Tag Archives: Palermo

Sicilian Pumpkin with vinegar, mint, sugar and cinnamon

Fegato di sette cannoli

It is autumn  in Australia and  there are plenty of pumpkins around. I like cooking pumpkin this way because it has unusual flavours and it can be made well in advance. I have presented it both as an antipasto and as an accompaniment to main dishes.

I cook this dish quite often and I am surprised that I have not written about it on my blog.

The following text is a condensed version from my first book  Sicilian Seafood Cooking. The photograph is also from the book. This all took place in my kitchen – I cooked it , Fiona Riggs styled it and Graeme Gillies photographed it.

This  Sicilian specialty  is sometimes called zucca in agro dolce (pumpkin in sweet and sour sauce) but I prefer the more colloquial Sicilian name, ficato ri setti canola – literally, ‘liver of the seven spouts (or reeds)’.

It is a colourful and aromatic dish. There is the strong colour of the pumpkin, tinged brown at the edges, and contrasted with bright green mint. The sweetness   of the pumpkin is enhanced by the flavours and fragrance of garlic, cinnamon and vinegar. It is better cooked ahead of time – the flavours intensify when left at least overnight, but it can be stored in the fridge for several days.

The dish is said to have originated among the poor, in what is known as one of the quartieri svantaggiati (‘disadvantaged suburbs’) of Palermo.

Sicilians are colourful characters and like stories. It is said that the pumpkin dish was first cooked and named by the herb vendors of the Piazza Garraffello a small square in Palermo. These were the days before refrigeration and balconies and windowsills were often used to cool and store food, especially overnight. As the story goes, the herb sellers could often  smell the aroma of veal liver coming from the balconies of the rich. At home, they cooked pumpkin the same way as the well-to-do cooked liver (fegato) and, wanting to create a bella figura, they hoped the fragrance of their cooking would mislead the neighbours into thinking that they too were well-to-do and could afford to eat liver.

The typical way of cooking liver is to slice it thinly, pan-fry it and then caramelise the juices in the pan with sugar and vinegar to make agro dolce (sweet and sour sauce).

As for the seven spouts (sette cannoli), they are the short cane-shapedspouts of an elegant 16th-century fountain in the piazza. Below – cathedral in Palermo.

In Australia I generally use the butternut or Jap pumpkin,The pumpkin is sliced 1cm (.in) thick and traditionally fried in very hot oil (if thicker, they take too long to cook).

Although baking the pumpkin slices is not traditional, I prefer this method .It certainly saves time in the preparation (see variation below). Serve it at room temperature as an antipasto or as a contorno (vegetable side dish).

1kg (2lb 4oz) pumpkin
10 cloves garlic
extra virgin olive oil (1. cup
if frying 1/3 cup if baking)
3 teaspoons sugar
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
small mint leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper

Fried Method

Peel and remove the seeds of the pumpkin and cut into 1cm (in) slices.
Peel and slice 4 cloves of garlic.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based frying pan. Add the garlic cloves.
Remove when it has coloured and fry the pumpkin slices, turning them only
once in case they break, until they become soft and begin to colour around
the edges. Add salt to taste. Remove the pumpkin and discard some of the oil,
but keep any juices.
Use the same frying pan for the agro dolce sauce: add the sugar, stir it around
the pan to caramelise it, and then add the vinegar and cinnamon.
Stirring constantly, allow the sauce to thicken slightly as the vinegar evaporates.
Add the remaining garlic cloves and few sprigs of mint to the warm sauce.

Add the pumpkin to the sauce, and sprinkle with pepper. Allow the sauce
to penetrate the pumpkin on very low heat for a few minutes. Alternatively,
pour the sauce over the pumpkin and turn the slices a couple of times. Cool
and store in the fridge once cool. Eat at room temperature.

When ready to serve, arrange the slices in a serving dish, remove the old
mint (it would have discoloured). Scatter slices of fresh garlic and fresh mint
leaves on top and in between the slices.

 

Baked version

Cut the pumpkin into thicker slices, about 2–3cm (1in).
Sprinkle with salt and place on an oiled baking tray.
Bake the pumpkin and garlic in a 200C (400F) oven (discard the garlic when the pumpkin
has cooked).
Make the agro dolce sauce (see the above) in the baking tray
instead of a frying pan.

I also add fresh bay leaves – like the look and the taste of it.

The mint must be fresh.

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

 

 

Palermo and GoEuro competition

Here are more photos of Palermo and Mondello and details of a GoEuro Travel Inspiration Competition that  I have entered.

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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.

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I did so, and the result was:

18 Secrets of Sicily Revealed by Top Travel Bloggers

Recently I was contacted by GoEuro again, this time inviting me to enter a travel blog competition:

Write a post on your blog detailing how you would spend your perfect holiday in Europe: where would you go? Why? One lucky writer wins £500 towards their next European adventure.

