Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas from the Sicilian Cuisine Blog


It's almost midnight and Baby Jesus is about to come to this world once again. I would like to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all the people that, just once, or more often, read or came upon my blog. I hope this Christmas may bring you serenity and a real peace for your hearts.


The most significant symbol of this festivity is the Crib, the representation of the Nativity, so for you passionate just like me about food what best Crib than a wonderful biscuits and chocolate Nativity? It is made by a Sicilian Training Catering school (S.a.m.e). 


E N J O Y... and Many many Season's Greetings for you and your families! :)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Delicious fried cardoons, aka "cardi in pastella"


Do you know what cardoons are? And how we eat them? Here we have some vegetables that are not easy to find in other part of the world and I guess that cardoons are just an example. 

 
They are long-shaped vegetables characterised by a little bitterness, reason why kids don't usually like them, but by contrast adults really do.  

We normally boil them and prepare them in 2 versions: a dietetic one if it's a normal day of the week, which means only seasoned with olive oil, salt and lemon juice that reduce the bitterness, or in the fried version, usually as starter for one of the winter festivities. 




In this case we make what we call "pastella", a batter made of flour, water, salt, lemon juice and baking soda. Quantities as usual are difficult to define, normally an expert eye knows when it's enough :)


Preparation:

1. Wash the cardoons under running water, removing some external leaves and the superior part of the bunch.
2. Boil them in salted water where you can add the  half of a lemon.
3. Check them after 25 minutes or so with a fork, if it goes inside the cardoons and they are tender means they are ready, so you can drain and put them in a bowl to cool off.

4. In another recipient or bowl mix carefully flour with water, trying not to make any lumps. You can choose to have a more liquid batter or a ticker one, I prefer the second option.
5. Add salt and some baking soda and squeeze some lemon juice on the baking soda. It will look like it's frying. As soon as the chemical reaction is finished mix all together and there you have your batter ready! 
6. Put some olive oil on a frying pan on a high heat and in the meantime cut the cardoons in medium or small pieces (as you prefer).
7. When the oil is hot, deepen one piece after the other in the batter and fry them all on both sides until they become golden brown.


8. Finally leave them few minutes on some kitchen paper to absorb the exceeding oil and serve them hot. 
If you want you can stick some toothpicks so that they easily become Sicilian finger food!  

It is also possible to add some more salt and lemon juice on top, to reduce the bitterness and, besides, lemon is great on fried food in general because it tents to eliminate the grease. You will find them just amazing!


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Santa Lucia & the tradition: let's find out what, when & why

Do you know why here in Sicily on December the 13th, which is the day of the Sicilian Virgin and Saint Lucy, we eat some stuff called: "cuccìa", "panelle" and above all the famous "arancine"? Let's make it clear once and for all :)

The story has got ancient roots: in the XVIIth century the city of Palermo and probably all the areas around were suffering from a terrible famine; people were starving and had nothing to eat, so they started to pray Saint Lucy who was originally from the Sicilian town of Siracusa. On the day of her festivity in 1646 (during the period of famine) a huge ship arrived in the harbour of Palermo and it was full of wheat.


People were so hungry that use the grain just as it was, boiled and eaten it with the few things they had like oil of olive, ricotta and vegetables. 

Little by little the tradition of cooking the wheat in grains spread on that day and people started to make also a sweeter version which in Sicily has always to be with ricotta cream. The name of this dish is "cuccìa(the pic above is the sweet cuccìa), probably coming from the word "cocciu", which literally means grain. So this day is the only day of the year in which pasta and bread are banned from Sicilian tables to remind us the story of this miracle.

Now, having banned all the food made of wheat people had to eat other stuff apart from the cuccìa, so they started to eat potato pies, panelle which are chickpea fritters (the pic above), also in their sweet version filled with little custard and caster sugar on top (see the pic here on the right).

