Saturday, March 18, 2017

Crespelle, zeppole or Benedettine: 3 names but only 1 recipe!

Have you ever heard of the "crespelle di riso catanesi"? Or as we call it in Sicilian "i crispeddi"? This is a recipe which is traditionally prepared in Catania and Siracusa for the festivity of Saint Joseph, on the 19th of March. It is also popular during the Italian Carnival, which obviously changes every year, according to the day of Easter.

The word "crespelle" literally means crinkly, because it's something that is crunchy outside, but remains soft inside. The story tells that the first to cook this exquisite recipe were the Benedictine nuns in Catania back in the XVI° century, infact another name to call them is also "Benedettine" or even "zeppole di riso".

Ingredients & preparation for about 25 crespelle

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- 250 gr Rice (the one for risotto like Arborio)
- 300 milk
- 250 water
- 150 flour 00
- 60 gr. Caster sugar
- a pinch of salt
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon (powder)
- 5 gr. Brewer's yeast

 You will also need:

- groundnut oil for frying (or alternatively you can use coconut butter)
- some icing sugar for decoration

For the syrup or dipping sauce:
- 250 gr. orange blossom honey
- the zest and the juice of 1 orange (biological)

Step 1: cook the rice in the milk

1. Pour the milk in a pot on a medium heat. When it starts boiling "cala" (drop) the rice in and add a pinch of salt and the sugar. Lower the heat and let the rice absorb the milk. If once absorbed the rice is still not cooked completely, add some hot water little by little (like you would do with a normal risotto). 

Step 2: mix all the ingredients

2. As soon as the rice is cooked, remove it from heat and place it in a large bowl where you will add the flour, the cinnamon,  the yeast melt in a bit of lukewarm water and some of the grated orange zest (if you like it you can also mix orange and lemon zest). 

The result has to be a thick dough, if too thick you can still add few more drops of milk, but it is important that has quite a solid texture.

Step 4: flatten the rice mix

3. Once the mix is ready, let it set for about 1 hour in a cool dry place.

4. After this time place the mixture on a large baking paper and flatten it with a spoon or a spatula like shown in the pic here on your left.

Step 5: frying time!

5. Pour the oil in a large frying pan and when it arrives at temperature with a knife and a spoon (or again a spatula) cut little cylinders of the rice mix and fry them on both sides until they get golden brown. 

Once you have finished all the dough and have fried all your crespelle, place them on a nice serving plate (better is it has high rims) or a bowl and start preparing your syrup.

For the honey syrup or dip sauce: 

6. In a medium pan, heat the orange juice adding the honey and some orange zest and gently stir with a wooden spoon until they are perfectly melted together. 

Finally, pour the syrup over the fried crespelle and add some more orange zest on top and sprinkle with icing sugar. Serve hot. 

Every one will go crazy about them and will ask you for more. You have my word! :-))

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Mr. Sirah from the Mandrarossa family, best friend ever... I mean wine!

A real friend never lets you down, especially during hard times. Right?
The other night it was pouring down heavily, my train was delayed and when I finally got back home I was exhausted. I had one of those days in which you don't stop for a second, and when you can finally relax, lie on the sofa and watch some telly, your brain just won't let you, because is still busy thinking a gazillion things.

I decided I needed a good friend to keep me company, one of the few that never disappoint you because they are truthful and sincere, so I went for my massive cellar (a tiny cabinet in the kitchen...) and uncorked one of my favorite Sicilian wines, the Mandrarossa Syrah from Cantine Settesoli, Menfi (AG).
Photo source:

The Syrah cultivated in
this part of Sicily (south-west/Agrigento province), also known as Shiraz, is unique and definitely a superb product.

Essentially for two reasons: the sandy soil where the grapes grow and the perfect weather that gives the wine a fruity, tasty but delicate flavor.

It is a quite structured wine with a red intense color and purple tinges and
notes of figs, lavender and elderflower. 

It can be used as a "mono-cultivar" (100% sirah) or blended with Nero d'Avola.

