Hare seem hard to come by and most of the time I have to make do with rabbit, however the way I cook rabbit is the same as when I cook hare.
I always marinade the rabbit before I cook it, perhaps for a shorter time, and the cooking time is reduced significantly especially for farmed rabbits.
I have recipes on the blog for cooking rabbit and hare and most of the recipes for cooking chicken can also be used to cook rabbit.
This time I took more photos while I was cooking the rabbit with cloves, cinnamon and red wine – you will recognize spices that are characteristic of some Sicilian cooking due to significant influences from the Arabs.
Pino Correnti in his book IL Libro D’oro della Cucina e dei vini do Sicilia calls this recipe CONIGLIO (rabbit) DA (from) LICODIA EUBEA
I have driven through Licodia Eubea on my way from Piazza Armerina to Calatagirone and then Ragusa but did not take any photos. I have photos from nearby Grammichele with its hexagonal shaped piazza in front of the main church. There is a large unusual sculpture in the middle that is one of the largest sundial in the world. Like in Licodia Eubea there seem to be very few people around and it appeared that we had the town to ourselves.
“Sicily is the pearl of this century for its qualities and its beauty, for the uniqueness of its towns and its people […] because it brings together the best aspects of every other country.”
This was written almost a thousand years ago by an Arabian geographer, Muhammed Al-Idrisi, in his book of “pleasant journeys into faraway lands” for the Norman King of Sicily, Roger II.
As Al-Idrisi discovered, Sicily may be small, but it has the best of everything and although I may visit some places again and again, I always manage to discover something new. And this is what brings me back to Sicily again and again. I grew up in the far north of Italy in Trieste but each summer as a child, I would travel to Sicily for our summer holidays – both of my parents have relatives in Sicily. For me Sicily was an exotic place of sunshine, colour and warmth, the outdoors and the sea. Wherever I go in Europe, I always visit Sicily as well.
On my latest trip I concentrated on Southeastern Sicily and went to little towns and villages that I had not been to before as well as familiar places where I’m always interested to see what’s changed and what has stayed the same.
Next time I visit I plan to spend more time in the city that is the essence of Sicily – Palermo. While Al-Adrisi called Sicily a “pearl” Roberto Alajmo, a journalist and blogger born and raised in Palermo compared his home town to an onion, una cipolla – its multiple layers have to be peeled to be appreciated.
Once you start peeling back the layers of Palermo what you find is a city where history meets infamy and splendor encounters squalor, antiquities stand beside modernity. All of it evidence of a fantastic overlay of cultures from Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, French and Spanish. This cultural fusion shows up in the food and drink, the art and architecture, the palaces, the temples and churches and the entire Sicilian way of life.
Last time I visited Palermo was three years ago, but each time I go I’m always happy to revisit the historic quarter with its Arabo-Norman monuments.
Among my favourites are the Palazzo dei Normanni and its Cappella Palatina with their dazzling Byzantine mosaics and frescoes. There’s also King Roger II’s La Martorana, where the spectacular mosaic of Christ the Pantocrator overlooks Olivio Sozzi’s baroque Glory of the Virgin Mary, painted six centuries later. I enjoy admiring the simple, geometric shapes of the Norman palaces, La Cuba and La Zisa, built entirely by Arabic craftsmen and the distinctive Arabo-Norman red domes on San Cataldo and San Giovanni degli Ermiti.
On my not-to-miss list is the Cattedrale which is another masterpiece of overlaid period styles, begun by the Normans in the 12th Century, with 15th Century Catalan Gothic porch, capped off with a neo-classical 18th Century neo-classical dome. The timeline continues inside with tombs of Norman and Swabian kings and queens: Roger II and his daughter, Costanza d’Altavilla and their son Frederick II and his wife of Costanza of Aragon. You can admire her imperial gold crown in the cathedral’s treasury.
Palermo also has a fountain to rival the best of Rome. La Fontana Pretoria was once prudishly called the “fountain of shame” because of the multiple nude statues. Judge for yourself!
The baroque also makes a grand stand in the four elegant palazzo facades of the Quattro Canti, framing the intersection of Palermo’s two main boulevards.
