Tea Party in Sicily

April 9, 2013

My Roman friend Roberta–who has moved to Sicily–proposed that I host an afternoon tea.

Great idea, you say?

Ha. Consider this: Roberta works for Gambero Rosso, Italy’s gastronomic bible, which pitilessly rates and ranks food.  She’s reviewed fancy Michelin-starred restaurants all over Italy … and Paris … and London … and New York. She’s penned cookbooks and other food books and now runs a restaurant near the shore with her new Sicilian marito.

So the thought of feeding my food-goddess amica filled me with a kind of horror.

But I’d been fed at her table plenty of times, so it was time to step up and act like a Big Girl.

Whaddya serve at a tea party, anyway? Was Roberta expecting high tea or low tea? I was sure mine would be low–very, very low.

You eat breads and cakes, don’t you?  I can do that. I like to bake. I ran my usual repertoire through my head.

  1. Cranberry-nut loaf. (But there are no cranberries here!)
  2. Pumpkin tea loaf. (No canned pumpkin here!)
  3. Chocolate chip cookies. (No chocolate chips!)
  4. Blueberry-oatmeal muffins. (No blueberries or oatmeal!)
  5. Buttermilk biscuits. (No buttermilk here!)
  6. Etc, etc, etc Ach!

Every single thing I’d ever baked in my entire life contained a key ingredient that this isle lacks.

So to the Wide Web I went, trolling for lemony-orangey things. Because mountains of lemons and oranges we have.

Then I got to work squeezing lemons, chopping nuts, whipping eggs. It was warm enough to toss the doors wide open. Big furry bees circled the honey.

Baking
I made Tuscan lemon muffins using whole ricotta instead of skim (no such thing here), and more lemon zest than the recipe calls for.

Tuscan Lemon Muffins, photo copyright Jann Huizenga

And an orange-nut loaf.

Orange nut bread

And lemon meringue pots de creme, a NY Times recipe.

Lemon Meringue Pot de Creme, recipe from the NY Times, photo copyright Jann Huizenga

And raisin scones, totally unworthy of a photo.

You can just get a glimpse of them below–those things in the back that are flat and hard as hockey pucks. What self-defeating instinct made me put pucks on the table????? The fact that I had good mandarin marmalade and zagara honey to scoop on them was no excuse.

Tea time

I had a Plan called Prosecco. When my guests arrived, I would get them tipsy so they wouldn’t care what they were eating. I let the Moroccan mint tea steep and steep while we tossed back the sauce. We toasted the slaves of Milan and New York who do not know the perks of the free-lance life, and we toasted Sicily.

Moroccan mint tea, copyright Jann Huizenga

The orange-nut bread was unremarkable, but Roberta rushed to the rescue: She pulled a pastry bag of ricotta cream from her purse, like a rabbit from a hat. Abracadabra! The perfect spread!Ricotta cream

The Tuscan lemon muffins were good and moist, but Roberta reserved her praise for the lemon meringue pots de creme.

Roberta Corradin, copyright Jann Huizenga

Roberta Corradin

Hooray! I got the Gambero Rosso thumb-up!

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Sicilian Christmas Pasta: Sciabbo

December 22, 2012

I posted this recipe last year: Sicilian Christmas noodles, otherwise known as sciabbo.

It’s a wonderfully easy dish from Pomp and Sustenance by Mary Taylor Simeti. Mary is an authority on Sicilian cuisine and its history, and I’m thrilled she allowed me to share it with you.

Take a look at some of the ingredients:

Some of the ingredients for sciabbo, Sicilian Christmas noodles, copyright Jann Huizenga

Mmmm! Cocoa and cinnamon and red wine and onion go into sciabbo.

The complete list of ingredients:

1 medium onion

1/4 cup olive oil

3/4 pound pork meat, diced small (I used ground pork)

2 T tomato extract (or 3 T tomato paste)

1/2 cup red wine

2 cups plain tomato sauce (I used a good store-bought sauce)

2 cups water

salt

1/2 t ground cinnamon

1 T sugar

1 T unsweetened cocoa

1.5 pounds lasagna ricce (I used pappardelle)

Instructions:

Sauté the onion in the oil until soft. Add the pork and cook, stirring, until browned. Add the tomato extract and the wine, stirring to dissolve the extract completely.

Cooking Sciabbo, Sicilian Christmas Noodles, copyright Jann Huizenga

Add the tomato sauce and the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 40 minutes until the meat is tender and the sauce is thick.

Sciabbo, Sicilian Christmas Noodles, copyright Jann Huizenga

Correct the salt (if the extract is salty, it may not be necessary to add more). Stir in the cinnamon, sugar, and cocoa.

