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.
Enjoy!

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.

DECORATION:
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! :-)


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Slice and more, a Sicilian take away in the city of London


Last week I have been invited to an event for the promotion of a new place opened recently in the heart of London. It is called "Slice and more" and is a food take away, where you can find the typical Sicilian rotisserie: calzoni, rollò, arancine, ravazzate, but also pizza and ice-cream.

Opened 10 months ago by three Sicilians and a Scottish man, the place is small and cosy, situated just 3 steps away from Old Street tube station, is the perfect location to stop by and grab some tasty food for lunch or dinner.

The delicious soft dough used for the pieces of rotisserie, made in Palermo style, is prepared in London by a proper Sicilian cook. You can also find the Catania style take away in the city here.

For a Sicilian, living in a place and/or country that is not your own, (whether is Milan, Brussels or London), it can be tough sometimes, just because you miss the simplest things, which 90% of the times come to food.

Finding these places give you in a way the chance to reconnect with your roots, your people, your habits, tastes and flavors. 

 
What I personally loved about it, it's that I was finally able to find the so called "rotisserie mignon", which is the smaller version of the big pieces.

 
It's great because it allows you to taste different things at a reasonable price.

So... if you want to try a new alternative place to have something on the go, this is definitely the place for you.


And, for all the Sicilians who live in London, and in particular for those who are from the western coast, from Palermo and province, now you know where to go when you start having that feeling of nostalgia for something that is so far away, until of course your next vacation comes.




If you are Sicilian with a restaurant or a take away and want to have a review on my blog, just drop me an email at siciliancuisine@gmail.com

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Giarratana onion: perfect for stuffing and roasting


Have you ever heard of the famous onion
of Giarratana? It is a particular quality of Sicilian onion that grows in this little village situated in the province of Ragusa, southern Sicily.



Quite big in shape, it has a skin with white and pinkish grades and it has a very sweet delicate flavor. 

It is the main agricultural product in the village of Giarratana and every August there is a festival that celebrates it.

It can be cooked in several ways, but this Sicilian recipe I am gonna present you today is definitely my absolute favorite side-dish and we often preparate for one of the main festivities, although is extremely simple and you really need few ingredients.


 
Ingredients and Preparation for 4 people:

- 2 big Giarratana onions
- breadcrumb

- E.v. Olive oil
- salt 

- origano 




 
Preheat the oven at 200°. As easy as it looks, now all you have to do is peeling the onions and cut them in slices like shown here in the pics. 

Place them in two large oven trays where you previously have put some baking paper (or if you have the silicon sheet even better) and some oil of olive on top. 

Once you have place the onions, add some breadcrumb, salt and again olive oil and cook them in the oven at 190 or 200 degrees.
 
When they are ready they have to be golden brown in color and very soft in consistency inside, but also slightly crunchy outside.

Now you sprinkle some oregano on top and transfer them on a serving plate, ready to be eaten. 

Everyone will love them, and the kids will start eat them with pleasure. They are just marvellous.
Enjoy!



Thursday, September 8, 2016

The most refreshing drink in Sicily is called "Acqua e Anice"


Do you know what Sicilian people used to drink in ancient times during the hot and muggy Summers? It was simply called "acqua e zammù", literally water and zammù, sold from peddlers in the corners of the street or sometimes in typical kiosks. Zammù is a word that apparently has its origins in the Arab domination (IX° cent.) and comes from the word sambuca, a type of anisette that was distilled in Sicily to make a liquoer and then was probably replaced with star anice seeds.

Photo source: Tuttolionssicilia2013
My grandma used to have this old picture framed and hung on the wall of her living room. It shows a man, called the acquavitaro, preparing some water and zammù to a customer in a corner of the street.

I remember when I was a child we used to go to visit her on a sunday afternoon and I always found mysef staring at that picture in black and white with curiosity about some scene of the past that I wasn't able to recognize.

My grandma loved water and zammù, like the rest of the family


In 1813 the Tutone family continued the tradition of the zammù starting to sell the now called ANICE liquoer in a kiosk in Piazza Rivoluzione in Palermo, and we can say without any doubt that they are until today the undisputed ruler of this amazing product, as they have made it and sold it for more than two centuries now.


