My second book Small Fishy Bites is now translated into Dutch (Tapas Met Vis) and this set me thinking about my friend Lily and how the Dutch like potato croquettes.
The French call them croquettes, Italians know them as crocchette.
When I was in primary school and living in Adelaide I used to have a friend called Lily. She and her family were Dutch and her mother used to call them Kroket.
My mother also cooked crochette di patate (potato croquettes) and sometimes when we came home from school there would be a snack waiting for us if they had been on the menu and were left over from the night before.
Lily’s mum fried her croquettes in vegetable oil whereas my mum fried hers in olive oil so I could always taste a difference.
Sometimes my mum used to put a little ham or a cube of cheese in the centre.
In Small Fishy Bites, there is a recipe for crocchette di patate and being a book about fish these croquettes have anchovies or smoked eel in them; the fish can be spread throughout the potato mixture or inserted into the centre. Great with drinks!
In the photo above you can see the two potato ricers I use. The one on the right is very old and came from Trieste where I lived as a child.
To stop the potatoes becoming soggy, I boil the potatoes whole and then peel them once they are cool.
24oz/700 g potatoes
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup parsley, finely chopped
4 anchovies, cut into small pieces (or 4 oz/100 g flaked smoked eel)
salt and freshly ground pepper
a little flour or breadcrumbs to coat the crocchette
extra virgin olive oil for frying
Instead of the anchovies you could also use 3½ oz/100 g of smoked eel.
Cook the potatoes until soft (boil or use a microwave). Peel when cool enough
to handle and use a ricer or a Mouli grater (a hand-operated cooking tool
designed for grating or pureeing small quantities of food) mouler to mash
them. Let cool completely.
Add the eggs, garlic, parsley and seasoning and the fish last of all.
Shape the mixture into egg shape patties and just before frying roll them in
a little plain flour.
Fry until golden and only turn once.
The skorthalia (skordalia) I am familiar with, is Greek in origin (originally called scoradalme, from scoradon, Greek for garlic). The modern versions are made mainly with potatoes, oil and garlic. The garlic with salt is placed in a mortar and using a pestle it is pounded into a paste.
This Sicilian scurdalia is made with bread, potatoes and almonds and I suspect its origins may be Greek, however, picada (Catalan garlic sauce) and ajo blanco (from southern Spain) are very similar. I think these examples help to illustrate how Sicilians may have responded to the flavours and inspirations of the different people who settled in Sicily but added their particular twists to make it their own – much like we do In Australia.
This sauce is particularly suitable for poached, sweet water fish. I have presented it with steamed or baked trout or Murray cod or as on this occasion with prawns. Pino Correnti’s version in Il Libro D’Oro Della Cucina E Dei Vini Di Sicilia is made with poppy seeds, but if you present this version to your guests tell your guests what is in the sauce – the black colour can be a little disturbing.
I use a food processor to almost pulverise the almonds (or walnuts). The poppy seeds I use whole, crushed lightly.
Use a mortar and pestle to make the sauce. The ingredients are added gradually to achieve a smooth purée like texture; as a variation I add some blanched ground almonds. Warm water is added to make the mixture smoother. I also know that in various parts of Greece, walnuts are used and that sometimes skordalia is made with bread instead of potatoes.
potato, 2 cooked, peeled and cubed
2-3 cloves of garlic,
½ cup extra virgin olive oil,
¼ cup blanched and ground almonds
salt to taste
juice of 1 lemon or 1 tbs white wine vinegar
Begin by pounding the with salt in the mortar and pestle.
Gradually add small amounts of almonds, potato and some of the oil, lemon (or vinegar) and continue to pound until all of the ingredients are finished and you have a smooth paste (add some hot water to thin as necessary).
Calamarettiis the diminutive of calamari and Italians do mean small. This is a common recipe for braised calamaretti. In Australia it is often difficult to purchase small sized squid or cuttlefish, but do your best. A tegame, is a shallow pan.
The photo of this squid was taken in the fish market in Catania, however I have been extremely pleased with the squid from my fish vendor (Happy Tuna stall in the Queen Victoria Market) and I have been buying it frequently.
I particularly like char grilled calamari with a salmoriglio dressing (oil, lemon, parsley, oregano). However, a simple braised calamari is also a good alternative, especially in winter.
