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).
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).
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).
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.
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
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.
Especially in summer, I like to prepare a number of small courses and always made with in season ingredients.
These were recent meals:
Feature Photo fried zucchini with roasted garlic.
Roasted baby tomatoes – very fragrant.
Whole figs stuffed with walnuts and feta and topped with a sprig of mint – then the figs are cut in half.
This was followed by roasted summer vegetables (zucchini, eggplants, peppers, onion, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and rosemary) and topped with a layer of fresh breadcrumbs and a little grated Parmigiano added in the last 5-7 minutes of baking). This dish is eaten cold.
The roasted vegetable course was followed by a salad of lightly poached green prawns mixed with watercress, fresh peaches and a light dressing of homemade egg mayonnaise, a dash of fresh cream, pepper and fresh, French tarragon.
Dessert is always simple in summer. I have an ice cream machine and this comes in handy. Another constant old favourite is Zuppa Inglese; it is always appreciated especially if in summer it is topped with berries lightly marinaded with some Alchermes.
Another simple dessert that I enjoy making is a Coeur a la creme (cream cheese, crème fraîche). I bought two of these heart shaped, ceramic moulds in San Francisco. I top the heart (s) with fresh berries or fresh figs . Unfortunately I have not snapped a photo of this dessert.
The last Cour a la creme I made was with drained yogurt (Labneh) mixed with a little honey and topped with slices of mango.
500 ml full-fat Greek-style yoghurt
Line a colander with one layer of muslin and place the colander on top of a bowl so that the whey of the yogurt can drain off naturally. Leave the yoghurt to drain about 8 hours or longer. I usually place mine (covered) to drain in the fridge.
There must be sufficient liquid to cover the shelled green prawns.
Combine these ingredients to make a poaching liquid: a mixture of water, wine (more water 2/3 than wine 1/3), a few peppercorns, a little salt, fresh bay leaves, soft fresh celery leaves and fresh herbs – usually thyme.
Bring the poaching liquid to below boiling and simmer for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, and let the ingredients infuse for at least 20 minutes.
Bring the poaching liquid to the boil, add the green prawns and make sure that they are covered by the liquid. Wait for a few minutes until the temperature of the poaching liquid is just below boiling. Turn off the the heat and leave the prawns to steep until they will change colour (to coral- orange) and are no longer translucent – this happens within minutes.
Drain the prawns and cool the quickly – I spread them out on a cold surface. Use the poaching liquid (stock) for another fish based dish (for example a risotto) or to poach your next batch of prawns or fish. Keep this stock in the freezer till you are ready to use it again.
I ate at du Fermier in Trentham recently. The chef is Annie Smithers. It was a set menu and the first course was a pasta dish of orecchiete with broad beans and fresh peas with abundant shavings of parmigiano. This was followed by a loin of beef – char grilled and served with Salsa Agresto and some green beans as a side dish. We finished with a meringue, raspberries and fresh cream. All very enjoyable and uncomplicated as Annie’s cooking often is (and that is why I like it).
I asked the waiter about Salsa Agresto because it sounded Italian. It is.
Because I was not familiar with this salsa I went searching for some enlightenment. I found some information about this sauce on Italian websites (no measures, just a list of ingredients as many Italian recipes are, especially if they are ancient recipes). I also found references to Salsa D’Agresto.
The sauce is made with uva acerba (green grapes)- grapes that remain on the vine without ripening at the end of the season.
It was a sauce which dates pre-Renaissance time and went out of fashion because lemons became popular in cooking and superseded the use of green grape juice. The recipes suggested that the juice of the green grapes can be extracted by using a mouli or a juicer.
Walnuts and almonds are blanched to remove as much skin as possible. My sources indicated that there may have been more walnuts used than almonds in these sauces.
Onions, garlic and parsley and a few breadcrumbs are pounded together with the nuts. Add a bit of sugar, some chopped parsley and sufficient grape juice to make the amalgamated ingredients soft – like a paste.
