Green lipped mussels kept fresh and alive under jets of sea water
I have just returned from a two week stay in the North Island of New Zealand where there seemed to be a public awareness about sustainable fish and sustainable fishing and farming practices. Seafood seemed plentiful and well priced and I found fish sellers that clearly state their support for sustainable fish species and how they only procure stocks from sustainable resources. There was even information on restaurant menus such as line caught snapper, or this fish was farmed in a sustainable way.
During my stay I ate many varieties of fish that I had not eaten before – I loved it all.
Green lipped mussels (such as the ones in the photo from The Fish Market in Auckland) were around $3.50 per kilo; I did not spot any on restaurant menus, but maybe this is because they mussels are so common. While I was in New Zealand I stayed in serviced apartments (not that I did much cooking), and on one occasion I bought some and steamed them lightly (just enough to open them) and enjoyed them with some lemon juice.
Green lipped mussel farming in New Zealand is sustainable; the government conducts research and careful monitoring into selective breeding, farming and harvesting methods.
A good way to eat mussels (any type) is with rice. Saffron is used in Sicilian cooking and in this recipe, the rice is simmered in fish stock – the more traditional and older way to cook risotto in Sicily.
rice, 2 cups of aborio or vialone
fish stock, 6-7 cups
saffron threads, ½-1 small teaspoon
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
garlic cloves, 2 chopped finely
mussels, 2 k,
wine, ½ cup, dry white
parsley, ½ cup chopped finely
Clean the mussels by rubbing them against each other in cold water(or use a plastic scourer). Pull the beards sharply towards the pointy end of the shell.
Heat the oil in a large pan (which can be used to cook both the mussels and the rice), add the garlic and soften.
Add the mussels and the parsley, toss them around in the hot pan, add a splash of wine, cover and cook until they open (about 4-6 minutes). Do not discard any mussels that don’t open – they just need more cooking.
Remove the mussels from the saucepan. Take out half of the mussels from their shells – the mussels with their shells will be used for decoration on top of the rice.
Add about 5 cups of the fish stock and saffron to the same pan and when it reaches boiling point add the rice.
Bring to the boil, cover and simmer over moderate heat, stirring now and again to ensure that the rice does not stick and the stock has been absorbed.
Taste the rice and season with salt if necessary. Add more stock or wine if needed – the rice is done when it’s al dente – just tender, but resistance can still be felt when you bite into it. (The rice will continue to soften).
Stir into the rice the shelled mussels. Place the mussels with the shells on top of the hot rice or gently fold them through the top layer of the hot rice (Italians are never fussy about eating food which is not piping hot).
Leave to rest for a few minutes for the flavours to meld before serving (the rice will also continue to cook and soften slightly).
Sustainable fish display in Auckland Fish Market
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Fans of the television series Montalbano (was a big, hit in Italy and Australia) are likely to be enchanted with the beauty of the Sicilian landscape and the array of specialty Sicilian food featured in the series.
Commissario Salvo Montalbano is a police commissioner and he lives in the south-east of Sicily, near Marina di Ragusa where my relatives have their holiday houses. Montalbano’s beach house is in Punta Secca is a small fishing village, in the Santa Croce Camerina comune, in Ragusa province, Sicily.
Andrea Camilleri is the writer of the crime stories and the books abound with delicious Sicilian food references.
Montalbano is an extremely appealing character who loves to eat. He savours his food, relishing all that is prepared for him with appreciation and gratitude. He readily accepts invitations to the homes of others and has his favourite trattorie (small restaurants). Montalbano is a detective who uses food to cheer himself up, plan his next moves and to weigh up the evidence. In the evenings he anticipates what Adelina (his housekeeper and cook) has left for him to eat and he hates to be interrupted over his dinner, but the phone often rings. He often seems to be thinking of what he will eat next or what he has eaten and in the books, Camilleri describes almost every dish Montalbano eats. And every dish is traditionally Sicilian.
On my last trip to Sicily, I ate in a couple of trattorie in Palermo where Camilleri and his friend Leonardo Sciascia (Sicilian writer) have been frequent patrons. One of Camilleri’s favourite dishes must be pasta or rice with black ink sauce – there are references made in a number of the books in the Montalbano series. In Siracusa I ate ricotta ravioli with black ink sauce.
Camilleri lives and works in Rome but spent a great number of years in Sicily before he moved north. He was born in Porto Empedocle, which is not far from Ragusa, and although Camilleri has given the places in Sicily fictitious names, the locations are recognisable. For example the scenes in Montalbano’s beautiful house overlooking the sea in Marinella near the fictional town of Vigàta is really of Punta Secca in Porto Empedocle (see photo). Fiacca is Sciacca, Fela is Gela, and Montelusa is Agrigento. The police station is a building in Ragusa Ibla and all of these towns are close to Ragusa, where my relatives live. The trattorie and restaurants in these south-eastern part of Sicily where the series were shot, have capitalised on this – a traveller visiting this part of Sicily can always sit down to eat pasta (or rice – risu) cu niuru di sicci.
