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 therefore in Australia we also tend to undervalue it. It is denser in texture but still excellent for cooking (lightly or cooked for longer). As in Australia, Blue fin tuna is the preferred tuna in Sicily; if it is sustainable depends on how and where it is caught – it should be wild caught and aquaculture is not an option.
Unfortunately I rarely find albacore tuna where I live in Melbourne and if I do, I always grab it when I can and cook it as I would cook blue fin tuna.
I like tuna seared and left rare centrally but my Sicilian relatives eat tuna very well done and this is also how it is presented in the traditional home-style restaurants in Sicily.
In Sicily there are numerous ways tuna but Tonno alla stemperata is one of the favourites in the south eastern part of Sicily. It was first cooked for me by one of my cousins, Rosetta, who lives in Ragusa. She and her husband have a holiday house on the beach at Marina di Ragusa, and she usually buys most of her fish from the fishermen on the beach.
Although Rosetta prefers to use tuna in this recipe, any firm-fleshed fish, thickly sliced, is suitable. She prefers to cut the tuna into large cubes – this allows greater penetration of the flavours in the sauce and of course, it will cook to a greater degree and more quickly.
Rosetta cooked the fish in the morning and we ate it for lunch, at room temperature…in Australia you may find this unusual but eating it at room temperature and some time after it has been cooked allows the flavours time to develop.
A version of this recipe is also in my first book: Sicilian Seafood Cooking.
I have used Albacore tuna,trevally,mackerel or flathead (better choice category) successfully in this recipe.
tuna or firm-fleshed fish, 4 slices
sliced white onions, 2
capers, ½ cup, salted variety, soaked and washed
white wine vinegar, about 2 tablespoons or for a milder taste use 1 tablespoon of white wine and one of vinegar
extra virgin olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
salt, black pepper or red chilli flakes (as preferred by the relatives in Ragusa),
celery heart, 2 or 3 of the pale green stalks and young leaves, chopped finely
green olives, ½ cup, pitted, chopped
bay leaves, 4
Soften the onion and celery in about half of the extra virgin oil, and cook until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the fish, olives, capers, seasoning and bay leaves and sear the fish. The pieces of fish only need to be turned once.
Add the vinegar and allow the vinegar to evaporate and flavour the dish.
Remove the fish from the pan if you think that it will overcook and continue to evaporate.
Optional: Decorate (and flavour) with mint just before serving.
You can tell I am in South Australia by some of the photos of the fabulous varieties of fish I am able to purchase in Adelaide when I visit.
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.
You may have noticed that use of nettles in culinary dishes are gaining popularity. Some Melbourne restaurants have included nettles and there were bunches for sale at the Queen Victoria Market a couple of weeks ago (Il Fruttivendolo – Gus and Carmel’s stall). Gus and Carmel have not been able to procure any nettles for the last couple of weeks so maybe demand by restaurants has increased.
Nettles (ortiche in Italian) are part of the assortment of wild greens – considered unwanted weeds by many and appreciated edible plants by others. Wild greens in Italian are referred to as piante selvatiche (wild plants) or a term that I find very amusing: erbe spontanee (spontaneous herbs).
Nettles are high in nutrients such iron, magnesium and nitrogen and can be eaten in many recipes – I ate them not so very long ago incorporated in the gnocchi dough in a trattoria in Cividale del Fruili, a lovely little town in the Province of Udine, part of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northern Italy.
Once back in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago I enjoyed them on several occasions as a sauce for gnocchi at Osteria Ilaria and at Tipo 00 nettles have been part of a risotto since it opened– both excellent eateries are owned by the same team.
Matt Wilkinson, of Brunswick’s Pope Joan has also been a fan of nettles for a long time.
Nettles are easily found anywhere where weeds can grow. If you have ever touched nettles you would know that they sting, cause redness and itching so use rubber gloves when you harvest them. Nettles need to be cooked before eating and because they reduce significantly when cooked, you will need a large amount of them.
Remove the stems and choose the best leaves – the tender young leaves from the tips are best; wash and drain them as you do with any other green vegetable. Blanch a few handfuls of the leaves in a pot of boiling water for minute or so – this softens them and removes the sting and you will end up with a dark green soft mass which you may choose to puree even further to gain a smooth, soft paste. Drain and use them – once cooled they can be included in a gnocchi or pasta dough or in a sauce to dress the pasta or gnocchi. Incorporate them as part a soup – great with cannellini or chickpeas. Mix them with eggs and a little grated cheese to make a frittata. For a risotto either use the already softened nettles or sauté the leaves with whatever ingredients you are using for the risotto and then add the rice and broth.
