Monday, December 24, 2012

Food is all about sharing... especially at Christmas!



Merry Christmas dear readers! My best wishes to you on this special occasion of the year.

  

I believe sharing begins at home and I believe the more you share the happier you are. 
I think food is all about sharing, isn't it?


Otherwise why would we be spending the whole day or the entire previous afternoon to think of a special Menù, prepare amazing dishes, set the table in the most beautiful way, buy lovely presents for everyone? 
Because we want to share our lives with others and that starts with food.
So... here it is my suggestion: have a great Christmas lunch because is one of the most beautiful and touching festivities of the year, but if something goes wrong... like the roast is a bit burnt or the pudding decoration isn't perfect... that's fine, keep smiling and just let it go. Have fun, don't fight with others or with yourself. Everyone will be happy anyway and will appreciate the efforts and the love with which you did all these things.

This should be, I believe, the spirit of Christmas, a family that stays together and that shares food, time, laughs and in the end, only in the end, some presents. Don't forget it!

Have a Wonderful Christmas Time from... THE SICILIAN CUISINE BLOG!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Pears cooked in 'Nero d'Avola' served with whipped cream

Do you know how to cook pears in Sicilian red wine and serve them with soft delicious whipped cream? Ok... I will tell you! As Christmas is very close by now, here there is a lovely idea to make a dish with juicy fruits that can also count as a great dessert for one of our upcoming festivities: Christamas Eve, Christamas day, St. Stephen's day (which is boxing day), New Years Eve, Capodanno (New Year day) or Epiphany. See how many occasions we have? 

Infact to be honest... we often forget about fruits when we prepare big meals. We are usually (here in Italy at least) concentrated on the first dish (fresh pasta? baked pasta? lasagne?), the second one (pork? turkey? beef roll?) and the dessert (cake? pie? pudding?), so we tent to miss out the 'fruit course'.

But, if you like the idea, this recipe is elegant and easy at the same time, as you can cook the pears in wine the day before and whip the cream on the big day!!!


Ingredients & Preparation for 4 people: 4 pears cut in halves - 1/2 lt Nero d'Avola (Sicilian red wine) - 200 gr double cream - 200 gr caster sugar - 2 big pieces of lemon zest - cinnamon

1. Wash the pears under running water, cut them in halves and remove skin and inside.
2. Place them in a sauce pan on a medium heat with the red wine to cover them all, plus 100 gr caster sugar, the lemon zest and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
3. Let them cook like this for about 25 minutes, time is also related to the quality of the pears, if they are pretty ripe and soft (but not too much!) probably 15-20 minutes would do, but if they are hard better 30 minutes. You need to check them anyway from time to time!
4. In the meantime whip the cream with the remaining sugar until smooth and soft.
5. As soon as the pears are ready (try them with a fork to test how tender they are) take them out of the sauce pan and place them on a dish to cool down, while keep the sauce going on the heat to restrain a bit more. We are looking at a red wine syrup of some sort that will be poured onto the pears when served so it has to be more juicy than watery.
6. Once the sauce is ready place the pears on a serving tray and the whipped cream in a bowl so that you can serve them separetely. Pour the Nero d'Avola syrup onto the pears and serve straight away.

If you want to try this recipe on a normal Sunday lunch and want to keep it low fat just serve them with plain white yogurth instead of the cream. It will be as delicious as the first one!


Enjoy :-)))








Thursday, December 6, 2012

Pizza 'a taglio' and rounded one: what's the difference?

Have you ever heard the expression "pizza a taglio"? Do you know what it means? 
Italy is the homeland of pizza, but there is a big difference between the one we call "a taglio" and the most famous one, which is rounded and can be single-sized (for one person) or family-sized (often 8 slices for 3-4 people).

The first type is usually sold in bakeries and supermarkets (not in pizzerias) and "a taglio" literally means that you have to cut it because it is made in large oven trays, so when you go to a bakery and ask for a portion of a specific pizza (pic above), they will cut it for you, so it's always in squares or rectangles. The other different is in the dough, first one is thick, while the rounded ones are very thin.