This is how I cook it.
pasta, 500 g (spaghetti, linguine or bucatini)
squid or cuttlefish, 600g, and 2-3 ink sacks
ripe tomatoes, 300g, peeled and chopped
tomato paste, 1 large tablespoon
salt (a little) and, chili flakes or freshly ground black pepper to taste
onion, 1 medium or/and garlic 2 cloves
white wine, 1 cup
parsley, 1 cup finely cut
grated pecorino or ricotta to serve (optional)
Clean the squid carefully and extract the ink sac (see pg…). Cut the squid into 1cm rings and set them aside. The tentacles can be used also.
For the salsa:
Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil. Addthe tomatoes, chopped parsley, salt, white wine and tomato paste. Bring to a boil and evaporate until the salsa is thick.
Add the squid ink, red pepper flakes to the salsa and mix well.
Add the squid rings and cook over a medium-high heat until the squid is cooked to your liking (for me it is only a few minutes). If you prefer to cook the squid further (as the Italians do), add a little water, cover the pan and braise for longer.
Present the pasta with grated pecorino (or topped with a little ricotta – you do not want to end up with grey ricotta, so do not mix through).
Although Sicily is relatively small, the food is very local and there are always regional variations:
Keep the squid white – sauté it in a little oil for a few minutes (add a 1 chopped clove of garlic and 1-2 tablespoons of finely cut parsley). Fold it through the dressed pasta gently and reserve some for on top.
·Add 1 cup of shelled peas at the same time as the tomatoes.
·Add bay leaves at the same time as the squid.
·Reserve some of the salsa and present the black pasta with a spoon of salsa and a spoon of ricotta on top.
Photos of Ravioli and Pasta are by Graeme Gilles, stylist Fiona Rigg, from my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking.
Today in Venice, Venetians are celebrating the feast day of their patron saint (25 April, the date of the death of San Marco).
Risi e bisi the classic Venetian dish was traditionally offered to the Doge (do not know which one) on April 25, the feast of Saint Mark. This is not surprising, it is spring in the northern hemisphere and peas are one of the symbols of the season.
It is a public holiday in Venice and all sorts of events take place.
Although Venetians celebrate his feast day they also celebrate Liberation Day (liberation from the Nazis at the end of 2nd World War) and Festa del Bòcolo (is a rose bud) and it is customary for all women, not just lovers, to be presented with a bud. The very old legend concerns the daughter of Doge Orso Partecipazio, who was besotted with a handsome man, but the Doge did not approve and arranged for the object of her desire to fight the Turks on distant shores. The loved one was mortally wounded in battle near a rose bush. There he plucked a rose, tinged with his heroic blood and asked for it to be given to his beloved in Venice.
I grew up in Trieste (not far from Venice and in the same region of Italy) and risi e bisi is a staple, traditional dish.
The traditional way of cooking it does not include prosciutto but prosciutto cotto, what we call ham in Australia. Poor tasting ingredients will give a poor result; use a good quality smoked ham. As an alternative some cooks in Trieste use speck, a common ingredient in the region (it tastes more like pancetta). Some of the older Triestini use lard and only a little oil.
My mother also added a little white wine to the soffritto of onion and the ham, but this also would have been a modern addition. The butter is added last of all for taste. Use parmigiano – parmigiano is the cheese used in the north of Italy, pecorino in the south.
The secret is in using good produce, preferably organic, young and freshly picked peas (for their delicate taste) and a good stock.
My mother made chicken stock. If she had no stock, she used good quality broth cubes- very common in Northern Italian cooking. Use as much as needed.
peas (young, fresh), 1 kilo unshelled rice, 300g vialone nano preferably, ham, cubed 50-70g, onion,1 finely cut (I like to use spring onions as well) parmigiano (Reggiano), grated 50g extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup dry white wine, ½ glass (optional), parsley, finely cut, ½ cup butter, 2 tablespoons salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste PROCESSES Shell the peas. Heat the olive oil, add ham and onion and over medium-low heat soften the ingredients. Do not brown. Add the shelled peas, parsley and when they are covered in oil, add very little stock (to soften the peas), cover and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the rice, and stir, add the wine (optional) and evaporate. Keep on adding the hot stock, stirring the rice and adding more stock as it is absorbed. End up with a wet dish (almost soupy and all’onda as Italians say) and with the rice al dente. In fact, the dish should rest for about 5 minutes before it is served so take this into consideration (the rice will keep on cooking and absorb the stock).Addparmesan and butter, stir and serve.
