Sicilian Christmas Sweet Balls.

Last year I pulled the plug on Christmas as I felt that¬†some traditions had run their course, that our traditions needed to be rewritten. Now, as I look back on my 2016 December posts, my outlook didn’t deter me from baking some interesting Christmas sweets.¬†Last year’s Sicilian biscotti were winners for me and mine: I gave away many little parcels of these treats. A few of my readers made these last year, with variations on the theme too, using different fruits and methods.

The first recipe includes dried sour cherries. By all means, use whatever dried fruit you have on hand, remembering to chop or cut it first. This year, I reduced the size of the balls a little, although my photos still show them looking rather large! The recipe produces around 30.

Ready to cook.

Amaretti di Cioccolato e Ciliegia/  Chocolate, cherry and almond biscuits

  • 250 g finely ground almonds
  • 120 g caster sugar
  • 50 g dark ( 70%) chocolate, grated
  • 60 g dried sour cherries, chopped
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 extra-large egg whites, ( 700) or¬†three medium
  • a pinch of salt
  • 30 g icing/confectioners‚Äô sugar

Preheat the oven to 160 c.

Mix the almonds, sugar, chocolate, cherries and lemon zest together. Whisk the egg whites until firm and fold it into the almond mixture with the salt. Mix well. The mixture should be damp. If you have used two egg whites and feel that the mixture needs a bit more moisture, beat another until stiff and add it to the mixture.

Place the icing sugar in a bowl. Roll the mixture into small 3cm balls, then toss them into the icing sugar to coat well. Place them on paper lined baking sheets.

Bake until they have a golden tinge, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Makes around 30 balls. 

The other Sicilian Christmas sweets made were almond balls from Agrigento. They fill the room with the heady aroma of spice and honey as they cook. Like the almond and cherry balls, they are dusted in icing sugar before they are cooked. This removes the annoying dusting of sugar snow on your face and clothing when popping these straight into your mouth.

Fior di Mandorle.  Almond pastries with honey and spice

  • 200 g freshly ground almonds or almond meal
  • 50 g/3 tablespoons of fragrant clear honey
  • 100 g caster sugar
  • grated zest of ¬†1 small organic orange
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 ¬†large, or two very small beaten egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon orange liquor such as Cointreau, or vanilla`
  • icing/confectioners sugar for coating

Preheat the oven to 150c.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mix all the ingredients together and mix well till the dough is moist. Your hands are the best tools for this task.

Shape into smooth little cakes around 3 cm in diameter.  Roll in icing sugar then place onto a baking paper lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack. Makes around 20.

Dear friends and readers, did you make these sweets last December? What lovely dried fruits did you substitute? I am thinking that chopped fig might go well in the first recipe.

I See Fire. Wildfire in Como.

Now I see fire, inside the mountain
I see fire, burning the trees
And I see fire, hollowing souls
And I see fire, blood in the breeze.   Ed Sheeran.

One of my favourite Ed Sheeran songs came rushing in as I watched a blazing wild-fire gain momentum on the peaks of the densely wooded forest high above Lake Como. It was a windy night, following yet another unseasonably warm late autumn day. The dark mountains near the comunes of Veleso and Tavernerio were on fire, the lines gaining speed and the fire front broadening. The few people we saw around the village and in the local osteria in Laglio didn’t look perturbed, and as I didn’t have access to the internet or television, I had to assume that this was a controlled burn off. Or an out of control controlled burn off. If I had been at home in Australia, I would have been terrified.

Il bilancio degli incendi nel Comasco: distrutti 400 ettari di bosco E il fuoco non è ancora domato (Il video)
Photo by Andrea Butti, La Provincia di Como.

The next day we woke to the low buzzing sound of helicopters and Canadairs. The war was on. Not unlike a scene from Apocalypse Now, the planes swooped down into the lake, filled their tanks with water, then rose back into the sky in a circular aerial ballet before dropping their load on the smoking mountain. The mission went on all morning, though I did notice that all action ceased at 1pm: nothing, absolutely nothing, gets in the way of an Italian lunch! After the first day, the fire was still visible and threatening to take off once again. The helicopters and Canadairs kept up their vigilant water bombing for three more days until the area was declared safe.

