Whenever I visit my relatives in Sicily they cannot do enough for me. They fuss and fuss over my well-being and happiness and like all Italians they are constantly preoccupied about food. For them, maintaining me in a blissful state has to include the constant preparation of food.
It is common for Italians in all parts of Italy to eat light cakes at breakfast and this light cake is a torta di mele (an apple cake). It was made by my cousin Franca who lives in Ragusa (in Sicily).
Cathedral in Ragusa in the photo below.
Franca made this in front of me and surprisingly on this occasion and for my benefit she weighed the ingredients (a bit of a rarity in an Italian/Sicilian kitchen where everything is done by estimation and touch, sight and smell.
The milk was not measured, but it was a splash, as she described.
When one encounters an Italian recipe for making cakes, listed as one of the ingredients is likely to be a proportion or a whole bustina of lievito. This is the leavening agent and each bustina (small envelope or packet) weighs 16g. In English lievito is translated as yeast, but the leavening agent in these packs is baking powder.
Italians use the same word (lievito) for yeast and baking powder – both are leavening agents but the way that they differentiate between the baking powder and dried yeast is that the packet of baking powder is likely to include a picture of a cake or/and include the phrase per dolci (for cakes). The bustina of dry yeast and will have a picture of bread or pizza on it or/and include per pane (for bread).
Fresh yeast is referred to as lievito fresco compresso (fresh compressed yeast) or lievitoindustrale (industrial) or lievito di birra (beer yeast).
The contents of each bustina di lievito is listed as being sufficient for 500g flour and for this cake Franca used a half of the packet.
Pears could also be used for this cake.
250 g plain flour
8 g baking powder
150 g sugar – divided into three parts
75 g butter (melted)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 apples (she used Delicious apples)
grated rind of 1 lemon
a pinch of salt
a little milk (she says, as much as it takes)
icing sugar to sprinkle on top.
Peel and cut one apple into small, thin pieces, add the lemon rind and about one third of the sugar and set aside.
Mix the eggs with another third of the sugar, add the butter and oil and beat well – Franca used a metal spoon. Gently fold in the flour, baking powder, salt and a little milk to make a stiff batter. Fold in the pieces of apple.
Slice the other apple into thin slices – leave the peel, cut the apple in half, then into quarters and then into slices.
Pour the batter into a buttered baking pan (in Australia I use a spring back tin covered with buttered parchment paper). Place the apple slices in a radial pattern on the batter and sprinkle with the rest of the sugar.
Bake at 180C for 25 minutes and at 150C for about 20 minutes or so.
Remove from oven and let the cake cool in the pan, then sprinkle with a little icing sugar.
This is Franco the miller who mills cereali a pietra – in other words he produces stone-ground flour from high quality wheat. He and his partner have an old water mill and they are experimenting with reviving old strains of wheat – so far so good! And there are farmers who are growing the old grains and buyers who are supporting it. Many of them are restaurateurs who are making pasta and bread in their restaurants.
The area of Sicily where this is happening is Chiaramonte Gulfi– I am so impressed and interested in what is happening in this south-eastern part of Sicily (see post about Massimiliano the Butcher).
The grain smelt wonderful and watching the stones grinding and the sifting process was an amazing experience. The flour needs to be kept in cool conditions or used quickly as it does not have any additives or bleaches, the germ of the wheat is maintained in the milling – flour that is good for us in other words.
Franco does not waste the by-products. The bran is sold as animal fodder and he has customers and supporters who are interested in using the finer bran in baking. We sampled some bran biscuits produced by one of his followers.
There was another reason why I was interested in this mill and that is that my grandparents in Ragusa used to have an old water mill down by the river at the bottom of Ragusa Ibla. It no longer functioned as a mill and they used it as their get-away from the city, especially in the summer months, and grew their herbs and vegetables there. Being a regular visitor to Ragusa as a child I loved the mill (we travelled from Trieste and visited my grandparents each summer for two months each year).
