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.
 

MA2SBAE8REVW

libby27sradicchioentreeadj

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!

MA2SBAE8REVW

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.

MA2SBAE8REVW

Once upon a time in Australia, Tartare sauce was about the only sauce that was served with fish and usually this was battered. Generally the ingredients for Tartare sauce included gherkins, chives, parsley and mayonnaise. If you were lucky, there may have been capers and or tarragon.

These days Tartare sauce continues to be very common in Australia, however increasingly so Australian cuisine reflects the cultural influences of the diverse cultures that have settled in Australia. For example, it is now not unusual to have one of the following sauces as an accompaniment, a charmoula (Algerian, Moroccan, Tunisian) or a Nuoc Cham Gung (Vietnamese) or a salsa verde (Italian).

The less fiddling with this trout the better so I pan fried it and simply presented it with a dollop of a Sicilian sauce called Salsa Saracina; this sauce is particularly suitable for plainly cooked fish.

Salsa Saracina (Saracen sauce) is a cooked sauce made with that particular set of ingredients which are so common to Sicilian cooking – olives, sugar, pine nuts, saffron and sun dried sultanas. Apart from the olives, the other ingredients are attributed to the Arabs who settled in Sicily and at one time in history they were referred to as Saracens.

This sauce keeps very well for a few weeks when stored in the fridge. Place the sauce into a clean jar and press the contents down to eliminate air bubbles. Top it with a little extra virgin olive oil to seal it and always repeat the process if you remove some from the jar. This sauce is always served cold.

I hardly ever cook without using herbs and on this occasion I used the tops of a bulb of fennel and some spring onions. Other favourite herbs when pan-frying fish are fresh bay leaves, rosemary or thyme.

If the trout is a large one and you feel that it may need more cooking, once you have added the wine cover the fish with a lid and cook it until it is cooked to your liking. Once the fish is cooked, remove the lid and if there is too much liquid, evaporate it.

INGREDIENTS
trout, as many as you need
herbs, fresh
white wine, ¼ cup per fish
extra virgin olive oil,to fry the fish
spring onions, left whole with a part of the tops removed

See: SALSA SARACINA (Saracen sauce)

Make the sauce before hand.

PROCESSES
For the fish:
Dry the trout, sprinkle with a little salt and pan-fry the fish in a little extra virgin olive oil and the herbs.
Turn once and about a minute before it is cooked to your liking add the wine and evaporate. This will result in a small amount of sauce, which you can dribble on the plate before placing the fish on it.
Present the fish with a dollop of Salsa Saracina on the side.

This one fish was sufficient for 2 people – it is easily filleted at the table.

MA2SBAE8REVW

I bet that you have never seen gulasch spelt like this…unless you are from Trieste.Trieste was part of the Austro- Hungarian empire and much of its cooking reflects this.

Gulasch in Trieste is made with meat, onions and paprika. It does not contain tomato or potatoes or peppers or other spices. I have seen recipes that include a few winter herbs – rosemary or marjoram, but this is not common.  My touch is to also add some red wine and caraway seeds; some cooks do this, some do not.

In Trieste gulasch can be made with beef or pork and may have a mixture of meats: beef shin, pork and maybe horse meat. I do not wish to put you off; I make mine just with beef, either shin, bolar or oyster blade, and it tastes wonderful.
Like all meat stews or braises it is best made the day before to allow the flavours to develop even further.
It needs to cook slowly – I cooked mine for about three hours and the slow cooking is essential.

INGREDIENTS
2 k beef (shin, bolar, oyster blade) cut into large squares
2-3 onions, sliced finely
extra virgin olive oil and if you have it, about 2 tbsp. lard (no mucking around with this recipe)
2-4 bay leaves
2 tbsp. sweet paprika and 1 tbs of hot paprika
¾ cup of red wine and 1tbs caraway seeds (optional, but I like to do this)
water or stock to cover the meat
salt to taste

PROCESSES
Cook the onions in hot oil till golden.
Add beef and paprika and sauté the beef.
Add stock (or water) and salt, cover and simmer on low heat until the meat is tender.  Stir occasionally and make sure that the level of liquid  is maintained.

In Trieste, i triestini (the people from Trieste) may accompany their gulasch with spatzle (egg, flour, water and the mixture is dropped through the holes of a colander into boiling salted water or into the boiling juice of the gulasch). Some like to have it with knodel (small dumplings) others with polenta.

I like to have it with polenta – plain, ordinary (not Instant) polenta cooked in salted water and stirred until it begins to detach itself from the sides of the pot, then baked in an oiled tin till it forms a nice crust. Love it, and I doubt very much if my Sicilian relatives would enjoy it.

For other posts on the food from Trieste, see:

Iota
Strucolo de pomi
Gnocheti de gris
Patate in teccia
Dolomiti - baccala mantecato
Risi e bisi

MA2SBAE8REVW