Tag Archives: sicily

Asparagus and broad beans risotto with miso and Umeboshi flavours

An all singing, all dancing vegetarian dish to shake our bodies out of the summer slumber! This is as rejuvenating as an outdoor yoga class or a jog in a bluebells’ wood. The miso and Umeboshi (marinated prune paste) are very good and calming for the intestines and will help restore depleted energies. You can find the miso paste and the umeboshi paste in Japanese shops and most health shops in the UK. The Japanese use them to restore intestinal bacteria after an illness or a course of antibiotics. The umeboshi is quite tangy and salty in taste so you will not need to add any salt if you use it – Especially combined with Miso.

You can do without those weird and wonderful ingredients and replace them with a good chicken or vegetable stock if you prefer .  I just wanted to include a healing and strengthening aspect into my recipe . Both versions are delicious.

Ingredients list:

  • 1 shallot
  • olive oil
  • 10 asparagus
  • handful of frozen or fresh broad beans
  • 250g of arborio or other risotto rice
  • 50ml of white wine
  • 600ml of boiling water
  • soy cream to finish
  • 1 Tbsp of umeboshi plum paste
  • 2 Tbsp of white miso paste (or 1/2 cube stock)
  • Pepper to finish

This quantity serves 5/6 as starter portions or 3 as main. Halve all quantities to cook a plentiful meal for one! There should be just a bit left over for the dog.

This month is the perfect time to use up the latest asparagus and broad beans from the garden or allotment. They are still coming up on market stalls at a bargain. I have even seen them recently at a Pick-your-own farm!

Chop up the shallot and fry it in a little olive oil.

Then throw in the rice and fry that too until the grains look transparent.

Add the wine and simmer until it is almost gone. Then add half the stock and continue simmering and turning. The secret of a good risotto is to add the liquid in stages and to keep the mix soupy and wet until the end so it does not dry too much as it cools down in the plate. Keep simmering and adding stock until the rice is cooked.

Meanwhile (or previously), you have washed and trimmed the asparagus and steamed them. The broad beans need to be shelled but not pre-steamed.

You need to season with the umeboshi and the miso paste about 5/10 minutes before the end- not before because boiling would destroy a lot of the healthy bacteria.

Add the asparagus stalks but keep the tips aside. Add the broad beans as well towards the end of the cooking and cover. Rice usually takes 20 min in all.

Dress with a dash of cream, some pepper from the mill and serve warm but not hot.

Decorate with fresh mint!

Decorate with fresh mint!

Here I have used fresh peas and decorated with fresh mint from the potted garden.

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Sfinci: Sicilian doughnut filled with ricotta

Sfinci are fried dumplings of ricotta that Sicilians eat for breakfast and they make delicious snacks for summer or outdoor eating. You can flavour them with vanilla as they did in Noto and shake sugary  cinnamon over if that is your fancy.  I like mine dipped in honey! They are tastier and fresher than doughnuts but just as naughty…

Tucking into cafe style Sfinci in Noto

Tucking into cafe size Sfinci in Noto

Ingredients list: Makes about 8 to 10 Sfinci

  • 6 eggs
  • Sugar, 125 g
  • Ricotta, 500g
  • Flour, 250g
  • Baking powder, 4 Tbsp
  • Vanilla pod, to taste
  • Honey, 60 ml or 60 g of sugar mixed with 1 tsp of cinnamon

Beat the eggs with the sugar until it turns pale yellow.

Add the ricotta, followed by spoonfuls of flour, baking soda and scrapes of the vanilla pod. Make sure it is all blended in.

Use a cast iron pan to heat the oil bring it to a low frying temperature.

Drop big dollops of batter into the oil and leave it to brown on both sides. Keep the fire low so it does not burn too fast! Do check that they are moist inside but not too runny. My children turned their noses up at a runny batch and I had to fry them all over again… The things we do for love…

Serve at rooms temperature with a dip of sugared cinnamon and a dip of honey, to choose from. These treats are deliciously indulgent and very very addictive.

Sicilian doughnuts

Sicilian doughnuts

Details of a Sicilian window

Details of a Sicilian window

Ricotta stuffed flowers in tempura

Flowers in parcels

Flowers in parcels

Eating flowers in summer is one of life’s simple luxuries.

I have got a courgette flowers “beignet” recipe on the blog already but this one is our Sicilian version and I love it for the sharp freshness the ricotta gives against the fried batter. Here I used the same batter recipe as before.

This light snack makes a perfect starter to a summer dinner party.

Ingredients list:

  • Per Courgette flower:
  • Ricotta, 1 Tbsp
  • Salt and pepper to flavour

Season the ricotta and drop a spoonful inside each courgette flower. Delicately close the petals around and dip this into a light batter. Shallow fry in a bit of rapeseed or sunflower oil. Once brown – it takes a few seconds- lay each parcel onto kitchen towel to drain the excess oil.

Serve warm as soon as they are done.

