Most of the time when I marinate quail for a barbeque I either use the traditional Greek /Italian mixture of oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and oregano, or if I particularly crave for the middle eastern flavours, I may use preserved lemons, cumin, pomegranate molasses; sometimes I may add walnuts, red onions and parsley.

I have always liked to include sage when I braise quail with white wine and particularly if I present them with polenta, so this time, I used sage in the marinade for the quails, which I later grilled.

I must admit, I did crave a bit of grilled polenta to accompany the quail, but on this occasion I accompanied them with a quinoa salad (See Middle- Eastern flavours above and add tomatoes, cucumber).

INGREDIENTS
quails, butterflied/split in half (I cooked 6 large ones, 1 per person),
dry white wine, 1 glass
extra virgin olive oil, ¾  cup
garlic, 2 crushed
pepper, salt
fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon
fresh sage, (12 sprigs, kept whole so that they can be removed after cooking)
PROCESSES
Mix all of the ingredients together and marinate the quails for at least 2 hours turning them every so often. Cook on grill for about 20-30 minutes and use the marinade to baste them as they cook.

Because I had some pork sausages to BBQ I decided to push a sprig of fresh rosemary into each sausage before I cooked them. They tasted great. I do like herbs!

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Foods cooked ‘in tecia’ are from the Veneto and the Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions of Italy.

A tecia is a saucepan in the Venetian dialect (teccia in Italian). It is wide and of medium height, usually called a casserole in English and it is perfect for cooking this dish. Pollastro or gallina is chicken in Italian.

The recipes for pollastro in teccia vary and my version also contains mushrooms and potatoes. It is a homely way to cook chicken in the north of Italy; notice the use of butter, sage or marjoram which are not common in the south of Italy. I grew up in Trieste and I am very familiar with this dish.

INGREDIENTS
1 whole chicken (mine was 1.8 kg and free range)
1 onion
2 stalks of celery
2 carrots
50 g butter
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 cup of dry white wine
400 g of ripe, chopped tomatoes (can use cannned)
2 sprigs of sage leaves or marjoram (I use fresh; these are removed after cooking)
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 cloves
potatoes ,1-2 per person depending on size and tastes
½ cup chicken broth or use a stock cube

PROCESSES
Cut the chicken into 8 pieces and wipe dry.
Roughly chop the onion, celery and carrots.
Place the butter and oil in the pan (which will hold all of the ingredients), add the vegetables and toss them around in the hot pan until well coated.
Add the chicken pieces and brown them.
Add wine, tomatoes, broth, cloves, herbs, salt and pepper, cover and cook all over low heat.

The chicken should take about about 60 minutes.  Either cut or use the potatoes whole – you will need to estimate how long into the cooking time you need to add these. I added the potatoes about 30 minutes beforehand and the mushrooms 15 minutes before the chicken was cooked.
Remove the herbs and serve.

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There are many Italian recipes cooked alla pizzaiola and If you cook something “alla pizzaiola’ it will have tomatoes, garlic, and parsley; in this case there are also anchovies and chillies.

This mixed fish braise is very easy to cook and although the recipe may appear to have too much garlic and chillies, the flavours meld into a mild, sweet flavoured sauce with subtle tastes. Serve the dish with bread to mop up the flavourful liquid.

The anchovies add another layer of taste and do not overwhelm the flavours of this dish; if you do not like them, leave them out or, for a milder taste, use white anchovies (called boquerones, from Spain).

Vary the amounts of shellfish and fish to suit your tastes, for example the last time I made this dish I used only fish fillets and it was great.

INGREDIENTS
300g fillets of firm white-fleshed fish
200g squid, cut into rings
200g mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
100g cockles
100g prawns
1 whole bulb of garlic, very finely chopped (to taste)
3-5 red chillies (remove the seeds), very finely chopped
salt to taste
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
300g red tomatoes, peeled and chopped into small pieces (or use tinned)
anchovies to taste, (I used 4)
¾ cup white wine
½ cup chopped parsley; also use some to sprinkle onto the finished dish

PROCESSES
Cut fish fillets into serving size pieces. Pat the fish dry, rub with a little salt and pan-fry them in a in a large frying pan with a little of the oil. Remove them and set aside.
Pan fry the squid rings in the same pan and set aside.
Heat the rest of the oil and over medium heat sauté the garlic and chilli until the garlic begins to soften – with cooking, these ingredients will disappear in the sauce. Leave some of the seeds in the chillies if you like hot food.
Stir in chopped anchovies until they dissolve.
Add the wine and evaporate for 2-3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, parsley, a little salt and cook the sauce until it is reduced. (Remember that the anchovies will be salty and that the mussels and cockles will also release their salty liquid).
Place the mussels, cockles and prawns into the sauce, cover and cook until the mussels and cockles have opened. The prawns will cook at the same time as the mussels.
Add the fish and squid to the pan and gently press them into the sauce ensuring that the sauce covers them and heat through.

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I had some left over cooked prawns I wanted to use up and thought that a sauce would liven them up.

Salsa Romesco is said to have originated from Tarragona, a town close to Barcelona in north-eastern Spain. It is an old Roman town so you can be partly forgiven if you thought that the sauce originated from Rome.
I consulted many sources and there are so many variations to making this Catalan condiment, but the most common ingredients seem to be garlic, red peppers, tomatoes, white bread and almonds. Most interesting is that the recipes from respected food writers, e.g. in Honey From a Weed, (Patience Gray), Mediterranean Seafood (Alan Davison) and Mediterranean Food (Elizabeth David) the main ingredients are tomatoes and the peppers are either paprika or chillies or dried red pepper flakes.

