Tag Archives: Sicilian Recipe

FRITTEDDA (A sauté of spring vegetables)

Frittedda is exclusively Sicilian and is a luscious combination of spring vegetables lightly sautéed and with minimum amount of stirring to preserve the textures and fresh, characteristic flavours of each ingredient — the sweetness of the peas, the slightly bitter taste of the artichokes and the delicate, nutty taste of broad beans. It is really a slightly cooked salad and each vegetable should be young and fresh.

In Sicily this dish is usually made at the beginning of spring (Primavera), around the feast day of San Giuseppe (19 March) when the first peas and broad beans come into season. It is thought that the origins of the dish are from around the northwestern part of Sicily (from Palermo to Trapani), but I have also found recipes from the agricultural areas in the centre of Sicily, in Caltanissetta, Enna and across to Agrigento and all have their own variations.

IMG_6024

Because frittedda is a celebration of spring, I also like to include asparagus, but this is not in traditional recipes. Use white or green asparagus, thick or thin. Yet again breaking with tradition I often add a little strong broth for extra flavour — Sicilians seldom add stock to food and rely on the natural flavours of the ingredients. They know that the sun always shines in Sicily and therefore, their produce tastes better.

img_3060-1

To fully appreciate the flavour of frittedda, I like to eat it at room temperature (like caponata) and as a separate course — as an antipasto with some good bread. The recipe also makes a good pasta sauce to celebrate spring.

DSC_0019

artichokes, about 3 young, tender
peas, 750g (250g, shelled weight)
broad beans, young, 1kg (these will result in about shelled 350g) The broad beans should be young and small — if they are not, (remove the outer peel of each bean)
asparagus (250g). Snap the bottoms from the asparagus and cut the spears into 2cm lengths
spring onions, 3-4, sliced thinly (including the green parts)
lemon, 1 for the acidulated water
extra virgin olive oil, about ½ cup
salt and pepper
white wine vinegar, ½ tablespoon or the juice of ½ lemon
sugar, about a teaspoon
fresh mint leaves, to sprinkle on top before serving

Prepare the artichokes – strip off the tough outer leaves. It is difficult to purchase young artichokes in Australia so you may need to remove quite a few of them.
Keep the artichokes in acidulated water (use juice of 1 lemon) as you clean them and until you are ready to use.
Cut each artichokes into quarters. Slice the artichokes into thin slices. I also use the stalk of the artichoke (stripped of its outer fibrous layer).

Select a wide pan with a heavy bottom and cook as follows:
Add some of the oil.
Add the artichokes and sauté them gently for about 5-7 minutes (tossing the pan, rather than stirring and trying not to disturb the ingredients too much).
Before proceeding to the next stage, taste the artichokes, and if they need more cooking sprinkle them with about ½ cup of water, cover the saucepan with a lid and stew gently for about 10 minutes. You will know when the artichokes are cooked as there will only be slight resistance when pricked with a fork.
Add more oil, the spring onions, the peas and broad beans, salt and pepper. Toss and shake the ingredients around gently to ensure that the vegetables do not stick. Cook for about 5-7 minutes. Add a dash of water (or stock).
Add the asparagus and cook for a few minutes longer.
Place the ingredients into a bowl or they will keep on cooking.
Add the white wine vinegar or the juice of ½ lemon – the small amount of vinegar or lemon juice provides a little acidity in contrast to the sweetness of the dish. You could also add a little sugar.
I sometimes add a little grated nutmeg – this accentuates the sweetness of the ingredients. Fresh mint leaves will accentuate the freshness but put them on top the frittedda when you are ready to serve it (mint leaves discolour easily).

Variations

The Palermitani (from Palermo) add the agro dolce sauce (sweet and sour sauce like when making caponata) made with caramelised sugar and vinegar at the end of cooking.

In Enna, in the centre of the island, wild fennel is added during cooking.

wild fennel_0011

 

 

 

Carne Aglassata – Glazed tongue in onion sauce

Carne Aglassata is a Sicilian recipe  and it is meat braised slowly with plenty of onions. The resulting sauce, once reduced, acts as a glaze for the meat.