Heat these ingredients and add a little broth as the sauce will thickened because the bread crumbs.
So I made this sauce according to the the ingredients and method I have written about above and the reliance of my memory of the flavours and texture of the Salsa Agresto from du Fermier .
However I used blanched almonds but not the walnuts and I used the nuts raw. I also added a little nutmeg as I thought that it’s inclusion would compliment the taste of the nuts. I did not have green grape juice so I used a dry white wine.
Days later I looked up the English translation of the Italian word agresto and it means verjuice. And then after having made my version of this sauce I discovered that Maggie Beer has written a recipe for Salsa Agresto.
Maggie is the queen of verjuice, so it is no surprise that she has a recipe. She uses basil – I did not. Her version for this sauce is not heated nor is it thinned with broth. Quite different recipes.
This is Maggie’s recipe:
SALSA AGRESTO Makes 700 ml
1 cup (160 g) almonds
1 cup (100 g) walnuts
2 cloves garlic
2¾ cups flat-leaf parsley leaves
½ cup firmly packed basil leaves
1½ teaspoons sea salt flakes
freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup (180 ml) extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup (180 ml) verjuice
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Roast the almonds and walnuts on separate baking trays for about 5 minutes, shaking to prevent burning. Rub walnuts in a tea towel to remove bitter skins, then leave to cool. Blend the nuts, garlic, herbs, salt and 6 grinds of black pepper in a food processor with a little of the olive oil. With the motor running, slowly add the remaining oil and verjuice. The consistency should be like pesto. (If required, thin with more verjuice.)
I have no idea how close to the pre-Renaissance recipe my version of Salsa Agresto is or Maggie Beer’s recipe for that matter.
Calling it Salsa D’Agresto makes more sense grammatically – D’ = made fromor of the ingredient agresto, i.e.verjuice.
I used my BBQ to make bistecca fiorentina – Florentine steak- and it was a suitable accompaniment for my version of Salsa D’Agresto.
It was time to look at Panforte again. I made two lots just before Christmas. Good to give as presents or keep in your pantry for those JUST IN CASE TIMES – it keeps for a long time.
I never follow recipes closely, so every time I make Panforte it will taste different.
If I want a softer Panforte, I add more honey and butter and less amounts of sugar.
Likewise adding more sugar and less honey and butter makes it firmer.
I also play around with the range of nuts I use and I always add great amounts of spices than any Panforte recipe that you are likely to find and always generous quantities of pepper. Sometimes I have added pink pepper – no true Italian is likely to corrupt Panforte with this spice.
For some reason I do not add cocoa or chocolate but many do like this version of dark (scuro) Panforte. I always add some sort of citrus peel ( I added cumquat to one of my latest batches) and sometimes I add figs. I would never add ginger, pineapple or cranberries or any other dried fruit for that matter – that would be so far removed from the traditional.
As for nuts, I added macadamias to one of the batches I made – my first time. I usually add a mixture of almonds, pistachio and hazelnuts.
Basically…. I use:
375g of nuts altogether
170g of citrus peel or citrus peel and figs
100g plain flour
420 g of sweetness altogether (honey and sugar). You could use 210g of each…this is usually what is done, but If I want a soft Panforte I use 200g sugar and 220g of honey. …harder still 215g sugar and 205 of honey.
45g of butter….less if I want it harder
spices and pepper to taste
grated orange or orange and lemon peel
Oven is 150C. Tins are lined with baking paper. Depending on the size of your tins, this quantity resulted in 2 large ones or 5-6 little ones – I used my Le Cruset mini casseroles. Expect to cook the larger ones 40-50 minutes…. smaller ones 35-40 minutes.
Mix all dry ingredients together.
Heat honey and sugar till sugar is melted, add butter.
Work quickly and add wet to dry ingredients.
Press into tins.
