Lidia is one of my cousins who lives in Augusta (south of Catania in Sicily) and is an excellent cook. Lidia has taught me many things about Sicilian cooking.

She is an innovative cook and like any good cook she improvises and uses basic Sicilian traditional methods and recipes and embellishes them with new ingredients. Balsamic vinegar is not a Sicilian ingredient but, like many ingredients from the North of Italy, it has found its way into modern Sicilian cooking. I cannot see the elderly members of my family using it, as their cooking remains very traditional. Please note that it is a good quality balsamic and not some of the inferior ones that are commonly sold in supermarkets in Australia (and probably elsewhere). Naturally the extra virgin olive oil is of excellent quality also.

We had lunch at Lidia’s country house recently and these were just the contorni (side dishes):

The small peppers were first sealed in hot extra virgin olive oil and then cooked on low heat with a little salt until soft.  A little balsamic vinegar was added at the end to deglaze the pan.

The waxy potatoes were peeled and cubed and cooked on low heat with whole young fresh onions in a little salted water. When soft, the water was drained and the vegetables were dressed with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and oregano.

The artichokes had most of the leaves removes and were boiled. These were dressed with extra virgin olive oil, green squashed olives (not pickled for too long and therefore still slightly bitter tasting), mint, parsley and fresh garlic leaves from her garden, capers (those packed in salt of course) and a dash of good quality wine vinegar.

And all of this with a perfect blue sky, sitting outdoors and of course on an embroided linen tablecloth. Thank you Lidia and to Valentina her daughter who contributed to preparations and made a wonderful tiramisu using ricotta instead of mascarpone – a Sicilian touch.

MA2SBAE8REVW

Found this bunch of wild asparagus at Marché Central de Tunis and was very excited. I have eaten wild asparagus in Sicily but only on a few occasions because I have not always visited Sicily in spring. It is a spring vegetable and obviously the wild asparagus is appreciated in Tunis as well. Wild asparagus all over Sicily.

Next in Sicily and we found plants on our climb up La Rocca in Cefalu.

We then found plants growing in the garden at our B&B in Cefalu and took photos of the two types of plants which produce the wild asparagus shoots; although they are coming to the end of their season these plants had shoots.

To our delight we ate some where we stayed in the Agruturismo in the Madonie Mountains. It was cooked in a frittata and the shoots appeared again in a pasta dish with sausages made from the special, breed of pork only found in the Madonie and the Nebrodi mountains.(Slow Food)

For those of you who have  not eaten wild asparagus:
The shoots taste slightly bitter. They are the shoots of a very stubborn plant with sharp and needle-like leaves and the asparagus are difficult to pick.

You need to wash the shoots well, snap any of the woody ends just to the point at which the stalk bends and discard the very woody bottom. Cook the top part of the asparagus stalks in salted water and then use in the frittata or as an ingredient in the pasta. If they are not woody their tender tips are great raw.

I dressed Tunis asparagus with olive oil and lemon juice.

There was also much fennel around in Tunis and braised some in a little butter and a dash of red wine vinegar. It is not necessarily the way I normally cook it but one makes do when one is away and staying in an apartment and it did taste good.

MA2SBAE8REVW

Nice to see this. For those of you who do no read English, in the province of Catania, Ristoworld (a network of people who are interested in food production and cuisine) is supporting ENPA in their objection to kill baby lambs, traditionally eaten at Easter.
I know my family in Ragusa used to make ‘Mpanata for Easter.
A whole lamb used to be chopped up, bones and all and once dressed with with garlic, parsley, extra virgin olive oil and seasoning was wrapped in bread pastry. They no longer make this – Unfortunately this could be because it is too much work.
There is a recipe for ‘Mpanata  a lamb pie. It can be made with regular lamb.
Happy Easter
Marisa
                            E. N. P. A.

              Ente  Nazionale  Protezione  Animali

                                          Ente  Morale

Sezione Provinciale di Catania

Via Anapo nr. 45, Catania,  tel/fax 095270869 –  www.enpacatania.org – catania@enpa.org
COMUNICAZIONE AI MEDIA
CONTRO LA MATTANZA DI AGNELLINI PER PASQUA DUE ALLEATI  DI ECCEZIONE: ENPA E GLI CHEF RISTOWORLD
Ogni anno in Italia vengono uccisi oltre due milioni di agnellini per dare seguito alla barbara tradizione Pasquale di cibarsi di questi esserini innocenti.
Due milioni di vite che piangono dal momento stesso in cui vengono strappati alle loro mamme fino all’ultimo respiro mentre vengono sgozzati.
Chiamarla tradizione Pasquale e ricondurla ad una festività Santa  che parla di Rinascita, di amore e di purezza è raccapricciante.
Noi di Enpa Catania preferiamo chiamarla per quello che è: ingordigia.
Abbiamo accolto con estremo piacere la volontà dell’associazione di ristoratori Ristoworld di mettere in discussione questa macabra usanza, convinti che il buon esempio debba partire dal monito degli stessi addetti ai lavori. La Ristoworld non metterà nelle proprie cucine agnellini e con loro ci auguriamo che presto li seguiranno, gli altri.
Catania, 28 marzo 2013

 

MA2SBAE8REVW

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:

MA2SBAE8REVW

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).

MA2SBAE8REVW