To sum it up then: the famous Margherita from Naples is a rounded pizza (pic below on the right), while our traditional Sfincione for example is pizza a taglio. (pic below on the left)

On the 8th of December in Italy is the Catholic Festivity of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, which means that no matter what day of the week it will be on the calendar..... is gonna be a big Sunday lunch!!!


Traditionally on the Immaculate's Eve, friends gather to have dinner together, play cards, chat and have fun and we usually buy our local pizza, the sfincione, or some rotisserie, or some other kind of pizza a taglio, that's because the meal of the following day is often very demanding.

Now, if you want to prepare the sfincione you find the recipe here, but if you are in Palermo and would like to taste the best pizza a taglio in town, well... there is only one place where you can go and is called: GRAZIANO!!! 

It's a "panificio", a bakery located in via del Granatiere 11, a small street not far from upper Via Libertà.

Graziano is famous all over Palermo in particular for his PIZZA RUSTICA (here on the right), a delicious squared pizza with sliced salami, fresh tomatoes and primosale cheese (one of our best local cheeses). It is also sprinkled with parsley on top and once you have tried it you just won't forget it! 

You will love it and miss it and dream about it. Believe me... I do it all the time :-)


Graziano's website can be found here

Friday, November 30, 2012

We are totally green friendly!!!


Hi there, just a quick post to inform you that the Sicilian Cuisine Blog is totally green friendly... and eco-friendly... just in case you were wondering. Recyclable and biodegradable materials are the best ways to help the environment and everyone should definetely go for it

My tips for today are these colorful and adorable dishes, bowls and glasses. They are made of bamboo fabric and corn powder, you can put them in the dishwasher and they are 100% biodegradable. 

Don't you wanna buy them all? I do! :-)

So while I was looking at these things I thought... why not spreading the word? I believe a small change can make a big difference.
We need a greener world, so let's be GREEN!!!!!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Saint Martin's day, his cookies and the Moscato wine!

Have you ever heard about the  S. Martin festivity? Well, November the 11th is the day of Saint Martin and in Sicily is usually accompanied by a lovely tradition. We eat some crusty dry rounded cookies sold in bakeries (and now supermarkets), usually broken in pieces and sopped up in the extraordinary Sicilian Moscato wine.
Ingredients for 8 people: 500 gr flour - 200 gr caster sugar - 100 gr lard - 200 gr brewer's yeast - Aniseeds - Cinnamon powder - Butter - Salt

Preparation:
Preheat the oven at a temperature of 200° degrees. On a kitchen surface put the flour and make a hole in the middle of it. Mix 1 dl of warm water and a pinch of salt, plus the lard, mixing everything together carefully. Add the brewer's yeast, the sugar and a teaspoon of aniseeds with a pinch of cinnamon. Knead the dough well until is soft, smooth and homogeneous.
From the dough make some sticks long about 5-6 cm, then try to bend or fold each stick on itself,  giving a kind of spiral shape. Put them on a buttered baking tin. Cover them and leave it there to rise for at least 3 (or 4) hours in a warm place (it really depends on how warm is the place). As soon as the cookies are risen and ready to be cooked put them in the oven at 200° degree for 10 minutes. 


 
Take them out and reduce the oven temperature at 160°degrees. Put them inside again for about 20 minutes for a second baking carefully checking that they won't get too brown. 

Of course because in Sicily we never miss a single occasion to get fatter we do also have the "patisserie version" which is slightly different from the original recipe, obviously softer because it cooks less and it's filled with ricotta cream and has icing sugar and cinnamon on top.


Then we have a third version that I like to call the "baroque" one because is all decorated with a frosting and little chocolates on top, just like in the picture below.

So, if you happen to be in Sicily on the 11th of November (or near that date) try at least one of the three Sammartinellis. And don't forget the Moscato wine.

You won't be disappointed!!!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sicilian excellence: the unique yet historic chocolate of Modica

Have you ever heard about the famous chocolate made in Modica? Modica is a lovely baroque-style town in the south of Sicily, precisely in the province of Ragusa.