But the food that the majority of Palermo citizens relate to this day are the unique "arancine", scrumptious fried rice balls filled with different ingredients: ham & mozzarella cheese or minced meat ragout (the classic ones) but today you also find them with spinach, salmon and sometimes chicken as well.  
Hence, although it started like a day of penitence today by contrast it is popularly known as "the day of arancine", in which the "average palermitano" stuffs himself with 5 or 6 (and sometimes 8,9,10!!!) rice balls, and probably, if you ask him/her why there is no bread or pasta he/she doesn't even know how to answer.

 I am a huge fan of traditions, but I think it's important to know their stories and where they actually come from, so if you wanna try an arancina, or a sweet panella or some cuccìa on this very special day for us, feel free to do so, but at least you know why!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Oregano and lemon zest, two things I cannot live without!


Give me some pizza and I will put a ton of oregano on it. Ask me to make a sweet pie with ricotta cheese (our traditional cassata) and I will grate some lemon zest inside. If I prepare some healthy steamed cabbage as side-dish and a beef steak I will sprinkle both of them with some oregano and if I cook a plate of pasta alla carbonara or pasta with smoked salmon... here we go again I must have some lemon zest.

I could go on and on and on but I think I made myself quite clear. There isn't another ingredient in the kitchen that I love to taste more than these two when I eat. They both have such a Mediterranean delicate but fabulous smell and are able to turn a good dish into a superb one because of their parfume! Isn't it amazing?

Another reason why I love them it's... I guess that for me they are just home! I like trying different cuisines and new ingredients but when I have something with oregano or lemon zest... that's just where I belong to.

Yesterday by the way, I was watching a tv show about cookery where there was a Sicilian chef. He was preparing some chicken legs cooked in beer with rosemary and garlic, and.... guess what did it put on top of it? Lemon zest! So it's good to know I am not the only one crazy about it :)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sicilian November tradition: "frutta di Martorana & pupi di zucchero"


In Sicily and in particular in Palermo there are two important festivities that come on the beginning of November. On the very 1st of the month we celebrate All Saints' day, which is a religious day dedicated to the Saints, so it's important if we want to ask them help or pray for intercession. The 2nd of November is All Souls' day and is dedicated to the loved ones that we lost and it's a completely different thing.

When we were kids, the 2nd of November was an important awaited day, because parents used to tell children that during the night a deceased relative of the family came on that special day of the year to visit them and bring gifts plus many delicious sweets for the little ones. It was called "u cannistru ri morti", which means the basket brought by the deads! The children had to be very careful, if the deads arrived while they were still awake, they would tickle their feet. Another sweet gift that they used to bring were the famous precious "pupi di zuccaro", beautiful dolls made only of sugar (pic on the right).

But the most renowned sweets that we make for this occasion is the famous "Frutta di Martorana", which means marzipan made with almond flour and shaped in any kind of fruits and vegetables (pic above). The name comes from the Nuns of the Monastery of Martorana, nearby the same Church, who were the ones that used to prepare these fruits on the 1st of November. These fruits are also called "Pasta reale", which means royal pastry, because was often appreciated by many kings during the centuries and is exactly the same that we use on Easter day for representing the Lamb.

Nowadays, it has become more and more difficult to keep this tradition alive, due to the Hallowen influence on our culture. We want to keep this recurrence alive in our own way, thinking that all Souls' Day is not only a commemoration of the deads, but also a real celebration of their lives. They are not with us anymore in body, but we believe they keep staying close and although is sad, we want our children to remember them with a smile, not with fear. Nothing to be afraid of, because without death there wouldn’t be any life and viceversa.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Filled bell peppers: gorgeous Mediterranean taste


Do you know how to make some bell peppers filled with cheese and olives? This is a typical Sicilian side-dish and it has definetely got a great Mediterranean taste. There are several fillings for these vegetables, but I like to do a simple one, not long, nor difficult.


Ingredients & preparation for 4 people:
2 bell peppers
80 gr. green pitted olives
150 gr. Sicilian primo sale cheese
4-5 ts breadcrumb
3 ts tomato sauce
e.v. olive oil
oregano
salt


1. Cut the bell peppers in half, remove the inside and the seeds and wash them under running water.
2. Switch the oven on at a temperature of about 180° C.