IMG_2264

Carne Aglassata is reputed to have been one of the typical dishes of Palermo as cooked by the Monsù – derived from the word monsieur – a French or French-trained cook employed in the homes of the wealthy in Sicily (and southern Italy) during the 1800s’ and early 19th centuries.

Some of the Monsù were French but others were Piedmontese, as Piedmont had been under French control in the late 1700s and early 1800s. These cooks influenced the local Sicilian cuisine by adding flair to what usually resulted in elaborate French inspired dishes. They were show off dishes and were often very decadent and rich; some are described in The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) the novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa which gives an account about the changes in Sicilian life and society during the Risorgimento .

For some reason that I have never been able to comprehend, my father who had never cooked for the family when we lived in Italy regularly cooked lingua (tongue) aglassata when we first came to Australia. The standard recipe for aglassata is for carne (meat) and it is usually for the yearling cut called the girello or silverside.

He cooked this on a Sunday morning – we had the sauce with rigatoni or penne for lunch and the meat for main course. Most of the sauce was used to dress pasta and some of the sauce was reserved for the tongue.Sometimes he added peas during the last stages of the cooking. Obviously you could also include the tongue in the sauce as the dressing for the pasta.

IMG_2299

Lard is usually used for the cooking of Carne aglassata – I used olive oil to cook it. Because tongue can be quite fatty I cooked the dish the day before and skimmed off the fat the next day. I also cut off the back part of the tongue which goes into the throat because this part is also quite fatty.

I then added about 1 tablespoon of lard when I reheated it – the lard helps to make the sauce glossy.

IMG_2257

INGREDIENTS

One ox tongue, about 4 large onions, 1 glass of white wine, rosemary and sage, salt, pepper, about ½ cup altogether of extra virgin olive oil and lard (pig fat).

To peel the tongue:
Wash it really well- I used a vegetable brush to scrub it. You can even use a clean kitchen brush to scrub it.
Place it in a saucepan and cover it with cold water, cover the lid and boil it until the skin turns white. This took about 30 minutes.
Drain it and peel the skin off while it is still hot. The skin is very thick and will come off easily.

IMG_2263

Select a saucepan that will hold the tongue comfortably but that will not need a large amount of water to cover it.
Slice the onions, place them in a saucepan with the oil and herbs, salt and pepper. Add some water, just to cover the tongue. Cover the saucepan with a lid and slowly simmer the tongue for about 2 hours.
Add the white wine, cover and continue to cook it for another 30 minutes.
Place the saucepan in the fridge overnight and skim off the fat the next day.
Remove the tongue and heat the sauce on high heat to thicken the sauce. Add about a tablespoon of lard while it is thickening, this helps to gloss the sauce.
Slice the tongue and return it to the sauce to heat. Use it to dress the pasta or as meat.

I pressed the leftover tongue for another occasion.

IMG_2270

SPICY CHICKEN SALAD WITH PEPPER, PUDDASTRI CA PIPIRATA: POLLASTRI CON PEPERATA

In the hot weather,  I often prepare a chicken salad.

I like this style of cooking – one that I can prepare the day before I present it.  These days, the easier, the better.

I have made this salad over many years and each time,  I vary the amount of flavours and it is a little different.

When I first made this dish many years ago, I adapted it from a Bugialli recipe called Insalata di cappone – the book was published in 1984 and Bugialli says that his recipe comes from a restaurant in Mantova (Mantua) and is the typical sweet and sour dish from the Renaissance period. In his recipe the capon is poached in broth and then pickled in the marinade for at least twelve hours. It is served cold.

IMG_0975-803x600

Several years ago I found a very similar recipe in a book about Southern Italian cooking. The writer had eaten Piperata Chicken in Trapani (Sicily) and acknowledges that it was probably not a traditional recipe. Her recipe was made with chicken breasts and along with other things, the zest and juice from a lemon, pine nuts and currants – the same flavours used in Bugialli’s recipe.

Using chicken breasts indicates that it is a modern recipe and even if these flavours were those of the Renaissance period they are still present today in Sicilian cooking – the agrodolce (sweet and sour), the lemon juice, the peel, the currants, the pine nuts. I always add cloves, cinnamon  and sometimes nutmeg. The agrodolce and use of spices is attributed to the Arabs, but also to the Romans, and both of these peoples were in Sicily.  Throughout the ages strong sauces were often used to disguise spoiled food, especially meat, and vinegar and sugar are still used as a preservative. (Caponata contains vinegar and sugar and in ancient times caponata because of its long lasting properties was a useful dish to take to sea by fishermen.)