On my recent travels to Northern Italy I ate gnocchi with nettles in a trattoria in Cividale dei Fruili. The cheese used to top the gnocchi is smoked ricotta.
You will find many recipes for making potato gnocchi and I generally use about 500 grams of boiled potatoes, 150 grams of softened/ blanched cold nettles, 1 egg, 150 grams of flour.
You could also try gnocchi made with bread.
Equal amounts of nettles and bread, i.e.
300 g of nettles, blanched and drained
300 g of good quality white bread (crusts removed and preferably 1-2 days old)
milk to soften the bread
1 large egg
seasoning – salt, pepper, grated nutmeg
about 2 – 4 tablespoons plain flour to bind the mixture (try to use as little as possible) and
grated parmesan can also replace some of the quantities of the flour
N.B. Spinach instead of nettles can be used in the recipe.
Dampen the bread with some milk and squeeze any moisture from out before using. Mix the cooled nettles with the bread in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, add the egg and knead well. Add the flour gradually and make small balls with the dough. Flatten them slightly with a fork. Boil in salted water until they float to the top.
A simple sauce can be some lightly browned melted butter with sage leaves and a good sprinkling of parmesan cheese.
Sea urchins and they are now available (July) at the Queen Victoria Market at George The Fish Monger.
They are called ricci in Italy (di mare means from the sea) and are considered a culinary delicacy – the two most common ways to eat them are very fresh and raw with a squeeze of lemon juice (like oysters) or in a dressing for pasta. The roe (the edible part) is never cooked directly – it is much too delicate in flavor and consistency. In the pasta dish it is the hot, cooked pasta that warms (and ‘cooks’) the roe – flip and toss the roe over and over until all of the ingredients of the pasta sauce are evenly distributed.
Eating fresh fish is a serious business in Sicily – it is eaten cooked in many ways but also raw (called pesce crudo).
Traditionally, Sicilians did not serve raw fish without marinating it first in lemon juice and then dressed with olive oil and referred to as condito (in Italian) or cunzato (in Sicilian). For example fresh anchovies are gutted, cleaned and have their heads removed. They are then left in lemon juice for at least a few hours. Sometimes, the anchovies are referred to in Sicilian as anchiva cotti d’a lumia, that is, anchovies cooked by the lemon juice, and that is exactly what has happened – the acid in lemon in the marinade has done the cooking. The anchovies are then drained and dressed with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
In Sicily, tuna and swordfish used to be the other most common types of fish eaten raw (especially as a starter) but eating other types of pesce crudo (raw fish) is becoming much more fashionable as Sicilian chefs respond to the inspirations and influences of the wider world and appreciate tastes and trends from other cultures.
Recently, I was commissioned to write an article about Sicily’s pesce crudo by Great British Chefs, a food multimedia company that publishes recipes and other cooking-related material via its website. Great British Chefs, has expanded into Italy . . . Great Italian Chefs and the article published on their website is called PESCE CRUDO.
I have always enjoyed fish markets in Sicily and this is a small segment from the article PESCE CRUDO
Fish markets and marinas
Walking through the fish markets in Sicily is always a joy; the hustle and bustle of locals seeking out the best produce among the colourful stalls and traders is what makes the island such a charming place. There is more than one fish market in Catania, but the principal market in the southwest of the Cathedral Square is one of the largest in Sicily. However, wherever you are on the island will never be too far from fresh fish.
Sicily’s fish markets have vast, colourful, varied displays of exotic specimens such as sea urchins and edible algae to the more conventional octopus, squid, tuna and swordfish. Small, live fish swim circles in buckets of sea water, snails crawl about and all types of shellfish, especially the gamberi rossi (red prawns of Sicily), look dazzling. You know the fish is fresh – their shells and scales glisten in the sun.
Swordfish and tuna, the traditional staples of Sicilian cuisine, are the centrepieces of the market stalls. They are often displayed whole, the swordfish bill like a spear thrusting upwards. At other times, their massive round carcasses lie like a trunk on the fishmonger’sbench, while the tuna is sliced vertically and horizontally before being filleted along the length of its spine, while all its parts are laid out, testifying to its freshness.
