Tag Archives: Tomatoes

PUMARORU CA CIPUDDA (Tomatoes with onions). INSALATA DI POMODORO (Tomato salad)

Simple tomato salads feature very frequently in my kitchen – not surprising as local tomatoes and basil in summer are at their best.

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When I say simple, I mean made with basic ingredients – in season tasty tomatoes, fresh basil, spring onion, the inside part of the celery, salt and extra virgin olive oil. In fact, so simple that I have not written the recipe for a tomato salad in my blog.

Just writing about tomato salad makes me want to have some – I can taste the fresh bread that I particularly like to use to mop up the juices. Good, extra virgin olive oil is as important as the quality of the tomatoes.

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I have inherited my like of tomato salads from my father; it is one of the things my father made well and my parents, especially when they were elderly would eat a tomato salad almost every day for lunch (accompanied with some sort of cheese, smallgoods, frittata, or left over meat or fish from the night before). This sort of tomato salad  was not considered special enough to present to guests – it was family, simple, every-day food and to a certain extent it has remained so in my present home.

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Apart from the simple tomato salad made with spring onion, my father excelled in the salad his mother used to make (she lived in Ragusa, Sicily) with squeezed onions or as he used to call cipolla dolce (sweet onion) – the onion is made sweet by having the bitter juices squeezed out of it before it is used.

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This makes the taste of the salad unique and my children and nephews still mention this legendary version of a nonno-tomato salad. When they were in season the large, fresh, salad onions were his favourites (sold in bunches with the bulbs and part of the green stalk still attached) but the ordinary white or the red onions sufficed at other times.

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Cipudda is the Sicilian word for onion and cipolla the Italian.

Probably because it is used extensively in Calabria, red onion is called cipolla calabrese or cipolla di Tropea in Italian, Tropea is a very picturesque, old fortified town built on a cliff overlooking a spectacular beach in Calabria.

I now have the old colander my father used to use to strain the onion – this was one of the very few, kitchen implements that came with us from Trieste where we lived before coming to Australia.

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Amusing: in Italian a colander or strainer is called a scolapasta scola means strain…and where would Italians be without an implement to drain their pasta!

To sweeten onion:

Expect to shed tears during this process.

Place 2 large, thinly sliced onions in a colander, sprinkle with about 2 heaped tablespoons of salt and leave it for about 30 minutes. Do not be concerned about the quantity of salt, it will draw out the onions’ strong juices. If fresh onions are in season, leave the sliced onions with the salt for about 15 minutes.

Use your fingers and palms to squeeze the onions inside the colander – the juices and the salt will just dribble through the perforations.

My parents have always made tomato salad with firm, slightly golden, unripe tomatoes. Interestingly in Italy, tomatoes (pomodoro) were first called pomo d’oro, apples of gold and these early specimens were not necessarily red in colour.

My father was making salad well before the heirloom varieties of tomatoes were available – he would have enjoyed using these tomatoes that come in a multitude of colours and variety of shapes. Interestingly, not all are coloured red.

In most parts of Sicily, the most common tomato salad is as follows:

6-8 tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil at least ½ cup
fresh basil (or dried oregano)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 stalk of celery from the inside part of the celery and include some of the pale green leaves – all sliced thinly
1 spring onion sliced thinly or replace the spring onion with the sweetened onions

Cut the tomatoes into bite size pieces and add everything else and serve.

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From Comiso and Vittoria (towns south of Ragusa) and popular inland (in Enna and Caltanissetta) it is common to cut large tomatoes called (cuore di bue — ox heart), horizontally into halves, remove the seeds and stuff each crevice with chopped garlic, salt and extra virgin olive oil. On visits to the South of France I found that these tomatoes are popular and eaten in the same way. Surprise, surprise!

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In my last post I made reference to Sicilian tomato salad. See post:

RICOTTA, TOMATOES and Basil. A perfect summer dish.

These little beauties below were left by a neighbour at my door.

I feel a tomato salad coming on.

