Tag Archives: Vegetables

CAPONATA DI NATALE (Christmas, winter caponata made with celery, almonds and sultanas)

Not all caponate include eggplants.

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 .

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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.

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I do not pre-cook the celery; I prefer to slice it very finely and just sauté it till it is slightly softened.

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It is a very unusual caponata with a combination of textures and flavourssweet, 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.

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INGREDIENTS

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

Optional
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.

PROCESSES

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.

ASPARAGI DI BOSCO and FRITTATINA (Wild Asparagus continued, and Frittata)

Wild asparagus is strongly associated with spring and as an Italian I am continuing  with my appreciation and fascination of wild asparagus and seasonal produce.

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I bought these wild asparagus in Varese, close to Milan and once again they are totally different in appearance, taste and texture. These are from the woods, i.e. “bosco”. Their stems are slightly furry and they do not taste as bitter as the other two varieties I ate in Sicily or the wild asparagus I ate in Tunis. See Wild Asparagus in Tunis

In this region of Italy butter features strongly in cooking so I sautéed them in butter and added salt and pepper and a little lemon juice. We ate them as a contorno (side dish).

 

I sautéed the second bunch in butter and oil and then added eggs, some grated Parmigiano, salt and pepper and made a frittatatina (small frittata) – this is a very common way to eat wild asparagus in Italy; in Sicily it is one of the favoured foods on Easter Monday (called La Pasquetta).

FRITTATINA DI ASPARAGI ( Small Frittata….substitute with thin variety of asparagus)
Wash the asparagus well, break off any hard ends and break the asparagus into smaller pieces.
Sauté the asparagus in some extra virgin olive oil, add a little salt and pepper. ( Most Italians pre-soften them by boiling them first).
Mix 6 eggs that have been beaten with a fork, add a little salt and about 1 tablespoon of grated cheese.Pour the egg mixture on top of the asparagus, cook the frittata on one side, slide the frittata onto a plate, flip the uncooked side on to the pan and cook.

 

After Italy I went to Spain (Madrid, Toledo and Barcelona). I saw wild asparagus plants growing Toledo and in the Gaudi Gardens In Barcelona (including wild fennel and even bushes of thyme in Montserrat). I did not see them on menus or for sale in the markets in Spain but I suspect that the wild asparagus season is well and truly over – Spain was much warmer than Italy.

 

The quality of the vegetables in the markets in Spain is very good, but I was surprised not to see anything out of the ordinary. There were artichokes and broad beans (both in season) but nowhere near the range of salad or cooking greens I saw in Italy.

What I appreciated in Spain and especially in Barcelona were the artichokes. They are almost totally stripped of all their leaves, sliced very thinly, dipped in a little flour and deep fried.

Like the Italians, the Spaniards also eat them as a frittatina ( Spanish tortilla). The cleaned artichokes are sliced thinly and cooked in the same way as the wild asparagus.

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FENNEL CAPONATA (Sicilian sweet and sour method for preparing certain vegetables).

Fennel is still looking really good at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne.

Select the round specimens when you can – these are known as the male bulbs. The female ones are flatter and reputed to be not as tasty because their energy is going into sprouting and going to seed – this is why they are not as round.

Usually when I make caponata I fry the vegetables separately to best preserve the flavour of the individual vegetables and accommodate the different cooking time each vegetable needs, but because the celery and fennel have similar textures I  generally cook them at the same time.

All caponate (plural) have an essential agro-dolce (sweet and sour) sauce that makes caponata what it is.