3. In a bowl or a large dish put the breadcrumb and mix it with the olive oil, the tomato sauce, a pinch of salt and the olives cut in halves or even better in slices. Sprinkle with abundant oregano.
4. Now cut the cheese in cubes.

5. In an oven dish, put a drizzle of oil at the bottom and with a spoon start filling the pepperoni one at a time, first with the breadcrumb mix and then topping with the cubes of primo sale cheese (or any other tasty cheese you like).
6) Place them in the oven dish and let them cook for about 30 minutes or so. Better if you check after 20 minutes and see how the cooking is going, the cheese must melt and the bell peppers have to be quite soft.

Serve them when they are getting warm, it will be the perfect moment because you can appreciate the different flavours of the dish without burning your mouth. This is a typical Mediterranean recipe, also perfectly suitable for vegeterians and I really hope you can enjoy it!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What do Sicilians eat for breakfast?

Do you know what Sicilians usually eat for breakfast? When I decided to create a food blog I loved the idea of posting not only mere recipes, but also stories, origins and any other information that can be interesting about our way of eating and our habits. So that is what this article is about: our breakfast!
 
As Sicily is a part of Italy (can't stand those who say the opposite only because it's an island!), Sicilian breakfast at home is like the Italian one: strong black coffee, with or without milk, with few biscuits or some sliced bread with butter and jam, possibly homemade. 

But if you do have breakfast out things change. 
It's still true we can't live without the espresso from the bar or the cappuccino (pic on the left.)



We also love fresh orange juice (squeesed in that moment!) and we usually have some delicacies with it.
The most traditional ones in Palermo and its province are: treccine (twist shaped), millefoglie, ciambelle and brioche; (up above the picture of a ciambella and a treccina).
(You'll also find the international croissants and stuff such as Danish pastries with custard cream, apples, ecc, ...)
 
The dough of this four things are similar one another, the first two treccine and millefoglie (here on the left a millefoglie) are baked and have sugar on top, they only have different shapes, plus the millefoglie has got raisins as well. Ciambelle (pic on top) are fried and very similar to donuts, at least in their shape, but are bigger, softer and with caster sugar. Needless to say they are the best and all the kids love them!
I remember when I was a child and I had to go to the doctor for blood exams with my empty stomach, after that horrible experience (as a kid) only a big soft rounded ciambella could make me smile again!!! :-)))

Finally there are the briosce or brioche, the word comes from the French. Careful when you use this word in other parts of Italy because in the north (like in Milan) they call briosce a normal croissant, while we don't because as I've just explained for us are two different things!

Our brioches are plain baked buns (oval or rounded like here on the right) and we eat them in many different ways: you can have an empty brioche with your cappucino in the morning, then one with ham and tomato for lunch, which we would call also sandwich, and even one with ice cream for dinner or during the afternoon!
 

This is how Sicilians love to eat their ice cream in Summer! So they are suitable for every need... ahah :))



Talking about the hot season I have to add that there are many Sicilians who prefer to have a lemon or pistachio granita (correct transl. is slush or ice shaved) with a lovely soft brioche instead of the hot cappuccino during the Summer season, but this is obviously up to everyone's taste and habit, rather than a proper tradition. (By the way, the area to find the best granita is either in the Catania or Siracusa province, so in Eastern Sicily.)


I personally could't live without my morning cappuccino even in the middle of July!


Now you can understand a little bit more about our first meal, and when you come to Sicily you will definetely know what to ask for breakfast!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Pasta with squash, our summer & fall "minestra"


Do you know how to cook "pasta con la zucchina a minestra"? I already told you about pasta a minestra in general, now we are preparing a specific minestra with squash. This is a great summer and autumn dish.

I know I know, everyone thinks that in summer you only have to eat cold or refreshing food, but Sicilian tradition do not agree with that. Infact in Summer we also prepare some types of pasta made with broth, like a soup, and this is exactly one of them. You may not have it too liquid (like it is in the pic above, but that depends only on your personal taste!) Even better is having it in this season, when the first rains arrive.