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RICOTTA, TOMATOES and Basil. A perfect summer dish.

One of the things I like about eating out is that I come home full of ideas for reproducing my version of something I have eaten at a restaurant. Looking at the way that food is presented also gives me ideas.

This was a very simple thing. I was in Brisbane recently and went to Gauge restaurant and one of the dishes my friends and I shared was the Cow’s ricotta, sancho pepper, heirloom tomatoes, olive. 

IMG_0134In the restaurant the chefs used an Asian herb but really, there are many herbs that would compliment this dish and each would impart a different taste – I could see myself using common herbs like thyme, oregano or sweet marjoram, tarragon, dill or any of the different types of basil that are now easily available.

Summer to me means eating tomatoes almost every day. Ricotta is also a favourite.

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I arrived home from Brisbane and the next evening I had friends here for dinner and ricotta, tomatoes and the prolific amounts of basil that I am growing on my balcony seemed just right. It was the presentation of this dish that was as important as the taste. My photos do not do it justice, but it was such a a simple dish, full of natural flavours and it looked stunning at the same time. As a summer starter with good bread or crakers it was perfect.

This was the motivation: Cow’s ricotta, sancho pepper, heirloom tomatoes, olive.

Ricotta, heirloom tomatoes – easy stuff and easy to get.

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Sansho Pepper is also known as Japanese Pepper and it is unripe Sichuan pepper. It adds a lemon myrtle-like freshness to dishes. This too is easily available from Asian shops, however maybe not in your pantry, but there are alternatives. I have a variety of pepper corns and just recently I bought a range of dried Mexican chillies that I grind up and use like pepper –  some are particularly spicy, slightly tart with an earthy flavour, others are smoky and aromatic and some are very hot.  On this occasion I chose pink pepper corns – it looks good and tastes different.

There were no real olives in this presentation in the restaurant and the black olive favour was achieved with black olive salt. I was at another restaurant today where they used dehydrated olives – fantastic intense flavour and texture. In my version I could have used whole olives especially the shrivelled black, dried olives  but I thought that they would look too big so I used tiny capers and some of my Greek basil with the tiny leaves.

A little spring onion sliced finely also added flavour. Next time I may add a stalk of finely sliced celery – one of those pale green stalks from the inside of the celery. After all, the tomato salads that I learned to make in my family home always had both onion and celery…. this is how Sicilians make tomato salads.

I used cow’s ricotta that I whipped up to a cream with a little salt and pink pepper corns.

I made a basil oil by blending good- quality, extra virgin olive oil with and a little salt and basil picked from my balcony.

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I bought good tomatoes from a reliable stall holder at the Queen Victoria Market (as I always buy quality produce).

As a summer starter with good bread or crackers it was perfect. Good wine helps too.

 

 

 

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MATARROCCU, a Sicilian pesto

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).

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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).

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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).

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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.

INGREDIENTS:
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

PREPARATION:
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.

 

 

 

TURKISH EGGS and UOVA AL SALMONE

 

Turkish eggs

As a child I always enjoyed eating what my mother called uova al salmone – and no, she did not add smoked salmon, they were really scrambled eggs in a tomato salsa, made in summer with fresh tomatoes, and the same salsa that was used to dress a summer pasta.

The colour of salmon is the result of scrambling eggs in salsa and uova strapazzate al pomodoro may have been a more appropriate name for this dish, but I, like my mother have always called it by this name (see second recipe).

What I really want to write about is what I call Turkish eggs (probably out of ignorance) – and not been Turkish I will not say that they are authentic and try to give them a name in Turkish. This is how I like to make them.

To make uova al salmone, add diced, peeled tomatoes, salt and pepper and a few fresh basil leaves to a pan with some extra virgin olive oil and simmer for about 10 minutes.

In a bowl, beat eggs then pour into the pan with the tomatoes and stir constantly. When they are creamy and cooked add a few leaves of fresh basil and serve.

