Sunday, January 25, 2015

Caponata under attack, threats by stock cubes

Definetely there is no peace for Sicilian cuisine these days. Soon after the tweet about arancini, we had to witness a second attempt to kill another extraordinary and yet historical dish from Palermo: the CAPONATA. 

The caponata, for those who don’t remember, is a divine dish based on a sweet and sour sauce made of vinegar, olive oil and sugar. The more popular is the one with aubergines/eggplants, but there are also versions with carrots, green apples (pic above) and artichokes which I personally tried.

Responsible for this attack on the heart of Sicilian food is an advert on national television in which two women that are supposed to be from Palermo (one has a fake accent though) prepare the caponata using stock cubes for broth. The stock is produced by a well-known Italian company which I obviously won’t name. So... the spontaneous question that come to our minds simply is: Why? What stock cubes has to do with such a unique dish? 

These questions so far have got no answers, apart from the unsuccessful attempt that the company made to explain that they only wanted to propose a new version of our dish. With stock cubes? Seriously? Well done marketing department!!!

Let me explain how it works.
Sicilians are unique people. We can bear to live with corruption, organised crime, horrible traffic, inefficient burocracy and dirty streets, but nobody can touch our food. Nobody! 

And infact 48 hours after the regrettable tv advert, people started to rise up with rage and indignation in defense of this traditional dish, creating Facebook pages with titles like "Don't profane the Sicilian caponata!" and ashtag like #savecaponata, swearing that they would start boycotting the product. Some articles I read were making fun of the company, some others were asking it to remove the advert from been broadcasted again.

Now… on an even more serious note that this… I just want to add my thought.
There are lots of Sicilian people (professional chefs, food lovers and bloggers like me) that every single day bust their ass to preserve our recipes and our tradition over the years, just like our mothers and grandmothers taught us,
and in 2 minutes of bad publicity everything falls apart because these guys decided that want to put some stock in the caponata? What the hell were they thinking? Maybe tomorrow some other genius wakes up and says that have a new version of the Sicilian Cassata made of peanut butter and Philadelphia cheese?

I am sorry but this is wrong. I have been telling it for ages… you don’t mess up with Sicilian food or... you gonna be in trouble. 

Spread the word.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Expo Milan 2015 and the tweet about "arancinI"

The real traditional Sicilian "Arancina alla carne"

What a storm! It's the case of the day. Seriously, since yesterday in Palermo everyone is talking about the tweet posted by the Official Expo Milan 2015. They basically tweeted a version of the arancine recipe, made in Eastern Sicily. Apparently a real catastrophe not only because they present this food stuffed with hard-boiled eggs but even worse because they call them arancinI, with the masculine genre. What a tragedy!!!

Why? What does this exactly mean? I am going to get to the point in a second.

The Arancini from Eastern Sicily tweeted by Expo Milan 2015

The most famous blog from Palermo  
Rosalio published an article about it, Street Palermo Tour wrote about it on Facebook, a friend of mine even sent me an email about it. Everyone had something to say... or better said something to complain. We only need a comment from the mayor of the capital, Leoluca Orlando and the picture will be complete!

I'll explain to you how things work, once and for all. 

Traditional Sicilian "Arancina al burro"
From our point of view, and when I say "our" I mean us Western Sicilians and "Palermitans" in particular, this comes as a real unhappy tweet because the classical arancine that you find all year around in bars are two types: alla carne (with mince meat and peas like the top pic) and al burro (ham and cheese, like the pic here on the left.)

As I always try to explain in my blog though, Sicily is a big island, we have 9 provinces and "gastronomically speaking" (please allow me this term), there are lots of differencies and versions for the same dish. In eastern Sicily they put hard-boiled eggs apparently in a lot of dishes, included the poor arancine. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr...

What else? Oh yes,... "linguistically speaking" I am warning you: this debate will never ever end. In Palermo and western Sicily we call them arancinA/arancinE, femenine, because the word comes from the way we call the fruit arancia (Engl. orange). They remind us of the oranges because they are rounded and as golden as the fruit, which are also another typical product of our beautiful land. 

