Here are more photos of Palermo and Mondello and details of a GoEuro Travel Inspiration Competition that I have entered.
Some time ago, I was contacted by a member of the marketing Team at GoEuro, a travel search engine/website that combines and compares rail, bus and air travel in one site. They are based in Berlin. GoEuro was preparing a blog feature about Sicily, with tips from well-travelled bloggers and had found my site. They asked if I’d be interested in sharing some of my recommendations within the region.
The recipe and the name of this dish is taken from the menu of one of Sicily’s outstanding restaurants called Charleston found in Mondello.
Mondello is a very beautiful beach community on the outskirts of Palermo – an easy bus trip.
The restaurant is probably called by this name, because of its grandeur and its spacious design is reminiscent of the popular, dance halls of the twenties. It is a lively, glamorous restaurant on the water, with top food and had been reputed to be frequented by pezzi grossi (slang for people who mean business).
Close to Mondello is the Parco della Favorita, a spectacular park and a villa.
Each Spring I enjoy eating fresh broad beans and fresh peas. Artichokes in Australia are at the end of their season and may be quite fibrous at this time of year, however in this recipe the most tender parts are used – discard most of the outside leaves leaving only the softer centre and the ‘fondi’ of the artichokes (the tender, fleshy part at the base). Combining these three vegetables is very common in many Italian Spring recipes and in this recipe the results are a fresh pasta dish.
I first wrote this recipe in my blog in 2008 and I am republishing it because I have been fiddling around with this recipe since then. I am also revisiting some of the old recipes on my blog and updating some of the photos- the photos of Mondello are from 2007 and I am remembering some very enjoyable experiences.
I had eaten at the Charleston a couple of times in earlier years and had enjoyed the food and menu immensely. The intention was and still is (2014) to represent the best of Sicilian traditional dishes, wines and quality produce. Last time I ate at this restaurant was in 2009 and my experiences were not as favourable; the restaurant had changed hands so this may also have contributed to my negative impressions at the time or maybe I was having a bad hair day!.
The pasta dish is similar to a warm salad. Using cylindrical shaped, hollow, tubular pasta will help to trap the sauce. The vegetables are cooked very quickly and I make the sauce while the pasta is cooking to better preserve the colours of the vegetables (the different shades of the colour green).
WHAT I LIKE TO DO
In my recipe I add herbs at the end of cooking – mint or fennel fronds (cut finely) or fresh basil.
As an alternative I also like to add fresh ricotta on top of the pasta when I present it. If I do this I omit the pecorino cheese.
The following recipe is for 6 people
pasta, 400g tubular pasta
artichokes, the fondi (bases)-depending on the size of the artichokes I usually buy 5 large artichokes and use the stalk as well
lemon, 1 for acidulated water
broadbeans, young, 1kg in their pods
peas, young, 1kg n their pods
onion, 1 large white, fresh (fresh onion are sweeter in taste ) sliced
pecorino, 100g freshly grated
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil, 3/4 cup
Shell the peas and broad beans. (Many remove the outer light green peel of the broad beans – I only buy young broad beans and only remove the skin of the larger beans)
Prepare the artichokes by first removing all of the leaves and only keeping the tender centre and its fleshy base. Remove the choke if there is one. The peeled stalks and the artichokes should be sliced finely and keep them in acidulated water until ready to use to prevent them from browning.
Boil the water, add salt and cook the pasta and make the sauce while the pasta is cooking.
Heat the oil and add the onion. Stir gently until golden and softened.
Add the vegetables and toss till they begin to change colour and have softened (about 7-10 mins). Add salt during cooking.
Add fresh, finely chopped herbs before the end of cooking..
Drain the pasta, add the sauce and toss gently.
Present it with grated pecorino and black pepper.
When in Sicily eating Spaghetti With Sea Urchins (Spaghetti chi Ricci) is a must.
They are relatively unknown culturally in Australia and have been next to non-existent commercially.
Sea urchins have a unique taste – they are considered a delicacy by Italians and are popular particularly with the Japanese, French, and Greeks. The gonads of both sexes of sea urchins are referred to as roe (which sounds nicer than testes and ovaries).
