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 At least no historical documents can prove that so far, for sure I can tell you that it's a dish cooked in the whole of south of Italy, but its roots are Sicilian.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

Preparation:

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!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Events: The 'Mandrarossa Vineyard Tour' is back! You don't wanna miss it

Photo source: ilmovimento.altervista.org

Ernest Hemingway once said: "Wine is the most civilized thing in the world." 
I certainly won't disagree with him.

Photo source: bekirent.blogspot.co.uk/
Talking about 'the gods nectar', in the Sicilian province of Agrigento, there is a small town called Menfi, where the territories of the "Cantine Settesoli" are situated. 

Settesoli is one of the most outstanding Sicilian Wine Companies located in a unique and breathtaking scenario, just between the ancient Greek village of Selinunte and the spectacular Valle dei Templi

Thanks to the amazing weather, the sun, the wind, the fertile land and the proximity with the sea, the area has been cultivated for decades and decades to produce high-quality wine.  

The most important brand of the company is the MANDRAROSSA, whose name comes from the same surrounding area 'contrada Mandrarossa'.

For those who, next week, will be so lucky to visit this part of Sicily, from Friday 29th of August to Sunday 31st, there is an amazing opportunity: the company infact has organised "The Mandrarossa Vineyard Tour 2014", where visitors will be able to discover the incontaminated and charming land where the grapes are cultivated and turn into wine. They will also partecipate to one of the biggest grape harvest in Europe and above all will smell and taste the Mandrarossa products as well as the local cuisine prepared by the wonderful ladies of Menfi (women between 40 and 75 years old that still cook following the old local tradition).

So... this event is not only for wine amateurs or experts, but it's actually for anyone who is curious or wants to experience a new aspect, discover a part of the rural Sicily, see how the farmers make this excellent products combining tradition with new technologies. It's definetely something you don't wanna miss, because wine is not only a pleasure, wine is nature, wine is culture, wine is tradition and is pure poetry!!!

And if you don't want to believe in me, well... at least believe in Ernest Hemingway.



You can find the whole programme with all the details at: www.vineyardtour.it

Friday, August 8, 2014

Food & Wine of Sicily: a cooking class with Chef Francesco Mazzei

Chef Francesco Mazzei showing foodies how to make fresh Sicilian pasta
Last saturday Aug. 2nd. I had the pleasure and the priviledge to join an amazing cooking class at "L'Anima", an Italian restaurant in the heart of London opened 6 years ago.
L'Anima - Italian Restaurant, London

Warm welcome, relaxed atmosphere, excellent food, superb cooking sessions and of course a lot of fun and laugh as well! 

"Food & Wine of Sicily" was the title of this class, organised by Italian Chef Francesco Mazzei at his own place in 1, Snowden Street.  

Chef Mazzei and his fantastic team helped the 15 partecipants preparing a selection of Sicilian traditional recipes.



From the renowned arancine/arancini made of rice, to the classic pasta con le sarde, from the scented sea-food soup to the delicate rabbit in sweet and sour sauce, and finishing with, of course, the typical cannoli with ricotta cream, made in Catania version. 

Three hours of learning, hands on:
- how to make fresh pasta from scratch (the Sicilian busiate, in Calabria called filei);
- why you need pastella (Engl. batter) to fry the arancini;
- how you cut a rabbit in pieces
- AND-
- how to balance different flavours when you prepare a soup with mussels and clams.

I also had the honour to get to "judje", yes "judje!" together with the Chef and two members of the kitchen staff, the person who had made the perfect shape for the arancini (still in working progress in the pic on the left) and who prepared the best fish soup (pic above.) 

Last but not least, let's not forget the tasting of three superb Sicilian wines (a white, a red and a dessert one) with the accurate and detailed explanation given from sommelier Franco Fortunati. 


In Sicily the variety of climate and land that the territory offers, allows us to "play" with several types of high-quality wines according to what kind of food we are eating. So, we can find a light bodied red like the Cerasuolo di Vittoria that perfectly matches with a tuna steak or a sea-food soup and a more structured and aged white that can accompany a plate of cheese. 


The combination is always an incredible experience for our palate, so for that I would like to thank once again Chef Francesco and all his team for having allowed me to be a part of his kitchen for one day.

If you are into Italian food in general and live in the city, you definitely don’t want to miss the opportunity to join one of Chef Mazzei future cooking sessions at 'L’Anima Restaurant', where you will eat and breathe real Italian.  

You will be among lovely people, learn a lot about our food and culture but, above all, you will enjoy yourself!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Three Sicilian products in one dish, the busiati made in Sicily!


Freshness and delicacy are the words that best describe this recipe particularly perfect for a summer lunch with your family. What I also love about this dish is the fact that is made of a combination of ingredients that come from different areas of Sicily. That makes it not only tasty, but also unique in its Sicilian flavors.


