This Sicilian caponata is certainly different to the Christmas fare we are used to in Australia, but it makes a perfect antipasto or salad as an accompaniment to meat or fish .
Eggplants and peppers are summer vegetables and not in season in winter for Christmas, so this caponata is made with celery hearts, traditionally boiled first before being sautéed. In some parts of Sicily green, leafy winter vegetables (for example chicory, spinach, endives) are also used with the celery.
I do not pre-cook the celery; I prefer to slice it very finely and just sauté it till it is slightly softened.
It is a very unusual caponata with a combination of textures and flavours –sweet, salty, sour… soft and crunchy. This recipe is one of the many caponate in my first book Sicilian Seafood Cooking.
Sultanas or currants are both good to use. Muscatels and raisins are OK as well, but their size may not be as visually pleasing.
Sometimes I toast the almonds, sometimes I do not. I made this caponata in a friend’s kitchen and on this occasion I used whole almonds rather than chopped ( the was no food processor/ kitchen wizz). On other occasions I have used pine nuts.
I have paired this with meat and fish but I really like to eat it on by it self… especially at the start of a meal.
almonds, 1 cup, blanched, toasted and chopped
celery, 1 large, but remove the outer leaves and only use the centre, pale green stalks and some of the fine leaves
onion 1, large, chopped
sultanas or currants, ¾ cup, sun-ripened
capers, ½ cup, salted or in brine
green olives, ¾ cup , stoned, chopped
white vinegar, ½ glass
sugar, 3 tablespoons
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
salt and freshly ground pepper
These can be sprinkled on top when the caponata is ready to serve: Coarse Toasted Breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons, made from good quality 1-2 day old bread and then toasted in a frypan with hot oil.
Slice the celery finely and chop the leaves.
Sauté the celery with the onion in a deep frypan until it has softened, add salt and cook for about 10 minutes.
Add the olives, sultanas and capers and cook for another 2 minutes.
Empty the cooked ingredients into a bowl.
Agro dolce sauce (sweet and sour sauce): To the frypan already coated with caramelised flavours, add the sugar and heat it very gently until it begins to melt and bubble. Add the vinegar and allow it to evaporate.
Add the vegetables to the sauce and some of the almonds, reserving some for decoration if you are not going to use the toasted breadcrumbs.
Leave the caponata in the fridge, at least overnight. Serve at Room temperature. Top with the rest of the almonds or breadcrumbs when ready to serve.
Caponata has evolved over the ages to become the dish, which personifies Sicilian cuisine and is a popular dish during festivities ( perfect for Christmas). As you’d expect, there are many regional variations and enrichments of what must have been a very humble dish, as well as the personal, innovative touches from the chefs of ancient, Sicilian aristocracy (called monzu, a corruption of the French word monseur).
In Sicilian cooking the melanzana (eggplant) is said to be the queen of vegetables, second only to the tomato and the principal ingredient in caponata is the eggplant.
If you eat caponata at my house you are likely to eat the version of caponata as made in Catania and it will include peppers as well as eggplant. This is because my mother was born in Catania and this is the caponata I grew up eating. The caponata which is common around Palermo has no peppers.
I prefer to keep my caponata di melanzane simple, but again, variations in the amounts of ingredients are endless. Some versions add garlic, some have oregano, several recipes include anchovies, others add sultanas and/or pine nuts or toasted almonds. These are all acceptable and authentic variations.
In keeping with the tradition of what is customary in Palermo, just before serving add a sprinkling of coarse breadcrumbs (toasted in a fry pan in a little hot extra virgin olive oil) or almonds — blanched, toasted and chopped.
For me, Peter Robb in his book Midnight in Sicily captures the essence of a Sicilian caponata, when he describes how very different the caponata he was savouring in Palermo was to the caponata he had been eating in Naples.
I realised caponata in Palermo was something very different. It was the colour that struck me first. The colour of darkness. A heap of cubes of that unmistakably luminescent dark, dark purply-reddish goldy richness, glimmerings from a baroque canvas, that comes from eggplant, black olives, tomato and olive oil densely cooked together, long and gently. The colour of southern Italian cooking. Caponata was one of the world’s great sweet and sour dishes, sweet, sour and savoury.
The eggplant was the heart of caponata. The celery hearts were the most striking component: essential and surprising. Pieces of each were fried separately in olive oil until they were a fine golden colour and then added to a sauce made by cooking tomato, sugar and vinegar with a golden chopped onion in oil and adding Sicilian olives, capers …….
