Improved Fennel Polpette

A few weeks ago I prepared fennel ‘meatballs’ for the first time, based upon my memory of having them at the great trattoria Tischi Toschi in Messina, Sicily. I was aware that Luca Casablanca, chef and owner of Tischi Toschi, follows my blog, but I had not imagined that he would react to my post. He did, and he left me some constructive feedback. I loved this, as what better way is there to improve upon my cooking then to get feedback from a master? He wrote: “E’ preferibile non passarle nella farina, l’uva passa deve essere quella nera ” Corinto Nero ” nel soffritto mettere cipolla e non aglio, non pomodoro fresco a pezzi bensì salsa di pomodoro, e mi raccomando di metter almeno la metà di parmigiano . Complimenti e grazie del ricordo.”, which means: “It’s better not to put flour on them, the raisins need to be those black ones “Corinto Nero”, use onions instead of garlic for the sauce, not pieces of fresh tomatoes but a tomato sauce, and I recommend to use only half the parmigiano. Well done and thanks for remembering.”

I decided straight away to honor his reaction by making the polpette di finocchietto again, using his suggestions. As you may remember I was not completely happy with the texture of my first attempt, as they were too wet and didn’t keep their shape. I really needed to fix that as well, as without flour they would be even more prone to falling apart. I decided to wring out the fennel greens with a kitchen towel to remove more water from them, and that worked like a charm. Continue reading “Improved Fennel Polpette”

Seafood Cous Cous

The final dish in the series of Sicilian dishes I cooked for my parents is a seafood cous cous. I’m hesitant to refer to it as “Cous Cous Siciliano”, because I used a few shortcuts. You see, traditional cous cous in Sicily is made from scratch from coarse semolina flour and water, and then steamed in a terra cotta pot with holes in the bottom called a cuscussiera. The cuscussiera is sealed to the pot with simmering water underneath by a simple dough of flour and water. Instead, I used store-bought cous cous (also made from semolina flour) and followed the instruction on the package for cooking it, which says: combine the cous cous with an equal amount of hot water or stock, cover, and wait 7 minutes. That is indeed a whole lot easier, and although I didn’t do a side by side comparison the cous cous didn’t seem any different from what I remember from trying it in Sicily.

In Sicily, cous cous is flavored with bay leaf, cinnamon, almonds, parsley, onion, and garlic, and served with a tomato-fish stock and fish. I made up this recipe using this general guideline and using gurnard (“rode poon” in Dutch) and mussels as the seafood and we loved it. They keys to great cous cous are fresh fish, homemade stock, and not overcooking the fish. When using store-bought cous cous, it’s not that hard.  Continue reading “Seafood Cous Cous”

Sarde a Beccafico (Stuffed Sardines)

Apart from the fennel balls, I prepared another antipasto for my Sicilian dinner: Sarde a Beccafico. We really liked this dish when we had it at Tischi Toschi, and I copied the presentation from there. Sarde a Beccafico can be served either as antipasto or as secondo (main course). Sardines are stuffed with bread crumbs, raisins, anchovies, parsley, pine nuts, sugar, and baked in the oven with some orange juice. This dish is very tasty and easy to prepare if you ask the fishmonger to turn the sardines into fillets for you.

Continue reading “Sarde a Beccafico (Stuffed Sardines)”

Smoked Halibut ‘Pizza’

The following I dish I prepared for the Sicilian dinner was very loosely based upon one of the appetizers at La Madia, the best restaurant in Sicily with two Michelin stars.

DSC05646
The ‘pizza’ at La Madia

This is what I wrote about this dish in my review of our dinner at La Madia: “We were thoroughly fooled by this pizza, because we were wondering how we were going to survive 8 courses if they were all going to be this big. It turned out to be very light actually. What looks like melted mozzarella is actually potato mousse. The crust was only a very crispy very thin round of dough, and underneath the ‘cheese’ there was lovely cod smoked on pine wood and some semi-dried tomato. Great flavors and wonderful presentation. 10/10”

The dish I prepared is by no means an attempt at recreating chef Pino Cuttaia’s dish, but it has been heavily inspired by it. My ‘pizza’ was made with hot-smoked halibut, potato mousse, and semi-dried tomatoes. It was more substantial than at La Madia and I served it as a main course. Continue reading “Smoked Halibut ‘Pizza’”

Fennel ‘Meatballs’ (Polpette di Finocchietto)

As an appetizer for my Sicilian dinner I prepared vegetarian meatballs made from fennel and dill, served with a tomato sauce. In Italy these polpette di finocchietto are made with wild fennel greens, which grow abundantly in Italy in spring. For lack of the wild fennel greens, I decided to use a mixture of fennel fronds (the green stuff on top of fennel bulbs) and dill. We loved the polpette di finocchietto during our wonderful dinner at Tischi Toschi, the best trattoria of Sicily in the port town of Messina. I did not ask for the recipe, so this is my own version. They came out great with a lot of flavor. If you’d like to cook vegetarian, this is also very suitable as a main course. Continue reading “Fennel ‘Meatballs’ (Polpette di Finocchietto)”

