Thursday, June 25, 2015

King prawns linguine paired with Mandrarossa Viognier

Do you know how to cook a delicious plate of "linguine with gamberi" in the Sicilian way? This is an exquisite dish if you love sea food like me and have the right ingredient: fresh prawns!
Its preparation is pretty straitghtforward but I would suggest to make the sauce at least one hour in advance so that has enough time to set and blend all the flavors

Ingredients for 4 people:
400 gr. linguine
400 gr cooked chopped tomatoes
a pinch of nutmeg
1 clove of garlic
200 gr. king prawns (or any other quality you like)
half glass of white wine
half of a small chilli pepper
a bunch of fresh parsley

1. On a high heat prepare the pot for the linguine with 3/4 of water.
2. In the meantime in a frying pan or a sauce pan pour a drizzle of olive oil and a clove of garlic and leave it for few minutes until the garlic becomes slightly gold.
3. Add the king prawns and after a couple of minutes the half glass of wine and let them cook until the wine is completely reduced.
4. Finally it's the turn of the chopped tomatoes. Mix all together and let the sauce cook for at least 10-15 more minutes adjusting also with salt, sugar, chilli pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. 

5. When the water in the pot is boiling, cook pasta as usual, but don't forget to salt it first. Normally you can find the cooking time on the packet, according to the shape and lenght of pasta. 
If it says 12 minutes, drain it after 10 e mix it in the sauce pan with the sauce for 2-3 more minutes, so that it will continue to cook together with the sauce, just like the picture here on the left. As soon as it's ready, place it on a plate and sprinkle some fresh parsley on top. 

Believe me, it will be one of the most delicate and scented dish of pasta you have ever tasted!

I personally think that the perfect pairing for this recipe is the Mandrarossa white viognier which is called "La Seniè". 
It is a wine with a low percentage of acidity. It is quite structured and highly aromatic. In particular it has aromas of flowers and fruits such as peaches, which make it particularly pleasant and enjoyable to drink.  

Perfect with sea food is also recommended with spicy cuisine. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Considerations on Sicily, food, work and mafia

Who doesn't like the movie "The Godfather"? Undoubtedly it's a good movie. Some say even a masterpiece. But... it's just a movie. Reality is different.
A couple of weeks ago I spent a day out with my colleagues. Being at 50 mt far from the sea we thought the best food to have for lunch was definitely fish & chips. Not particularly original, I know. Anyway, ...we wandered for a little while and, when I say wander I mean it, ... until we found a place to eat. 

As soon as I heard the name I didn't really want to eat there. It was called: "The cod father", obviously re-phrasing the famous Coppola's gansgter movie. Not enough with the name, they probably thought it was also funny to add the image of a happy fish (a cod I can tell!!!) holding a gun.

At this point questions come naturally: WHY? Why would you associate the name of your business to something so dreadful? Did they have a marketing advisor? Can you not sell your fish and chips without gloryfing the mafia? 

I am pretty sure that for the majority of people around the world this is not a problem at all, but let me tell you that if this business was located in another part of the globe... let's say for example... in Sicily, there won't be any laughter, as mob is synonymous of death, illegality, violence on any level, murders of judjes, priests, public officers, innocent men & women and even kids. Yes, for some of us the mafia is actually something not funny at all. And it's not a movie, is everyday life, something you can touch and see with your own eyes.

I will
explain in details how it works in Sicily: when we have an entrepreneur that wants to create a business, open a bar or a restaurant, basically a person who wants to work honestly, life is hard if you are based there. Stories are all the same. Only the names keep changing.
And yet I heard another one recently.

It's the Massaro Bar and Pasticceria who has received unpleasant visits and threats in the last few months. They want the owner and former journalist Francesco Massaro to pay the "pizzo" to the mob, but he stands up strong and with sarcasm replies: "I am not paying for protection, but we have already got raided twice. The third time are we getting a kind of bonus?"

Last year I wrote about the struggles that Chef Natale Giunta had to go through to fight against the organised crime who was asking again money in return for protection of his popular restaurant. Then it was the turn of excellent Sicilian spot Sant'Andrea in the heart of the historical centre of Palermo that, after 20 years of hard work, announced it was about to shut down for good, after receiving continuous threats and intimidations for refusing to payoff, including a huge fire in front of their entrance last march.

