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.
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
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.
I have just returned from being away over Christmas and New Year and am pleased to find that purslane plants have sprouted in my various pots on my balcony. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a weed in Australia. It grows in many parts of the world including southern Italy and is very much appreciated in various cuisines especially in The Middle East, Greece, Crete and Mexico.
I rescued a purslane plant from the roadside last summer and planted it in a pot; it soon grew from a single taproot and formed a large, thick mat of stems and leaves. Throughout hat summer I collected the small, fleshy leaves and the most tender parts of the stem for various salads and I also sprinkled leaves on top of cold soups – this added flavor, texture and colour.
The raw leaves are succulent and crisp and have a tart and lemony flavor. Taking notice from some of the Greek traditional recipes I liked them mixed with ingredients such as tomatoes, basil and feta. Recipes are meant to be broken and of course I added my own touches and various ingredients. I also like mixed green leaf salads. Below rocket, purslane, fresh mint leaves, pine nuts, extra olive oil and lemon juice.
Towards the end of summer the plant had grown far too large and woody and I pulled it out. It is a seasonal plant and by then the mature plant had obviously scattered its small black seeds in my other pots.
I think that if I had a garden I would find Purslane very invasive, hence appropriately called a weed in this part of the world that does not have a long continuous history of foraging. The culture of foraging in Australia has been largely disregarded over the past 200 years. For tens of thousands of years and before European settlers the Aboriginal people foraged native flora and there is also historical evidence pioneers and explorers ate wild greens.
Purslane can also be cooked on its own or added to other greens;I rather like the mucilaginous gel-like consistency it adds to food (like Okra) but many people do not.
This climbing plant above is growing in one of my friend’s back garden in North Adelaide. (The potted plants below are his too.). The plant is Basella rubra, commonly known as Malabar spinach, Vine spinach or Ceylon spinach. This creeping vine is the variety of Basella with purplish-stems and deep-green leaves with pink veins.
Basella is a popular tropical leafy-green vegetable native to south Asia and eaten widely in Asian countries where it is known by a variety of local names, for example and to name a few, it is mostly known as saan choy in China, mong toi in Vietnam, pui saag in parts of India, remayong in Malaysia and alugbati in the Philippines.
This photo above is Basella alba – unlike my friend’s plant in Adelaide the stems are green and the plant will have a small white (alba) flower rather than crimson (rubra). I bought this bunch with its deep-green, oval to heart-shaped leaves a from the stall where I usually buy my Asian greens at the Queen Victoria Market
Like spinach Basella alba and Basella rubra it is a very versatile vegetable. The young leaves can be eaten raw and the larger leaves are cooked and depending on the regional cuisines it can be added to soups, in stir fries, curries etc. Like purslane the leaves are fleshy and thick, they remain crisp and taste of citrus when raw and when cooked the leaves soften and taste slightly mucilaginous. Basella doesn’t wilt as much as spinach.
Basella leaves remind me very much of Warrigal Greens. (Tetragonia tetragonioides ) is a leafy groundcover also known as Botany Bay spinach, Cook’s cabbage, kōkihi (in Māori), New Zealand spinach,. Although I have cooked this green many times before I do not have any photos.
I cooked the leaves of the Basella alba and sautéed them in extra virgin olive oil with garlic. On this occasion, I wanted a conventional green vegetable side dish to accompany a main of fish. If however, I had wanted to cook them in a Chinese way, I may also add spring onions, fresh ginger, chili, sesame oil, oyster or soy sauce. Maybe for a Japanese recipe I would add mirin or miso. Although I am typecasting some ingredients you will understand what I mean.
And would I have fed these vegetables to my mother? No way…. but maybe if I had used some typical way of cooking Italian greens she may begin to appreciate them.
Here are some conventional ways of cooking greens the Italian way:
Bring a small amount of lightly salted water to boiling Add the greens. Cover the pan and cook until tender or to your liking.
Optional: Cook the greens using only the water still clinging to leaves; cover, and cook until wilted, stirring halfway through.
Drain the greens well in a colander.
Dress with some extra virgin olive oil, adjust the seasoning if necessary (add pepper is optional) and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Heat some olive oil, add the garlic, (chillies and the anchovies are optional).