Coming from a bushfire prone district in the low wooded hills, the designated Green Wedge and lungs of  Melbourne, and having been personally affected by the disastrous Black Saturday bushfire of 2009, I was keen to find out what was going on. This required those old-fashioned and timeless investigative skills- chatting  to locals, asking more questions, and buying the local newspaper in Como from a very happy dope smoking giornaliao. 

The gentle dock master down at the Urio ferry stop was concerned about the lack of rain. It was late October, only a few days before All Saint’s Day, and yet it hadn’t rained for two months. The weather had been warm with temperatures in the mid twenties. The little lakes and sources of water high up in the mountains had dried up, and at night the ‘cinghiali, caprioli, volpi, lepri e cervi scendono per bere al lago’,¬†(¬†the wild boars, roe deer, foxes, hare and deer come down to drink at the lake). He looked concerned, apprehensive even, like some modern day St Francis. ‘They hide during the day,’ he said, ‘even the wolves come down to drink at night.’

By Monday, the newspaper was full of reports, with pictures of fire fighting scenes taken at the fire front, which was estimated to be around 400 hectares. The local brigade, i vigili del fuoco and the local fire fighting volunteers were praised, and along with the aerial bombardment, the fire was kept away from hilltop farms, ancient trails, and the densely populated small lakeside villages. There was some discussion about pyromaniacs and the careless cigarette butt throwing drivers. The following day, another article suggested that the blaze began as a result of a contadino, a peasant farmer, doing some cleaning up by burning off.

In later discussions with other Lombardi, it was suggested that these fires may have been deliberately lit by those wanting to buy land cheaply. Start a fire, watch your neighbour’s land burn, then snap it up for a bargain price. The pernicious Sicilian mafia are alive and well in Lombardy. This behaviour is well documented in the rural areas of Sicily but in Como?

I raised the issue of global warming and the need for more care and vigilance in summer and autumn. The locals do worry about long, hot and rainless autumns that are becoming the norm, as well as the perennial yellow smog that chokes the beautiful historic towns, villages and hamlets within a 30 kilometre radius of Milano. They are also concerned about the long-term pollution of their underground drinking water, necessitating reliance on plastic bottled drinking water in some parts, about the nuclear waste buried under a recently constructed road in Lombardy that can never be removed (construction contracts have been handed out to the mafia as local government corruption takes hold in the North) as well as a raft of other environmental issues confronting Northern Italy. But global warming? Beh, what can you do? The issues are huge.

The blaze in the Comasco hills cost around ‚ā¨500,000 (AU$750,000) to quell. Let’s hope this fire was an aberration, but also a warning and a message.

And a link to that song can be found here.

 

 

 

More Christmas Balls. Almond Flowers from Agrigento

A few days ago, I made a batch of Sicilian Cherry and Chocolate Amaretti, (Amaretti di Cioccolato e Cilegie ). They disappeared too quickly: some were wrapped up and given away, others popped into our own merry mouths. Sicilian sweets taste so evocative, medieval and ancient. All the flavours of the island seem to be rolled up in these little festive biscuits- dried fruits and figs, orange and lemon peel, Marsala wine, Arabic spices, honey, almonds, pine nuts and pistachio, to name a just a few ingredients favoured by the Siciliani.

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Ready to go out the door. Fior di Mandorle.

This year’s festive cooking is beginning to look like a cook’s tour around Sicily. Last week Siracusa, now today’s festive balls, Fior di Mandorle,¬†a specialty of Agrigento. Come to Sicily with me this month as I delve into my collected recipes from each major town. Map provided, in¬†aid¬†of travel fantasy.

I love a good map.
I love a good map.