After that we heard the story of patisserie Palazzolo, who was asked to pay a large bribe to secure his place inside the airport "Falcone & Borsellino", which not only is illegal and outrageous but if we also consider that Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino are the names of the two judjes killed by the mafia in may 23rd and july 19th 1992 well... it leaves us totally speechless. I could go on and on... as I know thousands of similar stories, and as I said, only the names keep changing. 

Bottom line is... as a Sicilian I feel deeply offended and hurt by all these people that around the world (I know there are several places in other countries as well) exalt something that negative and even make a profit out of it. Something that over decades have spilled so much blood, ripped families apart leaving kids orphans of their parents in so much pain. It's an open wound and always will be! 

Bottom line... if your father, mother, brother, sister or friend were assassinated by one of these organizations only because they wanted to run a business honestly, without bending to their requests, I guess you would take it a bit more seriously. And yesssssss, the world would be a better place. Certainly a place with more conscious human beings.

Are we or are we not living in the era of globalization? You can't say 'I didn't know' anymore, people must start opening their eyes and possibly their brains as well.

I will always support those entrepreneurs that with courage try to work every day in such difficult places around the world, despite the fear, the threats, the violence that surrounds them. And of course I am with those who have lost a relative and suffered for that, because... I can't stress enough the concept: it is not a movie, it is not "tomato sauce" on the shirt, for some of us it's real pain and real blood!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Etna Coffee, Sicilian street food in London: it's a YES for me!

Lately I have been caught up in the 'British got talent' tv show really badly, so... when yesterday I went to try the first Sicilian street food spot in London, I felt I was the Simon Cowell of the situation: critical about the food, because I wanted to check if it was actually the real thing and if by tasting that food I could have the magical feeling of being brought back to my home city Palermo. 

I have to say it almost worked. Why almost? 
Well... because as the name, logo and concept (here on the left) of the company suggests, the owners are from Catania, the city of our volcano Etna, on the eastern coast of the island. That means, as I have explained many times in different occasions that in Sicily, because is a huge island, every single province has its own characteristics and flair, history and architecture. And obviously food. So there is a humongous difference between what we have in Palermo and what they have in Catania. 

And infact some products were similar, like cannoli, cassatelle, arancini (which in Palermo are called arancinE and have different shapes and fillings), while some others were completely new to me, like the cipollina or the siciliana, which is basically a fried calzone with a filling of tuma cheese and anchovy. The dough was superb and I found it absolutely gorgeous.

So... yes. Arancine, pizzette, cannoli and cassatelle. They all sound (and taste) Sicilian to me. 

And it doesn't matter if you are born in Sicily and are looking for some traditional food in London, if you are a curious Londoner and want to have something different, or if you are just a tourist who is passing by at Victoria station.

Whoever you are... stop there. 
Have a rest. 
Try something new.
Enjoy the atmosphere.
It's worth it!

I will personally come back for some more Catania style food! In the meantime I wish the owner Tano (here on the left) and all his team good luck and a long life in the business. 

And if still I haven't convinced you, well... check their website here ... and you will plan a visit very soon. First here, then directly to Sicily. I am sure. 

So... let's go back to vote, in the British got talent style of course: definitely a YES for ME! :-D

Friday, May 15, 2015

Andrea Lucchetta promotes Sicilian oranges at Expo Milan

Photo Source: Andrea Lucchetta (selfie)
Yesterday there was an unusual yet brilliant promoter at the Expo's Cluster Bio-Mediterranean stand in Milan. I am talking about volleyball legend ANDREA LUCCHETTA, who talked to several groups of school kids about the amazing properties of the typical Sicilian red oranges called in our language: SANGUINELLE, which means bloody, because of their reddish color.

Photo Source: siciliafan
The particular color of this fruit is infact given by the famous "anthocyanins", the powerful anti-oxidants, which are vital for our system and help prevent a lot of diseases. For this reason they are considered the best and healthiest quality of oranges.

They need warm days and cold nights to mature and reach the perfect level of nutrition and properties, that is why they grow essentially in the Eastern part of Sicily and especially on Mount Etna.

