Monday, May 30, 2011

Sicilian Wine Pairings with Sicilian Cuisine, 2nd part

As I promised some days ago here it is the second part of the pairing between Sicilian wines and Sicilian recipes. The article is written by Jacqueline, sommerlier and wine lover. Here you may find her blog.

"It wouldn’t be a proper discussion of Sicilian wine without Nero d’Avola, and one of my favorite Sicilian red wines is the Corvo Rosso, a blend of Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese, and Pignatello. 

Nero d’Avola, quite possibly the most important red grape in all of Sicily, originated in the southeastern part of Sicily as it prefers hot and dry climates, but it is now widely planted throughout the island.  The grape produces wines with characteristics of dark fruit, berries, and plum, and hints of spice and pepper, and a smooth texture. Pignatello, also known as Perricone, is a red grape grown in Sicily and Sardinia, and is used mainly for blending with Nero d’Avola and Nerello Mascalese. 

Corvo Rosso is a very dependable red wine with both red and dark fruit characteristics and a bit of peppery spice to add another dimension to the flavor. The wine is smooth yet a bit on the rustic side, and is best for enjoying with a casual Sicilian dish. The Sfincione (traditional pizza of Palermo) featured in the Sicilian Cuisine Blog is a delicious “pizza” consisting of a soft dough and topped with tomato and onion and caciocavallo cheese, and often enjoyed as street fare. Such a casual dish should be paired with the unpretentious yet equally delicious Corvo Rosso.

One of the most unique and fascinating Sicilian wines I’ve tasted is the Scilio Phiale Etna Rosso. Phiale is a blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, also known as Nerello Mantellato. Nerello Cappuccio grows in the volcanic soil near Mount Etna, and is known for producing wines with notes of red and dark fruit and a pleasant spiciness. Phiale is a dark and complex wine, with characteristics of the ashy soil where its grapes are grown, as well as very dark fruit, spice, wood, and a slight bitterness. The texture is full and dense with a very long finish.

I believe this wine would be an excellent choice with the Brociolone, a wonderful recipe posted on the Sicilian Cuisine Blog which is a sort of pinwheel of pounded beef, and stuffed with salami and caciocavallo cheese, and cooked with red wine. This hearty Sicilian dish calls for a substantial wine, and the Scilio Phiale Etna Rosso would make for an ideal pairing."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Cassata al forno", the most tempting Sicilian baked pie

Do you know what the "Cassata al forno" is? The Cassata is a lovely baked pie filled with a delicious cream made of ricotta cheese and chocolate chips. You can either prepare a big one or if you prefer some mini-pies just like the ones in the picture below on the right.
Before carrying on with the recipe it's important to make some preliminary remarks. The Cassata is the most traditional dessert made in Sicily together with the famous cannoli.

Thanks to a very renowned line of the movie "The Godfather"... "leave the gun, take the cannoli", almost every person in the planet has an idea of what cannoli look like.

But what about the Cassata? We have two different kinds of Cassata that we call: the classic one, the Sicilian Cassata (cassata siciliana) and the baked cassata (cassata al forno). 
While the first is famous for its cover of icing and colored candied fruits and it is made of green marzipan on the sides (just like shown in the pic on the left) the second one, which is the most ancient, has got exactly the same filling but it's simpler because it is just a baked pie. (See the main pic on top or the one below on the right).
Nowadays you can find both all year long, but remain traditional of big important festivities like Christmas and Easter.

The origins of this dessert with ricotta cream go probably back to the Arabic domination (IX- XI centuries), but the version with marzipan and candied fruits was created more recently in the middle of XIXth century from a patisserie chef named Gulì.

About the etimology of the word cassata is still uncertain. Some people think that comes from the Arabic qas'at, that was the rounded bowl or basin where the cassata was prepared, that gives it that particular shape, some others think comes from the latin caseus, that is cheese, probably in reference to the ricotta cheese that fill the pie.
To prepare about 10 mini-pies or just one big baked pie instead, you will need:

For the dough
500 gr flour - 
200 gr lard - 100 gr caster sugar - 2 eggs + 2 yolks - half glass of Marsala wine - a pinch of salt

1. Let soften the lard out of the fridge, then mix it with the sugar until the result is smooth and soft.
2. On a surface put the flour and making a well put inside the mix of lard plus eggs, some of the Marsala and the pinch of salt. 3. Mix well all the ingredients until you have a soft dough. In case is a bit hard, add the other Marsala, then make a ball and place in the fridge for about an hour. 

For the ricotta cream
500 gr sheep fresh ricotta cheese - 300 gr sugar - 80 gr dark chocolate chips - 60 gr zuccata (which is a candied kind of big zucchini or cougettes) - cinnamon in powder - icing sugar - (In addition lemon zest if liked).