I bought some of Franco’s flour home to my aunt, Zia Niluzza, who lives in Ragusa and still makes pasta by hand on special occasions. My visit this time was the special occasion and she produced her exceptionally good, traditional ricotta ravioli that are a specialty of this area of Sicily.
The ravioli di ricotta from Ragusa are usually served with a strong sugo (meat and a tomato-based sauce), which here is made with pork meat and pork sausages and tomato pasta. In Ragusa they add a little sugar (1 teaspoon per cup of ricotta; other local variations include a little orange peel or finely cut marjoram.
My aunt also made her special gnochetti.Rather than eating one kind of pasta at a time, we piled both ravioli and pasta into the one plate and helped ourselves to more sugo – but I noticed that she now uses less pork and I did not detect any pork rind in it. This is also a common additive in this part of Sicily. We are all health conscious these days.
For the ravioli you will need fresh pasta sheets and strong sugo made with meat tomatoes and tomato paste.
For the filling:
Drain the ricotta
Place it in a colander lined with cheesecloth and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Mix the ricotta with a little salt and some sugar (1 cup of ricotta- 1 teaspoon of sugar).
Make the ravioli:
The most authentic and quickest way to cut the ravioli is by hand. There is no
prescribed size – they can be either round or square (about 7cm/3in across)
or half-moon shaped (a 9cm/4in circle folded over).
To make individual ravioli, cut pasta into circles or squares. Place heaped
teaspoons of stuffing in the centre of each, continuing until all the stuffing
is used. For half-moon shapes fold the pasta over the filling. For others, lay
another circle or square on top, then moisten the edges with a little water and
press together carefully to seal properly (press hard on the edges and spread
the pasta to a single thickness, so they cook evenly).
Set the finished ravioli on a lightly floured cloth. They can rest in a cool
place for up two hours.
To make more than one raviolo at a time:
Cut the pasta into long rectangular strips about 9cm wide. Place heaped
teaspoons of stuffing about 5 cm apart (beginning about 2cm/.in from the
margin of the sheet). Cover with another strip of pasta of the same size.
Cut each raviolo free with a knife or serrated pasta wheel. Repeat the
process, until all the pasta and the stuffing is used up.
Cook ravioli as you would any pasta. Lower them into the water a few at a
time and scoop each out when it floats to the surface.
Dress them carefully with the sauce so as not to break.
This is Massimiliano Castro the best butcher in Sicily. I visited him in his butcher shop in Chiaramonte Gulfi in the province of Ragusa. As you can see he is quite famous. And his praise is well deserved.
I sampled and bought small pieces of his different salami and salamini (small salami). Some are flavoured with Sicilian pistachio from Bronte or carob or wild fennel from the local area. Most were made with the prized meat of the black pigs from the forests of the Nebrodi Mountains. Their meat is of extremely high quality. The wild breed is diminishing but with the help of the Slow Food Presidium this indigenous breed and the products obtained from this pig is being preserved. Massimiliano sources his pigs from farmers who are breeding them on organic farms.
He is also making some with asina meat (female donkey). Do not be alarmed, donkey meat was eaten in most parts of Italy once and was also used in smallgoods. These donkeys are native in the region of Ragusa and were once used to carry sacks and bundles and were eaten once the animal was too old. Now they are bred exclusively for their meat. Just as there is a renewed interest in the native Nebrodi black pig the Slow Food Ark of Taste is also helping to preserve indigenous breeds of donkeys all over Italy and the products obtained from their meat. The donkeys are being bred in limited numbers on special farms.
Massimiliano vacuumed packed all of the bits I bought as gifts for my relatives in Ragusa. He does this for customers who order his smallgoods from other parts of Italy as well as overseas buyers. I also bought some Gelatinarenowned in this Southeast are of Sicily. I have written about this previously.
His reputation is certainly growing and he has been invited to conduct a smallgoods making workshop in Australia in the near future.
The visit to his butcher shop was kindly arranged by Roberta Carradin and Antonio Cicero who live on the outskirts of Chiaramonte have a restaurant called Il Cosiglio Di Sicilia in Donnalucata. They invited me to visit Massimiliano because they know I’m interested in the quality artisan produce that has developed in this area of Sicily, which has growing reputation for excellent artisan produce.