The rest of Sicily stubbornly keeps calling them with the masculine arancinO/arancinI, which makes no sense. To make it worse in the last two decades the writer Andrea Camilleri and the famous tv show Inspector Montalbano, set in the southern province of Ragusa, contributed to spread the word in the masculine genre... and now the tweet from the Official Expo is doing it again. It's unhappy because it passes off that recipe as the original one, which is obviously NOT. And that's why the storm, the case, the catastrophe.

Never forget how important is food for us Sicilians!

It's vital because it's ONE of the few certainties that we have in life. We know that panelle are flat, cazzili are oval, arancine are golden rounded balls, cannoli are filled with ricotta cream. These are certainties for us. That's why I am telling you one more time: this debate will never ever end. It is just getting started!!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Sicilian pork loin cooked with golden apples

Have you ever tried the famous "maialino nero dei Nebrodi"? It is a breed of black pork that comes from the Sicilian mountain chain of Nebrodi.

It is a delicate and tender kind of pork meat that we usually prepare for festivities or special occasions and can be cooked in different ways. The recipe that I want to suggest today is one of my all times favourite and is with golden apples. The combination is just sublime and you will eventually wonder why you didn't discover this dish a long time ago. 

Ingredients & Preparation for 4 people:

Pork loin (500 gr)
3-4 golden apples
half of a medium white onion
a glass of white wine 
salt & pepper
100 ml olive oil
a mix of dried herbs (sage, thyme, rosemary)
2 glasses of water

1. Start off by peeling the onion and the apples and cutting them in slices.
2. In a pan with high rims or a specific pot for meat (like the one in the pic above) pour a drizzle of oil and sautè on a medium heat the pork on all sides until is golden brown adding salt and pepper. Once is done place it on a dish.
3. In the same pan and same sauce (the mix of olive oil and juice coming out of the meat) cook the onion and the apples slices on a lower heat. Add some salt, the pinch of herbs mix and the glass of wine.

4. After the first 5 minutes add the water and continue stirring from time to time.

5.  Re-place the pork in the pot together with the apples and let it cook with the lid on a very low heat for around 20-25 minutes. After 10 minutes the loin must be turn on the other side.
6. Put the meat aside, cut it in thin slices of about 2 cm each and place them on a serving dish.

7. If the mix left in the pot is too watery just reduce it on a higher heat for few minutes, then place it on the pork slices. The mix of onions and apples can also be blended with a hand mixer or blender, the result will be a more homogenous sauce, but I personally prefer taste the pieces of apples together with the pork. Up to you!
8. Serve the dish while still hot with some bread like ciabatta roll. You will polish every single bit of it. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

P like Palermo, P like pane & panelle!!!

The renowned pane e panelle (homemade)

PALERMO and PANELLE: The two words are forever bond, because the 'pane e panelle' (the panelle sandwich) is together with the other famous 'pane ca' meusa' (the spleen sandwich), the most distinctive and representative street food of the Capital of Sicily. Infact if you ask an Italian about it, I am pretty sure he doesn't know what I am talking about unless he/she has been in Palermo on holiday. If you ask a Sicilian (from another part) he would probably shrug his shoulder too. 

What eaxctly are they, then? They are fritters made of chickpea flour and water, salt and some chopped parsley. And you can have them stuffed into a panino with potato croquettes or on their own as a starter.

Frying panelle
How are they? FLAT in shape. SUPERB and UNIQUE in taste.  

Trust me, the average Palermo-dweller is totally in love with them regardless of age, profession or social status

Any occasion is perfect to have them on the table & vegeterians will love them too!

For the best result I usually squeeze some drops of lemon juice on top and a pinch of black pepper, and for those who are not crazy about parsley like me, I put fresh mint leaves instead.  

If you haven't tried this food yet... it's about time!!!

Panelle and potato croquettes
To make this gorgeous recipe perfect, let's add a pinch of history first: the Arabs that dominated our island, from the 9th to the 11th century, started to grind the seeds of the chickpeas. The result was flour that, mixed to water and cooked in a pan on a heat, gave a kind of raw dough, that wasn't particularly tasty. After experimenting they found out that the same dough, cut in thin slices and fried in oil, was delicious and had an inviting golden color, so little by little, it became very popular.

That's how this amazing food was born.
And the love-story between panelle and the city of Palermo lasts ever since. 