1. Sift the ricotta cheese in a sieve and mix it with the sugar. 2. Stir until it turns very soft and creamy, then add some dark chocolate 
chopped in small pieces (or chocolate chips if you have) and cinnamon to parfume the cream. 3. If you like it, cut the piece of zuccata in tiny cubes and mix them to the cream. Its taste is very delicate.
4. Now prepare the pie as usual, dividing the dough in two parts, one a bit bigger for the bottom part. 5. Roll out the first half of the dough on the special cassata tin, giving a rounded shape, fill with the ricotta cream and cover with the second half of pastry, that has to be flat.
6. Careful in sealing the sides of the pastry well, so that the cream inside won't come out with the heat of the oven.
7. Bake for about 45-50 minutes at a temperature of 180° C. It obviously has to be brown.
8. When is ready and has cooled down a bit, sprinkle with icing sugar and cinnamon powder if you like. Usually here in the patisserie you find a checked or a rhombus decoration done with sugar and cinnamon.

If you have some left-over place it in the fridge, it will be still perfect for the following 2 or 3 days (especially if your ricotta cheese was really fresh!) and you will be able to enjoy it for more than just one day!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sicilian Wine Pairings with Sicilian Cuisine, 1st part

Hi everyone, do you know what kind of Sicilian wine would match some of the recipes of the Sicilian Cuisine? Keep reading and you will find out. My blog recently reached 30,000 visitors in about four months and I think there is no better way to thank my readers than posting a great guest article written by a wine lover and expert. Check her blog out here. Thank you very much Jacqueline!

Here she is in her own words:

"I recently came upon the Sicilian Cuisine Blog and instantly loved the recipes posted. Being Sicilian-American and a sommelier who loves to cook traditional Sicilian dishes, I thought this would be a great opportunity to spotlight some fascinating and dependable Sicilian wines, paired with recipes posted in the Sicilian Cuisine Blog.
Crisp white wines are a great way to start, and a favorite Sicilian white wine is the Corvo Bianco. Corvo, a very reliable producer in Sicily, uses Inzolia, Catarratto, and Grecanico grapes to produce their very enjoyable white wine.
Inzolia, also known as Ansonica, is a white grape grown in the western part of Sicily; it has characteristics of citrus fruit and nuttiness and floral aromas, and contributes a crisp acidity. Catarratto is a white grape widely planted in Sicily mainly near the western coast, known for contributing robust aromas and flavors reminiscent of citrus and orchard fruits. Grecanico is the smoothest and most elegant of the three, adding to the blend its notes of apple, and soft texture. 

The Corvo Bianco is a pale straw colored wine with bright characteristics of white flowers and notes of lemon, apricot, and green apple. The wine leaves the palate feeling clean.

When pairing, this wine would accommodate lighter fish and vegetable dishes.  When browsing through the recipes posted in the Sicilian Cuisine Blog, I felt this wine would mirror the flavors of the lemon flavored artichokes as the wine pairs very well with vegetables and the lemon flavors in the artichoke dish would be reflected in the citrus characteristics in the wine.
When thinking of Sicilian wines, Rose is probably the last style of wine to come to mind. However, last year I was introduced to a lovely Rose from a well-respected producer in Sicily. The Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali Rose, produced by the Tasca family at the Regaleali estate in the hills of central Sicily, is made of Nerello Mascalese.

Nerello Mascalese is an important red grape grown at high altitudes in Sicily, and displays characteristics of red fruits and berries with a slight smokiness and is relatively tannic. The Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali Rose is a salmon-pink wine, full of red fruit aromas and flavors including strawberry, raspberry, and cherry, with just a hint of smoke that reflects the volcanic soil present where the grapes are grown. The wine is soft and subtle with a modest finish, and is best paired with light pasta and seafood dishes. I would be interested in trying this wine with the mussel soup posted in the Sicilian Cuisine Blog
 which consists of fresh mussels, red pepper, plum tomato, and other ingredients. I believe the freshness and light fruitiness would compliment the mussels and tomato nicely, and the slight sweetness of the wine would provide a very good contrast to the red pepper.

Thanks again to Jacqueline! A second part of this excellent pairing will come soon. Stay tuned and in the meantime... enjoy a glass of wine, obviously a Sicilian one!!!

Friday, May 20, 2011

White and red bruschettas, the typical Sicilian starter

Do you know how to prepare some traditional starter called bruschetta? It's very easy, but to make a perfect bruschetta you must have the perfect bread, the one we call rustic and has to be cut in slices and toasted until it gets a bit crispy.

There are three ways of preparing this mouthwatering starter: the most  traditional version is the red one, which means with fresh tomatoes cut in cubes and seasoned with olive oil, garlic, oregano and salt put on slices of bread.

We also do it in the simplest way which I personally love, that we call the white version or the plain one. You have to toast the bread, spread some garlic on the bread, then add some olive oil, salt and oregano and here it is... I would actually call it the Mediterranean way to do the famous garlic bread.

Other than that if we have more time and desire to prepare a full plate of different bruschettas we can satisfy our whims by preparing a third type: anchovies, local cheese (normally primo sale or provola) and a spoon of tomato sauce.

