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
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!