Fior di Mandorle.  Almond pastries with honey and spice

  • 200 g freshly ground almonds or almond meal
  • 50 g/3 tablespoons of fragrant clear honey
  • 100 g caster sugar
  • grated zest of ¬†1 small organic orange
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 ¬†large, or two very small beaten egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • icing/confectioners sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 150c.

Mix all the ingredients together, then knead until the oils from the almonds are released into the pastry.

Shape into smooth little cakes around 3 cm in diameter. Place onto a baking paper lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack, then dust generously with icing sugar. Makes around 20.

Adapted from Flavours of Sicily, Ursula Ferrigno 2016.

xx
Fior di Mandorle. A taste of honey and spice. Very Arabic.

My next Sicilian instalment will be¬†Nucatoli, from Modica, which are similar to last year’s Cuddureddi, but come in an amazing shape.

Salmoriglio- The Sicilian Dressing

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Spiedini di salmone alla griglia con salmoriglio. – Grilled salmon kebabs with salmoriglio dressing.

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 Рsalt (sale), lemon (limone), and oregano (origano).

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Salmoriglio  (or Salmorigano) Dressing.

  • 4 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
  • 1 scant tablespoons sea salt flakes
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 8 tablespoons EV olive oil
  • black pepper

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.

 

 

p-p-p-
Drizzled over a Pizza Romana

 

 

 

 

Cuddureddi Siciliani. Time Travelling Biscuits for the Festive Season

Cuddureddi per Natale
Cuddureddi per Natale

‘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’.¬Ļ

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-Qurtubi Hasani 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.”¬≤¬† 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.”¬≥ 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.

I siciliani
I siciliani

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.

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Cuddureddi Siciliani; makes 20 biscuits

The Pastry

  • 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 )

The Filling

  • 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
  • ¬ľ 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.
  1. 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.
pastry for the cuddureddi
pastry for the cuddureddi

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.

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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.

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Notes:

  • 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.
biscotti eleganti
biscotti eleganti

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.

¬Ļ 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

Swordfish Inspired by the Mezzogiorno

The Mezzogiorno,¬†a term used to describe Southern Italy, is “hot, dry and sea-girt, wracked by earthquake and eruption.” It is “the furthest part of¬†Italy from Europe and the nearest to the rest of the world.” So opens Peter Robb’s Midnight in Sicily, a chilling look at the role of the Mafia in Sicily at the end of the 20th century.¬Ļ It’s odd, but when I see Pesce Spada or swordfish for sale at the fishmongers, I think of Midnight in Sicily¬†and then I recall Palermo. These three things are always interconnected in my mind- fish, book, place. Before visiting Palermo in 2000, I had never eaten this species of fish. I do now, but only rarely, when the pale pink slices look seasonally tempting and I know the fish monger well enough to ask him to slice the steak horizontally into two much thinner slices. I like my swordfish really thin, a little like a large flattened schnitzel. They are then fried quickly and briefly and served in the Palermitano way, that is¬†in salmoriglio, with¬†a mere dribble of a sauce made from finely chopped oregano, parsley, garlic, capers, lemon zest and olive oil. In winter when fresh oregano is on the wane, I make a robust sauce of pounded rosemary, garlic, lemon zest, salt and olive oil. ¬†Served with a neat pile of lightly cooked spinach, a wedge of lemon and a few waxy potatoes, I’m back to Palermo again.

Pece Spada con Salsa di Rosmarino
Pesce Spada con Salsa di Rosmarino

With the rest of my piece of Swordfish, as one slice is always too much for one meal, I concoct a little Spaghetti Puttanesca. There is much debate about the origin of this dish with its amusing name involving a prostitute. It seems that it was invented in the 1960s, not by the busy whore or puttana¬†of the title, but by a restaurateur on Ischia, who, short of ingredients, threw this dish together, in response to some customers who demanded ¬†‘Facci una puttanata qualsiasi.’ (make whatever rubbish you have).¬≤¬†Some essentials are garlic, some canned chopped tomato, but not too much juice which makes the pasta swim, a few chopped capers and black olives, parsley or basil, and anchovies. Sometimes I start my version with one finely chopped onion cooked down in olive oil, then I add the chopped garlic, and then small cubes of swordfish. When these components are just cooked, the odds and ends¬†are added in order,¬†then in goes the cooked pasta for a quick toss around in the sauce, then the chosen fresh herb. In the spirit of the original, it is thrown together. I am a working girl too, in cucina e nell’orto!

