- Food and Cooking
THE TASTE OF SICILY
The Taste and Recipes of Sicily
The colours of Sicily represent the tastes of Sicily, the yellow sun, the blood red earth, the tomato ripening on the vine, the yellow sun and the vast tracts of wheat across empty feudal landscapes. Yellow is the colour of the saffron brought by the ancient Greeks, the pungent yellow lemons, the colour of molten honey; both Sicilian colours and tastes overwhelm the tastebuds.
The European island of Sicily is surrounded by three seas, and it is the place where Europe collides with Africa. Visually it lookls as though Italy is forever booting it into the sea, another country blessed and cursed in equal measures. Siciliy has always been sandwiched between competing spheres of influence, it has been invaded many times and the island has been beset by natural disasters almost biblical in proportions, the volcanoes, earthquakes, floods have devastated the landscape.
These have all effected the Sicilian psyche, there is a sort of siege mentaliity, a native inherent cunning, which can be brutal, that has sculpted the Sicilian mind that places clan and family over any common community concerns. Contradictions abound in Siciliy, it has stuning natural beauty, intrusvive ugly blocks of apartments, Roman mosaics, brutally sited power stations, fantastic opera houses, and stunning Greek temples.
Most of the basic elements - olive oil, wine, cheese, grains, fruits and vegetables originated in other places, but what came to be known as the Mediterranean diet assumed its enduring character in Italy's south. The Mezzogiorno, as it's often called, was a garden of the Greeks and Romans.The most celebrated foods and wines of the ancient world were produced in these sunny lands at the heart of the Mediterranean.
The tastes of Sicily
Fresh produce is essential to Italian cooks, with their knack for making things look easy. But menus also rely on specialty foods, the cheeses, pastas, cured meats, seafood, baked goods, extra virgin olive oil, vinegars, condiments and sauce all crafted by artisans following techniques perfected over the Centuries.
The tastes of Sicily have been born out of centuries of serial rape, corruption, foreign rule, oppression, emigration that ripped families apart. However the Sicilian kitchen is the backdrop of continuity, stability, comfort, love and resistance to change. The Greeks brought olives, wine, ricotta cheese and honey. The Romans brought grains, wheat and pulses. once the vandals had been ejected the Greeks returned and established monastries which fostered a local taste for sharp cheeses and spice biscuits.
During the First Century the Sicilians called both the Spanish Moors and the North African berbers the Saracens. They introduced the flavours of Africa, the aubergine, the sugar cane, citrus fruits, dried fruits, such as apricots and raisins, rice, spices such as cumin and coriander, and tuna as well as an ingenious system of irrigation. They introduced concepts of deep frying, couscous, stuffed vegetables and also spit roasting. Once the Saracens had departed the Jews kept their food traditions alive until they themselves were ejected by the Spanish inquisitors.
The Norman legacy was slightly more prosaic - pale blue eyed children and also dried fish.The angevins, were three distinct medieval dynasties which originated as counts of the western French province of Anjou, they were also known in England as the Plantagenets, but later they ruled England, Ireland, Hungary, Poland, Naples and Sicily, Albania, and Jerusalem. The Angevins left sweet short crust pastries, that would later be combined with fruit, the farsumagru, the stuffed meat roll and bechamel sauce.
The Spaniards in the form of the Aragonese brought a glut of aristocratic titles and also tomatoes, peppers, chocolate and squashes. They also brought the prickly pear that has become such a large part of the Sicilian landscape.
In general food in Italy is the Italian birthright, but there has also been a sharp divide in the food of the rich and poor in Sicily. The cucina baronale was established during medieval times, and was much influenced by the lavishess of the Spaniards, it had complex pastries, pasta timbales and galantines, with copious amounts of butter cream and brandy. La cucina povera was much the same as the basic foods similar all over the Mediterranean. Yet somehow in Sicily the flavours like the life are more intense, they are spicier, hotter and more intoxicating, especially as the ingredients are so fresh.