They are called ricciin Italy (means curly, the spines of sea urchins are curly at the ends) and when I was a child visiting Sicily, I remember finding sea urchins under rocks on the beach — family and friends wrapped their hands in newspaper and went looking for them at low tide. Most of the time it was very easy to find 4 to 6 sea urchins for each of us to eat raw — the urchins were simply cut in half using a very sharp knife, revealing the yellow-orange roe that was easily removed with a teaspoon and eaten from the spoon with a squeeze of lemon juice.
The next favourite method of eating them was as a dressing for pasta.
In my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking there is a recipe for this. I had great trouble finding sea urchins to cook (and to be photographed) for my book that was published November 2011.
At the time I found it surprising that there are about 42 species of sea urchins found in Australian waters and although they can be found in many locations, only a few are good tasting. Most are exported to Japan. The market price for fresh, chilled sea urchin roe varies considerably depending on colour and texture.
The Tasmanian sea urchin fishery is now the largest in Australia and I purchased Tasmanian roe from a specialist sea-food vendor (Ocean Made) who deals mainly with restaurateurs. I found some whole sea urchins at the Preston Market but when I opened them I found them very inferior in quality.
In the photographs (from my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking) you see the work of the photographer Graham Gilles and food stylist Fiona Rigg. I was the cook. The photo of the boats at Mondello (Sicily, close to Palermo) is by Bob Evans.
Spaghetti are traditionally used for this recipe, but I also like ricciwith egg pasta, either fresh or dry — narrow linguine — a delicate taste, which in my opinion complement the sweet, fresh taste of the roe.
I ate my best ever pasta with sea urchins in a restaurant in Mondello (close to Palermo) and I am sure that this included lemon – grated peel and juice so I have included these in the recipe.
And one last thing — the sea urchins are not cooked and are mixed with the hot pasta at the time of serving. The aroma is indescribable. Bottarga is sometimes grated on top of the pasta and anchovies are commonly added to the sauce to accentuate the taste, but this is optional.
For 6 people
spaghetti, 500g. If I am using fresh pasta, I use 600g
sea urchins, 3-8 per person
garlic, 4-5 cloves, chopped finely
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
salt and freshly ground black pepper or chili flakes
parsley, ¾ cup cut finely
anchovies, 3 cut finely (optional)
1-2 red fresh chilies cut finely
finely grated lemon peel of 1 lemon, and the juice
½ cup of your best quality, extra virgin olive oil to drizzle on top of the pasta at the end.
If you have purchased whole sea urchins, using a short and very sharp knife or scissors cut into the shell and enter the riccio di mare via the mouth (you will see the opening).
Split the sea urchins in half and remove the soft urchin flesh using a spoon. Place the roes into a bowl and discard all the rest. Break up the sea urchins into smaller pieces – they are soft so use a spoon.
Cook the pasta and while the pasta is cooking prepare the sauce.
Heat the ¾ cup of olive oil, add the garlic and over slow heat cook the garlic slowly until it becomes translucent.
Add chili and anchovies – the anchovies will dissolve in the hot oil.
Add this mixture of oil to the hot just drained pasta at the same time as the sea urchins and toss quickly to coat.
Add the parsley, lemon peel and the juice. Toss well to combine. Serve immediately and top each portion with a drizzle of your best olive oil – this is best done at the table.
Finally there has been some interest in eating Sea Urchins:
Date with plates sends chills down urchins spine:
Sea urchins, sometimes called sea hedgehogs, are the black, spiky creatures that lurk at the bottom of the ocean.They prey on the kelp beds that are a vital habitat for the rock lobsters and abalone of the north-east coast of Tasmania and are considered one of the state’s worst marine pests. But have you ever thought of eating them?
Diver and seafood exporter Dave Allen has helped pioneer the sea urchin export industry in Australia and, in the process, has set about saving the reefs from being stripped bare by these pests.
Laura Banks. From Sunday Age, March 2, 2014.
I was pleased to see that sea urchins will be featured in a dinner called The Delicious Pest at The Melbourne Food & Wine Festival on March 9, 2014.
Sea Urchin Roe is seasonal and as mentioned above, it is available from (Ocean Made), fresh and frozen when it is not in season.
We deliver all over Melbourne and Australia wide. We use air freight and provide the freshest sea urchin roe available across the country. All our processing is done with the highest degree of care in order to make our product the best and we pride ourselves on excellent customer service and quality of product. Last year we won a Victorian seafood of the year award for best customer service and quality of product. We have a minimum order of 20 X 100gram or 150 gram punnets. If that seems too much then you could suggest our products to friends to see if they would like to be included in the order. Please also note that when we have further shops open in Victoria then we will list them on our website. Customers can also sign up to our newsletter and stay informed of seasonal conditions, new products or anything regarding sea urchins.