For a main course you will need 3 kg of young calamarior more because they shrink. Potatoes and peas are often included in this dish.
small squid, 3 kg
white wine,1 cup
flat leaf parsley, chopped, 1 cup
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
onions, 2 chopped
potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes or chunks (estimate for 30mins cooking time)
tomato salsa, 1 cup
TOMATO SALSA: fresh, peeled, ripe, chopped tomatoes or a can (with the liquid), a little extra virgin olive oil, garlic cloves left whole, fresh basil or dried oregano and a little seasoning. Place all of the ingredients into a pan together and evaporate until thickened. Add a little sugar, more olive oil and some extra leaves of fresh basil.
Prepare the squid by removing the head with a sharp knife. Open the body and remove the internal organs. Retain the ink sacs and freeze them if you wish to use them at another time (see recipes……..).
Wash or wipe the squid and cut into strips.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the peeled chopped onions lightly.
Add the squid, stir for 3 minutes, and pour in the white wine, salsa and potatoes, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and cook gently for 30 minutes.
I am very pleased that one of my recipes (Caponata, Perfect for Christmas) has been published in the latest issue of Italianicious (Volume 5 issue 4, Dec 2009 -Feb 2010). This magazine is published in Sydney and has an Italian/Australian specific content with many recipes, articles and information about food, restaurants, wine and travel.
That particular recipe of caponata published in Italianicious is from my mother’s family originally from Catania (a city on east coast of Sicily) and it is interesting that my father’s family, who are from Ragusa (two hours drive from Catania), do not cook caponata at all. The photo is of Via Bellini in Catania.
Caponata personifies Sicilian cuisine and as you’d expect, there are many regional variations of this recipe. Some of you may be surprised that this version of caponata contains peppers as well as eggplants. The most common recipes for caponata only use eggplants as the principal ingredient, but the inclusion of peppers is an authentic, local variation in many parts of Sicily especially from Catania. On my trips to Sicily I always sample as much caponata as possible and was very pleased to find that the best tasting versions of caponata all contained peppers – this I found in restaurants in Syracuse, Catania, Sciacca, Mazara del Vallo, Agrigento, Ragusa Ibla and Caltagirone.
There are other Sicilian caponate (plural of caponata) made with other vegetables, for example, caponata di carciofi (artichokes) caponata di verdura verde (green leafy vegetables) and caponata di patate (see recipe below). The principal and most common flavourings that characterise a Sicilian caponata remain the same: the celery, capers, green olives and the sweet and sour caramelised sauce made with vinegar and sugar (agro dolce).
Other traditional caponate recipes made with eggplants or eggplants and peppers use tomato paste rather than chopped tomatoes, some add garlic, others chocolate (or cocoa). Many recipes contain nuts – almonds or pine nuts or pistachio, used fresh in some recipes, in others they are toasted. Frequently herbs are added – sometimes basil, at other times oregano or mint. Certain recipes also include raisins or currants and some, fresh pears. Several include fish, singly or in combination of canned tuna, prawns, octopus, salted anchovies and bottarga.
To make caponata I always sauté (on high heat) my vegetables separately and then combine them at the end in the agro dolce (sweet and sour) sauce.
CAPONATA DI PATATE
This caponata can be eaten hot or at room temperature. It also keeps well refrigerated for several days.
The potatoes in this caponata are fried until lightly golden. The ingredients commonly used to make caponata – onions, celery, olives, capers, tomatoes and the vinegar and sugar for the agro dolce – are cooked together separately. The potatoes are then added to the other cooked component.
INGREDIENTS potatoes, 1.5 kg celery, 1 heart (the centre pale green stalks and some of the fine leaves) onion, 2, large, chopped capers, ½ cup, salted or in brine green olives, ¾ cup , stoned, chopped white vinegar, ¾ glass sugar, 3 tablespoons
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup (or more) salt and freshly ground pepper parsley, 1 cup, cut finely tomato passata, 1 cup
PROCESSES Peel and cube the potatoes and place onto a clean tea towel (or paper) to dry. Fry the potatoes in hot extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt – do not crowd the potatoes and if needed use a wide frypan or cook in batches. Turn occasionally until they are cooked and golden. Drain the potatoes and set aside. You can use this same oil to braise the vegetables (purists would use new oil). Heat the oil and add the onions and the celery. Stir frequently and cook over a moderate heat until the onion is golden and the celery has softened. Add seasoning and parsley. Add the tomatoes, capers and olives and toss the ingredients together for about 5 minutes. Add sugar and vinegar and increase the heat to high to evaporate some of the vinegar. Add the potatoes, cook for about 4-5 minutes to blend the flavours. Serve at room temperature.
VARIATIONS Add either chopped, toasted almonds or pistachio before serving (either on top or through the caponata) and scatter with fresh mint leaves.