What I really want to write about is what I have always called Turkish eggs – and not been Turkish I will not say that they are authentic and try to give them a name in Turkish but this is how I like to make them. And they are not just Turkish: they could be classed as Middle Eastern and I have eaten them in Tunis as well.

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There are different versions of this Middle Eastern dish and many of them poach the eggs in yoghurt.

TURKISH EGGS

For 4 people, I use 8 eggs. Sometimes I have also added peppers (one or two thinly sliced – either the conventional ones, any colour or the long peppers slender ones (my mother always referred to these as frying peppers). If adding peppers, add them at the same time as the onion. Some also add Turkish sausage (called different names in different countries so I am not even going to try to give it its’ name as I could be off beam).

Although you can scramble the eggs, I like to poach them and I also like to add either parsley or coriander, cumin and/or caraway seeds.

On this occasion we had them as a lunch dish and I accompanied them with harissa, char grilled peppers and yoghurt on the side (take no prisoners!)

Ingredients:

8 eggs
8 medium/large tomatoes, peeled and chopped into small chunks
1-2 white onions or 3 spring onions sliced
½ cup of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
flavourings: herbs and spices

 

Processes:
Warm the olive oil in fry pan or pan with deep sides, then lightly fry the onions (and peppers) without browning.
After about 2-3 minutes add the chopped tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper( spices and/or herbs) and cook for 7-8 minutes until soft.
Gently make room for each egg (pockets) using a spoon and slide each egg onto its place in the pan. Cover and without disturbing the contents poach the eggs (over a low heat) until done to your liking (runny for me, never hard!)
Serve in the pan. I like fresh bread with mine, especially to eat the yolk.

 

UOVA AL SALMONE

To make uova al salmone, add diced, peeled tomatoes, salt and pepper and a few fresh basil leaves to a pan with some extra virgin olive oil and simmer for about 10 minutes. (Suggested ratio: 6 large tomatoes, 6 eggs)
In a bowl, beat eggs then pour into the pan with the tomatoes and stir constantly. When they are creamy and cooked add a few leaves of fresh basil and serve.

SALSA ROMESCO (Romesco sauce, this recipe is made with roasted peppers, tomatoes and almonds)

I had some left over cooked prawns I wanted to use up and thought that a sauce would liven them up.

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Salsa Romesco is said to have originated from Tarragona, a town close to Barcelona in north-eastern Spain. It is an old Roman town so you can be partly forgiven if you thought that the sauce originated from Rome.
I consulted many sources and there are so many variations to making this Catalan condiment, but the most common ingredients seem to be garlic, red peppers, tomatoes, white bread and almonds. Most interesting is that the recipes from respected food writers, e.g. in Honey From a Weed, (Patience Gray), Mediterranean Seafood (Alan Davison) and Mediterranean Food (Elizabeth David) the main ingredients are tomatoes and the peppers are either paprika or chillies or dried red pepper flakes.

Some recipes include sherry vinegar or wine (rather than wine vinegar). Some have hazelnuts or walnuts as well as the almonds.

There are a few recipes where the bread is first soaked in vinegar and then squeezed dry before it is added to the blend (like when making salsa verde) and others where the bread is toasted in the oven.

Those who are serious romesco – makers make it in a mortar and pestle and also roast or char the tomatoes. If peppers are used these are also charred. I have found references to small red peppers which are often referred to as romesco peppers in Catalonia, so perhaps this is why the name.

Because my grandmothers were Sicilian and this is a Catalan recipe, I cannot say that this is how it is made in my family, however I can give you what has worked for me. There is always room for improvement and I will keep on experimenting.

This sauce is usually associated as a condiment for shellfish and fish. It is also good with grilled and roasted vegetables (especially cold, left over ones that need dressing up the next day).

I usually add a couple of roasted tomatoes to my roasted pepper salads and I conveniently had some in the fridge left over from the night before. I keep roasted garlic covered in olive oil in the fridge, and using up ready made ingredients is often a strong reason why I make certain things in the first place.