The staples of bread, oil, pasta, tomatoes, fish and fruit are exaggerated and blossom by combining them with pungent anchovies, fennel, oregano, hot peppers, capers, green olives, almonds raisins, honey and vinegar. Their history has forged strong Sicilian women driven to feed their families by developing a remarkable inventiveness that has wasted nothing, hunger has been the source of the sauce as it were in Sicily.The islands of Sardinia and Sicily together account for about
half of the land devoted to Italian organic farming.
Caponatina di Melanzane - The most famous and versdatile of Sicily's aubergine dishes
This is one of Sicily's most popular and versatile aubergine dishes. You can eat it with bread, as part of an antipasto, or as a side dish with hot or cold meats or fish.
8 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
2 celery hearts cut into little chunks
500g ripe italian beefy tomatoes, chopped
100g pitted green olives
60g salted capers, rinsed
1 salted anchovy or 2 fillets in olive oil
100g slivered almonds
30g golden sultanas
Â½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Â½ teaspoon ground cloves
50g caster sugar
50ml white wine vinegar
almonds basil or mint
Salt the auberginess and leave to drain for an hour in the colander.Heat about 6 tablespoons of virgin olive oil in a sautÃ© pan and fry the aubergine cubes until golden. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and set aside. Adding more oil to the pan if necessary, fry the onion until soft, then fry all the other ingredients, apart from the sugar and vinegar. Simmer for about 20 minutes.
Add the aubergines to the mixture with the sugar and wine vinegar. Taste for salt and cook for another 10-15 minutes. Caponata can be eaten warm but it is also delicious at room temperature.
Arancini - Sicilian Rice Balls
Arancini are little oranges because that is what they resemble when they emerge from the fryer. Short grain rice is essential for this recipe, the balls of rice will not be glutinous without it, use a risotto rice.The shapes and fillings very over Sicily as a very very rough rule, the round arancini's are made with a meat sauce, pear shaped arancini's contain chicken and the oval are made with ham and cheese and a bechamel sauce, however the beauty of an arancini in Sicily is the fact that you can only be sure when you take a bite!
1 onion finely chopped
1 carrot finely chopped
1 stick of celery finely chopped
500g minced beef
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
125 ml white wine
peperoncini or black pepper
200g frozen baby peas
A handful of fresh basil
3 pints of chicken stock
600g arborio rice
2 teaspoons saffron soaked in warm water
50 g butter
100g grated pecorino cheese
50g provola cheese,
2 beaten organic eggs
Flour for coating
Breadcrumbs for coating
Oil for frying
SautÃ© the onion, celery and carrot in loive oil until it is soft. Add the beef, tomato paste, salt and peperoncini, and simmer for twenty minutes. Add the peas and reseason it should be very welkl seasoned. Add the basil and turn off the heat.
Boil the rice in the saffron and stock unitl cooked, it needs to absorb all the water and not stick to the pan, depending on the rice it will take fifteen or twenty minutes.
Stir in the butter and the and pecorino cheese and cool.
With oiled hands, shape rice into balls the size of a golf ball, flatten slightly and add the meat filling and a cube of provolone cheese, press more rice over the filling and squeeze together to make a ball. Roll first into the flour, then the beaten egg, then into beadcrumbs to coat well.
Deep-fry in hot, but not smoking, olive oil until golden. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately. They can be reheated in the oven.
To make them simpler omit the meat and peas mixture and stuff leftover risotto with cheese and coat and deep fry.
eaten outside of Sicily, however delicious, never tastes
quite the same as they do in Sicily. It's a question of fresh local produce and
the customs of cooking and serving foods peculiar to each place, tied in
with a certain atmosphere, which the smells and sights and sounds of
restaurants, trattorie, taverns, cafÃ©s, shops and markets-that can't be
duplicated elsewhere.However as long as I have breathe I will not stop trying!
Pasta con le sarde - Pasta with Sardines
Wild fennel, saffron, fresh sardines, anchovies and currants and pinenuts taste divine.
