Archive for the ‘Sicily’ Category

Southern-Italian-inspired baked whole fish, and pasta with garlic and hot pepper

For dinner last night we made two dishes inspired by our travels in southern Italy, both very easy and delicious. One was a whole black sea bass, which we seasoned and baked. The other was spaghetti with a simple and flavorful topping.

We went to our local fishmonger on Saturday morning, and he had a fresh 2-pound back bass, which he gutted for us but otherwise left whole. To cook the fish that evening, I preheated the oven to 425, and lined a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. I arranged a few lemon slices on the parchment paper, rubbed 3 to 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on both sides of the fish, sprinkled salt on both sides too, and then lay the fish down on the lemon slices. I put a half-dozen more lemon slices in to the fish cavity, along with 6 to 8 sprigs of fresh thyme. Last, I rolled some cherry tomatoes around in a bowl with another tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkled with salt, put the tomatoes onto the same baking sheet, and put it all in the oven for 30 minutes.

A fresh black bass

A fresh black bass

The fish stuffed and ready for the oven

The fish stuffed and ready for the oven

Meanwhile, I put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the spaghetti, and set out other ingredients I had around: a dried cayenne pepper from my garden of two years ago, a tablespoon of capers in brine, and about 1/3 cup Calabrian caper shoots in olive oil we had recently been given a jar of. I took a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano out of the fridge to come to room temp, and finely grated 2 cups worth using a zester.

I used the seeds from only one of these peppers.

I used the seeds from only one of these peppers.

Caper shoots in olive oil

Caper shoots in olive oil

I put a large skillet on low heat, and added about 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. I sliced six cloves of garlic into thin slices, being careful to pull out and discard the green sprout from each clove – the garlic is a bit old and tired now, almost time for a new season. I added the garlic to the oil, and let it gently cook for 15 minutes, being careful that the heat was low enough that the garlic did not get very brown. Then I removed the garlic with a slotted spoon, and put in the hot pepper flakes from 1 cayenne pepper, the capers and the caper shoots.

The garlic adding flavor to olive oil at a low temperature.

The garlic adding flavor to olive oil at a low temperature.

The red pepper flakes, capers, and caper shoots added after the garlic was removed.

The red pepper flakes, capers, and caper shoots added after the garlic was removed.

Meanwhile, the salted pasta water had boiled, so I put in about 3/4 lb of spaghetti, and cooked until al dente. I drained the pasta well, and then poured it in to the large skillet with the olive oil and other ingredients, and stirred well. I tossed in about 1/2 cup of minced fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, and stirred in the cheese. And, the fish was just out of the oven! We gently pulled the fish off the bones on each side, and served with the cherry tomatoes and pasta, with sea salt, olive oil, and fresh lemon wedges on the table for additional seasoning.

The fish just out of the oven.

The fish just out of the oven.

Dinner!

Dinner!

It all paired very well with a chilled Viognier. Yum!

Grilled Whole Lake Trout with Garlic and Thyme

If you’re looking for a main dish that’s quick and easy to make, delicious, and makes for a dramatic presentation, whole grilled fish is a great way to go.

I was talking with the fishmonger at my local market last Saturday, and asked him what would be best to grill that night. He steered me to these beautiful lake trout, caught the day before. (When I say “whole” I just mean, heads and tails still on – the fishmonger had already cleaned/gutted them.)

Opening up and admiring the fish at home

Fish that’s very fresh has good color, shiny eyes, and firm flesh.

Stuffing the cavity with fresh thyme, crushed garlic cloves, and some sea salt

Stuffing the cavity with fresh thyme, crushed garlic cloves, and some sea salt

After admiring the fish, I stuffed each one with a few springs of fresh thyme, 2 crushed garlic cloves, and about 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt, and then rubbed a little olive oil on the outsides, just a tablespoon or so. Meanwhile I was heating the grill, and had scraped the grill grate clean with a wire brush and wiped a little oil on the grate too.

Prepped ingredients for our side dish, which was pasta with fresh pesto, cherry tomatoes, and parmigiano reggiano cheese.

Prepped ingredients for our side dish, which was pasta with fresh pesto, cherry tomatoes, and parmigiano reggiano cheese.

