Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Fusion food: how to make healthy and creative snacks!

My fusion bruschetta with mozzarella tomato and guacamole
Have you ever felt creative while preparing a healthy snack? Last week I bought some Sicilian buffalo mozzarella which I am crazy about and I prepared some colorful healthy snacks. With few simple ingredients you can use your creativity and have fun at the same time. If you have kids they will love it as well!

The first one I made it was actually a little homage to a very popular Irish young man whose name is Niall Horan, from One Direction. I believe some of you "might" know him. AH AH! I picked one of my favorite salads: rocket and carrots! 

My edible Irish flag salads inspired by Niall Horan
I was recently watching Niall interviewed on a tv program and he was telling how much he loves Ireland and misses it, as he lives in London now. He is a lovely, funny and very grounded lad!

I could totally relate to those words as I also miss my country too and when you are far away you realise how much you miss those little things that were so obvious and so normal when you were living there, so... I decided to create an edible Irish flag for him.
Isn't it nice? Ah Ah :-D

The second snack is a bruschetta of my creation (see pic on top): it's a fusion of Italian and Mexican food both in the ingredients and in the colours of our flags.
I cut the mozzarella in cubes, as well as a fresh tomato and an avocado, mixed together the tomato and avocado with a drizzle of olive oil, pinch of salt and oregano, but I left  the cheese aside. Then, slightly toast few slices of rustic bread, add the mozzarella on top and place in the oven for 10 minutes to let it melt. Finish adding your salad mix on top of the bruschetta and serve with a spoon of guacamole aside!!!

I had it for dinner and it was so good and scrumptious, I didn't even felt guilty as it was extremely healthy and light. Definitely worth trying different combinations of products!
That was my creative process for this week. I had lots of fun in doing it and I hope you enjoyed it too!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The homemade Sicilian beef stew: we call it "Spezzatino!"

Have you ever heard the word "spezzatino"? It's a word used in Sicily that refers to a very traditional dish and even though you won't find it in the dictionary the word as it sounds suggests something that is in little pieces: it's the Sicilian beef stew!
The best time to prepare this recipe if you have time is the day before you are going to eat it, because it will be a lot tastier!

Funny as it sounds few years ago I visited Ireland and one night I went to a typical pub outside Dublin called Johnny Fox where I ordered the classic Irish stew. Well... guess what? It was great because I said: it tastes like the spezzatino mum makes!!!
ingredients are similar, so in a word it tasted like home.
I found it hilarious.

These are the ingredients for the Sicilian stew for 4 people:

2 tbsp e.v.olive oil
500 gr diced beef (with no bones)
1 onion thinly chopped
2 big potatoes 
2 big carrotts
1 cougette
400 ml vegetable stocksalt & pepper

Peel the potatoes and carrotts and cut them in pieces. Cut the onion and the cougette as well. In a pot heat the oil of olive. 
Add the chopped onion and the beef pieces and brown all over by turning in the hot oil. After roughly 10 minutes reduce the heat add the carrotts, the potatoes, the cougette in chunks and the vegetable stock. 

Season with salt and pepper and let cook on a low heat for at least one hour with a lid, checking and stirring from time to time that the broth is not reducing too much before the vegetables are actually cooked.

If it is too thick then add some more boiling water. By contrast if the sauce is too watery let it cook a bit more without lid.

In the end you should get a quite thick kind of gravy made of the vegetable stock mixed with the meat juice and the vegs.

Serve hot with some warm rustic/crusty bread, perfect to polish all the sauce in the plate. Enjoy!

The perfect wine pairing for this recipe in my opinion is the Sicilian Mandrarossa Cava di Serpe. 

Quite an intense and structured red it is made of 60% Alicante Bouschet and 40% Merlot, both cultivar coming from the territory of Menfi, south/west of Sicily, precisely  located in the province of Agrigento. 