As you all probably know pretty well Sicily has been dominated from the Spanish empire for a long time, so during those centuries local people learnt some recipes and food process from their conquerors. One of the most famous product became the chocolate that finds its roots in the ancient Aztec people in the territory of Mexico back in the 16th century. The Spaniards obviously learnt it from them after the discovery of the Americas and taught it in other parts of their empire. We know for sure that in Modica stayed until today. Isn't it amazing?

Now, what makes this chocolate different from the others is the process with which is made. Infact the cocoa beans are roasted and grinded, then mixed to the sugar at a low temperature, that doesn't make the sugar melt. Infact if you taste it just as it is you will feel the grainy texture into your mouth. A totally different experience from the usual chocolate bars. 

Since many years the chocolate of Modica has also been famous for having different flavours. The most traditional still remain cinnamon and vanilla, but now you find such a wide variety of species and flavors, like: orange, nutmeg, lemon, red chilli pepper, white pepper, pistaches, anise, ecc... 

Even the New York Times dedicated an amazing article on this great product and its history some years ago.
For those who are crazy about chocolate I would suggest a lovely but simple way to enjoy this product as its best: melted in a soft big choc cake or in a plain pudding (don't ask for the recipe I will put it as soon as I can). You will savor a strong lasting chocolate aroma and you will definetely love its taste! This is SICILIAN EXCELLENCE!!!


You can read the NYT article here, while the chocolates in the pictures come from the Pasticceria Bonajuto in Modica.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Reviews: "Al Fogher", a fine lunch (or dinner) in the heart of Sicily

Some weeks ago I had lunch in a gorgeous restaurant near the small town of Piazza Armerina (in the province of Enna), a place in the heart of Sicily famous for its Roman villa, recently restored. The place is also near the famous archaeological site of Morgantina.

The restaurant I went to, has a very curious name, to start with. 'Al fogher' infact is an expression in a northern Italian dialect, probably from the region of Veneto and means 'focolare', fireplace. The Sicilian chef and owner Angelo Treno, after having worked many years up in the north decided to come back to Sicily and brough the name with him.

The restaurant, who used to be an old train station is now an elegant place amazingly decorated and furnished like a real rustic dining room: comfy chairs, soft lights, colorful bucolic paintings on the walls and ancient pieces of furniture make the atmosphere particularly cosy and familiar. But this is just the beginning. The food experience is something you won't forget because of the peculiar matches of the ingredients.

A sensational starter with buffalo mozzarella and sauteèd chards served on a yellow mellon puree and accompanied by a lovely mix of homemade bread of different flavors as you can see in the pic on the left (tomato flavour, pistaches and even ink black from cuttlefish). Absolutely incredible!!

As a first dish I tried a biological spelt-flour pasta (the bavette type) with a unique ragout made of kid meat and cooked with wild fennel and cherry tomatoes, served with flakes of Sicilian primo sale cheese on top. A second dish with a fresh grilled snapper served  with vegetable cous cous and some mussels aside.

Let's not forget the delicious plate of Sicilian cheese between the main dishes and the sweets, served with a bit of eucalyptus honey and sweet onion marmalade. Something that you definetely don't have every day!

Finally an amazing dessert called "Childhood memories" made of three different samples of what the chef used to eat when he was a child: a panna cotta with strawberries on top, a biancomangiare pudding (in the middle) and a condensed milk chocolate in little squares.

So... whenever you find yourself in that part of the Sicilian region and would like to mix a cultural trip to a Roman villa with a great food experience that's exactly the place where I suggest you to go. 

Here you can find the restaurant's website in Italian language. Have fun and enjoy!!! :-)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Esperti Siciliani: Intervista con lo Chef Giuseppe Di Cristina



Felicissima di poter pubblicare un'intervista ad un giovane Chef siciliano. Comincerei con una breve biografia per i lettori del blog: Chi è Giuseppe Di Cristina e dove ha lavorato fino ad oggi? 