Add the vegetables sauté for a few minutes until they begin to wilt.
Add white wine (if liquid is needed), cover and cook till softened. (Some cooks pre-cook the greens and then sauté them – this may not be necessary).
Optional: chillies to taste, and /or a few anchovies can be added at the same time as the garlic.
With pine nuts and currants
Soak some currants in a little warm water to plump them (about 10 mins). Drain before using. In a small pan toast pine nuts by tossing them around until light golden. They burn easily, do this quickly. Set aside.
Heat some olive oil, add some garlic, add greens and sauté until wilted. If necessary, drain off any liquid.
Return the greens to the pan. Add currants and pine nuts and sauté a few minutes more.
Optional: add cinnamon or nutmeg and/ or grated lemon peel.
Cook in butter instead of oil.
My last post was about marinaded white anchovies – a great crowd pleaser. This is easy finger food that can be presented on crostini (oven toasted or fried bread) or on small, cup shaped salad leaves.
Another small fishy bite which never fails to get gobbled up are fish balls poached in a tomato salsa. I took these to a friend’s birthday celebration recently.
The fish is Rockling. At other times I have made them with other Australian wild caught fish for example Snapper and Flathead, Blue-eye and Mahi Mahi.
Here are some photos of the ones I made recently.
Cut the fish into chunks and mince it in a food processor.
You can see the ingredients I use to make these fish balls, mainly currants, pine nuts, parsley and fresh bread crumbs . There is also some garlic and grated lemon rind, cinnamon….. and on this occasion I added nutmeg too.
These ingredients are common in Sicilian cuisine but also in Middle Eastern food. This is not surprising when you look at Sicily’s legacy.
For a variation use other Mediterranean flavours: preserved lemon peel instead of grated lemon, fresh coriander instead of parsley, omit the cheese, add cumin.
Combine the mixture and add some grated Pecorino and salt and pepper to taste.
Eggs will bind the mixture.
The mixture should be quite firm and hold together. You may need to add more eggs – the number of eggs you will need will vary because it will depend on the texture of the fish and the bread. I always use 2-3 day old sourdough bread.
On this occasion I added 2 extra eggs,(4 small eggs altogether) however I used 1 k of fish.
In the meantime make a tomato salsa. I added a stick of cinnamon.
Shape the mixture into small balls and poach them gently in the salsa.
This is the link to the recipe that is also in my second book, Small Fishy Bites.
I presented the fish balls in Chinese soup spoons – easy to put into one’s mouth. You can see that there were only very few fish balls left over on the festive table. There are also only five anchovies in witlof leaves left over.
Of course these fish balls are not just limited to party food. They make a great antipasto or main course.
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.
Kale was everywhere in the places I visited in the US recently and I made this salad when I was visiting friends in Okemos, Michigan. I bought a bunch of kale at a Farmers’ Market – it was local, in season, very fresh, and so why not?
When I make any salad I think of flavours and ingredients that I like and have used in other recipes. For example I have always enjoyed the flavours that go with sautéed spinach – pine nuts and dried grapes, usually currants.
With the addition of a little nutmeg this was originally a Tuscan/ Ligurian dish. Pine nuts and dried fruit are also found in Sicilian cooking but this dish is not Sicilian. Various Italian regions have adapted this dish to suit their culinary cultures, for example some Southern Italians may add chilli, in some regions they may add chopped anchovies that have been dissolved by sautéing in a little extra virgin olive oil. Broccoli or other leafy greens (like cavolo nero – Tuscan cabbage – or kale) are cooked in this way also.
Although in Michigan I could have cooked the kale in the same way as I would have cooked spinach and eaten it as a cold cooked salad, I chose to use raw kale.
This was the US after all and there were plenty of cranberries in the pantry (they weren’t too sweet) so I chose these instead of currants. If I had dried, sour cherries (used in Middle Eastern cooking) I may have used those. Dried figs sliced thinly could have been OK as well.
In the photo, just to show their sizes, from left to right: top – dried sour cherries, muscatels, below – currants, cranberries.
If I had no pine nuts, I may have used another kind of nut, for example walnuts, hazelnuts or pepitas (green kernels from pumpkin seeds).
