Just a quick post about this easy to make Sicilian soup…..if you can get the ingredients. It is easy if you have a friend called Mariana whose father grows tenerumi in his garden.
It is a summer dish and red tomatoes, a little garlic (optional) and basil are also added ingredients. Broken spaghetti are used to thicken the soup…when in Sicily you are unlikely to eat soup without pasta.
There was no zuccalunga but I had a few zucchini and the soup tasted just fine.
You take the long, hard curly tendrils off and use the soft tendrils and soft leaves.
zuccalunga (or zuccaserpente) is a long, pale green marrow. The tendrils and green leaves are from this plant.
There are the greens boiling away. Add a little salt and the broken spaghetti.
The tomatoes are fried and softened in a little extra virgin olive oil with some garlic and basil – it is just tomato salsa and the tomatoes are left cut in half.
Add the tomato mixture on top of the pasta. Drizzle on some good extra virgin olive oil, more basil leaves and some chilli flakes if this is your want.
You will find more photos (including the zucca lunga) and information about this recipe and ingredients on previous posts:
In Sicilian this squash is called a cucuzza and in Italian I will call it a zucca lunga (long squash), which is what it is, a long serpent like squash. The tender leaves and tendrils of this plant are called tenerumiand I have written about these previously because both are typically loved by Sicilians and commonly used to make a refreshing summer soup (it could also be classified as a wet pasta dish).
The zucca tastes a little like zucchini (from the same family) and like all squashes it is a summer crop.
As a vegetable, this very long, pale green marrow is rather bland, but to a Sicilian it is referred to as delicate; it is the combinations of flavours that give this soup the unique, sweet, fresh taste – Sicilians say the soup is rinfrescante – refreshing and will reconstitute balance in the body.
Unless you live in Sicily you are unlikely to be able to purchase these. Do not despair if you do not know a nice Sicilian who grows this produce – you can use zucchini and a greater amount of basil to make a similar soup – it will not be the same, but very pleasant.
According to Giuseppe Coria in Profumi di Sicilia, the origins of the simple soup are probably from Ragusa and the southeastern part of Sicily. Here it was (and maybe in some households it still is) made only with boiled squash, its leaves, broken spaghetti, salt and pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
According to Coria, it is the people from Palermo who embellished the soup by adding garlic or onion, tomatoes and basil. And this is how I have always cooked it and eaten it in various homes in Sicily.
It is not surprising that this is a soup much appreciated by Inspector Montalbano, the principal character in Andrea Camilleri’s books that have also been made into a successful television series – the stories are set in this very region.
There are variations on how this soup is made: some add a generous sprinkling of pecorino cheese at the end (as in Palermo); others add red chillies during cooking. Diced potatoes are also common in some parts of Sicily.
The next day, we ate the leftovers as a cold soup; it was just as good….and as traditional. It is summer after all.
zucca lunga siciliana (mine was about 25 cms long)
1 large spring onion, sliced
2-3 tomatoes, roughly cut
3 cups of vegetable broth (I used a broth cube, optional) or water
fresh basil leaves, a good handful
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil,
1 cup of spaghetti (broken in small pieces)
Cut the zucca in half, get rid of the seeds and cube it.
Chop the tomatoes.
Sauté the onion in some olive oil for about 1 minute, add the zucca and continue to sauté for another 2-3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes.
Season with salt and pepper, add 2 cups of the stock, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the tenerumi, the rest of the stock and some of the basil; bring the contents to the boil.
Cook the pasta in the same pot; add the pasta and cook it until it is al dente.
Add more basil, a drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil and serve.
I appreciate this soup’s fresh taste and only sprinkle only a few chilli flakes on top (or black pepper and I definitely do not use grated cheese; my Sicilian heritage is not from Palermo.
I get very excited about fresh produce and doubly excited about new produce.
I live very close to the Queen Victoria Market and I rarely shop anywhere else, but last Sunday morning I went to The Melbourne Showgrounds Farmers Market. The market is open every Sunday 9am – 1pm in Federation Hall, Melbourne Showgrounds.
I went to meet Naomi who produces butter and buttermilk in Myrtleford, The Butter Factory. She also grows vegetables, makes soap, cooks and sells her produce at Farmers Markets. She has been experimenting with makingricottawith buttermilk. She wants to experiment with making variations of ricotta found in Sicily (ricottasalata and ricotta affumicata) and because she had found photos of ricotta and of ricotta infornata on my blog, she wondered if we could meet. In spite of her ricotta being made with buttermilk, Naomi tells me that she has had a very good response, especially from the Italian community in the area. There is even a Festival called La Fiera; it is held in May each year and it celebrates Myrtleford’s strong Italian heritage. Figs have just come into season in Victoria and I imagine that, fresh figs poached in a sweet syrup could be good with this ricotta, which has a slightly acid taste. I look forward to visiting the Butter Factory and trying more of Naomi’s produce.
I also bought some meat (beef) from the Koallah Farm stall. This is a family owned and operated property in South West Victoria. I had bought beef from them once before and it really is top quality and has hardly any fat.
And then I found the Sicilians – Rita’s stall! And I bought what I have never seen in Australia, tenerumi and the zucca plant that these comes from. The tenerumi or taddi ri cucuzza are the tendrils of the plant; the long, serpent-like marrow is the cucuzza (or zucca in Italian) and this variety is called a zucca serpente because of its serpent shape. Rita had labelled her zucca as trambonelle (from trombone, the musical instrument) and this may be a regional name for the marrow. Rita comes from Messina. Rita’s stall is only at this market on the 1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday in each month.