INGREDIENTS
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 slice stale sourdough bread
2 large red peppers
1 cup blanched almonds
1 tsp smoked paprika (preferred) or sweet paprika
2 tbsp sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
2 ripe medium size tomatoes
salt to taste
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil and ½ cup when you blend the ingredients
water (a little) to thin down the sauce

PROCESSES
Prepare the ingredients before hand:
Roast/chargrill the peppers whole, peel, remove seeds and break them into strips. If using fresh tomatoes cut them into pieces. If you are roasting / chargrilling the peppers do them at the same time.
Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a fry pan sauté the bread until golden.
Roast the garlic whole (Preheat oven to 200 °C, wrap in foil and bake). An easier option is to sauté the peeled cloves of garlic in the same frypan after you have pan-fried the bread.
Toast the blanched almonds or alternatively sauté them in the same frypan.
Place the bread, and almonds in a blender and pulverize.
Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until it forms into a thick, smooth-ish sauce. If the sauce is a too thick, add a little water to thin it down.

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FISH BRAISE WITH TOMATOES, GARLIC, RED CHILLIES AND ANCHOVIES

Left over braises make excellent pies.

Over many years I have cooked with one of my friends who now lives in Queensland. I help her cook, she helps me, and we respect each other’s taste in food and manner of working in the kitchen. We can chose to work together or ignore each other completely and do our own thing, but together over the many years we have prepared some excellent meals

Recently I spent time with her in Queensland and this fish braise was her idea – she thought it had Sicilian flavours, and it does. I thought that she was using far too much garlic and too many chillies in her recipe for it to be Sicilian, but she carried on regardless. I have to admit that the resulting fish braise tasted great; the flavours melded into a mild, sweet flavoured sauce with subtle tastes. We ended up with a thick fish soup (Zuppa Di Pesce) and ate it with bread .

Ingredients for each pie

I complemented her dish with some roasted peppers – they are in season in Queensland and I was able to purchase red, yellow and green peppers. These complimented the fish braise very well.

Both of us always cook too much food (just in case people are hungry), but also because we can both use leftovers creatively and needless to say we had fish braise and peppers left over, hence individual pies for the next day – these were my idea.

Some people hate anchovies; omit them all together, or use white anchovies if you prefer a milder taste (called boquerones).

For the fish braise:

INGREDIENTS
1k fillets of firm white-fleshed fish (we used Flathead)
10-12 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
8-10 long, red chillies (remove the seeds), sliced finely
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
800g red tomatoes, peeled and chopped into small pieces (or use tinned)
4- 6 anchovies chopped finely,
¾ cup of chopped parsley, fresh oregano and basil.
PROCESSES
Cut fish fillets into serving size pieces, rub with a little salt and pan-fry them in a in a large frying pan with a little of the oil. Remove them and set aside.
Heat the rest of the oil and over medium heat sauté the garlic and chilli until the garlic begins to soften – leave some of the seeds in the chillies if you like hot food.
Stir in chopped anchovies until they dissolve.
Add the wine and evaporate for 2-3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, herbs and a little salt and cook the sauce until it is reduced. (Remember that the anchovies will be salty).
Add the fish pieces and gently press them into the sauce. Ensure that the sauce covers them, and heat through.
Check that the fish is cooked to your liking.
Spoon the fish braise onto plates and serve with some crusty bread.
Use the left over fish to make pies. We also included a layer of roasted peppers on top of the fish before topping with the pastry.
For the pastry:
INGREDIENTS
250g plain flour, 120g cold butter cut into small cubes, 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil, 1-2 tbs cold water, a little salt.
PROCESSES
Put flour and salt into a bowl, add butter and oil and rub it into the flour until it resembles bread-crumbs. Alternatively use a food processor.
Add just enough cold water to bind the dough together – use the blade of a knife to do this.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least 10-15 minutes before rolling out and cutting it into the shapes that will cover the pies.
 