Salve a tutti, onoratissimo di rispondere alle sue domande. Giuseppe Di Cristina è uno Chef 34enne che sin dall’età di 14, mentre frequentava l’Istituto Alberghiero di Palermo, iniziava la sua gavetta, vera maestra di vita ai fornelli grazie ai vari Chef di Cucina e Capi Partita ai quali questi lo assegnavano. Iniziò così nel Maggio ’94 al Ristorante Villa Flora di Palermo, fiore all’occhiello dei Maestri Cascino, prestigiosissima dinastia di cuochi palermitani. Da lì una lunghissima serie di spostamenti perché nell’animo del ragazzo c’era una certezza: girare per imparare come una spugna da tutte le tipologie di ristorazione possibili. Così da Villa Flora la lista inizia ad annoverare l’Hotel Porto Rais di Marina di Cinisi, l’Hotel Kalura di Cefalù, il Grand Hotel Villa San Mauro di Caltagirone, il Plaia d’Hymera Park Hotel di Campofelice di Roccella dove diviene Capo Partita all’età di 20 anni. Quindi l’Hotel Salus di Salice Terme a Pavia, il Ristorante Mediterraneo di Borgomanero (No), persino sotto le armi ai fornelli presso la Guardia Costiera di Licata, il Ristorante Blu Lagoon di Mondello, L’Hotel Chalet Plan Gorret di Courmayeur (Ao), il Grand Hotel delle Palme di Marsala e il Jolly Hotel di Palermo, arrivando al 2005 al salto di qualità: 25enne diviene Sous-Chef dell’Hotel Salus di Salice Terme, poi a Villa Re Giovanni, e alla Nave Ricevimenti di Palermo, che diventa una sua seconda casa.
Capisce che i tempi sono maturi per poter dirigere da solo una cucina e così nel Maggio del 2010, a 30 anni, si avventura come Chef di Cucina presso il Ristorante Torre Battilamano di Termini Imerese, poi sulle Alpi presso l’Hotel Maison Tissiere (Cervinia- Ao), e al Ristorante Four Seasons di Lascari per poi lavorare da libero professionista organizzando corsi di cucina e collaborando con centri di formazione e catering cittadini.

Quando hai capito che avevi la passione per i fornelli e che volevi diventare un professional chef?

Da bambino sentendo i profumi della cucina delle mie nonne e di mia madre. Poi provengo da una famiglia che aveva sempre avuto a che fare col mondo del turismo per cui non fu difficile capire qual’era la mia strada.

Qual è il piatto della cucina siciliana che ami di più o a cui sei più legato e perché?
Da pescatore subacqueo oltre che da cuoco gli Involtini di Spada in assoluto; nel loro profumo di Arancia Rossa, Uvetta Pinoli, e ovviamente col sapore unico del Principe dello Stretto ho sempre trovato in questo piatto un grandissimo connubio fra mare e terra, il legame profondo dei siciliani con le due risorse della nostra isola.

Nella tua esperienza com’è vista la cucina siciliana all’estero? E qual è, per esempio, il piatto più richiesto?
La Sicilia a tavola fortunatamente è molto più apprezzata rispetto alla fama di noi popolo siciliano per altri luoghi comuni decisamente più tristi. Ma a tavola nessuna regione può vantare il nostro trionfo di colori, profumi e sapori in qualunque mese dell’anno e non solo in estate. Il piatto più richiesto in realtà sono due per ciò che ho riscontrato soprattutto sulle Alpi, al confine francese, la Cassata Siciliana e la Caponata.

Quando decidi di creare un nuovo piatto a cosa ti ispiri?

Bella domanda. Intanto dipende dall’occasione. Finora ho sempre focalizzato l’attenzione sul tema, se il piatto in questione deve essere servito al ristorante o in  una serata a tema, o in una gara piuttosto che fra amici. Ma fondamentalmente il mio principio è uno: decido l’ingrediente principale e nella mia mente ne esamino tecniche di lavorazione abbinabili e di cottura ovviamente.

Da qui inizia l’accostamento con i colori, e ad ogni colore un profumo, un aroma prendono forma nella mia mente. Palato e cervello divengono due amanti mentre creano come sulla  tavolozza di un pittore. Il piatto prende forma nella mia mente anche nel dressage, mentre le mie papille gustative lo ricreano nel mio palato. Devo dire che 8 volte su dieci il sapore finale è davvero come lo avevo immaginato, ma le variabili sono tante. Ultimamente però ho la fortuna di avere una grande musa ispiratrice, la donna che amo e che sposerò, che con me condivide le tante rinunce e i sacrifici che la cucina impone; quando adesso creo un piatto lo faccio pensando ai suoi occhi e a tutto il tempo che la cucina richiede da me e a tutte le volte che tornando da un banchetto alle 4 del mattino lei è ancora sveglia ad aspettarmi.