How could I resist?

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I wrote a blog about visiting Palermo because it is the most diverse and complex city in Sicily.

Palermo and Sicily … peeling the onion

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GoEuro Travel Inspiration Competition

http://www.goeuro.co.uk/travel/travel-writing-competition

Post  Mortum….I did not win this competition but I hope that some readers may feel motivated to travel there.

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Many thanks

Marisa

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Palermo and Sicily … peeling the onion

“Sicily is the pearl of this century for its qualities and its beauty, for the uniqueness of its towns and its people […] because it brings together the best aspects of every other country.”

This was written almost a thousand years ago by an Arabian geographer, Muhammed Al-Idrisi, in his book of “pleasant journeys into faraway lands” for the Norman King of Sicily, Roger II.

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As Al-Idrisi discovered, Sicily may be small, but it has the best of everything and although I may visit some places again and again, I always manage to discover something new. And this is what brings me back to Sicily again and again. I grew up in the far north of Italy in Trieste but each summer as a child, I would travel to Sicily for our summer holidays – both of my parents have relatives in Sicily. For me Sicily was an exotic place of sunshine, colour and warmth, the outdoors and the sea. Wherever I go in Europe, I always visit Sicily as well.

On my latest trip I concentrated on Southeastern Sicily and went to little towns and villages that I had not been to before as well as familiar places where I’m always interested to see what’s changed and what has stayed the same.

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Next time I visit I plan to spend more time in the city that is the essence of Sicily – Palermo.  While Al-Adrisi called Sicily a “pearl” Roberto Alajmo, a journalist and blogger born and raised in Palermo compared his home town to an onion, una cipolla – its multiple layers have to be peeled to be appreciated.

Once you start peeling back the layers of Palermo what you find is a city where history meets infamy and splendor encounters squalor, antiquities stand beside modernity. All of it evidence of a fantastic overlay of cultures from Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, French and Spanish. This cultural fusion shows up in the food and drink, the art and architecture, the palaces, the temples and churches and the entire Sicilian way of life.

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Last time I visited Palermo was three years ago, but each time I go I’m always happy to revisit the historic quarter with its Arabo-Norman monuments.

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Among my favourites are the Palazzo dei Normanni and its Cappella Palatina with their dazzling Byzantine mosaics and frescoes. There’s also King Roger II’s La Martorana, where the spectacular mosaic of Christ the Pantocrator overlooks Olivio Sozzi’s baroque Glory of the Virgin Mary, painted six centuries later. I enjoy admiring the simple, geometric shapes of the Norman palaces, La Cuba and La Zisa, built entirely by Arabic craftsmen and the distinctive Arabo-Norman red domes on San Cataldo and San Giovanni degli Ermiti.

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On my not-to-miss list is the Cattedrale which is another masterpiece of overlaid period styles, begun by the Normans in the 12th Century, with 15th Century Catalan Gothic porch, capped off with a neo-classical 18th Century neo-classical dome. The timeline continues inside with tombs of Norman and Swabian kings and queens: Roger II and his daughter, Costanza d’Altavilla and their son Frederick II and his wife of Costanza of Aragon. You can admire her imperial gold crown in the cathedral’s treasury.

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Palermo also has a fountain to rival the best of Rome. La Fontana Pretoria was once prudishly called the “fountain of shame” because of the multiple nude statues. Judge for yourself!

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The baroque also makes a grand stand in the four elegant palazzo facades of the Quattro Canti, framing the intersection of Palermo’s two main boulevards.

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I know I’m at the heart of the onion that is Palermo when I enter the labyrinth of laneways in the city’s sprawling markets – especially La Vucciria and Ballarò – with their clustered stalls that remind me of an Arabic souk. I like to listen to the clamour of the traders’ shouted Sicilian dialect. Sheltered from the sun under red canvas awnings you find the fish stalls. In his book, Midnight in Sicily Peter Robb described how the diffused red light of the market “enhanced the translucent red of the big fishes’ flesh and the silver glitter of the smaller ones’ skins”.

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Wandering the old quarters of Palermo, you’ll pick up the aroma of traditional street-food fried in large vats such as panelle (chickpea flour fritters), cazzilli (potato croquettes) or meusa (spleen) which are typical dishes of the friggerie. You will smell char-grilled peppers. And if I want to eat these treats in doors I go to classic restaurants like L’Antica Foccaceria San Francesco which has been cooking the same thing for decades.

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I find it interesting to see how traditional cuisine has developed and one of my favourite things to do in Palermo (or anywhere I go in Sicily) is to find restaurants that re-invent traditional dishes and present them with contemporary twists.  And if I want to contrast the old-style dishes with contemporary versions there are still typical trattorie like La Casa del Brodo that have classic Palermo dishes like sarde a beccafico, caponata, pasta con la sarde.

