During the summer season when fruits and vegetables are plentiful, Sicilians prepare their provisions for the winter. This tradition dates back to ancient times and still the same methods are in use today.
Tomatoes – protagonists of Sicilian cuisine – are stored in various ways, cooked and prepared for delicious sauces or even sun-dried using salt as a natural additive. Sun-drying tomatoes is possible only in those regions where the sun shines generously as in Sicily. The method requires much patience and dedication.
First of all it is necessary to choose nice big tomatoes perfectly ripe. The tomatoes are then cut in half lengthwise leaving the parts attached on one side. They must then be laid cut-side up on a wooden board and sprinkled with plenty of salt. The tomatoes are then left in the sun for a few days, depending on the intensity of the heat, then turned on the other side until nice and dry but not crisp.
When the tomatoes are sun-dried they must be attached in pairs and stored either in a large glass jar or, according to tradition, in a wicker basket.
In Sicily it is possible to buy sun-dried tomatoes at fruit and vegetable markets, but they can also be found at any deli.
These sun-dried tomatoes can be prepared in many different ways and the result is always delicious and irresistible.
20 sun-dried tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups bread crumbs
a pinch of salt
1/3 cup grated caciocavallo or parmesan cheese
1 Tbs. chopped parsley
1 clove chopped garlic
1 Tbs. raisins
1 Tbs. pine nuts
olive oil for frying
The tomatoes need to be soaked in water overnight to remove the exceeding salt. Drain the tomatoes and let dry on paper towels. Mix the bread crumbs with all the ingredients excluding the oil. Dip the inside of the tomatoes first in the oil then in the bread crumb mixture. Join together the two halves of the tomatoes then gently fry on both sides in a pan with ¼ inch of olive oil.
Due to the intense flavor of this traditional Sicilian dish, it is best to match with a wine of the same territory. Inzolia, a typical Sicilian white wine, soft, well-balanced with just a touch of insipidity well matches with the acidity of the tomatoes and the spiciness of the bread-crumb filling.
Fall is a beautiful season in Sicily. After the summer, the weather slowly changes because of the alternating of rain showers and beautiful sunny days. During this season, a variety of delicious fruits and vegetables enrich the Sicilian kitchen table.
An old-time sweet that reminds me of my childhood is the cotognata or quince paste. Quince is a pome fruit uneatable raw because of its tangy astringent flavor.
Quince trees grow in the southern regions of Italy, especially in Sicily where the summers are sufficiently hot for the fruits to ripe. In the spring, their lovely early pink blossoms are spectacular.
Brought to Sicily by the ancient Greeks, quinces have been mentioned by Roman historians as Pliny the Elder and Apicius in his cookbook. In the recent past cotognata was given to the children for All Saints’ Day.
The preparation of the cotognata is a bit laborious, but patience transforms this fruit into a delicious dessert.
- Granulated sugar
Peel the quinces and cut each one into 4 chunks. Boil with a fresh lemon sliced in half at medium heat until cooked. Drain well discard lemon and let dry a few hours. Mash with a sieve.
For each pound of fruit add 13 oz. granulated sugar.
Cook in a saucepan at medium heat, mixing continuously. After the mixture reaches marmalade consistency, continue cooking and mixing for other 10 minutes. Pour into a Pyrex pan and level.
After cooling, slice into 1 inch square and let dry. After 2 days, turn pieces over and let dry other 2 days. When the pieces are dry on all sides the cotognata can be saved in the refrigerator.
The origins of caponata date back to ancient times when in the aristocratic families a particular type of fish the capone, was prepared with a sweet-and sour sauce. The people not were not able to afford fish substituted it with eggplants and gradually added other vegetables to the original recipe.
Caponata is usually prepared during the summer season when eggplants, the main ingredient, are at their best. There are different versions of caponata depending on the area and family traditions.
Together with the eggplants, various ingredients are used to prepare this delicious and tasting dish: onions, celery, carrots, peppers, green olives, and capers from Pantelleria.
Making caponata during the summer may be considered a bit laborious because of the warm temperature. but the result is certainly worth the effort.
- 6 medium-sized eggplants
- 3 big white onions
- 3 carrots
- 2 celery stalks
- 1 pepper
- 1 cup pitted green olives
- 3 Tbs. pickled capers
- ½ cup tomatoes sauce
- ½ cup white vinegar
- 2 Tbs. sugar
- Frying oil
Dice and salt the eggplants letting them drain for 1 hour. In the meantime peal and thinly slice the onions, carrots, celery and pepper.
In a large pan fry the eggplants and remove from the pan placing them in a large bowl. Individually fry the other vegetables removing from the pan and putting together with the fried eggplant. Using the same pan gently sauté the olives with the capers. Add the tomatoe sauce and when it starts thickening add the vinegar and the sugar. Stir and add the other vegetables.
The caponata can be served as “antipasto” or as a side dish.