2 chef siciliani che ti piacciono particolarmente: uno che consideri più un maestro e uno più giovane che apprezzi per il suo talento?

Pino Cuttaia lo considero il più grande e dotato di una umiltà che ben pochi hanno, e io avendo servito il Paese sotto le Armi a Licata lo conobbi di persona agli esordi della sua avventura che lo ha portato alle stelle Michelin. Il giovane di grande talento e prospettiva che apprezzo è Roberto Pennino, con il quale ho lavorato in tante occasioni gareggiando in passato insieme per i colori del Culinary Team di Palermo. Lo considero uno dei grandi Maestri Pasticceri dell’intera isola nonostante non abbia nemmeno 30 anni,  nonché un grandissimo intagliatore di vegetali.

Carne o pesce?  Frutta o dessert? Vino bianco o rosso?

Siciliano, pescatore subacqueo e marinaio nel mio passato, abito di fronte al mare … il mare è il mio elemento … non potrei starne lontano … quindi pesce decisamente! Sono un grande appassionato di dessert soprattutto al cucchiaio e quindi li prediligo alla frutta, mentre il vino lo preferisco rosso e liquoroso.

Il tuo cibo di strada preferito?
Nessun dubbio, le Panelle! A Palermo accomunano grandi e piccoli superando i gusti difficili di molti sulle frattaglie. E poi quella pagnottina morbida…

Cosa ne pensi del boom dei programmi tv/reality sulla cucina? Li trovi interessanti? Ne segui qualcuno in particolare?
Penso che dovrebbero essere pensati meglio. Abbiamo assistito con colleghi ad una sovraesposizione della nostra categoria che se da un lato ci ha dato visibilità, dall’altro in molti casi soprattutto di signore della tv che si improvvisano cuoche e dispensano dogmi non sapendo assolutamente di cosa stanno parlando, o non avendo idea di come reggere un coltello da cucina fra le mani, hanno dato un’immagine sfalsata e non vera della cucina. Io dico sempre...vuoi vedere cosa significa fare il cuoco o stare in una  cucina vera? Vieni con me ai fornelli in una domenica di maggio con dodici Comunioni a pranzo e undici a cena … dalle 8 del mattino alle due di notte… allora capirai chi è e cosa fa un cuoco per vivere.

Se volessi festeggiare un avvenimento e non preoccuparti di cucinare per una volta… a quale ristorante (o chef) ti affideresti?
 
Nella provincia di Palermo andrei in tre posti che reputo allo stesso livello. Il Ristorante 'Il Ghiottone Raffinato' di Palermo, il 'Cafè 113' di Casteldaccia, e 'Il Normanno' di Cefalù. Riguardo agli chef non ne menziono uno solo perché sarebbe difficile e non corretto verso altri colleghi.

Qual è secondo te uno dei peggiori luoghi comuni diffuso sulla cucina siciliana?

Il peggiore? Che non abbiamo una gran tradizione di piatti a base di carne, mentre le tavole dei nobili di una volta mettevano alla prova le abilità dei Monsù soprattutto con la selvaggina e la cacciagione da essi stessi predata … sulle tavole nobili siciliane non mancavano mai conigli, lepri, cinghiali, quaglie, pernici, beccacce … non male direi per un’isola!

C’è una cucina straniera che ti affascina particolarmente e perchè?
In assoluto la c
ucina Austriaca per la cura, il fasto e la sontuosità di altri tempi della pasticceria.

Qual è il progetto al quale ti dedicherai prossimamente?
Ad Ottobre ripartiranno i Corsi di Cucina per amatori del Di Cristina’s, la mia ditta privata nella quale ho fortemente creduto e che sin dal primo anno mi ha dato una gran bella risposta. Spero di annoverare un numero sempre maggiore di corsisti e di poter sperimentare la gioia di trasmettere il mio sapere a chi pur non essendo un professionista del settore ha però l’amore per la cucina che accomuna tutti, professionisti e non…non sono geloso delle mie ricette né del mio sapere, anzi, mi piace molto l’idea del condividere…quindi vi aspetto!