As Robb discovered: eggplant is the purple heart of Sicilian caponata – and it is the principal ingredient.
There are a variety of caponate (plural of caponata) and the variations and inclusions of different ingredients in the basic caponata recipe are many.
Some traditional recipes use tomato paste rather than chopped tomatoes, some add garlic, others include chocolate (or cocoa). Many recipes contain nuts – almonds or pine nuts or pistachio, fresh in some, in others they are toasted. In a few recipes the caponata is sprinkled with breadcrumbs and sometimes the breadcrumbs have been browned in oil beforehand. Frequently herbs are added – sometimes basil, at other times oregano or mint. Certain recipes also include raisins or currants and some fresh pears. Several include fish, singly or in combination and include canned tuna, prawns, octopus, salted anchovies and bottarga (tuna roe).
You will need a deep, large fry pan. If you use a non-stick frypan you may not need as much oil, but the surface will not be as conducive to allowing the residue juices to form and caramelise as in a regular pan. (After food has been sautéed, the juices caramelise – in culinary terms this is known as fond. Non-stick pans do not produce as much fond).
Although the vegetables are fried separately, they are all incorporated in the same pan at the end. When making large quantities I sometimes use a wok.
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup (depending how much the vegetables will absorb)
eggplants, 3-4 large, dark skinned variety
onion 1, large, chopped
red tomatoes, 2 medium size, peeled and chopped or 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and a little water or some canned tomatoes
capers, ½ cup, salted or in brine
green olives, ¾ cup, stoned, chopped
celery, 2-3 tender stalks and the pale green leaves (both from the centre of the celery)
white, wine vinegar, ½ cup
sugar, 2 tablespoons
salt and freshly ground pepper
Cut the eggplant into cubes (approx 30mm) – do not peel. Place the cubes into abundant water with about 1 tablespoon of salt. Leave for about 30 minutes – this will keep the flesh white and remove any bitter juices while you prepare the other ingredients. Although it is not always necessary to do this, the eggplant is said to absorb less oil if soaked previously.
Prepare the capers – if they are the salted variety, ensure that they have been rinsed thoroughly and then soaked for about 30 minutes before use, and then rinsed again.
Chop the onion.
Slice the celery into very fine slices and chop the green leaves.
Peel, and coarsely chop the tomatoes (or use tomato paste or canned tomatoes).
Drain the eggplants and squeeze them to remove as much water as possible – I use a clean tea towel.
Heat a large frypan over medium heat with ½ cup of the extra virgin olive oil.
Add eggplant cubes and sauté until soft and golden (about 10-12 minutes). Place the drained eggplants into a large bowl and set aside (all of the vegetables will be added to this same bowl).
Drain the oil from the eggplants back into the same frypan and re-use this oil to fry the next ingredients.
Add the celery and a little salt gently for 5-7 minutes, so that it retains some of its crispness (in more traditional recipes, the celery is always boiled until soft before being sautéed).
Remove the celery from the pan and add it to the eggplants.
Sauté the onion having added a little more oil to the frypan. Add a little salt and cook until translucent.
Add the tomatoes or the tomato paste (with a little water) to the onions, and allow their juice to evaporate.
Add the capers and olives. Allow these ingredients to cook gently for 1- 2 minutes.
Empty the contents of the frypan into the other cooked vegetables.
For the agro dolce sauce (sweet and sour sauce):
Add the sugar to the frypan (already coated with the caramelised flavours from the vegetables). Heat it very gently until it begins to melt and bubble. Add the vinegar and allow it to evaporate.
Incorporate the cooked vegetables into the frypan with the agro dolce sauce.
Add ground pepper, check for salt and add more if necessary.
Gently toss in all of the cooked ingredients over low heat for 2-3 minutes to blend the flavours.
Remove the caponata from the pan and cool before placing it into one or more containers. Store in the fridge till ready to use and remove it from the fridge about an hour before eating– it will keep well in the fridge for up to one week.
When ready to eat, sprinkle with either toasted almonds or toasted breadcrumbs. I like to add fresh basil or mint leaves.
CAPONATA DI MELANZANE CON CIOCCOLATA (Caponata with chocolate)
In Sicilian cuisine there are a number of recipes, which include chocolate to enrich the flavour of a dish (see HARE or RABBIT COOKED IN CHOCOLATE) and chocolate in eggplant caponata is a common variation in certain parts of Sicily.