You will find a recipe for Panforte (it is Carol Field’s recipe) in an earlier post:
I have always played around with the ingredients and spices – Carol Field’s recipe was the “mother” recipe that launched the various versions of Panforte I have made over many years. Thank you Carol Field.
Christmas for me is not just cooking for Christmas eve (as is more traditional in my household) or Christmas day. It is more to do about having a range of simple ingredients on hand so that I can prepare the odd meal quickly, just in case I end up feeding some one. It is the festive season after all but whatever happens during this very silly season in the year, I like to be in control.
In my first book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking, I have written:
Every cook and professional chef has a way of doing things. It is said that you don’t leave your life behind, you take it with you. My mother’s surname is Leone. Often daughters acquire some of their knowledge and skills in the kitchen from watching their mothers and, like the Sicilian proverb, I am a leone (a lion) in control of my kitchen.
In this post I want to revisit an easy chicken dish that is Vitello Tonnato but not made with vitello (veal) but chicken. The word tonnato comes from the word tonno (tuna).
This recipe could keep you sane and will gain you many compliments.
Chicken fillets, capers and a tin of good tuna in oil are easy to get and these are likely to be ingredients that you have in your pantry. Mayonnaise can be made in no time with eggs and extra virgin olive oil. Anchovies taste good in this dish but not everyone likes anchovies so I did not use them on this occasion.
This dish is so simple to make, but it will be very much appreciated and enjoyed. Great for summer (as in Australia) or any season. It can be – but it also makes an impressive antipasto at any time.
Your guest could be familiar with Vitello Tonnato, but they are not likely to be familiar with Pollo alla Messinese – the word pollo or gallina is chicken and alla Messinese is as prepared by the Sicilians from Messina.
I have written this recipe before so I will just include some photos as I have made this many times (for recipe see link below).
On this occasion I wanted to make some chicken broth (another staple in my fridge) so I used a whole chicken and two chicken breasts. Then removed the breast from the whole chicken and used it with the two other breasts to make Pollo alla Messinese for six people. I cooked the chicken and when it was nearly cooked I added the chicken breasts whole. I then cooked it for an extra five minutes and then switched off the heat. The residual heat will cook the fillets.
Photo: tuna, capers and mayonnaise.
Photo: breasts are sliced, tuna sauce has been blended but because it was too thick I added more mayonnaise.
One layer of mayonnaise on the bottom, one layer of breasts. Three layers in all, topped with the sauce last and a sprinkling of capers. Pink peppercorns also have visual impact.
I am likely to be cooking prawns sometime over the Christmas period, and not just any prawns.
Those of you who read The Age (a Melbourne newspaper) may have read:
Date December 15, 2015
Woolies, Coles, Aldi caught up in child labour scandal
Woolworths, Coles and Aldi are embroiled in a child labour scandal, with all three supermarket chains confirming they sell prawns or seafood supplied by a Thai company at the centre of the allegations.
Graphic evidence of forced labour, including child labour, has been uncovered at a prawn peeling factory owned by major seafood supplier Thai Union.
An investigation by Associated Press found hundreds of workers at the company’s factories working under poor conditions with some workers, mainly from Myanmar, locked inside or otherwise unable to leave the factory……
Queensland Prawns logo, Sustainability information for wild caught and … Queensland’s prawn fisheries and aquaculture are among the most carefully … of the farmed prawns in Australia – while there are some in NSW, it’s Queensland’s warm …
Shelves are being stacked with Christmas sweet goodies at Dolcetti. There will be plenty more delectable and interesting sweets to come. Many of her sweets will have Sicilian origins.
Dolcetti is now open from Wednesday to Sunday in December
One of the things that I really like about Marianna (the pastry chef and owner of Dolcetti) is that she is willing to make new sweets and be creative; I like trying new things. Today I was offered a taste of this:
I liked it and I hope that she will go ahead with adding this sweet to her range of Christmas goodies. She may experiment with it more before she is satisfied with it.
