Tag Archives: Wine vinegar

TUNNU `A STIMPIRATA – TONNO ALLA STEMPERATA (Tuna with onions, vinegar, capers and green olives)

Albacore tuna is sustainable, cheap in price and much under rated in Australia. It is not sashimi grade so the Asian export market does not want it and therefore in Australia we also tend to undervalue it. It is denser in texture but still excellent for cooking (lightly or cooked for longer).  As in Australia, Blue fin tuna is the preferred tuna in Sicily; if it is sustainable depends on how and where it is caught – it should be wild caught and aquaculture is not an option.


Unfortunately I rarely find albacore tuna where I live in Melbourne and if I do, I always grab it when I can and cook it as I would cook blue fin tuna.


I like tuna seared and left rare centrally but my Sicilian relatives eat tuna very well done and this is also how it is presented in the traditional home-style restaurants in Sicily.

In Sicily there are numerous ways tuna but Tonno alla stemperata is one of the favourites  in the south eastern part of Sicily. It was first cooked for me by one of my cousins, Rosetta, who lives in Ragusa. She and her husband have a holiday house on the beach at Marina di Ragusa, and she usually buys most of her fish from the fishermen on the beach.

Although Rosetta prefers to use tuna in this recipe, any firm-fleshed fish, thickly sliced, is suitable. She prefers to cut the tuna into large cubes – this allows greater penetration of the flavours in the sauce and of course, it will cook to a greater degree and more quickly.

Rosetta cooked the fish in the morning and we ate it for lunch, at room temperature…in Australia you may find this unusual but eating it at room temperature and some time after it has been cooked allows the flavours time to develop.

A version of this recipe is also in my first book: Sicilian Seafood Cooking.


I have used Albacore tuna, trevally, mackerel or flathead (better choice category) successfully in this recipe.

tuna or firm-fleshed fish, 4 slices
sliced white onions, 2
capers, ½ cup, salted variety, soaked and washed
white wine vinegar, about 2 tablespoons or for a milder taste use 1 tablespoon of white wine and one of vinegar
extra virgin olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
salt, black pepper or red chilli flakes (as preferred by the relatives in Ragusa),
celery heart, 2 or 3 of the pale green stalks and young leaves, chopped finely
green olives, ½ cup, pitted, chopped
bay leaves, 4

Soften the onion and celery in about half of the extra virgin oil, and cook until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the fish, olives, capers, seasoning and bay leaves and sear the fish. The pieces of fish only need to be turned once.


Add the vinegar and allow the vinegar to evaporate and flavour the dish.

Remove the fish from the pan if you think that it will overcook and continue to evaporate.

Optional: Decorate (and flavour) with mint just before serving.


You can tell I am in South Australia by some of the photos of the fabulous varieties of fish I am able to purchase in Adelaide when I visit.

GREEN TOMATOES – Pickled under oil

Definitely over festive food…..Christmas was great, but…


And now for something completely different.


Tomatoes usually fail to ripen at the end of the season (in autumn) and usually  Southern Italians wait till then to preserve green tomatoes. However if you can spare a few, pick some unripe tomatoes (or buy them as I did at the Queen Victoria Market) and make this pickle.


It is very convenient to have this – to eat plain with bread or as an accompaniment to cold meats or cheese.

The photos tell the story.


You need green tomatoes.

Wash, dry and slice into thick slices

Put them in a large colander, and sprinkle with salt….generous amounts.

Leave to drain for 24 hours.

Squeeze them and put them into a bowl and cover them with a mixture made of 1 part vinegar to 1 part water. Make sure that they are covered and put a weight on top. Leave at least 6- 8 hours.

Drain, and squeeze as dry as you can.

Place the tomatoes into sterilized jars and mix with olive oil (I use extra virgin olive oil), garlic slivers, dried fennel seeds and oregano (add chili flakes if you wish). Make sure they are well covered with oil and keep submerged – I save those plastic rings that keep pickles submerged that are often found in Italian pickles; there is one in the photo above.

Keep in fridge; they are ready to eat in a few days and will keep for months. Make sure that when you remove some of the pickle to eat, the remainder is always covered with oil.

They can be stored in a pantry, but omit the garlic if you do this, as it tends to go off.


VINCOTTO – its uses and is it another fad?


Do not assume that as an Italian I use Vincotto. I knew about grape “must” but not Vincotto and I wonder if Italians in Italy are using it and promoting it as widely as it seems to be in Australia.

You may have noticed bottles of Vincotto are appearing in gourmet delicatessens and Italian produce stores. Like Balsamic vinegar took over Australian produce stores a few years ago or Verjuice, Vincotto seems to be the new secret ingredient.

Literally translated it means “cooked wine” – and I am not talking about what my father used to make for me when I had a cold, boiled red wine with spices served hot. We called it vin brulé (Italian term for mulled wine).

The popular brand for Vincotto seems to be manufactured by a Gianni Calogiuri. It claims to be an ancient traditional recipe from the Italian region of Puglia, the heel in south-eastern Italy. The Vincotto is produces in Lizzanello (Lecce).

Vincotto is made from grape must (containing the skins, seeds and small stems of the withered, partly dried grapes from Malvasia and Negroamaro variety). These are cooked and reduced, blended and aged in oak barrels.  Like balsamic vinegar, the good stuff is aged for a number of years.

If made in Australia, Vincotto is made from a ‘must’ from Australian shiraz grapes. This is combined with high quality red wine vinegar and slowly reduced over many hours.

My first bottle of Vincotto was the Originale (original flavour). It has a sweet and sour taste and like a good quality wine vinegar so I used it in salad dressings and to de-glaze pans.