Spaghetti Putanesca con Pesce Spada
Spaghetti Putanesca con Pesce Spada

These two fish meals for two were based on 450 gr piece of swordfish (AU$11.00). After it was sliced thinly, the first meal was portioned at of around 135 gr each, and the rest went into the pasta dish the following day. Supermarket pre-cut portions of fish are too large, usually around 220 gr per piece. Fishmongers will usually oblige and cut your fish the way you like it which is another good reason to avoid supermarkets and stores with pre-packaged plastic wrapped food.

  • ¬Ļ Midnight in Sicily, Peter Robb 1996
  • ¬≤¬†https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaghetti_alla_puttanesca

In My Kitchen, March 2015

In my kitchen are some wonderful gifts from my next door neighbour, Anna. ¬†Anna’s bay tree is huge and enjoys a good trim if you can reach its soaring branches. Bunches of bay leaves look lovely in the kitchen but are also good for deterring moths in the pantry. A clean out is overdue and these bay leaves will be taped to the walls and under the shelves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnna, who is Greek and 85 years old, still makes the best spanakopita and loukoumades, Greek doughnuts dipped in honey. Sadly there are no pictures as these get devoured as soon as they arrive. She also bought in a bottle of Ouzo and Sparkling wine, and a full-sized hand-woven rug that she made when she was a young woman in Greece. Beautiful gifts in return for a bit of shrub removal. Anna brings in biscuits most weeks, just because she has made them! ¬†She has two kitchens: the pretty show kitchen that looks like it has never been used and the real kitchen out the back in the laundry, where all the serious cooking occurs. Popping in for a coffee at Anna’s place is not to be taken lightly. She serves wedges of chilled Kasseri or Kefalograviera¬†cheese, warmed tiropitakia, honey biscuits or almond crescents dusted with icing sugar, cut and chilled wedges of fruit, chocolates, ouzo and really bad Nescafe coffee which the Greeks of Melbourne seem to favour. Although she doesn’t speak much English and I have failed to learn Greek, we get by very well and speak the same language- that of friendship and love. One day I’ll get in her back kitchen when she is cooking.

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In my kitchen are the first Clapps Favourite pears. They are an early season variety and the fruit ripens very quickly once picked. The fruit is large and tasty and don’t last long as kitchen art.

clapps favourite pear
clapps favourite pear

In my kitchen there is a fresh supply of lentils, chick peas, bulgar wheat and other dried goods from Bas Foods in Brunswick, one of my favourite shops. These go well in curries and soups and are my main source of protein and iron.

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At least once a week we eat a simple curry based on these goods which are complemented with things from the garden.

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In my kitchen there are still loads of tomatoes. I have made passsata, tomato and chilli jam, gazpacho soup and am now about to borrow a dehydrator to deal with the many baskets of little yellow pear tomatoes, Romas and the funny black blushed ones.

waiting in the kitchen. Dehydrate, kassundi or passata?
Waiting in the kitchen. Dehydrate, kassundi or passata?
Tomato chilli jam
Tomato chilli jam
Gazpacho - using up the cucumber and tomato glut.
Gazpacho – using up the cucumber and tomato glut.

I purchased these bulk tagliatelle egg pasta at Gervasi supermarket in Brunswick. Three kilo of nidi, or nests cost $10.00. They are stored in a large plastic bread bin from the bakery. These are great for 10 minute meals of pasta and garden goodness with oil and anchovy, herbs and Parmigiano. If you want to experience a real Italian vibe, the deli and butcher counters at Gervasi will transport you back to Italy in a flash. More autentico than the Mediterraneo Wholesalers.

bulk tagliatelle
bulk tagliatelle

Speaking of Italy, which I often do, I am enjoying Dominique Rizzo’s My Taste of Sicily¬†very much. Although I have owned it for a couple of years, it has decided to take up residence in my kitchen this month. I love the vibrancy of Sicilian food: food of the sun, it works well in the Australian climate.