Let's start with the artisanal pasta. It's called busiati or busiate, and it's made from the famous whole wheat flour of Tumminia, village in the province of Palermo. The sauce is made of fresh cherry tomatoes from Pachino (deep south of Sicily) and the excellence of the pistaches pesto from Bronte, in eastern Sicily. You can also add your favorite cheese in flakes, like fresh pecorino or caciocavallo from Ragusa, just as shown in the pic on the left.


Preparation for 4 people:

The pasta from Tumminia (500 gr. pack) and the pesto are the only two products that you have to buy just as they are.

Wash 250 gr of cherry tomatoes under running water and cut them into pieces seasoning them in a large bowl with e.v. olive oil, salt, black pepper a couple of leaves of fresh basil and flakes of your favourite cheese (50 gr).

Leave the bowl in the fridge to cool down, while preparing the pasta as usual. When the water is boiling, add the salt and preapre the pasta normally, following the instructions on the packet about the minutes to be cooked.
 
On a plate for soup or another small bowl place the pesto of pistaches, adding some of the hot water in which the pasta is cooking. It has to become creamy just like in the pic on the left, but not too liquid.

Take the bowl of the tomatoes out of the fridge and drain the pasta when is ready, throwing it directly into the large bowl. Add also the pesto from the other plate and mix well all together for at least 3-4 minutes. 

This phase is really important because allows the busiati to receive all the sauce and juice from the tomatoes and pesto, which is the secret to reach that incredible exquisite Mediterranean fresh flavor.  

Serve straith away and enjoy with a full glass of cold white wine. You won't be disappointed!



Monday, July 14, 2014

The tradition of the Festino: babbaluci, calia e semenza


I gotta be honest with you: when I was a child, we were never particularly crazy about the "Festino of Santa Rosalia", (or in Sicilian Fistinu), our Patron Saint of Palermo festivity. In my family, it was definetely labeled as a popular and too crowded event to be part of. Nevertheless as I grow up I decided to join the feast and I really enjoyed it. I do confirm it's the most popular and super-crowded of the festivity in town, but probably for this reason is also unique and extremely evocative.

There are a couple of things that are typical during the Festino night: first is the so-called "babbaluci" (basically escargot) that Sicilians cook with oil of olive, a couple of cloves of garlic and lots of parsley. I have never had the courage to try them, but some people really love them.


The other very traditional thing is called in Sicilian "u scacciu", which is essentially made of calia (roasted chickpeas) and semenza (pumpkin seeds), plus sometimes other nuts like pistaches or peanuts. 


The typical "Palermitan" buys a portion of those nuts that are placed in a "coppo", a brown sheet of paper, with the shape of a cone. 

The idea behind the scacciu is that people always need to have something to eat while either watching the Procession or waiting for the fireworks at the end of the night. 

I know it may sound strange, but we cannot stop eating, even if they are small little things.

When I went to my last festino with some friends, a couple of years ago, I met a group of Americans that were both shocked and fascinated by that incredible mayhem across the "cassaro", the heart of the old city. 

I think is a great experience for tourists to be able to partecipate to such an incredible feast, because as I said earlier, yes it's crowded and noisy, but it also reveals the real soul of Palermo.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

"StrEat Palermo Tour": where you eat like a real Sicilian!

Typical Sicilian lunch you can have during the tour
As I often write in my blog, "it's all about food here in Palermo". A very important part of our cuisine has poor origins and it's easily categorised as "street food".
For centuries, us Palermitan people have been eating our specialties in the corner of a busy street or standing in front of a peddler frying panelle straight away. That's normal for us. One thing we like to do as much as eating food is talking about food. Where is the best pane e panelle? Did you like the arancina from that place? Have you tried that pane ca' meusa? We love to discuss about our favourite food and the best places to find it.

Now, tourists visiting our beautiful city can have the same experience of a real Palermitan and can stop wandering in search of our traditional stuff. How? Thanks to Marco Romeo, 32 years old, white cap and red backpack and above all a passport ready for you. It is called "Passaporto del Mangione" (the pic here on the right;). It literally means the passport of a gourmet, someone who enjoys eating... using a modern term we could say: "a foodie". 

Marco, who is also a licensed tourist guide, will take you around the ancient and evocative allies of Palermo and will make you try the most renowned street food: arancine, panelle, crocchè, sfincione, spleen sandwich and obviously a glass of excellent Sicilian wine. To finish off, the last stop is for dessert: a traditional cannolo or some artisanal gelato.

Laura our photographer, Marco and me together for a memorable selfie

I had the pleasure of asking our tour guide some questions while walking with his group few days ago.
- Marco, tell us when and how you started this activity...
I started last september. I came up with this idea because before, I used to do these tours all the times when friends were coming over to visit Sicily, so after a while I realised: why don't do it as a real job? And I have to say, the response was amazing since the very beginning. I get to meet a lot of people and I don't feel like working most of the time.


