loveSicily Blog

Euro Blogging By Post - A parcel from Birmingham!

Euro Blogging By PostSome days ago a Royal Mail parcel arrived here in Sicily all the way from Birmingham. Now who could this be... we open it up and there is jam and cookies and chocolate and some strange looking herbal tablets and a collection of postcards from Birmingham. The first postcard read "... here is the parcel of goodies for EBBP".

Of course! Andrew at Spittoon had the great idea of organising bloggers in Europe to post each other different ingredients and ours arrived from Birmingham. The irony is that we actually spend quite a few years very close to Birmingham in Warwick University :-)

Melissa of Hecticium prepared a wonderful package for us with home-made plum jam, which is still much appreciated in the mornings; some wonderful raspberry cookies, which alas are a distant memory now; a bottle of banana ketchup (still gathering the courage to open that one up!); Gray's herbal tablets that we do like (apparently they are like marmamite you either hate them or love them); two bars of Cadbury's chocolate, since she lives so close to the factory (even if the actual bar was from France!); a Jilebi mix (for an Indian style sweet which we fully intent to try out; and, last but not least, a recipe for chocolate sauce.

Can't thank Melissa enough for the well thought out package and will be reporting on the banana ketchup soon!

Autumn cookery cooking

Here we are from one cookery course to the other with some pictures and a short report on our first autumn 2005 cookery course.

First of all, our thoughts go to Anne and Luis who had to cancel to remain in the US and help relatives affected by Katrina. We hope they will be able to join us soon for another course.

The first day of the course was dedicated to a visit of Ortigia, the old town of Siracusa, where we went to have a look at the market. The colors, the smells and the crowd of locals buying fresh fish and vegetables make it a wonderful introduction to the rest of the week.


  

The second day, we started working in the kitchen on the menu rustico. We prepared scacci with various fillings (aubergines, onions, potatos, ricotta and salsiccia, etc) and the classic cassatina di pasqua - pastry filled with ricotta with sugar and lemon zest. The highlights of the day where the "pastizzu di pesce" with fresh tuna and vegetables and a "scaccia a rota" with anchovies and cheese and pine nuts.


  


  

In the afternoon we were entertained by a very local event in a nearby village Testa dell'Acqua, their famous donkey Race, which is fanstastic because it is amything but a race. More a collection of humans and donkeys trying to explain to each other the terms of interaction and failing gloriously to achieve it.




The morning after, we focused on fish based recipes. We prepared the Tortino di Alici, a Cipollata di Tonno and a Dentex with pomegranate that we cooked in the oven with a crust of rock salt. We also enjoyed Chef Salvatore Guarino's new interpretation of the traditional Sarda al Beccafico and "Tonno alla mia maniera" with a ricotta stuffed mozzarella.


  


  

In the afternoon we had an olive oil tasting and a wine tasting session in the estate of Felice Modica, local prize winner olive oil producer and wine producer.


  

On the Tuesday, our highlight of our lunch at Il Duomo is not probably what some of our guests would have chosen, but we just loved it. Ciccio Sultano surprised us with a wonderful spoon of row meet served with egg yoke and a glass of Marsala wine. This was his reinterpretation of what his grandmother used to give him when he was a child to get some strength back after a flue. We certainly get enough strength to keep cooking for the rest of the week.

In fact the day after we were back in the kitchen for a meat based menu. We had fun preparing the traditional arancini (spot the odd one out in the picture below!) and enjoyed especially the preparation of a beef fillet marinated with sugar and salt and then served on a cauliflower sauce.


  


  

The afternoon was dedicated to Modica and its chocolate; we visited Antica Dolceria Bonajuto for a chocolate demonstration and tasted also some of their excellent almond based biscuits. The last day in the kitchen we prepared two autumn versions of the Tortino di riso grigliato and the Raviolo aperto, two successful dishes during the spring courses.


  

In all a very enjoyable course both for the cooking and the great people we had with us. We even had a brief visit from a fellow blogger - Alberto of Il Forno (which you can just about make out in one of the photos above) with his wonderful wife decided to explore our corner of Sicily and spend a couple of days with us during the course!

Finally we leave you with a picture of the sunset at Felice Modica's winery.




Custard alla mandorla con cioccolato modicano

We've just finished a week-long cookery course, this is the first day that we did not spend 5 hours in the morning in the kitchen and we are cooking a custard sweet to enter into Sugar High Friday…

I guess along the graph of food obsession we are way beyond the median.

The discussion went something along these lines…

- Today it’s Sugar High Friday. I think they are doing custard.
- Custard? That’s nice.
- What custard do you think we would do if we were not this tired from the course?