I also found a recipe for Chicken in pomegranate juice in Barbara Santich’s book: The original Mediterranean Cuisine, medieval recipes for today.

In the recipe, the chicken is simmered in pomegranate juice and almond milk (made from blanched almonds) and flavoured with cinnamon and sugar. In the accompanying text Santich states that the origins of this dish can be attributed to the Arabs, the recipe probably arriving in western Europe through early translations of Arab dietetic writing and appearing in most early Mediterranean collections and also early thirteenth century Andalusian text.

I began to investigate the origins of the recipes.

From Pipirata, to piperatum, and in ancient Rome this was the “peppered broth” or “the water in which beef has been cooked in”. The broth contained garum and pepper. Garum was made through the crushing and fermentation in brine of the innards of fish. It originally came from the Greeks and was very popular with the ancient Romans. Garum was a seasoning preferred to salt and when added to other ingredients like vinegar, wine, oil and pepper it became a condiment used for meat, fish and vegetables – a type of fish sauce similar to the Asian fish sauces of countries like Thailand and Vietnam.

th-Venice-140x93

Pevere in the Veneto (dialect spoken in the region of Northern Italy) means ‘pepper’ and peverada is a sauce used as a common condiment in modern,  Italian cooking (mostly northern Italian). It is a sauce for game, excellent with duck or poultry and roasted meats. The most well-known peverada originated in the Veneto area and it usually contains garlic, oil, pepper, parsley, lemon juice, vinegar, livers (from the fowl being cooked), soppressa (salame), anchovies and pomegranate juice. The ingredients are minced and then sautéed adding the liver last. These ingredients are gently poached in broth. Lastly lemon juice, pomegranate juice and wine vinegar are added, and the sauce is reduced

In Medieval times, especially in the cooking of France most kitchens would have used vinegar or verjuice, lemon juice, or the juice of sour oranges, or pomegranate to add acidity to sauces. This would have been balanced with sweet ingredients, sugar or honey, dried fruit or concentrated grape juice or sweet wine. Meat was also preserved in a mixture of stock and vinegar. The sweet and sour taste and the use of strong spices were also popular in Renaissance times these sauces were popular with the French. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the nobility of southern Italy and Sicily employed a monsu’ – a monsieur – a French or French-trained cook who could have used elaborate sauces to dress game or roast fowl.

Chicken and the prized spices used in the recipes were once rare and expensive and the dish is not likely to be considered a poor person’s dish.

Bugialli does not use pomegranate in his recipe, but I have often decorated the dish with pomegranate seeds. I have also sometimes used minced anchovies and both of these ingredients are popular in Sicilian cooking.

And just when I thought that the chicken salad dish could be Sicilian after all, I found one recipe called Jadduzzedi e Puddastri ca sarsa pipirata in Pino Correnti’s book: Il libro d’oro della cucina e dei vini di Sicilia.

Correnti describes the dish as young chickens and roosters, pot roasted in oil, butter, bay leaves, rosemary, salt and pepper and deglazed with a little marsala (the dry variety). These were then served with a reduced salsa pipirata consisting of the following ingredients: vin cotto, broth flavoured with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and rosemary, grated lemon peel and pomegranate juice.

Apparently this particular dish was appreciated by a noble in Palermo in the eighteenth century.  Unfortunately then Correnti  goes on to say that this dish was revealed to him by a medium, and that he has never found  any basis or documentation for this recipe.

I could not come to any definite conclusion – all cuisines have cultural origins, but the cooking methods and flavours have altered and evolved throughout history to become what they are today.

Mary's Courtyard pomegranate_0519

Here is  one of my versions of Puddastri ca pipirata.

Prepare this dish at least the day before you serve it – this allows the flavours in the marinade to achieve the required results.(I have learned through experience that this dish tastes even better if left to marinade for at least 24 hours).

If using chicken  fillets use a wide, shallow sauce pan which allows the fillets to be placed in a single layer (if possible). If the chicken is in a double layer, ensure that during the poaching process you swap the ones on top with the ones in the bottom layer to allow even cooking.