The trout on the grill, only about 7 minutes per side on medium to medium-high

The trout on the grill, only about 7 minutes per side on medium to medium-high

Before grilling the fish, I prepped the ingredients for our side dish, since I knew the fish cooking time would be short. Given this month’s garden bounty, fresh pesto and cherry tomatoes over pasta was the clear way to go. Years ago Elph gave me a beautiful Italian marble mortar and pestle that is fun to use, so that’s a bonus, and an encouragement to make pesto by hand rather than using a cuisinart. (When I’m making large quantities of pesto, I definitely do use a cuisinart…)

Some swear that basil tastes better and stays fresher when torn rather than cut with a knife; I have not tested that for myself, but I did enjoy using the mortar and pestle for this small dinner. I first crushed a clove of garlic in 1 teaspoon of sea salt, and then added basil and a good olive oil a bit at a time until I’d added about a packed cup’s worth of basil and a couple tablespoons of olive oil, and last added in some toasted walnuts, 1/3 cup or so. I sliced the cherry tomatoes (these are like candy right now so I used a lot, maybe 2 cups worth), and grated a cup of parmigiano reggiano.

I’d brought salted water to boil in a large pot, and when it was time to put the fish on the grill, I also put the pasta in the cooking water. This is easier to do simultaneously when you have 2 people cooking! If you’re solo you’ll probably want to stagger the cooking to prevent overcooking either the pasta or the fish.

We used a timer for 7 minutes a side for the fish, which is what the fishmonger recommended, but he also said just to test it by making a small incision in the flesh and seeing if it was flaky and no longer translucent.

It's hard to see the pasta and pesto under there, I put so many tomatoes on, but it was delicious!

It’s hard to see the pasta and pesto under there, I put so many tomatoes on, but it was delicious!

The fish were done in 14 minutes flat. Yum.

The fish were done in 14 minutes flat. Yum.

We enjoyed plating the fish whole and eating them that way. We poured a little olive oil over each fish and squeezed fresh lemon juice over too, and gave each another sprinkle of salt and pepper. You eat one side by lifting the skin up off the meat, with the backbone facing away from you on the plate, and then sliding the meat gently down toward the plate with a fork. It slides cleanly off the bone, but you just pay attention to make sure you don’t get the occasional stray bone. And then turn it over and eat the other side. And don’t forget the cheeks! Tiny and fun to eat, just down from and a little behind the eyes. We could taste the thyme and garlic in the fish.

A wonderful summer meal; it made me feel like our back deck was perched up in Tuscany or Sicily. Enjoy!

Orange Almond-Polenta Cake

My cousin made this delicious, gluten-free cake for her birthday party last weekend, and provided the recipe to the many of us who asked for it! (Via a cook book called Homemade, by Yvetter Van Boven. Recipe below.) In the ingredients it has hints of both Piedmont (polenta) and Sicily (almonds and oranges).

The raspberries on top made it especially festive.

For the cake:
2 whole oranges
juice of one lemon
half cup polenta
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp vanilla sugar (I just used half tsp vanilla)
1 cup almonds finely ground
6 eggs
One and a quarter cups sugar

To garnish
2-3 oranges
half cup apricot jam
raspberries – optional

Cook the 2 oranges whole (unpeeled) for 1 hour in plenty of water. When nearly done, preheat oven to 350. Leave oranges to cool fully, then roughly chop, removing the seeds. Place in food processor, and blitz with lemon juice. Stir in polenta, baking powder, and vanilla, then the ground almonds. In another bowl, beat the eggs with sugar into fine white foam. Carefully fold the polenta mixture into the airy egg foam and pour into a throughly greased 10 inch cake pan. Bake for 45 mins to 1 hour. Leave the cake to cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto cooling rack to cool fully.

Peel the additional 2-3 oranges for the garnish, removing pith, and slice into thin rounds. Cover top of cake with oranges. Heat jam and pour over cake (there was something about adding gelatin too, but I skipped this), and then I added raspberries to make it look even prettier! Enjoy!

Sicilian Ricotta Easter Cake

I was reading a book about Sicily recently, and the author described tasting a delicious ricotta cake there, traditionally made around Easter-time due to the high quality of the spring milk. I was intrigued – I think about ricotta in relation to stuffed pasta, or cannoli, but not as the main ingredient in a cake, so decided to try it. The recipe is mainly about letting the fresh ricotta’s flavor and texture shine.  And having tasted fresh ricotta at a dairy in Sicily, I knew I wanted to make my own ricotta.