Just cut the cheese in thin slices and place them on top of the bread, then add a spoon of tomato sauce and an anchovy. Place them in the oven until cheese is melted and bread has become quite crispy. If you prepare this mix of bruschettas for your guests I am sure they will go crazy and lick their fingers. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Lemon-flavored artichokes: nice, easy and tasty

Do you know how to cook artichokes with a delicate lemon flavor? A couple of weeks ago I made this delicious side-dish that is perfect for dinner to accompany a frittata or a pie.

Ingredients & preparation for 4 people:
4 artichokes - 2 lemons (both juice & zest) - olive oil - salt - water

You have to clean the artichokes as usual: take an artichoke at a time and remove the external and rough leaves using a sharp knife. Continue until you have only thinner and softer leaves. Cut also the stem. In a sink full of cold water squeeze the juice of half a lemon and leave there the lemon as well. When you have finished with the knife leave the artichokes to soak about half an hour. 

Cut the artichokes very thinly. Put a frying pan on a medium heat with a drizzle of oil, salt and a glass of water and cook there the artichokes stirring them from time to time to avoid sticking on the pan. Grate some lemon zest too.

Once they are cooked squeeze the juice of at least half a lemon and let cook all together 10-15 more minutes. You may serve them hot or warm... enjoy!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Red onion and caciocavallo, the Mediterranean pie for vegetarians

Do you know how to prepare a red onion pie with caciocavallo cheese? Some years ago a lady taught me some very fast but tasty recipes to do when you are tired or you don't have ideas about what to cook. She was a working mother and had three kids, so she always had problems of time. One of the recipe is definetely this lovely scrumptious pie for those who love the delicate taste of red onion, and is perfect for vegetarians as well!

Since I learnt how to make it I have prepared it so many times and everyone in my family loves it. You need to use some shortcrust pastry as a base, so you can either make it yourself as I do, or buy it ready in supermarkets as she was suggesting.

Ingredients & preparation for 4 people: 
- shortcrust pastry - 4-5 red onions
- 80 gr matured caciocavallo cheese
- oregano
- olive oil
- salt
- 2 ts fresh creamy cheese (like Philadelphia or Robiola)

1. First of all, peel the onions carefully and cut them in thin slices.

2. On a medium heat put a drizzle of olive oil in a frying pan and sear or sautè the onion for about 15-20 minutes adjusting with salt. It has to become completely cooked but not brown in color.

 3. Once it is ready, let it cool down a bit, then add abundant oregano, the 2 tablespoons of a plain creamy cheese of your choice (that is good to give a more creamy filling).
4. Cut the matured caciocavallo in little cubes and add them as well to the onion mix.
5. Now preheat the oven at 180° C.
6. Roll out the pastry (or open the pack if you have bought it) and give it a rounded shape.
7. Place the mix inside the pastry and fold half of it on the other half, giving the shape of half-moon, being careful that the up and down parts of the pastry are well closed together.
8. Cook in the oven until it becomes golden brown (about 20-25 minutes) and serve hot with a glass of red wine.

You will definetely enjoy the contrast between the sweetness delicacy of red onion and the strong taste of the caciocavallo melt together in one delicious pie!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Liver, a natural way to defeat weakness and exhaustion

Have you ever tried fried cow liver cooked in the "Palermo style"? Well this is it,..... my granny used to say liver was one of the best home remedy against usual problems related to the spring season: weakness, tiredness and exhaustion. It also contains lots of iron so is also good for those people that may have an iron deficiency.

I know that the taste of liver is not definetely like a hot chocolate, it is strong and wild and many people can't stand it, but if you like it you definetely have to cook it in our Mediterreanean way, it will be nice and tasty. You will only need: 2 pieces of liver - olive oil - 2 cloves of garlic - breadcrumbs - vinegar - salt - dried mint.

1. Very easy to prepare this dish, just coat the liver in breadcrums. 2. Put some olive oil in a frying pan on a medium heat, as soon as it is hot, fry the two slices of liver on both sides.

3. Once they are ready add to the remaining oil, on a lower heat, two cloves of garlic in pieces, some dried mint to scent the mix and a drizzle of vinegar. This mix will be the sauce for your liver and your palate will be tickled by a mix of delicate and strong sensations.

For the "liver lovers"... is a must!!!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sicilian meals: at what time we eat?

Which is the time Sicilians eat? For instance, English people eat quite early, by contrast Spaniards eat very late. We are in the middle.

We have lunches that can vary from 13.30 until 15.00 (which is 3 p.m.), and dinners normally are from 8 p.m. to 9.30 more or less.
In my family at 13.30 and 8 p.m. we just sit on the table and start eating, but in another families they just start cooking at that time, so it depends on everyone's habits basically.

This is on an average normal day obviously, you may also find never-ending meals if there is a celebration or a special occasion like a festivity.