The following recipe is sufficient for 6 people and I first published this recipe in a post on: Jan 11, 2010.

FullSizeRender7-800x647

INGREDIENTS
Chicken fillets, skinless or with skin. I use organic and depending on how large they are, estimate 1 per person.

Or  I sometimes use a whole chicken is in the photos.

For the poaching liquid:
chicken stock, sufficient to cover the fillets (made beforehand)
celery, 2 stalks left whole
carrots, 3 young, scraped and left whole
onion, 1 sliced into thick slices
spices, 5 whole cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, 6 pepper corns
bay leaves, 3
parsley, 4-5 sprigs
rosemary, 1 sprig

For the marinade:
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup
spices, 1/2  teaspoon of each, ground cloves and cinnamon (I used whole cloves once and watched my friends picking them out from their mouths – not a good feel or look so if you wish to use whole cloves you could wrap them in muslin),
bay leaves, 3- 4 (fresh leaves look great as well as doing their job)
chilly flakes or black pepper, to taste (I use plenty)
sugar, 1 small teaspoon
salt, to taste
red wine vinegar 1/3 cup
lemon or orange, the juice of 1, and the peel , peeled with a potato peeler and kept in strips so it can easily be removed

For the salad:
celery, 2 of the tender stalks sliced thinly, and some of the light green leaves, chopped
cooked chicken and carrots
spring onions, 3 chopped or cut lengthwise into thin , short pieces
pine nuts, 3/4 cup
seedless muscatels (or raisins or currants), 3/4 cup previously soaked in a little wine or marsala

FullSizeRender[1]

PROCESSES

Prepare the poaching liquid – I really like to make this strongly flavoured.
Use sufficient chicken stock to cover the chicken fillets or the whole chicken. (I usually have some stock in the fridge or stored in the freezer made with chicken with bones, carrot, onion and celery stick, a little salt, boiled and then reduced).
Strain the stock through a colander, empty it into the saucepan and add the ingredients listed for the poaching liquid above.
Bring the stock with added flavourings to the boil.
Place the fillets or the whole chicken gently into this poaching liquid – it should just cover the meat. Adding the meat to the hot stock will seal the meat and preserve the flavour. Adding the meat to the cold liquid will enrich the taste of the broth. Because the meat is the focus, add the chicken to the hot liquid.
Cover with a lid and bring slowly to the boil again on medium heat. Leave the chicken fillets to poach gently for about 7 minutes (I do not like to overcook them – they need to be white in colour and when pricked with a fork still have some resistance). If using a whole chicken, cook the chicken for about 60 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and leave the chicken in the poaching liquid till cool – the chicken will keep on cooking in the poaching liquid and be kept moist till you are ready to marinade it.

IMG_0978
Marinade:

Mix all of the ingredients together in a container and set aside till you are ready to assemble the salad.
To assemble the salad:
I like to use a deep glass bowl to see the chicken and salad ingredients in layers.
Take out chicken fillets and cut each fillet into thick slices or separate the flesh from the bones and cut it into thick slices.
Strain the poaching liquid, discard the solids but keep the carrots – these can be sliced into batons and added to the salad.
Place the chicken fillets and carrots in layers and cover with a little marinade and other ingredients as you go. The peel and bay leaves can be at the bottom of the dish and between the layers. Sprinkle pine nuts and drained dried muscatels, the spring onions, celery and carrots between the layers.
Top the whole dish with any remaining marinade and some of the cooled poaching liquid until all the chicken is covered (this will keep it moist and a good colour). Leave the chicken to pickle in the fridge. Shake the dish occasionally to amalgamate the flavours.

Remove it from the fridge about an hour prior to serving.

Presentation
Prior to presenting the dish you may like to drain off some of the liquid to make it more manageable. Ensure that each person receives some of the other solids as well as the chicken and serve some of the liquid separately if you wish.

It is at this stage that on numerous occasions I have taken more liberties with dish by:
•    adding one or more extra ingredients to the marinade: 1-2 chopped anchovies , 1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses instead of the sugar (molasses is definitely not Sicilian)  or a little vin cotto.
•   scattering pomegranate seeds on top of the salad.