Spoon cold fish braise into oven-proof bowls (we made 4 individual pies). Do not include too much of the braising liquid – see photo above.
Top with strips of roasted peppers (optional).
Cover with pastry.
Bake in preheated oven, 200C until golden (15-25 minutes), then cool pies on a wire rack.
 

We accompanied the pie with this salad.

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PESCE CUCINATO AL CRUDO FISH COOKED SIMPLY WITH TOMATOES AND MINT

I love Flathead. My fishmonger prefers to sell it as fillets, but I prefer to cook it whole especially if I am braising it; it is an ugly looking fish, but the bones and head add taste to the braising liquid. Many eaters dislike picking out bones from whole fish, however if the spine is lifted out carefully and kept whole, this does not have to be a big problem.

For two people I used one Flathead (600g -700g) and this recipe can be adapted for fillets; use large sized fillets to prevent breakage.

Other white fleshed, medium flavoured and textured fish suitable for this recipe are: Snapper, Leatherjackets, Whiting and Garfish.

The fish is cooked very simply and al crudo (using all raw ingredients and all in the pan at the same time); it relies on the fish being fresh and the tomatoes being sun ripened and flavourful. Mint is rarely used in Italian cooking but it is often added to Sicilian cuisine.

These quantities are suitable for 1k of fish. If using whole snapper, which is a larger fish, increase the cooking time and add a little more liquid to the pan.

INGREDIENTS

fish (see above)
tomatoes, 500g peeled, seeded, and chopped
garlic, 4 cloves chopped finely
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
salt and freshly ground pepper
capers, ½ cup, I prefer to use the salted variety, soaked and washed
fresh mint, 2 tablespoons, cut finely and more sprigs for decoration

PROCESSES

Arrange the fish and the tomatoes in a low saucepan so that the fish can be fitted in one layer.
Add seasoning, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, the finely cut mint and capers.
Cover the fish and cook on medium heat for 7-13 mins if you are cooking whole fish and about 5-7 minutes if they are fillets – this time will vary depending on the size of the fish and how much you like your fish cooked. Take off the lid and cook on brisk heat until the tomatoes have thickened. Avoid stirring or turning the fish to prevent breaking.
Decorate with fresh mint sprigs.

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TOMATO SALAD WITH GORGONZOLA (INSALATA DI POMODORI E GORGONZOLA)

One of my readers sent me a recipe for a tomato salad and gorgonzola and as you can see from the photos I made the salad twice. On both occasions I presented the salad as an antipasto.

The reader who sent me the recipe has just returned from a holiday to Italy; although she visited Sicily, she indicates that she ate this in northern Italy. And even if all of the other ingredients could easily be for a tomato salad from Sicily, gorgonzola is very much a northern Italian cheese. In fact it is a DOC cheese (Denominazione di Origine Controllata – Protected Designation of Origin) and produced in the provinces of cities you may recognize: Milan, Como, Pavia, Bergamo, Cremona and Novara and all of these cities are in the Piedmont and Lombardy regions. Only items produced in a specific area, in a particular way and of a certain specified size and shape may display that DOC label.

In my version of the salad I used gorgonzola dolce (means sweet) and it is one of my favourite cheeses – soft, creamy and slightly veined and spicy. Gorgonzola piccante (spicy) is the stronger tasting version of this cheese; it is more matured, has a greater degree of blue-veins and is firmer. I imagine that although both cheeses are suitable for this recipe, the mature gorgonzola would be easier to handle and could be ‘shaved’ as the recipe suggests.

I also did not use as much balsamic vinegar, the Sicilian in me screams “no vinegar with tomato”– it is sufficiently acidic. Also, it has to be good quality balsamic and if it is, only a little should suffice.

When I prepared it in my friends’ home, I did not use anchovies because they hate them (unfortunately).

I have named the salad after the ingredients INSALATA DI POMODORI E GORGONZOLA (and alla Giovanna, because this is the reader’s name). Thank you.

