Affogato means drowned or smothered or choked in Italian, and which ever way you look at it, in this recipe the cauliflower has been killed off in red wine.
My grandmother Maria was born in Catania and this was one of her ways of cooking cauliflower(called VRUOCCULI AFFUCATI in Sicilian)
The cauliflower is cut into thin slices and assembled in layers: cauliflower, sprinkled with a layer of slivers of pecorino, thinly sliced onion and anchovies. Some recipes also include stoned black olives.
Although the coloured cauliflowers or broccoli can also be used for this recipe, I like the white cauliflower because it becomes rose- tinted by the red wine.
I compress the assembled ingredients, cover it with a circle of baking paper, an ovenproof plate and then put a weight on top (see photo).
It is cooked slowly until all the liquid evaporates and then it can be turned out and sliced like a cake. You may also like to use a non- stick saucepan or as I often do, place a circle of baking paper at the bottom of the pan to ensure that the “cake” does not stick to the bottom. Many recipes add water as the cauliflower is cooking to prevent it from burning, but if you cook it on very gentle heat and in a good quality saucepan with a heavy base, it may not be necessary.
VRUOCCULI AFFUCATI are especially suitable as an accompaniment to a strong tasting dish. Usually it is presented at room temperature or cold (I can remember the left over cauliflower being particularly satisfying as a stuffing for a panino).
cauliflower or broccoli, 1kg
onion, 1large, sliced thinly
pecorino, 50 -100g, sliced thinly
anchovies, 4-5 or more
red wine, 1 glass
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place some olive oil in a deep saucepan (the ingredients are layered).
Add a layer of the cauliflower.
Top with the pecorino cheese, anchovies, ground pepper and onion slices (salt to taste).
Add another layer of the cauliflower and more oil.
Continue with more layers but finish off with a layer of cauliflower on top. Press down the layers with your hands.
Top with more oil and add the wine.
Cover the contents first with either a piece of baking paper or foil cut to size and slightly loose. Put a weight on the top so as to keep all of the layers compressed (see above). There should e a gap around the weight and the saucepan to allow the steam to escape.
Cook on very slow heat for about 40-60 minutes and when the liquid has evaporated, you should also hear the cauliflower sizzle in the oil.
Sicilians are very enthusiastic about their local cow and sheep’s milk cheeses. Goat’s milk is generally drunk rather than made into cheese, and as always there are exceptions.
Each Sicilian region is proud of their local product and many of the cheeses are named after the region, for example: Madonie provola, from the Madonie Mountains (north west Sicily), Nebrodi Provola, from the Nebrodi Mountains (north eastern Sicily) and Ragusano is the caciocavallo cheese from Ragusa. Sadly, very few of the local Sicilian cheese varieties are unknown outside Sicily and never make it into Australia.
Many of the Sicilian cheeses are pecorino or provola type cheeses.
These cheeses are eaten at varying stages of maturity – dolce (sweet)when it is fresh and piccante (spicy) when mature. Some cheese is eaten very fresh and unsalted. Once the cheese is salted it is eaten progressively until the cheese crust has formed and the cheese is considered ripe (which could be as short as five months).
The most commonly recognised Sicilian cheeses made in Australia are tuma and primo sale, pecorino and provola. Ricotta, is not technically a cheese but it is eaten and used as such.
I have been fortunate to have lived in both Adelaide and Melbourne where I am able to purchase freshly made cheeses and the latest business enterprise in Melbourne is La Latteria in Carlton.
This cheese making and selling endeavour of two innovative people: Linguanti from That’s Amore Cheese (he is experienced) and Laird from a South Melbourne Restaurant (where she was head chef). The combination of skills seems a good one; I would imagine that Italians would still buy the traditional cheeses and the adventurous buyers may venture to purchase the cheeses that have been formed into less traditional shapes and that have herbs or salame added.