If you ask a Sicilian which is the most refreshing and thirst-quenching dessert for a hot summer day, she or he will certainly answer: “Granita, certamente!” (Granita, of course!).
Granita is a frozen dessert made with water and a syrup base, much like sherbet. It’s origins date back to the Arab domination in Sicily which has left so much to the island in spite of its relatively short period (827-1091 A.D.).
In the past the granita was a privilege only for the rich and aristocratic families as it was made using the snow gathered on Mount Etna and on the Peloritani and Nebrodi mountains, then stored in natural caves and extracted during the summer.
Every province of Sicily offers specially flavored granitas using seasonal fruits or ingredients typical of the area. The most popular granitas are made with fresh lemons, almonds, strawberries and coffee.
Catania is the homeland of almond granita, the so-called “minnulata catanese” which is sweet and delicious. The almonds contain a very small portion of bitterness very rich in aroma. Granita made with pistachios from Bronte is also very typical of that area.
Messina has a very tempting speciality, the coffee granita served in a particular glass in which the granita made with espresso coffee is topped with freshly whipped cream… impossible to resist!
Palermo’s favorite, which is also the most popular granita throughout the island, is the lemon granita. The main characteristic of the lemon granita made in Palermo is the texture with its creaminess and more granular ice crystals.
In Sicily, granita may be served at breakfast with the typical brioche, or at any other time of the day. What’s most important is the freshness and genuineness of the ingredients.
Recipe of Sicilian Granita al Limone
This is a recipe that I enjoy using because of it is fast and easy. All you must remember is “one, two, three”.
- 1 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 3 cups water
Squeeze as many lemons necessary to fill one cup. Filter the juice and put aside. Heat the water, add the sugar and stir until the syrup is clear. Add the lemon juice, stir and pour into a container. When the mixture cools a bit, set the container in the freezer. After 2 hours stir the granita breaking the frozen surface and continue this procedure until it reaches the right consistency.
Sipping Limoncello after dinner on hot summer evenings has become a very pleasant custom in Sicily as well as in the rest of Italy.
Limoncello is a Mediterranean liquor made with lemon peels marinated in alcohol. The description of Limoncello given by the Los Angeles Times journalist, Charles Perry, fits perfectly: “A taste of a thousand lemons, it’s colder than ice, and it explodes in your mouth with all the freshness and optimism of lemons”.
The origins of this delicious lemon liquor date back to the early 19th century when it was first produced on the Amalfi coast in Southern Italy. Today it is made throughout the peninsula but the Southern regions with their warm climate are the most renowned in producing it.
Sicilian Limoncello is more intense than that made anywhere else. Its color is more vibrant, it’s sweeter on the palate and has a more pronounced lemon flavor. Making homemade Limoncello is very common among Sicilian families. It can be kept for months in the freezer and because of the high alcohol content it will not freeze.
There are many different recipes for homemade Limoncello, the quantity of alcohol and sugar may vary according to personal taste. It takes about a week for the alcohol to draw the flavor from the lemon zests. But the result is worth the wait!
Here is a recipe my mother handed to me, which is quite easy and irresistibly good. Differently than other recipes, we use small green lemons (instead of yellow ones) that give nice flavor, aroma and a beautiful green color. It is very important that the lemons are organic and freshly picked.
- 1000 ml pure alcohol (Everclear in th U.S.),
- 800 gr. (4 cups) sugar
- 1000 ml. (4 cups) water
- 10 lemons
Rinse and dry the lemons, then peel the zest off. You must avoid peeling the pith which is the white part of the lemon because it would give a bitter flavor to our Limoncello. It takes a little patience to peel the lemons, it’s easier if you use a sharp knife or a vegetable peeler. Put the peel in the alcohol in a hermetic glass container and let it macerate for a week.
After a week, strain the alcohol and discard the peels. Set the alcohol aside while you prepare a syrup heating the water and the sugar, letting it simmer for 5 minutes. Let the syrup cool off and then add the alcohol which has become a nice green color. Pour into bottles and freeze.
March 19 is Saint Joseph or also San Giuseppe day in Italy. People called Giuseppe, Giuseppa, Pippo, Peppino, Peppina, Giusi, Pino, Pina, etc… celebrate their name day.
If you want to celebrate this day the Italian way, here we propose a recipe that we published a few years ago: Zeppole di San Giuseppe.
Ingredients for 8 people:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 package yeast
2 cups water (room temperature)
1 cup raisins
6 cups canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
Mix flour, yeast, salt, raisins and water in a bowl. Let rest for about 2 hours. The dough should be almost liquid. With a spoon, scoop dough and make a ball. In a heavy pot, heat oil. Add the dough to hot oil and deep fry until golden brown. Sprinkle with sugar and serve the zeppole. Enjoy!
|February 9, 2011 7:00 pm||to||February 15, 2011 9:00 pm|
Fabrizia Lanza is returning to the U.S. for a quick trip in February. First, she travels to Chicago, where she will be cooking at Rhapsody on Feb. 9 and Pelago on Feb. 10. From there, she moves on to San Francisco, where she will host a dinner at A16 on Feb. 15.