In the early 1500s, the Spanish conquistadors discovered a variety of unknown foods in the New World.Among these was xocolatl, (chocolate) obtained from ground cacao seeds. Spanish nobility arrived in Sicily during the 15th and 16th centuries and they brought their exotic ingredients from the New World to the island. This was also an ostentatious period of splendour and opulence for the clergy and the Sicilian aristocracy.
Although many traditional Sicilian dishes are said to be Spanish legacies, it is more accurate to say that some Sicilian cuisine incorporated both Sicilian and Spanish traditions.
Follow the recipe for eggplant caponata above and add cocoa or good quality, dark chocolate.
Cocoa: The majority of the recipes for caponata enriched with chocolate suggest the use of cocoa powder (about 2 tablespoons of cocoa to 2 tablespoons of sugar dissolved in a little water to form a thick paste). Add this mixture to the pan after you have made the agro dolce sauce and before you add the cooked vegetables.
Dark Chocolate: My most favoured alternative is to use 50g of dark, extra fine chocolate (organic, high cocoa content – 70%). Add the chocolate pieces into the agro dolce sauce and stir it gently as it melts, and then I add the cooked vegetables. This results into a much smoother and more luscious caponata.
In a modern Sicilian restaurant with a young chef, I was presented with an eggplant caponata where the chocolate was grated on top, much like grated cheese on pasta.
In my first book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking there is whole chapter devoted to caponata. I have also written other posts with recipes on the blog :
It is autumn in Australia and there are plenty of pumpkins around. I like cooking pumpkin this way because it has unusual flavours and it can be made well in advance. I have presented it both as an antipasto and as an accompaniment to main dishes.
I cook this dish quite often and I am surprised that I have not written about it on my blog.
The following text is a condensed version from my first book Sicilian Seafood Cooking. The photograph is also from the book. This all took place in my kitchen – I cooked it , Fiona Riggs styled it and Graeme Gillies photographed it.
This Sicilian specialty is sometimes called zucca in agro dolce (pumpkin in sweet and sour sauce) but I prefer the more colloquial Sicilian name, ficato ri setti canola – literally, ‘liver of the seven spouts (or reeds)’.
It is a colourful and aromatic dish. There is the strong colour of the pumpkin, tinged brown at the edges, and contrasted with bright green mint. The sweetness of the pumpkin is enhanced by the flavours and fragrance of garlic, cinnamon and vinegar. It is better cooked ahead of time – the flavours intensify when left at least overnight, but it can be stored in the fridge for several days.
The dish is said to have originated among the poor, in what is known as one of the quartieri svantaggiati (‘disadvantaged suburbs’) of Palermo.
Sicilians are colourful characters and like stories. It is said that the pumpkin dish was first cooked and named by the herb vendors of the Piazza Garraffello a small square in Palermo. These were the days before refrigeration and balconies and windowsills were often used to cool and store food, especially overnight. As the story goes, the herb sellers could often smell the aroma of veal liver coming from the balconies of the rich. At home, they cooked pumpkin the same way as the well-to-do cooked liver (fegato) and, wanting to create a bella figura, they hoped the fragrance of their cooking would mislead the neighbours into thinking that they too were well-to-do and could afford to eat liver.
The typical way of cooking liver is to slice it thinly, pan-fry it and then caramelise the juices in the pan with sugar and vinegar to make agro dolce (sweet and sour sauce).
As for the seven spouts (sette cannoli), they are the short cane-shapedspouts of an elegant 16th-century fountain in the piazza. Below – cathedral in Palermo.
In Australia I generally use the butternut or Jap pumpkin,The pumpkin is sliced 1cm (.in) thick and traditionally fried in very hot oil (if thicker, they take too long to cook).
Although baking the pumpkin slices is not traditional, I prefer this method .It certainly saves time in the preparation (see variation below). Serve it at room temperature as an antipasto or as a contorno (vegetable side dish).
1kg (2lb 4oz) pumpkin
10 cloves garlic
extra virgin olive oil (1. cup
if frying 1/3 cup if baking)
3 teaspoons sugar
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
small mint leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper
Peel and remove the seeds of the pumpkin and cut into 1cm (in) slices.
Peel and slice 4 cloves of garlic.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based frying pan. Add the garlic cloves.
Remove when it has coloured and fry the pumpkin slices, turning them only
once in case they break, until they become soft and begin to colour around
the edges. Add salt to taste. Remove the pumpkin and discard some of the oil,
but keep any juices.