Ingredients & preparation for 4 people:
1 half of a squash (if very long)
1 small onion
400 gr. broken spaghetti (Ital. spaghetti spezzati)

4-5 ts of tomato sauce
80 gr. matured caciocavallo cheese in small pieces
salt (or a bio stock-cube if preferred)
olive oil
a small piece of dried red pepper

1. You peel the squash (pic on the left), cut it in half and then in thin slices. 2. On a medium heat put a large pan with half the water. 3. As soon as the water boils put salt (or a bio stock-cube if preferred), onion and the squash in pieces. 4. After about 12-14 minutes put the pasta and the tomato sauce. For this dish we use the "spaghetti spezzati" type of pasta, which are simply broken spaghetti.
5. When the pasta is almost cooked (usually after 10-12 minutes) put the little pieces of caciocavallo cheese inside the soup, so that they have the time to melt a bit (matured caciocavallo is very hard).This local cheese is very salty and tasty, so is the perfect contrast with the delicate taste of the squash.

If you want to try this lovely pasta don't hesitate: it's simple, healthy and tasty. Perfect for vegeterians or even health food nut people :) Enjoy!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fresh homemade tomato sauce: it's worth doing it!

Do you know how to make a fresh delicious homemade tomato sauce? Have you ever tried?

The making of tomato sauce (in Italian salsa di pomodoro) definetely reminds me of my childhood summers spent in our country-house along with my family and my maternal grandparents.

My mum and my grandma sometimes were doing the "salsa" (literally means sauce and when we say the word alone it only means tomato sauce). I used to watch the process, not the entire one though, as it was very long and after a while I inevitably got bored; so I was coming and going from the kitchen from time to time.




Last week after so many years I decided to prepare once again some fresh tomato sauce. Contrary to what I used to think when I was 10, it didn't seem to me neither long nor boring. That's good! 
It took me just an afternoon (cooking time included) and the result was great! I was so proud :-)

Ingredients:
1 kg ripen tomatoes

1 onion
1 full teaspoon of salt
1/2 spoon of caster sugar

black pepper
olive oil
fresh basil
cinnamon in powder
nutmeg

1. Wash the tomatoes under running water, then roughly cut them and put them in a sauce pan together with the sliced onion. Let cook the two together for about 30 minutes on a very low heat with a lit.
2. After that
 it's time to mash them up. To help you speed up the process you can first blend the mix; this will facilitate the squeezeing phase. 
3. To squeeze them put them in a strainer. I have an electric tomato strainer (or squeezer... I am not sure how you exactly call it) so it's very easy (See the pic here on the left). When you have finished the squeezing phase, the liquid that you have gathered in the sauce pan is very watery and needs to be reduced to the proper thickness of the tomato sauce, so it has to cook again on a very low heat for at least two hours and half or until it is not watery anymore.


4. As soon as the liquid is becoming more and more "sauce" than water add all the ingredients to make it tasty: salt, sugar, a pinch of black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and some fresh leaves of basil. Taste it and adjust with salt and sugar if needed.

In the end add also a drizzle of extravergin olive oil... and that's pretty much it, your fresh homemade tomato sauce is ready!!!
You can use it on your pasta, bruschettas, pizza or wherever you like. You will be proud too! ;-)



Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"Anelletti al forno": our scrumptious baked Sicilian pasta

 
Do you know what "anelletti al forno" are? Here in Sicily we have a typical shape of pasta that is called "Sicilian anelletti" which means little rings. We normally use them when we want to prepare our traditional baked pasta! 
You may find this little timballo of pasta in any bars and diners in Palermo. It goes with the most classic Sicilian ragout made of minced meat, tomato sauce, onions and pieces of vegetables like carrots and peas.