INGREDIENTS
1 medium sized fennel
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tender celery stalk and some pale green leaves, finely chopped
¼ cup green olives, pitted and sliced
¼ cup capers (if salted, rinsed and soaked)
1 ripe tomato, peeled and chopped (or canned)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbs wine vinegar, white
salt and pepper to taste

PROCESSES
Prepare the fennel:
Remove any outer layers of the fennel that look damaged, trim the base and discard.  Keep any young, soft fennel fronds to add to the caponata.
Slice the fennel bulbs in half vertically and then into quarters. Continue to cut the fennel into thin slices keeping them attached at the bottom.
Place extra virgin olive oil in the pan and when it is hot add the onion, fennel and celery and sauté until they begin to colour.
Add the olives, capers, tomato and salt. Cover and simmer gently until the fennel has softened (10-15 mins).
Remove the contents from the pan, add sugar to the same pan and stir over medium heat, When it begins to caramelize add the vinegar and evaporate. This is the essential agro-dolce (sweet and sour) sauce.
Return all the contents back into the pan and stir through.

Caponata is presented cold.

Other Fennel Recipes:

Fennel – male and female shapes

Tortino di finocchi (fennel flan)

Fennel and orange salad

Fennel and Potato soup

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ORTIGIA FOOD MARKET, SYRACUSE (Sicilian Seafood Cooking)

A Visit to the colourful, Ortigia food market in Syracuse
Introduction.
My Australian friend Sandi was going to Sicily. Her first big stop was Syracuse and she asked if there was anything she could do for me while she was there.

 

 

I gave her some photos of some of the stall holders in the Ortigia market in Syracuse and said that if she found these people she was to tell them that they would be in Sicilian Seafood Cooking (New Holland, release date Nov 2011). 


Sandi has just returned from Sicily and this is what she writes:
 
When Marisa learned of my intention to visit Syracuse to join my sailing friends she asked me to deliver some photographs to some of the stall holders there. Marisa and her partner Bob had taken the photographs whilst they were visiting Syracuse. The photographs of the stall holders are among the many wonderful photographs of Sicily, it’s markets  with their bountiful array of fruit, vegetables and of plenty of fish which are featured in Marisa’s  book entitled “ Sicilian Seafood Cooking”. I was thrilled to be able to do so. I am always excited at the opportunity to revisit the richness of the market in Syracuse – one of my favourite haunts.

It was easy to recognise the stall holders from their photographs despite the fact that the market as usual was crowded with locals buying the wonderful fresh produce.One of my sailing companions spoke Italian and therefore was my translator. They were ecstatic to receive a copy of their photograph and a copy of the cover of Marisa’s book. They listened intently with sparkling eyes and smiles on their faces whist my friend explained who had taken the photographs and why I was delivering them. They immediately remembered Marisa when I showed them a copy of her photograph.  As soon as they heard the explanation they ignored the crowd of customers waiting to be served and rushed from one end of the market to the other waving their photograph and relating their news to other stall holders excitedly. They even told the story to those that hadn’t been listening closely to my friends’ explanation.



All this despite the fact that they were busy with many customers.  No one seemed to mind and all enjoyed the excitement. Two of the stall holders pinned their copy of the photograph proudly on the wall behind their stall. If you visit you will see the photographs and I’m sure they will be pleased to proudly explain where they came  from.


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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.

 

RADISH (RAVANELLO OR RAPANELLO)

This photo of this bunch of radishes was taken in France.

I was in France with friends and stayed in Mercadiol (a small hamlet) in the South West of France. It is the same restored barn that Stephanie Alexander stayed (with Maggie Beer and Colin her husband) when she researched material for her book Cooking & Travelling in the South-West France.

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My friends and I sampled much of the local cuisine, but we also enjoyed shopping in the local markets in the various nearby towns and villages and cooked some fabulous dishes together.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this variety of radish for sale at one of my favourite vegetable stalls at the market. Carmel, one of the stall’s proprietors proudly announced that a couple of her customers had said that they had seen this variety in France. She was pleased to hear that I verified this and had a photo of them.

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The following is a section from the vegetable chapter from my manuscript to be published in 2011.

Radish (ravanello or rapanello) is another vegetable that is probably over-looked in Australia – they are available all year round but are sweeter in spring. Radishes should be crisp, juicy, and peppery with sparkling white flesh.