Use the same frying pan for the agro dolce sauce: add the sugar, stir it around
the pan to caramelise it, and then add the vinegar and cinnamon.
Stirring constantly, allow the sauce to thicken slightly as the vinegar evaporates.
Add the remaining garlic cloves and few sprigs of mint to the warm sauce.
Add the pumpkin to the sauce, and sprinkle with pepper. Allow the sauce
to penetrate the pumpkin on very low heat for a few minutes. Alternatively,
pour the sauce over the pumpkin and turn the slices a couple of times. Cool
and store in the fridge once cool. Eat at room temperature.
When ready to serve, arrange the slices in a serving dish, remove the old
mint (it would have discoloured). Scatter slices of fresh garlic and fresh mint
leaves on top and in between the slices.
Cut the pumpkin into thicker slices, about 2–3cm (1in).
Sprinkle with salt and place on an oiled baking tray.
Bake the pumpkin and garlic in a 200C (400F) oven (discard the garlic when the pumpkin
Make the agro dolce sauce (see the above) in the baking tray
instead of a frying pan.
I also add fresh bay leaves – like the look and the taste of it.
Italy is a Catholic country and on Good Friday most Italians eat fish. Pasta con le Sarde is made with bucatini (thick long tubes of pasta) and the main ingredients are sardines (buy fillets for ease), wild fennel (or fennel bulbs) pine nuts, saffron and topped by fried breadcrumbs.
as you can see I have made this dish at other times.
Muslim Arabs took control of North Africa from the Byzantines and Berbers and began their second conquest of Sicily in 827 from Mazara, the closest point to the African coast and by 902 they well and truly conquered Sicily. The Muslims, were known as Moors by the Christians and by the time of the Crusades, Muslims were also referred to as Saracens.
The Muslim Arabs, via North Africa ruled Sicily till 1061 A.D.
This recipe can only be Sicilian and is particularly common in Palermo.
The origins of pasta chi sardi (Sicilian) are said to be Arabic. When a band Arab troops first landed in Sicily via North Africa, the Arab cook was instructed to prepare food for the troops. The cook instructed the troops to forage for food. He made do with what they presented – plentiful was the wild fennel and the fish (sardines). To these he added exotic ingredients and flavours of Arabs and North Africans – the saffron, dried fruit and the nuts and so Pasta con le Sarde was born.
At this time of year, just before Easter, many readers look at my blog searching for Easter food ideas. The baked version is fancy enough to present on Easter Sunday – if you are that way inclined.
Pasta con le Sarde can be eaten hot or cold and it can be baked…..made into a tummàla (Sicilian word from the Arabic) – Italian timballo and French timbale – a dish of finely minced meat or fish cooked with other ingredients and encased in rice, pasta or pastry. The dry breadcrumbs are used to line and cover the contents in the baking pan, the long bucatini can be coiled around the pan and the sardine sauce becomes the filling.
The recipe for Pasta con le Sarde is from my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking. This is a slightly modified version of the recipe.
I found very little wild fennel this time of year so I used fennel bulbs – there were a few available at the Queen Victoria Market. Because I only found a very small quantity of wild fennel I added some ground fennel seeds and a splash of Pernod to enhance the fennel taste.
If you can get wild fennel, place it into some cold, salted water (enough to cook the pasta) and boil it for 10-15 minutes (it can be left in the water for longer). The green tinged, fennel-flavoured water is used to cook the pasta — it will flavour and colour the pasta. Reserve some of the tender shoots of wild fennel raw to use in the cooking of the sauce.
Drain the cooked fennel and keep the fennel-flavoured water to cook the pasta. Some of the cooked fennel can be added to the pasta sauce.
The recipe using bulb Fennel
fennel a large bulb of fennel with the green fronds cut finely, a teaspoon of ground fennel seeds or a dash of Pernod
extra virgin olive oil, about ½ cup
onions, 1, finely sliced
anchovies, 4, cut finely
pine nuts, ¾ cup
almonds, ¾ cup, toasted
currants, ¾ cup, or seedless raisins or sultanas soaked in a little water beforehand
saffron, ½ – 1 small teaspoon soaked in a little water beforehand
salt and freshly ground black pepper or chili flakes to taste
coarse breadcrumbs, 100 grams made with day old, quality bread (sourdough/pasta dura) lightly fried in some oil. I added pine nuts (pine- nuts-overkill), grated lemon peel, a little cinnamon and sugar to my breadcrumbs.