1 Large bunch of wild fennel OR the tops of a fennel bulb
1kilo of the freshest sardines
6 shallots finely chopped
2 tablespoons of srattu or tomato paste
150 ml white wine
150 ml water
2 tablespoons of golden raisins
2 tablespoons of pine nuts
2 pinches of saffron strands soaked in a little warm water
1 kilo of bucatini or spaghetti
Simmer the fennel leaves for twenty minutes. SautÃ© the shallots in the olive oil until they are soft then add the anchovies and stir until they dissolve. Add the sardines the strattu or tomato paste, raisins and pine nuts wine and water and simmer for fifteen minutes.
Drain the fennel leaves and reserve the water, sautÃ© the leaves in olive oil and break up the leaves with the back of a wooden spoon. Add the fennel and three ladles of the fennel water to the sardine mixture. Stir in the saffron and cook over the lowest heat for ten minutes.
Stir in the remaining sardines and cook for five minutes. Cook the pasta in the reserved fennel water and serve with the sauce adding more reserved liquid if the sauce is too thick. Top with toasted breadcrumbs to serve.
Cucidati - Italian Fig Cookies
Cucidati is a traditional Sicilain biscuit, filled with a mixture of figs, dates, raisins and walnuts and bound with honey and orange marmalade. No Christmas would be the same without them. As a Spaniard I like to use the big malaga raisins even though they have seeds in them the taste is phenomenal.
4 cups all-purpose flour
1Â½ tablespoons baking powder
Â¼ teaspoon salt
Â½ cup sugar
1 cup pork lard (traditional) or vegetable shortening
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Â½ cup milk
1 cup dried figs
1 cup dried dates, pitted
Â¾ cup raisins
Â½ cup walnuts, chopped or ground in food processor
Â½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Â¼ cup honey
Â¼ cup orange marmalade
Sift flour, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the sugar and combine well. Cut i nhte shotening with a pastry knife.
In a separate bowl whisk together the egg, vanilla, and milk. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and mix with an electric mixer for a full 3 minutes, but the dough will still be soft. Remove the dough from the mixer and knead by hand for 5 minutes.
Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, wrap each with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.
To make the filling, grind the figs, dates, and raisins in a food processor until coarse.Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Mixture will be thick. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 375Â° and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Work with one piece of dough at a time, leaving the remaining pieces in the refrigerator until needed. On a floured surface roll the dough into a 12-inch square. Cut dough into 2Ã3-inch rectangles. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of filling into the middle of each rectangle. Carefully fold the short edges over to meet in the center and pinch to seal. Seal the sides as well.
Place each cookie, seam-side down, on a baking sheet, leaving 1-2 inches between each cookie. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the cookies are golden in color. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Pasta 'ncasciata (Aubergine wrapped pasta dome)
1kg very ripe tomatoes or 2 x 400g cans peeled plum tomatoes , drained
1 garlic clove
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
150g packet mozzarella cheese
50g piece of salami , such as Milano
5 medium aubergines
85g minced veal or pork
85g chicken livers , cleaned and chopped if large
85g frozen peas
a handful of fresh basil leaves
500g short pasta (such as mezze penne)
100g pecorino or parmesan cheese, grated, plus extra to serve
Skin and seed the fresh tomatoes, and roughly chop. Chop the canned tomatoes, if using. Fry the garlic clove in 3 tbsp olive oil over a gentle heat for 3-4 minutes until pale gold.Remove and discard. Add the tomatoes to the oil and simmer gently, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes until well blended, stirring occasionally and adding 1 tbsp or so of water if it dries out.
While the sauce cooks, dice the mozzarella into small pieces, so it will melt easily during the baking and bind the filling. Finely chop the salami. Trim the stalks from the aubergines and slice lengthways into even slices about 5mm thick.