Infine non potevo non cogliere l’occasione per ringraziarti per avermi contattato e avermi creduto meritevole dell’onore di un’intervista sul tuo blog. Grazie di cuore infinitamente.
Chef Giuseppe Di Cristina

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"Cous cous Festival", where food and cultures meet


Do you know what is the "Cous cous Festival"? And when & where is it held?
Starting from the 25th until the 30th of September an amazing international and intercultural event will take place in San Vito Lo Capo, a little seaside village in the province of Trapani. I am talking about the Festival of Cous cous on its XVth edition.


Nine countries from all over the world (Ivory coast, Egypt, France, Israel, Morocco, Palestine, Senegal, Tunisia and of course Italy) will partecipate on the race, cooking their special dish of cous cous with either fish, meat or vegetables, according to every local tradition. Afterwards a jury will express its verdict and the winner will receive the award of "Best Cous Cous 2012".


The province of Trapani (San Vito lo Capo, Bonagia, Mazara del Vallo, Marsala, Erice just to name a few spots) has always been famous for having successfully adopted and adapted this Arabic dish with the local ingredients that this part of the island offers, first of all the super fresh catch of the day.

That explains why there is no better area than this one to try the outstanding Sicilian cous cous served with a marvellous fish soup on top, just like
here in the pic on the right; (while the pic above is the view of the lovely Trapanese coast taken from the Erice's Castle).


Please have a look at the event's Official Website for further details if interested: http://www.couscousfest.it/

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Light summer minestra: "Pasta with tenerumi"


Do you know what "tenerumi" are? And how do we cook them with pasta? Tenerumi which basically means 'tender' are the big leaves of the long green squash, a summer vegetable that is used a lot here in Sicily. Infact this recipe is similar to the one with squash, and they are both pasta a minestra. Do you remember my previous recipe: pasta with squash?


I know what you are thinking: a soup dish with pasta during summer? Isn't it too hot for that? Well... you just have to try them and you will answer to that question by yourself.
Now, to prepare the dish with such vegetable is always difficult to tell the exact amount of tenerumi you need, because here in Sicily you find them wrapped in bunches and their volume can change according to the greengrocer.

Ingredients & preparation for 4 people:
A bunch of tenerumi if big, two if medium size
350 gr. broken spaghetti (Ital. spaghetti spezzati)
4-5 ts of tomato sauce
80 gr. matured caciocavallo cheese cut in small pieces
salt (or a bio stock-cube if preferred)
extra virgin olive oil
 
1 clove of garlic
a small piece of fresh ginger
a small piece of dried red pepper


1. Clean the tenerumi, removing the stems and wash the leaves under running water.
2. Put a pot half full of water on a medium heat.
3. Cut the tenerumi in pieces with a sharp knife and when the water boils add salt (or the stock cube) and drop the tenerumi adding the garlic, the red pepper and the ginger.
4. Let them cook for about 15 minutes.
Now at this point you can choose either to follow the traditional process or instead go with the healthier and faster method, but I can assure you the result is absolutely the same.
In the first case with a slotted or perforated spoon you should take the tenerumi out of the casserole and in another frying pan do the soffritto, putting a drizzle of oil, garlic and then the tenerumi, but what I suggest you do instead is simply: (taking from phase 4 in which everything is cooking together)

5. Drop the spaghetti spezzati inside the casserole and let the pasta cook, then add the table spoons of tomato sauce and stir to mix all together like in the pic on the left.
6. Cook until pasta is perfectly al dente and only when it's ready put the little pieces of matured caciocavallo cheese (pic on the right) and some more extra virgin oil of olive in the pot. Mix together again and serve while hot.

