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: Siciliafan.it

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.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Expo Milan 2015 and the tweet about "arancinI"

The real traditional Sicilian "Arancina alla carne"

What a storm! It's the case of the day. Seriously, since yesterday in Palermo everyone is talking about the tweet posted by the Official Expo Milan 2015. They basically tweeted a version of the arancine recipe, made in Eastern Sicily. Apparently a real catastrophe not only because they present this food stuffed with hard-boiled eggs but even worse because they call them arancinI, with the masculine genre. What a tragedy!!!

Why? What does this exactly mean? I am going to get to the point in a second.

The Arancini from Eastern Sicily tweeted by Expo Milan 2015

The most famous blog from Palermo  
Rosalio published an article about it, Street Palermo Tour wrote about it on Facebook, a friend of mine even sent me an email about it. Everyone had something to say... or better said something to complain. We only need a comment from the mayor of the capital, Leoluca Orlando and the picture will be complete!

I'll explain to you how things work, once and for all. 

Traditional Sicilian "Arancina al burro"
From our point of view, and when I say "our" I mean us Western Sicilians and "Palermitans" in particular, this comes as a real unhappy tweet because the classical arancine that you find all year around in bars are two types: alla carne (with mince meat and peas like the top pic) and al burro (ham and cheese, like the pic here on the left.)

As I always try to explain in my blog though, Sicily is a big island, we have 9 provinces and "gastronomically speaking" (please allow me this term), there are lots of differencies and versions for the same dish. In eastern Sicily they put hard-boiled eggs apparently in a lot of dishes, included the poor arancine. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr...

What else? Oh yes,... "linguistically speaking" I am warning you: this debate will never ever end. In Palermo and western Sicily we call them arancinA/arancinE, femenine, because the word comes from the way we call the fruit arancia (Engl. orange). They remind us of the oranges because they are rounded and as golden as the fruit, which are also another typical product of our beautiful land. 

The rest of Sicily stubbornly keeps calling them with the masculine arancinO/arancinI, which makes no sense. To make it worse in the last two decades the writer Andrea Camilleri and the famous tv show Inspector Montalbano, set in the southern province of Ragusa, contributed to spread the word in the masculine genre... and now the tweet from the Official Expo is doing it again. It's unhappy because it passes off that recipe as the original one, which is obviously NOT. And that's why the storm, the case, the catastrophe.

Never forget how important is food for us Sicilians!

It's vital because it's ONE of the few certainties that we have in life. We know that panelle are flat, cazzili are oval, arancine are golden rounded balls, cannoli are filled with ricotta cream. These are certainties for us. That's why I am telling you one more time: this debate will never ever end. It is just getting started!!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Sicilian pork loin cooked with golden apples


Have you ever tried the famous "maialino nero dei Nebrodi"? It is a breed of black pork that comes from the Sicilian mountain chain of Nebrodi.

It is a delicate and tender kind of pork meat that we usually prepare for festivities or special occasions and can be cooked in different ways. The recipe that I want to suggest today is one of my all times favourite and is with golden apples. The combination is just sublime and you will eventually wonder why you didn't discover this dish a long time ago. 

Ingredients & Preparation for 4 people:

Pork loin (500 gr)
3-4 golden apples
half of a medium white onion
a glass of white wine 
salt & pepper
100 ml olive oil
a mix of dried herbs (sage, thyme, rosemary)
2 glasses of water

1. Start off by peeling the onion and the apples and cutting them in slices.
2. In a pan with high rims or a specific pot for meat (like the one in the pic above) pour a drizzle of oil and sautè on a medium heat the pork on all sides until is golden brown adding salt and pepper. Once is done place it on a dish.
3. In the same pan and same sauce (the mix of olive oil and juice coming out of the meat) cook the onion and the apples slices on a lower heat. Add some salt, the pinch of herbs mix and the glass of wine.

4. After the first 5 minutes add the water and continue stirring from time to time.

5.  Re-place the pork in the pot together with the apples and let it cook with the lid on a very low heat for around 20-25 minutes. After 10 minutes the loin must be turn on the other side.
6. Put the meat aside, cut it in thin slices of about 2 cm each and place them on a serving dish.

7. If the mix left in the pot is too watery just reduce it on a higher heat for few minutes, then place it on the pork slices. The mix of onions and apples can also be blended with a hand mixer or blender, the result will be a more homogenous sauce, but I personally prefer taste the pieces of apples together with the pork. Up to you!
8. Serve the dish while still hot with some bread like ciabatta roll. You will polish every single bit of it. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

P like Palermo, P like pane & panelle!!!

