Wendy is a friend who lives in Ardrossan, a small town on the east coast of the Yorke Peninsula (about 150 km from Adelaide). She and her husband have a boat and they often go fishing. I too have gone fishing on their boat and watched them catch fish, mainly King George Whiting, Squid and Garfish.

To make me jealous and as a subtle way to suggest I should go to visit them, she sent me a photograph of a large Australian Salmon she caught recently; she then sent me more photos of how she cooked it.

Australian Salmon belongs to the perch family (surprisingly it is not a salmon). As you can see from the photo Wendy has filleted the fish. Some people find this fish very fishy, but it lends itself to recipes with strong accompanying flavours.

Wendy chose a recipe from my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking. The recipe is Fish alla ghiotta from Messina and is cooked with tomatoes, green olives, capers, pine nuts and currants (AGGHIOTTA DI PISCI A MISSINISA – PESCE ALLA GHIOTTA ALLA MESSINESE).

 

There are many variations of this dish and this one contains Sicilian flavours in excess –  it is sure to satisfy the gluttons.

Sicilians use piscispata (Sicilian for swordfish; pescespada is the Italian), but any cutlets of firm, large fish cut into thick slices or thick fillets are suitable. I like to buy sustainable seafood and  have used: Flathead, Trevally, Kingfish, Snapper, Mackerel and Barramundi. Obviously Australian Salmon can now be added to this list but in Victoria I have not seen much of this fish.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 x 200g (7oz.) fish steaks or
cutlets
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 onion, finely sliced
¾ cup salted capers, soaked and washed
1 cup green olives, pitted and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup currants, soaked in a little warm water for about 15 minutes
½ cup pine nuts
2 – 3 bay leaves
500g (17oz.) tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped (tinned are OK)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

PROCESSES
Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a wide pan, large enough to accommodate the fish in one layer. Shallow-fry the fish for a couple of minutes on both sides over medium-high heat to seal. Remove from the pan and set aside.

For la ghiotta, add the celery and onion to the same oil, and cook until softened, about five minutes. Stir frequently. Reduce heat to medium, then add the capers, olives, garlic, currants, pine nuts and bay leaves and stir well. Add tomatoes, season, stir, and cook for about ten minutes until some of the juice from the tomatoes has reduced.
Arrange the fish in the sauce in one layer and spoon some of the sauce over it. Cover, and cook on moderate heat until the fish is done.

Thank you Wendy for all of these wonderful photos and I am so glad that you enjoyed it.

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I had some saganaki recently at a friend’s place. She did the usual thing of cutting it into large cubes, dipping it in a little flour and pan frying it in hot oil until golden, but she then added a drizzle of Ouzo over the hot cheese, and lit it – (Flambé). Finally she added a squeeze of lemon juice. We ate this with some tomatoes that had been slowly baked on a low temperature.

It was the Ouzo that interested me. I particularly like the taste of aniseed and us a lot of fennel in my cooking.  I also use wine quite often in my cooking and sometimes if I wish to accentuate the taste of the fennel I use Ricard or Pernod – both are anise flavoured liqueurs. I have also used Ouzo at times (based on a Greek way of cooking them) and recently I cooked some mussels with Sambuca; they make a great antipasto.

When travelling in Italy to places on the coast in summer, you will often see piattoni (large platters) of mussels presented as a stater to a meal in restaurants; these are a great favourite. With the warmer weather, I have enjoyed placing a large platter of mussels in the centre of the table and having guests help themselves. The mussels I cooked with Sambuca were greatly appreciated.

Whilst I was in Adelaide recently I also ate at Ruby Red Flamingo (John Mc Grath’s review) and enjoyed an Anisetta Meletti, another aniseed flavoured drink from Ascoli Piceno and sold at Mercato (Campbelttown in South Australia).This too would work.

INGREDIENTS
2 kl mussels, scrubbed and cleaned of beards
extra virgin olive oil ½ cup
cloves of garlic, 7-8 chopped finely
Italian flat-leaf parsley, 1 small bunch, finely chopped
black pepper, finely ground
Sambuca, ½- ¾ cup (or Ouzu)
lemon juice, 1-2 lemons (grated peel optional)

PROCESSES
Sauté the garlic lightly in hot extra virgin olive oil. Use a saucepan that will fit the mussels.
Add the mussels and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the Sambuca, a dash of water, pepper and the parsley. Cover with a lid and cook till the mussels open.
Remove the mussels and place into another warm saucepan with a lid to keep them hot. If you do not mind presenting the mussels warm, place the opened mussels on a platter. (Italians do not seem to bother about keeping food hot). Evaporate the juices until you only have about 1 cup of concentrated liquid. Add lemon juice and pour the juice over the mussels and serve.