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I’m also seriously interested in discovering the ever increasing new hip bars that serve glasses of Sicilian wine varieties like grillo and nero d’avola and boutique beers matched with interesting snacks that reflect modern Sicilian cuisine.

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When the time comes to escape the close-quarter hustle of the city, I can catch a bus to the north-west side of Palermo to admire the Liberty-style residences of the capital’s once-wealthy merchants. I can travel to the picturesque seaside town of Mondello, where I can dine out on the waterfront, drink in the view, scoop up a granita or gelato, eat a cannolo or a slice of cassata. It is definitely a place to eat fish and enjoy a drink or two.

Mondello Harbour

Back in town I can always book a ticket to the opera or ballet at the Teatro Massimo and eat a delicious cold treat on my way back to where I am staying.

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Palermo’s gardens are another escape. I love to wander in the greenery of the Villa Giulia or the Piazza Marina with its massive fig trees, which are spectacular. The modern art galleries are another diversion. There’s the GAM (La Galleria d’Arte Moderna), Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea, Nuvole Incontri d’Arte and Palazzo Riso which I was told about on my last visit to Palermo, when I saw an exhibition of works by Francesco Simeti.

Palermo Palazzo Riso_go_

Palazzo Riso is a baroque neo-classical edifice built in the 1780s. It was Mussolini’s temporary headquarters in World War II and bombed by the Americans in a failed attempt to kill the Italian dictator (who had left town only days before the air-raid). For years the Palazzo stood in ruins and when it was finally restored during the late-1990s, the restorers preserved some of the damage as evidence of its history.

Although I have seen Guttoso’s painting of the Vucciria Market hanging in the Palazzo Chiaramonte Steri, I have yet to see the basement where thousands of prisoners accused of heresy through the Holy Inquisition were imprisoned. These prison walls are covered in prisoners’ simple etchings, which were plastered over in the 19th Century.

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I take great pleasure in returning to a place as rich and varied as Sicily and why revisiting a city as layered as Palermo is top of my European travel wish list. It may not have the reputation of Rome (the eternal city) or Florence (la serenissima) but it has depth and diversity.

Palermo Cathedral facade_go

 

 

PASTA ALLA FAVORITA (Pasta with artichokes, broad beans, peas alla favorita)

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.

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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.

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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!.

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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.

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The following recipe is for 6 people

INGREDIENTS
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

PROCESSES
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.

 

ZUCCA LUNGA SICILIANA – long, green variety of squash

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This squash, the green leaves and magnificent sprigs of basil were a gift from a Sicilian friend: her father grew them in his garden. I feel very privileged to be given these precious vegetables. They are not a vegetable that can be easily sourced; I have seen them only once at a market in Melbourne. 

in Sicilian this squash is called a cucuzza and in Italian I will call it a zucca lunga – long squash or zucca serpente – which is what it is, a long serpent like squash. The tender leaves and tendrils of this plant are called tenerumi and I have written about these previously because both are typically loved by Sicilians and commonly used to make a refreshing summer soup (it could also be classified as a wet pasta dish).

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MINESTRA ESTIVA CON ZUCCA LUNGA SICILIANA, Sicilian Summer soup made with the long, green variety of squash

FRESH PRODUCE (and I did not have to go to SICILY to buy it). The Melbourne Showgrounds Farmers Market

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This time I cooked the soup differently than usual. There was more zucca – I used the produce I was given and I also made it in the same pot (in the other recipe which contains more tenerumi and less zucca, two pans are used).

The next day, we ate the leftovers as a cold soup; it was just as good….and as traditional. It is summer after all.

INGREDIENTS
zucca lunga siciliana ( mine was about 25 cms long)
1 large spring onion, sliced
2-3 tomatoes, roughly cut
3 cups of vegetable broth (I used a broth cube, optional) or water
fresh basil leaves, a good handful
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil,
1 cup of spaghetti (broken in small pieces)
PROCESSES
Cut the zucca in half, get rid of the seeds and cube it. 
Chop the tomatoes.
Sauté the onion in some olive oil for about 1 minute, add the zucca and continue to sauté for another 2-3 minutes.  
Add the tomatoes. 
Season with salt and pepper, add 2 cups of the stock, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the tenerumi, the rest of the stock and some of the basil; bring the contents to the boil.
Cook the pasta in the same pot; add the pasta and cook it until it is al dente.
Add more basil, a drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil and serve.

I appreciate this soup’s fresh taste and I sprinkled only a few chilli flakes on top (or use black pepper.)