Autumn

AlmondsCarubsOne of the beautiful things of an area that has a rich agricultural tradition is that seasons suddenly gain their importance once more – it is not just a hotter/colder/more rainy period of the year but a time where specific tasks are repeated and can only be repeated at this time because nature is just that way.

Case in point for autunm are carobs and almonds, olives and grapes. Autumn is the time where families would reunite and move from one field to the other to pick the produce – a task that requires many hands. Friends would team up with other friends and exchange labour so both fields are completed in time.

In our modern 21st century the same old structures are not there but thankfully the produce still gets collected. The majority of young Sicilians are not really that interested in getting their hands dirty in the fields. Instead, the countryside now depends on the crucial lifeline of seasonal workers, which in the case of Sicily often come from Tunisia and Morocco. Without the help of these workers the land owners would really find themselves in great difficulty since despite the more advanced machinery available for collecting produce human labour for certain types of produce and for a certain level of quality and care in not damaging the produce is crucial.

The following are some pictures we took during a trip in the area between Noto and the seaside. You can see both spontaneous growth (like the wild pomegranade tree and the prickly pears) as well as the olives, grapes, almonds and carubs - both collected and still waiting to be collected.



Carubs and almonds in the courtyard of an old Masseria




Some of the millions of prickly pears that grow so easily in Sicily




A varied landsacpe with vines, olives, carubs all mixed together




A wild pomegranade tree by the side of a little church in the countryside




Ripe grapes - ready to be picked up




Gumbo– New Orleans celebrated in Sicily

GumboThis weekend we tried to recreate a typical New Orleans recipe following a suggestion made at the Tomatilla blog. The Tomatilla blog is the official home of the Paper Chef competition which this month was dedicate to New Orleans calling for recipes that included characteristic Louisiana ingredients such as sausages and shrimps. Paper Chef also asked for recipes with beer and tomatoes – but I got so excited trying to make a Gumbo recipe that I completely forgot to include those ingredients so I guess our blog is excluded from the Paper Chef competition but the recipe is anyway inspired by it.

Ok, enough preamble. On to the cooking. We’ve always wanted to try this recipes ever since we read it in yet another Owen-influenced creation – the first book dedicated to food blogging recipes. We received this book a few weeks ago and one of the recipes that immediately impressed me was the Gumbo recipe. What a monster!

A broth of chicken and shrimps, something quite devilish called roux and a final dish with chicken, shrimps and sausages alongside a huge amount of other ingredients. If curious you can still find the recipe online.

We could probably spend several hundred words explaining why what we did was anything but Gumbo. First off the sausages were not New Orleans sausages but Sicilian ones – with quite a characteristic fennel taste. We did not spend 4-5 hours on the broth – in fact we dedicated just 90 minutes. We first browned all the ingredients that go into the broth until really golden brown – then dumped a lot of ice to arrest the cooking and brought that back to the boil for another hour.

The thing that got us though was the roux. The roux, according to the recipe we followed, consists of a cup of oil and a cup and some of flour over a medium-high heat until golden or dark according to whether one prefers the Cajun or Creole style – now we hadn’t tried either so we went for just the golden one. We then added all the vegetables to soften/cook in the roux and then added the vegetables + roux to the broth along with browned chicken and sausages. Brought it to a boil and let it simmer adding the cleaned shrimps (whose heads and skin went to make the broth) in the last five minutes.

The results were really quite good - we probably overdid the proportions with the roux and got quite a thick sauce in the end but one learns as one goes. Proper spices would also help although our chillies added a nice kick.


  

Perhaps the most important impression, however, is that any group of people that are able to place claim on such a recipe will need something much, much stronger than a mere force 5 hurricane to stop them. All we can say is that we are looking forward to tasting the real thing in the centre of New Orleans sometime soon.



Nature just marches on...

We really haven’t been cooking very much on this blog lately (although we have been talking about food – both here and elsewhere). Part of the reason is the current state of our kitchen (below-left) and the rest of the house (below-right). We should also point out to some of the older readers of this diary that this is not the state of the house at Via Ritiro N.7 - this is the state of the house that we will be staying in while restoring Via Ritiro N.7!


  

One thing that has been going well however is our terrace garden.



The various plants seem completely oblivious to the chaos surrounding them and are happy to keep growing in various spurs and flurs of activity. The lettuces have gone from fragile little sprigs to full blown (well not completely full blown but we ate them anyway) lettuces. The only problem is that the images of the full blow ones have been corrupted so we just have a strip to show you.


    

The aubergines have grown from flowers to baby aubergines.


  

So in general things are moving along - hopefully we will eventually fill the empty space with a kitchen but in the meantime we are hoping to make up for the need to cook during next week's loveSicily cookery course. This time we are looking forward to some time in a kitchen even more than usual…

SHF11 - A handful (or two) of coffee beans

Fifty-two coffee infused creations - spanning from the improbable sounding capuccino cheese jelly mooncakes to a rather worrying sounding but ultimately wonderfully elegant pate trompe, by a hardcore coffee and chocolate jolt to the most reassuring milk and cookies.