On another occasion I may use walnut oil or hazelnut oil instead of extra virgin olive oil or perhaps a mixture of two.
I often use grated lemon peel as an ingredient in either a raw dish or in my cooking (quite Sicilian) so I also added this to the salad.
This salad is so simple that I almost feel embarrassed writing about it. No amounts for the ingredients are necessary, make it to suit your tastes.
For the photo of the ingredients used in the salad, I have used baby kale leaves.
Kale, spring onions, pine nuts (lightly toasted), dried small fruit: such as dried grapes – currants, sultanas, raisins, or cranberries or dried cherries.
Dressing: extra virgin olive oil, grated lemon peel from 1 lemon and juice, a pinch of nutmeg, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Strip the leaves of the kale, removing the tough ribs/ stalks then tear it into small pieces or cut it finely. Slice the spring onions thinly. Combine kale and onions and add the nuts and dried fruit. Mix all of the dressing ingredients together and dress the salad.
This salad is quite suitable as a starter and of course, it can be part of a main course.
I am not one for measuring ingredients when I am cooking – Italians call this method of cooking all’ occhio,( occhio is an eye) that is, I use my eyes and roughly culculate the weights and measures of what I want and employ all my senses (except hearing) to proceed with the preparation and cooking.
These mushrooms were huge! The largest was 19 cm across – perfect for stuffing and baking.
They were very easy to prepare and to cook! No scraping of the brown underside (unless damaged), no peeling of the mushroom skin (many people peel mushrooms) or pre-cooking any of the ingredients used in the stuffing (many use sautéed onion and the stalks of the mushroom in the stuffing) .
As you can see I stuffed four mushrooms and I used about:
1 cup of fresh breadcrumbs (made with 1-2 day old good quality bread)
2 cloves garlic, crushed and finely chopped,
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
4 tablespoons pine nuts
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Wipe clean or wash mushrooms (depending on how dirty they are) and trim ends of stems.
Heat oven to 180- 200°.
Drizzle olive oil on a baking dish large enough to hold the mushrooms in a single layer.
Combine together the bread crumbs, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, salt and pepper and a big glug of the oil.
Drizzle a little of the olive oil over each mushroom cap.
Fill the mushroom caps with the stuffing.
Drizzle more olive oil over the filling of each mushroom.
Bake until you can smell that they are ready – use your senses – and the filling looks golden on top. Mine took about 20 minutes to cook.
Eat them hot or cold – both good.
Variation: add grated Parmesan cheese to the stuffing mixture.
I feel strongly about eating balanced meals so as a main meal I accompanied them with a salad of green beans, feta, walnuts, egg mayonnaise and pears.
Two of my most visited posts are the recipes for Braciole(Meat rolled around a stuffing) and Polpettone (large meat roll made with mince meat and with a stuffing).
There are many similar recipes of meat rolled around a stuffing, for example the Sicilian farsumagru (falsomagro, in Italian), involtini – or you may know them as saltimbocca or salti in bocca. Smaller in size are are ucelletti or ucellini (both words mean little birds in Italian) and olivette (little olives).
I found a recipe called Alivuzzi Di Carni (Sicilian for Olivette di Carne – meat olives) in my copy of Cucina Nostra by Maria Consoli Sardo, published in 1978, 1 edition.
olivette ready to fry
Translating recipes from the Italian always requires a poetic licence – ingredients, times, quantities are often missing, but the following cooking method and amounts of ingredients works for me.
veal or young beef steaks 700g,
white wine, 1 cup
celery, parsley, onion, equal quantities of each to amount to ¾ cup, cut finely
salt and black pepper
extra virgin olive oil,½ cup
hot water, ½ cup
For the stuffing:
salame, sliced thinly150g
formaggio fresco, 150g
spring onion,1, finely chopped
Trim and pound the steaks to about 5mm thick, each 5-6cm in size.
Spread some of the stuffing over each steak. Roll the steak around the filling and secure with netting (I use a toothpick or string). Sprinkle each olivetta (singular for small olive) with salt and finely ground pepper.