At this time of year basil is plentiful and many of us enjoy pasta with pesto, so it is time to revisit a post I first wrote in February, 2009 about the Sicilian pesto called Mataroccu (and also Ammogghia in some parts of Sicily).
The name pesto comes from the word for pestle or to pound. The ingredients are pounded in a mortar and the results are much sweeter than ingredients chopped in a food processor – the differences are much the same as the results obtained from chopping herbs by hand and using a food processor fitted with the steel blade (will taste grassy).
Most associate pesto with the traditional combination of basil, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and good quality grated cheese; pesto originates from the region of Liguria.
Some of us would be amused about the way that Ligurians discuss a genuine pesto- Ligurian pesto can only be made with basil grown in Genoa and close environs (region of Liguria) and that Ligurians generally use as the cheese component, half Parmigiano and half Pecorino sardo – Sardinian (sardo) Pecorino is a much sweeter tasting and less salty than other pecorino. As it should be, Pecorino is made from sheeps’ milk – the word pecora is Italian for sheep.
To dress pasta, also like to make a Sicilian alternative, a pesto from around Trapani – Mataroccu or Ammogghia and sometimes Pesto Pantesco (if it is from the island of Pantelleria, south-west of Sicily).
As expected there are different regional versions of the same pistu (Sicilian word for pesto) It contains similar ingredients as the Ligurian pesto but also raw, fresh, ripe tomatoes, which at this time of year, like basil, should not be a problem. Some Trapanesi prefer to use blanched almonds instead of the pine nuts.
I never weigh ingredients when I make pesto, but the following amounts should provide a balanced sauce for pasta. As I may have written at other times, in Australia we tend to overdress our pasta – the pesto should coat the pasta (and it is assumed that you will use good quality, durum wheat pasta) but not overpower the taste.
almonds or pine nuts, 1 cup
garlic, 8-10 cloves,
ripe tomatoes, 400g, peeled, seeded, and chopped
basil, 1 ½ cups loose leaves
parsley ½ cup, cut finely
extra virgin olive oil (your most fragrant), about 1 cup or as much as the pesto absorbs
salt, and red pepper flakes to taste
Pound garlic in a mortar with a little salt to obtain a paste (I like it fine but with some uneven bits).
Add some of the tomato, some herbs and a little oil and pound some more.
Keep on adding a few ingredients at the time, till they have all been used and until you have a homogeneous, smooth sauce.
Because we live in a modern age you may wish to use a food processor. First grind the nuts. Add the rest of the ingredients gradually and process until creamy.
I have had a request from a reader for how to cook stockfish (stoccafisso or pescestocco in Italian and piscistoccu in Sicilian). She plans to cook it for Good Friday.
There are two recipes for how to cook salt cod (baccalà) on the blog already (see links below) and these recipes can also be used for stockfish (stoccafisso).
What I have not done on my blog is to say what the differences are between stoccafisso and baccalà. The photo above was taken in Syracuse. The seller is selling baccalà (the large fillets of white fish).
Stoccafisso and baccalà are popular all over Italy, from north to south.
Baccala`is cooked all over Sicily, but stoccafisso is particularly popular in Messina (n0rth-eastern corner of Sicily).
Although at times stoccafisso and baccalà are used interchangeably in recipes, they are different.
Stoccafisso is air-dried, without salt, and the fish can be cod, haddock or hake. It is dry and hard and usually sold as a whole fish, complete with bones and skin.( In the photo above Stockfish is hanging from the top of the counter at Mercato in Adelaide).
Baccalà is salt-cured cod. In Spanish it is bacalao, in Portuguese bacalhau, in French morue, and it is made from various varieties of cod: cod, ling, saithe and tusk. It is relatively moist and tender and usually sold cut into sections rather than a whole fish. It is skinless, boneless and white. Although baccalà may appear initially to be more appealing, there are no added ingredients in the processing of stoccafisso and it has a more delicate flavour than baccalà.
Stoccafisso and baccalà can be cooked many ways and were usually eaten on days of abstinence (Fridays and during Lent, especially on Good Friday ) when meat was not to be eaten by Catholics. Christmas Eve is also a very popular time to eat stoccafisso or baccalà .
