Sunday, January 30, 2011

In Palermo Marsala wine and Art nouveau have only one name: FLORIO!

There is nothing better than sipping a fine Florio Marsala wine with a nice dessert or at the end of a rich lunch. The Vecchioflorio, the old dry one, is a wine of very ancient tradition, made from two qualities of grapes: grillo and catarratto, that grow in the province of Trapani. It is aged for 2 years in ancient oak casks to become one of the best incomparable wine of all times for sweets and desserts.

The Florio family is undoubtedly considered the most industrious and enlightened family of entrepreneurs in Palermo's modern times. Originally from Calabria, they arrived in Sicily at the end of the XVIIIth century starting the production of wine, the famous Marsala that took the name from the area in which the wine cellars were located: Le Cantine Florio.

Vincenzo Florio started the production in 1833 becoming the biggest competitor of the English companies that had started to produce and sell the Marsala wine some years before in the same region: Woodhouse, Ingham-Whitaker, Hopps.

Florio had their fingers in many pies: not only wine, but also tuna-fisheries, shipping company, a spinning mill, foundries and ceramics factory, and last but not least they created a car race across Sicily that still boasts their name: Targa Florio.

But this is not the end of the story. Infact, they were so important that made build many mansions for their family: from Villa Igiea to the precious Villino Florio (in the picture)This villa was commissioned by the head of the family Vincenzo Florio, an art lover, to the famous architect Ernesto Basile who started the construction between 1900 and 1902. 

The building is situated near corso Olivuzza and is an exceptional testimony of the Art Nouveau style and architecture. It has a garden, a pond and is surrounded by trees. Besides at the entrance there is a wrought iron gate. It is still considered one of the best jewel of architecture and originality of the Palermitan "Stile Liberty" (the name we call the Art Nouveau in Italy.) 

fter an arson in 1962 it had several restorations both in the building and in the decorations.

So now it's easier to understand why the Florios became symbols of a wealthy Sicily, centre of culture; modern, proactive and extremely civilised, and it is definetely for these reasons that their legend was so well consolidated during centuries and it remains strong until today.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Homemade fig jam and walnuts, the sweetest pie you have ever had

Do you know how to make a fig jam and walnuts pie? This delicious dessert is not traditional in the way that you find it in local bakeries here, but it was a tradition in my family.

My mom loved to prepare it when we were little, usually after summer, when the fig jam was fresh and ready to be used. 

I recall in particular one nice episode: I was about 16 years old and I had 2 class mates coming home for the afternoon. We had organized to watch "Dirty Dancing" for the first time and we were so excited!!!

My mum didn't tell me anything about the pie, she just took it out after the movie for our afternoon snack and we all loved it!

Ingredients & preparation:
2 & 1/2 cups of all purpose flour (250 gr.), plus extra for rolling - 1 & 1/2 cup unsalted butter (150 gr.) - 3/4 cup sugar (100 gr.) - 1 egg - 1 teaspoon salt - lemon zest - walnuts - fig jam (homemade or from the shop)

In a bowl mix the sugar with the egg, the butter and the salt. Slowly add the flour and finally the lemon zest. Knead the dough until smooth, wrap it in plastic and place it in the fridge for about an hour.

After that roll out the pastry, not too thin (about 12 to 14 inches), then put it in a pie pan, pressing gently bottom and sides to give it the right shape. Now you can add a thin layer of fig jam and finally the walnuts.

Bake it in the oven for 30 minutes at 180°degree (in fahrenheit should be 356*). Serve still warm with a lovely cup of tea.

I like the combination between the soft fig jam flavour and the crunchy walnuts and the crust. I suggest you try it. It will definetely sweeten your afternoon. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Music & food: "a Gershwin recipe", is there something better?

There is something I love as much as food. It's music! So when the two passions meet one another the world sounds more interesting, even poetic..... just like happens in this wonderful George Gershwin song performed by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald that was going through my mind yesterday.
You may listen to it and even sing it along... that's why I put the lyrics ;) Enjoy and have fun!

Let's call the whole things off

Things have come to a pretty pass
Our romance is growing flat,
For you like this and the other
While I go for this and that,
Goodness knows what the end will be
Oh I don't know where I'm at
It looks as if we two will never be one
Something must be done:

First Chorus
You say either and I say either, You say neither and I say neither
Either, either Neither, neither, Let's call the whole thing off.