Here is her recipe:

3 large tomatoes, sliced
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup shaved Gorgonzola cheese
1 Tablespoon capers, drained
1 Tablespoon green onions, sliced
1 clove minced garlic
2 anchovies minced to a paste
salt
black pepper, freshly ground
fresh basil

Directions:

Arrange tomatoes on a plate
Drizzle with vinegar and oil
Sprinkle lightly with salt and fresh ground pepper
Sprinkle with cheese, capers, onions, garlic, and anchovies
Garnish with basil leaves
In the first photo:
I used very large tomatoes from Geelong close to Melbourne (new crop).
In the second photo:
The tomatoes are small and from Murray Bridge in South Australia.
Heirloom tomatoes are not ready, not just yet.
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BAKED STUFFED TOMATOES – POMODORI RIPIENI (PUMARORI CHINI in Sicilian)

These stuffed tomatoes were cooked by my friends. They are hydroponic tomatoes and I was very surprised to find that they were very flavoursome – in fact, they tasted almost as good as real tomatoes. Of course, the stuffing helped.

I am even more surprised by the quality of the photo, which was taken with my friend’s mobile phone.

I usually never buy hydroponic tomatoes. As it happens, I used not to buy any tomatoes when they were out of season, until those growers in Murray Bridge (South Australia) and Mildura (Victoria) miraculously extended their growing season and arranged transportation to one particular stall in the Queen Victoria Market. We shall probably have to wait for the heirloom varieties and local tomatoes till late December.

Pomodoro is tomato in Italian. Interestingly, they were first called pomo d’oro (meaning golden apples) and apparently tomatoes were yellow when they were first introduced to Europe – it is said to have originated in Central America. Maybe the oro (gold) reflects its golden status in cuisine.

My friends used Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe for stuffed tomatoes from Plenty, his latest book.

Ottolenghi has several take–home food shops in London. His cuisine reflects contemporary Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavours; I had the pleasure of attending one of his sessions at The Sydney international Food Festival in October this year.

In his recipe he uses a mixture of breadcrumbs, onion, garlic, black olives, capers, oregano, parsley and mint. The tomatoes are baked in olive oil. He calls it a Provincial-style starter and suggests serving them with a little salad of seasonal leaves and a few broken pieces of robust goat’s cheese.

Stuffing tomatoes was one of my childhood tasks therefore Ottolenghi’s recipe bought back many memories. We ate them warm or cold as a contorno or as an antipasto.

Although adding black olives, garlic, grated cheese and anchovies and mint are common regional variations, but my family preferred to keep the flavours simple. Grated cheese, anchovies or black olives (and just one of these ingredients) were only added when the stuffed tomatoes were to accompany a dish of strong flavours for example, a heavily spiced fish stew or sardines, (hence Ottolenghi’s suggestion to present them with some robust goat’s cheese seems appropriate).

INGREDIENTS

tomatoes, firm and ripe, 6 (estimate 1 per person and depending on their size)
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup
garlic, 3 cloves, chopped finely
bread crumbs,  1 cup made from fresh 1-3 day bread
parsley, ½  cup , cut finely or fresh basil
oregano, dried, ½ teaspoon, or 1 tablespoon cut finely if fresh
capers, ½ cup, rinsed and soaked, if salted
salt  and freshly ground black pepper

PROCESSES

Cut the tomatoes, into halves. Scoop out the seeds and leave them upside down to drain.
Preheat the oven to 180 C.
Sauté the garlic in a little of the oil. Let cool.
Add the sautéed garlic and herbs to the breadcrumbs and mix with some of the oil, seasoning and the capers.
Fill the tomatoes with the mixture but don’t press it down– it will expand as it cooks.
Arrange the stuffed tomatoes in an oiled baking pan and dribble a little olive oil over each.
Bake for about 30 mins, or until the tomatoes are soft and the breadcrumbs are golden.

 

CAPONATA SICILIANA (CATANESE – Caponata as made in Catania)

The principal and most common flavourings that characterise a Sicilian caponata are: the celery, capers, green olives and the sweet and sour, caramelised sauce made with vinegar and sugar (the agro dolce).