As this recipe is usually very rich we normally eat it in winter, while for summer we have a different version, considered absolutely "lighter" :-)

It is made of tomato sauce, fried eggplants/aubergines and Sicilian primosale cheese.
My family and I love this version of baked anelletti a lot more than the one with meat and we also add another ingredient: thin slices of Napoli salami, while other people prefer to add ham. 
This preparation takes a while (about 3 hours plus baking time), but the result is a scrumptious mouthwatering baked pasta that we normally have for the most important summer festivity: August the 15th, which is called Ferragosto (mid August term) but it is also a Catholic festivity that celebrates the Assumption of Our Lady, the Virgin Mary. Baked pasta is something you normally do in layers, so read and follow the recipe carefully.

Ingredients and preparation for about 6 people:
600 gr. anelletti
2 aubergines or eggplants
200 gr. Napoli salami
250 gr. Sicilian primosale cheese
100 gr. Grated Sicilian caciocavallo cheese
1 bottle tomato sauce (about 750 ml)
breadcrumb
olive oil

1. First turn on the heat and put on a big pot for cooking the pasta. In the meantime 2. cut the eggplants in slices, not too thin, place them on a colander with salt on and leave them aside for about 15 minutes. It will make them release the bitterness and taste sweeter. After the time has passed just wash them under running water and they are ready to be fried in olive oil.
3. By the time you have finished frying, water in the pot will be boiling, so cook the anelletti as normal pasta, putting some salt in the water. They need about 20 minutes of cooking. 4. Stir the anelletti from time to time and prepare the tomato sauce in an appropriate sauce pan. 5. Cut the primosale cheese in slices or thin pieces and also the salami (you can either leave it in slices or cut it into pieces as well).

6. When the pasta is cooked (but careful not to overcooked it because it has to go in the oven as well!), drain it and add the tomato sauce plus the grated caciocavallo cheese.  
Now it's time to start building the layers:
7. Take a large oven dish or tray with high rims and cover the space with some olive oil first, and breadcrumbs after, then put half the amount of anelletti mixed with tomato sauce and grated caciocavallo cheese on the bottom of the tin, then cover with a layer of fried eggplants, then primosale cheese and finally the third one with salami, just as shown in the picture below.

8. Put the rest of anelletti on top and finally cover with some more spoons of tomato sauce to avoid the pasta becoming too dry in the oven, then a drizzle of olive oil and a bit of breadcrumbs again to make the crust in the oven.
9. Bake for about 35 minutes or a little more, until it is golden and crusty.
10. Serve hot! 

On the right the final picture of how the whole thing should look before the baking phase. This is one of the best first dishes of all times... enjoy it!!!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Have a rest with a "Sicilian granita"



Hi everyone, do you know what the "granita di pistacchi" is? Granita is something very typical from Sicily and is basically what you probably call a shaved ice or similar. Nice, cool, refreshing, perfect when the sun is hot and you want to have a rest.

In the southern part of Sicily the granita is particularly good and they prepare it with so many different flavors: pistaches, figs, coffee, watermelon, mint, ecc... besides the most classic one that is made with lemon.

Thanks to the picture that my two friends Laura e Carlo sent me while they were visiting the town of Ragusa. If you are in that part of Sicily, or near Siracusa as well, don't forget to try one of this excellent granite!!!
Everyone is on holiday right now so I want to wish Happy Ferragosto (ferragosto is our Summer festivity: August 15th) and enjoy your Summer vacation wherever you are!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Gelo di mellone: our summer watermelon pudding


Do you know what the "gelo di mellone" is? It's the name of a very traditional summer pudding that is made ONLY in Palermo and its province. Mellone in Italian is a generic word to mean melon, but this dessert is actually made only with watermelon and has a delicate and delicious fresh taste. 


We like to eat it plain, just as a pudding but we also use it as filling in the pie, to have a more important dessert! You find it in all the patisseries of the Sicilian capital in summertime and you can also see the single-portions (mini-pies) as well as the big pie.

Ingredients & preparation for 10-12 people:
1 lt fresh watermelon juice
100 gr. starch
200 gr. sugar
50-60 gr. dark chocolate chips
a glass of jasmine water
*pistaches and cookies to serve (but not essential)

Before starting to prepare the "gelo" you need a couple of jasmine flowers. Wash them and leave them in water for 24 hours. 