Thanks LUCKY for letting kids know about this amazing product which is one of the most famous and important symbol of Sicily.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The basics of Sicilian cuisine: "la pastella" aka batter


Have you ever heard about cheese or veggies fried in "pastella"? One of the most basic preparation in our cuisine is the batter, that we call "pastella". 
Ready in five minutes, crunchy outside and soft inside is perfect for frying our lovely local cheese or a mix of vegetables if you want to organize a dinner party and want to offer a real treat to your guests.

Here are the ingredients and the preparation for 4 people:

4 tablespoons of flour 00 - water - the hint of bicarbonate - few drops of lemon juice - a pinch of salt

1. In a bowl place all the flour and start adding cold water little by little whisking properly with a fork, trying to eliminate all the lumps. It's difficult to say how much water you have to use, because it really depends on the flour. You have to look at it and and as soon as the texture and consistency is right you just stop adding it. It has to be a dense, homogeneous and quite elastic batter.
2. Once you are happy with that, add the bicarbonate and squeeze some lemon juice drops on top of it. Mix it again with the fork and finally add the pinch of salt.

Your pastella is now ready to be fried with whatever you love the most. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Whitebait fritters paired with Mandrarossa pinot grigio

Have you ever tried those tiny newborn whitebaits fish called in Italian "neonata"?
In the Bel Paese the fishing of whitebaits has been regulated by specific laws and is allowed
only two months per year to preserve the variety and the species. This is the reason why I always look forward to eating this lovely dish. We usually mix the neonata with eggs, grated cheese and fresh herbs, then we fry it in extra virgin oil of olive. Keep reading for the traditional recipe.

                                     Ingredients & Preparation for 4 people:
                                                         500 gr whitebaits
                                                          1 egg
                                               2 ts white flour 00
                                100 gr grated Sicilian caciocavallo (or pecorino)
                                                salt & black pepper
                                       fresh chopped parsley (a little bunch)
                                                  e.v.o. for frying

The preparation of this dish is very easy and very straightforward. In a bowl mix well the whitebaits with an egg, the grated cheese, salt & pepper as you like, and in the end the spoons of flour and the chopped parsley.

On high heat put a large frying pan and pour some extra virgin olive oil in. (If you prefer the lighter and grilled version just skip the oil step and let the pan heat without anything at all.) 

When the pan is really hot (or when the oil is hot if you are preparing the fried version) gently pour a full spoon of mixture into the pan as it starts to cook/fry. Do the same for every fritter that fit in the pan.

If the pan is big try to put as many as possible, probably you will be able to have 7 or 8 fritters all together. Just make sure they are not too close one another. Once they are cooked on a side turn them over using a grill turner to help you.

Serve them hot with some lemon on the side, as I personally love squeezing some juice on top.

I would definitely pair this delicate and unique dish with an outstanding white wine produced by Cantine Settesoli in the province of Agrigento. It's the Mandrarossa finest pinot grigio, called "Jummare", which are the names of the small palm trees that surround the soil where this cultivar (variety) grows, in the village of Menfi.

This wine has a bright straw-yellow colour and has intense aromas of cytrus fruits with delicate notes of green apple on the nose, while on the palate is crisp, dry and fresh with sweet spicy notes.

Perfect with delicate fish recipes and also with grilled vegetables, it is one of the most enjoyable white wine I have ever had. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Carnival in Messina is with the black & white pignolata!

Photo source:

Have you ever heard of the famous Carnival sweet called "pignolata"? Pignolata, also called pignoccata, is very popular in the whole of Sicily but in different versions. The one I am presenting today is the famous one from Messina and the eastern part of Sicily.

The name pignolata comes from the word pigna which in Italian means pine. This is because the pignolata is made of little rounded balls which are similar to pines of different sizes and they are all stuck together. They can be either fried or baked in the oven. The traditional one is usually covered in honey, while in the Messina style version these little pines are covered with two different frostings: a white one that is lemon flavored and a brown one that is chocolate flavored. Apparently that was because back in the days a noble family wanted a richer and more "baroque" kind of dessert, so they created these frostings instead of the simple honey.