Cassata Siciliana

In April we travelled through Sicily and I came back with a lot of ideas for Sicilian dishes to cook. Last night my parents came over for dinner, and for the first time since I can’t remember I prepared five all new dishes in a single day. All of them inspired by meals we had in the best restaurants of Sicily. My parents don’t mind being guinea pigs, and although I have thought of some improvements for the next time I make these dishes, all of them came out very tasty if I do say so myself. Since it’s been so long that I’ve blogged about dessert, I’m starting at the end.

DSC05563-001
Cassatina in a trattoria in Erice

Cassata is a traditional cake from Italy made with sweetened ricotta, marzipan, candied fruit, and sponge cake (pan di spagna). Cassata can be decorated very elaborately with different kinds of candied fruit and icing, but when we had it for dessert in restaurants in Sicily, we got a single-portion cassatina that was decorated quite simply with a few pieces of candied fruit and icing. Since I had five different dishes to prepare in a single day, I decided to go for the simple option. Perhaps I’ll do a more baroque version in winter with homemade candied fruit and homemade marzipan. Continue reading “Cassata Siciliana”

Swordfish Sicilian Style (Pesce Spada alla Siciliana)

Even though I didn’t actually have this dish while I was in Sicily recently, I did see it on menus everywhere and I thought it would be appropriate to include it in the series of Sicilian recipes I’m doing. The swordfish is cooked in a tomato sauce bursting with flavor of onions, garlic, anchovies, capers, olives, and cayenne pepper. This is an easy dish to make, as long as you lower the heat (or even turn it off) when you finish cooking the fish to avoid overcooking it. Continue reading “Swordfish Sicilian Style (Pesce Spada alla Siciliana)”

Arancine (Sicilian Rice Balls)

Without a doubt, the regional snacks of Sicily are arancine or arancini. These are deep-fried balls of rice, stuffed most often with a ragù (meat sauce) and peas, but also with other stuffings such as cheese. Arancini are everywhere in Sicily, and we liked them so much that we had them for lunch almost every day during our trip.

DSC05371
Arancini for lunch in Monreale (near Palermo)

Arancini have been named after oranges (arancie), because they look so much like them. In the West of Sicily they have a round shape and are female  (1 arancina, 2 arancine), whereas in the East of Sicily they are pear-shaped and are male (1 arancino, 2 arancini). This could mean that the eastern name is more ‘Sicilian’, because oranges are male in Sicilian (arànciu) contrary to female in Italian (arancia). I entitled this post arancine because I made round ones, but I like the sound of arancini better so that’s how I’ll call them.

DSC05372
Looking inside: rice, ragù and peas

After coming home, arancini were high on my list of Sicilian delicacies to prepare. They turned out to be relatively easy to make and very good. When we had arancini for lunch in Sicily, they had been lying in a display case for a while and were heated up in a microwave oven. This has an advantage that the flavors have the opportunity to blend, but the crust is not crispy. My homemade arancini were freshly deep-fried and thus very crispy. Next time I’ll make them earlier to allow the flavors to blend before deep-frying them. But even deep-fried straight away they were delicious! Continue reading “Arancine (Sicilian Rice Balls)”

Caponata

Caponata is a sweet & sour Sicilian dish, consisting of eggplant simmered in tomatoes with other ingredients such as olives and pine nuts. It is eaten either as antipasto (appetizer) or as contorno (side dish) and can be served warm or at room temperature. As with many traditional Italian dishes, there are a lot of different versions of Caponata. I like a slightly ‘minimalistic’ version that does not have too many ingredients. Continue reading “Caponata”

Busiate alla Trapanese

Each region in Italy has its own pasta shape, and in western Sicily around Trapani this is busiate. Like other fresh pasta from the south of Italy it is made from durum wheat flour (semola di grano duro rimacinato) and water only, no eggs. Although it is also available dried, busiate are best when freshly made. Homemade busiate are thin hollow tubes of pasta, about 7 cm (3″) in length and with a diameter of about 4 mm (1/6″). Fancier types have the same dimensions, but resemble telephone cord.