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When we first come to Australia my mother did a lot of cooking using Vermouth and Cognac.These were used to deglaze the pan when she cooked meat, fish and vegetables and made excellent sauces.

She also doused cakes with both of these before filling them with crème anglaise – she never used cream or cover the cake with icing like the mothers of my Anglo-Australian friends. Needless to say, I never offered my friends cake. (She used Cherry Brandy in cakes sometimes; this was also common in South Australia, but very sweet and from memory did not taste very much like cherries or resemble Maraschino!).

At that time, in the late 60’s and early 70’s, my mother was using Annabella for her recipes; this was a popular women’s magazine (un giornale femminile) published in Italy and mailed to us in Adelaide (via sea) by my aunt in Trieste. I think that  Vermouth (there was sweet and dry styles… bianco come later) and Cognac may have been the only two alcoholic beverages that we knew or purchased. 

We cooked with Vermouth and Cognac and my parents drank it as well – Vermoth as the aperitivo  and the Cognac as the digestivo. Commercial wine was pretty limited, but there was plenty of home made stuff around (made by Italians and not all of it was drinkable) and there was home made grappa, some of this was made with potato peels. Australian men drank beer and we did cook veal shanks with this; Australian women liked shandies (beer and lemonade) and Crème de menthe.

Anyhow, all of the above because when we cleaned out my mother’s house I found bottles of Vecchia Romagna (cognac) and all these memories come flooding back. 

I cooked the prawns with one of her bottles of Vecchia Romagna; a friend of mine asked me if I was mad.

INGREDIENTS
1 kg green prawns (I used shelled)
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 cup of parsley finely cut
1 cup small glass brandy (or cognac)
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
30 g of butter
1 lemon, the juice and peel
salt (to taste) and plenty of black ground pepper

PROCESSES
Dry the prawns and sauté them for 3 minutes in the extra virgin olive oil. Use a large frying pan so that the prawns have space to cook.
Add the parsley and garlic, salt, black pepper and the lemon zest and continue to cook for a couple more minutes.
Add the cognac and lemon juice and evaporate over high heat.
Add the butter, swirl it around throughout the sauce and serve.
 

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My dear friend Libby who lives in Adelaide has always been my greatest supporter and tester of recipes; I often think that without encouragement from my friends that my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking would never have happened.

I was in Adelaide recently and was invited to dinner at Libby’s. I wish you could see all of the food that Libby prepared, but unfortunately I did not have my camera and the two photos I have were taken with a phone. 
I asked her to send me what she prepared. The food was amazing and she must have been preparing for days (as it always the case when I go to her house).

I love this type of meal…the place and a range of small serves (although hers were not small and the range was immense) shared with good friends. 

Apart from the food she made the Liqueurs: Vin d’orange (as strong as a liqueur, Prune d’agen liqueur and Limoncello.
She also made the gravlax, the pickles, semi dried tomatoes (baked in a slow oven) and baked the bread (she always makes bread). The salad leaves and herbs were from her amazing garden, the eggs from Muffy, her 7 year old hen and companion (who follows Libby around while she works in the garden). She also made the glace fruit (orange) in the dessert.
 
I tell you, Libby is an amazing woman!
This is what I had and this was the order of the numerous courses:
Drinks
- Vin d’orange
- Lemon, lime juice and bitters punch
Starters
-  Gorgeres with pickled plums
-  Roquefort, caramelised onion and walnut dip served with celery heart sticks
-  Gravlax served with creamy cucumber and fennel salad, Finnish mustard and sourdough bread
-  Chicory leaves topped with oven dried tomatoes, white anchovies and chopped chives
Second round of starters:
-  Haloumi, pan fried and flamed with ouzo served with olives marinated with lemon and crushed coriander seeds and oven dried tomatoes sprinkled with chopped parsley.
Sorbet and palate cleanser:
-       Blood orange and ruby grapefruit sorbet served with wedges of blood orange.
Main:
-  Prawns lightly fried in garlic served with roasted baby leeks drizzled with mayonnaise, roasted baby tomatoes with thyme and fennel salad
-  Mushroom ragout (fresh shitake, swiss brown, oyster, buttons, wood ear fungus and enoki cooked with butter, olive oil, cracked white pepper and parsley).
-  Mixed leaves from the garden, salad
 Cheese and Dessert:
-  Orange ‘tiramisu’ (with fresh mascarpone, cointreau and fresh orange juice, Seville marmalade and glace oranges) served with sticky orange and cumquat sauce and earl grey tea icecream
   -  Manchego cheese served with glace cumquats and quince paste
-  Prune d’agen liqueur  / Limoncello
 