Ricotta filled flower

Ricotta filled flower

Sicilian lemon cake with coconut, ricotta and polenta

In Sicily, we ate cakes for breakfast! Sometime, our plate looked liked a poem in praise of gluttony: In such a poem all the synonymous of “cake” would have to be used! Eclairs, marbled cakes, profiteroles, biscuits, tart, millefeuille, brioche…

This recipe is for Judy who enjoys cake for breakfast – and anybody looking for an almond-free version of my Sicilian Lemon cake. Here, I have simply replaced the almond with ground coconut and the result is a much more textured cake, a bit similar to a carrot cake, but with the intensely citrussy flavour of the sicilian lemons…

I think it works even better than the almond version: Coconut and lemon being such a winning pairing… It almost makes you glad to be almond-intolerant!

A sicilian breakfast in NOTO

A sicilian breakfast in NOTO

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Delicious sandwiched with lemon cream

Ingredients list:

  • Butter, 50g
  • Sugar, 280g
  • Eggs, 6
  • Fine polenta, 150g
  • Ground coconut, 200g
  • Baking powder, 1 and 1/2 tsp
  • Honey, 2 Tbsp
  • Zest of 5 lemons and juice of one
  • Ricotta, 300g

Pre-heat the oven to 160º.

Beat the butter and sugar until pale and creamy and add the eggs one at a time.

Zest each lemon carefully – better to choose organic and unwaxed lemons if you can. Juice one of them and keep the others for a Granita de limone.

Fold all the remaining ingredients and pour into a lined and buttered cake pan.

If you have some lemon extract, you can add a few drops for a more intense lemon taste. Bake for just over an hour at 160 °. It is ready when the middle is still ever so slightly wobbly. The result is a dense and intense cake with a chewy texture. Irresistibly lemony… You can do a sandwich cake if you bake it in two sandwich tins and spread some lemon curd whipped with mascarpone in the middle! Try this for a posh party version!

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Serve cold with yogurt or on its own.

Caponata siciliana

If there is one recipe which could be chosen to represent the sicilian soul in the kitchen, it would be the caponata. It has the hallmarks of a national dish: it gathers the best local ingredients, it is done by each family with endless variations and it was even written into Sicily’s best loved historic novel “Il Gattopardo” by Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. It is Sicily’s equivalent to ratatouille or chouchouka. A  great tasting sweet and sour dish, served chilled as starters with some bread.

Cooking lesson in Taormina

Cooking lesson in Taormina

The version my son and I first tasted in the Ballaro market in Palermo was succulent and thick with tomato sauce even though tomatoes had not yet been introduced when caponata was first invented in the ninth century. At the Melograno restaurant in Taormina, chef Massimo taught us his family version (sans tomato) and I liked them both but here in mine I did put a bit of Passata… In Palermo, they sometimes add swordfish to it, which we tasted once over pasta and in Modica they sprinkle dark chocolate over it, which we did not – even though it was Easter…

Ingredients list:

  • White onion, 1
  • Aubergine, one
  • Courgettes,2
  • Celery heart, a few stalks
  • Capers, 25g or two large spoonful
  • Red pepper, one large
  • Black olives, a handful
  • Chopped parsley or basil to serve
  • White wine vinegar, 2 tbsp
  • Pine nuts, a sprinkling
  • Raisins, 50g
  • Olive oil to taste

Massimo’s version had sugar but I can’t bring myself to use sugar in a savoury and sooo healthy dish- so I figured that the tomato sauce would provide enough sweetness to balance the sourness of the vinegar and it did!

Caponata, sicilian style

Caponata, sicilian style

Coming back from our tour of Sicily with a wealth of flavours, recipes and memories of delicious meals, it was tricky to choose what to start with here on the blog but caponata seems the obvious choice . It is a real family dish, it is delicious – that could have been enough- but it is also foolproof and very easy to customise. The preparation is not quick though because each vegetable needs to be fried separately – but it is worth the effort and once done, it keeps well for a few days.

Wash and chop the vegetables– trying to cube it all roughly in similar format.

Sprinkle the aubergine cubes with fine salt, rub it all in with your hands, then soak in a bowl of water while you fry the rest. When you will need to add the aubergines, you will rinse them and squeeze them in your hands to release all their water and hopefully some of their bitterness.

Fry each batch of vegetable separately until tender and then reserve. Fry the red pepper last because the oil will then get very hot and peppery…

When all that is done, chop the onion and celery  very finely and then fry  in a new pan until they turn brown. Then had the capers, pine nuts  and heat it up.

Add the vinegar and let it steam off.

Sprinkle a little salt, add a few glugs of Passata or some tomato paste with a bit of water. Then put back all of the fried vegetable and let it reduce further on medium heat. Add a little water or oil, or both, if necessary.

Leave the caponata to cool aside and sprinkle with parsley just before serving.

Note: There are plenty of cookery schools in Sicily and restaurants willing to provide cooking lessons. It is well worth it but do shop around. I booked mine through Best of Sicily.