I know I’m at the heart of the onion that is Palermo when I enter the labyrinth of laneways in the city’s sprawling markets – especially La Vucciria and Ballarò – with their clustered stalls that remind me of an Arabic souk. I like to listen to the clamour of the traders’ shouted Sicilian dialect. Sheltered from the sun under red canvas awnings you find the fish stalls. In his book, Midnight in Sicily Peter Robb described how the diffused red light of the market “enhanced the translucent red of the big fishes’ flesh and the silver glitter of the smaller ones’ skins”.
Wandering the old quarters of Palermo, you’ll pick up the aroma of traditional street-food fried in large vats such as panelle (chickpea flour fritters), cazzilli (potato croquettes) or meusa (spleen) which are typical dishes of the friggerie. You will smell char-grilled peppers. And if I want to eat these treats in doors I go to classic restaurants like L’Antica Foccaceria San Francesco which has been cooking the same thing for decades.
I find it interesting to see how traditional cuisine has developed and one of my favourite things to do in Palermo (or anywhere I go in Sicily) is to find restaurants that re-invent traditional dishes and present them with contemporary twists. And if I want to contrast the old-style dishes with contemporary versions there are still typical trattorie like La Casa del Brodo that have classic Palermo dishes like sarde a beccafico, caponata, pasta con la sarde.
I’m also seriously interested in discovering the ever increasing new hip bars that serve glasses of Sicilian wine varieties like grillo and nero d’avola and boutique beers matched with interesting snacks that reflect modern Sicilian cuisine.
When the time comes to escape the close-quarter hustle of the city, I can catch a bus to the north-west side of Palermo to admire the Liberty-style residences of the capital’s once-wealthy merchants. I can travel to the picturesque seaside town of Mondello, where I can dine out on the waterfront, drink in the view, scoop up a granita or gelato, eat a cannolo or a slice of cassata. It is definitely a place to eat fish and enjoy a drink or two.
Back in town I can always book a ticket to the opera or ballet at the Teatro Massimo and eat a delicious cold treat on my way back to where I am staying.
Palermo’s gardens are another escape. I love to wander in the greenery of the Villa Giulia or the Piazza Marina with its massive fig trees, which are spectacular. The modern art galleries are another diversion. There’s the GAM (La Galleria d’Arte Moderna), Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea, Nuvole Incontri d’Arte and Palazzo Riso which I was told about on my last visit to Palermo, when I saw an exhibition of works by Francesco Simeti.
Palazzo Riso is a baroque neo-classical edifice built in the 1780s. It was Mussolini’s temporary headquarters in World War II and bombed by the Americans in a failed attempt to kill the Italian dictator (who had left town only days before the air-raid). For years the Palazzo stood in ruins and when it was finally restored during the late-1990s, the restorers preserved some of the damage as evidence of its history.
Although I have seen Guttoso’s painting of the Vucciria Market hanging in the Palazzo Chiaramonte Steri, I have yet to see the basement where thousands of prisoners accused of heresy through the Holy Inquisition were imprisoned. These prison walls are covered in prisoners’ simple etchings, which were plastered over in the 19th Century.
I take great pleasure in returning to a place as rich and varied as Sicily and why revisiting a city as layered as Palermo is top of my European travel wish list. It may not have the reputation of Rome (the eternal city) or Florence (la serenissima) but it has depth and diversity.
I have been to see the exhibition Sicily Culture and Conquest at The British Musem.
The exhibition was excellent.
The British Museum also offered a Sicilian Inspired menu to experience the flavours of the island.
Here is some of the food.
Stuffed squid: Calamari Ripieni ( was the antipasto). Bread crumbs are usually used for stuffing but this was stuffed with Freekeh, a modern touch as this ingredient does not feature in Sicilian cooking.
In my recipe ** Calamari Ripieni the squid is stuffed with fresh cheese ( Formaggio Fresco).
It always seems a time for scacce in Sicily, but particularly at Easter.
I have already written about scacce (focaccia-like stuffed pastries) and for suggestions of fillings and the recipe and ways to fold the pastry, see the post called: Scacce (Focaccia-like Stuffed Bread).