About Fabrizia Lanza
Fabrizia Lanza is a cooking teacher, art historian and daughter of one of Sicily’s oldest aristocratic families. She joined her mother at the eponymous Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school, located in Vallelunga, site of the family’s renowned Regaleali vineyard. The cooking school celebrates Sicily’s traditional dishes, from the aristocratic cuisine of Palermo to the ingredient driven foods of the countryside.
To make reservations for the dinners, contact the restaurants directly!
Here is a recipe for buccelati that Fabrizia is sharing with us:
For the dough:
- 1 kilogram all-purpose flour
- 200 grams sugar
- 250 grams lard
- 4 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 15 grams ammonia
- Milk as needed
For the filling:
- 300 grams dried figs, minced
- 100 grams walnuts, chopped
- 50 grams pistachios, chopped
- 1 jar homemade tangerine marmalade
- 300 dl vino cotto
For the icing:
- 2 cups confectioners sugar
- Juice of 2 lemons
Mix the dough ingredients together to obtain a soft and smooth dough similar to the one for fresh pasta. You should be able to knead and roll it on a work surface without it sticking.
Combine the stuffing ingredients in a large pan and cook for a few minutes until the figs soften and the mixture thickens. Cool.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll the dough into a large, very thin circle. Fill a pastry bag with the fig filling. At a distance of about four fingers from the dough’s edge, pipe a circle of filling, then fold the edge of dough over to enclose the filling. Cut out the “rope” that you have made and pinch to seal. Cut the “rope” into 3-inch portions. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Before baking, make little cuts on the edges of the cookies so that the filling can vent. Bake until the cookies are slightly golden. While the cookies cool, mix together the confectioners sugar and lemon juice, then glaze the cookies and decorate with colored sprinkles.
This past summer I was at the beach. My friends started talking about an ancient dessert, easy to prepare: biancomangiare. Until this past August, I did not know that this was the name of that sweet treat that my grandmother used to prepare for me and my grandpa when I was visiting them in the afternoon. Apparently this dessert has medieval origins and it is even mentioned in The Leopard by Giuseppe Tommasi di Lampedusa.
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 lemon, zest grated
- 4 cups milk
- 1/2 cup of finely ground pistachio
Combine the sugar, cornstarch and lemon zest in a container. Add the milk, little by little, and stir continuously. Filter the mixture through a strainer to eliminate possible lumps and cook it over medium heat until it becomes creamy. Add the finely ground pistachio and pour it into ramekins. Refrigerate it at least for one hour and garnish with extra pistachio nuts to serve.
Vendemmia stands for wine grape harvest. Here is a vintage picture of my best friend’s family back in Sicily. It is vendemmia in 1983. How many memories of how we were and how much I miss this period of the year!
We were picking up the grapes and driving our parents crazy. In the late afternoon, we crushed the grapes together with adults by bare feet at the palmento (old traditional stone winery) and were always stung by bees. It does not sound like lots of fun, but it was. I remember how sticky we were and how our moms were cooking the grape must to make mostarda, an ancient Sicilian dessert.
- 8 cups cooked must
- 2 cups starch
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
Cook the must until about half of it evaporates. Then add the starch little by little and bring to a boil. Stir until the must reaches a certain consistency. When it is ready, pour it into a plate and let it cool down. Mostarda can be eaten as a pudding or let it rest under the sun to dry for a few days.
I used a traditional family’s recipe (see below) that my my mom was passed along by my grandmother, and so on. The beans must be soaked into cold water overnight, so that the skin becomes tender. Try to cook the pasta (I like linguine, chopped into small little pieces) with the broth you take aside from the cooked beans. I guarantee that this will make the world of a difference. After a long stressful day, there is nothing better than having a warm soup filled with vitamins and fiber!
The wine I suggest for this plate is a Cosiè Red Blend ’07 of Nero d’Avola, Frappato and Pignatello, all local Sicilian grape varieties. It is a wine with a vigorous structure, yet with rounded tannins, a complex bouquet of aromas and an alluring flavor of ripe red fruits and spices.
- 2 whole carrots, slivered and diced
- 1 big onion, chopped
- 4 ounces celery, diced
- 2 cups red kidney beans
- 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of salt
- 1/2 lb of pasta
- Rinse the beans and place them into a pot
- Add 2 cups of water
- Cook over high heat
- After the water starts boiling, lower the heat and cook at low heat
- Season with salt and olive oil
- Separate some of the broth to cook the pasta apart
- Add chopped the onion, carrots, celery and some tomato sauce
- Continue cooking until the beans are nice and creamy