I have written about petrafennula, (also called petramennula depending on the Sicilian locality) a very long time ago in an earlier post called Arabs in Sicily, Some Sweets, Petrafennula. It is a Sicilian version of Croccante (brittle) or a Torrone.
It is a Christmas sweet like cubbaita or giuggiulena/ jujiulena (can be spelled different ways).
My recipe is made with almonds. Hers may not be called Petrafennula; there are many variations for making this sweet.
Marianna has used a selection of nuts: hazelnuts, pistachio, almonds and sultanas in hers – great stuff.
PETRAFENNULA – PIETRA DI MIELE (Rock made of honey).
almonds, 500g blanched and roughly chopped into large pieces
candied orange peel, 400 g chopped finely,
cinnamon, ½ teaspoon (optional).
Place the honey in a saucepan.
Add the peel.
Allow the mixture to simmer gently and stir from time to time until it begins to solidify.
Take the mixture off the stove and work quickly
Add the almonds and the cinnamon and stir gently to incorporate.
Pour the mixture on to baking paper placed on a cold surface – such as a marble slab or a baking tray (traditionally this is done without paper on an oiled marble slab).
Break it into pieces when it is cold. When my mother made this, she sometimes used to drop dollops of the mixture (about a tablespoon in size) on to a cold surface to form small odd shapes – more like pebbles than sharp rocks. This seemed easier than shaping it into one large slab, which then needs to be broken into smaller pieces.
I have been writing for a long time and there are plenty of Christmas sweet recipes on this blog.
How would you like a wood oven like this in your back garden?
My son sent me this photo. He found it in the house across the road from where he lives; the house was up for sale and he took a peak during one of the open inspections. And there it was!
I can imagine the range of goodies that have been cooked in that oven over the last 20 years.
Once the oven is fired up the heat would be utilized till the end.
High heat is required for the wood fired bread (enough for the week and perhaps one or two relatives) and plenty of pizzas for the the weekly occasion when the extended family visits.
And some for the grand kids’ school lunches.
Heat would not have been wasted. After the baking of the food that requires high heat, there may be some trays of biscuits that require moderate heat and then the oven would be utilized to slowly roast trays of meat or perhaps to finish off drying trays of dried tomatoes or left over bread to make into breadcrumbs.
My experiences of an Italian Christmas are limited to Sicily (with my grandparents) and Trieste (where I lived as a child) and with Christmas coming up I have been thinking about traditional food in other parts of Italy. If the people who lived in the house with the wood fired oven were from the eastern side of a central region of Italy called Le Marche, they may be preparing to make a traditional fruit and nut bread for Christmas.
Natale is the Italian word for Christmas and the fruit and nut bread the Marchigiani make is called a Pizza di Natale or a Pizza Natalizia; it is not a pizza, but because a pizza dough (same as a bread dough) is used for the basis of this traditional fruit bread, it is referred to as a pizza.
The following mixture will make two pizzas. The dough needs to rise for 6-8 hours so it would be preferable to mix it the day before you intend to bake it.As for the shape, you can divide the dough into two and shape it into two round loaves or each half placed into cake tins – preferably those with tall sides or with a hole in the middle (the shape will be called a ciambella).
You can make pizza dough using your favourite recipe or buy ready made dough or use this recipe:
1 kg strong white flour,1 level tablespoon fine sea salt,1 tablespoon sugar, approx 650ml (3 cups) lukewarm water, 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 sachets of dry yeast – one sachet or one envelope weighs 7 grams (2 teaspoons).
Mix the yeast, sugar into water and stir well and set aside while you prepare the flour. Mix the flour and salt into a large bowl, make a hole in the middle, pour the yeast mixture into the hole. Use your hands and knead the mixture to form a dough. You may need to add a little more flour if the mixture is too wet or more water if it is too dry. Knead it until you have a smooth dough. Place the dough back into the bowl and cover it with plastic wrapping or a tea towel. Leave in a warm room until the dough has doubled in size – about an hour. Add the oil and knead it again.