One of the most difficult things if you are a novice at making the traditional shaped scacce is the folding of the pastry. So, why not try just forming them into these shapes below instead. Use the same fillings and pastry as described in the post Scacce ( Focaccia- like Stuffed Bread) above.
This scaccia (singular of scacce and not a misspelling) in the photo below is round and pie shaped. The filling is made from lamb and ricotta.
The braised greens on the side could also be used in a filling – spinach or chicory or broccoli- softened/ wilted and then sautéed in garlic, chili and extra virgin olive oil (but drain well).
There is a post for impanate with a lamb filling – a typical dish for Easter.
The photos for these scacce (and pizza) are from a small eatery in Catania. The filling is made from slices of fried eggplant, a little bit of tomato salsa and a little bit of caciocavallo ( Sicilian cheese) – you could try provolone (cheese) instead.
Or you could try small pasty shapes as in the photo below (circle of dough = filling on one side= fold over to make a half moon). The pastries in the photo below are cooling on the racks in Dolcetti pasticceria (pastry shop in Victoria Street Melbourne). Marianna is the pastry chef and her mum is Lidia – and she is all Sicilian. Lidia visits Dolcetti each Saturday to make these pastries. She calls her pastries impanate. They are fabulous and she uses a variety of fillings.
What about just a pizza ….. These pizzas (in the photo below) are from Pizza D’Asporto (Rifle Range Shopping Centre, Williamstown). They are made by Sicilians and are very good – worth a visit.
My favourite Italian vegetable is the carciofo – artichoke. These have been eaten in Italy from ancient times and especially appreciated during the Roman period. They were then grown extensively in Sicily and Naples particularly around the 9th century.
Italians still love artichokes; they stuff them, boil, braise them, roast them in ashes, fry them and preserve them with the help of olive oil. They are used to make risotti, pasta sauces, frittate. Older artichokes are stripped of all their leaves and the tender ‘fondo’- base – is stuffed and braised or baked. Tender raw artichokes are sliced thinly and eaten raw as a salad with a dressing and in Sicily made into a caponata. Older artichokes are stripped of all their leaves and the tender ‘fondo’ (base) is stuffed and braised or baked. And the stem of artichokes, once stripped of its fibre is as appreciated.
One of my most favourite ways to eat artichokes is to stuff them with fresh breadcrumbs, grated cheese, garlic, parsley and then braise them in white wine and stock.
There are many regional and local variations for the breadcrumb stuffing all over Italy and probably the most common is the addition of anchovies. Different herbs or the addition of minced meat are also enjoyed in some regions. The stock can be water, vegetable or meat stock and /or white wine. Some also use tomatoes (peeled and chopped or blended tomatoes) as the braising liquid.
Ricotta is sometimes combined with fresh breadcrumbs and used for the stuffing and because nuts – pine nuts, almonds or pistachio – go well with ricotta I chose almond meal and some pistachios. Instead of parsley I added basil, a much sweeter herb, and finally nutmeg, a spice generally used with stuffings in the northern parts of Italy especially if ricotta or mince meat is used.
100 g ricotta:
½ cup of basil
½ cup fresh white breadcrumbs
½ cup almond meal
¼ cup pistachio
4 tbs extra virgin olive oil, 2 will be used for the stuffing
salt and pepper and nutmeg
stock and a little white wine to braise the artichokes
Trim the stalk with a small sharp knife to pull away the tough, stringy outer skin (just like the strings of celery). Keep the artichokes and the stem in acidulated water until ready to stuff.
Prepare the filling by mixing together in a bowl the breadcrumbs, seasoning, herbs, nutmeg, ricotta and 2 tbs of olive oil.
Drain the artichokes, remove the outer leaves of the artichokes and cut off about 2 cms of the top.
Use your fingers to spread out the leaves, the stuffing will go mainly in the centre of the artichoke. There may or may not have a fuzzy choke, depending on the maturity of the plant. If there is, remove it with a teaspoon, carefully turning it without snapping the sides of the vegetable.
Sprinkle a little salt between the leaves.
Stuff the centre of the artichokes – I use my fingers, press the stuffing firmly into the centre.
