I have always longed to return to Valparáiso, Chile, South America just to see the how the colours have changed and to see if the artwork is renewed on the walls. The streets of Valparáiso provide a canvas for all sorts of artists as well as home painters, who prefer to use bright colours for external walls. I imagine the walls are always in transition. Steep streets rise up above the busy port, the hilly suburbs accessed via ancient, vertical tram cars or ascensori, which take you from one level to the next. If you walk, goat like, to the upper reaches, you will be rewarded with more colourful views.
In the last month leading up to Christmas, life gets hectic and that, dear readers, is an understatement. Midst all the hoo-ha, congested roads, break ups and shopping frenzy sits the ‘Annual Ballet Concert.’ Many loving parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and assorted others will have attended, or been roped into attending, at least one of these concerts in their lifetime, some out of duty and others out of sheer delight. I sit somewhere between these two sentiments. I have attended most of my granddaughters’ annual concerts over the years but managed to dodge a couple due to quick getaways conveniently pre-planned by Mr Tranquillo. Mr T, who is quite musical but missed out on the dancing gene, finds them a little more tedious than I do, although he sits up eagerly with delight when one of his own granddaughters hits the stage, craning his neck to get a better view.
While these events are professional, with fabulous sound and costumes, well rehearsed prima donnas, held in vast, plush theatres owned by private schools (your taxes at work), my total admiration and respect goes to a couple of attendees, the parents of my son-in-law, Kerry and Robyn. Their unbroken tally now sits at 33 years of annual ballet concerts. Kerry, with a touch of irony intermingled with pride, explained further. He attended his own two daughters’ ballet concerts starting in 1982, but now that the eldest is principal of her own dance school, his participation has escalated over the years to helping backstage and with props. As 6 of his grandchildren also learn ballet, his involvement over the last 8 years has stretched to at least three concerts per year, making a total of 49 annual ballet concerts. Now that is dedication! Kerry and Robyn, take a bow. You deserve a medal.
Have you attended your child’s annual concert this year? Are you a dutiful grandparent, aunt, uncle or friend? Do you feel emotional when your darling comes on stage? Delight, laughter and tears, pride and occasional embarrassment, pure joy tainted with occasional boredom- that’s a ballet concert.
When I first made these un- sausage rolls a few years ago, my died- in- the-wool vegetarian daughter didn’t enjoy them because they tasted too much like the real thing, that is, sausage meat. Like that old advertisement, ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’, one might exclaim, ‘I can’t believe it’s not a sausage roll.’ They’re a lot healthier than the real thing and great to have stashed in the freezer for the silly season. Sausage roll connoisseurs and those with a hangover may feel a little cheated of the fat and unctuous smell. Most will not even notice. Pass the tomato sauce please.
This recipe is for mini bite- sized rolls. If you prefer a larger lunchtime shape, cut the puff pastry squares into halves and fill more generously .
Before you gather your ingredients, remove the four sheets of puff pastry from the freezer and defrost.
1 cup well-drained ricotta cheese
½ cup crushed walnuts
2½ Tablespoons soy sauce
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 ½ cups breadcrumbs made from stale bread
1 ½ cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
3 sheets frozen puff pastry
Heat oven to 18oc fan forced and line biscuit trays with baking paper, or grease if you prefer.
Mix walnuts, eggs, ricotta cheese, onion and soy sauce together in a large bowl.
Add rolled oats, breadcrumbs, herbs, parmesan and salt and pepper and mix well.
Cut pastry sheets into thirds and lay a thin strip of mixture down the middle of each sheet.
Roll up and seal edges with milk.
Flatten the backs of the rolls gently with the back of a knife then cut into 5 or 6 pieces.
Brush each roll with eggwash and place on the baking trays.
Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and cool on a wire rack.
Any scraps of leftover puff pastry can be twisted into shapes and dusted with parmesan then baked until golden.
This recipe is adapted from veggiemama’s version. I have added dried mixed herbs for that old-fashioned sausage roll taste. As I tend to have ricotta on hand, I use this. Mixing by hand is preferable when using ricotta. Other recipes ‘out there’ use fetta or cottage cheese. I have avoided the addition of lentils, as much as I love them, as meat eaters tend to detect them a mile off. And no grated carrots!
There’s not much open space or parkland in the small town of Camogli, south of Genoa, Italy. The town spills down the hillside, with steep one way streets to the sea; parking is a nightmare, and the town is packed on the weekend. It was surprising and delightful, therefore, to find a small open playground so close to the lido, with young lads enjoying a game of soccer on a busy Sunday afternoon.