Roberta and Antonio bought the meat from Massimiliano’s butcher shop and we sampled the donkey meat which was tasty and maybe could be described as tasting of veal or young beef.
Jann Huizenga wrote about our fabulous lunch on her blog called Baroque Sicily.
The menu at Robert’s and Antonio’s restaurant features fish freshly caught by the local fishermen off the coast around the small and very attractive fishing village of Donnalucata in Southeast Sicily and dishes of smallgoods and meat from Massimiliano.
Thank you Jann for introducing me to such lovely friends, each one so passionate about Sicily and its produce.
There are so many wonderful things happening in Sicily and each one of you – a photographer, a butcher, a chef and a food critic, all contributing to preserving, developing and celebrating the culinary wealth of Southeastern part of Sicily.
The Sicilians from the southeastern corner of Sicily, especially from Ragusa, eat a lot of pork. One of their signature dishes is ravioli di ricotta al sugo di maiale. These are ravioli stuffed with slightly sweetened ricotta and dressed in a strongly flavoured, slow cooked, tomato ragù (ragout) made with pork meat, which includes some pork skins.
Another dish my relatives in Ragusa make are causuneddi, which is aSicilian word with no Italian or English translation. Causuneddi are gnocchi-shaped pasta cooked with what Sicilians call broccoli which are, in fact, young kohlrabi complete with leaves. Strips of pork skin are added for flavour. My aunt Niluzza is a champion at making both of these.
Pork sausages are added to sugo (a meat tomato sauce used to dress pasta), eaten fried or grilled. I have included a photo taken when I was last in Ragusa of a length of coiled pork sausage being cooked on a rustic grill – the Sicilian version of a BBQ – in fact, an Italian BBQ. No fancy BBQs for Italians. The length of sausage has no links and it can also be cooked in a frypan. Done this way the sausage is poached in a little water, without a lid. When the water evaporates the coiled sausage begins to brown in its own fat.
This is another version of braciole di maiale, except that these are stuffed.
The braciole (see previous post) are farcite or imbottite (word for ‘stuffed’) mainly with a mixture of pork liver and pork sausages. You would have to ask your butcher to supply you with double pork chops with a slit in between them (as if you were cutting them into two chops) and then you can go home and stuff them.
My younger relatives (daughters of my cousins) would not dream of making them at home, they have a favourite butcher and he madethese braciole for them. It was a different story for their mothers.
pork braciole, (chops) 6 double
minced pork, 100g
pork liver, 100g, chopped finely
sausages, 100g, pork preferably made with fennel
pork salame, 100g, cut into very small pieces
fennel seeds, ½ teaspoon, crushed
white or red wine, 1 ½ cups
water or stock, 1 ½ cups
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
salt, and freshly ground pepper, to taste
onion, 1, chopped
Mix liver, sausages (without skins) minced pork, salame, pepper, fennel seeds and a little red wine.
Stuff each double chop with some of this mixture.
Close the chops by sewing the edges.
Softened the onion in the oil, add the chops and sprinkle with the wine and water (or broth). Braise the chops (with lid) for about 30- 40 mins over low heat until cooked. You may need to add more water/wine – do not let them dry out.
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Those of you who have been to Ragusa Ibla will recognize these shots. The baroque church is that of San Giuseppe, a much loved saint in Sicily (not as much loved as San Giorgio who is the patron saint of Ragusa and has a church which is much larger Duomo- cuppola in photo above- more beautiful and not far from this one).
March 19 is the Feast of San Giuseppe (Saint Joseph), which in the Northern hemisphere coincides with the spring solstice. This feast day is a major religious celebration in Sicily.
San Giuseppe is the patron saint of pastry cooks and among the many celebratory dishes are special breads shaped in varying shapes and sizes. On this day pulses are also eaten in many parts of Sicily; some of you may be familiar with maccu made with dried fava beans, which is especially common in southeastern Sicily. Several of these present day traditions have developed from very ancient origins – both legumes and wheat are considered to be seeds of life and are metaphorical foods from pre-Christian times.
