Tag Archives: Sicilian Flavours

SPAGHETTI with PRAWNS and ZUCCHINI

I do not buy prawns very often but when I do they have to be as sustainable.

Having lived in South Australia (before moving to Melbourne) I am always attracted to prawns from the Spencer Gulf, Prawn Trawl Fishery in South Australia and in December were some available at the Queen Victoria Market, but I had to search for these. Around the same time and much to my delight, I discovered T.O.M.S Sustainable Seafood stall at the South Melbourne Market. This small stall has limited produce but all of the fish is certified MSC (marine stewardship council) and FOS (friend of the sea) seafood.Here I bought sustainable prawns from Queensland.

I buy both cooked prawns in their shells and green peeled prawns to cook. One favourite and easy summer dish is spaghetti, prawns and zucchini.

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Last year I bought a spiralizer – this turns zucchini into strands like spaghetti. I need to admit that I really enjoyed using this gadget the first one or two times and then the novelty wore off (it is stored in cupboard in spare room = out of sight, out of mind). Before I had this gadget, I used sliced zucchini – same taste, different appearance.

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Before I had this gadget, I used sliced zucchini. The taste is the same, the appearance is different and when I use the spiralizer, rather than short pasta I use spaghetti to compliment the long strands of zucchini.

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What makes this pasta and zucchini dish ultra special is the topping of toasted breadcrumbs – an embellished “mollica” or “pan grattato” –  breadcrumbs made with day old bread and made golden in a hot frypan in olive oil. To this I add pine nuts, a little cinnamon, sugar and grated lemon peel – flavours of Sicily.

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For fried breadcrumbs (often called mollica or pangrattato in Italian) use 1-3 day old  good quality white bread (crusty bread, sourdough or pasta dura).

The term for breadcrumbs, in Italian is pane grattugiato/ grattato – it means grated bread. Mollica is the white inside part of the bread.

Remove crust, break into pieces, place into a food processor and make into coarse crumbs. They can also be crumbled with fingertips or grated. You will need about 1 cup.

Heat about ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan and add breadcrumbs . Stir continuously on low temperature until they are just beginning to colour.

Add 1/2 cup pf pine nuts and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, stir until the nuts and breadcrumbs are an even, light golden brown.

Add 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and grated peel of one small lemon.

Remove from the pan when they are ready otherwise they will continue to cook; set aside until you wish to use them. they can be made and stored in a glass jar with a lid in the fridge up to a week.

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For 6 people

400g spaghetti
extra-virgin olive oil
4 green zucchini, use spiralizer or sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
600g green prawns, peeled
a large handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped finely
salt and pepper to taste

Add some olive oil in a large frying pan on high heat. Add the zucchini, salt and pepper and cook until slightly softened. Remove from the pan and place them aside. If the zucchini have released liquid drain the liquid and set aside.

Add more olive oil to the same pan and on high heat add the garlic and prawns. Toss them around until they begin to colour. Add the parsley, a little salt and pepper and cook until the prawns are cooked and the parsley has wilted.

Cook the pasta.

Sometimes the prawns release liquid. If this is the case remove the prawns and set them aside and evaporate the liquid to concentrate the flavours. The zucchini juice can also be added to be evaporated.

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Once the juice has been reduced, add the prawns and zucchini and heat through.

Dress the drained pasta.

Serve with the pangrattato sprinkled on top. Add torn basil or mint leaves for visual effect and a fresh taste.

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Another simple pasta and zucchini recipe (posted in 2009):

PASTA CON ZUCCHINE FRITTE (Pasta and fried zucchini)

An alternative pangrattato recipe that includes anchovies:

SPAGHETTI with ‘NDUJA, SQUID, VONGOLE AND PAN GRATTATO

TONNO AL AGRO DOLCE – Sweet and sour tuna, Sicilian – ALBACORE TUNA

In Australia we have different types of tuna: Albacore, Bigeye, Southern Bluefin and Yellowfin tunas. Bonito and mackerel as well as tuna are part of the same family (Scombridae).

Albacore tuna is sustainable, cheap in price and much under-rated in Australia. It is not sashimi grade so the Asian export market does not want it and I think that this is the reason why in Australia we tend to undervalue it. It is denser in texture but excellent for braising (lightly or cooked for longer).  Generally it is sold as a wheel but I have also been able to buy it as a fillet – perfect for  baking and braising  in one piece.

When I see Albacore tuna I grab it. It is caught in winter on the coast of Southern New South Wales but unfortunately not many fish vendors stock it.

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This is Mike holding one of the Albacore tuna at his stall in the Queen Victoria Market. He looks very noble in this photo.

In this recipe the tuna is lightly braised and has slivers of garlic and mint studded throughout the pieces of fish. The rest of the ingredients and cooking style are Sicilian through and through.

I prefer to use a large round piece of Albacore tuna for this dish, which can be separated into 4 portions.