You like potato and I like potahto, You like tomato and I like tomahto
Potato, potahto, Tomato, tomahto, Let's call the whole thing off

But oh, if we call the whole thing off Then we must part
And oh, if we ever part, then that might break my heart

So if you like pyjamas and I like pyjahmas, I'll wear pyjamas and give up
For we know we need each other so we , Better call the whole off off
Let's call the whole thing off.

Second Chorus
You say laughter and I say larfter, You say after and I say arfter
Laughter, larfter after arfter, Let's call the whole thing off,

You like vanilla and I like vanella, You saspiralla, and I saspirella
Vanilla vanella chocolate strawberry, Let's call the whole thing off

But oh if we call the whole thing of then we must part
And oh, if we ever part, then that might break my heart

So if you go for oysters and I go for ersters, I'll order oysters and cancel
the ersters
For we know we need each other so we, Better call the calling off off,
Let's call the whole thing off.

Third Chorus
I say father, and you say pater, I saw mother and you say mater
Pater, mater Uncle, auntie, let's call the whole thing off.

I like bananas and you like banahnahs, I say Havana and I get Havahnah
Bananas, banahnahs Havana, Havahnah, Go your way, I'll go mine

So if I go for scallops and you go for lobsters, So all right no contest we'll
order lobseter
For we know we need each other so we, Better call the calling off off,
Let's call the whole thing off.

(Video by Nocaro)

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Calamari panati", grilled squid in breadcrumbs

Do you know how to cook grilled squid in breadcrumbs? As we live in an island, eating fish and seafood is quite normal. Fried calamari are extremely popular, but I do love a "less famous" version which is also healthier and very easy to prepare. It's calamari in breadcrumbs.

Here comes the recipe: you will need: fresh squids - olive oil - lemon - salt - pepper - oregano - breadcrumbs

Rinse the squid under cold water. In a bowl we do the "marinata": a mix of extra virgin olive oil,salt, a pinch of pepper and lemon juice. If you like you can also add some oregano. Then dip the squid in the marinata and coat it abundantly in breadcrumbs on both sides. Grill on a high heat until golden brown. Transfer on a serving plate with a wedge of lemon. Squid must be eaten soon, possibly with a nice glass of white wine. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I like cooking and I like Jamie Oliver

Yesterday I was zapping from a tv channel to another when I found and watched a very interesting show with the talented English chef Jamie Oliver, who was travelling through Italy on his own. He stopped in a monastery in Farfa, Lazio and stayed a few days with the monks, cooking for them and tutoring them on how to cook fresh ingredients and prepare delicious healthy meals.

He cooked many things: a risotto with zucchini flowers, a soup with lentils, some grilled meat, but what I like the most about Jamie Oliver is not the dish he makes, but the fact that he is so passionate about what he does, you can feel that cooking is such a fondamental part of his life and he is also contagious in this passion, 'cause he is always smiley and happy to cook for others and to explain what he is preparing.
I really love that!

I think everyone can learn from him not only the simple recipes but his great attitude to work, so... thanks very much Maestro.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Biancomangiare", the Sicilian white pudding

Do you know how to cook Biancomangiare, the Sicilian white pudding? And why is it called that way? The origin of this delicious dessert is told by the expert journalist and writer from Palermo Gaetano Basile. The recipe dates back to the middle age period and the word "Biancomangiare" (literally white food) comes from the French expression 'bland manger', which meant mild simple dishes, something that patients in hospital or people with stomachache could eat: like rice and chicken.

owever, when the recipe was imported here people started to call it blanc manger because of the assonance between bland (simple) and blanc (white) thinking that the name blanc manger was actually referred to the color of the dish. So in Italian the expression in one word became: "Biancomangiare" and started to spread as a sweet pudding done with all white ingredients: milk, cornstarch and sugar... and we still prepare it this way!

Ingredients & Preparation: 1lt milk - 6 tbs cornstarch - 4 tbs sugar - cinnamon (both powder and bark) - grated orange zest - Use pistaches and almonds or orange leaves for garnish

In a saucepan mix the cornstarch with the sugar. Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly better if using a whisk to eliminate possible lumps, then add a tea spoon of cinnamon powder and 3 or 4 pieces of crumbled bark. 

Place the saucepan on a medium heat, add the orange zest and keep stirring until the mixture becomes creamy and smooth and starts to boil. 

