Breadcrumbs are called Pangrattato (grated bread) in Italian.
Mollica is the soft part of the bread with crusts removed but in the culinary world both pangrattato and mollica have acquired new significances and have been enhanced. Both refer to breadcrumbs lightly toasted in in olive oil, herbs and seasonings and variations include anything from garlic, red pepper flakes, pine nuts, anchovies, lemon zest , cinnamon or nutmeg, salt and a little sugar.
Mollica or pangrattato adds texture, fragrance and complex flavours and is usually used as a stuffing or topping, especially for pasta in Calabria, Puglia and Sicily. For example, Pasta con le Sarde and Sarde a Beccafico are two Sicilian recipes that use enhanced breadcrumbs:
When I make pangrattato I store left overs in a jar in my fridge and use it to enhance other dishes: this time I used it to stuff fennel. For moisture and extra flavour I added a little ricotta and a little grated cheese – pecorino or parmigiano.
Cut the stems off the fennel and remove the toughest and usually damaged outer leaves Cut the fennel into quarters.
Cook the fennel in salted water, bay leaves salt and lemon juice for about 10 minutes until it is slightly softened. Remove it from the liquid and cool.
Make the filling: Work the ricotta in a bowl with a fork, mix in the pangrattato and grated cheese.
Prise open the leaves of the fennel and stuff with the pangrattato stuffing.
Place the quarters into a baking bowl that allows them to stay compact and upright (like when you are cooking stuffed artichokes).
Drizzle olive oil on top (or a little butter) and bake at 180 – 190°C for about 15 minutes
Time and time again I get asked about what I recommend as must-try dishes when in in Sicily.
You may be familiar with the websites for Great British Chefs (leading source of professional chef recipes in the UK) and their second sister website – Great Italian Chefs – dedicated to celebrating the wonderful food culture, traditions and innovations of Italy’s greatest chefs.
As their website informs us:
The Italians themselves are fiercely passionate about their culinary heritage, and with good reason – a large number of the world’s best dishes come from the cities, fields and shores of this deeply cultural, historic country.
Today, Sicily is one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations, and it’s the food that keeps people coming back year after year.
From Great Italian Chefs comes 10 must-try dishes when you’re in Sicily(29 September 2017).
There are really 11 dishes listed altogether as it is assumed that you already know about Arancini.
The Sicilian specialties are:
Raw red prawns
Busiate al pesto trapanese
Pasta con le sarde
Pasta alla norma
Cous cous di pesce
Involtini di pesce spada
You will find almost all of the recipes for these dishes in my blog and I have added links and some photos to the recipes in this post below. Some of the photos are from my first book Sicilian Seafood Cooking. I cooked the food, the food stylist was Fiona Rigg, Graeme Gillies was the food photographer.
Although I have no recipes on my blog for Fritto misto, Raw red prawns and Involtini di pesce spada, I have explained each of these these Sicilian specialties and where appropriate I have links to similar recipes on my blog.
Many of you may be familiar with Fritto misto (a mixed dish of mixed fried things: fritto = fried, misto = mixed) and know that it can apply to vegetables, fish or meat. These are cut into manageable size, are dusted in flour, deep fried and served plainly with just cut lemon.
The Fritto misto I knew as a child was what we ordered in restaurants and was the one that originated from Turin (Piedmont) and Milan (Lombardy). It was a mixture of meats and offal and I particularly liked the brains. Fritto misto was originally peasant food, the family slaughtered an animal for eating (usually veal) and the organs such as sweetbreads, kidneys, brains and bits of meat became the Fritto misto – it was a way to eat the whole animal and it was eaten as close to the slaughter and fresh as possible. Rather than having been dipped in flour the various morsels were crumbed. Seasonal crumbed vegetables were also often included – mostly eggplant and zucchini in the warm months, cauliflower and artichokes in the cooler season.
If we wanted to eat a fish variety of Fritto misto we would order a Fritto Misto di Mare/or Di Pesce (from the sea or of fish).
Sicily is an island and Sicilians eat a lot of fish and the Fritto misto you eat in Sicily is the fish variety – fresh fish is fundamental. In the Sicilian Fritto misto you will also find Nunnata (neonata (Italian) – neonate),
Sicilians are very fond of Nunnata – the Sicilian term used to call the minute newborn fish of different species including fish, octopi and crabs; each is almost transparent and so soft that they are eaten whole.
For Sicilians Nunnata is a delicacy but these very small fish are an important link in the marine biological food chain, and that wild and indiscriminate fishing endangers the survival of some fish species.