It has a ruby colour and is characterised by scents of plums, tyme and liquorice. It is also very good with lamb dishes.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sicilian homemade bread fritters: for Carnival, but not only!

Do you know how to prepare some bread fritters for Carnival? In my family the Sunday before the famous pancake tuesday (that precedes Ash wednesday) we used to prepare different kind of scrumptious food, majority of them fried. Little puffs, apple fritters, chiacchiere, and among all those things there were also the bread fritters. But... as they are so good, we made them also in other time of the year.

Since I was a kid I remember how much my oldest sister Barbara loved preparing these yummy fritters when she was bored on a rainy afternoon. A simple and poor recipe had the power to turn a boring moment of your day in something incredibly exciting. 
Plus, I love this recipe because not only is very easy but also allows you to re-use the old bread that is left and probably abandoned in a corner of your kitchen, too stale to be eaten.
Another alternative when you really want to make these lovely fritters would be to buy the proper bread on purpose (as I did in this case), so I went for the typical French baguette. I bought it a couple of days in advance and cut it in slices, so that it had the time to dry.

Enough with the introduction now we have our lovely stale slices of bread. What are we gonna do with them? 

Let's start by saying that we don't really have measures for this recipe. It really depends on how much bread you have left or how long is your baguette.
In addition to that you will only need some milk, flour 00, caster sugar, cinnamon powder and olive oil to fry. Then we usually improvise!
Normally we prepare three soup plates or three medium bowls: one with some milk, one with some flour and one with some sugar mixed with a teaspoon of cinnamon powder.
On a high flame warm up some oil of olive in a frying pan. Soak
every single slice of bread in milk on both sides, until is quite soft (but not soggy please otherwise will be a disaster!), then dust it with flour, again on both sides, and fry it straight away. Make sure the oil is already hot.
As soon as the slices are golden brown on both sides, place them few seconds on kitchen paper then turn them into the mix of sugar and cinnamon...and voilà! Done!
Photo source:
Your fritters are ready! Serve them on a colorful plate while still hot, along with some cinnamon or vanilla tea. 

Trust me, they won't last more than 10 minutes and there is no better, easy and yummy afternoon snack than this for Carnival or... simply for a tedious, gloomy day! 
Indeed food can make us happier!


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Pasta with borages, healthy and comfort food at the same time

Have you ever heard of borage vegetables? This veg, whose original name is borago officinalis, grows spontaneously here in some spots of Sicily in the winter season, and although is "green stuff" (as my mom used to call all the healthy green vegs), is so sweet in taste that everyone loves it, even children! For me it's so exquisite you can actually consider it some kind of comfort food! And what really makes it so special is the fact that is simple and so tasty in itself. You just need to add a couple of things and is done!

How do we eat it? On top of 'pasta asciutta' of course!!! :-))

Ingredients & Preparation for 4 people:
- 400 gr. spaghetti
- 2-3 bunches of borages
- 1 clove of garlic
- e.v. olive oil
- salt & pepper
- chilli pepper (either fresh or powder)
- grated pecorino cheese or caciocavallo

Let's start with removing the bad leaves from the bunches and with cutting the end of their stems. While doing this, be careful and use gloves, because the borages have little thorns on their stems. After, rinse the vegs and cut it in pieces. 

Put a pot for the spaghetti on a medium heat, as soon as the water is boiling add salt as you would do for the pasta, then put the borages in and let them cook for at least 20-25 minutes. When they are cooked use a slotted rounded spoon to drain the excess of water and place them directly in a frying or sauce pan.
Never ever get rid of the water you boiled borages in, as you will use it for the pasta as well. That's because the vegs have released all the properties in the water, so the pasta cooked there will absorb them and it will get a darker colour too!

