end of Lent, a time traditionally used for fasting, both in the religious sense and over the lean winter season.
Dried fave (broad beans) are the main ingredient. They are light brown and smooth and shaped a little like lima beans. And because they have a very tough skin, they need to be soaked and peeled before cooking. As you would expect, there are local variations in the recipes. In some parts of Sicily a mixture of pulses are used – lentils, beans, chickpeas and some recipes include dried chestnuts. The greater selection of pulses is found in Il grande maccu of San Giuseppe, the grandest soup of them all. Wild fennel is added to most versions – it adds colour and taste. Those of us who do not have this, can use fennel seeds and a few fennel fronds; a little green leaf vegetable like cime di rape, chicory or silver beet (Sicilans would use the wild beets) will also add the green colour. Some recipes include a little chopped celery, others have dried tomatoes (they would be kept under oil over the cold months).
I realize that it is not March, but in Australia we are looking forward to spring which starts in September and writing about maccu now seems appropriate.
This is a recipe for a very simple maccu.
dry broad beans, 500 g (use a variety of other dried pulses if you wish)
wild fennel, one bunch ( or fennel seeds, crushed, 2 teaspoons and fresh fennel fronds)
onion, 1, cut finely
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil
Soak the dried broad beans overnight.
Drain them and peel the outer skin off the broad beans.
Cover the legumes with an ample amount of water, add fennel seeds and cook the soup slowly. After about 40 minutes add the onion, fennel (and some small amounts of chopped greens if you wish). Continue to simmer for another 30 minutes. To prevent the pulses from remaining hard, add the seasoning after the pulses are cooked. If you wish to add pasta, add more water, bring to the boil and cook the pasta in the maccu.
Drizzle with generous amounts of extra virgin olive oil and serve (I do this at the table and on individual portions).
In some parts of Sicily, left over maccu is also eaten cold (the pulses solidify).
In the feauture photo the maccu is served with Lolli, a type of hand-made pasta still customary today in the Modica area. I ate this in Trattoria a Punta Ro Vinu in Modica.
Several of my friends are beginning to discover and appreciate the taste of fennel. It is prolific at present in Melbourne and most refreshing eaten raw. It can be cooked – braised, baked, made into a tortino (see recipe in blog tortino di finocchio) and as in this recipe, made into a soup (not a very common way to cook fennel).
Traditionally this recipe should be made with wild fennel and this is how I first tasted this soup.Obviously if this ingredient is not close by, the bulb can be used. If you can collect some wild fennel (make sure it looks healthy, see recipe in blog pasta con le sarde), experiment with this recipe and use both the wild and the cultivated bulb with some of its tender fronds and stalks (choose round, shiny bulbs, as in photo taken in the market of Syracuse).
It is one of the simplest soups to make and when it was first made for me (using wild fennel) all of the vegetables went into a pot with the water and once softened, broken spaghetti were added – soup without pasta is rarely presented. The broken spaghetti were once the way to use them up, by all means use some short, small sout pasta shape.
I am always amazed how Sicilian soups cooked so simply can be so appetising. My relative presented the minestra with a drizzle of the very flavourful oil given to her by a relative in Noto. Maybe the oil is the secret ingredient! Boiled vegetables cooked this way and presented with the water is considered rinfrescante, calming and soothing for the digestive system and very common as the evening meal (Sicilians still eat their main meal at lunch time).
I have intensified the flavours by varying the method of cooking and I sauté the vegetables before adding the liquid, this being a common way to make soup in the north of Italy. I also like to add stock instead of water, but when I cook this version it is no longer traditionally Sicilian.
I also found a version of a recipe for maccu (a very Sicilian soup) made in the Madonie which is very similar but uses wild fennel , dried broadbeans (soaked overnight and peeled) and no potato. The dried broadbeans add a very different taste and as they are floury, also thicken the soup as does the potato.