I usually coat my cassata with marzipan and every time I do this people tell me how much they have enjoyed eating the marzipan and how it compliments the flavours of the cassata.

The last time I made cassata with marzipan was Saturday 23 March at Food And Culture In Sicily: Easter Cookery Workshop offered by La Trobe University and once again the people who attended the session liked the marzipan and said that they had never enjoyed eating it in the past.

The session began with a very interesting lecture on the history of food and feasting in Sicily, Italy and the Mediterranean.  Dr Gillian Shepherd is Lecturer in Ancient Mediterranean Studies and Director of the A.D. Trendall Research Centre for Ancient Mediterranean Studies at La Trobe University. During her lecture she focused on the literary and archaeological evidence for food production and consumption in the ancient world.

The lecture was followed with a food workshop and cooking demonstration that reflected the ways Sicilian cuisine has been influenced by the dominant cultures of the Mediterranean from ancient times to the modern day, which includes Greek, Roman, Arabic, French and Spanish cultures.

The cassata was very appropriate for this session, not just because of its derivation, but also because it was essentially and still is an Easter dessert. In time it has also become popular for Christmas.

Sicily produces large quantities of almonds and almond meal is used extensively for making traditional almond sweets and pastries. Marzipan fruit originate from Sicily and Sicilian pastry cooks are esteemed and employed all over Italy.

Marzipan when made in the traditional method is made by cooking a strong syrup of sugar and water and then adding freshly ground almonds. The mixture is kneaded till smooth (like bread dough) and then shaped.

The modern and easiest way is to make it with almond meal, icing sugar and water. It is still kneaded and rolled with a rolling pin. Unless you can buy fresh almond meal it is best to blanch the almonds and grind them yourself.

Over the years I have been making marzipan and adapting a recipe from Bitter Almonds, Recollections and Recipes from a Sicilian girlhood. Maria Grammatico has a very famous pastry shop in Erice in Sicily and her recipes have been recorded by Mary Taylor Simeti.

This is the original recipe:
2 cups (300 g) whole blanched almonds
2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
In a food processor, grind the almonds with about 2 tablespoons of the sugar until very fine, almost powdery.
In a food processor or in an electric mixer, combine the nuts, the rest of the sugar, the water, vanilla, and the almond extract.
Process or mix until the paste is very smooth. Remove to a marble slab or other cold work surface dusted with confectioners’ sugar and knead briefly by hand.
Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Marzipan will keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerator.

This is what I do: I use 2 cups of ground almonds and 1 and ½ cups of pure icing sugar combined with ½ cup of caster sugar – this adds the crunchy texture that compliments the ground almonds.

I really like the taste of natural almonds and if I am using fresh almonds I see no necessity to use vanilla or almond extract.

I usually mix the sugars and almond meal with my fingers and add the water slowly. I am cautious with water because if the mixture is too wet I may need to add more almonds and sugar. I knead it as if I am making bread and if it needs more water I add it to make the mixture pliable.

This is not the first time that I have written about Cassata or Easter or Marzipan and there are many other posts about these three topics on this blog.

This post has the recipe for making cassata:

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skordalia4

The skorthalia (skordalia) I am familiar with, is Greek in origin (originally called scoradalme, from scoradon, Greek for garlic). The modern versions are made mainly with potatoes, oil and garlic. The garlic with salt is placed in a mortar and using a pestle it is pounded into a paste.

This Sicilian scurdalia is made with bread, potatoes and almonds and I suspect its origins may be Greek, however, picada (Catalan garlic sauce) and ajo blanco (from southern Spain) are very similar. I think these examples help to illustrate how Sicilians may have responded to the flavours and inspirations of the different people who settled in Sicily but added their particular twists to make it their own – much like we do In Australia.

This sauce is particularly suitable for poached, sweet water fish. I have presented it with steamed or baked trout or Murray cod or as on this occasion with prawns. Pino Correnti’s version in Il Libro D’Oro Della Cucina E Dei Vini Di Sicilia is made with poppy seeds, but if you present this version to your guests tell your guests what is in the sauce – the black colour can be a little disturbing.

I use a food processor to almost pulverise the almonds (or walnuts). The poppy seeds I use whole, crushed lightly.

Use a mortar and pestle to make the sauce. The ingredients are added gradually to achieve a smooth purée like texture; as a variation I add some blanched ground almonds. Warm water is added to make the mixture smoother. I also know that in various parts of Greece, walnuts are used and that sometimes skordalia is made with bread instead of potatoes.

potato, 2 cooked, peeled and cubed
2-3 cloves of garlic,
½ cup extra virgin olive oil,
¼ cup blanched and ground almonds
salt to taste
juice of 1 lemon or 1 tbs white wine vinegar
hot water

Begin by pounding the with salt in the mortar and pestle.

Gradually add small amounts of almonds, potato and some of the oil, lemon (or vinegar) and continue to pound until all of the ingredients are finished and you have a smooth paste (add some hot water to thin as necessary).