PIZZA DI NATALE
Mix together: 500 gr walnuts (broken up into large bits), 200g raisins, 200g dried figs (chopped), 100g of citrus peel, black ground pepper and nutmeg to taste (I like it spicy), 350g sugar and grated rind of 1 lemon and 1orange.
Juice of the orange and lemon to add to the mixture when you combine the dough with the fruit and nut mixture in case it is too dry. Or splash some rum or orange flavoured liqueur to moisten the dough – alcohol is my preferred choice, but is not traditional.
Combine the dough with the fruit and nut mixture and knead well.
Divide the dough into two and shape into round loaves or place it into two tins -the dough needs room to rise so choose suitable tins.
Leave the Pizza Natalizia to rise for 6 hours or overnight.
Bake them in the oven at about 210°C for about 40-50 minutes. Do the usual things that are done when baking, i.e. cover the tops with baking paper if the top is cooking too quickly, insert a skewer into the dough at the end of 40 minutes to see if it is cooked etc.
Store in cake tins or a couple of layers of foil till ready to slice.
This is a very small serve of pasta with seafood, but we all had seconds. In Italy less seafood would be used – it is pasta with a condiment (seafood sauce) and not seafood with pasta.
The packet of dry pasta was bought in Amalfi where my friends were holidaying recently. The packet was packed in a suitcase and arrived in Broadbeach on the Gold Coast in Queensland where they live.
Last week I visited these two friends who had purchased the pasta for me and were waiting for my comingl to cook it. All four of us who were eating the pasta love seafood and this is what we did.
Fresh prawns and squid are prolific on the Gold Coast and the idea of using the broth left over from steaming some mussels open appealed to us. Also there was plenty of basil and fresh thyme in the fridge, left over from the meal of the night before. White wine is always on hand as are garlic and onions.
The colours for the pasta are all derived from vegetables and spices: spinach is used for the green, beetroot is used for the magenta, sepia (ink from ink fish or squid) for the brown, paprika for orange and the yellow is derived from turmeric.
The makers call it Pasta Fantasia Multicolore – it is easy to guess what these words mean and the mixture of shapes and colours and stripes are truly very appealing visually. Unfortunately the flavours of the vegetables and spices were not at all evident and if they had been, the pasta would have been truly fantastic (in the true sense of the word).
We cooked the pasta at the same time as we cooked the seafood.
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 onions, cut small
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
500g mussels, debearded
500g squid cut into slices
500g green prawns, cleaned
1 cup white wine
½ cup fresh thyme and ½ cup shredded basil, leave some leaves whole for serving
Clean the mussels and place them into a pan with a little water. Cook for 5 minutes or longer, making sure all the shells have opened. If some don’t, cook the unopened ones for longer and they will open. Remove mussels from their shells, but save a few for decoration and save the broth. The broth will be quite salty because the mussels would have released their juices and sea water. Filter it before using in case there is grit. Some of the broth will be used to flavour the seafood part of the cooking and the rest can be used with the boiling water to cook the pasta. we ended up with about 1 and 1/2 cups of broth.
In a large, heavy based pan heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, red pepper flakes and sauté for 3-5 minutes until golden. Add the squid and cook for 3- 5 minutes, then add the prawns, a pinch of salt and pepper and stir them around in the heat until they colour. Add the wine and about 1/3 cup of the mussel broth and the herbs. Evaporate some of the wine. Add the mussels and cover contents with a lid – cook for 3-4 minutes.
Bring a large pot of water mixed with the left over mussel broth to the boil over high heat. Adjust by adding salt if it needs it. Add the pasta and cook it till al-dente and stirring occasionally. The packet states cooking time is about 9-11 minutes. Drain pasta and add the seafood mixture. Toss to combine.
Add more basil if you wish and either transfer it to a a serving platter or serve it from the pan. We are very good friends and we served it from the pan.