In many parts of Sicily there are banquets to celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph, which coincides with the end of Lent, a period of fasting in the Catholic liturgy. But it is also a celebration of the end of the fast imposed by nature – this was more so before the days of fast travel and transport or refrigeration when the provisions kept from summer over winter were depleted by this time of the year.
In some communities especially in small villages large altars and tables are built and filled with large quantities of local cuisine: fish dishes, cooked vegetables, breads, many sweets, but no meat is prepared. Once, in many Sicilian towns and villages the food was also shared with the poor.
One of the recipes cooked on this day are the Sfinci di San Giuseppe. The translation to fritters doesnot necessarily sound very appealing, but maybe if I tell you that they are made from the same dough used to make Pâté à Choux or Bigné or creampuffs, you may be more enticed. They are fried rather than baked.
If you have ever made cream puffs you would know that the dough is cooked before being baked. For making the sfinci a little sugar is added to the mixture.
There are many recipes to make Choux Pastry and the following recipe works pretty well:
eggs, 4 large
water,1 cup (230 cc)
unsalted butter, 4 tablespoons (55 g)
salt, a good pinch
plain flour, 1 cup (140 g)
sugar, 1 tablespoon
oil, to fry the batter (I use extra virgin olive oil for everything- but not my best olive oil which I use to dribble on hot food or salads)
Place water, salt and sugar in a saucepan (large enough to hold all of the ingredients) and bring the water to a boil. Add the butter.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the flour all at once. Beat the mixture immediately with a wooden spoon and work quickly. Stir till the dough is smooth – the flour and water will form a ball and no longer stick to the sides of pan. Allow the dough to cool for about 10-15 minutes, but stir it often to allow the steam to escape and to cool at a greater rate.
Add eggs one at a time, stirring each egg completely into the dough before adding the next. (The dough should be pliable but not be runny).
Heat some oil to frying temperature – there should be sufficient oil to nearly cover the level tablespoonfuls of dough, which will be dropped into it.
Fry only a few at the time or the sfinci will broil rather than fry. Turn each sfinci once or twice until they are golden brown and have swelled in size.
Some Sicilians eat them warm and coat the sfinci with honey, others use a sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon.
Some allow them to cool, split them open and fill them with pastry cream or with whipped ricotta flavoured with a little sugar and cinnamon. In some parts of Sicily they are called Zeppole.
If you have watched the Inspector Moltabano television series, you will recognize the building that was used as the police station; it is in Ragusa Ibla. To the right of the building you can see the corner of the Chiesa di San Giuseppe (church of). Some of my male Sicilian relatives are posing for the photo. They live in Ragusa.
In Sicily, spring is the celebration of life, which in cultural and religious terms is expressed in Easter; Primavera (Spring) and Pasqua (Easter) are synonymous – a fusion of nature, culture, family and food.
When it is spring in Australia, it is autumn in Sicily. but we seem to be able to buy goat in Australia during both seasons.
A popular spring meat and Easter Sunday lunch treat is kid or lamb, commonly roasted or braised, and all depending on how one’s mother cooked it.
My relatives in Ragusa traditionally eat ‘mpanata ri agnieddu – a focaccia typepie made withvery young lamb (complete with bones) and enveloped with a bread dough crust, and this is because it is what my grandmother made at Easter and probably her mother before her.
In Australia the meat I buy is likely be considered as goat in Italy.
The kid recipe I have chosen to write about is a variation of capretto con le mandorle (kid with almonds), a recipe from the north western area of Sicily which includes Trapani, Marsala and Mazara del Vallo.
It is from the book La Cucina Tradizionale Siciliana by Anna Pomar, published in 1984. The book was given to me by Rosetta my cousin on one of the many occasions when I visited her home in Ragusa – this was her own copy and has her annotations all over it…. a bit like the books I inherited from my mother.
I love the texture that the almonds provide in the thickening of this dish.