Place the olive oil in a large frypan and sauté the celery, parsley, onion until softened (over medium-high heat).
Add the rolls and lightly fry them until lightly browned on all sides.
Add wine to hot pan and evaporate for a few minutes.
Add water and cook gently with a lid until cooked.
Castagnaccio is made with chestnut flour – an ingredient that is easily obtained from stores that sell a large range of Italian produce.
There are other versions made with fresh chestnuts, but they have to be boiled first, removed from their shells, mashed and then combined with the ingredients in the recipe – I cannot see how it can taste the same.
Castagnaccio is a rustic Tuscan dish – it is neither bread not cake and it is eaten as a snack at any time of day. I first ate castagnaccio many years ago when I ventured out of my base in Florence to nearby Pisa, Gubbio and Assissi. It was a particularly cold and wet time of year and in bars I visited in the three locations I consumed slices of panforteand castagnaccio – my excuse was that I was interested to compare how different these tasted in each bar. I remember that I accompanied these Tuscan specialities with cups of thick, hot chocolate and took the opportunity to sample the local amari (liquers- digestives) at the same time.
Chestnut flour is not uncommon; it has been/is still used to make bread and pasta in various parts of Italy, and in fact I ate some excellent bread made with chestnut flour last time I visited Calabria. In Adelaide and in Melbourne I have purchased chestnut flour that has been packed by different Italian companies – most have a recipe for castagnaccio on the packet and as we all know there can be many variations for the same recipe in all Italian cuisine .
The recipe is easy and is like making a pancake mixture – it should be as smooth and be as thick (raw mixture above). I do not always add sugar because the raisins and the flour provide some sweetness. Rather than soaking the raisins or good quality sultanas in water I soak them in marsala or port.
chestnut flour, 250 g
water, 2 cups and perhaps a little more
sugar, 1-2 tbsp
pine nuts,100 g
raisins,100 g (pre-softened in a little water)
walnuts, 50 g
rosemary, fresh, sprigs
extra virgin olive oil, 2 tbs for the mixture and an extra tablespoon to sprinkle on top at the end of cooking on top
salt, a pinch
lemon peel, 2 tablespoons grated (optional)
cinnamon, 1 teaspoon (optional)
Mix the chestnut flour with a little water. Add the salt and sugar and more water. Do this gradually to form a smooth paste (I begin with a spoon and continue with a whisk and a spoon).
Add 2 tbs olive oil. Mix until smooth.
Add to it the lemon peel, cinnamon and raisins and half of the pine nuts and walnuts.
Pour mixture into a large oven pan into which you have poured about 2 tbs of olive oil (the mixture should not be more than 2cm high). Spread it evenly.
Sprinkle with the rest of the pine nuts and walnuts and the rosemary leaves.
Sprinkle onto the top about 1 tablespoons of olive oil.
Place into a pre- warmed oven (180C). Cook until a thin crust forms on top and there are cracks throughout the surface (about 30-40 minutes). The inside should be soft and moist.
When I take the castagnaccio out of the oven, I like to sprinkle a few drops of sweet wine (late picked, dessert wine) on top – the crust will soften slightly , but the aroma and flavours will be worth it.
Eat warm. A bit of whipped cream on top does turn it into a very pleasant dessert.
Just recently I bought some chestnut flour made from 100% Australian chestnuts.
The local flour is a little darker, seems to absorb much more liquid and tastes sweeter than the imported flour.
It comes in 250gm packets, is freeze dried but is more than twice the price. The 500g packets of Italian imported flour does not contain information about how the flour is made.
Whatever flour you purchase, make a smooth and thick batter and you should be able to pour it into the baking tin.
I am still making castagnaccio as I like to introduce different regional specialties to friends. I also have a friend who is gluten intolerant – perfect.
Mercato in Campbelltown South Australia and Enoteca Sileno sell Cheznuts Australian Chestnut flour.
This flour is made from Australian grown organic chestnuts which have been dried in the traditional Italian way using very low heat over many days. Drying nuts in-shell imparts a nutty roasted chestnut flavour and makes the nuts sweet and delicious. The dried nuts are then peeled and milled to produce a fine flour that is full of flavour. Chestnut flour is gluten free.