Libby tested and made my recipe of cassata
And she tells me I am amazing. Libby, thank you…I feel so humble!!!
These are photos taken at Libby’s  at some other times:
A shot of her amazing garden
Missy and Muffy…..Missy died!

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Coinciding with the Long Weekend in October on Saturday Beachport had one of their regular Market Days, which are held at various times through the year. Beachport is a small seaside town in the South East of South Australia close to Robe and Millicent. Anyone familiar with South Australian wine would know about the Limestone Coast and the Coonawarra wine regions. Both are close by. Neighbouring wine regions include Wrattonbully and Mount Benson.

On the foreshore at Beachport there is a large, impressive landmark. It is an historic property called Bompas, formerly Beachport’s original hotel. Bompas has been through many changes, but since April 2012 Sarah and Jeremy are bringing life back into this independent, boutique hotel that serves as a cafe, restaurant and bar with unique accommodation and function facilities.

The reason I am writing about Bompas is that on the October Long Weekend the menu at Bompas featured Pasta with swordfish and mint, one of the recipes in Sicilian Seafood Cooking.The weekend was also the launch of their Asian menu which proved to be very popular.

Sarah and Jeremy now have Trish, an enthusiastic, local and young chef who is very happy to be there and they are equally pleased with her.

In the traditional Sicilian recipe swordfish is the preferred fish, a dense textured fish. I prefer to use sustainable fish and use, mackerel, burramundi, flathead, rockling, yellowtail kingfish or Mahi Mahi. Shell fish also enhances the sweetness of the dish and Sarah, Jeremy and Trish used scallops. They are also looking forward to using local fish on their menu (the fishing season has just started).

Trish did an excellent job of preparing the dish, but what it taught me as the writer is that it may have been useful to include extra hints in the recipe to clarify the process of cooking. Chefs may know how to do it, but what about the person who is not familiar with Italian cooking?

There is so much more advice that the writer of recipes may need to give. For example:

The recipe contains zucchini. What I wish to say is that Italians do overcook vegetables by our standards and in this case it is fairly important that the zucchini are sliced thinly and sautéed till soft – the recipe does not say this. The cooking releases the sweet juices of the zucchini and these are also added to the pasta and contribute to the flavour the dish.

There is also a fair amount of mint, this is added in the cooking process and at the end.

An other thing is that the wine needs to be evaporated so as to caramelize the juices released by the fish when this is sautéed.

And finally, all of the ingredients need to be hot when they are mixed together; this enables the fresh cheese to soften.

For 4-6 people

INGREDIENTS
pasta, 500g, ribbed, tubular like rigatoni or similar
fish, 400g, cut into pieces (4cm)
extra virgin
olive oil, ¾ cup
white wine, ½ cup
garlic, 3 cloves, chopped
mint, fresh, 15-20 leaves
salt and pepper to taste
formaggio fresco or fresh mozzarella or bocconcini, 300g,
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

PROCESSES
Cut the cheese into small cubes and set aside.
Heat the extra virgin olive oil; add the fish or shellfish and sauté it till it      is lightly coloured.
Add the garlic, wine, about a third of the mint and seasoning to the fish. Cover and cook gently till the fish is ready.
Combine fish, cheese and extra mint leaves (large leaves can be cut into smaller pieces).
Add the sauce to cooked and drained pasta, mix and and serve.

VARIATION
Add slices of 2-3 lightly fried zucchini (cooked separately in some extra virgin olive oil and added at the end). Add any juices left over from the zucchini.
To complement the green colour of the dish I sometimes sprinkle pistachio nuts on top.

I contribute a recipe for Seafoodnews a monthly publication.This is the same recipe and photo of the dish I submitted for the October issue.

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