I always like to make recipes my own and modify them to my tastes.
To this recipe I added more onions, bay leaves, stock rather than water and dry Marsala. Is it still the same recipe?
3k kid/goat, the younger the better, compete with some bones,
2 onions, finely sliced,
3-4 bay leaves,
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil,
½ cup Marsala Fina (dry version, if not substitute with white wine)
3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped (or cannned)
300g almonds, blanched and ground to powder,
broth/ stock or stock cube and water (approx. 3 cups of liquid)
salt and pepper to taste
Cut the goat into medium sized pieces (so that you have to use a knife and fork to cut it on your plate). Trim off access fat and wipe the meat dry.
Heat the oil, add the goat and the onion and brown it lightly.
Add the Marsala and deglaze the contents in the pan.
Add the tomatoes, herbs, broth and seasoning.
Cover and cook on low heat and until meat pulls off the bone. Pomar’s recipe suggests cooking it for 45 minutes, my goat (rather than kid) can take up to 2 hours of cooking.
Add the almond meal and reheat gently. If the sauce is too dense, add a little more broth.
Although Sicilians and Italians tend to eat their food lukewarm, the recipe states to eat it hot.
On the 5t of July they celebrated their first birthday and their new menu strongly influenced by their recent discoveries of different recipes experienced while in Sicily.
Anthony is the bar person and after discussing the wine with him we selected a bottle of ROSSOJBLEO, a bio-organic, Sicilian Nero d’Avola from Chiaramonte Gulfi (Ragusa). My partner and I then ate our way through many very enjoyable Sicilian specialties. These included:
Hot ricotta soup with home made pasta. Ricotta is very much appreciated by Sicilians especially when it has just been made. Particularly in Ragusa and the environs people visit cheese makers (sometimes on farms) and watch the ricotta being made. Ladles of hot, fresh curds and whey are usually poured on broken pieces of bread and eaten like soup. See earlier post:
Gelatina di maiale(brawn, made with pork- see recipe and photos below) and some affettati (a selection of cold cuts of salumi). An eggplant caponata was also included in this antipasto. (See recipe CAPONATA SICILIANA).
Farsumagru (il falsomagro is a beef, meat roll stuffed with hard boiled egg and can include cheeses , salamini and mortadella). It is braised in a tomato sauce and presented sliced. In this case it was made with minced beef and Alfredo’s version included a little zucchini for colour and variety of textures. Farsumagru translates into false–lean. It contains delectable ingredients including meat, so this is a pun on ‘lenten’ food – during the liturgical seasons Catholics were required to eat simple food and to abstain from eating meat. These laws have relaxed over time.
The farsumagru was accompanied by a warm potato salad with capers and comichons, and a fennel and orange salad with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.
We then had a glass of Malvasia a very rich flavoured dessert wine made by drying Malvasia grapes (bianche– white variety) before crushing. It was an excellent accompaniment to the small fried pastries called cassateddi. There are many local variations to this recipe, and in this version the dough was stuffed with ricotta, cinnamon, and honey. I could taste some alcohol too. (Honey is used instead of sugar in the Ragusa area).
Thank you Bar Idda, for a very enjoyable meal. Auguri e complimenti and may there be many years to come.
Recipe and photo of the Gelatina I make
Gelatina (means gelatine or jellied). It is sold as a Smallgoods food.
In various parts of Sicily the gelatina di maiale is called by a variety of names: jlatina di maiali, Suzu, suzzu, or zuzu.
I found a recipe for gelatina scribbled in one of many notebooks which I use to record recipes when I visit Italy. In this particular notebook from 1980, there are many Sicilian recipes, but on this particular trip I must have visited the relatives in Genova (a Piedmontese aunt married to my father’s brother and living in Genova and her daughter Rosadele who is an excellent cook also). There were also some recipes written in Trieste (my zia Renata was from Rovigo and married my mother’s brother).
I have not made gelatina di maialefor many years but I have always included a half of a pork’s head – this provides the jelly component. The tongue adds texture and extra flavour (you can throw out the eyes).