Things seem to naturally group themselves into trios in China. These peaceful images were taken at Mt Emei Shan, Sichuan Province, China. Chinese Buddhists make pilgrimages to the temple on the mountain, which is traditionally regarded as a place of enlightenment.
Although never a pearl wearer in the past, having my fashion sense indelibly carved out during the height of the hippy era, I now don a set of these freshwater pearls, grey in colour and discreet in size, grown somewhere in the waters of Lombok and sold to me by Dr Pearl.
Dr Pearl is one of those characters who wanders up and down the sandy beach of Sanur, Bali. Commerce is fairly low-key in Sanur and so a travelling beach salesman is not entirely unwelcome, even if the senses are more keenly fastened on a cold Bintang beer with a grilled Mahi Mahi fish steak or passing the time aimlessy gazing at the distant view of Nusa Penida across the water. Barefooted and small of stature, he appears out of the blue, double knotting as he talks, reaching into his small bags of freshwater pearls, strong cotton in hand, twisting, knotting, adding a pearl, and knotting anew. He is a keen salesman and negotiations might take place over a day or a week. He always knows your travel movements and so is not in a hurry to finalise the deal.
He remembers you from year to year, and greets you like an old friend. I always buy exactly the same necklace, in the same colour, each time. His recollection of the price I paid last time, however, is always much higher than mine. His wife and four children live in Lombok, which is not so far by hydrofoil for the average cashed up tourist, but far enough by the old slow boat for the locals. Dr Pearl returns home only a few times a year: his life is firmly entrenched in this small strip of Sanur Beach. If you see Doctor Pearl, give him a chance. He knows when you aren’t interested but always recognises the glint of desire in a woman’s eye.
For Rosalie and Helen, accomplice and witmess to pearl purchasing.
One of my most vivid memories of Palermo is its famous dressing, Salmoriglio, probably because it is so easy to recreate, especially during late Spring when the patch of oregano is at its peak. When I first tried this in a restaurant Palermo, it came drizzled over a thinly cut fillet of pesce spada, or swordfish, along with contorni, a platter of simply grilled vegetables. According to Marisa Raniolo Wilkins, in her cookbook, Sicilian Seafood Cooking, the name comes from its three main ingredients – salt (sale), lemon (limone), and oregano (origano).
Salmoriglio (or Salmorigano) Dressing.
4 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
1 scant tablespoons sea salt flakes
2 tablespoons lemon juice
8 tablespoons EV olive oil
Pound the oregano leaves with the salt in a mortar and pestle. When it forms a paste, add the lemon juice, then the oil and grind in some black pepper. Store in a jar and see how many ways you can use it over a week. As a cold sauce, it is best applied to hot food and then smell all the elements of the ingredients come alive.
‘To eat in Sicily is also to feel that one is tasting the very beginnings of Italian food history. The island has been conquered by virtually every dominant Mediterranean power of the last two or three thousand years’.¹
Inspired by two recent purchases of Sicilian cookbooks, I began to peruse the others in my collection with renewed interest. I have these books strewn about, moving from one to the other, excited by the differences and similarities and the historical references in each, some attributing Turkish and Greek influence to a style of biscuit, others noting the strong Arabic and North African legacy. So while the search is on for a make-ahead biscuit or bread for Christmas, I subject myself to a wonderful distraction as I travel back through that perfumed land of orange blossom and jasmine, the land of ancient Greek monuments, where the sea is never far away from where you are, that land of robust and exotic flavours: Sicily. I hear the words of the 12th century traveller, geographer and cartographer, the Muslim scholar al-Abu Abd Allah Muhammad al-Idrisi al-QurtubiHasani al-Sabti, or simply al Idrisi of Palermo, who was employed by King Roger 11 of Sicily. For 15 years, al Idrisi studied and journeyed, consulting other travellers to produce his great geography book, A Diversion for the Man Longing to Travel to Far off Places. The Sicily that al Idrisi recorded was an island of “carefully watered orchards and gardens where generations of Muslim technical expertise and commercial know-how had bequeathed a rich agriculture of lemons, almonds, pistachio nuts, cane sugar, dates, figs, carobs and more.”² I am there, back in that royal 12th Century court, where “Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Arabic and the dialects of Northern France could all be heard.”³ Did they also eat these delicately spiced Cuddureddi biscuits as they discussed the wonders of the world? One will never know. But as King Roger employed Muslim chefs, I have a fair idea that they did. Cooking can be so distracting for a time traveller like me.