Then remove from heat and place it in a silicon baking tray or in small individual bowls. Let them chill half an hour (one hour if you pour the pudding into one big tray) and put them in the fridge. 
Once they are cold and firm you can transfer them in plates for dessert and garnish however you like: using chopped pistaches and almonds, just with some more cinnamon and orange zest on top or simply with orange leaves. In any case it will be absolutely yummy. Enjoy!

PS - It's good to know that there are some people who do a richer version of this recipe adding fish-glue or almond flour, but also cookies or sponge at the bottom, but we never did it in my family. Actually what I love the most about this pudding it's the fact that is light and simple, but still extremely tasty and easy to prepare. Hope you like it too! ;)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It's pizza time!

A couple of evenings ago I went out with some friends and we ate in a very nice Pizzeria in Palermo called "Goodness". I had this pizza with mozzarella cheese, cherry tomatoes, Parma ham, parmisan flakes and fresh basil. It was so tasty and delicious.

On the whole I would say: quick service and lovely food. Besides, price was good as well, so I was very pleased with that and I highly recommend it! ;)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tea time with some friends, what dessert should I prepare?

On sunday I have some friends coming home for tea. One of my dearest friend has just celebrated his 35th birthday, so I was wondering what sweet I should prepare. A chocolate cake? A pie with jam or a pudding?
Suggestions are welcome... :)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sweet and sour fried red pumpkin

Do you know how to cook sweet and sour fried pumpkin? This is a delicious colourful side dish perfect to be served with either meat or fish, and we call it in Italian: "zucca rossa in agrodolce".

For this recipe you will need: 400 gr. red pumpkin - olive oil - 2 cloves of garlic - 1/2 cup red wine vinegar - 1/3 cup sugar - salt - dried mint

Cut the rinds of the pumpkin removing all the seeds. Cut the pumpkin in slices wide more or less 1/2 cm. In a frying pan drizzle the olive oil on a medium heat with the cloves of garlic, then put the slices of pumpkin and let them fry on both sides until they become golden. 
Once they are ready drizzle the vinegar with a spoon of sugar, stir well and in the end add some salt.
Transfer the pumpkin on a dish, drizzle on top the juice from the pan and finally add some dried mint. You will have a lovely perfumed side dish. In alternative if you want a low calorie version you put the pumpkin in the oven, on a baking tin, just like in the picture and cook them until they become slightly brown. Then prepare the juice as explained above. It will still be very tasty and rich, but less fat. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The story of the "Caciocavallo all'Argentiera", the Sicilian fried cheese

Do you know how to cook the Sicilian fried cheese called caciocavallo all'Argentiera? We need only three adjectives to describe this dish: easy to make, delicious to eat, interesting to talk about.

Easy because it only takes 10 minutes to prepare it. Tasty because the main ingredient is our local traditional cheese called: "caciocavallo", which has a very strong taste. Interesting because the story of this dish is old and extremely particular.
"Vucciria" - the famous painting from Sicilian artist Renato Guttuso
In Palermo there is a street called via dell'Argenteria, near the famous food market of the Vucciria.

The name of the street takes origin from the argentieri who were working there (people who used to work silver).

The story tells that a wife of one of these silversmith artesan one day created this dish for two reasons:

1. to exploit the fire that was always on.

2. to make believe the neibourghs that they were having rabbit for lunch.

The secret was that the combinations of the ingredients: oil, garlic, cheese and vinegar smelled exactly like a cooked rabbit.

So they could pretend to have rabbit for lunch every day, but they actually had instead only fried caciocavallo cheese, which was a lot cheaper.

And that's the funny story of this dish and its recipe.

Ingredients & preparation:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
2-3 slices of Caciocavallo cheese
a pinch of black pepper
3 tablespoons of vinegar

In a frying pan heat the olive oil on a medium heat, add the garlic and after a minute put the pieces of cheese. Let them cooked covered for a couple of minute, let them fry on both sides until the slices become golden.

Now add the vinegar, the pepper and finally a nice abundant sprinkle of oregano. Prepare the serving dish and decorate with a bit of fresh watery fennel just like in the picture. It will contrast with the tasty salted cheese flavour. And don't forget to serve it with a nice glass of red wine. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The finest mussel soup of all times...