When the sauce is nearly done, heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a deep frying pan and brown the mince and livers for 4-5 minutes until well coloured. Lift out with a slotted spoon and add to the tomato sauce with the peas. Cook for 10 minutes or so until you have a thick sauce, then remove from the heat and stir in the basil. Put a large pan of water on to boil for the pasta and heat the oven to 180C/gas 4/fan 160C.
Dry the aubergine slices using kitchen towels. Heat a heavy ridged griddle pan and cook the slices,without using oil, for 2- 3 minutes each side until tender, 1. They will stick at first, but then come loose. As each slice is ready, brush with olive oil and use to line an oiled 2 litre/31⁄2 pint heatproof pudding basin or bowl, slightly overlapping the slices so there are no spaces, 2. If you have any aubergine left over, finely chop it and set aside.
Cook the pasta in the boiling water for 3 minutes short of the time on the packet. Drain well, and gently mix with the sauce. Stir in the cheeses, the salami and any extra chopped aubergine.
Spoon the filling into the aubergine lined bowl, 3, and press down gently to eliminate any gaps. Fold over the ends of the aubergine. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then rest for 10 minutes to set so that it will be easier to turn out. Put a large plate on top of the bowl and swiftly turn both the bowl and plate over.Remove the bowl and serve with extra grated cheese and black pepper.
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Cheeses of Sicily
According to purists, some Italian chef's, the Italian agriculture authoritires and the bueaucrats in the EEC the definition of cheese is aged milk produsts. Technically that means ricottta is a curd and mozzarrella is as well, however here we are going to discuss what most housewives refer to as cheese. Cheese, or cacio, is fundamental in the Sicilian diet.
Pecorino, as its name implies, is made from sheep's milk ("pecora" meaning sheep). It is true that Sicily's sheep population is ever diminishing, but in Italian regions, only Sardinia presently raises more sheep than Sicily. Like Tuma, Pecorino is sometimes flavored with peppercorns or other spices. Made throughout Sicily, where it may be considered the most widely produced aged cheese product, it is a favourite for grating over pasta. Its taste, though sharp, is often less pungent and dry than that of Caciocavallo, despite a distinctive flavour and texture (it crumbles and flakes easily).
Caciocavallo is made from cow's milk, though its cryptic name literally means "horse cheese" --the Sicilian word "cacio" sharing the same root as casein while "cavallo" means horse. There's a theory that the cheese owes its name to the manner in which two bulbs were attached by a string and suspended from a beam "a cavallo" as though astride a horse.
It takes at least eight months to age Caciocavallo properly, achieving a sharper flavour in about two years. Caciocavallo is a good complement to stronger wines, and widely used for grating over pasta. Indeed, it is a favourite of Sicilian chefs for use with pasta. It's usually shaped as a large wheel. "Caciovacchino" was a similar product made in times past.
Canestrato is made from whole cow's milk, sometimes diluted with that of goats or sheep. Its name derives from its aging in baskets (canestri). It is quite similar to Pecorino, made with the same process, and there is a theory that Canestrato was developed to obtain a similar product while using cow's milk. Its form is usually cylindrical, weighing as much as thirty pounds (about fifteen kilograms). It is usually somewhat sweet until aged more than fourteen months. Sicilians prefer to consume Canestrato as a table cheese with wine, fruit or both.
Piacentinu, famous in the province of Enna in central Sicily, is made from sheep's milk and flavored with saffron, which gives it a deep yellowish hue. The name comes from the Sicilian word cognate to piacere ("to like").
Provola, which comes in regional Sicilian varieties (Nebrodi, Ragusa, Madonie), is made from whole cow's milk. There's also a tasty smoked form, and it's the classical complement to hams. It assumes a sharp flavour when aged. Made using a very old method, Provola is usually formed into a bulb, then suspended from a ribbon or string for aging. This gives it a pear shape, with each bulb weighing a kilogram or less. In general, the more mature the Provola, the deeper yellow its rind.