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La Trobe in the City is designed for anyone with an interest in history, literature and / or ancient cultures.

Click on the link bellow for full details of the Lecture Series:
 Full details of the Program

FOOD AND CULTURE IN SICILY: EASTER COOKERY WORKSHOP
This is one of the workshops offered as part of the lecture series.

Details of the workshop:

Saturday 23 March, 11.00am–3.00pm
Institute for Advanced Study, La Trobe University
Melbourne campus (Bundoora)

Presented by Gillian Shepherd and Marisa Raniolo Wilkins

Cost: $115 (full), $105 (discount)
Registration census date: Friday 15 March

This session will commence with a lecture on the history of food and feasting in Sicily, Italy and the Mediterranean.

Gillian Shepherd will focus on the literary and archaeological evidence for food production and consumption in the ancient world.

This will be accompanied by a food workshop.

Agrigento

Yesterday I visited La Trobe University at Bundoora to check out the venue and finalise the recipes for a demonstration/cooking class I am giving as part of the university’s lecture series on the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean.

The food that I’ll be talking about and cooking for the class reflects the ways Sicilian cuisine has been influenced by the dominant cultures of the Mediterranean from ancient times to the modern day, which includes Greek, Roman, Arabic, French and Spanish cultures.

Some of the recipes will be from my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking.

Since my cooking demonstration is planned for the weekend before Easter, it was natural to select some foods that would be prepared in Sicily at Easter, which is one of the most significant times of the year for Sicilians. Whether they were ruled by Greeks or Romans, Arabs or Spaniards, Easter in Sicily marks the start of Spring and a time of celebration.

It should be a very interesting session and I hope to see you there.
Marisa

Course code: SC03
Online registration is available at:
latrobe.edu.au/humanities/litc

or contact Sarah Midford
School of Historical and European Studies:
s.midford@latrobe.edu.au

About Gillian Shepherd:
Dr Gillian Shepherd is Lecturer in AncientMediterranean Studies and Director of the A.D. Trendall Research Centre for Ancient Mediterranean Studies at La Trobe University.

Gillian studied Classics and Fine Arts at theUniversity of Melbourne before going on to complete a PhD in Classical Archaeology at Trinity College, Cambridge, followed bya research fellowship at St Hugh’s College,Oxford.
Until her recent return to Australia to take up her position at La!Trobe University, Gillian was Lecturer in Classical Archaeology at the University of Birmingham, UK.

Her research interests are the ancient Greek colonisation of Sicily and Italy, burial customs,and the archaeology and art of Greece and Magna Graecia.

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This was one of the workshops offered by La Trobe University as part of the 2013 lecture series. It was held on Saturday 23 March 2013.

Marisa displays cime

The session began with a very interesting lecture on the history of food and feasting in Sicily, Italy and the Mediterranean.  Dr Gillian Shepherd is Lecturer in Ancient Mediterranean Studies and Director of the A.D. Trendall Research Centre for Ancient Mediterranean Studies at La Trobe University. During her lecture she focused on the literary and archaeological evidence for food production and consumption in the ancient world.

I accompanied the lecture with a food workshop and cooking demonstration that reflected the ways Sicilian cuisine has been influenced by the dominant cultures of the Mediterranean from ancient times to the modern day, which includes Greek, Roman, Arabic, French and Spanish cultures.

The recipes I cooked were:
Maccu (pulses)

Caponata (eggplants, peppers, nuts, breadcrumbs). Will be eaten with bread.

Pasta che sardi – Pasta con le sarde (sardines, breadcrumbs, currants, pine nuts, wild fennel)

Ficatu ri setti cannola – Fegato di sette cannoli (pumpkin, sweet sour sauce, mint)

Cassata (pan di Spagna/sponge cake, ricotta, nuts, marsala, citrus peel, chocolate and marzipan)

For the workshop I collected some wild greens and the audience was able to see the differences between the wild variety and the cultivated species; wild fennel is one of the ingredients in Pasta Con le Sarde.

Marisa La trobejpg

SEE ALSO:
SICILIAN CASSATA and MARZIPAN AT EASTER (Food and Culture in Sicily, La Trobe University)

FOOD AND CULTURE IN SICILY: EASTER COOKERY WORKSHOP

 

Made in 10 minutes – dead easy. Not a bad antipasto…or after dinner as it is a mixture of fresh fruit and cheese. Looks good, tastes good.

Compliments…. Plenty.

INGREDIENTS:
Fresh, good quality figs

Stuffing: feta cheese, or drained ricotta,  bocconcini or pecorino fresco.
Optional- walnut pieces.

Decoration and for fresh taste: Fresh mint leaves

PROCESSES
Make a small incision on the top of the fig. Stuff in a walnut then some cheese. Top with fresh mint leaves.

For a sweet taste (rather than Savoury) I have also added pieces of torrone or marzipan or sweetened ricotta (ricotta mixed with a little honey, cinnamon).

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