FullSizeRender

Save any left over liquid to use as a stock to flavour braised rabbit, chicken, pork and venison dishes.

A bit of trivia:
I read recently that pomegranate juice has anti-inflammatory compounds, cancer-killing isoflavones and antioxidant properties. Italians call it melograna, melograno granato, pomo granato, or pomo punico. The generic term, punica, was the Roman name for Carthage, and the best pomegranates came to Italy from Carthage.

 

ITALIAN DRUNKEN CHICKEN – GADDUZZU ‘MBRIACU or GALLINA IMBRIAGA – depending on the part of Italy you come from

In Trieste my zia Renata used to make what she called Gallina Imbriaga (in dialect of Trieste- braised chicken in red wine), but as a child I thought that she called it by this name to make me laugh, and it did. I thought that the concept of a drunk chicken was hilarious.

Recently I decided to investigate the origins of this recipe and  it seems that  Friulani (from the region of Friuli Venezia Guilia, in a northeastern region of Italy) and i Triestini (who are part of this region) claim it as their own, but so do those from Padova (in the neighbouring Veneto region) and those from Central Italy particularly those in Umbria and Tuscany.

drunk-chicken-800x600

The recipe in each of these regions, whether it is a pollo ubriaco (drunk) and pollo in Italian being the generic word for  gallina (hen) or a galletto (young cock or rooster) seem to be cooked in a very similar way with the same ingredients – chicken cut into pieces, red wine and the following vegetables – carrot, celery, onion, garlic and parsley – all common ingredients for an Italian braise. Some marinate the chicken pieces beforehand, and as expected the wine needs to be from their region, i.e. if it is a Tuscan recipe the wine must be a Sangiovese or Chianti and if from Umbria, the choice of wine must be an Orvieto or Montefalco.

DSC055631-800x533

One recipe from Friuli  browns the chicken in butter and oil and also add brandy as well – drunken indeed if not paralytic.

Other variations are in the type of mushrooms: fresh or dry porcini or cultivated mushrooms. Rosemary is the  herb most favoured and parsley; some use sage and/ or thyme. The recipe is beginning to sound more and more like Coq Au Vin. So which came first… is it the French or the Italians ?

But I also found a recipe called Gadduzzu ‘Mbriacu (rooster) in Giuseppe Coria’s Profumi di Sicilia, and what I like about this recipe is listed as a variation – it is the addition of a couple of amaretti (almond biscuits) at the very end to flavour and thicken the sauce. Now that is a great addition!!

Coria suggests 1 onion, 1 carrot, heart of celery, 100g of porcini …. I added greater amounts of vegetables and used chicken legs (called coscie di pollo in Italian). Corai does not suggest using Nero D’Avola but this would be the preferred Sicilian wine to use.

1 chicken, cut into 6 or 8 pieces
200 g. mushrooms.
2 onions, sliced finely
2 carrots, diced
3-4 sticks from the centre of the celery, sliced thinly
½ litre of red wine
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2-3 amaretti
Dry the chicken pieces with kitchen paper and brown them in the oil evenly. Remove them and set aside.
Sauté the onion, carrot and celery until golden in the same pan and oil .
Add the chicken, herbs, seasoning and the red wine, cover and simmer for about 20 mins.
Add mushrooms and cook everything some more till all is cooked (30-40 mins altogether).
Break up the amaretti into crumbs and add it to the sauce before serving.

 

 

 

PASTA WITH SARDINES AND PEAS (PASTA CA NOCCA – PASTA COI FIOCCHI)

Anche l’occhio vuole la sua parte (Italian saying)
Even the eyes want their part.

I am always fascinated by the literal and figurative use of language especially to describe particular dishes; for example, pasta ca nocca (Sicilian): the pasta is dressed with peas and fresh sardines.

Nocca is a bow or a ribbon in Sicilian. A coloured ribbon or a bow in one’s hair looks attractive – probably at the time Sicilians came up with its name rather than now. . This pasta contains peas, and the contrasting green against the pasta, is eye catching and demands admiration, hence the name. I make the dish even prettier by using farfalle shaped pasta (butterflies) although these look more like bows to me.