Niki Mihas from Mercato has provided some information about the processes used to make Chestnut flour.
Chestnut flour is used in Europe, and especially in Italy for many beautiful cakes and sweets. The traditional method of drying chestnuts is in a small hut with a slat floor. The fresh nuts are placed in the top section on top of the slatted floor and a fire is lit in the lower level to create heat to dry the nuts. Once the chestnuts are dried they are peeled and milled into flour.
Often the Italian chestnut flour will taste slightly smokey due to this process and the flour will be light brown colour which reflects the presence of the inner skin that could not be fully removed prior to milling.
The Australian chestnut flour is tastier because they freeze dry their peeled chestnuts. They take these freeze dried nuts and mill them into chestnut flour. This flour has an intense pure fresh chestnut flavour. As it’s made using peeled chestnuts, there is no contamination form the inner skin of the chestnut & not smokey taste.
Chestnut flour is gluten free! It’s high in Vitamin C as the chestnut isn’t compromised as there is not heat involved during the drying process.
At Mercato we have the Cheznuts Australian Chestnut Flour available in 250g packs.
One of my favourite ways to cook rabbit or hare is with chocolate; chicken can also be cooked in the same way but is less common. If it is chicken it will cook in a relatively short time, a rabbit will take longer and a hare will take much longer – I cooked hare and it took close to three hours to cook.
There are several Spanish and South American recipes where chocolate is used in savoury dishes so the chocolate does not need to be considered unfeasible – Spaniards ruled Sicily over long periods.
Those of you who have been to eastern Sicily may have noticed the Baroque architecture that is especially prevalent in this part of Sicily and you may have visited Modica, the centre for Sicilian chocolate; this is where the recipe is said to have its roots.
In this Sicilian recipe the rabbit (or hare) is cooked in the same way as alla stemperata (in all stemperata dishes the ingredients include celery, carrots, onions, vinegar, sugar, raisins or sultanas, pine nuts, green olives and capers)but fennel seeds and cloves replace the last two ingredients and finally dark chocolate is used to enrich and thicken the sauce. The flavours in the stemperata have been partly accredited to the Arabs and are characteristic of much of Sicilian cuisine.
Hare, like all game benefits from marinading in wine before cooking. I do this when I am cooking rabbit as well, but there is no need to marinate chicken. I always save some of the leftover cooked hare and sauce for a pasta dish – use ribbon pasta, e.g. tagliatelle or pappardelle.
Whenever I buy hare I remember butcher shops in Italy where each beast is often left with a part of its body to make it recognizable – the head or the foreleg complete with fur, hoof, claw or paw.
hare, rabbit or chicken 1.5- 2 k
dark chocolate, 200 g
onion, 1-2 sliced
red or white dry wine, 1 cup
wine vinegar, ½ cup
celery, 4 stalks, sliced finely
carrots, 3 sliced finely
bay leaves, 4-6
fennel seeds,1 large tablespoon
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
chilli flakes and salt to taste
pine nuts,1 cup
raisins or sultanas, ½ cup (naturally sun dried)
sugar, 1 tablespoon
PROCESSES: Clean the hare or rabbit or chicken and cut it into manageable sections at the joints.
Marinate it in the wine and half of the quantity of the oil and bay leaves for at least 3 hours and turn it occasionally (if cooking chicken you could marinade it for 1 hour if you wish).
Remove the pieces of meat and drain well; keep the marinade for cooking. Add the rest of extra virgin olive oil in a large frying pan and sauté the pieces until golden. Remove them and set aside.
Add the onions, carrots and celery to the same pan and sauté until soft but not coloured.
Reduce the heat, and add the wine marinade, bay leaves, fennel seeds and cloves, the seasoning and vinegar. Cover with a lid and simmer it gently until it is soft – the time will vary as it depends on the meat. For example farmed rabbit will cook in a little time ( 40-60 minutes, the same as chicken, whereas a wild rabbit could take 2-3 hours).You may need to add some water periodically as it cooks so that it does not dry out (this has always been my experience).
Add the sultanas or raisins, pine nuts and chocolate about 30 minutes before it is cooked Remove the lid and evaporate the juices if necessary.