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 :)


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!