Slice the fennel into thin slices and cut fronds finely.
Cut about two thirds of the sardine fillets into thick pieces. Reserve whole fillets to go on top and provide visual impact.
Heat oil in shallow wide pan.
Sauté the onions over medium heat until golden. Add the fennel and cook till slightly softened.
Add pine nuts, currants (drained) and almonds. Toss gently until heated.
Add the sliced sardines, salt and pepper or chili. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, stirring gently. Add ground fennel seeds or a splash of Pernod to enhance the fennel taste – I did this because I only found a very small quantity of wild fennel.
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 saffron (and the soaking water) and continue to stir and cook gently.
Boil bucatini in the fennel water (if you have it) 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.
Mix the pasta with the sauce, sprinkle with some of the breadcrumbs and top with the sardine fillets.
The photos are of left over pasta that I made into a timballo. It was only for my household, nothing fancy and was a way of using leftovers.
Oil a baking tray or an ovenproof dish (traditionally a round shape is used) and sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs to prevent sticking.
Place a layer of the dressed pasta on the breadcrumbs – I coiled the bucatini around the baking pan, then added the sauce (solids- sardines, nuts etc) and placed more coiled bucatini on top.
if you want a deeper crust you will need greater quantities of breadcrumbs.
Cover with more breadcrumbs, sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil, cover with foil and bake in preheated 200°C for approximately 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes. When the dish is baked, the breadcrumbs form a crust.
Saint Joseph’s Feast Day (Festa di San Giuseppe) is celebrated in Italy on March 19.
Because Saint Joseph is considered as a symbol of compassion and kindness and because he is the father of Jesus, Father’s Day is ‘Festa del Papa’ is also celebrated in Italy on this day.
The Feast day is celebrated big time in the majority of Sicily. As well as being a symbol of generosity especially to the poor, he is also is associated with harvests. People pray to him so as to have abundant crops; his statue is often used in religious ceremonies (the blessing of the crops) to prevent famine.
The statue on the right is that of Saint Joseph. Saint Anthony is also considered a significant saint in the Catholic Church and he is also often depicted holding the child Jesus.
In many parts of Sicily there are banquets to celebrate the bounty of the harvest (known as La Tavola di San Giuseppe – Saint Joseph’s Table). The main food is a collection of wheat based breads of various shapes and sizes, many sprinkled with seeds (grain and seeds are symbols of life). The food and breads on display were once shared and offered to the poor, now they are shared within the community.
In some of the villages in Sicily especially in the provinces of Enna, Caltanissetta, Trapani, Agrigento and the Aeolian islands the tradition of setting up an altar-like, multi-tiered table and the religious celebratory ceremony that accompanies this banquet is still practiced by some in varying forms in these communities.
But what may surprise you is that the photos of the Saint Joseph’s table in this post was taken at an exhibition called Donne di Sicilia (Women of Sicily) by Rosetta Pavone. She is a Mebourne -based Artist who was born in Valguarnera, a town in Sicily near Enna. The female members of all ages of the Valguarnera Social Club in Melbourne prepare the breads and have carried on this significant, cultural tradition which is still undertaken in Melbourne by male and female members.
The photo below is of Sicilian women in Melbourne making a particular type of Sicilian biscuits (called Scannati) and it is not associated with this event. I am including it in this post because it shows how scissors are used to make that particular pattern on the edges of dough which is often included on the wreath shaped votive breads.
Rosetta’s exhibition was held in the Kingston Art Gallery Moorabin in 30 October – 20 November 2014. She has also captured on film the women making the bread and the accompanying ceremony where selected members of the club and a Catholic priest participate. At this ceremony (and as can be seen in her film) the Holy Family is represented by an elderly man, a young woman, and a young male child. There are also twelve men or boys who represent the Apostles (Saints). A priest blesses the food, then the Holy Family is served before the apostles. The attendants viewing the ceremony must wait until family and saints have eaten before participating in the banquet.
In Rosetta’s film the Votive bread was auctioned to the community members to raise funds – I cannot remember if it was for the poor via the Church or the Valguarnera Social club. I am inclined to think that it was for a worthy charitable cause as the Catholic Priest blessed the food and conducted the ceremony.
There are two earlier posts about Saint Joseph with recipes for making two versions of the traditional sweets called Sfinci di San Giuseppe that are eaten in Sicily to celebrate this feast day.