But now I am seeing many different flavoured bottles of Vincotto and I am finding it all very confusing.

At one of the specialised Italian produce stores I was given a “Carob Sweet Vinegar” and a Lemon Velvety Condiment” to try. The one made with carob suggests using it with carpaccio, fish, dried fruits and sorbets. The lemon one suggests to use it with fish, ice cream, desserts and cocktails. Thank you Enoteca Sileno.

I have two other different ones, both gifts from different friends on different occasions. I have a “Fig Vincotto Vinegar” and
“Lamponi (raspberry) condimento agrodolce”. Both of these have the statement on the label that they contain no added sugars. The one made with figs suggests: “Use it on meats, fish, soups, cheese and desserts”. The raspberry one: “excellent on meats, salads, sorbets, fruit and ice cream”. Thank you dear friends.

I am none the wiser by the suggestions made by the manufacturers, but I am especially enjoying the raspberry and the fig varieties in salad dressings – for example raspberry vinegar has been a common ingredient in English salads (I used to make it once!). I often add fruit or nuts, meats, fish or cheese to my leaf salads or I often combine roasted vegetables together so when I say “salads”, I am talking about composite salads. See:

Salade Composee
Composite salads.


I like using Vincotto instead of wine or I combine it with wine when I de-glaze the cooking juices and food particles in the bottom of pans, especially those where I have cooked meat  – game meats especially. Last night I was pan frying some fish with bay leaves, saffron and caper berries and I de-glazed the pan with a mixture of white wine and about 1 tablespoon of lemon Vincotto. I am getting more adventurous and do not think that just because it is an Italian product that all Italians use it.



I can see me roasting figs, apricots, plums or quinces with a splash of Vincotto and maybe presenting the fruit with cheeses and nuts. I cannot see me using it in ice cream or sorbets – this may come later.

Vincotto is also very similar to the middle-eastern Pomegranate molasses (thick, fragrant and a tangy reduction of pomegranate juice, boiled to a sticky, syrupy consistency). Over time I have used the molasses very successfully by experimenting and not just with middle-eastern ingredients. I guess that I will gradually begin to use Vincotto in similar ways but then again, it may be yet be just another passing fad.

ACETO DI VINO FATTO IN CASA (Home Made Wine Vinegar)

A friend of mine has just returned from a holiday in France. For some of the time she stayed in Aix en Provence and caught up with her old pen friend who makes her own vinegar. I think I would like this woman.

I too used to make wine vinegar years ago – it is really quite easy and I did not buy a special culture.

The best vinegar I ever made was when a friend who had been to a wine tasting of good quality French wines brought all these partly filled bottles to my house. We drank and I used as much as I could in cooking and with the rest of it (there was far too much of it) I made vinegar. I used a clean crock-pot (the old fashion type used by many to store flour) and in it I emptied all of the left over red wine – there may have been the equivalent of four wine bottles. To this I added about a cup of good wine vinegar and a piece of good bread – the sourdough variety (provides the yeast). I covered it with the lid and basically left it in a cool place. It then formed ‘the mother’- a thick gelatinous mass of jelly-like consistency that completely covered the top. I once did some reading on ‘the mother’ and I think that it is called that because it gives birth to the vinegar.

I left it for a couple of months undisturbed and then removed the vinegar very carefully (I used a ladle) by pushing the mother to one side.  I removed about one wine bottle worth per time. I always made sure that I left about 3 cups of vinegar in the crock – pot and then added left over wine and the mother did the rest.

It is not  just people in the South of Italy that make vinegar. My aunt in Trieste always made vinegar by leaving an open, filled bottle of wine (about ¾ full) by the side of her stove. I cannot remember what her vinegar tasted like but when I tried to make vinegar this way I had to deal with the vinegar flies and the smell.

My Sicilian friend says that her brother makes vinegar, he inherited his father’s old wooden wine vat and he pours the dregs of left-over wine into it. That’s the only technique he uses and has never added anything else to it since his dad’s death.

I am going to try to make some more. It is time to resurrect that old crockpot where I now store onions. I will wash it with very hot water before I tackle the vinegar.


WHAT TO DO WITH A ZUCCA (An overgrown zucchini – a marrow).

Those zucchini grow rapidly and before you know it, they become zucche (plural of zucca,) The marrows I am talking about are no longer than 22 cms, still tender and have flavour – any larger than this they become tasteless and dry and are good for the compost. Usually, zucche are stuffed, but these can also be used successfully to make a salad.

I use a mandoline (kitchen utensil used for slicing and cutting) to cut the marrows into matchsticks and then use a method similar to the one for making Italian vegetable preserves.

Sicilians (and southern Italians) are fond of preserves – the most common are made with eggplants or green tomatoes, sliced, salted, squeezed dry (the next day), then placed in vinegar for a day, squeezed dry and finally placed in oil and oregano.

I treat marrows in a similar way, but because I want to eat them fresh it is unnecessary to go through the lengthy process I have described above – the salting process takes about 30 minutes and the rest is completed in no time at all. If I am using zucchini, I slice them long-wise and very thinly (a potato peeler can be good).

The following amounts are for processing 1 marrow…..and not too large or seedy.


marrow, 1

salt, 1 teaspoon

white, wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon

extra virgin olive oil, 1/3cup

oregano, ½teaspoon dried is more pungent,

freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Cut marrow  into half, remove seeds. Cut into match sticks or use a mandoline or a turning slicer which cuts into spirals.

Place in a colander with salt. Leave to drain for at least 30mins. Squeeze dry.

Dress with the oil and vinegar and crushed oregano.

Leave for about 10 minutes for the flavours to infuse.