The renowned pane e panelle (homemade)

PALERMO and PANELLE: The two words are forever bond, because the 'pane e panelle' (the panelle sandwich) is together with the other famous 'pane ca' meusa' (the spleen sandwich), the most distinctive and representative street food of the Capital of Sicily. Infact if you ask an Italian about it, I am pretty sure he doesn't know what I am talking about unless he/she has been in Palermo on holiday. If you ask a Sicilian (from another part) he would probably shrug his shoulder too. 

What eaxctly are they, then? They are fritters made of chickpea flour and water, salt and some chopped parsley. And you can have them stuffed into a panino with potato croquettes or on their own as a starter.

Frying panelle
How are they? FLAT in shape. SUPERB and UNIQUE in taste.  

Trust me, the average Palermo-dweller is totally in love with them regardless of age, profession or social status

Any occasion is perfect to have them on the table & vegeterians will love them too!

For the best result I usually squeeze some drops of lemon juice on top and a pinch of black pepper, and for those who are not crazy about parsley like me, I put fresh mint leaves instead.  

If you haven't tried this food yet... it's about time!!!

Panelle and potato croquettes
To make this gorgeous recipe perfect, let's add a pinch of history first: the Arabs that dominated our island, from the 9th to the 11th century, started to grind the seeds of the chickpeas. The result was flour that, mixed to water and cooked in a pan on a heat, gave a kind of raw dough, that wasn't particularly tasty. After experimenting they found out that the same dough, cut in thin slices and fried in oil, was delicious and had an inviting golden color, so little by little, it became very popular.

That's how this amazing food was born.
And the love-story between panelle and the city of Palermo lasts ever since. 


RECIPE:
  • 500 gr chickpea flour
  • 1,5 litre water
  • thinly chopped parsley (as required)
  • e.v. olive oil
  • salt
  • sesame seeds (optional)
1. Fill a large pot with 1 lt and half of water, add the chickpea flour little by little and stir constantly with a whisk to avoid lumps. Put the pot on a medium heat, add a good pinch of salt (about 30 gr.) and keep stirring until it starts boiling and getting thicker.
2. When this mixture will be more solid (similar to the polenta) you can add the parsley and remove from heat.
3. Place the dough on a marble surface previously oiled (or on an oiled oven tray) and flatten it with a spoon or a spatula. Once it has cooled down, with a knife, make some rectangles.
4. Pour some olive oil in a pan on a high heat to start frying our panelle on both sides until golden. It takes few minutes so be careful!
5. Place them on some kitchen paper to absorb the exceeding oil and add a pinch of salt.
6. Serve immediately while still hot, together with our little rounded panini.



P like PALERMO, P like PANELLE... forever bond. Enjoy! 

Friday, November 21, 2014

The "Antica Focacceria" celebrates 180 years of life!


 
The Antica Focacceria San Francesco, one of the most famous gastronomic spot in Palermo for street food and traditional Sicilian dishes tonight is celebrating its 180 years of business activity. Well done!

Apparently the restaurant has invited the whole city to the party, offering to customers bites of Sicilian food prepared on the spot, but also cooking sessions and live music. Very brave I have to say. Why? Well...


Do you remember I always tell you how food is such a big deal for us Sicilians? In particular, the average Palermo guy has been brought up and fed since his first tooth appeared in his mouth, with local street food such as panelle, spleen sandwich or sfincione. 

He then receives the Baptism the first time he goes to eat to the Focacceria. Basically ... the average Palermo guy lives for occasion like this where he can eat more typical Sicilian food than usual and without spending a dime!

Even the mayor Leoluca Orlando sent his best wishes for the occasion: "This spot is one of the most beautiful thing that our territory has to offer and it's an important historical piece of the mosaic of our city".

I guess the place and the whole square in Via A. Paternostro will be packed... but these are the things that make our city unique and our heart beating faster, so thanks to the Conticello family and CONGRATULATIONS for 180 years of hard and honest work from us!


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nicolosi and the Etna Chocolate Festival

Box of chocolate (Photo source: Stratta1836.it)

Where are you all crazy chocoholics? 
If you happen to live or visit Eastern Sicily these days, plan a trip to Nicolosi, a delightful village on the slopes of Mount Etna, in the province of Catania. From today until October 27th you will feel like you are living inside the movie Chocolat, with the advantage that you will be in beautiful Sicily.


"Etna Chocolate" infact is a festival where pastry chefs and chocolate experts coming from every part of Sicily and Calabria will offer delicacies prepared with our beloved ingredient: from cakes to pralines, from fritters to cookies. 


Get ready for some amazing desserts, but not only. There will also be stands for wine, liquors, Sicilian artisanal products and some live music to entertain all the visitors. So... are you still thinking about it?