It seems fitting that the Church also made St Joseph the patron saint of pastry cooks.
I am partial to a cup of rose flavoured tea, add rose water in some of my cooking and I particularly like my Sirop de roses (Rose syrup, mine is made in Lebanon) which I sometimes use to give a pink tinge and rose flavour to some of my desserts: home made ice creams, panna cotta, stewed fruit compotes (especially rhubarb or figs, or pears) or fresh fruit salads.
The Old Foodie has been writing about rosewater again this week and this has reminded me about a recipe for making a rose flavoured liqueur.
I too am a lover of rose flavoured foods.
Rosolio di rose (Rosoliu in Sicilian) dates back to the 15th century and was a popular cordial, originally made from rose petals. By the 18th century it had progressively became an alcoholic drink and lemon become more favoured over rose as flavouring. The pink colour was likely to have been enhanced with cochineal.Many of the ancient Sicilian recipes use rosoliu as the generic name for liqueur, several of which are made with oranges, mandarins or lemons and some are sometimes flavoured and coloured with a little saffron.
There are recipes for making Liquore Di Rose (Rose Liqueur) – this has been popular in other parts of Italy and in other countries. Some of the recipes include other flavourings for example lemon peel, cloves or orange blossoms.
My zia Niluzza (who lives in Ragusa, Sicily) gave me this recipe for Rosoliu, a long time ago.
For extra flavour I use ½ cup of rose water (as part of the 2 cups of water) and a dash of rose syrup (coloured pink and it is sweet, therefore reduce the amount of sugar and a little cochineal. I will need to wait for a generous friend and the right season before I make my next batch, but I have thought about adding a little grated beetroot with the petals rather than using cochineal.
4 cups of rose petals from a highly scented rose (I used a black rose for mine)
2 cups very strong vodka or grappa (we cannot buy 95° spirit in Australia as they do in Italy)
2 cups sugar
2 cups of water
Place rose petals a clean jar, add alcohol, close and keep in a cool dark place for at least 2 weeks.
Prepare the sugar syrup: boil water and sugar. Cool.
Filter the alcohol mixture and add syrup. Keep it for least 3 months before using.
Glass of filtered Rosoliu, bottle of Sirop de roses and the jar I use to make the Rosoliu.
In some recipes the petals are left in the alcohol/syrup mixture and then strained at the time of serving. I left some petals in my last batch of rose liqueur and the petals partly dissolve and this is why you may notice a layer of sediment in the jar in the photo.
This is not the only liqueur I make. See my recipe for making Alchermes (or Alkermes) that I use to make the famous Italian dessert Zuppa Inglese.
In Sicily, spring is the celebration of life, which in cultural and religious terms is expressed in Easter; Primavera (Spring) and Pasqua (Easter) are synonymous – a fusion of nature, culture, family and food.
When it is spring in Australia, it is autumn in Sicily. but we seem to be able to buy goat in Australia during both seasons.
A popular spring meat and Easter Sunday lunch treat is kid or lamb, commonly roasted or braised, and all depending on how one’s mother cooked it.
My relatives in Ragusa traditionally eat ‘mpanata ri agnieddu – a focaccia typepie made withvery young lamb (complete with bones) and enveloped with a bread dough crust, and this is because it is what my grandmother made at Easter and probably her mother before her.
In Australia the meat I buy is likely be considered as goat in Italy.
The kid recipe I have chosen to write about is a variation of capretto con le mandorle (kid with almonds), a recipe from the north western area of Sicily which includes Trapani, Marsala and Mazara del Vallo.
It is from the book La Cucina Tradizionale Siciliana by Anna Pomar, published in 1984. The book was given to me by Rosetta my cousin on one of the many occasions when I visited her home in Ragusa – this was her own copy and has her annotations all over it…. a bit like the books I inherited from my mother.
I love the texture that the almonds provide in the thickening of this dish.
I always like to make recipes my own and modify them to my tastes.
To this recipe I added more onions, bay leaves, stock rather than water and dry Marsala. Is it still the same recipe?
3k kid/goat, the younger the better, compete with some bones,
2 onions, finely sliced,
3-4 bay leaves,
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil,
½ cup Marsala Fina (dry version, if not substitute with white wine)
3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped (or cannned)
300g almonds, blanched and ground to powder,
broth/ stock or stock cube and water (approx. 3 cups of liquid)
salt and pepper to taste
Cut the goat into medium sized pieces (so that you have to use a knife and fork to cut it on your plate). Trim off access fat and wipe the meat dry.