Our new prices for 2015 are being implemented as we speak.
Welcome to Sea Urchins Australia.
In the festive season most cooks feel like cooking something different and seafood is often cooked for friends when they come for a meal.
Lobsters are very popular around Christmas time. Many think that they are buying crayfish for Christmas (because that is how they are labelled), but they are actually buying lobsters – lobsters are sea creatures and crayfish live in freshwater.
I often buy spiders (the legs) – they can be quite meaty and very suitable for this pasta dish that requires cooked lobster. Although this recipe is especially suited lobster, other crustaceans can be used, including crabs. When I lived in South Australia I was spoiled with Blue Swimmer crabs. You can buy them in Victoria, but they are not local. If you prefer local crabs, Sand crabs are caught around Portsea, Rye or Sorrento.
I ate this pasta (see photo) in a beachfront restaurant in Mondello, a seaside town near Palermo, Sicily. It is made with their local crab. In my recipe I have added parsley and basil – I find it difficult to cook without herbs.
cooked crayfish meat or crab meat, 600-800 g
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
red tomatoes, 500g, peeled and chopped
garlic, 5 cloves, chopped finely
parsley, 1 cup cut very finely
basil, 7-10 leaves (I like to use several small sprigs with the leaves attached)
salt and freshly ground pepper or chili flakes to taste
Make a tomato salsa with ¼ cup oil, 2 cloves of garlic, the tomatoes and a little salt and pepper.
Mix the ingredients together and allow the sauce to reduce – uncovered – to a cream like consistency. Take off the heat.
Cook the crabs lightly (enough to kill them).
Remove as much crab or crayfish meat as you can, but leave some of the entire legs for decoration.
Cook the pasta and while the pasta is cooking:
Heat the rest of the extra virgin olive oil, add the other cloves of garlic and sauté the crab or crayfish meat for a few minutes. Add the parsley and mix it through the hot mixture.
Add this to the hot salsa (you may need to reheat this) and toss it through.
Combine the hot, drained pasta with the sauce and mix well.
Having been there on a previous trip to Sicily, we finally made it back to the famous Charleston Restaurant on the beach at Mondello. We did not enjoy our food as much as we expected.
However I did find the conversation that I had at the end of the meal with the waiter very interesting. I’ll get back to that.
The restaurant has changed hands in the last two years and the owner has decided that the Charleston’s menu of enduring, traditional favourites, needed refreshing. So alongside the menu Tradizionale, there is now a selection of dishes labelled Innovazione (Innovation).
Allowing ourselves to be rushed into ordering – fatal mistake – we thought we would honour the experiment and chose from the menu Innovazione. This after all was 2009 and I was ready for Innovation having appreciated the traditional food at this restaurant at an earlier visit.
Good waiters recommend and advise – but maybe we looked too much like tourists who did not belong . We should not have been intimidated by the waiter standing at attention, pen poised over the pad, waiting to write our order. He looked impatient.
This is first of the innovative dishes I ate. It is called a Tououlet Con Verdure.
It is a small sformato (mould) of couscous topped with slices of very young squid (lightly pan fried) Surrounding it was a strong reduced fish sauce with some balsamic reduction for effect. The red blobs on the corners of the plate were the verdure (vegetables) and these were just sliced unseasoned tomatoes, which were not particularly tasty. It was a modern take on the traditional cous cous – the fish, the couscous, the concentrated fish stock – I had eaten an excellent the night before on the waterfront at Castellammare del Golfo. ( Broth, couscous and fish presented separately- traditional).
The rest of the food we ordered was just as unappealing. Where was the innovation?
The waiter who gave us the bill at the Charleston (there were several standing around and each had a different function but I have to say, little to do), when questioned about the quality of the food, admonished us for ordering from the menu Innovazione, as much to say we got what we deserved/ what did you expect. He explained the new owner’s demand for change, but said the menu Tradizionale was still the thing to eat at the Charleston, and that it was going to take the chefs another couple of years to get the innovations right .
Sicilians are good at cooking traditional dishes and these are what Sicilians like to eat. The menu in some restaurants may not look very exciting, but cooked well, the simple becomes a masterpiece. True…. and especially on this occasion.