Coffe was put in pots, drizzles on top, most inspiring-ly placed in ice for decoration, and generally cooked in every way conceivable to satisfy the coffee-themed requirements of this month's Sugar High Friday.

The problem is that this incredible range of coffee-themed sweets are quite hard to classify. There are cakes and magic cakes, pies, drinks, granitas, truffles, biscotti - with ( option 1, option 2) and without chunks - , tofu, cupcakes, latte, a most impressive gellee, a most correct wholemeal cake, with sabayon or simply more than one alternative.

People confessed their love, others their mild dislike, others their sacrifice of coffee for a greater love while for others still it is simply not an ingredient that agrees with them but they ventured ahead anyway which is great.

The full list of participants follows (with some showing extreme patience with me but eventually made it) - and I am truly impressed by the variety. Well done to everyone - you are sure to find something to try out in your own kitchen here. I for one am freezing coffee beans in ice for tomorrow morning's frappe.

A Blithe Palate - Espresso Pot de Crème with Honey Sabayon
1x umrühren bitte - Iced White Mocha & Ba-Ci-Co-Frappé
Lick the Spoon - Jolt ake
The Occasional Epicure - Espesso Cakes
Kitchen Parade - Coffee Pots
Chubby Hubby - Vanilla coffee madeleines and warm mocha tarts
A Tenderfoot's Foodventures - P.B.
& Jeyc's Coffee

Lo spazio di staximo - Delizie al Caffé
masak-masak - Capuccino Cheese Jelly Mooncake
Once Upon a Feast - Irish Coffee Pie
Spitoon - Chocolate Pots with Vanilla Ice Cream Affogato.
Dispensing Happiness - Pâté Trompé
Babe in the City - Coffe Ice
Anne's Food - Vanilla Cinammon Latte
lovescool - Chocolate and Vietnamese Coffee Tart
confabulist.com - Milk and cookies
Food Beam - Chocolate espresso cake with caffe latte cream
A Perfect Pear - Salted Caramel Filled Cardamom and Espresso Brownie Cake with Crispy Phyllo Cap and Coffee Gellee
The green jackfruit - Kahlua Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Stephen cooks - Mocha Mint Granita
she bakes and she cooks - Mocha Bars
baking sheet - Black Chocolate Espresso Cake with Bittersweet Glaze
dilek'ce - Coffee balls cake
KUIDAORE - Espresso Orange Panna Cotta Parfait with Coffee Gelee & White Chocolate & Coffee Towers with Mocha Creme Anglaise
Without Garnish- Cafe Latte Pannacotta Pyramid, Graham Crackers with Milk Chocolate Fudge Sauce, Clear Caramel Sauce, and Citrus Tuile
A Cat in the kitchen - Coffee Espresso Cake
chubby cat cooks - Petit Pots Caffe
Küchenlatein - Espresso with coffeetarts and mascarpone
Mrs. Happy Housewife - Espresso Biscuits a la Martha
I like to do stuff.... - Vietnamese Coffee Popsicle
Food & Thoughts - Mocha Chip Pound Cake
Domestic Goddess - Coffee infused pound cake
Brownie Points - Chocolate Silk Tofu Cream
18thC Cuisine - Pots de Crème au Chocolat
stefoodie - an over-the-top triple treat
Taste Everything Once - Espresso-Orange Biscotti
Esurientes - Wholemeal Chocolate, Hazelnut & Coffee cake
Belly-Timber - Swift-Tuttle Dark Chocolate Espresso Berry Comet Truffle
La Dolce Vita - Chocolate eclairs
Do you know the muffin man? - Espresso semifreddo with almond florentine
English Patis - Happy Anniversary Mocha Cupcakes
Seriously Good - Pots de Creme
Culinary Adventures - Black Magic Cake
Grab Your Fork - Coffee hazelnut cookies with dark chocolate chunks
Dessert comes first - Coffee Macadamia Pie
Nordjlus - Cafe Caramel Noix
Walker Eats - Brownies
THe Skinny Epicurean - Double Layer Chocolate Cake

SHF 11 - A day (and night) of coffee

FrothIt was a bit difficult to nod off last night – it was suggested that I may have had too much coffee during the day… well after all it was Sugar High Friday and I was faithfully exploring coffee sweets. Indeed I was so dedicated I am only blogging about it a day later.

So here is a guide to coffee in South-East Sicily as lived from breakfast to until 2am, spanning the 12th and 13th of August, 2005.