To prepare both the stoccafisso and baccalà rinse well and soak it in cold water for 20–24 hours, minimum, depending upon its thickness (refrigerate it in hot weather). Change the water 2–3 times daily. I have seen recipes that suggest soaking the fish for 48 hours – time you soak it depends on the quality and age of the fish, but it will not suffer too much if it is soaked for longer.
Once it has soaked, rinse the fish well. If it is stockfish, skin it, pick out the bones and cut it into large pieces (130mm) and it’s ready for use.
Baccalà generally takes longer to cook than stoccafisso but it will depend on the thickness of the fish.
Stoccafisso and baccalà require soaking in water before cooking: stoccafisso needs soaking for several days to rehydrate it and baccalà requires an equal amount of time to remove the salt. Most Italian and Spanish food stores sell pre-soaked stoccafisso or baccalà and is ready to use.Remove cartilage, bones and skin of the stockfish before cooking.
This photo was sent to me by a friend. They are the racks used to dry stockfish near Honningsvåg in Norway.
Carmela, one of my parents’ friends, cooked stoccafissoalla ghiotta for me many years ago in Adelaide. Originally from Messina, Carmela came to Australia as a young woman. Her version had tomatoes in it, but it can be cooked without tomatoes as well and called in bianco (white/ without tomatoes).
stock fish, 1 kg
tomatoes, 500g peeled, seeded, and chopped (or 1 cup passata)
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
flat leaf parsley, cut finely, 4 tablespoons
green olives,1 cup, pitted, chopped
capers, ½ cup salted variety, soaked and washed
potatoes, 500g peeled and cut into large chunks
Soak the stockfish and prepare it according to the instructions above.
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 soft, about 5 minutes. Stir frequently to cook evenly.
Reduce the heat to medium; add the capers, olives, and flat leaf parsley and stir well.
Add the tomatoes, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, stir, and cook for about 10 minutes to blend the flavours.
Place the fish in the sauce (preferably in a single layer) and spoon some of the sauce over it.
Reduce the heat to very low – the fish should not be stirred or it will flake. Cover, and cook for about 20 minutes before adding large chunks of potatoes. If you are using baccalà instead of stoccafisso you may need to cook it a little longer.
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 if cooked beforehand.
Recipes are from my first book: Sicilian Seafood Cooking: Baked baccalà Aggiotta di baccalà in bianco
Photo below was taken in Macau where I saw many baskets of cod drying in the street.
On Saturday, 20 September 2014 I will be at Waratah Hills Vineyard conducting a lunch time masterclass of Sicilian cooking .
Waratah Hills Vineyard is located on the road to the iconic Wilsons Promontory National Park. It is one of the southern most vineyards on the Australian mainland. The cool, maritime climate wine region is acknowledged as one of the best Pinot Noir producing areas in Australia.
The owners are Judy and Neil Travers. They have a simple philosophy is to do everything possible to produce grapes of the highest quality. The artisan approach to detail involves hand picking by clones in small batches at just the right intensity of ripeness.
Waratah Hills Vineyard was planted 17 years ago in the burgundy style of low trellising and close planting.
It is a beautifully sited vineyard with two acres of Chardonnay planted on a north south slope and seven acres of Pinot Noir separated by a band of trees into two distinctly different areas of the property.
In 2012 Judy and Neil Travers we were delighted to receive the Victorian Tourism Minister’s Encouragement Award for New and Emerging Tourism Businesses.
This is the information on the flyer:
Culinary jewels of Sicily
On Saturday, 20 September Waratah Hills Vineyard is hosting a lunch time masterclass of Sicilian cooking conducted by Marisa Raniolo Wilkins.
Marisa has written two books on Sicilian cooking; Sicilian Seafood Cooking and Small Fishy Bites.
She is a vivacious fusion of cultures and experience. Her food is very much driven by a curiosity of exploring her cultural origins. The recipes and ingredients of Sicily reflect the influences of the Mediterranean from ancient times to the modern day.
Born in Sicily and raised in Trieste before migrating to Australia with her parents, she regularly visits her extended family in Italy and Sicily; each visit adding to her knowledge of first-hand wonderful food experience.
Places are limited for this hands on three-course cooking, eating and drinking experience at $120 per head. Course notes and recipes are provided for you to take home.