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.
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.
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
We recently “met” chef Paolo Torre on Twitter and started emailing back and forth. We found out that he has Sicilian origins and over 45 years experience cooking in some of New York’s finest restaurants, including 20 years with his own establishment. On his blog you will find great recipes, articles, restaurant reviews and posts of interesting Italian cookbooks. He agreed to share with us the swordfish rolls or involtini di pesce spada recipe, a typical Messinese dish. Enjoy and do not forget to visit his Website for more cooking ideas!
- 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons capers, chopped
- 12 pitted gaeta olives, chopped
- 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 skinless swordfish steaks about 1/2 inch thick
- Salmoriglio (see below) or lemon wedges
- Start a fire in a charcoal grill, or pre-heat a gas grill. Soak 4 wooden skewers in cold water.
- Combine bread crumbs, capers, olives, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper in a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and mix well.
- Place each swordfish steak between two pieces of wax paper and pound gently with the flat end of a meat pounder to 1/4 inch thickness.
- Cut each steak in half.
- Place one-eighth of the bread-crumb mixture near one end of each piece of fish and roll it up as neatly as possible, tucking in the ends. Thread the fish onto a pair of wooden skewers held parallel to each other, 4 rolls per pair of skewers.
- Brush the fish with the remaining olive oil and grill over high heat until firm to the touch, 8-10 minutes, turning once.
- Remove rolls from skewers and serve with the salmoriglio on the side for drizzling or lemon wedges.
- 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Juice of 4 lemons
- Salt & pepper to taste
Combine garlic, oregano, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and mix well.
- 2 tablespoons raisins
- 5 tablespoons white breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- ¼ pound Pecorino cheese
- 8 anchovy fillets
- 1 tablespoons minced parsley
- 4 ounces grated Pecorino
- 2 pounds sardines
- 1 clove garlic
Soak the raisins in warm water, then squeeze out the excess water. Brown 4 tbs. of breadcrumbs in 1 tbs. oil, and mix all the ingredients except the laurel to get a smooth stuffing. Remove the split open heads, bone the sardines and pat dry. Spread them open on a table and fill with stuffing.
Fold them lengthwise and place on a baking dish. Drizzle with breadcrumbs, olive oil, and add the laurel. Cook in the oven at 450º F for 15 mins.