I know what you are thinking: you are gaining pounds just by looking at the picture and it is so sweet that you may feel the urgency to call the dentist in advance. Am I righ? I am not gonna say no. It's actually very rich and very sweet, but ehi... it's Carnival, you are supposed to go a little "wild", so you may wanna give it a try before the Lent starts. :)

Preparation for 6 people

For the dough:
600 gr white flour 00
12 eggs
3 yolks
1 lemon
2 table spoons of fat (or margarine)

Lemon frosting:
300 gr caster sugar
2 lemons
3 egg whites
Chocolate frosting:
300 gr. caster sugar
150 gr. cocoa powder
1. For the dough: 
In a large bowl mix the flour with the eggs and the fat. Knead the dough until is soft and smooth. Add then the lemon and keep kneading for few more minutes. Put in the fridge for 30 minutes, then take it out and start making little sticks as large as your index finger. Cut each one of them up in 2 or 3 pieces (the actual pines), place them in an oven tray and cook them at 180° C for about 10 minutes or so. You need to check the color that must be golden like the normal cookies. Once the rounded cookies are ready, place them on an oval dish one on top of the other, just as if we would like to do a mountain. Leave them like this and start preparing the two frostings.

2. Lemon frosting:
Put the sugar in a sauce pan on a medium heat until is golden, stirring always in the same way (clockwise). Beat the egg whites until stiff and dry and slowly mix them with the sugar. Then, add the lemon zest and keep mixing it with energy until the frosting is smooth. Once is ready, remove it from heat and let it cool down few minutes before pouring it on half of the pines.
3. Chocolate frosting:
Put the sugar in a sauce pan on a medium heat until is golden, stirring always in the same way (clockwise). Add the cocoa and mix until you have a smooth and homogeneous mixture. As soon as the frosting is uniform, remove it from heat and let it cool down few minutes before covering the second part of the pignolata. Then let it cool completely.

Children usually prefer the chocolate half, while adults the lemon one. In any case... put on your favorite costume and enjoy your little pines with your kids, bit after bit. You will love them and have fun!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Caponata under attack, threats by stock cubes

Definetely there is no peace for Sicilian cuisine these days. Soon after the tweet about arancini, we had to witness a second attempt to kill another extraordinary and yet historical dish from Palermo: the CAPONATA. 

The caponata, for those who don’t remember, is a divine dish based on a sweet and sour sauce made of vinegar, olive oil and sugar. The more popular is the one with aubergines/eggplants, but there are also versions with carrots, green apples (pic above) and artichokes which I personally tried.

Responsible for this attack on the heart of Sicilian food is an advert on national television in which two women that are supposed to be from Palermo (one has a fake accent though) prepare the caponata using stock cubes for broth. The stock is produced by a well-known Italian company which I obviously won’t name. So... the spontaneous question that come to our minds simply is: Why? What stock cubes has to do with such a unique dish? 

These questions so far have got no answers, apart from the unsuccessful attempt that the company made to explain that they only wanted to propose a new version of our dish. With stock cubes? Seriously? Well done marketing department!!!

Let me explain how it works.
Sicilians are unique people. We can bear to live with corruption, organised crime, horrible traffic, inefficient burocracy and dirty streets, but nobody can touch our food. Nobody! 

And infact 48 hours after the regrettable tv advert, people started to rise up with rage and indignation in defense of this traditional dish, creating Facebook pages with titles like "Don't profane the Sicilian caponata!" and ashtag like #savecaponata, swearing that they would start boycotting the product. Some articles I read were making fun of the company, some others were asking it to remove the advert from been broadcasted again.

Now… on an even more serious note that this… I just want to add my thought.
There are lots of Sicilian people (professional chefs, food lovers and bloggers like me) that every single day bust their ass to preserve our recipes and our tradition over the years, just like our mothers and grandmothers taught us,
and in 2 minutes of bad publicity everything falls apart because these guys decided that want to put some stock in the caponata? What the hell were they thinking? Maybe tomorrow some other genius wakes up and says that have a new version of the Sicilian Cassata made of peanut butter and Philadelphia cheese?

I am sorry but this is wrong. I have been telling it for ages… you don’t mess up with Sicilian food or... you gonna be in trouble. 

Spread the word.