Cook the pasta in abundant salted water until it is al dente, drain well, and toss with the sauce. You may wish to serve grated cheese on the side, although I think sciabbo is better without it.

Sciabbo, Christmas Noodles, copyright Jann Huizenga

Merry Christmas! Sending warm, fuzzy thoughts your way.

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Some Sicilian-Americans still cook seven fishes for Christmas Eve, but Mary Taylor Simeti emailed me that this tradition pretty much died out in Sicily itself after World War II. She has written other wonderful books too, including Sicilian Food: Recipes from an Abundant Isle and a memoir, On Persephone’s Island.

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Poached Egg with Warm Tomato Sauce

December 1, 2012

What to do when you have nothing in the house but stale bread, a few (great) tomatoes and a fresh egg?

And not much energy to cook?

This is the dish for you:

Tomatoes on a Vine, copyright Jann Huizenga

1. Heat olive oil and and a clove of unpeeled garlic over a medium flame until fragrant.

2. Add several peeled & chopped tomatoes and a pinch of salt.

3. Cook for 10 minutes and remove the garlic clove.

4. Put the tomato mixture into a blender. Blend.

5. Bring water to a boil in a smallish pot. Add a good pinch of salt. Poach your egg(s) in the boiling water for a few seconds (if you’re Italian) or longer (if you’re like me).

6. Add the warm tomato sauce to a shallow bowl. (OPTIONAL: Spoon on a dollop of fresh ricotta.) Carefully place your egg(s) on top. Garnish with fresh basil or thyme & serve with toast drizzled with a yummy oil.

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This recipe was adapted from the recipe for cuciniello in Roberta Corradin’s gorgeous book, Taste and Tradition (2): A Culinary Journey through Southern Italy. Thanks, Ro!

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Carote al Marsala

September 11, 2012

Do you have a garden bristling with more carrots than you know what to do with?

Marsala Carrots, copyright Jann Huizenga

Here’s the super-simple Carote al Marsala, a recipe I found in Nancy Harmon Jenkins’ Cucina del Sole: A Celebration of Southern Italian Cooking

Marsala, an ancient town on the western edge of Sicily, is famous for its namesake wine.

Ingredients

1 lb carrots

2-3 T unsalted butter + 1 T extra-virgin olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1/3 cup (or a bit more) dry Marsala

Instructions

1. Peel the carrots if you wish and slice them rather thick.

2. Combine the oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat. When the butter starts to foam, toss in the carrot slices and stir.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. When the carrots start to soften, pour in the Marsala. Continue to cook and stir. As the Marsala cooks down, add about 1/2 cup of water. Turn the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook 15 minutes or until the carrots are tender.

5. Uncover the pan. If a lot of liquid is left, raise the heat to high and cook it down until you have just a few tablespoons of syrupy liquid. Serve immediately, spooning the liquid over carrots.

Marsala carrots, copyright Jann Huizenga

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I’m giving away a copy of Eating in Sicily today. To be in the running, just drop a comment on this post before midnight on Sept 13 EST and be sure to have an address in North America. You can tell us that you hate carrots, what your favorite Sicilian or Italian dish is, or anything else.

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Giovanni & The Three Little Fishes

June 9, 2012

Meet Giovanni. A fisherman with a stall two steps from the deep blue sea.

FIsh Seller in Southeast Sicily; copyright Jann Huizenga

I approach him timidly, we salute, and and I point to some fish.

“I’m American. I know nothing. What can you recommend?

“Which way do you want to cook them?”

“In a pan, I guess.”

Giovanni indicates some small rosy fishies with those rubbery gloves of his.

“OK,” I say in Italian. “Give me three of those. But will you please clean them and cut off their heads?”  I love to cook fish, but only if they’re beheaded.

Giovanni nods. Sure. Sure. And turns around to the sink.

I pay him a total of €3, €1 per fish, which seems a bargain. But lo and behold, when I unwrap the package at home, six bright eyes are staring me down.

Fish from Sicilian Waters; copyright Jann Huizenga

“Giovanni!” I curse.  (Can my Italian really be that bad?)

Their scared coral-pink eyes make me think dark thoughts:  You were alive a few hours ago…. Can I? Should I? 

Then I dust them with flour the way Giovanni said. The eyes vanish.

Fish dredged in flour; copyright Jann Huizenga

I plop them into the frying pan in a bit of hot oil.

“Cook until they smell good,” Giovanni had said. “A few minutes per side.”

Fried fish in Sicily; copyright Jann Huizenga

I sprinkle some Sicilian sea salt on the three little fishes, spritz them with lemon.

Slowly I fork the flesh apart.

I’m sad but glad.

It’s one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

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