My father grew them in his small garden in Adelaide because they reminded him of the times when he was a boy growing up in Sicily and he would help himself to the radish patch. When in Sicily, if in spring, it is quite common in people’s homes to be presented with small, firm radishes with fresh, unblemished tops at the beginning of a meal. Serve with a separate small bowl of salt, or extra virgin olive oil and salt, for dipping. Other tender vegetables such as broad beans, fennel or peas are also commonly placed on the table in the same way – it is a celebration of the vegetable and the season.

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Last week, my friend The Old Foodie wrote about radish.

When I select bunches of radish or kohlrabi, baby turnips or beetroot I partly select them for the quality of their leaves. In fact I cooked the leaves from the bunch of radish and baby turnips the night before you posted your blog – I sauté them in extra virgin olive oil and garlic.My father used to grow radishes in his garden and used to collect the young leaves for salads – not to be eaten alone, but as part of a mixed salad. He also grew rocket and radicchio and chicory and collected ‘salad ‘ leaf by leaf. And I support the theory that radish was used to stimulate appetite. My father used to talk about Sicilians just presenting a bowl of radishes (in season and fresh) with salt (to dip the radish into) before a meal.

Antipasto (or nibbles) before a meal is still not a common practice in Sicily, it is a modern invention, stimulated by tourists and their expectations. Because Sicilians to always begin a meal with a primo (first course), which for the majority of the time is pasta; they do not wish to spoil their appetite. The primo is followed by a secondo (main) and then fruit, and dessert for special occasions. A few nibbles, for example olives, a few cubes of marinaded pecorino could be the ‘nibbles’ for special occasions or part of an extended meal.

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CAVOLOFIORE AFFOGATO (Cauliflower braised in red wine, cheese and anchovies)

 

Affogato means drowned or smothered or choked in Italian, and which ever way you look at it, in this recipe the cauliflower has been killed off in red wine.

My grandmother Maria was born in Catania and this was one of her ways of cooking cauliflower (called VRUOCCULI AFFUCATI in Sicilian)

The cauliflower is cut into thin slices and assembled in layers: cauliflower, sprinkled with a layer of slivers of pecorino, thinly sliced onion and anchovies. Some recipes also include stoned black olives.

Although the coloured cauliflowers or broccoli can also be used for this recipe, I like the white cauliflower because it becomes rose- tinted by the red wine.

I compress the assembled ingredients, cover it with a circle of baking paper, an ovenproof plate and then put a weight on top (see photo).

It is cooked slowly until all the liquid evaporates and then it can be turned out and sliced like a cake. You may also like to use a non- stick saucepan or as I often do, place a circle of baking paper at the bottom of the pan to ensure that the “cake” does not stick to the bottom. Many recipes add water as the cauliflower is cooking to prevent it from burning, but if you cook it on very gentle heat and in a good quality saucepan with a heavy base, it may not be necessary.

VRUOCCULI AFFUCATI are especially suitable as an accompaniment to a strong tasting dish. Usually it is presented at room temperature or cold (I can remember the left over cauliflower being particularly satisfying as a stuffing for a panino).

INGREDIENTS

cauliflower or broccoli, 1kg
onion, 1large, sliced thinly
pecorino, 50 -100g, sliced thinly
anchovies, 4-5 or more
red wine, 1 glass
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

PROCESSES

Place some olive oil in a deep saucepan (the ingredients are layered).
Add a layer of the cauliflower.
Top with the pecorino cheese, anchovies, ground pepper and onion slices (salt to taste).
Add another layer of the cauliflower and more oil.
Continue with more layers but finish off with a layer of cauliflower on top. Press down the layers with your hands.
Top with more oil and add the wine.
Cover the contents first with either a piece of baking paper or foil cut to size and slightly loose. Put a weight on the top so as to keep all of the layers compressed (see above). There should e a gap around the weight and the saucepan to allow the steam to escape.
Cook on very slow heat for about 40-60 minutes and when the liquid has evaporated, you should also hear the cauliflower sizzle in the oil.