You won't find a simpler, warmer and more familiar dish than this one, especially when the first summer rains start to pour (usually at the end of august/beginning of september here). Enjoy!!! :-)


Friday, August 3, 2012

Olimpic Games 2012 & Sicilian food, all in the heart of London


For those who are in London on the occasion of the Olimpic Games 2012: athletes, visitors or just normal citizens of this amazing city, there is a very interesting appointment that you cannot miss.
Let's start saying that in the heart of Covent Garden, precisely at Goodwin's Court, there is a charming Italian restaurant with a Sicilian flair: Giovanni''s. The owner and Chef Pino Ragona is a Sicilian doc, so he cooks both Italian and Sicilian dishes.

In this coming week, 4-11 of August, Goodwin's Court will change name to become "Benvenuta Italia street", a place where all the excellence of Italian food and wine will meet in a kind of one-week exhibition. Especially on the 8th of this month Giovanni's restaurant will celebrate its 60th birthday and chef Ragona has organised a dinner to raise money for the earthquake in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. Newspapers and magazines write that at the event there will be important personalities like former Prime Minister Tony Blair and athletes of different sports.

Apparently the restaurant is used to receive important guests of the music field, but also footballer/soccer players and coatches and even Princess Diana went there once. So if you are wandering around London during the Olimpics don't forget to stop there and have a drink for me. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The basics of Sicilian Cuisine: the "Soffritto"

The soffritto is the basis and essence of Sicilian Cuisine
Do you know what does "soffritto" mean? This word is one of the most common in cooking Sicilian or Italian style. It actually is both a noun and a past participle for us, referred to the verb "to brown" or "to sautee".

In our cuisine we usually distinguish three different types of soffritto: the principal ingredient of the three is obviously the excellent extra virgin oil of olive. Then we can have (according to the dish we have to prepare) a soffritto made with garlic or a soffritto made with onions. The garlic can be normal or "in camicia", (literally with shirt). It means you can use the clove without removing its skin. This happens usually when it's really late and you don't have a minute to spend for peeling the cloves.
We have some pasta condiments that need garlic, some other onions so it really depends on the recipes, normally we tend to use more garlic for fish and onion for meat.
The third one (pic above) is the one that I call the 'mix soffritto' because it is made with a mix of thinly chopped onion, celery and carrots and we use it for long preparations like ragù with minced meat or wherever you need a stronger parfumed soffritto.

Now, it is very important to understand a couple of secrets for the best result of this elementary recipe: (which technically is not a proper recipe but just the first phase of lots of recipes!)
- keep the gas on a medium heat
- do not let the garlic or the onion burn, because we are not frying we are browning so they have to become kind of golden.
- when you cook something like a big piece of meat, prepare the mix soffritto and after 4-5 minutes in which the ingredients are sauteeing and getting golden, add a glass of water and half a glass of white or red wine while the meat is cooking and don't forget some salt and pepper.

So from now on, whenever you find the word "soffritto" you know what you have to do. Have fun :-)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sicilian icons: Paolo Borsellino & the Antica focacceria San Francesco

Do you know what the "Antica focacceria San Francesco" is? And what has to do with Paolo Borsellino? Well, read on and everything will be clarified.


In the city of Palermo, capital of Sicily there is a place that we all consider an "institution", not only because is very famous and the food is great, but also because it's ancient (as the word 'antica' suggests) and traditional.  I am talking about the "Antica focacceria San Francesco" located in via Paternostro, just opposite the church of San Francesco di Assisi, which explains why it got this name. You cannot visit Palermo without going there at least once. 

The focacceria is a unique place because you can find both the Sicilian street food (sfincione, spleen sandwich, pane e panelle and local home cooked dishes such as sarde a beccaficobaked anelletti, eggplants rolls and so on, but also some traditional rotisserie like our famous arancine. Personally I love this place not only for the food but also for the atmosphere, infact when you walk inside you have the illusion of going back in the past somehow... the style, the pictures on the wall, you feel that something is still connected to the ancient times... in some ways and I find it extremely charming and fascinating. I also met John Turturro there :)))

Now, another person born in Palermo that loved to go to this place was: PAOLO BORSELLINO. He was a judje that fought against the mafia all his life and was assassinated by the mob at 52 years old, on july 19th 1992, on a hot sunday afternoon while going to visit his mother. Today we remember the 20th anniversary of his death. 