Heat the oil, add the goat and the onion and brown it lightly.
Add the Marsala and deglaze the contents in the pan.
Add the tomatoes, herbs, broth and seasoning.
Cover and cook on low heat and until meat pulls off the bone. Pomar’s recipe suggests cooking it for 45 minutes, my goat (rather than kid) can take up to 2 hours of cooking.
Add the almond meal and reheat gently. If the sauce is too dense, add a little more broth.
Although Sicilians and Italians tend to eat their food lukewarm, the recipe states to eat it hot.
On the 5t of July they celebrated their first birthday and their new menu strongly influenced by their recent discoveries of different recipes experienced while in Sicily.
Anthony is the bar person and after discussing the wine with him we selected a bottle of ROSSOJBLEO, a bio-organic, Sicilian Nero d’Avola from Chiaramonte Gulfi (Ragusa). My partner and I then ate our way through many very enjoyable Sicilian specialties. These included:
Hot ricotta soup with home made pasta. Ricotta is very much appreciated by Sicilians especially when it has just been made. Particularly in Ragusa and the environs people visit cheese makers (sometimes on farms) and watch the ricotta being made. Ladles of hot, fresh curds and whey are usually poured on broken pieces of bread and eaten like soup. See earlier post:
Gelatina di maiale(brawn, made with pork- see recipe and photos below) and some affettati (a selection of cold cuts of salumi). An eggplant caponata was also included in this antipasto. (See recipe CAPONATA SICILIANA).
Farsumagru (il falsomagro is a beef, meat roll stuffed with hard boiled egg and can include cheeses , salamini and mortadella). It is braised in a tomato sauce and presented sliced. In this case it was made with minced beef and Alfredo’s version included a little zucchini for colour and variety of textures. Farsumagru translates into false–lean. It contains delectable ingredients including meat, so this is a pun on ‘lenten’ food – during the liturgical seasons Catholics were required to eat simple food and to abstain from eating meat. These laws have relaxed over time.
The farsumagru was accompanied by a warm potato salad with capers and comichons, and a fennel and orange salad with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.
We then had a glass of Malvasia a very rich flavoured dessert wine made by drying Malvasia grapes (bianche– white variety) before crushing. It was an excellent accompaniment to the small fried pastries called cassateddi. There are many local variations to this recipe, and in this version the dough was stuffed with ricotta, cinnamon, and honey. I could taste some alcohol too. (Honey is used instead of sugar in the Ragusa area).
Thank you Bar Idda, for a very enjoyable meal. Auguri e complimenti and may there be many years to come.
Recipe and photo of the Gelatina I make
Gelatina (means gelatine or jellied). It is sold as a Smallgoods food.
In various parts of Sicily the gelatina di maiale is called by a variety of names: jlatina di maiali, Suzu, suzzu, or zuzu.
I found a recipe for gelatina scribbled in one of many notebooks which I use to record recipes when I visit Italy. In this particular notebook from 1980, there are many Sicilian recipes, but on this particular trip I must have visited the relatives in Genova (a Piedmontese aunt married to my father’s brother and living in Genova and her daughter Rosadele who is an excellent cook also). There were also some recipes written in Trieste (my zia Renata was from Rovigo and married my mother’s brother).
I have not made gelatina di maialefor many years but I have always included a half of a pork’s head – this provides the jelly component. The tongue adds texture and extra flavour (you can throw out the eyes).
It is always a good idea to pre-order a pork’s head beforehand and I was not able to purchase one. I used pork feet instead (as you can see by this photo) and fortunately it turned out very well. In this gelatina I included approx 1.500 kilo of lean pork (cut into large pieces) and four pig’s feet.
INGREDIENTS AND PROCESSES
The recipe is one of my zia Niluzza’s who lives in Ragusa (Sicily) and it simply says:
1 part vinegar to 3 parts of water, red chilli flakes or whole pepper corns and salt. Use a mixed selection of pork meat, including the head.
Place in cold water mixture, cover meat.
Boil for 6 hours (covered) on slow heat.
Filter broth, remove some of the fat and reduce, remove bones, shred meat.
Lay meat in earthenware bowl, cover with cooled broth and leave to set.
Over time, I have altered the recipe and include bay leaves and peppercorns and I boil the pork without the vinegar only for about 3 hours (until I can see the meat falling off the bones).