Some recipes include sherry vinegar or wine (rather than wine vinegar). Some have hazelnuts or walnuts as well as the almonds.

There are a few recipes where the bread is first soaked in vinegar and then squeezed dry before it is added to the blend (like when making salsa verde) and others where the bread is toasted in the oven.

Those who are serious romesco – makers make it in a mortar and pestle and also roast or char the tomatoes. If peppers are used these are also charred. I have found references to small red peppers which are often referred to as romesco peppers in Catalonia, so perhaps this is why the name.

Because my grandmothers were Sicilian and this is a Catalan recipe, I cannot say that this is how it is made in my family, however I can give you what has worked for me. There is always room for improvement and I will keep on experimenting.

This sauce is usually associated as a condiment for shellfish and fish. It is also good with grilled and roasted vegetables (especially cold, left over ones that need dressing up the next day).

I usually add a couple of roasted tomatoes to my roasted pepper salads and I conveniently had some in the fridge left over from the night before. I keep roasted garlic covered in olive oil in the fridge, and using up ready made ingredients is often a strong reason why I make certain things in the first place.

INGREDIENTS
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 slice stale sourdough bread
2 large red peppers
½ cup blanched almonds
1 tsp smoked paprika (preferred) or sweet paprika
2 tbsp sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
2 ripe medium size tomatoes
salt to taste
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil and ½ cup when you blend the ingredients
water (a little) to thin down the sauce

PROCESSES
Prepare the ingredients before hand:
Roast/chargrill the peppers whole, peel, remove seeds and break them into strips. If using fresh tomatoes cut them into pieces. If you are roasting / chargrilling the peppers do them at the same time.
Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a fry pan sauté the bread until golden.
Roast the garlic whole (Preheat oven to 200 °C, wrap in foil and bake). An easier option is to sauté the peeled cloves of garlic in the same frypan after you have pan-fried the bread.
Toast the blanched almonds or alternatively sauté them in the same frypan.
Place the bread, and almonds in a blender and pulverize.
Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until it forms into a thick, smooth-ish sauce. If the sauce is a too thick, add a little water to thin it down.

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Buon natale e buone feste. Happy Christmas to everyone.

I hope that you will eat well and that all your efforts will be appreciated by those who will share your cooking with you.

I have many readers from USA who are probably wondering if for La Vigilia (Christmas Eve) I will take part in the so-called “Feast of the Seven Fishes.”

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a tradition which is strong among Americans of Sicilian and Southern Italian background and where they strongly adhere to eating seven different fish presented in seven different dishes. I n the past few years I have noticed that this “tradition” is beginning to creep into Australian Culture.

I remember first hearing about this tradition when Mary Taylor Simeti and I were interviewed by Jane O’Connor for an article in the December 2010 issue of Italianicious. Mary is a highly respected and widely published writer on Sicilian cuisine and culture. Neither of us has ever found any trace of this tradition in Sicily and I have not experienced this with Sicilians in Australia. We agreed that it may be an example of how a little known custom may have travelled with Sicilian emigrants and taken on a greater significance in America. It is not the norm in Australia yet and we ought not confuse what is fact and what is fiction.

What is traditional in Sicily is usually traditional in other parts of Italy. And it is the custom to share a celebratory meal with family and friends on Christmas Eve. And yes, they do eat fish because traditionally in the Catholic Church it was a day of abstinence (when no meat was eaten on Fridays and specified holy days). Over time this meal has become the Christmas celebration. Midnight Mass follows and it made sense for Italians, who love food, to spend the time eating while waiting for Mass. They sleep in on Christmas day and eat sparingly. For Christmas lunch my parents had brodo and tortellini or polpettine (broth with tortellini or small chicken meat balls). They were too tired and replete from the night before.

And why is seven the significant number? That’s anybody’s guess, and it is fun to speculate. There are so many things were seven is magic number: Is it the number of sacraments or the seven virtues or deadly sins? I also know that there are Seven Hills of Rome, a dance of the seven veils. I could go on.

 

In my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking, there are many recipes that could serve for Christmas Eve. I quite like the idea of cooking several courses and one could easily begin with a light seafood salad or a marinaded fish (thinly sliced and raw like a carpaccio) and progress to a lightly cooked whiting or a seafood pasta and then a heavier braised fish dish made with large thick slices of firm fleshed fish. Hopefully you will select sustainable fish for your recipes.

Traditionally eel and baccalà or stockfish are eaten on Christmas eve in many parts of Italy. Those of you who have a copy of my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking will find recipes for these.

There are also many recipes that could be useful for this holiday period on my blog. Here are only a few; click on the links below:

A SEAFOOD CHRISTMAS – BUON NATALE (Many recipes /interview on ABC with Fran Kelly Dec 2011
PER NATALE, COSA SI MANGIA? At Christmas, what do you eat

PESCE ALLA GHIOTTA  (Sicilian Fish, a recipe to satisfy the gluttons)
Mussels with Sambuca- anice flavoured liqueur)

GAMBERI AL COGNAC (Prawns cooked with cognac or brandy)

BAKED BACCALÀ (Baccalaru ‘o fornu – Sicilian and Baccalà al forno- Italian)

FISH BRAISE WITH TOMATOES, GARLIC, RED CHILLIES AND ANCHOVIES

RICH FISH SOUP FROM SYRACUSE COOKED IN THE OVEN
CASSATA (It is perfect for an Australian Christmas)
CASSATA DECONSTRUCTED - a postmodernist take on Sicilian Cassata

CHRISTMAS DOLCI and DOLCETTI and Pistachio Shortbread Biscuit

GIUGGIULENA (also CUBBAITA) – a brittle Sicilian toffee of sugar and honey with sesame seeds and almonds

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