At this point you have two things: the pot with the water where you are going to drop the pasta and the sauce pan with the drained borages.
While pasta is cooking
in the pot (and remember not to add any more salt as you already salted it before), add a drizzle of e.v. olive oil, a clove of garlic and two pieces of chilli red pepper in the pan with the borages and leave it cooking for 10 minutes on a low heat. (pic here on the right)

Also some chilli powder is good if you don't have the fresh one. Now the season for your pasta is ready. Cover it up with a lid while you drain your spaghetti. Prepare your plate and add the borage on top.

Best served hot with some grated pecorino cheese or local caciocavallo cheese to give it that stronger twist. That is so tasty and so healthy, and is a dish that everyone can eat! 

You will love it so much that you won't be able to wait for another whole year to have it again. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Fresh pecorino cheese in batter, a real treat for your feasts!

Do you know what is "Primosale in pastella"? If you happened to read my blog before I am sure those two words are quite familiar. Primosale is one of our best local cheese in Sicily, also called fresh pecorino, and the Sicilian pastella is simply a batter made of flour and water.

For all you cheese lovers out there you will discover a brand new and sophisticated way to eat this amazing product. It's normally a starter but can also be served on a buffet as finger food. This is what we are going to prepare this year for our Christmas Eve dinner.

You can fry either the plain cheese or add a stronger twist on it by combining it with one anchovy (per slice of cheese) and a leaf of fresh mint. Just mouthwatering!
Ingredients & Preparation for 12 pieces of fried cheese:
- 12 slice of primosale cheese (or any other similar cheese)
- 12 anchovies
- 12 leaves of fresh mint
- batter (to see how to prepare the batter clic here).

Note - This batter is the same one we use for the cardoons and other veggies that we like to fry in pastella.

Let's start by cutting the cheese in slices thick like shown in the pic (at least 1 cm because they have to be fried in boiling oil) then prepare the batter (to see how to prepare this recipe clic here).

When the batter is ready pour some e.v. olive oil in a frying pan on a medium heat. 
If you are doing the plain ones you just have to dip the cheese into the batter. Otherwise you have to prepare like a little sandwich: a slice of primosale then the mint the anchovy and if you like it very rich you can add a second slice of primosale (in this case you will need 24 slices). 

When the oil is very hot start dipping the cheese in the batter, making sure you drip off the excess. Now gently place it in the frying pan and cook it until the batter is golden and crispy (usually not more than 2 minutes). Turn on the other side, then drain your pieces of cheese on some kitchen paper and add a pinch of salt. You can serve them with a slice of lemon aside. 

If you are looking for a recipe with character, that is easy and scrumptious at the same time, well... stop looking because you've just found it. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The traditional sweet in Catania for All Souls Day? It's the "Rame di Napoli!"

Do you know what the 'Rame di Napoli' are? Literally the translation means Naples' copper and they are a dessert prepared for the festivity of All Saints and All Souls, the first two days of November. Funny as it sounds they are not from Naples (Napoli) but from Catania. Why? 

History tells us that during the Borbonic domination in Sicily, also known as Regno delle Due Sicilie, a new copper coin was forged as a substitute for the more valuable silver and gold coins. People then decided to pay homage to this coin creating a sweet that would reproduce it. That's how the Rama di Napoli was born!

Ingredients & Preparation: 
For the mixture
500 gr 00 flour

150 gr caster sugar
100 gr honey
100 gr butter
100 gr cocoa powder 

350 ml milk
3 ts of ground cinnamon
1 ts ammonia for desserts

some cloves (around 12)

For the icing
200 gr dark chocolate
80 gr butter
Orange marmelade or hazelnut spread
Grounded or chopped pistachio (Bronte)

Preheat the oven at 180°. Melt the butter with milk and honey in a sauce pan on a medium heat. In a large bowl sieve the flour together with the cocoa powder, ammonia, cinnamon and the grounded cloves. Add the sugar and mix all well. Pour the mix of milk into the bowl and stir until you have a smooth mixture (as shown in the pic above).