Several of my friends are beginning to discover and appreciate the taste of fennel. It is prolific at present in Melbourne and most refreshing eaten raw. It can be cooked – braised, baked, made into a tortino (see recipe in blog tortino di finocchio) and as in this recipe, made into a soup (not a very common way to cook fennel).
Traditionally this recipe should be made with wild fennel and this is how I first tasted this soup.Obviously if this ingredient is not close by, the bulb can be used. If you can collect some wild fennel (make sure it looks healthy, see recipe in blog pasta con le sarde), experiment with this recipe and use both the wild and the cultivated bulb with some of its tender fronds and stalks (choose round, shiny bulbs, as in photo taken in the market of Syracuse).
It is one of the simplest soups to make and when it was first made for me (using wild fennel) all of the vegetables went into a pot with the water and once softened, broken spaghetti were added – soup without pasta is rarely presented. The broken spaghetti were once the way to use them up, by all means use some short, small sout pasta shape.
I am always amazed how Sicilian soups cooked so simply can be so appetising. My relative presented the minestra with a drizzle of the very flavourful oil given to her by a relative in Noto. Maybe the oil is the secret ingredient! Boiled vegetables cooked this way and presented with the water is considered rinfrescante, calming and soothing for the digestive system and very common as the evening meal (Sicilians still eat their main meal at lunch time).
I have intensified the flavours by varying the method of cooking and I sauté the vegetables before adding the liquid, this being a common way to make soup in the north of Italy. I also like to add stock instead of water, but when I cook this version it is no longer traditionally Sicilian.
I also found a version of a recipe for maccu (a very Sicilian soup) made in the Madonie which is very similar but uses wild fennel , dried broadbeans (soaked overnight and peeled) and no potato. The dried broadbeans add a very different taste and as they are floury, also thicken the soup as does the potato.
Time to write about Trieste again. Now and again I feel nostalgic for this city where I spent my childhood before coming to Australia.
Today is my son’s birthday and lately he has been cooking iota (he does not live in Melbourne), but he tells me that it is not as good as mine.
Iota is a very old traditional dish from Trieste. It is very strongly flavoured, thick soup and the main ingredients are borlotti beans, sauerkraut and smoked meats. It is not a light dish by any means, but very simple to make and most suited to cold weather. It is usually made at least 1 day before you plan to eat it – the flavours mature and improve with age.
This is not a dish that many would associate with Italy but if you look at the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia it is easier to understand why this recipe is very characteristic of the area around Trieste.
I was last in Trieste in December 2007 and visited an osteria in the old part of Trieste (la citta` vecchia – the port / waterfront, see photo) to specifically eat cucina triestina. When I told the signora that I was reliving the food of my childhood she could not do enough for me – I had iota, sepe in umido (braised cuttle fish) matavilz (lamb’s lettuce salad) and strucolo de pomi( apple strudel). White wine of course (characteristic of the area) and we finished off the meal with a good grappa. Nothing like Sicilian food, but enjoyable for different reasons – nostalgia has a lot to do with it.
I have seen iota written by a variety of spellings: iotta, jota, yota are all pronounced the same way. Some also refer to it as fasoi (beans) and capuzi garbi (sauerkraut).
In some nearby places close to Trieste turnips are sometimes used instead of saurkraut.
There are variations in the making of iota: some add smoked sausages (as I always do) some parsley, and some a little barley – the texture of barley is good.
I always buy my sausages from a Polish or German butcher. When I lived in Adelaide I used to go to the Polish stall at The Adelaide Market and now, at the Polish stall in the Queen Victoria Market. I also buy good quality saurkraut there.
Most Triestini add flour to thicken this one course meal, but I generally do not do this.
borlotti beans, 250g soaked overnight
potatoes, 250g, peeled and cubed
olive oil, ½ cup
ham hock or smoked ribs, shanks, 300-400g
pork, smoked sausages made from coarsely ground meat
garlic, 2 chopped
pepper and salt to taste
plain flour, 2 tablespoons
Place beans, salt pork, potatoes and bay leaves in large pot of cold water. Cover ingredients fully.
Simmer slowly (about 1 ½ hours). Add sausages about half way through the cooking.
Remove about half of the beans and potatoes and mash them. Add salt and pepper to taste and return them to the pan.
Add the saurkraut and cook for about 30 minutes longer (some Triestini cook them separately, but I see no point in doing this).
To thicken the soup, add the flour and garlic to the hot olive oil – use a separate small pan, stir vigorously and try not to have lumps. This is like making a French roux but using oil instead of butter. Some of the older Triestini use lard.
Happy birthday……. and I am sorry that I am not there to cook it for you.