Many Sicilian fishers and vendors justify selling juvenile fish on the grounds that they are ‘bycatch’ (taken while fishing for other species). They argue that the fish are already dead or injured, so there is no point in throwing them back. It seems that for Sicilians, ‘sustainability’ means that all fish are fair game as long as they can catch their quota. However, it is important to acknowledge that the traditional fishing for juveniles is an important activity for small-scale fishers. It only takes place for 60 consecutive days during the winter and therefore has a high socio-economic impact at local level. When in Sicily I refuse to eat this and I only encountered one restaurant in Sciacca that refused to present it to patrons who specifically asked for it.
Fritto misto di mare or Fritto misto di pesce
For the recipe of mixed fried fish, select a variety of fish: squid and prawns, sardines/anchovies, some fleshy white fish, whitebait too. Carefully clean the prawns leaving the head attached and removing the internal alimentary canal; clean the squid and cut into rings or strips and gut the sardines /anchovies and leave the head attached if you can.
Wipe the fish dry and dip the fish a little at a time into the flour and salt, sieve or shake to remove the excess flour and fry in very hot oil until golden and crispy. I use extra virgin oil for everything. Place on paper to drain and serve hot with lemon wedges and perhaps some more salt.
Raw red prawns
Gambero Rosso, (Aristaeomorpha foliacea) is a Sicilian red prawn.These prawns are blood-red and are generally wild caught in the Mediterranean.
All very fresh seafood can be eaten raw and is loved by Sicilians, usually served with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Most times the seafood is marinaded in these even if it is for a short time – the lemon juice “cooks” the fish.
Pesto trapanese (from Tapani in Western Sicily) is also called Matarocco. Busiate is the type of pasta traditionally made by coiling a strip of pasta cut diagonally around a thin rod (like a knitting needle).
I am saddened and distressed to say that recipes for Cous Cous di pesce and Cannoli have disappeared from my blog and I can only assume that because I have transferred my blog several times to new sites these posts have been lost in the process. I will add these recipes at a later date.
It is always good to visit Sicily in May 2016 and this time I spent most of my time mainly in South-eastern Sicily. But we did wander elsewhere – distances are not that great.
As usual, the relatives in Ragusa and Augusta made sure that I was well fed, but I do enjoy getting out and about and seeing the changes and trends that are evident in their food culture. I do that here in Australia as well, or for that matter any place I revisit.
Below are some photos of Sicily and links to existing recipes from the blog … more writing and more recipes soon.
A Nature Reserve near Donna Fugata
A very old church in Modica.
Inside this old church that has been a stable for many years.
Area Archeologica di Cava d’Ispica
The old stone walls, some being repaired or rebuilt.
Those of you who live in the UK may have already watched Sicily Unpacked with London based historian Andrew Graham-Dixon and chef Giorgio Locatelli. We have viewed two episodes in Australia and have one to go. I always find great pleasure in seeing Sicily promoted. In these two episodes we have seen some beautiful scenes mainly of Palermo, Noto and Modica and I have included a few of the photos I have to remind you of how beautiful Sicily is.
I have Giorgio Locatelli’s Made In Italy and have enjoyed it. Giorgio’s book on Sicily was released at the same time as mine (Sicilian Seafood Cooking). I have yet to buy his book on Sicily, but I will, as it is always good to compare one’s recipes with someone else’s.
In the two episodes that I have watched Giorgio has cooked three recipes, but although you saw preparing these he did not provide them (a good strategy to motivate you to buy the book).
When I cook I always like to look at more than one recipe of the one dish and then decide how I am going to cook mine. You may wish to do the same.
The three recipes that Giorgio cooked are on my blog and from what I could see they were quite different to mine. To view these recipes on my blog click on the links below. Those of you who have a copy of my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking will find two of these recipes written in greater detail.
I recently saw the very impressive exhibition at The Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane called 21st Century: Art in the First Decade (includes film, photography installations, sculpture, painting and drawing).
I sat in a darkened room mesmerised by a five-screen video installation, which seem to be about a treacherous sea voyage – tragic, worn out looking passengers on a small old boat, carrying nothing but themselves. I had entered this exhibit without first reading the information tag that accompanies each work and apart from recalling the plight of Australia’s asylum seekers and some of the terrible boat tragedies that have occurred, I was also wondering about other lands. The small, wooden fishing boats and the coastline looked very much like Sicily, the refugees could be North African, and the content relevant to Sicily’s present situation on Lampedusa (Isola di Lampedusa), an island in the Mediterranean Sea, part of the Province of Agrigento. And sure enough, it was Sicily – I recognized the stairway of one of the hotels in Palermo I had once stayed.