On an oven tray place a sheet of baking paper and transfer the mixture in small quantities (around 2 or 3 full tablespoons each) paying attention in keeping them distant one another. 
As soon as the oven has reached the right temperature bake your cookies for 15 minutes. Don't worry if while they are in the oven there will be an unpleasant smell, it's the ammonia, and it will completely disappear once the cookies are cooked and ready. Take them out and let them cool down. 
In the meantime prepare the frosting by melting the dark chocolate and the butter together. Spread either a veil of orange marmalade or the hazelnut spread, and then, once the frosting is ready use it to cover the cookies. 

Leave them few minutes to set and then finish the decoration by sparkling the pistachio on top. Here we go... your rama di Napoli is ready to be tasted. Enjoy!

A special thanks to Nora for this recipe and these beautiful pictures. All right reserved.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Sicilian Ragù: the classic seasoning for pasta and rotisserie

Do you know what "Ragù alla Siciliana" is? The term ragù comes originally from the French ragout and is basically a sauce with meat that is slow-cooked for few hours. The most famous ragù in the world is the Bolognese one (from the city of Bologna), but here in Sicily we also have our Sicilian version, made with minced meat, the soffritto, tomato sauce and peas.

This sauce is usually prepared for a festivity or a Sunday lunch. It is the typical seasoning for our lovely baked anelletti and for some of our traditional pieces of rotisserie as well. But now let's have a look at all the ingredients that we need for our ragù.

Ingredients & Preparation for 8 people:
250 gr beed minced meat
250 gr pork minced meat
1 lt tomato passata
half teaspoon of sugar
1 tbs tomato purè
150 gr fresh small peas
half glass of dry white wine
1 carrot
1 celery
half onion
salt & pepper
extra virgin olive oil

1. Let's start with the preparation of the traditional soffritto: onion, carrot and celery finely chopped.
On a medium heat pour a drizzle of e.v.o of olive (around 3-4 tablespoons) in a sauce pan and let the soffritto cook for 5 minutes on its own.
2. Add the minced meat using a fork or a wooden spatula and make sure you open it up, so that you don't have big chunks of meat left.
3. After 7-8 minutes pour the white wine and let it reduce completely.
4. Now it's time to add the tomato passata (which needs to be seasoned with half teaspoon of sugar, a pinch of salt and black pepper and nutmeg) plus the tomato purè and some water (a couple of full glasses).
5. Finally add the peas and stir everything for a couple of minutes, until you are sure that all the flavors are well mixed together.
6. Put a lid on the pan, lower the heat at the minimum and let is slow cook for at least one hour, stirring from time to time. If you think it's too watery leave it for another 30 minutes, on the other hand if it looks already too thick add a little more water, like another glass and let it cook until you have the right consistency and texture of the one in the picture here on the right.

NOTE - As the preparation requires few hours, one of the thing we usually do in our home is to cook it one day in advance, so saturday if you need it for sunday. This also helps to mix the flavors all together and have an extraordinary result. Some recipes just need to rest to taste better.

What we love about the ragù is the fact that is in someway always related to family, festivities, grandma's stories and get together of any kind. It is also an incredibly versatile dish, perfect with pasta, pies and even fried or baked rotisserie. Anyway you like it basically, ... and that is the reason why it is such a popular recipe!!!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Time for harvesting the "green gold": it's the Bronte's pistachio!

A plant of Bronte's pistachio - Photo by Giuseppe Di Bella

Do you know why the pistachio nut cultivated in Bronte (province of Catania) is one of the most important and renowned product of Sicily? And why is it called the GREEN GOLD? 

I had the pleasure of asking these questions (and some more) to Giuseppe Di Bella (here on the right), an authentic 'Brontese' (Bronte's citizen) who owns a piece of land, a pistacchieto, inherited by his grandfather where he still cultivates this amazing variety of nuts, which is a P.O.D. (Protected Origin Designation.) and is now being harvested.

Which are the origins of this beautiful plant in the town of Bronte? (Drops of history to start with...)