Do you know how to cook a mussel soup? Follow this recipe and you will have the finest and most delicate soup you have ever eaten in your entire life. First, manage to buy some very fresh mussels!

You will need: 1kg fresh mussels - extra virgin olive oil - garlic - red pepper - 1 can of peeled plum tomatoes - 1 tsp salt - fresh parsley

Start with scrubbing the mussels and rinsing them under running water. Put them in a large pot on a minimum heat with just an inch of water and cover them with a lid so that they can slowly open.
In the meantime prepare another large pot with an inch of oil and two cloves of garlic on a medium heat. Leave them for about 5 minutes, then add the can of tomatoes (if the tomatoes in your can are in one-pieces you first have to cut them in small pieces.) Add also a considerable pinch of salt and half of a red pepper (the quantity of red pepper is up to your taste!) Let the sauce cook for 5 more minutes. 

As soon as the mussels are ready and open (get rid of the shells that have not opened), drain them and add them to the tomato sauce, but do not eliminate the water in which they have been cooked, because you have to filter it until becomes clean, to get rid of the sand that may be in it. Once you have the water filtered, add it to the soup of mussels and cook all the ingredients together for about 15-20 minutes. Finally chop some fresh parsley, mix all together and serve with some fresh rustic bread in soup bowls. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Spaghetti with dried tuna roe, the famous "Bottarga di tonno"

Do you know what the famous "Bottarga" is? And how do you cook it with pasta? "Bottarga di tonno" is basically the roe of the tuna, first dried and then grated. Here in Sicily having pasta with the tuna roe is a real deliciousness and is a very quick dish to prepare as well!

You will need: spaghetti - oil of olive - garlic - fresh parsley - bottarga di tonno (tuna roe) - red hot pepper.

Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling water, lightly salted, following the packet instructions, until "al dente". In the meantime in a sauce pan do the "soffritto" which means: put some extra virgin oil of olive and a clove of garlic until it becomes kind of golden brown colour. Chop the parsley and mix it in the oil. Add some boiling water from the spagnetti pan and finally a small piece of hot pepper.

When the spaghetti are ready drain them and mix them with the sauce made of oil and parsley. Then serve them sprinkled with abundant bottarga on top, just like in the picture.
It is a lovely pasta and very easy to cook. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sardines meatballs in tomato sauce, what a dish!

Do you know how to cook fish meatballs? It is a delicious specialty all Sicilian called "Polpette di Sarde". This recipe is something I love to eat during winter and fortunately my father, who is very good at, prepared it few days ago. Basically they are meatballs but done with fresh sardines, which means a lot heavier and a lot healthier.

Here comes the recipe: 
You will need 500 gr. sardines - 100 gr.grated pecorino cheese - 100 gr sultanas - 50 gr pine nuts - breadcrumb - parsley or fresh mint - oil of olive - salt - pepper - tomato sauce

First, you need to wash the fish and getting rid of head, bones and tail. Then, cut it and put it in a bowl together with the pecorino cheese, the sultanas, the pine nuts and the parsley (or mint) finely chopped. 
Add also salt, pepper and the breadcrumb (about 4-5 spoons) until the mix is quite solid.

Now in a pan, put half bottle of tomato sauce, add salt and sugar and a pinch of cinnamon as well. Let heat the sauce, when it's hot you can do your little balls and place them inside the sauce being careful not to break them in pieces.

Put the heat at the minimum, the lid on the pan and let them cook for about 20-25 minutes. Finally add a couple of spoons of extra virgin olive oil. Serve hot with some slices of rustic bread. You will have a delicious, healthy Sicilian dinner. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Festivity of the Epiphany: the Wisemen, the sweets and the "Befana"

Hello everybody, I have been thinking a great deal about an ipothetical blog about Sicilian Food and I finally decided to give it a try!

And why not starting with the New Year? Do you know what the Epiphany is all about? Today we celebrate the Epiphany and the Three Wisemen bringing presents to Baby Jesus.

Children normally find, as they wake up, one of their socks full of candies and chocolates. Infact, as the tradition wants, the Wisemen, but also the "Befana" (an Old Hag similar to a witch here on the left) gives sweet to the good children and coal to the bad ones.

I remember when I was little, how much I liked that, waking up and rushing to the living room to find my socks full of nice sweet things. Good old days!

So, enjoy the Epiphany, remember the historical moment but also don't forget to try to be good every single day of the year! :)))