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SALAD GREEN: matovilc, also called lamb’s lettuce and mâche

My father used to grow matovilc in his garden in Adelaide.  Some may know this salad green as lamb’s lettuce or mâche as it is known in France. I have also found references to it being called corn salad, apparently because it grows wild in cultivated fields in temperate climates.

I know this salad green well and ate it regularly in Trieste where I lived as a child. You are probably thinking that matovilc does not sound very much like an Italian word, and you are correct – it is Sloveniac/Croatian where it is more commonly known as matovilac.

Those of you who have travelled to France may recognise it, but unless you have been to Trieste you are unlikely to find it anywhere else in Italy. One of my father’s acquaintances smuggled a few seeds out from Trieste to Adelaide; you no longer have to break the law, seeds can be found.

The top photo is what I bought in Brisbane from the Powerhouse Farmers’ Market. I was there last weekend and it was sold as whole heads in the form of rosettes. In Trieste we also purchased it in the market, the leaves were sold loose by the handful and were very small.

I always get excited when I see this salad green, it is not easily found for sale in the state where I live and is generally cultivated at home. My father picked the matovilc growing in his garden leaf by leaf (as he did all his salad greens); it is very easy to grow and is at its best in spring. It goes to seed quickly in warm climates.

As a simple salad (dressed with a wine vinegar, salt pepper and extra virgin olive oil) it is particularly appreciated in Trieste when accompanied with fried sardines (first dipped in a little flour and salt and the fried in very hot extra virgin olive oil). The contrasts of the almost sweet, delicate taste of the leaves and the strong taste of the sardines works well together.

In France, I ate a lot of mâche as part of the numerous salade composée, which seem very much part of café food offered at lunchtime. It seems to be an excellent way to present smallgoods or use up left-overs. In fact in Brisbane my friend and I used the left over pancetta (cooked it), pecans, a dressing made with raspberry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil and some brie that were all left over from the meal from the night before. This also tasted excellent and gave both of us much pleasure in using up left over ingredients creatively.

This photo is Salade de Pigeon Landaise, vinaigrette de son jus. It was taken in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu Academie D’Art Culinaire and was one of the dishes cooked by Monsieur Le Chef (as the students seem to refer to him respectfully).
I watched the chef cook and sampled the following:
CUISINE LE SUD-OUEST, LES LANDES / THE SOUTH-WEST, LANDES
·      Salade de pigeon landaise, vinaigrette de son jus / Roasted squab salad, squab jus vinaigrette
·      Salmis de canard en cabouillade / Roasted duck “salmis”
·      Biscuit roulé fourré à la ricotta et mandarines / Swiss roll filled with ricotta and mandarins.
 
 

This photo is of the simple salad my friend and I prepared when we stayed in the converted barn at La Vieille Grange in Mercadiol (a small hamlet) in the South West of France. It is the same restored barn that Stephanie Alexander stayed (with Maggie Beer and Colin her husband) when she researched material for her book Cooking & Travelling in the South-West France. We travelled to many open air markets and bought local produce – that particular morning we found some mâche, beautiful radishes and local fresh trout, come home and had a good time preparing lunch – the mushrooms were sautéed in local extra virgin olive oil with parsley and garlic. The local bread, pate, sausisson (sausage) and cheeses which we also ate at the same repast are missing from the photo.

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CARDOONS, What are they? (Cardoni or Cardi in Italian)

The featured photo was taken in a market in Paris but cardi are sold in every market in all regions of Italy..

The photo below is not a photo taken in one of the markets in Italy – it was purchased from Gus and Carmel’s stall in the Queen Victoria Market (Carmel is holding the plant, she was reluctant to pose).

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It is a cardoon (called cardone or cardo in Italian) a close relative of the artichoke with light green to white stalks ribbed like celery. Cardoons (cardoni or cardi) are fibrous; the stringy fibres run lengthwise and need to be removed. Only the stalks are eaten and they the plant is young can be eaten raw when young.