Best served at room temperature (16-18 degrees).

The perfect pairing for this red are dishes like grilled vegetables, semi-matured cheese and the traditional macco di fave, the fava bean mash.

As I was ready to eat, I looked outside the window and the rain had stopped. I could see the light of the moon. I switched on the heating, cut a slice of bread, had some grilled aubergine with cheese and poured myself a glass of this lovely wine, and I soon felt warm and reassured.

Never underestimate what a good friend can do for you.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Palermo is the Capital of the Italian Culture for 2018


Dear friends,

I am so proud to announce that Palermo two days ago has been nominated by the Mibact Commission <<Capital of Italian Culture for 2018>> and I personally want to celebrate this victory sharing this beautiful video created by Giovanni Santamarina and posted by Vivendo Palermo.

How to describe Palermo? 

Palermo makes your heart beating fast, because is a contagious mix of feelings.

It's joy and chaos, it's breathtaking monuments, dirty streets, millenium of history, people shouting for no reason, the Festino
on the 14th of July, the smell of pane e panelle, the sun that burns your skin, the opera dei pupi, the Phonicians footsteps, the car left in the middle of the street, the Marzipan fruits on the 1st of november, a sketch of Ficarra & Picone, a refreshing glass of acqua e anice, the sculptures of Serpotta, the blood shed from our heros, the sea that cools you down when the scirocco is blowing from Africa, and it's more people shouting for a lot of valid reasons.

For these things and for a thousand more there is no other place like Palermo.

Palermo is light and darkness, it's silence and noise, it's legality and crime, it's welcome and exclusion, it's a bay and a mountain, it's love and hate, it's culture and ignorance, it's honesty and corruption, it's laugh and cry, it's humanity and inhumanity, it's life and death.

It's a sweet slice of cassata with a bitter black expresso. It's everything and beyond.

There is no such thing as a good or a bad description of something so incredibly complex and difficult and so extraordinary at the same time. Palermo is an unspeakable beauty with thousands of different souls and colors, and after you visit it you will never be the same, because it will simply take your breath away.

It will stay in your eyes, find a place in your heart
and never leave you.

Proud that my city has got such a rewarding recognition and I do hope is gonna be used in the best possible way!

And you? How would you describe Palermo?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Rianata and tabisca: delicious local Sicilian focaccias

Rianata Trapanese
Have you ever heard of the names "RIANATA TRAPANESE" or "TABISCA SACCENSE"? And what about the "FUATA NISSENA"? Do not worry. They are not bad words... ha ha ha.

These are the names of three typical local focaccias who have very similar basic ingredients, although they originally come from three different Sicilian provinces.

Many times I talked about the sfincione palermitano, but now from Palermo we are going to move east, south and centre. The Rianata infact is a Sicilian word that means something with a lot of oregano and is from Trapani, the tabisca is made in Sciacca and in the whole Agrigentino land, while the fuata (again another Sicilian word which means focaccia) comes from the town of Caltanissetta.

Ingredients & Preparation for one pizza rianata

 For the dough

25 gr fresh brewer's yeast

- 500 gr strong flour 

- a pinch of salt

- half a cup of lukewarm water 

- 1 tbspoon extra virgin olive oil

Let's start by melting the yeast in the warm water with a pinch of salt. Once is all melted pour the water into the flour and start kneading. Add the oil of olive and if the result is still a bit hard just add 2 more tablespoons of water.

Knead the dough properly until is smooth and elastic. Make a ball of it and place it in a large bowl to rise for at least one hour. Make sure you keep it in a repaired place away from drafts and cover it with a kitchen cloth or an old blanket.

For the seasoning

-  400 gr ripe tomatoes 

- 6 anchovies filletts 

3 or 4 cloves of garlic 

- 80 gr grated pecorino

- dried oregano and thyme

(as much as you like)

- 4 tbsps extra virgin olive oil

- salt & pepper

Put the kettle on to warm up some water. Once the water boils cover the tomatoes with it and leave it for about 10 minutes. It will help peel the tomatoes skin very easily.