 

PANELLE, PALERMO STREET FOOD-Chick pea fritters and the Antica Focacceria San Francesco

These photos were sent to me by one of my readers who lives in Philadelphia (it is very generous of her). They are shots of the small piazetta (small square) in front of the very famous and very old,  Antica Focacceria San Francesco in Palermo.

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Antica (old), Focacceria (where they sell focaccie) and San Francesco because it is opposite the church by that name. The eatery is famous for presenting traditional, local, street food – Palermo is recognised for this very ancient custom.

All around the streets of Palermo there are frigittorie (friggere is to fry, frigittorie (are where the foods are fried). Palermitani can be seen standing around eating and talking around these establishments which are usually just  no more than large vats of hot oil and a simple portable bench. Slices of eggplant, zucchini, artichokes, bits of pre cooked cauliflower are coated with pastella (batter) and deep fried. Cazzili (potato croquettes) pani ca’ muesa (panini stuffed with spleen) and sfinciuni (typical focaccie from Palermo) are also favourite street food.

In this small eatery, in the old part of town, in the warm months customers can enjoy their food in the piazzetta. I love the cart, much more decorated than can be seen in the streets (although the food, may not always be as good).

In Palermo, one street food specialties are panelle – made of chickpea flour, cooked like polenta or porridge, cooled, and then cut into slices and fried in olive oil.

Versions of chickpea flour fritters are also popular in Liguria and in the South of France. In Australia the flour is generally available in Indian and Middle- eastern stores.

INGREDIENTS
chickpea flour 200g,
water 3 ½ – 4 cups,
salt 1 teaspoon,
½ cup of chopped parsley (or wild fennel fronds)
extra-virgin olive oil,
½ cup for the mixture and more for frying
PROCESSES
Make a batter: mix 3½ cups water, salt, and the olive oil into the saucepan and gradually whisk in the chickpea flour until smooth. Add extra water if necessary – it should be the thickness of a batter.
Cook it over medium heat, stir constantly and continue to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan until the mixture is thick and starts to pull away from the sides of the pan (15 mins).
Pour the mixture into the oiled shallow pan (like a baking tin). Press it down and make it smooth on top. Rest it until it is completely cool and firm.
Cut into manageable pieces (large fingers) with a sharp knife, lift the cut pieces carefully and fry in very hot oil. Fry about 3 minutes on each side.
Drain on paper towels and serve warm.
Photo of panelle not from Antica Focacceria
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THE CHARLESTON Restaurant in Mondello (near Palermo)


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.

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SFINCIONE DI PALERMO (A pizza/focaccia type pie)

One of my regular readers (from Philadelphia) is passionate about Sicily. She has sent me some wonderful photographs from her trip (mainly from Palermo) and she has very kindly given me permission to use them on my blog.

friggeria

I asked her about this particular photograph because I could not identify what was being served. The photo was taken in front of Antica Focacceria San Francesco during Sunday brunch (al fresco). The piazzetta in front of the Antica Focacceria is across from the wonderful church of Saint Francis of Assisi which has the sculpture of Serpotta.

She has identified it as a sfincione di Palermo. It is a type of focaccia /pizza sold in the streets of Palermo but also known in some other parts of the north- western part of the coast. There are many bread dough /focaccia like pastries made all over Sicily with different fillings and called by different names.( See  Impanata).

Sfincione is definitely a recipe from Palermo. It has a bit of a unique appearance and is baked for a short time with about 1/2 of the sauce, then taken out of the oven and recovered with the remaining sauce, “dredged with fried bread crumbs” and baked again.

It is the bread crumbs in the end that give it the look.

A typical recipe for Sfincione is:
500 gr. bread dough, 500 gr. fresh tomatoes, 100 gr. fresh caciocavallo or provola cheese (cubed), 50 gr. pecorino (grated) 50 gr. bread crumbs, 4 anchovy fillets, 1 large onion, a bunch of parsley 125 ml olive oil.

Prepare a basic pizza dough using fresh or active dry yeast, warm water, a little salt and approx. 3 cups of good quality unbleached flour. Leave it to prove in a bowl covered it with a folded tea towel/ tablecloth for about an hour.
Work about 1 glass of olive oil and the grated cheese (the pecorino) into the leavened dough. Leave it to prove again till doubled in size.

The tomatoes are made into a salsa: soften the sliced onion until golden, then add the parsley and the peeled, chopped tomatoes. Simmer till thickened
(about 20 minutes). Allow to cool slightly.

Add the anchovies and the caciocavallo.

Oil a deep sided baking pan and spread out the dough to about 3cm thick. Using your fingers make a few depressions into the dough.

Pour half of the sauce over the dough and bake it in a hot oven. After about 15 minutes, pour on the remaining sauce and dredge with fried breadcrumbs.

Drizzle with a little more oil and bake it for about 30 minutes.

Palermo back streets_0021

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