This very moving and deeply relevant installation is called WESTERN UNION: Small Boats and it is by Isaac Julien, an English artist and filmmaker. It was filmed in 35mm and transferred to video – it is an allegorical account of the hazardous sea journeys of North African illegal immigrants who often wash up dead on the shores of Sicily.
I found this photo ( above) of that amazing staircase and although Julien’s installation left me feeling sad, I also contemplated the beauty and excitement of Palermo: the eclectic architecture, which reflects several ruling cultures (Norman, Arab. Baroque); the street markets held in long, maze-like, narrow alleys, the piercing shrills of the sellers and the extraordinary array of produce.
It seems appropriate to have a recipe which reflects the of taste and fragrance of some of the cuisine of Palermo. I have chosen sardines.
There are many Sicilian recipes for baked, layered sardines and not all originate from Sicily.
In one of Ruth Rogers and Rose Grey’s Cookbooks, River Café Two, they call their layered sardine recipe: Strati di sardine (from strata, a layer). Their recipe is with breadcrumbs, zest of 2 lemons, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, chillies and parsley. In their recipe the sardines are not fried beforehand.
My recipe also has raisins and includes juice of a lemon and an orange and I call my layered sardines a Crostata di sarde. The stuffing is very similar to that of sarde a beccafico, but in this recipe there is no rolling of the sardines – much less arduous to prepare. A crostata is a tart and the sardines are topped with breadcrumbs; this forms a crust when baked (the word for crust in Italian is crosta).
There are plenty of sardines in Australia, they are wild-caught and mainly fished in WA near Fremantle, Hervey Bay in Queensland, and increasingly in South Australia – this makes them available for most of the year.
This crostata can also be eaten cold.
This recipe is for 4 people.
sardines, fillets, double,12 – estimate 3 per person
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
flat leaf parsley, 1 cup, cut finely
garlic, 3 cloves, chopped finely
salt and freshly ground, black pepper
fresh, bread crumbs, 150g , made from 1-3 day old good quality bread
lemon and orange, juice and zest from both
pine nuts, 150g
bay leaves, fresh, 10
Mix the breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, zest, pine nuts, seasoning and raisins together. Add a splash of olive oil.
Fry the sardines in some of the very hot oil, just enough time to crisp the skin. Do not overcrowd the fish in fry pan or they will poach rather than fry.
Drain on paper and set aside.
Oil a large baking dish that will accommodate all of the ingredients in three layers. Line it with 5 bay leaves.
Begin with a layer of the breadcrumb mixture; add a splash of oil next a layer of sardines (not overlapping and skin side up) then a splash of juice.
Cover the sardines with a sprinkling of the breadcrumbs mixture, and follow with a splash of olive oil.
Repeat with another layer of sardines and juices, finishing with the breadcrumbs and another splash of oil. Insert more bay leaves between some of the sardines.
Bake in a preheated oven (200°C) for about 20 minutes until a crust forms on top.
I have some good news.
A few months ago I submitted three family recipes to the SBS Food website as part of a promotion for the upcoming SBS TV series MY FAMILY FEAST, which begins on Thursday, 27 August at 7:30pm on SBS ONE.
MY FAMILY FEAST is a weekly half hour television show that will take us into the lives and cooking traditions of Australian immigrants and their families, as seen through the eyes of award winning chef Sean Connolly.
The three recipes (as called on my web) are:
• SARDE A BECCAFICO (Sardines stuffed with currants, pine nuts, sugar and nutmeg)
• PASTA CON LE SARDE (Pasta with sardines, from Palermo, made with fennel, pine nuts and currants)
• EGGPLANT or ZUCCHINI PARMIGIANA (Milinciani or cucuzzeddi a parmiciana – parmigiana di melenzane or di zucchine).
All three recipes were selected and published on the SBS website. On their website they are called:
• Sardines a beccafico, stuffed with currants and pine nuts
• Eggplant or zucchini Parmigiana
• Pasta with sardines, fennel, pine nuts and currants
I have now been informed (by Shelley Hepworth Editor, SBS Food)
that one of my recipes Sardines a beccafico, stuffed with currants and pine nuts has been cooked by Sean Connolly and will be published as a video on the MY FAMILY FEAST website.
The SBS website is:
You can view the video on the SBS Food website here:
I have reproduced a photo of Sean Connolly from the web, therefore I will acknowledge it.
Executive Chef and restaurateur Sean Connolly poses at the official launch party for Sean’s Kitchen at Star City on September 10, 2008 in Sydney, Australia.