Once you have peeled them all, cut them into pieces and season them, adding the other ingredients: salt & pepper, olive oil, grated pecorino, plus the anchovies fillets and the garlic both crashed into tiny little  pieces. 

Finally add abundant oregano and thyme and the seasoning is ready.

Switch the oven at a temperature of 200°. If 60 or 90 minutes have passed is definitely time to roll out the dough. Place some oven paper on the base of your oven tray, than shape the dough as you prefer: either rounded, oval or squared. 

As soon as the oven reaches the right temperature season the dough with the tomatoes mix and place it to cook in the oven for at least half an hour. You can check after 20 minutes, but make sure you also check the bottom of the focaccia to see if it's cooked. 

The cooking time can vary according to your own oven, so I would say keep checking every 10 minutes until you see that the dough is perfectly cooked and is golden brown. Add few more drops of olive oil and serve hot. Everyone will love the genuineness and simplicity of this dish as well as the tasty flavours too. 

It is also perfect for vegeterians or for people who can't eat dairies (in that case just leave out the pecorino.) 


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Meatballs in broth, the frugal dish that keeps you warm

Have you ever heard of this typical dish called "Monachine in brodo"? Perfect during the winter season the monachine are tiny little meatballs cooked in broth and served with some rustic bread.

The making of the monachine is extremely easy, you can also have a rich version or a lighter version, especially if you want to stay on a diet for healthy reasons or after the Christmas festivities.

Ingredients & Preparation for 4 people

350 gr beef minced meat (alternatively you can use minced turkey for an healthier version)
2 tbsp breadcrumb
100 gr grated parmisan or grana or pecorino
a small bunch of fresh pairsley
1 egg
[*some people also add a boiled potato in the mix]
For the broth you can do a classical vegetable one boiling together 1 carrot, half a celery and a small onion in 4 cups of water (or alternatively use a normal cube stock). 

Mix the minced meat with all the other ingredients (except for the parsley) and start shaping very tiny meatballs. 

Once they are all ready drop them in the broth and bring to the boil for about 15 minutes.

The smaller the meatballs are, the faster they cook, so always double check inside before turning the heat off.

This dish is extremely simple and genuine and if you want to keep it even simpler, you can only use the minced meat without adding the cheese or the egg in the mix, as the meat is already tasty. If you season it though, you will have a more delicate taste in the end.

Serve them in a plate for pasta with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and grated cheese, and some rustic bread on the side. Enjoy!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Comics & food, from Boston to Palermo with Phil Amara

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure to meet an American teacher and former comics editor with Sicilian roots, who is also author of a children's book entitled "The treehouse heroes and the forgotten beast". His name is Phil Amara, who visited the Sicilian capital for the first time and immediately felt a connection, like it was "HOME", he told me.

The occasion was the 2nd edition of the Comic Con, where he was invited as an expert, having worked in the past in the competitive field of Comics editing. 

In the video we discuss a bit of everything: Boston and Sicily, Comics and food, and also, we took Phil to try one of the most renowned food of the island: the rosticceria (arancine and calzoni), followed by the Sicilian granita!

It was a really fun night, so I wanna thank Phil for this opportunity and for being so nice and friendly. And... for all the viewers out there, I hope you take 5 minutes of your time and enjoy the video!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

All Souls Day and the traditional Sicilian "cannistru ri morti!"

Have you ever heard the Italian expression "canestro dei morti"? And what about the Sicilian "u' cannistru ri morti"? Maybe from your grandmother or grandfather?

The word "canestro" means basket and nothing is more typical in Sicily, and in particular in the city of Palermo, than this traditional basket prepared for the kids on the night between the 1st and the 2n of November. Unfortunately nowadays less and less families keep this tradition alive but is still important to remember it for our future generations.

In a previous post I had already talked about the 2 days celebration with which we start the month of November: the 1st is the All Saints Day and the 2nd is the Commemoration of our Dear Ones who died. On the 1st people go to church, on the 2nd they usually go to the cemetery. We have the Frutta di Martorana and the Sugar dolls (i pupi di zucchero). 