Tuma and Primo Sale are known, in some forms, as "Vastedda" in some parts of Sicily, such as the Belice Valley. Made from sheep's milk, it is usually called Tuma when tasted right out of the mould, Primo Sale when salted lightly, and Vastedda when aged slightly longer. Like Pecorino, Tuma is sometimes flavored with peppercorns or other spices. Unlike Pecorino, it does not age well and is best served with ham, wines and fruits as a table cheese. It has a sweet taste not unlike that of Provola, with an equally rubbery texture.
Maiorchino, the name possibly based on that of the island of Maiorca, was supposedly introduced by the Aragonese Spaniards. Made in the wooded Peloritan and Nebrodi mountains of northeastern Sicily, it contains roughly equal amounts of whole milk from native breeds of cow, sheep and goat.
Ragusano, made from cow's milk, has a mild flavour. It is made in the province of Ragusa in southeastern Sicily. A number of other regional Sicilian cheeses are made from goat's or sheep's milk. Several that should be mentioned are Capra (Messina), Fiore Sicano (Palermo), Cofanetto, Ericino and Caciotta degli Elimi (Trapani).
Ricotta Salata is an aged, salted Ricotta (cottage cheese whose Italian name literally means "re-cooked") made from sheep's milk, produced in the Sicilian heartland. Usually only the rind is actually salted heavily, leaving the core mild and quite sweet for an "aged" cheese.
Goat's milk is the source of caprino. Ricotta, preferably from sheep, is eaten fresh or used in pasta fillings, pastries and desserts, though it is also salted and dried to be sliced or grated. The most prominent family of southern cheeses are the pasta filata types, which come mainly from cows. The exemplar is mozzarella, originally (and best) from the milk of bufala, water buffalo. The popular cow's milk version is called fior di latte. The oldest member of the clan is caciocavallo, whose name refers to dual forms hanging from strings like saddle bags astride a horse (cavallo). Like the similar provolone, caciocavallo may be eaten after a few months as dolce (mild and tender) or aged for a year or more as piccante (sharp and hard and suited for grating). Both may be smoked. In between are the spongy provola and scamorza, both eaten young, often cooked or smoked. Burrino is a special pasta filata type with a core of butter.
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Sicilian recipes from Amazon
Simply Sicilian opens up a whole new way to cook Southern Italian food by using simple and basic ingredients and time saving recipes. Like the old saying goes "a little of this", and "a pinch of that" has a lot of meaning in this book. I had the best of Sicily at my fingertips as I hope you will when you experience the aromas eminating from your kitchen such as ragu sauce, pizza or the wonderful smell of garlic and onions sauteing and the aroma of freshly baked desserts. May the experience of preparing, serving and sharing these dishes warm your hearts and bring you the same joy they've given me and my family.
1 small aubergine , cut into 1cm discs
2 garlic cloves , finely chopped
large pinch chilli flakes
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
Â½ small bunch basil , shredded
50g pecorino or parmesan grated
Cut the discs across so you end up with little matchsticks of aubergine. Heat 1-2 tbsp olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Add the aubergine in batches, and fry on a fairly high heat until really tender and golden. You want it to be melt-in-the-mouth with no rubberiness left. Season and tip out onto a plate.
Wipe out the pan then add another tbsp oil and cook the garlic for a minute. Add the chilli flakes and tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes. Cook the linguine following packet instructions. Stir the basil and aubergine into the sauce and heat through. Toss with the drained linguine and finish with the grated cheese.
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Fennel & orange salad with anchovies
2 large fennel bulbs (about 700g)
3 sweet oranges
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 spring onions , sliced
12 anchovies cut into small strips
Slice the fennel bulbs and stems thinly. Put in a shallow serving bowl. Cut the peel and pith off the oranges with a sharp knife. Slice into thin rounds. Stir into the fennel, adding any juice from the oranges.
Whisk the oil and lemon juice together. Season with salt and pepper, using less salt if you are going to add the kipper. Dress the salad, mixing well.
Sprinkle the spring onions over the salad and dot with the anchovies before serving.