Now you are ready to start:
1. Cut the watermelon and put the pieces in a blender, having removed the green hard parts and the seeds. Blend until it becomes all liquid.
2. To strain the juice and remove the solid little parts we usually use a kitchen tool similar to the one we use to press the tomatoes for the sauce, it's also similar to a colander, but bigger, like the one in the pic below. When you have finished to strain the juice you can measure how much of that you've got. Usually a quarter of a big watermelon should be around 1 liter.

3. In a sauce pan mix the starch and the sugar, then, when you have obtained the proper amount of juice pour it little by little, stirring constantly with a spoon or a whip. When the ingredients are all melted together place the sauce pan under a low heat. 

4. Add the jasmine water and gently keep stirring until the liquid starts to boil and become as consistent as a pudding. As soon as it is quite solid (few minutes) turn off the heat and place it in little bowls for single portions or in a large mold or tin instead.

5. Let it cool down and after at least 40-45 minutes, if it is not warm anymore, put the chocolate chips on top and if you like also some pistaches as the one shown in the big picture above.

6. Place in the fridge at least two hours before serving it. Then, to finish up the decoration in the best possible way just stick two wonderful cookies or other kind of biscuits you like to accompany the pudding and you will enjoy it so much that you are definetely going to make it every single season!

Happy & sweet Summer everybody :-)


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Let's talk about "CAPONATA!"


Do you know what "caponata" is? With this word we generally refer to the caponata made of eggplants (or aubergines) but it's actually a generic word to indicate a specific Sicilian sweet & sour sauce with which we like to cook and season several kind of vegetables, but not only.
In ancient times people used to have it with fish and white meat as well, while today we make the traditonal one with eggplants and different other versions like artichokes, carrots and even green apples. Delicious!!!


What probably happened in the past was that rich and noble people used to have it with fish and meat, but the majority of the population coudn't afford it, so they just substituted the expensive food with a cheaper one, and the fried eggplant/aubergine was the perfect ingredient for its  soft consistency and its not particularly strong taste.


History: To talk a little bit more about the introduction of the caponata sauce in Sicily we have to go back to the Middle Age, during the Saracen domination. Infact they were the ones to introduce it in our island.
Its secret is the perfect balance between the sweet (sugar or honey) and the sour (vinegar).
Then capers, olives, onion, celery and tomato sauce were added in the following centuries on a drizzle of olive oil.


It was a dish that became very popular among Sicilian sailors on ships, because it was easier for them to eat the rusk on board with a more scented sauce.


For us it's a side dish or sometimes even a starter and definetely needs some fresh rustic bread to be appreciated at the most.




Recipe & preparation:
1 onion
200 gr green olives
50 gr salted capers
50 gr celery ribs
1 cup of tomato sauce
1/3 cup of sugar
2 or 3 tablespoons of vinegar
salt
olive oil

1. In a small sauce pan put some water and blanch the celery already cut in pieces. 2. In a frying pan put some olive oil on a low heat and add the thinly chopped onion. 3. Let it sauteè a bit, then put some tomato sauce, celery, capers and olives. 4. Now for the sweet and sour sauce pour some vinegar first, then sugar and salt, one after the other.
It's always hard to define quantities precisely when you have a family recipe. As the flavor of the caponata has to be very balanced it's important to taste the sweet&sour sauce while cooking and adding sugar or salt or vinegar if needed.

If you want to do it with eggplants/aubergines we usually use 2 big rounded ones (the Tunisin type), we first put them under salt and fry them (read the exact process here). Different is for artichokes and carrots which are actually blanched or boiled and then  seasoned with the sauce on a medium heat.
I really hope you can enjoy this scrumptious dish as much as we do.  
I am sure you will lick the plate clean and can't wait to try another version of this wonderful recipe of our historical food tradition. A bit of caponata cheers your life up and everyone loves it, veggies and not veggies. Enjoy!