INGREDIENTS
pasta, 500g, short pasta (such as farfalle fusilli or shells)
sardines, 300g fillets
peas, 400g fresh, green, young and shelled
parsley, a small bunch, cut finely
onion, 1 cut finely
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
grated pecorino, to taste

PROCESSES

Soften the onion in the extra virgin olive oil.
Add the peas, seasoning and the parsley. Without the lid, stir the contents gently over medium heat until the peas are well coated with the oil and the parsley has softened.
Add a splash of water (or white wine or vegetable stock), cover and cook gently until the peas have softened.
Add the sardines and continue to braise the contents uncovered until the sardines have cooked (only a few minutes) and broken up in the sauce.
As an alternative, I like to lightly fry the sardines separately and then add them to the cooked pasta and the peas. This is not the traditional method for this recipe, but I particularly like to taste individual flavours.
Present with grated pecorino.
VARIATIONS
In some households a little tomato salsa is added to the peas.
Others add wild fennel.
Some use anchovies instead of fresh sardines.

 

 

 

LAUNCH OF SICILIAN SEAFOOD COOKING AT MERCATO (Baccalaru ‘o fornu – Sicilian and Baccalà al forno- Italian).

ADELAIDE LAUNCH OF SICILIAN SEAFOOD COOKING

After the excitement and satisfaction of the successful launch of my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking, in Melbourne on 6 November, and book signing event at Readings Hawthorn on 17 November, I drove to Adelaide, for the launch of my book in South Australia.

The launch was hosted and organized by the team at Il Mercato, the Italian providore in the north-eastern suburb of Campbelltown, which is where my family settled after migrating from Italy. The local member and the State Minister for Education, Grace Portolese, MP introduced the South Australian event on Sunday, 20 November.

I was thrilled and honoured that respected cook and cooking teacher, Rosa Matto, agreed to launch the book in my former hometown. Rosa and I have known each other for over many years and I have always admired her cooking skills, her generosity and her commitment to sharing her knowledge of food through her cooking classes.

The launch at Il Mercato was very well attended. John Caporosa, the owner of the providore, had ordered 100 copies of Sicilian Seafood Cooking and on the day 99 were sold and signed.

Book signing queue at il Mercato

I am immensely grateful to John and his team, especially Cynthia and Lina who helped to make the event a success and prepared a selection of food:  there were white anchovies and arancini and Lina selected and cooked two recipes from Sicilian Seafood Cooking, the Caponata from Catania (pg 362) and the Baked baccalà (pg 193). It was presented on a ceramic spoon – practical and attractive and very suitable for this occasion.

Baccalà is cooked in many ways but this is probably my favourite – It is full of flavours and colours that can only be Sicilian. It can be presented as a main dish or as an antipasto. At Il Mercato it was served on spoons and everyone loved it.

Baccalà. has to soak for a couple of days before it is cooked, so begin preparations beforehand ( min. 24 hours but if  it is extra salty it will need extra time. It can be purchased pre soaked in some stores which sell Italian and Spanish food.

INGREDIENTS

1–1.2 kg (2lb 4oz–2lb
12oz) baccalà, soaked
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup finely cut parsley
500g (17.oz) tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
(or canned)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
mixed with ½ cup water
flour for coating
½ cup salted capers, soaked and washed
½ cup sultanas or currants
½ cup pine nuts
1 cup white wine
½ cup black olives, pitted and chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper

METHOD

Cut the baccalà into square portions and leave to dry on a paper towel.
Heat ½ cup of oil in an ovenproof casserole. Add the onion, garlic and
parsley and cook until the onion is pale golden. Add the tomatoes, the tomato
paste and seasoning and cook until thickened.
Lightly coat the baccalà with flour and fry in hot oil.
Arrange the baccalà in the casserole with the capers, sultanas, pine
nuts and ½ cup of wine. Bake in a preheated 180C (350 F) oven for
30–45 minutes. Add the rest of the wine and the olives and bake for another
15–30 minutes until cooked (the fish should flake). During cooking, check to
see if it is dry and either add more wine or water.
Variation
  • Sprinkle with fresh basil leaves or extra pine nuts and serve with chopped chilli and a dribble of extra virgin olive oil.
  • Cook any firm-fleshed fish this way. Large thick pieces are best.