IMG_0787
Busiate alla Trapanese as served at U Sfizziusu

The first time I’ve ever tried busiate was at a great trattoria called U Sfizziusu in San Vito Lo Capo, a beach town close to Trapani. There I had Busiate alla Trapanese, busiate with Pesto alla Trapanese. Trapani and Genova are both port towns, and interaction between the two has introduced the concept of pesto from Genova to Trapani. Pesto alla Genovese is made with basil and pine nuts, whereas the principal ingredients of pesto alla trapanese are tomatoes and almonds. Whereas there exists an official recipe for Pesto alla Genovese, this is clearly not the case for pesto alla trapanese. Tomatoes, almonds, and garlic are in all of them. I’ve encountered version with our without (Sicilian) pecorino cheese, whereas thanks to a post by Chef Mimi I found out that Nigella Lawson even adds capers, raisins, anchovies, and chile pepper. I decided to make it as I remember it from U Sfizziusu: with minimal ingredients but great flavor nonetheless. I only left out the eggplant, because I was already serving caponata as part of the same dinner. Continue reading “Busiate alla Trapanese”

Dining in Sicily: La Gazza Ladra*

DSC05700
The final stop in our Sicilian food tour was La Gazza Ladra, a restaurant with one Michelin star located in the hotel Palazzo Failla in the Baroque town of Modica. The hotel and the restaurant are situated in a historic building.

DSC05719
On the Tuesday night when we visited there were only two other tables occupied in the classy dining room. The competition is stiff in this region of Silicy with La Madia and Il Duomo (in Ragusa) close by. The wonderful dinner we had at La Madia was a tough act to follow, and we only visited them in this order because that fitted with our itinerary. Besides à la carte there are two degustation menus, one for 80 euros and one for 95. As such, La Gazza Ladra is cheaper than La Madia and only half the price of Il Duomo. Continue reading “Dining in Sicily: La Gazza Ladra*”

Dining in Sicily: La Madia**

DSC05643
The chef checking his e-mail before the first guests arrived. From the outside the restaurant looks very small, but there is a spacious dining room behind the facade.

Licata is a port town in southern Sicily near Agrigento that doesn’t have much going for it except for the fact that Pino Cuttaia was born here and opened up a restaurant, La Madia. On a Monday night in April the restaurant was full, and I am pretty sure that most of those people came to Licata just to eat here (like we did).

I wrote before about Gambero Rosso and how to rate trattorie with 1, 2 or 3 prawns. Similarly, they rate restaurants with 1, 2 or 3 forks. There is only one restaurant with 3 forks (tre forchette) in Sicily, and this is it. The restaurant also has two Michelin stars. I tend to agree more with Gambero Rosso’s judgements in Italy than I do with Michelin’s, and that holds up in this case as well. Continue reading “Dining in Sicily: La Madia**”

Dining in Sicily: u Sfizziusu

We ended up in the nice sea town of San Vito lo Capo, on the northern coast of Sicily near Trapani, by accident. We were supposed to go to the island of Pantelleria, but our flight got cancelled and we decided to go here instead. It was raining when we arrived, so we decided to have a full pranzo (lunch) like the Italians eat, rather than our usual snack for lunch such as a slice of pizza or  Sicilian rice balls (arancini). Continue reading “Dining in Sicily: u Sfizziusu”

Dining in Sicily: Officina del Gusto Bye Bye Blues

Bye Bye Blues is a well-known restaurant in Palermo with a Michelin star. We didn’t go there but to their trattoria called “Officina del Gusto” (Taste Workshop). We didn’t go to the restaurant so it’s hard to compare, but the prices are lower and I expect the restaurant to be more formal than the trattoria. Continue reading “Dining in Sicily: Officina del Gusto Bye Bye Blues”

Dining in Sicily: Nangalarruni

Our next dining stop in Sicily was in Castelbuono, a charming little town in the Madonie mountains in the North of Sicily. Even though it’s only half an hour from the sea, it is very much a mountain town and the restaurants here have meat on the menu rather than fish. The speciality of Nangalarruni are even mushrooms, which unfortunately our out of season at the moment. Continue reading “Dining in Sicily: Nangalarruni”

Dining in Sicily: Tischi Toschi

Gambero Rosso is an Italian gourmet magazine that amongst other things publishes a guide with their reviews of restaurants in Italy. It is similar to the Michelin Guide, but I find that for Italy I tend to agree more with Gambero Rosso’s judgements than those of Michelin. Restaurants get awarded one, two or three forks (forchette), whereas trattorie may receive one, two or three prawns (gamberi). Only 16 trattorie in all of Italy have received 3 gamberi in the 2013 guide, and Tischi Toschi in Taormina is one of them (when I visited Tischi Toschi, it was still located in Messina). We make a point of eating at trattorie with tre gamberi and even before going to Tischi Toschi last night we had already eaten at 6 out of the 16.

Tischi Toschi is a small restaurant, run by Luca Casablanca and his son. For Luca, who was trained to be a jeweller,  food is a passion and it clearly shows. The restaurant serves authentic Sicilian dishes. Continue reading “Dining in Sicily: Tischi Toschi”