SICILIAN CONTORNI IN SPRING ( A Sicilian potato salad, artichoke salad, braised peppers)

Lidia is one of my cousins who lives in Augusta (south of Catania in Sicily) and is an excellent cook. Lidia has taught me many things about Sicilian cooking.

She is an innovative cook and like any good cook she improvises and uses basic Sicilian traditional methods and recipes and embellishes them with new ingredients. Balsamic vinegar is not a Sicilian ingredient but, like many ingredients from the North of Italy, it has found its way into modern Sicilian cooking. I cannot see the elderly members of my family using it, as their cooking remains very traditional. Please note that it is a good quality balsamic and not some of the inferior ones that are commonly sold in supermarkets in Australia (and probably elsewhere). Naturally the extra virgin olive oil is of excellent quality also.

We had lunch at Lidia’s country house recently and these were just the contorni (side dishes):

The small peppers were first sealed in hot extra virgin olive oil and then cooked on low heat with a little salt until soft.  A little balsamic vinegar was added at the end to deglaze the pan.

The waxy potatoes were peeled and cubed and cooked on low heat with whole young fresh onions in a little salted water. When soft, the water was drained and the vegetables were dressed with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and oregano.

The artichokes had most of the leaves removes and were boiled. These were dressed with extra virgin olive oil, green squashed olives (not pickled for too long and therefore still slightly bitter tasting), mint, parsley and fresh garlic leaves from her garden, capers (those packed in salt of course) and a dash of good quality wine vinegar.

And all of this with a perfect blue sky, sitting outdoors and of course on an embroided linen tablecloth. Thank you Lidia and to Valentina her daughter who contributed to preparations and made a wonderful tiramisu using ricotta instead of mascarpone – a Sicilian touch.