I am very excited by this because it is the first cardoon I have ever seen for sale and cooked in Australia.

I was in Chanti two years ago and travelled through Tuscany when cardi were in season and I must admit that I have never seen cardoons as gigantic as the one anywhere in Italy. The other photo (see bottom of this post) showing a darker variety of cardi was taken in the market in Catania, Sicily and this is the size (not necessarily the colour) that I remember my mother buying when we lived in Trieste.

Cardoons are a winter vegetable and appreciated in all parts of Italy. I know that there are a number of varieties of cardi but they can be grouped into two sorts. One grows straight and long (60 to 150 cm), and I guess that this is what I have (it is 110cm tall, and the top leaves have already been trimmed); the other cardi are curved and in Italy are known as the gobbi (hunchbacks).

The best cardi are grown blanched. This is like the blanching of some celery – the plant is tied together and paper or boards are used to block out the light and shade the stalks. When the light source of celery is blocked out the plants lack green colour, the stalks are generally more tender and are sweeter in taste. Apparently the best cardi are grown in total darkness; to blanch the gobbi, the plants are bent on one side and covered with earth; this contributes to the typical arched shape.

When my family settled in Australia we missed our cardi and my mother cooked the ivory stalks of silver beet the same way, i.e. gratinati – au gratin (part boiled and then baked with béchamel and parmesan cheese). She also part boiled them, crumbed and fried them (called impanati). My mum has never worked and was particularly bored when we settled in Australia, where in fact she developed her best cooking, even if she did not have the range of ingredients. We knew that the silver beet stalks would never taste like they should (similar to artichokes), but they looked good when we were having guests.

Gus is Calabrese and the fruit stall next door is also run by Calabresi. They tell me that one of their favourite ways to eat cardi  are when they are preserved in extra virgin olive oil. They are boiled first in acidulated water, drained well and like when preserving carciofini (small artichokes) are then covered with oil, salt and perhaps some dried oregano.

In Tuscany the cardi are often recooked in chicken or veal stock and in Piedmont they are precooked and then presented with bagna caoda (a warm dip of anchovies, garlic, and olive oil, usually served with fresh vegetables as an appetizer).

To clean cardi, take off the outside leaves and any that are discoloured or soft until you reach the inside of the plant. As you can see in the photo the plant was significantly reduced in size and looks very much like the centre of a celery. With a sharp knife strip off the coarse, outer, stringy layer of fibres – some people use a potato peeler to do this. I do the same with artichoke stalks and like artichokes they need to be placed in lightly acidulated water as you are cleaning them. The cardoons are then cut into 5-6 cm pieces and are partly boiled to remove more of their bitter taste, and then recooked. A good squeeze of lemon juice added to the cooking water will also help to prevent them from darkening. Do not think about reusing the cooking water as stock – it is bitter.

INGREDIENTS

cardoons, cleaned and cut into pieces (I ended up with only 20 pieces)
lemons, the juice of 1- 2
béchamel, (white sauce made with butter, flour, milk salt, white pepper and some nutmeg and I used 2 cups)
parmesan cheese, grated.  I used 120g
butter, extra

 

PROCESSES

Clean and cut the cardi to size, place them into boiling, salted water and lemon juice and cook till softened. The cooking liquid should completely cover the vegetables. My cardi remained slightly crunchy and I cooked them for 35-40 mins. Some cardi can take a long time to soften and some of the recipes I read suggested a couple of hours cooking time.
Drain well. If you intend cooking them later keep them in the cooking water till you are ready for the next cooking stage.
Preheat the oven 200°C.
Grease a wide, shallow ovenproof dish with butter and place a layer of the cardi in it (there will be two layers). Cover with some of the béchamel (besciamella) and half of the parmesan.
Continue with the second layer of cardi, followed by the béchamel and cheese. At this stage you can decide if you would like to sprinkle some coarse breadcrumbs made with good quality bread (sourdough or pasta dura) on the top of the cheese and dot the crumbs with some bits of butter.
Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes or until the surface has turned a golden brown. Serve at once.