One of the recent purchases, Sicilian Food, Recipes from Italy’s Abundant Isle by Mary Taylor Simeti, 1999, was introduced to me by Debi, at My Kitchen Witch whose recommendations I always trust and inevitably enjoy reading. They are books about cooking, but never contain glossy photographs. Simetti’s book is well researched, documented and timeless. The other, Sicilian Seafood Cooking, by Marisa Raniolo Wilkins, an Australian author with Sicilian heritage, came via a reminder from Roger ( not the Norman King of Sicily) at Food Photography and France whose blog is amusing and often outrageously so. I thank both of you for adding to my divertimento.
This recipe for Cuddureddi Siciliani biscuits comes from My Taste of Sicily by Dominique Rizzo, another Italo-Australiana, and was the most appealing of all the versions in my collection. Dominique learnt it from her Zia Nunzia. The biscuits contain all the essence of Sicily in one Christmassy filling: almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, figs, sultanas and currants, orange peel and marmalade, cinnamon and cloves, dark chocolate and vanilla, with a pastry moistened with Marsala. Eaten without savouring, they do resemble an English mince-pie, but are far more subtle and less cloying.
Cuddureddi Siciliani; makes 20 biscuits
260 g plain flour
70 g caster sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch salt
125 g unsalted butter, chopped
1 tablespoon Marsala
18o ml milk
40 g icing sugar ( for dusting cooked biscuits )
150 g dried figs
35 g slivered almonds
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
100 g currants
50 g sultanas
3 teaspoons orange marmalade
finely grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste
45 g dark couverture chocolate (70 %), chopped or sliced finely.
Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, then transfer to a food processor. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles course breadcrumbs. Add the Marsala to the milk, then with the motor running, add a little of the milk mixture to the flour at a time, processing until it forms a soft dough. Knead the dough on a floured board for 2 minutes, working as quickly as possible to prevent the dough from softening. Roll the dough into a ball, cover with plastic film and leave to rest in the fridge for 1 hour.
2. Cover the figs with boiling water and let them soak for 15 minutes. Drain, remove and discard the stalks. Finely chop the figs.
3. Preheat oven to 200c.
4. Place the almonds, pine nuts and walnuts on a baking tray and roast for a few minutes, and watch that they don’t colour too much. Remove and set aside.
5. Mix the figs, almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, currants, sultanas, marmalade, orange zest, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and chocolate in a bowl. Transfer half of the mixture to a food processor and process for 3 seconds or until it comes together to form a rough paste. Return to the bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.
6. Reduce the temperature to 180c. Lightly grease ( or paper) two baking trays. Briefly knead the dough, then roll it out on a floured work surface until 2 mm thick. Cut the dough into 7 cm rounds with a pastry cutter, then place 1 tablespoon of filling in the centre of each round. Top with another round and brush the edge with a little milk. Press the edges together to form a round pillow.
7. Place the filled biscuits on the baking tray and bake for 2o minutes. Dust immediately with icing sugar and leave to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. These biscuits will keep in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
I found 1 tablespoon of filling too much for the size of these biscuits and recommend that you lessen the quantity to fill the biscuits without splitting the pastry. Be guided by your intuition here.
You will probably not use very much of the Marsala/milk mixture to bring together the pastry. I suggest keeping the Marsala and lessening the amount of milk.
As the recipe is a long one, I suggest making the filling ahead, covering and storing it, then making the pastry and baking on a later day.
These are very rewarding biscuits to make. Other versions include honey, Vincotto and use durum wheat in the pastry. Other shapes are formed too, which I may explore in a future post.
Although not a book about Sicilan cookery, I drew heavily on the opening chapters of John Dickie’s book, Delizia! The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food, Free Press, New York, 2008 which is still my favourite book about Italian food and doesn’t contain a single recipe.
¹ John Dickie, Delizia! The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food, p 15
2 John Dickie, Delizia! The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food. p.19
3 John Dickie, Delizia! The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food. P 23
The power of the face. At the risk of being divorced from my family, I indulgently share a few of my favourite faces today. The first one makes me feel enormously happy and I hope it has this effect on you too.
The next one makes me feel protective and a little sleepy.
Thanks Ailsa for a travel theme that took me close to the heart and home.
The contrada dell’oca, the district of the goose, won the Palio, Siena’s famous horse race, in July 2011. When we stayed in that district in October of the same year, they were still celebrating their victory. Flags adorned the narrow streets and song and chanting could be heard late at night.
I have very fond memories of Siena and would happily return there in a flash, especially in winter when the light is long and low over Il campo and the tourists buses have disappeared, when gentle snow drifts down medieval lanes and the Sienese continue their evening passeggiatta, the hems of long woollen coats sweeping the ancient pathways.