A duck ragù is nothing new, but it always seems to be special. Pappardelle is the pasta of choice for game and duck.
I bought a whole duck, dismembered it and trimmed away the obvious fat. I cooked the duck for the ragù over 2 days because ducks can be very fatty and I wanted to remove some of the fat.
I left the cooked duck overnight and the liquid jellied (in the meantime the flavours also intensified) and the fat rose to the top making it easier for me to remove most of I with a spoon. I used some of the duck fat to sauté the mushrooms.
for the soffritto: 1 onion, 1 carrot,1 stalk of celery
fresh rosemary, bay leaves
½ cup of diced tomatoes or 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
2 cups dry red wine
3 cups chicken stock
salt and black pepper
250g mushrooms…on this occasion I used brown mushrooms.
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
fresh thyme and parsley
Wipe the duck pieces to dry them as much as possible.
Heat a heavy based casserole and over medium heat add the duck skin-side down and fry until browned and fat renders (6-9 minutes).
Drain most of the fat. Turn and fry until browned (2-3 minutes), then set aside.
To the same saucepan add onion and soften slightly before adding the carrot and celery and sauté until vegetables are tender (5-8 minutes).
Return the duck pieces to the pan, add the wine, stock, tomatoes, seasoning, bay leaves and rosemary.
Cover and cook slowly for about 1¾-2¼ hours, until the meat looks as it will be easy to separate from the bones.
Leave to cool. The fat will rise to the top making it easier to remove.
Reheat the duck braise very briefly, just sufficiently to melt the jelly.
Remove the duck pieces and set aside. When they are cool enough to handle remove the the skin and strip the meat from the bones in chunks. Discard herbs and the bones.
Drain the solids from the liquid and add these to the duck. Place the liquid from the braise (i.e. that is yet to be reduced) in a separate container.
Wipe the pan and use some of the fat to sauté the mushrooms and garlic. Add parsley and thyme and some seasoning.
Deglaze the pan using about a cup of liquid and evaporate most of it. Repeat with the left over liquid until it has reduced.
Add the duck, a couple of twists of nutmeg and the ragù is ready.
Combine the cooked pasta with the duck ragù and serve.
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.
Affogato means drowned or smothered or choked in Italian, and which ever way you look at it, in this recipe the cauliflower has been killed off in red wine.
My grandmother Maria was born in Catania and this was one of her ways of cooking cauliflower(called VRUOCCULI AFFUCATI in Sicilian)
The cauliflower is cut into thin slices and assembled in layers: cauliflower, sprinkled with a layer of slivers of pecorino, thinly sliced onion and anchovies. Some recipes also include stoned black olives.
Although the coloured cauliflowers or broccoli can also be used for this recipe, I like the white cauliflower because it becomes rose- tinted by the red wine.
I compress the assembled ingredients, cover it with a circle of baking paper, an ovenproof plate and then put a weight on top (see photo).
It is cooked slowly until all the liquid evaporates and then it can be turned out and sliced like a cake. You may also like to use a non- stick saucepan or as I often do, place a circle of baking paper at the bottom of the pan to ensure that the “cake” does not stick to the bottom. Many recipes add water as the cauliflower is cooking to prevent it from burning, but if you cook it on very gentle heat and in a good quality saucepan with a heavy base, it may not be necessary.
VRUOCCULI AFFUCATI are especially suitable as an accompaniment to a strong tasting dish. Usually it is presented at room temperature or cold (I can remember the left over cauliflower being particularly satisfying as a stuffing for a panino).
cauliflower or broccoli, 1kg
onion, 1large, sliced thinly
pecorino, 50 -100g, sliced thinly
anchovies, 4-5 or more
red wine, 1 glass
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place some olive oil in a deep saucepan (the ingredients are layered).
Add a layer of the cauliflower.
Top with the pecorino cheese, anchovies, ground pepper and onion slices (salt to taste).
Add another layer of the cauliflower and more oil.
Continue with more layers but finish off with a layer of cauliflower on top. Press down the layers with your hands.
Top with more oil and add the wine.
Cover the contents first with either a piece of baking paper or foil cut to size and slightly loose. Put a weight on the top so as to keep all of the layers compressed (see above). There should e a gap around the weight and the saucepan to allow the steam to escape.
Cook on very slow heat for about 40-60 minutes and when the liquid has evaporated, you should also hear the cauliflower sizzle in the oil.
The principal and most common flavourings that characterise a Sicilian caponata are: the celery, capers, green olives and the sweet and sour, caramelised sauce made with vinegar and sugar (the agro dolce).
Caponata is commonly made with eggplants (popular in Palermo) but my mother’s family’s version of caponata contains peppers (capsicums) as one of the principal ingredients. Her family come from Catania and this is a local variation in many other parts of Sicily as well. In fact, I have eaten this variation in restaurants in the following Sicilian locations : Syracuse, Catania, Sciacca, Mazara del Vallo, Agrigento, Ragusa Ibla and Caltagirone.