(September 10, 2008 – Photo by Gaye Gerard/Getty Images AsiaPac)
15th October 2009
My Family Feast
I have been overseas and have only had the opportunity to view three episodes of this adventurous, food series. I was very impressed by Sean’s obvious enjoyment and the respect he demonstrated to the people and the ingredients. I particularly enjoyed the informality of the interaction between the cooks and Sean. Congratulations, and I am sorry that I have not viewed them all.
I am really pleased that the three recipes I sent to SBS have been published on the SBS website.
One of the recipes may be selected as part of upcoming food series My Family Feast. Selected recipes will be cooked by Sean Connolly (chef) in a short website and published online during broadcast of the series.
When I invite friends for a meal I like to present something that they may not have tasted before.
A beccafico is a small bird, which feeds on ripe figs – becca (peck) and fico (fig). The sardines when stuffed resemble a beccafico and sarde a beccafico demonstrates a sign of respect for this type of bird, a gourmand who stuffs himself on fresh figs. The beccafichi (plural of beccafico) are also eaten stuffed and cooked in the same way as the sarde (sardines). That is if this bird still exists in Sicily – Italians fancy themselves as great hunters (cacciatori).
There are local variations in the ingredients used for the stuffing, the method of cooking and for the names of the dish in other parts of Sicily. These are my favourite ingredients for this recipe from a combination of local recipes.
fresh sardines, fillets, 700g,
breadcrumbs, 1 cup made with good quality1-3 day old bread
anchovy fillets, 5-8 finely, cut finely
currants, ½ cup
pine nuts, ½ cup
parsley, ¾ cup, cut finely
bay leaves, 10, fresh
garlic, 2 cloves, chopped
lemon, 1, juice and zest
sugar, 1 tablespoon
nutmeg, ½ teaspoon
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
Prepare sardines: Scale, gut, butterfly and clean sardines and leave the tail. If you buy fillets, they are sometimes sold without tails – this may not matter, but when the fillet of the sardine is closed around the stuffing, the tail is flicked upright to resemble a bird – and this may be missing. (In the photo there are no tails – photo taken in a restaurant in Monreale, Palermo, December 2007)
Wipe each sardine dry before stuffing.
Preheat oven to 190 C
Prepare the stuffing:
Toast breadcrumbs until golden in about 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (I use a non stick fry pan) over a low flame.
Take off heat and cool.
Stir in pine nuts, currants, parsley, anchovies, lemon zest, nutmeg, salt, pepper and garlic.
Add a little more extra virgin olive oil if the mixture is dry.
Place a spoonful of the stuffing in each opened sardine and close it upon itself to resemble a fat bird (any leftover stuffing can be sprinkled on top to seal the fish)
Position each sardine, closely side by side in an oiled baking dish with tail sticking up and place a bay leaf between each fish.
Sprinkle the sardines with lemon juice and any left over stuffing, the sugar the left over oil.
Bake for 20-30 minutes.
I sent three recipes to SBS and this was one of them. All have been published on the website
One of my recipes, Sarde a beccafico was selected as part of the food series My Family Feast and cooked by Sean Connolly (chef). You can see it making it online during the broadcast of the series.
You cannot go to Sicily and not eat pasta con le sarde.There are many regional variations of pasta sauces made with sardines, all called by the same name, but the most famous is anancient, traditional dish from Palermo. The pasta can be eaten hot or cold (at room temperature).
I like the way Sicilians often skip between the sweet and savoury tastes – the sour and/or salty is often combined with the sweet and what makes this dish unique is the unusual combination of textures and strong fragrant tastes: the strong taste of the oily sardines, the cleansing flavour of the fennel, the sweetness of the raisins and the delicate aromatic taste of the pine nuts.
Pasta con le sarde is presented with toasted breadcrumbs as a topping, in the same way that grated cheese is used.
Originally the breadcrumbs may have been a substitute for cheese for the poor. In some versions of this dish the cooked ingredients are arranged in layers in a baking dish, topped with breadcrumbs and then baked – the breadcrumbs form a crust.
Unfortunately we are not able to buy bunches of wild fennel (finucchiu sarvaggiu in Sicilian) in Australia, but we do have the wild fennel that grows in neglected areas such as on the side of the road, vacant land and along banks of waterways. In Sicily it can be bought in small bunches. In Australia you will recognise it by its strong aniseed smell and taste, strong green colour and fine fern like fronds. I collect the soft, young shoots of this plant, recognised by their lighter colour. This fennel is unlike the Florentine fennel and has no bulb. Because of its strong smell and taste, animals and insects tend not to eat it, so it can be prolific. I always ensure that the plant looks healthy before I collect it, after all it is a weed and it could have been sprayed.
Fresh bulb fennel can replace the wild fennel, but the taste will not be as strong. If you are using bulb fennel try to buy bulbs with some of the green fronds still attached. I usually buy more than one fennel at a time and save the green fronds to use as a herb in cooking and I enhance the taste by using fennel seeds as well.