Curiously the first taste of coffee is not inspired by South-East Sicily but by Cyprus and Greece. It’s a classic frappe that can be had in a million different ways in the cafes of both countries. You can have it strong, medium, sweet, a bit sweet, a bit bitter, miso-miso (half milk, half water), olo gala (all milk), frothy, thickly frothy. The more complicated and detailed your order to the bewildered waiter the more your social standing grows.

For something so complicated to order its very easy to make. Just instant coffee and sugar with a bit of water. Mix to create the froth. The quantity of water and time of mixing will lead to a more or less consistent frothiness – ranging from very frothy to almost cream-like. Then add water or milk, ice (essential), sit back, open the backgammon, and forget your worries.


  

After you have relaxed sufficiently move on to the beach for a bit of exercise. However, in case you’ve relaxed too much a caffe freddo will bring you up to speed. This is simply a shot of espresso (kept in the fridge) with some liquid sugar cane. Most houses keep a little bottle in the fridge of caffe freddo which they keep topping up with whatever is left from the normal coffee produced each day. Another alternative is of course the coffee granita.


  

After lunch a normal espresso is the general rule of thumb, followed (and this had always impressed me) by a siesta. You would think that a strong coffee would prevent that from happening but the sun and the absolute piece that takes over a town after 2pm prevents that from happening.

Before long (i.e. after 2-3 hours) one is up and may be feeling a bit peckish. A pezzo duro will soon make sure you are both refreshed from the heat and more sugar. A pezzo duro is hard ice cream and in this case we had a terrine-style cake, with coffee, hazelnut, vanilla, and chocolate.



By this time the sun is setting and things are beginning to relax once more as people get ready for the night time.



Around 12am last night we took this picture sitting behind the Torre Cabrera in Pozzallo before going on to get an ice cream with coffee and hazelnut. Of course it was so hot that the ice cream practically melted by the time we took the picture!


  

So there you have it – a day of coffee. No need to mention that I am having none today. By the way, all through the day the mail was faithfully clocking in the entries from all over of which I will have a summary up tomorrow morning - after a morning frappe that is.

Solanum Melongena - Aubergines

Ice tea with lemon granitaWe never thougth growing things could be so exciting. Of course in the UK we had the odd basil pot which seems to persevere no matter how much it was neglected, but here we are talking lemons and oranges, lettuces, peppers and chillies and beans and mints – and it’s only been a month or so.

It may very well wear off – perhaps after a couple of months we will simply be complaining that things aren’t growing quickly enough or that they need too much care, but right now it’s the honeymoon period.

We will be introducing each of the members in turns but the aubergines stole everyone else’s thunder this morning by coming up with this wonderful flowers which will soon turn into nice round violet aubergines.


  

I wish we could be sharing some wise knowledge of how to take care of aubergines. The truth is that we simply bought some stalks, which the lady at the Consorzio Agrario in Modica claimed where aubergines (they just look like green pieces of stick to me). They had tiny-tiny leaves on them and we stuck them in a pot.

Two days later the leaves doubled in size and now, three weeks on, they are a good 50cm high and are actually wonderful plants on their own right. All it took was water and sun… it almost doesn’t seem fair.

However, putting my concerned citizen hat on for a minute, it is also true that the real difficulties arise when people try to intensively cultivate just one kind of plant in earth that has been exhausted because of intensive cultivation and that then needs pesticides because the natural habitat in which one thing eats the other is simply elimintated.

On our part we are looking forward to enjoy the aubergines – hopefully some time in October.


  

Ice tea with lemon granita

Ice tea with lemon granitaEach summer we tend to go through the “favourite refreshing item of the season” trend. Last year it was watermelon ice-cream, which I could not do without for more than 24-36 hours, but this year undeniably it must be ice tea with lemon granita.

Katia, being a true native, knew about this wonderful combination for years. However, she somehow failed to mention it for all these years that we've been coming to Sicily together. I guess the main reason is that before we became full-time Sicilians time was generally limited so we focused on just granitas or ice-creams and paid little attention to something as plain as tea of which the UK is overflowing. Well now that we have more time to look around I noticed people having this mixture at bars and decided to join in.

Result: the combination of the lemon granita with really cold tea is irresistible and I am now probably drinking more tea than I ever did in the UK!

The best thing about it is that while last year’s passion (the watermelon ice cream) could only be had at a couple of the proper gelaterie this can be found in just about any bar and it can be made at home.

The recipe is in the title as you can imagine – for the lemon granite simple toss together some lemon ice cubes, some water ice cubes and sugar in a very strong mixer and mix until you get a grainy but almost creamy texture. It will keep in a freezer but it won’t be the same after that although still good.

As for the Moroccan mint… there is a whole category on herbs building up as we are finally growing herbs at home.