  • 500 gr chickpea flour
  • 1,5 litre water
  • thinly chopped parsley (as required)
  • e.v. olive oil
  • salt
  • sesame seeds (optional)
1. Fill a large pot with 1 lt and half of water, add the chickpea flour little by little and stir constantly with a whisk to avoid lumps. Put the pot on a medium heat, add a good pinch of salt (about 30 gr.) and keep stirring until it starts boiling and getting thicker.
2. When this mixture will be more solid (similar to the polenta) you can add the parsley and remove from heat.
3. Place the dough on a marble surface previously oiled (or on an oiled oven tray) and flatten it with a spoon or a spatula. Once it has cooled down, with a knife, make some rectangles.
4. Pour some olive oil in a pan on a high heat to start frying our panelle on both sides until golden. It takes few minutes so be careful!
5. Place them on some kitchen paper to absorb the exceeding oil and add a pinch of salt.
6. Serve immediately while still hot, together with our little rounded panini.

P like PALERMO, P like PANELLE... forever bond. Enjoy! 

Friday, November 21, 2014

The "Antica Focacceria" celebrates 180 years of life!

The Antica Focacceria San Francesco, one of the most famous gastronomic spot in Palermo for street food and traditional Sicilian dishes tonight is celebrating its 180 years of business activity. Well done!

Apparently the restaurant has invited the whole city to the party, offering to customers bites of Sicilian food prepared on the spot, but also cooking sessions and live music. Very brave I have to say. Why? Well...

Do you remember I always tell you how food is such a big deal for us Sicilians? In particular, the average Palermo guy has been brought up and fed since his first tooth appeared in his mouth, with local street food such as panelle, spleen sandwich or sfincione. 

He then receives the Baptism the first time he goes to eat to the Focacceria. Basically ... the average Palermo guy lives for occasion like this where he can eat more typical Sicilian food than usual and without spending a dime!

Even the mayor Leoluca Orlando sent his best wishes for the occasion: "This spot is one of the most beautiful thing that our territory has to offer and it's an important historical piece of the mosaic of our city".

I guess the place and the whole square in Via A. Paternostro will be packed... but these are the things that make our city unique and our heart beating faster, so thanks to the Conticello family and CONGRATULATIONS for 180 years of hard and honest work from us!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nicolosi and the Etna Chocolate Festival

Box of chocolate (Photo source:

Where are you all crazy chocoholics? 
If you happen to live or visit Eastern Sicily these days, plan a trip to Nicolosi, a delightful village on the slopes of Mount Etna, in the province of Catania. From today until October 27th you will feel like you are living inside the movie Chocolat, with the advantage that you will be in beautiful Sicily.

"Etna Chocolate" infact is a festival where pastry chefs and chocolate experts coming from every part of Sicily and Calabria will offer delicacies prepared with our beloved ingredient: from cakes to pralines, from fritters to cookies. 

Get ready for some amazing desserts, but not only. There will also be stands for wine, liquors, Sicilian artisanal products and some live music to entertain all the visitors. So... are you still thinking about it?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Time for Sicilian excellence, opening soon in Palermo EAT SICILY!

Photo Source: Natale Giunta
Do you remember the famous Chef from Palermo? His name is Natale Giunta and he is back again with an impressive, magnificent and challenging project for the capital of Trinacria. Its name is "Eat Sicily" and it will be a 4 level shopping centre focused on Sicilian excellence in food & wine. 

The Ex Supercinema - Photo: mobilitapalermo

Our superb cuisine and our exquisite products will finally find a stable location in this place that will offer restaurants, wine bars, a pastificio (where fresh pasta is made) also a butcher and several shops that will sell fresh products, of course all made in Sicily. There will be also space for special events and parties.

Gorgeous venue for this place will be via Cavour, in the heart of city-centre, more precisely where the SuperCinema used to be, decades ago. (see pic here on the right).

Deadline for the grand opening is said to be Christmas and I honestly can't wait to see the result of all this. I wish the best of luck to chef Natale for this new venture and to our city as well. We really need it!

Chef Natale Giunta

I seriously hope that it will be an opportunity to help a lot of people in finding jobs, but at the same time a chance to show the world how good our products are and the temperament Sicilians are made of! 