A shot of Sicilian 'Zibibbo' wine
- Is it something you can live with or is it just a seasonal job?
Well, it has been quite good so far, obviously there have been some months in which I didn't work that much, like february for example, but on the whole was ok.
- Did you already know the places where you take the tourists? Yes, I did. I also love travelling myself, so I tried to think what I like to see and eat when I go abroad.
- How is the feedback of the people joining your tour? Very good. People are happy to eat traditional things but also to see some monuments or the typical open markets while walking around.
- What's your dream for the future? 
What I would love to do is keep working with tourists here in Palermo during spring and summer, and then use the other part of the year to travel, discover new places and cultures. 
 
---
 
I definetely want to thank Marco once again for this opportunity. I spent a lovely time with him and his tourists. Re-discovering parts of my own city with different eyes is always a pleasure and for tourists is also an amazing and unforgettable experience.
I highly recommend it to those who want to have some fun, but above all who want to see, smell and taste the real Palermo. 


Here you find his website.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Street food: Palermo is n° 5 in Forbes' top 10 cities worldwide


Few weeks ago the famous magazine Forbes published a chart of the World's top 10 cities for Street Food and look who is in their fifth place? Obviously Palermo, the capital of Sicily and the undisputed reign of the most delicious and unique street food of all times. 

Unfortunately whoever wrote that bit on my city left out the renowned and, together with pane e panelle, most popular street food of Palermo: the spleen sandwich or... as we like to call it in Sicilian, "u pane ca' meusa" (pic on the left).

It's a lovely pagnotta (rounded bread) stuffed with pieces of fried cow spleen, lungs and other organs like windpipe. It is always served with a slice of lemon and you can have it either "schietto o maritato" which literally means single or married. In other words... plain or with cheese on top... usually caciocavallo or also fresh ricotta.

If you ask any person born in Palermo, they will tell you that these are the two most defining street food of Palermo, followed by all the rest (frittola, sfincione, potato croquettes, octopus salads, ect...)
Not trying the spleen sandwich in Palermo, when you look for street food, it's like not visiting the Colosseum when you go to Rome in search of Roman remainings. So... do believe in what Forbes said about Palermo being n. 1 city for Street Food in Europe and n. 5 in the world, but for more details about the food... just check with a local first! ;-))

If you want to have a look at the original piece, clic here.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

My grandma's beef skewers, easy and extremely tasty

 

Have you ever heard the word "spiedini"? We basically use it for something we eat on a wooden stick and are cooked on a skewer, barbecue or oven, that has the shape of a roll or a ball. We have them with beef, pork and even swordfish in Sicily. A couple of months ago, my mother and I prepared these lovely skewers, the way my grandma used to make them when I was little.

You only need mince meat, some sliced bread, olives, Sicilian cheese and little pieces of salami. Their are very easy and very tasty and everyone can add one or more ingredients according to their personal taste. Slices of bacon would be really nice as well, don't you think?
Usually in Sicily when we do something with minced meat, it is never beef on its own. First of all, we mix it with eggs (an egg every 250 gr of beef), salt, pepper, nutmeg, breadcrumb, grated parmisan and herbs. Mix all together and give it the shape of small meatballs, flattening them a little bit.

With this mix, that we generally call "tritato", we do pretty much anything from meatballs, to hamburgers,  from meatloaf to our spiedini.

Ingredients & preparation for 4 people

For the tritato meatballs: 
 
300 gr beef minced meat
100 gr. grated grana or pecorino
3-4 spoons of breadcrumb 
a pinch of nutmeg
salt & pepper
1 egg


For the rest: 12 big green olives - 16 slices of bread - 100 gr. primosale - 100 gr. Napoli salami
Once your meatballs are ready, cut the cheese and the salami in big cubes and the slices of bread in little squares. Now, you can start making your spiedini putting in each wooden stick a piece of bread, a meatball, an olive, a cube of salami, a cube of cheese, another olive, another meatball and finish with another piece of bread. If you want, you can also spread a veil of butter on the bread to make it creamier.

At this point, place your skewers on a tray in the oven at 200° C for about 20 minutes with a drizzle of olive oil at the bottom. The meatballs cook, the cheese melts, the bread grills, the salami becomes soft and the result is just a joy for your palate.

Perfect accompanied with a veggie side-dish to balance your lunch with the right amount of carbs, proteins and fibers. I would go with lemon artichokes and fresh tomato salad, because they both moderate the strong taste of the spiedini. They are perfect for a summer barbecue among friends... and don't forget to bring some red Sicilian wine. Enjoy!