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sicilian cheese: la "Vastedda del Belice"



Do you know what is the so-called "vastedda del Belice"? It's a local exquisite cheese coming from the area of Belice, in the province of Agrigento.

The vastedda, which is the only "pasta filata cheese" (or stretched cheese) is made from sheep and has an ivory color. In the past it was produced only in Summer (from May to October) but now you find it all year round. The experts used to produce it in summer to try to recuperate the pecorino cheeses that had come out with some defects. Infact the name itself in Sicilian dialect vasta or vastedda means wrong, gone bad.


Basically these pecorini were stretched at high temperature, creating a new kind of oval-shaped cheese that was perfect to be eaten fresh in few days and it was extremely tasty too! Farmers started to eat it with bread and tomatoes at their lunch break in the fields. Nowadays this local cheese is a POD and is produced in the provinces of Agrigento, Palermo and Trapani. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

From the Sicilian food "Pasta alla Norma" to "La Norma" opera


I couldn't tell you about Pasta alla Norma without posting Casta Diva, the most famous aria of Vincenzo Bellini's masterpiece, La Norma, here sung by Maria Callas.


I hope you can appreciate it as much as I did, because I think that music is just as sublime as food. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"Pasta alla Norma", what's the story of this incredible dish?


Do you know how to make pasta alla Norma? And what is the story of this Sicilian dish? The pasta alla Norma is originally from Catania, the second bigger city in Sicily and is dedicated, just as the name suggests, at the famous opera lirica LA NORMA composed in 1831 by Vincenzo Bellini, a musician from Catania.

I have actually heard two different stories about this dish: the first one says that the name of the dish was given by a playwright Nino Martoglio, also from Catania. He was comparing the goodness of the pasta with the opera lirica and exclaimed: This is a Norma! (meaning as goos as the Norma...)

Second story is that while writing this masterpiece Vincenzo Bellini used to go to a restaurant and ordered always this dish of pasta, so the owner finally name it after his opera to homage Bellini. Besides, it is said that at those times the dish had a very special presentation: it was like a mountain-shaped plate of pasta with eggplants/aubergine at the bottom, all cut in pieces or slices and then on top the tomato sauce with grated salted ricotta covering everything. It was a very creative representation of the Mount Etna with its land, lava and snow.


Making the Norma is very easy if you have the right ingredients. For 6 people you will need:

600 gr maccheroni or spaghetti
500 ml tomato sauce
olive oil
grated salted ricotta
basil
salt
aromas (cinnamon, nutmeg)
2 eggplants or aubergines

Preparation:
In Sicily we have two varieties of eggplants or aubergines: the oval ones and the rounded ones. These last ones (the pic on the right) are the best and the most used in the kitchen because of their sweeter delicate taste. We call them "tunisine" which means Tunisian, allegedly because they used to come from there.
1. When we use eggplants/aubergine we cut them in slices or dices, depending on the dish we are gonna make and then we place them on a colander with abundant salt and leave it aside for about 15 minutes. My mother taught me since I was a kid that this is good for giving eggplants/aubergines a sweeter taste and letting release the bitter they contain. After that you just have to wash them under running water and they are ready to be cooked.

2. Second step is frying. In a pan put some olive oil and start frying your eggplants until they become slightly brown on both sides (not black!). For this dish you can either do slices or cubes, it doesn't really matter!

3. Prepare pasta as you normally do, boiling it in salted water. While pasta is cooking put some tomato sauce in a sauce pan with some fresh basil and adjust with salt, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg to make it more parfumed.

4. As soon as pasta is drained cover it with the tomato sauce and the eggplants/aubergines and grate on top the salted ricotta or instead, if you don't have it, some parmisan cheese. It will still be delicious and you will just ask for more.

*In some families they also like to add some mozzarella cheese in cubes before serving the pasta. They mix all the ingredients together in the pan and then serve with the mozzarella still thready. It is just an addition to the original recipe, but I swear they are both unforgettable and suitable for vegeterians. Enjoy!

Thanks to my friend Giuseppe for sending me the picture of his lovely pasta alla Norma!