GDB: Bronte is a town at the slopes of Mount Etna, which lies in the valley of the Simeto river, in the eastern part of Sicily. In ancient times, our town used be part of a very extended feud who had different owners: first the Benedictines in the XVIth century, then the Great Hospital in Palermo and lastly the Duke and Admiral Horatio Nelson who received the land in perpetual property from Spanish King Ferdinand in 1800 for his support of the monarchy. Nelson gave the citizens of Bronte the possibility of working their land only in the rocky 'SCIARE'. These sciare are basically igneous lands, due to the continuous eruptions of the Etna volcano, so the territory is arid and rough, really difficult to cultivate. But despite this situation, the people of Bronte started to work and reclaim it, and finally found out that grafting the pistachios' trees did actually take root pretty well there. So it started as a necessity more than anything else.

How does the pistachio's cultivation and harvesting work? Why is it once every 2 years?
GDB: The reason why the harvest of our pistachio is once every two years is because this particular variety needs one year to rest from its last production.

It starts at the end of August and it lasts between four and six weeks. The time is different according to the altitude and position of the pistacchieto as the pistachio is cultivated between 400 and 900 mt of height above sea level, so the ones that are down in the valley start their harvest at the end of august, but as you go up on the hill it will be mid or late september. When is mature the pistachio becomes slightly pink and it means is ready!

What is so special about this variety of nut that is called the Green Gold?
GDB: It's because every phase related to the production of our pistachio (cultivation, pruning, harvesting) is 100% manual labor. In some areas you can't even use nets to harvest it because the territory is too rocky, so you have to pick it with your bare hands. That makes it precious!
There are also two other areas in Sicily were the pistachio is cultivated (in the province of Agrigento and Caltanissetta) but is a completely different variety and the colour is more yellowish, while our Bronte's one is green inside and red outside, infact is also called: "Bronte's red", and for its organoleptic properties is similar to the Iranian pistachio tree. Our production in Italy covers the 98%, while in the whole world is only 1%.

Does the pistachio have a particular meaning in your life? 

GDB: Yes of course, but not in terms of money. For sentimental reasons. Infact I inherited this piece of land from my granpa and I remember when I was a kid, especially during summer breaks, waking up at 4.30 in the morning and just spending time with him, helping him out in whatever we needed to do in the pistacchieto. 

Every season I just coud't wait to go there! This passion stayed with me and I am grateful because I can stay in my own land which I love dearly, if you just look at the amazing landscape I am surrounded by, you will understand!

Which is your favourite pistachios recipe?
GDB: You can prepare a lot of dishes with it, but in my opinion the best way to use our variety is in the patisserie or, in general, for desserts. And it's also something recent as well, because 50 years ago we only used to sell it to retailers, while now things have changed and you can find several bars, restaurants or patisseries which actually use the pistachio in the preparation of recipes of any kind.

Photo source:
One of my favourite recipe is a kind of sponge, that we call panettone. You only need 6 eggs, 200 gr. grounded Bronte's pistachio,  200 gr. sugar, 100 gr. flour and some lemon zest. You can either add yeast or not (not necessary) and is really delicate and tasty. You can filled it with our pistachio's nutella cream or just have is plain for breakfast. 

Photo source:
Also our cannoli filled with ricotta cream and pistaches are exquisite, but they are a winter product, as you can find the fresh ricotta only in winter. When you eat them is like paradise on earth, something beyond words! :-)


I woul like to thank Giuseppe for being so kind, helpful and clear in answering all my questions, and Rossella for giving me his contact. 

I wish I can go and visit him and the beautiful town of Bronte very soon. I have learnt a lot of things I didn't know and I can't wait to taste this amazing product in the area where all the magic happens!

Here you can find the dates of the Bronte's pistachio EXPO 2015, at the end of September and beginning of October. Do not miss it!

[Note: All the pictures are property of Giuseppe Di Bella, except the last two which belong to - ALL RIGHT RESERVED]