But there is more...

Small version of the Taralli cookies, traditionally
placed in the basket for the kids on November 2nd.

In our tradition, on the 2nd of November children used to receive a present. It was basically a basket (u' cannistru) full of cookies, sweets and sometimes toys. 

Why? Well... they were told that these presents were coming from the loving dead relatives that, even though departed, still cared about them and loved them, so they were making feeling their presents through this basket, whose name "basket of the departed" (cesto dei morti) is self-explanatory.

In the basket there was the delicious and colorful Frutta di Martorana.

But what else was there? Usually some traditional local cookies prepared only for this occasion: taralli, reginelle, tetù and catalani (which you can see in the two pics below).

Originally these cookies were prepared in all the bakeries (panifici), as it was a very big deal for all the families; and the tetù e catalani which are mixed in colours, used to be prepared with a mix of all the left over cookies. Probably in some villages or small towns of Sicily they still make it in this simple way.

Finally, in the basket, you can also find the so called "ossa di morto", (which literally means dead bones), another kind of biscuits who is quite hard, as the name suggests. 

Macabre? Well, as you can see we are even more creative that the whole Halloween theme, we even got to eat the symbol of the bones of our dear dead ones!!!

So... if you happen to be in Sicily in this period, remember this significant tradition, try the cookies, have some Martorana, ..... you definitely don't wanna miss out!

See also another typical recipe of this festivity here: the Rame di Napoli.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Tuna, potatoes and... voilà: you've got your "fish"!

Have you ever heard of the "pesce finto"? This typical southern recipe, whose name literally means fake fish, is a very quick one and so delicious!

You only need some tuna and some boiled potatoes to make the "fish", and few more vegs for decoration. Even though tuna and potatoes are two cheap ingredients, you will prepare something lovely and colorful that looks really impressive. 

I remember when I was a kid, my mum used to prepare it for dinner during summer, in particular those evenings when, desperate, she hadn't had any time to prepare something in advance. And not only this dish is incredibly easy to make, but it's also great fun when it comes to the decoration part, so you can plan it in advance, as something you want to do with your children.
You can go from a very simple one to a more elaborated one. It's only up to you and how much you want to exercise your creativity!

Ingredients and Preparation for 4 people:
2 - 3 tuna cans of 225 gr. (better if in sunflower oil)
3 medium/large sized potatoes
salt & pepper
<<Decor is totally on you!>>

Infact you can put anything you like on top: carrots, any pickles, fresh or dried tomatoes, olives, capers, bell peppers, lemon zest, even sliced hard-boiled eggs if you like them!

All you have to do is: rinse and boil the potatoes with the skin in salted water (use the type you would use for your mash). Let them cool down, then remove the skin and place them in a large bowl. Adjust with salt and pepper.
Add the tuna, carefully eliminating the exceeding oil as soon as you open the cans and with a fork mix the two ingredients all together until they become a thick and compact paste.

Now the fun part starts! 

The idea is obviously to make it look like a real fish, both in shape and decoration, like it's shown in the main pic above, (for example the gherkins pickles are perfect to make the fish scales, I coudn't use them because when I checked in the fridge they were gone already), but if you are in a hurry and don't really have too much time, you can also place it on a normal dish, like here on the right.

Just use your creativity with what you find in your fridge, then leave it there to cool for minimum half an hour or to make it quicker place it in the freezer for 20, 25 minutes.

NOTE - This dish is fabulous when you want to organise a party or a dinner with friends.

It's the perfect starter because: it's tasty and quite light, not complicated to make and everyone welcomes it a big deal because of the colors and the amazing presentation. You can prepare it hours in advance, stick it in the fridge
and forget about it until is time to eat.

Some people also add some mayo onto the decoration, as it is a perfect match with both the ingredients.
Serve it with rustic bread or "filoni", as we call them, or instead, with some different types of crackers. It will be gone in a flash! 

Enjoy! :-)