Here on the left you can see the typical bottle of the Anice Tutone as you will find it today in shops and markets

The star anice not only is incrediby thirst-quenching, but it also helps digest, so it is perfect in the middle of the day as well as after a rich meal.
 


Its pecularity is the fact that after pouring four or five drops of this scented liquoer, the water assumes some kind of whitish color and if you don't mix it, it will stay at the top of the glass, just like the picture above shows.
 
Besides, nowadays you can buy candies flavored with star anice from the Tutone Company as well, and, in some gelaterias, you can also taste the lovely Anice ice-cream flavor among the many others, that trust me, when it's 38° or 40° degrees is going to be the highlight of your day!

If you are interested in reading more about the Tutone Company clic here.
And if you are just thirsty and dying to taste some "acqua e anice" well... you know what to do now! :-)
A Palermo l’ acqua e anice è molto più che una bibita rinfrescante, è un usanza antica , un rito che si tramanda da generazioni accompagnando la calura dei mesi estivi e conservando il ricordo del refrigerio ottenuto anche durante i mesi invernali. Non stupitevi allora se accolti in casa  di palermitani, vi venga offerto, quasi come si trattasse di una pozione magica , un bicchiere colmo di acqua  su cui galleggia una nuvoletta di anice  e vi verrà chiesto, dando per scontata la risposta affermativa “Gradite acqua e zammù ?”. Le Origini e la ricetta semplice e rinfrescante della granita all’anice. M.Za. - See more at: http://www.saggieassaggi.it/acqua-e-zammu-piu-che-una-bibita-un-rito-daltri-tempi-che-profuma-danice/#sthash.QFyge7ch.dpuf
A Palermo l’ acqua e anice è molto più che una bibita rinfrescante, è un usanza antica , un rito che si tramanda da generazioni accompagnando la calura dei mesi estivi e conservando il ricordo del refrigerio ottenuto anche durante i mesi invernali. Non stupitevi allora se accolti in casa  di palermitani, vi venga offerto, quasi come si trattasse di una pozione magica , un bicchiere colmo di acqua  su cui galleggia una nuvoletta di anice  e vi verrà chiesto, dando per scontata la risposta affermativa “Gradite acqua e zammù ?”. Le Origini e la ricetta semplice e rinfrescante della granita all’anice. M.Za. - See more at: http://www.saggieassaggi.it/acqua-e-zammu-piu-che-una-bibita-un-rito-daltri-tempi-che-profuma-danice/#sthash.QFyge7ch.dpuf
A Palermo l’ acqua e anice è molto più che una bibita rinfrescante, è un usanza antica , un rito che si tramanda da generazioni accompagnando la calura dei mesi estivi e conservando il ricordo del refrigerio ottenuto anche durante i mesi invernali. Non stupitevi allora se accolti in casa  di palermitani, vi venga offerto, quasi come si trattasse di una pozione magica , un bicchiere colmo di acqua  su cui galleggia una nuvoletta di anice  e vi verrà chiesto, dando per scontata la risposta affermativa “Gradite acqua e zammù ?”. Le Origini e la ricetta semplice e rinfrescante della granita all’anice. M.Za. - See more at: http://www.saggieassaggi.it/acqua-e-zammu-piu-che-una-bibita-un-rito-daltri-tempi-che-profuma-danice/#sthash.QFyge7ch.dpuf

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Spaghetti with pesto trapanese, a proper summer delight

 

Have you ever heard of the typical "pesto alla trapanese"? It's pesto Trapani style: fresh, light, tasty, ... I would call it a recipe with character, but also a proper Summer delight!

Pesto in Italian is a generic word that means smashed or crushed. Of course the most famous pesto is the basil one, originally from Genoa, Liguria, but in Sicily, in the province of Trapani they also do another kind of pesto, made of fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic, almonds. In our language the verb pestare actually means crush, so the actual word pesto comes exactly from there

This cold sauce was introduced by the Genovese ships coming to Trapani from the Oriental countries during the 19th century.