Ricotta is very simple to make! I happen to live only a few miles from the wonderful Zingerman’s Creamery, and they provided me with 5 gallons of fresh whey, from a batch of a cow’s cheese they had just made. (If you don’t have a good source of whey, you can use whole milk to make ricotta, but I believe there are other ingredients involved so please google that.)

Step 1, was to heat the whey to 200 degrees F. While it was heating, I lined a strainer (I used two strainers actually) with very fine cloth – I used a thin dishtowel for one, and a piece of fine cheesecloth doubled up for the other. (There is also an extra-fine cheesecloth you can buy, called buttercloth, that cheesemaker supply places sell.) If you think you’ll want to use the leftover whey for something else after the ricotta (such as making sauerkraut, etc), put the strainer over another pot or bowl.

 

Heating 5 gallons of whey to 200F

The strainer over one pot and the whey in another

 

When the whey reached 200F, I could see the white milk solids precipitating out of the whey. I used a large glass measuring cup to pour the hot whey into the strainer, some at a time. The solids start to “clog” up the cloth so I poured in some, then went and did something else while it drained, and then poured in more. I used a wooden spoon to scrape down the sides of the cloth sometimes.

 

Me (carefully) pouring some of the hot whey into the strainer

The full strainer would take several minutes to drain.

 
 

I ended up with nearly 4 cups of ricotta! Which I hear is a high yield, which may be a fluke; I intend to try making this again in a few weeks and I’ll report back. Then we started in on the Ricotta Cake recipe (the full recipe is at the end). We lightly beat together egg yolks, honey, orange zest and juice, and lemon zest and juice, and stirred it gently into the ricotta.

 

An unusually high yield of ricotta

Mixing the zest in to the ricotta

 

Since my household is mostly gluten-free, Elph made an almond crust, instead of the traditional Sicilian pastry crust. He mixed almond flour with sugar, butter, cream, coconut milk, and vanilla, pressed it in to a pie plate, and baked it for 10 minutes or so. Then I scooped in the filling, and we baked it about 80 minutes at 350.

 

Pressing the almond crust into the pie plate

Into the oven

 

We enjoyed a slice right away – it has a lovely fresh, mild, creamy flavor, with the hints of citrus. And it was just as good the next day, with more citrus flavor, although our crust had gotten somewhat soft. Still delicious though.

 

Mm pie...

 

Recipe follows:

Gluten-Free Almond Pie Crust

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups almond meal or almond flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons chilled butter or butter substitute
2 1/4 tablespoons cream or coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Toss the dry ingredients together in a bowl and mix well, and then add the wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients. Mix in a food processor until the dough forms a soft, workable ball. (Using a food processor is an easy way of mixing and handling the dough, but you can accomplish the same results using a pastry blender or wooden spoon.) Press the pastry directly into the pan without rolling, using your fingertips and the heel of your palm. Prick the pastry lightly with a fork and bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 10 to 12 minutes before filling.

Sicilian Ricotta Easter Cake, filling

4 cups ricotta
4 egg yolks
6 tablespoons honey
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice

(NOTE, next time I make this, I may use twice that much orange juice, and try reducing it down on the stovetop, maybe mixed with the honey, let it cool, and then add that to the ricotta, to get more orange flavor.)

Preheat oven to 350F. (If you just baked your crust the oven is already preheated of course.)

Gently beat the egg yolks in a small bowl until just combined, and stir in the lemon and orange juice and zest, and the honey. Then pour the mixture in to the ricotta, stir gently, and scoop in into the prepared pie crust.

Bake approximately 80 minutes until light golden in color. Enjoy!

Recipes from an “Evening in Sicily” at Zingerman’s Roadhouse

Gioacchino in the Roadhouse kitchen

Gioacchino Passalaqua, an Italian artisanal food exporter and native Sicilian who co-leads our Sicily Food Tour with us, worked closely with Chef Alex and the rest of the Roadhouse crew to create an amazing multi-course dinner last Tuesday, January 10, 2012! The food wowed the sold-out crowd, and after numerous people clamored for the recipes Gioacchino agreed to write them up for us.

Please note, for the most part, Italians don’t tend to give quantities and specifics – you use “a pinch of this” and “a spoonful of that” and cook for “as long as is needed” – but we asked Gioacchino to please give quantities and details whenever he could. Some of the quantities will seem odd, and that’s because they are Gioacchino’s conversions from metric.