I cooked both the tendrils and the marrow in the same dish (as my cousin Lidia from Augusta taught me) and made the famous, wet pasta dish, Minestra di tenerumiso enjoyed by Sicilians. Having grown up in Trieste (northern Italy) I only ate these vegetables when I visited Sicily. The Minestra di tenerumi in the photo below was cooked by a friend Mary, when I visited her on her farm in Bosco Falconeria in Sicily.
There was one episode in My Family Feast (an Australian SBS TV program), where they showed an African family growing and cooking tendrils, but perhaps these were the shoots of a different pumpkin or marrow plant (shall have to ask Sean Connelly).
Because it was so fresh, I also bought the large bunch of watercress. This stall only sold lettuces, basil and watercress and the produce looked like it had been picked that very morning. My father tells me that only the lavandaie (washer women who washed clothes by the riverbank) in Sicily used to eat watercress and they nibbled on it as they worked.
From a different stall, Peninsula Fresh Organics, I bought that beautiful bunch of radish. Sicilians are particularly fond of radish, but I partly bought them for their very fresh, green leaves – I do include the young leaves in salads and I love to braise them.
On the way out I met Don, the new and creative manager for the Market. I expressed my enthusiasm about the produce and he was very pleased. I would have bought more, but I had already shopped at the Queen Victoria Market on the previous day.
I will not stop shopping at my closest market, but I will make trips now and again for therapy – it is said that happiness and excitement pump up the endorphins that bring long life.
When I was in Palermo last September there were bunches of tenerumi on sale at the markets – these are the stems, leaves and tendrils of those long, twisted green zucche (squashes) that grow in Sicily and Calabria. The long serpent like squashes are called zucche serpente and you can guess why.
Those of you who have travelled to Sicily in summer may have seen these very unusual vegetables and perhaps not known what they were. Both the squash and the greens are eaten and are considered rinfrescanti (cooling and refreshing for the body). The zucca (singular) and the greens are a Sicilian summertime specialty and I have not seen this type of squash growing in Australia yet.
The greens are usually made into a wet pasta dish and, unfortunately, it is not a dish you will find in a Sicilian restaurant. It is a typical, home-cooked, soupy dish with the flavours of summer: red summer tomatoes, garlic, basil, thickened with broken spaghetti and enhanced with a drizzle of good, extra virgin olive oil.
I first ate this soup in Augusta and it was cooked by one of my cousins, Lidia. In her version, Lidia used both the zucca and the greens. My relatives in Ragusa do not cook minestra di tenerumi very often – it is considered to be a dish typical of the regions of Palermo and Catania. (My mother’s side of the family originally came from Catania).
I was very pleased to eat minestra di tenerumi again recently when I visited a friend’s home in Bosco Falconeria, close to Castellammare (on the north coast, west of Palermo). I appreciated this simple, flavoursome dish for many reasons. Firstly, it was all produce picked fresh from Mary’ Taylor Simeti’s own garden. This included the olives used to make the fragrant, extra virgin olive oil and the organic wine we drank made by her husband, Tonino. Photo above is the soup and how Mary presented.
Mary Taylor Simeti is one of my heroes – I think that sometimes it takes a “foreigner ‘ with a passion to rediscover and tease out the history behind the food ( not that she is a foreigner, she is part of Sicily, having dedicated so many years to writing about it in numerous books and articles).
Secondly, I was very pleased to be presented with such a simple dish. In my normal diet I eat a lot of vegetables and when I travel and eat in restaurants and trattorie, I crave freshly cooked vegetables – I can’t wait to get back to friends and relatives. Besides, these are not the typical vegetables or cooking found in Sicilian eateries and Mary, our host, knew that some of us who had been invited to eat at her table would never have eaten this. We all loved it. Mary presented this simple dish with small cubes of caciocavallo – a special DOP Sicilian cheese (cascavaddu in Sicilian) produced mainly in the province of Ragusa.
I once used the very young shoots of the zucchini plants (complete with the flowers and young zucchini) to make this soup – different, but nevertheless, rinfrescante and a celebration of summer.
Although we may not be able to buy tenerumi in Australia at this stage, we may not have long to wait.
I was fascinated to see one of the episodes of Sean Connelly’s Family Feast on SBS. It featured the food of a family of Africans from the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are living in the Western suburbs of Sydney and are growing African leaf vegetables; on the program the family were harvesting and eating tendrils very like tenerumi. These tendrils were the shoots from a different type of squash plant, but would probably taste very similar to the Sicilian variety.
As in all Sicilian food, there are local variations. Some substitute the garlic with finely chopped fresh onion, others add anchovies, but personally, if it is to be rinfrescante – refreshing, anchovies are not suitable. Here is a recipe which suits my tastes for making minestra di tenerumi (excuse me Mary if this is different to your recipe).
The wet pasta dish is cooked very quickly.
tenerumi, equivalent to a large bunch, 500g
garlic cloves , 3-4 chopped finely
ripe tomatoes , 300g seeded and cut into dice (I think Mary used cherry tomatoes)
fresh basil leaves , torn, about 15
spaghetti , broken into small pieces, 200g
extra virgin olive oil, to taste
hot chilli (optional)
grated pecorino cheese (optional)
Prepare the shoots and tendrils, discard the tough stems, separate into small bits.
Add the tenerumi to boiling, salted water and bring to the boil again (estimate 3 cups of water per person).
Add the pasta and cook.
While the pasta is cooking, toss the tomatoes into a hot frying pan with about 3 tablespoons of the oil, add garlic and chilli, salt and some of the basil and heat through for a few minutes.
When the pasta is cooked, check that you have the correct consistency – it should be like a very thick soup and you may need to drain some of the liquid.
Add the warm tomato mixture and more basil.
Drizzle with your best extra virgin olive oil and serve.
Cheese is optional. I prefer it without and appreciate the fresh taste of the dish.