It is always a good idea to pre-order a pork’s head beforehand and I was not able to purchase one. I used pork feet instead (as you can see by this photo) and fortunately it turned out very well. In this gelatina I included approx 1.500 kilo of lean pork (cut into large pieces) and four pig’s feet.
INGREDIENTS AND PROCESSES
The recipe is one of my zia Niluzza’s who lives in Ragusa (Sicily) and it simply says:
1 part vinegar to 3 parts of water, red chilli flakes or whole pepper corns and salt. Use a mixed selection of pork meat, including the head.
Place in cold water mixture, cover meat.
Boil for 6 hours (covered) on slow heat.
Filter broth, remove some of the fat and reduce, remove bones, shred meat.
Lay meat in earthenware bowl, cover with cooled broth and leave to set.
Over time, I have altered the recipe and include bay leaves and peppercorns and I boil the pork without the vinegar only for about 3 hours (until I can see the meat falling off the bones).
Once it is cooked, I leave it to rest overnight.
The next day I remove the meat from the jelly, I add ½ cup of vinegar and the juice of a couple of lemons to the broth and reduce the liquid down to a third of the original amount.
I shred the meat and place it into a terrine and cover it with the cooled reduced stock. Any fat will rise to the surface and can be scraped off when it is cool (in fact, it acts as a seal).
Corrado lives in Ragusa and he tells me that it is the Feast of San Giorgio (the patron saint of Ragusa). There are always large festivities for this yearly event celebrated in Ragusa Ibla on the last Sunday in May and Corrado and Barbara (his wife) are going there to take part of the celebrations.
‘Oggi qui a ibla c’è la festa di San Giorgio, e questa sera scenderò a ibla con la mia vespa e con Barbara. La serata è calda è quasi estate…….”
There is no need for me to describe this event because I found a fabulous little film on YouTube (check link). Watching it, reminded me that I had some old photos that were given to me by my brother. One shows the main square of Ibla in celebration mode, and the other is of the statue of San Giorgio; it is kept in the church, but paraded every year in the small streets of Ibla.
‘……non ti saprei dire cosa si mangia in queste occasioni,’
Naturally I am always interested in the food, but Corrado disappointed me by telling me that he is not able to tell me what is eaten on these occasions. And this too reminds me that for a long time I have wanted to write about coniglio a partuisa, a very common way to cook rabbit in this south-eastern part of Sicily. Coniglio alla stemperata is also a local recipe and I will write about this at another time.
The foto of the cooked rabbit was taken In Zia Niluzza’s kitchen the last time I was in Sicily. Unfortunately the foto does not do it justice; the taste of the rabbit is exceptionally good. As you can see it is cooked in a heavy frypan to allow the juices to evaporate and caramelize.
If it is a wild rabbit, to remove the wild taste it is usually soaked in water and vinegar for at least an hour before it is cooked. This will also bleach the flesh.
To make it more visually appealing, I add fresh mint at the time I present it to the table.
1 rabbit cut into smallish pieces, ½ cup green olives, ½ cup capers, 4 cloves garlic, a few sprigs of mint leaves, 3 bay leaves, 1 glass of red wine mixed with ½ cup of red wine vinegar, ½ cup extra virgin oil, salt and pepper to taste. Extra mint leaves for decoration.
PROCESSES:In a large frying pan sauté the rabbit in the hot extra virgin olive oil until golden. Add the seasoning, the olives, garlic, capers and mint.
Reduce the heat, and add the mixture of wine and vinegar gradually while the rabbit is cooking.
If it is a tender rabbit and if it is cut into small enough pieces, the rabbit may be cooked by the time all of the liquid has evaporated. If the rabbit is not as young or as tender as you had hoped, and you feel that it needs to be cooked for longer (this has always been my experience), add a little water, cover with a lid and simmer it gently until it is soft – keep on adding the wine and vinegar. Remove the lid and evaporate the juices. Ensure that the rabbit is that deep golden brown colour when you serve it.
Decorate with fresh mint (for appearance and taste).