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The following recipe is for 4 people

INGREDIENTS and PROCESS

fish, 4 pieces
onion, 1 chopped thinly
garlic, 2 cloves, cut into halves (or thinner)
fresh mint, 4+ leaves (or sage leaves in winter because mint is not doing well)
4 anchovies
green olives, 8 -10
extra virgin olive oil, ¼ cup
salt and chilli flakes to taste
red wine vinegar, 1 splash – about 1 tablespoon
sugar, ¾ tsp
orange, 4 slices , these are optional and a modern take on this recipe. If you are going to add them sauté them before you add the sugar and vinegar
 
Cut the 4 portions of tuna from the round piece. Discard the skin around the outside.
Use a thin, sharp knife with a long blade and make 2-3 deep, regularly spaced slits into each hunk of fish (I made 3-4 slits in the biggest pieces of fish).
Insert into each split half a clove of garlic and in another a mint leaf.
Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a pan large enough to accommodate the fish in one layer.
Sauté the fish, turn once (until it colours), remove and set aside.
Sauté the onion in the same pan until it becomes golden and soft.
Add the anchovies and stir them around over moderate heat – they will dissolve.
Add olives and the seasoning. Add the orange slices (optional). Add the sugar, watch it melt (still over medium heat) then add the vinegar and evaporate it.
Return the tuna to the pan it and cook gently until it is cooked to your liking – this will depend on the size of your fish and how you prefer to eat it. For my tastes I return the tuna to the sauce mainly to reheat it as I do enjoy my tuna fairly underdone (this is in comparison to how Italians generally eat tuna).

I have also cooked the slice of tuna whole.

 

PESCE GRATINATO (Baked fish topped with almonds and pistachios)

Almonds and pistachios as often used in Sicilian cooking as both are grown extensively in Sicily. The parsley and capers accentuate the attractive green colour of the pistachios.

The breadcrumbs are made with 1-2 day old bread – use good quality bread, for example sour dough or a pasta dura. Remove the crusts and make crumbs.

INGREDIENTS
fish, 100g-150g for each piece
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
For the bread and nut paste:
80g pistachio (unsalted), chopped finely (but not too powdery)
80g almond meal or blanched almonds chopped finely
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
½ cup capers, chopped
½ cup of finely chopped parsley
½ cup of fresh breadcrumbs
2 cloves of garlic, mashed
a little salt and freshly ground pepper
PROCESSES
Make the paste by mixing all of the ingredients together – use a mixer if you wish.
Heat the oven to 225C
Line a baking tray with baking paper and coat it with a little extra virgin olive oil.
Sprinkle a little salt on each piece of fish and drizzle a little olive oil on each.
Place some paste on each piece of fish and spread it over each piece of fish – use your fingers.
Cook for 10-15 mins (according to taste). This will depend on the size of the fish, the thickness and how cooked you like your fish to be. If you cook your fish for longer you may need to place some baking paper on top of the fish to stop the topping from burning.

 

 

CUP CAKES BUTTERFLY CAKES and FAIRY CAKES, Sicilian style

My friend John bought these little beauties around to my place when I invited him for dinner recently. I love the little silicon cups: this was the first time that he had used them; the cups not only look attractive and are functional, but they are also ‘cup’ cakes. And like his mother he placed a teaspoon of flavour inside each one – a teaspoon of apricot jam or sweetened passionfruit.

 

Like his mother he cut the top of each cake,  placed a dollop of whipped cream on top, divided each top in half and returned the two halves to the cake: these looked like wings.  Being Australian she appropriately referred to them as called them Butterfly cakes or Fairy cakes and it is easy to see why. These cakes were very popular at children’s parties and were never called Cup cakes (cupcakes), this perhaps is an American or British term. Cupcakes is what we call them in Australia now. Have they lost their wings?

John asked me if Sicilians make cupcakes and they do not,  but there is no reason why his very simple recipe cannot be infused with Sicilian flavours.

This is how John’s mother wrote the recipe. The mixture is simple and very Anglo:

3 oz butter
3 oz sugar
2 eggs
4 oz SR flour
1 tbs milk
essence of vanilla
bake 475 for 15 minutes.

Because the above only makes a small quantity, the following recipe could be more useful.  John also found that his cup cakes were a little dry, so we have reduced the amount of flour in the following recipe.

For your interest:
3 oz =113.398g,
4 oz = 113.6 g
250g= 8.8 oz
 
INGREDIENTS
250g butter, softened (add a bit of salt if using unsalted)
4 large eggs or 6 small ones
160 g castor sugar
250g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tablespoon of milk
PROCESSES
Cream butter, sugar and vanilla essence till light and fluffy.
Mix in eggs, one at a time, beat well after each addition.
Fold flour gently into cake mixture. Mix well.
Fill each cup with 1 tbsp of cake batter and using a teaspoon make a small well in the middle of the batter.
Spoon 1 tsp of strawberry jam into the well.
Place in it a teaspoon of jam. Top with another tbsp of cake batter.
Bake in the centre of oven (pre-heated 160C) for 15 to 20 minutes.
Cool cupcakes before cutting off the top.
Fill with whipped cream, cut the to that you have removed in half and replace it  to the top of the cake again.

To make Sicilian type cup cakes, I would add the following ingredients:

150 g of chopped pistachio nuts or blanched almonds (both are grown in Sicily and very common in sweets).
Use sour cherry jam (sour morello cherries are popular in Italy/ Sicily).

If the cake appears too dry after it is baked, sprinkle a little Maraschino liqueur on the top (adding liqueur to moisten cooked cakes is definitely Italian/ Sicilian).

Instead of  whipped cream, use ricotta whipped with a little vanilla flavoured sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon. Add a little cream if the mixture is too dry.

I would also place a sour cherry or a pistachio on top.

Presto, Ecco, Fatto… Here they are. Bake them in tea cups, call them Dolcetti fatti in tazza (small cakes made in cups) and they do sound exotic!.

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