If he really pulls this off in such a difficult place... there is only one word to say to him from the bottom of my heart:

It was about time to have something like that in Palermo! 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sicilian parmigiana and Nero d'Avola: what a combination!

My eggplant Parmigiana served with 3 Parmisan biscuits.

Have you ever heard about Parmigiana? I am sure the name rings a bell, but what is it exactly? The "Parmigiana di melanzane" is a very popular Sicilian summer dish made of fried eggplant (or aubergine) in layers, alternated by tomato sauce, fresh basil and usually local cheese such as pecorino fresco, also called primosale.
My mum's Parmigiana with mozzarella cheese.

One thing I need to make pretty clear: this is a superb dish for its simplicity of flavors, there are no eggs, no breadcrumb, no ham, no matter what other versions may say, this is the one and only. Trust me.

Someone will also tell you that the Parmigiana is not originally from Sicily but from Campania, which is also false. At least no historical documents can prove that so far, for sure I can tell you that it's a dish cooked in the whole of south of Italy, but its roots are Sicilian. 

Nero d'Avola Mandrarossa - Cantine Settesoli

With the lovely advice of wine blogger and sommelier Jaqueline Malenda, I have paired this amazing dish with one of our most renowned vine variety, 100% Nero d'Avola, and in particular with the DOC Mandrarossa called Nero d'Avola Costadune, produced by Cantine Settesoli (Menfi - AG).

Thanks to his good structure this wine is perfect not only with fried vegetables and local cheese, but more generally speaking with the robust traditional Sicilian recipes. 

It has a ruby colour and is characterised by strong hints of berry fruits. You will find that is an amazing combination even for the most demanding palates.

Ingredients for 4 people:

- 2 eggplants
(if are the big rounded ones, 3 if are the oval quality ones)
- 500 gr tomato sauce 
- a bunch of fresh basil
- 250 gr. primosale cheese
(or mozzarella can also be used)
- 60 gr. grated cheese like grana or pecorino


1. Start by cutting eggplants/aubergines in slices of about 2 cm (not too thin otherwise they will burn while frying). We usually place them in a colander with abundant salt and leave it there for about 15 minutes. My mother taught me since I was a kid that this is good for giving eggplants/aubergines a sweeter taste and letting release the bitter they contain. After that you just have to wash them under running water and they are ready to be cooked.

2. While you are waiting to wash your veggies prepare a large frying pan with abundant extra virgin some olive oil and put it on a medium flame. When it has become really hot start frying the slices of eggplants; (of course after you have rinse them and dry them a bit with a cloth. This is better because it will prevent the hot oil from squirting.) 

My sister's Parmigiana with local primosale cheese.
3. Once your eggplants are all fried, begin layering them up in any oven tin; (you can use glass, ceramics or whatever you have at home.) Glass and ceramic tins are better because you can serve it directly from there.
At the bottom start with 3 spoons of tomato sauce, then a first layer of eggplant, tomato sauce again, grated cheese, fresh leaves of basil, slices of cheese and then start again for three layers or until you finish all your ingredients. Obviously I wouldn't make more than three or four layers at the most. The last layer must be made of eggplant slices, tomato sauce to cover the top and some grated cheese.
4. Grill in the oven at 180° C for about 20 minutes.

*Two important things to note:
- If you use the mozzarella instead of a harder cheese like primosale the result will be a more watery dish (as you can see in the pic from my mum's parmigiana)  because in the oven the mozzrella will release some water. You can see the difference with the other pic from my sister's parmigiana, which is more solid and compact, but I assure you, they were both sublime. And mine as well ;-)
- Grated cheese is mostly up to your taste, Sicilian caciocavallo can be an option but I use the grana or parmisan, because has a more delicate taste, though we all know that they are not Sicilian (just to be clear).

So... now our Parmigiana is ready! It can be eaten either hot straight away or cold the following day, either on its own or with some fresh mozzarella aside (like this pic on the left). You can offer it with some classic informal rustic bread or some parmisan biscuits if you are looking for something more refined and unusual (just as shown in the main picture above).

Any ways you are going to eat it... believe me... you are just gonna love it!