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Siciliani love chilli and so do I. Excess chilli dry out on the bench and will be crushed then turned into chilli oil.

chilli drying, waitig to be crushed or turned into chlli oil.
chilli drying, waiting to be crushed or turned into chlli oil.

Finally my secret ingredient for making tasty frangipane cakes. Two tablespoons for the cake and a nip for me. One also for Celia, at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial who hosts this monthly round up of world kitchens. Follow the link and enjoy them all.

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Swordfish with Tomato, Chilli and Caper sauce.

I am calling this Pesce Spada alla Putanesca as it reminds me of Sicily.

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It was with some reluctance that I decided to throw my recipe into the ring of the¬†Cookbook Guru¬†this month. Firstly, I don’t own a Karen Martini book and I was never tempted to make any of her recipes when they were¬†syndicated¬†weekly in the Sunday Magazine some time back. They just didn’t appeal. ¬†But on a recent trip to the library with Mr Tranquillo, haunter¬†of libraries and frequent borrower, I came across a copy of Karen Martini’s “Cooking at Home.” ¬†After reading the book cover to cover, I was pleasantly surprised and I have already made two dishes from this book, this dish and a pear dessert ( coming soon).

A recent rule I have inflicted on myself is to use up what’s on hand when choosing or inventing a recipe. ¬†As I had already purchased a nice slab of¬†Pesce¬†Spada¬†or¬†Sword Fish¬†from the Preston Market, and had all the other ingredients in my pantry, Karen’s Sword Fish with Tomato, Chilli and Caper sauce ticked all the boxes. I have given the dish the Italian title above as the sauce is very reminiscent of a classic¬†Putanesca¬†sauce. ( it only lacked the anchovies). ¬†And just like the¬†putana,¬†or prostitute of the original, I too had all the ingredients on hand to throw into the sauce. This dish is very¬†piccante,¬†assertive, gustoso. ¬†Any sustainable fish could be substituted, bearing in mind that a delicate fish would be swamped by the flavour. The beauty of this dish is that the sauce can be made ahead: indeed it develops more flavour and thickens, but leave out the basil until reheating. ¬†Snapper or Barramundi could work well too. A nice Pinot Noir or Sangiovese pairs well with this dish.

Serves 4

  • 200¬†mls¬†extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 7¬†caperberries, drained and sliced or 2¬†Tbles¬†of capers
  • 4 ¬†Tbles¬†black olives, pitted, (halved)
  • 1 teas dried chilli flakes
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 200¬†mls¬†white wine ( dry for example Pinot¬†Grigio¬†or Chardonnay)
  • 3 cups chunky tomato pasta sauce (passata)
  • 2 handfuls basil leaves ( oregano would be a good substitute)
  • 4 swordfish, ( about 120 grs each) cut in half lengthways ( remove gristly bits)

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook the garlic for 1-2 minutes or until just golden, then add the caperberries, olives, chilli flakes, and salt to taste. Stir. Then pour in the wine and bring to the boil. Add the tomato sauce (sugo or passata), and simmer over low heat for about 5 minutes or until thickened. Check seasoning and stir in most of the basil.

Brush the swordfish with olive oil and season. Heat a large non stick frying pan over high heat and sear the fish for about two minutes on each side or until just cooked ( and golden).

Spoon the sauce onto four plates or a large platter and top with the fish. Scatter with extra basil and serve with a salad and crusty bread.

I followed the recipe for once! Anything above in brackets are my small notes. The saucing is generous so do include some good bread, or serve with some soft polenta.

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A little note re the tomato passata. As I was not able to make tomato sauce this year due to the humble, no pathetic, quantity from my garden, I found this great sauce at BAS foods in Brunswick. It tastes just like one Nonna would make.