IMG_1837

HARE or RABBIT COOKED IN CHOCOLATE. Lepre o Coniglio al Cioccolato (‘Nciculattatu is the Sicilian term used)

One of my favourite ways to cook rabbit or hare is with chocolate; chicken can also be cooked in the same way but is less common. If it is chicken it will cook in a relatively short time, a rabbit will take longer and a hare will take much longer – I cooked hare and it took close to three hours to cook.

There are several Spanish and South American recipes where chocolate is used in savoury dishes so the chocolate does not need to be considered unfeasible – Spaniards ruled Sicily over long periods.

Those of you who have been to eastern Sicily may have noticed the Baroque architecture that is especially prevalent in this part of Sicily and you may have visited Modica, the centre for Sicilian chocolate; this is where the recipe is said to have its roots.

In this Sicilian recipe the rabbit (or hare) is cooked in the same way as alla stemperata (in all stemperata dishes the ingredients include celery, carrots, onions, vinegar, sugar, raisins or sultanas, pine nuts, green olives and capers) but fennel seeds and cloves replace the last two ingredients and finally dark chocolate is used to enrich and thicken the sauce. The flavours in the stemperata have been partly accredited to the Arabs and are characteristic of much of Sicilian cuisine.

Hare, like all game benefits from marinading in wine before cooking. I do this when I am cooking rabbit as well, but there is no need to marinate chicken. I always save some of the leftover cooked hare and sauce for a pasta dish – use ribbon pasta, e.g. tagliatelle or pappardelle.

Whenever I buy hare I remember butcher shops in Italy where each beast is often left with a part of its body to make it recognizable – the head or the foreleg complete with fur, hoof, claw or paw.

INGREDIENTS

hare, rabbit or chicken 1.5- 2 k
dark chocolate, 200 g
onion, 1-2 sliced
red or white dry wine, 1 cup
wine vinegar, ½ cup
cloves, 6-8
celery, 4 stalks, sliced finely
carrots, 3 sliced finely
bay leaves, 4-6
fennel seeds,1 large tablespoon
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
chilli flakes and salt to taste
pine nuts,1 cup
raisins or sultanas, ½ cup (naturally sun dried)
sugar, 1 tablespoon

PROCESSES:
Clean the hare or rabbit or chicken and cut it into manageable sections at the joints.

Marinate it in the wine and half of the quantity of the oil and bay leaves for at least 3 hours and turn it occasionally (if cooking chicken you could marinade it for 1 hour if you wish).
Remove the pieces of meat and drain well; keep the marinade for cooking.
Add the rest of extra virgin olive oil in a large frying pan and sauté the pieces until golden. Remove them and set aside.
Add the onions, carrots and celery to the same pan and sauté until soft but not coloured.
Reduce the heat, and add the wine marinade, bay leaves, fennel seeds and cloves, the seasoning and vinegar. Cover with a lid and simmer it gently until it is soft – the time will vary as it depends on the meat. For example farmed rabbit will cook in a little time ( 40-60 minutes, the same as chicken, whereas a wild rabbit could take 2-3 hours).You may need to add some water periodically as it cooks so that it does not dry out (this has always been my experience).
Add the sultanas or raisins, pine nuts and chocolate about 30 minutes before it is cooked  Remove the lid and evaporate the juices if necessary.
More rabbit recipes:
CONIGLIO A PARTUISA (Braised rabbit as cooked in Ragusa)
PAPPARDELLE

 

PASTA CON LE SARDE (Pasta with sardines, from Palermo, made with fennel, pine nuts and currants)

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 an ancient, 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.

Pasta con sarde 1

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.

DSC_0001

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.

Sardines+crop_0018-200x200

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 Australia I 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 are butterflied (i.e. remove the backbone), or as the Italians say, aperti come un libro (opened like a book). I buy fillets to save time.

 Sardines butterflied_0019

INGREDIENTS

bucatini, 500g
sardines, 700g
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

PROCESS

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.
To assemble:
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 with Sarde a beccafico – part of the food series My Family Feast and cooked by Sean Connolly (chef):

http://www.sbs.com.au/shows/myfamilyfeast/recipes/detail/recipe/893

 
MA2SBAE8REVW