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.
How would you like a wood oven like this in your back garden?
My son sent me this photo. He found it in the house across the road from where he lives; the house was up for sale and he took a peak during one of the open inspections. And there it was!
I can imagine the range of goodies that have been cooked in that oven over the last 20 years.
Once the oven is fired up the heat would be utilized till the end.
High heat is required for the wood fired bread (enough for the week and perhaps one or two relatives) and plenty of pizzas for the the weekly occasion when the extended family visits.
And some for the grand kids’ school lunches.
Heat would not have been wasted. After the baking of the food that requires high heat, there may be some trays of biscuits that require moderate heat and then the oven would be utilized to slowly roast trays of meat or perhaps to finish off drying trays of dried tomatoes or left over bread to make into breadcrumbs.
My experiences of an Italian Christmas are limited to Sicily (with my grandparents) and Trieste (where I lived as a child) and with Christmas coming up I have been thinking about traditional food in other parts of Italy. If the people who lived in the house with the wood fired oven were from the eastern side of a central region of Italy called Le Marche, they may be preparing to make a traditional fruit and nut bread for Christmas.
Natale is the Italian word for Christmas and the fruit and nut bread the Marchigiani make is called a Pizza di Natale or a Pizza Natalizia; it is not a pizza, but because a pizza dough (same as a bread dough) is used for the basis of this traditional fruit bread, it is referred to as a pizza.
The following mixture will make two pizzas. The dough needs to rise for 6-8 hours so it would be preferable to mix it the day before you intend to bake it.As for the shape, you can divide the dough into two and shape it into two round loaves or each half placed into cake tins – preferably those with tall sides or with a hole in the middle (the shape will be called a ciambella).
You can make pizza dough using your favourite recipe or buy ready made dough or use this recipe:
1 kg strong white flour,1 level tablespoon fine sea salt,1 tablespoon sugar, approx 650ml (3 cups) lukewarm water, 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 sachets of dry yeast – one sachet or one envelope weighs 7 grams (2 teaspoons).
Mix the yeast, sugar into water and stir well and set aside while you prepare the flour. Mix the flour and salt into a large bowl, make a hole in the middle, pour the yeast mixture into the hole. Use your hands and knead the mixture to form a dough. You may need to add a little more flour if the mixture is too wet or more water if it is too dry. Knead it until you have a smooth dough. Place the dough back into the bowl and cover it with plastic wrapping or a tea towel. Leave in a warm room until the dough has doubled in size – about an hour. Add the oil and knead it again.
PIZZA DI NATALE
Mix together: 500 gr walnuts (broken up into large bits), 200g raisins, 200g dried figs (chopped), 100g of citrus peel, black ground pepper and nutmeg to taste (I like it spicy), 350g sugar and grated rind of 1 lemon and 1orange.
Juice of the orange and lemon to add to the mixture when you combine the dough with the fruit and nut mixture in case it is too dry. Or splash some rum or orange flavoured liqueur to moisten the dough – alcohol is my preferred choice, but is not traditional.
Combine the dough with the fruit and nut mixture and knead well.
Divide the dough into two and shape into round loaves or place it into two tins -the dough needs room to rise so choose suitable tins.
Leave the Pizza Natalizia to rise for 6 hours or overnight.
Bake them in the oven at about 210°C for about 40-50 minutes. Do the usual things that are done when baking, i.e. cover the tops with baking paper if the top is cooking too quickly, insert a skewer into the dough at the end of 40 minutes to see if it is cooked etc.
Store in cake tins or a couple of layers of foil till ready to slice.
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.
One of my regular readers (from Philadelphia) is passionate about Sicily. She has sent me some wonderful photographs from her trip (mainly from Palermo) and she has very kindly given me permission to use them on my blog.
I asked her about this particular photograph because I could not identify what was being served. The photo was taken in front of Antica Focacceria San Francesco during Sunday brunch (al fresco). The piazzetta in front of the Antica Focacceria is across from the wonderful church of Saint Francis of Assisi which has the sculpture of Serpotta.
She has identified it as a sfincione di Palermo. It is a type of focaccia /pizza sold in the streets of Palermo but also known in some other parts of the north- western part of the coast. There are many bread dough /focaccia like pastries made all over Sicily with different fillings and called by different names.( See ‘MPANATA (A lamb pie, Easter treat)
Sfincione is definitely a recipe from Palermo. It has a bit of a unique appearance and is baked for a short time with about 1/2 of the sauce, then taken out of the oven and recovered with the remaining sauce, “dredged with fried bread crumbs” and baked again.
It is the bread crumbs in the end that give it the look.
A typical recipe for Sfincione is:
500 gr. bread dough, 500 gr. fresh tomatoes, 100 gr. fresh caciocavallo or provola cheese (cubed), 50 gr. pecorino (grated) 50 gr. bread crumbs, 4 anchovy fillets, 1 large onion, a bunch of parsley 125 ml olive oil.
Prepare a basic pizza dough using fresh or active dry yeast, warm water, a little salt and approx. 3 cups of good quality unbleached flour. Leave it to prove in a bowl covered it with a folded tea towel/ tablecloth for about an hour.
Work about 1 glass of olive oil and the grated cheese (the pecorino) into the leavened dough. Leave it to prove again till doubled in size.
The tomatoes are made into a salsa: soften the sliced onion until golden, then add the parsley and the peeled, chopped tomatoes. Simmer till thickened
(about 20 minutes). Allow to cool slightly.
Add the anchovies and the caciocavallo.
Oil a deep sided baking pan and spread out the dough to about 3cm thick. Using your fingers make a few depressions into the dough.
Pour half of the sauce over the dough and bake it in a hot oven. After about 15 minutes, pour on the remaining sauce and dredge with fried breadcrumbs.
Drizzle with a little more oil and bake it for about 30 minutes.