The addition of almonds is a local variation and is optional – it brings another layer of taste and texture to the dish. If you choose not to use the almonds, use double the quantity of pine nuts (see recipe).
The origins of pasta chi sardi (Sicilian) are said to be Arabic. In one story, an Arab cook was instructed to prepare food for the Arab troops when they first landed in Sicily. The cook panicked when he was confronted by a large number of people to feed, so the troops were instructed to forage for food. He made do with what they presented – wild herbs (the fennel) and the fish (sardines) to which he added Arabic flavourings, the saffron, dried fruit and the nuts.
I remember coming back to Australia and cooking this dish for friends after eating it in a restaurant in Palermo (Sicily) called L’ingrasciata (In Sicilian it means The dirty one!), and how much all of my guests enjoyed it. I have continued to cook pasta con le sarde over the years, especially since sardines are plentiful, sustainable and now widely available in Australia.
Pasta con le sarde is fairly substantial, and although in Sicily it would be presented as a first course (primo), in AustraliaI am happy to present it as a main (secondo) and I use greater quantities of fish. I follow the pasta course with a green salad as a separate course, but I never serve pasta and salad together. Part of me remains Italian to the core – in Italy a salad is a contorno (a side dish) and an accompaniment to a main course. Pasta, risotto and soup – which are all primi, cannot be accompanied by a side dish.
Traditionally the sauce is made with sardines that arebutterflied (i.e. remove the backbone), or as the Italians say, aperti come un libro (opened like a book). I buy fillets to save time.
fennel, wild is preferable, stalks and foliage, about 200g. If not, a large bulb of fennel with the fronds, cut into quarters and a teaspoon of fennel seeds to strengthen the flavour
extra virgin olive oil, about 1 cup
onions, 2, finely sliced
anchovies, 4, cut finely
pine nuts, 1 cup
almonds, 1 cup, toasted and chopped (optional)
currants, ¾ cup, or seedless raisins or sultanas
saffron, ½-1 small teaspoon
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
breadcrumbs, 4–5 tablespoons
Cook the fennel
The wild fennel is put into cold, salted water (to give maximum flavour to the water) and boiled for 10-15 minutes (it can be left in the water for longer). The green tinged, fennel-flavoured water will be used to cook the pasta – it will flavour and colour the pasta. The boiled fennel is added as an ingredient in the sauce. Reserve some wild fennel to use in the cooking the fish.
If using the bulb fennel, wash and cut the bulb fennel into quarters but reserve the green fronds to use raw in the cooking the fish. Add fennel seeds and boil until tender.
Drain the cooked fennel in colander, and then gently squeeze out the water. Discard the seeds and keep the fennel-flavoured water to cook the pasta.
Chop the fennel roughly, this will be added to the sauce later.
Cut about two thirds of the sardine fillets into thick pieces. The whole fillets go on top and are used to provide visual impact.
Heat oil in shallow wide pan, suitable for making the pasta sauce and to include the pasta once it is cooked.
Sauté the onions over medium heat until golden.
Add pine nuts, raisins and almonds (optional). Toss gently.
Add the sliced sardines, salt and pepper and the uncooked fennel. Cook on gentle heat for about 5-10 minutes, stirring gently.
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 the cooked chopped fennel and the saffron dissolved in a little warm water and continue to stir and cook gently.
Boil bucatini in the fennel water 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.
At this stage the pasta can be assembled and presented, or baked.
Place the pasta into the saucepan in which you have cooked the fish sauce.
Leave the pasta in the saucepan for 5-10 minutes to incorporate the flavours and to preserve some warmth.
Gently fold in the whole sardines.
When ready to serve, tip the pasta and fish mixture into a serving bowl, arranging the whole fillets or butterflied sardines on top and dress the whole dish with the toasted breadcrumbs.
If you are baking the pasta:
Oil a baking tray or an ovenproof dish and sprinkle with toasted breadcrumbs to prevent sticking (it is not necessary that they be browned in oil, just browned in the oven).
Place a layer of pasta on the breadcrumbs, top with some of the fish sauce and some whole fillets of sardines. Form another layer and ensure that some of the whole fillets are kept for the top.
Cover with fresh breadcrumbs and sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil and bake in preheated 200C oven for approximately 10 minutes. A teaspoon of sugar can also be sprinkled on top of the breadcrumbs – this, with the oil will help the bread form a crust, adding yet another contrasting taste and a different texture.
SBS website withSarde a beccafico – part of the food series My Family Feast and cooked by Sean Connolly (chef):