See other Cardi Recipe: CARDOONS (Cardoni or CARDI Sicilian recipe)

 

 

CAPONATA of Potatoes (General information and recipe for Caponata di patate)

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I am very pleased that one of my recipes (Caponata, Perfect for Christmas) has been published in the latest issue of Italianicious (Volume 5 issue 4, Dec 2009 -Feb 2010). This magazine is published in Sydney and has an Italian/Australian specific content with many recipes, articles and information about food, restaurants, wine and travel.

That particular recipe of caponata published in Italianicious is from my mother’s family originally from Catania (a city on east coast of Sicily) and it is interesting that my father’s family, who are from Ragusa (two hours drive from Catania), do not cook caponata at all. The photo is of Via Bellini in Catania.

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Caponata personifies Sicilian cuisine and as you’d expect, there are many regional variations of this recipe. Some of you may be surprised that this version of caponata contains peppers as well as eggplants. The most common recipes for caponata only use eggplants as the principal ingredient, but the inclusion of peppers is an authentic, local variation in many parts of Sicily especially from Catania. On my trips to Sicily I always sample as much caponata as possible and was very pleased to find that the best tasting versions of caponata all contained peppers – this I found in restaurants in Syracuse, Catania, Sciacca, Mazara del Vallo, Agrigento, Ragusa Ibla and Caltagirone.

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There are other Sicilian caponate (plural of caponata) made with other vegetables, for example, caponata di carciofi (artichokes) caponata di verdura verde (green leafy vegetables) and caponata di patate (see recipe below). The principal and most common flavourings that characterise a Sicilian caponata remain the same: the celery, capers, green olives and the sweet and sour caramelised sauce made with vinegar and sugar (agro dolce).

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Other traditional caponate recipes made with eggplants or eggplants and peppers use tomato paste rather than chopped tomatoes, some add garlic, others chocolate (or cocoa). Many recipes contain nuts – almonds or pine nuts or pistachio, used fresh in some recipes, in others they are toasted. 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 of canned tuna, prawns, octopus, salted anchovies and bottarga.

To make caponata I always sauté (on high heat) my vegetables separately and then combine them at the end in the agro dolce (sweet and sour) sauce.

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CAPONATA DI PATATE
(Potato caponata)

This caponata can be eaten hot or at room temperature. It also keeps well refrigerated for several days.

The potatoes in this caponata are fried until lightly golden. The ingredients commonly used to make caponata – onions, celery, olives, capers, tomatoes and the vinegar and sugar for the agro dolce – are cooked together separately. The potatoes are then added to the other cooked component.

INGREDIENTS
potatoes, 1.5 kg
celery, 1 heart (the centre pale green stalks and some of the fine leaves)
onion, 2, large, chopped
capers, ½ cup, salted or in brine
green olives, ¾ cup , stoned, chopped
white vinegar, ¾  glass
sugar, 3 tablespoons
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup (or more)
salt and freshly ground pepper
parsley, 1 cup, cut finely
tomato passata, 1 cup

PROCESSES
Peel and cube the potatoes and place onto a clean tea towel (or paper) to dry.
Fry the potatoes in hot extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt – do not crowd the potatoes and if needed use a wide frypan or cook in batches.
Turn occasionally until they are cooked and golden. Drain the potatoes and set aside. You can use this same oil to braise the vegetables (purists would use new oil).
Heat the oil and add the onions and the celery. Stir frequently and cook over a moderate heat until the onion is golden and the celery has softened. Add seasoning and parsley.
Add the tomatoes, capers and olives and toss the ingredients together for about 5 minutes.
Add sugar and vinegar and increase the heat to high to evaporate some of the vinegar.
Add the potatoes, cook for about 4-5 minutes to blend the flavours.
Serve at room temperature.

VARIATIONS
Add either chopped, toasted almonds or pistachio before serving (either on top or through the caponata) and scatter with fresh mint leaves.