Pour the rest of the olive oil in a pan. Place the artichokes into the pan standing upright so that it can cook in an upright position (so choose your pan carefully).
Add a combination of water, stock and white wine as the braising liquid (I used little wine and mainly vegetable stock). The level of the braising liquid should be about 1 cm below the top of the artichokes. Add a little salt to the braising liquid.
Cover and cook artichokes over low-medium heat for about 40 mins.
Food And Culture in Sicily: Christmas Cookery Workshop, 7 December 2013
Presented by Dr Gillian Shepherd and Marisa Raniolo Wilkins
Gillian began the presentation with short history of food and feasting in Sicily. Gillian focused on the literary and archaeological evidence for food production and consumption in the ancient world of Sicily with particular emphasis on festivals, sacrifice and feasting (i.e. pagan “versions’ of Xmas). She described how in ancient times the ordinary people only got to eat meat as the result of sacrificial offerings to the gods (the gods inhaled the smoke and aromas as the sheep and goats, and less often cattle, were roasted).
Using our dining room wall as a screen, Gillian projected images of temples and townships, altars and cooking implemenents and a map of Sicily to clarify and enrich the presentation. She also showed the guests examples of formelle from her personal collection. Formelle are special, handmade ceramic moulds that were traditionally used to make decorative mostarda (must and ash paste) and cotognata (quince paste, I provided the recipe). Gillian is a compulsive collector of formelle and was able to tell me about a formella that I have inherited from my paternal Sicilian grandmother.
For my presentation, I talked about the similarities and differences between the ancient recipes recorded by Archestratus and Apicius and what are now traditional Sicilian recipes. The menu I selected for this event reflected the development of the recipes and methods used from the ancient world into the Sicilian recipes, the influences of the seasons, religion and culture of Sicily, which in the course of 3,000 years has layered Christianity over Islam and Roman, Greek and more ancient religions.
As the theme of the presentation was Christmas cookery, I focussed on fish and vegetables since Sicilians observe the Catholic rituals of Advent, which involves a month of fasting. The Christmas meal for Sicilians happens on Christmas eve, when they traditionally eat fish. Gillian helped explain the connection between fish and Christ, referencing the Greek word for fish, icthos, which in the early christian era was the symbol most more closely identified with Christ than the cross and whose letters were used as an acrostic, to spell out in Greek, Jesus Christ Son of God, Saviour.
This is my third Workshop organised by The Ancient Mediterranean Studies at La Trobe University.
Baked ricotta and marinaded black olives
Lentils and chicory soup with a soffritto of garlic and parsley (chili optional)
Soused fish with vinegar, garlic and mint
Baccalà cooked in bianco with olives and capers, parsley, garlic and potatoes
Baked fish inserted with anchovies and marinaded in red onion, lemon, vinegar and extra virgin olive oil
Fish balls with pine nuts and dried grapes (muscatels)
Asparagus dressed with oil and vinegar
Green salad; endive, chicory, frisse, batavia /roman lettuce and cos lettuce
Cuccia (to honour Saint Lucy, patron Saint of Syracuse, mid December)
Buccello (bucciddatu in Sicilian), a round ciambella (ring-shaped cake) eaten at Christmas with a stuffing of dried fruits and nuts enclosed in crumbly, short pastry. This was made by pastrychef Marianna from Dolcetti.
We drank Sicilian Wine: Marsala fino, Grillo, Nero d’Avola and Zibbibo,
Some guests did not eat fish and they were presented: Zucchini in agro-dolce (pinenuts and currants, vinegar and sugar), Tomato salad with feta, Potatoes alla pizzaiola (black olives, oregano, garlic and tomato). These vegetables were unknown before the discovery of the American continent (Christopher Columbus in 1492)
Baccalà is traditionally eaten on Christmas eve in Sicily. The ingredients are sufficient for a main meal for 4 people.
A common Sicilian method of cooking food is ‘alla ghiotta’and it usually contains green olives, capers and celery. Stockfish or Baccalà alla ghiotta in bianco is cooked without tomato and is more commonly cooked in the winter months –culinary term, white — with little seasoning and definitely without tomato.