Liguanti and Laird are both passionate about their work and the fresh stretched cheeses (e.g. fior di latte, bocconcini, burrata) are made daily in small batches. And this is exactly how Italians like to eat them, made daily and if possible, warm, just like their bread (it is very common to buy warm, freshly made bread twice a day).
Latterie are found all over Italy- this is where one buys milk products and this includes fresh cheeses, so the business is appropriately named. They sell fresh yoghurt, un-homogenised milk, cow and buffalo milk cheeses. Not all the cheeses have to be made fresh on the day and there are some in the selection for example the smoked scamorza, which is slightly aged. The cheeses they make are found in various regions of Italy, for example the burrata is popular in Pugia, provola in the south of Italy from Campania to Sicilia, and crescenza is like stracchino is made in Lombardia and Piemonte.
La Latteria also make ricotta salata, very much longed-for by Sicilians not living in Sicily. It is mainly used as a grating cheese, but Sicilians find any excuse to-get-stuck-into-it and at any time. As you can see by the photo, La Latteria’s ricotta salata is made into small shapes and sold dried ready for grating. What I used to purchase in Adelaide from La Casa del Formaggio was sold in much larger shapes and left to the buyer to dry it out; the problem with this was that it was eaten before it was dry enough to be grated. A real treat.
In a restaurant in Syracuse I ate baked ricotta presented warm and sprinkled with a coating of toasted pistachio nuts. If you would like to make this version just rub the ricotta with olive oil and a little salt. Add the nuts in the last 10 minutes of cooking.
Instead of salt I have also dribble honey over ricotta, bake it and present it with poached fruit as a dessert. I have never eaten this in Sicily, but we all experiment with ingredients and it is winter after all.
Apologies to my overseas readers, I do not know where you can buy freshly made Italian cheeses.
It may be apparent that I am very passionate about authentic recipes, especially the ones which claim to be Italian or Sicilian.
One of the recipes is parmigiana. I have read about it in a number of sources, I have tasted it in a number of places in restaurants in Australia and have also seen it cooked on television. I have been determined to get the real story across, so much so, that I have sent this information and the recipe to two sources and I hope that they publish it. SBS have now published it on their website.
I have written this not necessarily because I am a purist, but because I always like to be aware of the origins of traditional recipes and their names. I believe that like language, recipes evolve and if someone adds a personal touch, well and good, but I do like to acknowledge the origins of the authentic recipe – once one knows the basics, there is always room for creativity.
This is how my family has always cooked parmigiana. It is how it was cooked by my mother, her mother and (more than likely) her mother before her. It represents generations of preparing and eating parmigiana in Sicilian kitchens. And those of you who are Italian, this is how the ‘existing firsts’ made it.
A parmigiana made with eggplants or with zucchini is a very common contorno (vegetable accompaniment) all over Sicily. (See variation below if using zucchini). It was once a seasonal dish of summer and autumn, but now in Sicily eggplants are grown successfully in the numerous serre (greenhouse farms) which have sprouted in most parts of the island and allow the production of summer vegetables well before and after their normal season.
Contrary to expectations it does not contain parmigiano (Parmesan cheese) nor does it originate in Parma, the home of parmigiano and the prosciutto di Parma. Pamigiana isan old Sicilian dish, most likely an adaptation and development from the fried eggplant dishes introduced by the settlers from the Middle East (the Persians). One common dish still prepared today in Iran is Kashk-e Baadenjaan. It consists of layers of fried eggplants (baadenjaan in Iranian), covered with a thick whey (kashk – a Iranian product similar to yogurt) and then sprinkled it with mint.
The layers of eggplants resemble the horizontal slats of outside, louvered shutters for blocking sunlight while allowing ventilation. These are called parmiciane (in old Sicilianand persiane in Italian). In English they are commonly called Persian blinds or persiennes (from the French. Consequently the name milinciani a parmiciana, later distorted in translation from the Sicilian into Italian to parmigiana. The Italian word for eggplant is melanzana (Solanum melongena) and once called mad apple or apple of madness by some Europeans, either because it was heard as mala insana or because the eggplant belongs to the nightshade family and therefore associated with toxins, madness and death.