Sicilians will keep on arguing about which is the true caponata. Some traditional recipes use tomato paste rather than chopped tomatoes. Some add garlic, others chocolate (or cocoa). Many recipes contain nuts – almonds or pine nuts or pistachio, in others herbs are added – sometimes basil, at other times oregano or mint. Certain recipes also include raisins or currants and some, fresh pears. One of my neighbours whose family also comes from Catania adds potatoes to his.
It is now the perfect season for making caponata – the peppers are sweet and the eggplants have not yet developed too many seeds (this is something that happens at the end of their growing season).
I always fry my vegetables separately because vegetables cook at different rates and it is far better to fry or sauté food in batches than crowd the pan.
Traditionally in caponata, the celery is pre-cooked in salted, boiling water before being added to the other ingredients. However, because I like the taste of the crunchy celery I have never pre-cooked it.
The legacy of my grandmother’s caponata lives on. My friends who have tasted my caponata now cook it for themselves.
I cooked the caponata for one of my cousins (the son of my mother’s sister) who visited me In Melbourne from the US. He and his wife loved it and he felt very nostalgic about his mother’s cooking ( my aunt/ his mother died several years ago). He asked me to email him the recipe. I did and he wrote back:
As I read you recipe on “caponata” I could smell the flavours ( like when my mother was making it).
He is now cooking caponata for his friends and family in the US….
This version of caponata was published in the summer issue of the magazine, Italianicious (Essence of Italy, Dec 2009). The summer issue was a special edition on Sicily and I was asked to contribute. Each issue of Italianicious contains information and stories about all things Italian in Italy and in Australia.
Do not feel intimidated by the long list of steps to cook it. It really is very simple.
extra virgin olive oil, 1½ cups (more or less – depending how much the vegetables will absorb)
eggplants, 1-2 large, dark skinned variety,
peppers, 3, preferably 1 green, 1 red, 1 yellow (variation of colour is mainly for appearance, but the red and yellow ones taste sweeter)
onion, 1, large, sliced thinly
red tomatoes, 2 medium size, peeled and chopped, or 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and a little water
capers, ½ cup, salted or in brine
green olives, ¾ cup, stoned, chopped
celery, 2-3 tender stalks and the pale green leaves (both from the centre of the celery)
white, wine vinegar, ½ cup
sugar, 2 tablespoons
salt and freshly ground pepper
Cut the eggplant into cubes (approx 30mm) – do not peel. Place the cubes into abundant water with about 1 tablespoon of salt. Leave for about 30 minutes – this will keep the flesh white and the eggplant is said to absorb less oil if soaked previously.
Prepare the capers – if they are the salted variety, ensure they have been rinsed thoroughly and then soaked for about 30 minutes before use, and then rinsed again.
Cut the peppers into slices (approx 20mm) or into rectangular shapes.
Slice the onion.
Slice the celery sticks and the green leaves finely.
Peel, and coarsely chop the tomatoes (or use tomato paste).
Drain the eggplants and squeeze them to remove as much water as possible – I use a clean tea towel.
Heat a large frypan over medium heat with ¾ cup of the extra virgin olive oil.
Add eggplant cubes and sauté until soft and golden (about 10-12 minutes). Place the drained eggplants into a large bowl and set aside (all of the vegetables will be added to this same bowl). If you want to, drain the oil from the eggplants back into the same frypan and re-use this oil to fry the next ingredients – the peppers.
Add new oil (to the left-over eggplant oil) plus a little salt and sauté the peppers, until wilted and beginning to turn brown (about 10-12 minutes). Remove the peppers from the pan and drain the oil from the peppers back into the same frypan. Place the peppers in the bowl with the eggplants.
Add a little more oil to the pan and sauté the celery gently for 5-7 minutes, so that it retains some of its crispness (in more traditional recipes, the celery is always boiled until soft before being sautéed). Sprinkle the celery with a little salt while it is cooking.
Remove the celery from the pan and add it to the eggplants and peppers.
Sauté the onion having added a little more oil to the frypan. Add a little salt and cook until translucent.
Add the tomatoes or the tomato paste (with a little water) to the onions, and allow their juice to evaporate. Add the capers and olives. Allow these ingredients to cook gently for 1- 2 minutes.
Empty the contents of the frypan into the bowl with the other cooked vegetables.
For the agro- dolcesauce (sweet and sour sauce):
Add the sugar to the frypan (already coated with the caramelised flavours from the vegetables). Heat it very gently until it begins to melt and bubble. Add the vinegar and evaporate.
Incorporate the cooked vegetables into the frypan with the agro-dolce sauce.
Add ground pepper, check for salt and add more if necessary. Gently toss all of the ingredients over low heat for 2-3 minutes to blend the flavours.
Remove the caponata from the pan and cool before placing it into one or more containers.
Store in the fridge until ready to use – it will keep well for up to one week and it improves with age.
*** I first published this post In Feb 2010.
In my Book Sicilian Seafood Cooking, there is a whole chapter devoted to Caponata – made with various vegetables.
Sicilian Seafood Cooking was first published in Nov 2011 and republished in Dec 2014.