The cod can usually be bought from Italian or Spanish supermarkets. You need to begin preparations at least two day before. Some salt cod is pre-soaked by the vendors beforehand, so it is best to ask about this when you buy it.
AGGHIOTTA DI BACCALA` IN BIANCO (Baccalà ALLA GHIOTTA and IN BIANCO) Recipe from Sicilian Seafood Cooking
Soak the fish to remove the salt.
Rinse any excess salt off the cod, then put it into a large bowl and cover with cold water.
Leave to soak in the fridge for 3 days, changing the water three to four times a day.
Cut any fins or tails off the cod pieces and remove any obvious bones.
stock fish or baccalà , 1.2kg
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
celery heart, 2-3 pale green stalks and leaves, chopped
onion, 1 large, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
parsley, 4 tablespoons, cut finely
green olives, 1 cup, pitted, chopped
capers, ½ cup salted variety, soaked and washed
potatoes, 500g peeled and cut into large chunks
Cut the soaked cod into pieces about 10cm in length.
For la ghiotta:
Add the celery and onion to hot, extra virgin olive oil. Use a pan large enough to accommodate all of the ingredients, and cook until softened (about 5 minutes). Stir frequently to cook evenly.
Reduce the heat to medium; add the capers, olives, parsley and stir well.
Add freshly ground pepper, stir, and cook for about 10 minutes to blend the flavours.
Place the fish in the vegetables (preferably in a single layer) and spoon some of the vegetables over it. Add about ½ cup of water (or wine, optional).
Reduce the heat to very low – the fish should not be stirred or it will flake. Cover, and cook for about 35 minutes before adding chunks of potatoes.
Add 1–2 cups of water and leave undisturbed to cook, but occasionally adding a little more water to keep the ingredients moist and until the fish and potatoes are cooked to your liking.
This dish is always served hot, but can easily be reheated; the flavours improve if cooked beforehand.
Dr Gillian Shepherd is Lecturer in Ancient Mediterranean Studies and Director of the A.D. Trendall Research Centre for Ancient Mediterranean Studies at La Trobe University.Gillian studied Classics and Fine Arts at the University of Melbourne before going on to complete a PhD in Classical Archaeology at Trinity College, Cambridge, followed by a research fellowship at St Hugh’s College, Oxford.
Until her recent return to Australia to take up her position at La Trobe University, Gillian was Lecturer in Classical Archaeology at the University of Birmingham, UK. Her research interests are the ancient Greek colonisation of Sicily and Italy, burial customs, and the archaeology and art of Greece and Magna Graecia.
The book will feature recipes for fish (primi and secondi) and vegetables and will be called Sicilian Seafood Cookbook. The photography is by Graeme Gillies and food styling by Fiona Rigg, but the book will also have photos that were shot in Sicily over my many travels.
There were approximately 70 dishes, cooked and photographed in 4.5 days. We were busy and the photographer and food stylist did an amazing job, as did the team of volunteer friends who were kitchen hands.
The kitchen and dining room of my apartment was completely taken over by ingredients, implements, cutlery, crockery and decorative props for the week. Most of the furniture was shipped out and stored with friends and neighbours – so many people pitched in to help.
I source most of my ingredients from my favourite and ever-reliable suppliers in the Queen Victoria Market. But I also travelled to the Preston and Kingston Markets for some of the more exotic things such as sea urchins (ricci) – these unfortunately were suitable for the props only and were not very edible.
I found Coorong mullets, urchin roe, wild/line caught species of fish (sustainable) from a couple of specialist, restaurant fish suppliers. I ended up buying about ten cuttlefish to extract the ink and ended up finally finding a live eel in an Asian food market in Adelaide.
Fishing the eel out of the tank was extremely dramatic. Several eels made a bid of freedom, slithering along the market floor, as the person serving me, tried his best to get to grips with one of these slippery creatures. Finally, after much wriggling and squirming, he succeeded. The vendor was ready to give me a live eel in a plastic bag until I told him that I had to fly back to Melbourne with it. I left the shop with a very fresh eel, which I only had to skin. But that is another story.
Eel- top two pieces are the skin
And in those four days that the photo shoot took place, we all worked extremely hard.
Thanks Graeme , Fiona and the friends who come to help.