Breadcrumbs are called Pangrattato (grated bread) in Italian.
Mollica is the soft part of the bread with crusts removed but in the culinary world both pangrattato and mollica have acquired new significances and have been enhanced. Both refer to breadcrumbs lightly toasted in in olive oil, herbs and seasonings and variations include anything from garlic, red pepper flakes, pine nuts, anchovies, lemon zest , cinnamon or nutmeg, salt and a little sugar.
Mollica or pangrattato adds texture, fragrance and complex flavours and is usually used as a stuffing or topping, especially for pasta in Calabria, Puglia and Sicily. For example, Pasta con le Sarde and Sarde a Beccafico are two Sicilian recipes that use enhanced breadcrumbs:
When I make pangrattato I store left overs in a jar in my fridge and use it to enhance other dishes: this time I used it to stuff fennel. For moisture and extra flavour I added a little ricotta and a little grated cheese – pecorino or parmigiano.
Cut the stems off the fennel and remove the toughest and usually damaged outer leaves Cut the fennel into quarters.
Cook the fennel in salted water, bay leaves salt and lemon juice for about 10 minutes until it is slightly softened. Remove it from the liquid and cool.
Make the filling: Work the ricotta in a bowl with a fork, mix in the pangrattato and grated cheese.
Prise open the leaves of the fennel and stuff with the pangrattato stuffing.
Place the quarters into a baking bowl that allows them to stay compact and upright (like when you are cooking stuffed artichokes).
Drizzle olive oil on top (or a little butter) and bake at 180 – 190°C for about 15 minutes
This Sicilian recipe – Pipi ca Muddica – begins with roasted peppers.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Finally, Albacore tuna is available again in one stall at the Queen Victoria market. This tuna is sustainable, it is a lean fish and it can be quite dry if served without a sauce.
You can buy albacore tuna cut as a fillet or as slices from the centre of the fish – this cut will include the spinal bones and if you are braising the fish the bones will contribute to the taste. In Sicily this cut of tuna is called a ruota (wheel); the bones can then be easily removed at the time of serving. The wheel of tuna will have the skin still on make sure that the scales have been removed and make splits into the skin to stop it curling. Or you can remove the skin altogether.
Tuna and peas is a very common combination for Italians. I remember so vividly my maternal grandmother cooking wheels of tuna in very crowded saucepans, bubbling away on her stove in Catania, Sicily. Sometimes she also added tomatoes to the braise and studded the tuna with cloves of garlic.
Peas are sweet, hence the cinnamon stick. Sometimes I add nutmeg instead (for the same reason). Both the cinnamon and the nutmeg are optional; if using nutmeg, add it at the final stages of cooking.
Once cooked, you can also remove the centre bone, break up the tuna and serve it as a pasta sauce.
For 4 people
1 slice of albacore tuna (about 700g)
400g of shelled peas
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil,
salt and pepper
2-3 fresh bay leaves
1tbs tomato paste for colour (optional)
1 cup of white dry wine
1-2 cinnamon sticks or some grated nutmeg (optional)
Sauté the chopped onion lightly in the oil – use low heat.
Add the tuna and seal on both sides.
Add seasoning, bay leaves, wine and cinnamon stick.
Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add the peas 10 minutes into the cooking and If adding nutmeg add it at this time. Do not let the braise get dry and add a little more liquid (water and or wine) if necessary.
If using it as a pasta sauce:
Use 400 g pasta, short shapes.
Leave the fish in the pan while you cook the pasta.
Remove the central bones from the tuna (if there are any) and return them to the pan.
Dress the pasta and serve.
Unlike the rest of Italy, Sicilians include grated cheese with fish.
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.
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.
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
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.