Caponata is commonly made with eggplants (popular in Palermo) but my mother’s family’s version of caponata contains peppers (capsicums) as one of the principal ingredients. Her family come from Catania and this is a local variation in many other parts of Sicily as well. In fact, I have eaten this variation in restaurants in the following Sicilian locations : Syracuse, Catania, Sciacca, Mazara del Vallo, Agrigento, Ragusa Ibla and Caltagirone.  

Sicilians will keep on arguing about which  is the true caponata. Some traditional recipes use tomato paste rather than chopped tomatoes. Some add garlic, others chocolate (or cocoa). Many recipes contain nuts – almonds or pine nuts or pistachio, in others herbs are added – sometimes basil, at other times oregano or mint. Certain recipes also include raisins or currants and some, fresh pears. One of my neighbours whose family also comes from Catania adds potatoes to his.

It is now the perfect season for making caponata – the peppers are sweet and the eggplants have not yet developed too many seeds (this is something that happens at the end of their growing season).

I always fry my vegetables separately because vegetables cook at different rates and it is far better to fry or sauté food in batches than crowd the pan.

Traditionally in caponata, the celery is pre-cooked in salted, boiling water before being added to the other ingredients. However, because I like the taste of the crunchy celery I have never pre-cooked it.

The legacy of my grandmother’s caponata lives on. My friends who have tasted my caponata now cook it for themselves.

I cooked the caponata for one of my cousins (the son of my mother’s sister) who visited me In Melbourne from the US. He and his wife loved it and he felt very nostalgic about his mother’s cooking ( my aunt/ his mother died several years ago). He asked me to email him the recipe. I did and he wrote back:

As I read you recipe on “caponata” I could smell the flavours ( like when my mother was making it).

He is now cooking caponata for his friends and family in the US….

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This version of caponata was published in the summer issue of the magazine, Italianicious (Essence of Italy, Dec 2009). The summer issue was a special edition on Sicily and I was asked to contribute. Each issue of Italianicious contains information and stories about all things Italian in Italy and in Australia.

Do not feel intimidated by the long list of steps to cook it. It really is very simple.

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INGREDIENTS
extra virgin olive oil, 1½ cups (more or less – depending how much the vegetables will absorb) 
eggplants, 1-2  large, dark skinned variety,
peppers, 3, preferably 1 green, 1 red, 1 yellow (variation of colour is mainly for appearance, but the red and yellow ones taste sweeter)
onion, 1, large, sliced thinly
red tomatoes, 2 medium size, peeled and chopped, or 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and a little water
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 
 
PROCESSES
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 the eggplant is said to absorb less oil if soaked previously. 
Prepare the capers – if they are the salted variety, ensure they have been rinsed thoroughly and then soaked for about 30 minutes before use, and then rinsed again.
Cut the peppers into slices (approx 20mm) or into rectangular shapes.
Slice the onion.
Slice the celery sticks and the green leaves finely.
Peel, and coarsely chop the tomatoes (or use tomato paste).
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 ¾ 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). If you want to, drain the oil from the eggplants back into the same frypan and re-use this oil to fry the next ingredients – the peppers.
Add new oil (to the left-over eggplant oil) plus a little salt and sauté the peppers, until wilted and beginning to turn brown (about 10-12 minutes). Remove the peppers from the pan and drain the oil from the peppers back into the same frypan. Place the peppers in the bowl with the eggplants.
Add a little more oil to the pan and sauté the celery 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). Sprinkle the celery with a little salt while it is cooking. 
Remove the celery from the pan and add it to the eggplants and peppers. 
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 bowl with 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 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 all of the 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 until ready to use – it will keep well for up to one week and it improves with age.
*** I first published this post In Feb 2010.
In my Book Sicilian Seafood Cooking, there is a whole chapter devoted to Caponata – made with various vegetables.
 Sicilian Seafood Cooking was first published in Nov 2011 and republished in Dec 2014.
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