I want to remember him as well from my blog because talking about food doesn't necessarily mean that we have to forget about the rest. I do CARE and I want readers to know about his sacrifice, his courage, his humanity, his consistency, his professionalism. We owe him a lot and we should try every day to be more like him and follow his example. The world would just be a BETTER PLACE.


Few weeks before his death, he knew that the moment had come for him, he knew he was going to be killed just like some of his collegues before and he also knew the "explosive" had arrived to blow him up, but instead of running away, hiding or disappearing, he continued his work until the very end. That is what makes him such a HERO!

His name is on our airport and our velodrome, he is a Sicilian hero and an example for every human being, but I want you to know he was also a simple man, passionate about his job and his family; he liked cycling and eating fish, and loved to go to the Antica Focacceria.

                                                              WE WILL NEVER FORGET YOU.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sicilian folklore: "Il festino di Santa Rusulia"


Do you know what "festino" (or fistinu) means? Fistinu is the Sicilian word to indicate the Festino of Santa Rosalia, a huge festivity dedicated to the Patron Saint of Palermo: Saint Rosalia. Tradition wants that on the 15th of july 1624 in a cave inside mount Pellegrino, the famous mountain of Palermo were founded the remainings of this virgin saint that had lived as recluse there.


The legend:

In that period Palermo-city was suffering from a terrible plague. The Saint appeared to a man saying that those bones were hers and she suggested that if he would put them on a carriage and go around the city she would cure the people and save them from the plague. So he did and the miracle happened, people actually recovered from the terrible disease and Palermo was safe again.


That's at least the legend we keep remembering. So since then, this great tradition got a foothold and every july the 14th (on the eve of the feast) in the city there is a huge parade.

The carriage (big pic above) with the statue of the Saint starts moving from the Cathedral of Palermo (pic up on the left) to the "Quattro Canti" (pic here on the right) and down to "Porta Felice and the Foro Italico", near the sea (pic below), where everything usually ends with one hour of the most beautiful and colorful fireworks.

A very important moment is when the Mayor gets on the carriage and says the very traditional words: "Viva Palermo e viva Santa Rosalia!" (literally 'Hurrah for Palermo and Saint Rosalia').

It's definetely a mixture of myth, devotion and popular tradition that make this event so particular but it's also important to understand the metaphor behind. We remember those ancient days in which she saved our city from plague, but we hope and pray she can help us cure once again our diseases, setting us free from the evils that afflict our society and our troubled lives. 

While walking in the crowd I met a small group of American tourists looking a bit deafened and dazed about what this was all about. A girl looked at me and said: "We don't understand!"... so I tried to explain a little bit of this story. Hilarious!

If you want to visit western Sicily you are very welcome all year around, but there is no more popular and traditional event than this one to feel and get in touch with the real atmosphere of the capital of Sicily

Just remember that you should be prepared to tolerate the tremendous heat and walk for about 4 hours with thousands and thousands of noisy Sicilians chatting and folkloristicly shouting: "VIVA PALERMO E SANTA ROSALIA!" :-)))

Definetely an experience that cannot be missed!!!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Tonnare indietro nel tempo", the new book of Gaetano Basile


Yesterday I spent a lovely afternoon in the beautiful "Kursaal Tonnara" (pic above). Tonnara is the Italian name for a specific place and comes from the word tonno that means tuna. Infact that was the place where tuna fish were trapped and killed by the fishermen.

Nowadays all the tuna nets, the tonnare, are closed and eventually became something else just like this one that is a place for events, concerts and presentations. And infact just there was presented the new book of Gaetano Basile, journalist and local institution for everything regarding the history of Sicily and the Sicilian food and cuisine. 


His latest book talks about the historical places that were the tonnare, about tuna and about fish in general and has got several recipes too. The title is: "Tonnare indietro nel tempo", which means tonnare back in times. 

I couldn't miss this great event and the pleasure of listening to the story of this traditional places that made our wonderful island special for so many centuries. So thanks Mr. Basile for all you do and your great passion you put into it. Very inspiring!!!


If you want to know more about Prof. Basile you can have a look at his Italian website:
Spaghetti italiani