Once it is cooked, I leave it to rest overnight.
The next day I remove the meat from the jelly, I add ½ cup of vinegar and the juice of a couple of lemons to the broth and reduce the liquid down to a third of the original amount.
I shred the meat and place it into a terrine and cover it with the cooled reduced stock. Any fat will rise to the surface and can be scraped off when it is cool (in fact, it acts as a seal).
Calamari is the Italian word for squid and it refers to those species of squid with long side fins; those with relatively shorter side fins are seppie (cuttlefish).
Calamari, cuttlefish and squid
This recipe is for seppie, but squid is much easier to buy in Australia although the two species are sometimes sold interchangeably and sold as calamari. They are found right around the Australian coast and are available year round.
Commercially they are wild-caught mainly by seafloor trawling and many end up as bycatch in nets. Squid jags are a favourite with recreational fishers. They generally are a fast growing species and for this reason are considered sustainable.
In Australia squid was once only used for bait and be very cheaply priced, but unfortunately, too many people have come to appreciate it and the price has gone up significantly.
Many of the rings and tubes sold are imported. There is also local product and this may not have been frozen, but the flesh can be tough – usually they are from much bigger squids than I would generally buy. Unfortunately the tentacles (very tasty) are generally removed for easier processing and packing in ice, ready for export.
I am very spoiled when I buy squid from my fish vendor at Happy Tuna in the Queen Victoria Marketwhere I shop. It is so fresh that it could easily be eaten raw or needs very little cooking. My favourite vendors always select for me small and medium sized squid, which they know I prefer. The photo is from the fish market in Siracusa, Sicilia and it shows the common size for squid sold in Italy.
This recipe is a wet pasta dish – a common consistency for Sicilian soups which generally contain a large amount of pasta. What I like about this recipe (from Mazara del Vallo, on the west coast of Sicily) is the addition of carrot and potato – two very popular ingredients in Australia, but not so popular in pasta dishes in Sicily. The squid used are young, small cuttlefish or squid – the smaller ones are considered more tender.
In the original recipe the taglierini (freshpasta cut into thin strips, tagghiarini is the Sicilian term). These are made without eggs, perhaps this was once due to poverty or scarcity, rather than choice, but the practice of making pasta without eggs In Sicily has remained. If buying commercially made pasta, use thin ribbon pasta. (When the pasta is coiled like in the photo, the shapes are sometimes called nidi – nests of pasta.)
chili flakes and/or grated pecorino (optional) to taste.
Sauté the onion in ½ cup of oil, add the potato and carrot and when the ingredients begin to brown add the garlic. Add the tomatoes, a little salt, and the parsley and over medium evaporate some of the juices. Check that the potatoes and carrots are cooked and if they are not, add some liquid (water or wine) and cook for a little longer and do not drain.
Cook the pasta.
Sauté the squid in ½ cup of oil – use a separate, wide fry pan (it cannot be overcrowded or it will stew). Toss the squid around in the pan on high heat for a few minutes, add a little salt, wine and seasoning and evaporate.
Add the squid to the vegetable mixture.
Combine the pastawith the sauce. Add the basil leaves and serve.
As well as gello di mellone (made with watermelon juice), Sicilians make gello do mandorla (made with almond milk), gello di cannella ( made with cinnamon and water) and gello di limone ( made with lemon juice).
It is thickened with corn flour and stirred like custard till it solidifies. There is nothing to it but surprisingly it turns out to be quite delicious.
This photo is of a gello di limone made by Barbera, wife of Corrado, the son of my cousin Franca. They all live in Ragusa, Sicily and it was one of the many things Barbara prepared for me when I was invited to dine with them (all the relatives go out of their way to cook Sicilian specialties for me when I visit them).
Now that you have the credentials, it is time for the recipe.
500ml fresh lemon juice
500ml of water and the peel of the lemons soaked in the water for 24 hours
4 level tablespoons arrowroot or corn flour
2-3tbsp limoncello (optional)
Mix the corn flour with a little water and make a smooth paste.
Mix all of the other ingredients together in a small saucepan and heat gently – keep on stirring until it thickens.
Remove from the heat, add the limoncello and pour into a wetted mould (or individual serving glasses)
Leave to cool, then chill in the fridge for several hours.
Sicilians eat it plain but it is a nice accompaniment to strawberries or poached cumquats (sugar syrup).