A rice pudding is something I have always associated with English cooking – the very simple type of rice pudding my English mother-in law used to make with milk, a little rice, sugar and butter, topped with a sprinkling of cinnamon and then baked in a slow oven. But there are variations to this recipe even in England and not surprisingly there are rice pudding-type desserts made all over the world using either long grain, short grain or black rice, and cooked on the stove, or baked, or wrapped in leaves and steamed. Some eat them hot, others cold.
And even Sicilians have rice puddings, made like a rice custard – the rice is cooked in sweetened milk on the stove top and delicately flavoured with a cinnamon stick, almonds and candied fruit. Only the modern recipes include eggs, cream or butter, these probably used to enrich pasteurised milk. It is served cold. This particular Sicilian recipe has chocolate in it and in most references it is simply called Risu niru (Riso nero in Italian – Black rice). The flavours and origins of this particular Sicilian rice pudding are likely to be Arabic; they bought the more complex sweets and ingredients to Sicily – the cinnamon, sugar, and the rice, which they traded from Asia, the dried or candied fruits and more complex recipes that made greater use of almonds and pistachios. The Spaniards introduced chocolate much later to Sicily.
The type of rice used in the recipes is not specified, but in Italy originorio rice is the standard type with short, round grains and a pearly appearance, and similar to the short grain calrose rice.
This chocolate rice pudding is in honour of the Black Madonna of Tindari (on the north east coast of Sicily). Tindari’s history is one long cycle of conquest and colonisation. It was one of the last Greek colonies in Sicily; founded by the Syracusans in 396 B.C. Tindari also prospered under the Romans and became a diocese during the early Christian period before been captured by the Arabs.
There are many fascinating legends and miracles attributed to the wooden statue of the Black Madonna housed in Tindari. It is thought that the statue came from the Christian east, around the late 8th or early 9th Century. It could have been smuggled out of Constantinople during the period of Iconoclasm (which literally means image breaking – the destruction of images for religious or political reasons). In the Byzantine world, the production and use of figurative images, particularly in Constantinople and Nicea were banned. Existing icons were destroyed or plastered over and very few early Byzantine icons survived the Iconoclastic period.
One of the legends tells how a storm forced the ship carrying the smuggled statue of the Black Madonna into the port of Tindari. When the storm abated and the sailors tried to leave, they found that the ship would not move. They realised that it was the Madonna that was preventing them and so they off-loaded the statue in a casket. Local sailors found the Black Madonna and took her to the tallest spot in Tindari and there they built a sanctuary (rebuilt on a number of occasions). The sanctuary houses the statue and is richly decorated with mosaics. It has miraculously withstood the raids by pirates and invading armies – no doubt due to the defending, dark-skinned Mary. She is also credited with having protected believers from such afflictions as earthquakes and pestilence.
At the base of the statue is the Latin inscription: Nigra sum sed formos (I am black but beautiful) and riso nero is cooked and eaten in her honour – the chocolate is her dark, luscious skin, the almonds and fruit represent the stars in her gown and the coloured stones of the mosaics. Cocoa is used in the older recipes. In the more modern versions dark chocolate is added and melts in the rice custard.
The pudding is prepared in two stages, the basic rice cream is cooked and cooled before the other ingredients are added and shaped into a pudding.
INGREDIENTS (for the rice cream)
full cream milk, 9-10 cups (I like to use organic, unpasturised milk when I can get it. Modern versions of this dish replace one cup of milk with cream)
short grain rice, 1 ½ cups a little
salt, a little
white sugar, 1 cup
cinnamon sticks, 2
lemon peel, large strips from 1 lemon.
sugar, ½ cup
bitter cocoa, ¾ cup of (mixed together with a little milk) or 250 g block of good quality, dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
almonds, 1½ cups of (blanched, toasted and chopped)
candied or glace fruit, 1 cup – a mixture of chopped orange, lemon and/or citron, but save some of the nuts and fruit to decorate the top.
Pour 8 cups of milk and all of the ingredients for cooking the rice into a large (heavy bottom) saucepan and mix gently. Because rice has different absorption rates you may need to add the extra cup of milk as you cook it.
Simmer the contents gently and stir frequently until creamy and add the extra milk as you cook it if necessary.
Remove from the heat and take out the lemon peel (could taste bitter if it is left) and the cinnamon sticks. Cool slightly before adding cocoa and sugaror dark chocolate. Mix thoroughly.
Add some almonds and fruit, but save some to decorate the top.
Traditionally the pudding isshaped into a mound on a plate. Decorate the pudding with the almonds and candied fruit before serving.
A Sicilian prayer
Beddra ‘n terra, beddra ‘n celu, beddra siti ‘n paradisu; beddru assai, è lu Vostru visu.
Bella in terra, bella in cielo, bella sei in paradiso; molto bello e il Vostro viso
Beautiful on earth, beautiful in the sky, beautiful you are in paradise; very beautiful is your face.
Black Madonnas are found in various parts of the world. This photo below is de Nuestra Señora del Sagrario in the Cathedral of Toledo. She is beautiful.