It was originally made of garlic and walnuts, but local people re-elaborated the recipe with their own ingredients: tomatoes and almonds, basically the same thing they did with the cous cous which was made of vegs and meat in north Africa and they changed it with fish.


The typical pasta that accompanies this pesto are the rigorously handmade "busiati"(here on the right), but you can have it also with long-shaped pasta like spaghetti or linguine. (Here another recipe with the busiati)

Ingredients and Preparation for 4 people:

  • 6 fresh ripe tomatoes
  • 60 gr chopped or grounded almonds (already peeled)
  • a small bunch of fresh basil (about 20 leaves)
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of grated Sicilian pecorino cheese
  • salt & pepper

In ancient times the garlic was crushed together with basil and salt in a kitchen mortar. The e.v.o was added little by little until you actually had the consistency of a proper creamy sauce. Then also the almonds were crushed and add to the mix and finally the tomatoes. 
For the tomatoes:
Prepare a bowl with hot water and leave the tomatoes there for few minutes. When they are soft remove the skin easily and the seeds, and chopped them thinly. If you prefer you can use the mortar for them as well. Aware of the fact that we live in 2016 and probably you don't use the mortar anymore, you can use a hand-blender but bear in mind that is not the exact same result.

Finally adjust with salt & pepper. Leave the sauce to rest while the pasta is cooking, then as soon as it's ready, drain it and in a large bowl mix it together with the pesto. 

Sprinkle with the spoons of grated cheese and you are ready to go. 

Prepare yourself for a fusion of Mediterranean flavors ready to explode in your mouth. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Sicilian "polpette di melenzane", yummy veggie fritters


Have you ever tried this amazing Sicilian recipe called in Italian "polpette di melanzane"? I know you are asking: "what does it mean?" It's aubergine/eggplants fritters.

Let's be honest:
Summer in Sicily without aubergine, eggplant or, melanzana, as we call it in Italy, is not a proper Summer. I would say without hesitation that they are the queen of the summer table in Sicily.


 
At the top of my head I can think at least six or seven different dishes that we prepare with this lovely and incredibly versatile vegetable in this season; (caponata, parmigiana, cotolette di melanzane, involtini, pasta alla norma, ecc...) 

This recipe, the polpette, are fritters made of a mix of boiled aubergines/eggplants, breadcrumb, grated local cheese and egg, and we can eat them in two different ways: either plain fried in e.v. olive oil or with tomato sauce (pic on the left).

The preparation is exactly the same until the final step. Either they are fried and served straight away, or fried and covered in tomato sauce, they are both delicious and unique in taste.

 
INGREDIENTS AND PREPARATION FOR 4 PEOPLE

- 2 big aubergines/eggpants
(or 3 medium ones)

- 100 gr grated local caciocavallo cheese (or pecorino or any other tasty cheese you like)

- 1 egg + 4 tablespoons of breadrumb

- salt & pepper

- a pinch of nutmeg

- 7-8 leaves of fresh mint thinly chopped


* NOTE: Some people love to add also a handful of raisins and pine nuts.


First thing first: the aubergines/eggplants need to be boiled. Put a pot of water on a medium heat, and while the water is warming up rinse and cut the aubergine into pieces. Once the water starts to boil, put salt and drop the pieces of the veg until they become soft and tender. 

Using a pasta colander, leave the veggies to drain all the exceeding water and cool down for at least half an hour. Once they are cold and the water has been completely drained, place them in a large bowl and add all the other ingredients at the same time: breadcrumb, egg, cheese, nutmeg, chopped fresh mint, salt and black pepper. 


On a high heat place a frying pan with some extra virgin olive oil. When the oil is hot take a full spoon of the mix (or use two spoons to make a flat kennel) and start frying them until they are golden brown. 

Turn them on the other side and once they are ready, place them on a kitchen paper to absorb the exceeding oil, then serve them on a plate while they are still hot.  

The idea behind is that you get the crunchy and tasty fritters that are still soft inside. They can be eaten like finger food or as a starter or side dish. In any case, trust me, they will disappear in a flash!

*Also the good thing about this recipe is that you can make your heathier version simply by avoiding to fry them, and just roast them on a very hot grill pan.