To make parmigiana, the eggplants or zucchini are fried before they are placed in layers (2-3 in a baking dish) each covered with a little tomato salsa, a sprinkling of grated pecorino cheese and basil and then baked.
In some parts of Sicily, instead of grated pecorino, fresh tuma or primo sale can be used. Both are very fresh pecorino cheeses in different stages of production. The primo sale is the second stage of maturation when the first sprinkling of salt is added to the outside of the cheese. These are available from Italian fresh cheese manufactures, but pecorino fresco (fresh pecorino) can be a good substitute.
I ate a version of parmigiana in Agrigento and it had hard- boiled eggs in it. There are regional variations for making parmigiana in Sicily.
Traditionally the eggplants are fried in plenty of oil, but a non-stick fry pan using a little oil can also achieve the wanted results.
Salting slices of eggplants to remove bitter juices was once thought necessary for all eggplants, but a fresh, in season eggplant is very unlikely to be bitter when cooked.
Soaking slices of eggplants in salted water while you work, however, will prevent the eggplant from discolouring and minimize the absorption of oil.
An Italian signora (one of the many women stallholders I have befriended in the Queen Victoria Market) told me how to tell if the eggplants are going to be good ones. She said that as well as looking at the colour (shiny and deep purple) I needed to look at the eggplant’s bellybutton (the mark at the base and where the blossom once was). If the eggplant is fresh, the bellybutton should be either a narrow line or a line stretched into an oval shape but never round (evidence of seeds). I must look odd when I shop for eggplants, turning them upside down to check their belly buttons! I have now shared this tip with all my friends (many who live in Adelaide) and wonder how long it will be before stallholders are wondering what this new craze is all about!
It is the wilted, softer eggplants, or the ones that are not quite dark purple and are tinged with green (a result of not enough sun or being grown out of season) that are likely to be bitter. When cut, it is probable that these eggplants are likely to have many dark bitter seeds.
Eggplants discolour quickly so they need to be cooked soon after being cut and this is why soaking them in salt water may not be a bad idea when you are cooking large amounts.
Eggplants are cooked in many ways by Sicilians and similar to meat (they are fried, baked, grilled, stuffed, boiled, sautéed and roasted). Their versatility is a demonstration of the cucina povera (the cuisine of the poor, making the most of simple common ingredients), central to Sicilian life.
eggplants, 2 large peeled and sliced thinly, lengthways
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup or more (see above)
tomatoes, 1k, ripe, peeled, seeded and diced (or use canned)
onion, 2 sliced
garlic 1 clove
basil leaves, fresh about 1 cup, small, tender and whole
salt and freshly ground black pepper
grated pecorino cheese, ¾ cup
Slice the eggplants (soak in slated water, optional).
Pat dry gently and fry the slices of eggplants in several batches until golden brown.
Place fried eggplants on paper towels to drain the oil.
Make the salsa: heat a little of the olive oil over a medium flame and sauté the garlic. When it is golden brown remove it and discard. Add the chopped tomato, salt and pepper and some basil leaves and cook till thick.
Heat the oven to 200C
Oil an ovenproof dish and cover the bottom with a thin layer of tomato sauce, sprinkle with the cheese and a few basil leaves. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up and you have 2-3 layers, leaving a little cheese for the topping.
Bake for about 20 minutes.
Present at room temperature garnished with basil leaves.
There are local variations. Many add slices of hard-boiled eggs between the layers.
Parmigiana di Zucchine
Sprinkle thin slices of zucchini with a little salt. Leave them for about 20-30mins – this will help to draw out some of the liquid.
Fry the zucchini in batches and proceed as above.
My relatives in Sicily prefer to use the violet coloured eggplants they call violette in preference to the dark skinned variety they call Tunisian (they believe that they are originally from Tunisia). The violette are seedless and sweet. There is a heirloom variety (seed) available in Australia called listada di gadia – it is purple striped and almost seedless.