So, please use your creativity and cooking intuition to fill in any gaps where needed, and please let us know if you try making any of these and have more details that we can add in.

Sicilians, like most Italians, use excellent-quality extra-virgin olive oil, and they use it in large quantities – so, if you want your dishes to taste authentic, get a great oil, and don’t skimp in using it!

One other note, three Sicilian wines were served with the meal – two Nero d’Avola’s, and one Il Frappato.

Enjoy!

A n t i p a s t i

“Beccafico” Sardines

Ingredients for 6 people:
2-1/2 pounds cleaned, fresh sardines, spines and large bones removed, so each sardine is in two long separate halves
Extra virgin olive oil
9 bay leaves

Stuffing:
8 oz of bread crumbs
Extra virgin olive oil
lemon juice, one lemon
lemon peel, half lemon
sugar, 2 italian caffe spoon
salt, as enough
parsley, 2 spoons
capers, 1-1/2 ounces
black olives diced and without pits, 1-1/2 ounces
toasted and diced almonds, 2 ounces
2-1/2 ounces of raisins
2-1/2 ounces of pine nuts

Preparation
Mix all the stuffing ingredients until it has a compact/forming consistency. Take half a sardine, put some stuffing into the middle and then roll the ends of the sardine up around the stuffing. Then put sardine rolls in a baking pan with extra virgin olive oil and bay leaves. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and cook at 350F  for 15/20 minutes.

 

Eggplant parmigiania and a stuffed sardine

Eggplant parmigiana

Ingredients for 6 people:
3 eggplants
High-temperature vegetable oil for deep frying (Note, Gioacchino says he often uses extra virgin olive oil for deep frying.)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sugar 2 italian caffe spoon
Extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
Tomato puree, 35 ounce
Fresh basil as needed
Caciocavallo and pecorino cheeses, as needed

Preparation
Wash the eggplants, peel them and slice in strips. Then slices the eggplant making sure that all will be roughly the same thickness of .60 inches. Place the eggplant in a container full of water and salt, it is important that the eggplants are completely immersed in the water.
Drain and deep frying in a high-temperature oil. As soon are well cooked set them on a tray, on which you previously placed a paper towel, and let them drain the oil. Sprinkle with some pinches of salt while still warm.

Fry the finely chopped onion in extra virgin olive oil, then add the tomato puree. Add a few leaves of basil. Season with salt, pepper and a few tablespoons of sugar. Cook until you get a dense enough sauce. At this point, in a rectangular baking dish, lay a layer of fried eggplant cover with the sauce, sprinkle the grated cheese you have decided to use and conclude with a few leaves of basil.
Put the eggplant parmigiana in the oven at 390 degrees F for about 40 minutes until the tomatoes sauce present the characteristic golden “crust”.

Give panelle a squirt of fresh lemon juice.

Panelle

Ingredients for 6 people:
1-1/2 liters of water
18.5 ounces of chickpea flour
1 bunch of fresh parsley
high-temperature vegetable oil for deep frying (Note, Gioacchino says he often uses extra virgin olive oil for deep frying.)
Salt and pepper

Preparation
In a pan add a quart of warm water and salt as needed. Add slowly the flour, stir it slowly, so that no lumps are formed. Place the pan on the stove and then add the finely chopped parsley. Stir until the liquid has congealed enough to separate from the sides of the pan. Turn off the heat and pour the mixture onto a hard flat wet surface (ideally a marble counter top that is ok to cut on) that you moisten with some water first to reduce sticking. Spread it with a spatula to obtain a uniform surface of about 3 mm. Allow to cool. Cut the dough into squares and then into triangles, and fry in abundant oil and hot frying pan. When the triangles are golden brown on both sides take out from frying pan, lay them on a plate with paper towels and add salt and pepper.

Lentil Soup of Ustica

Ingredients for 6 people
Extra virgin olive oil
17.64 oz Ustica lentils (very small and brown)
2 carrots, minced
half an onion, minced
salt
black pepper
fresh wild fennel, a small branch, minced

Pour extra virgin olive oil in a pan with the finely chopped onion, sauté for a few minutes then add carrots, lentils and fill with water. After few minutes add the chopped fennel, salt and pepper. Cook over low heat until the lentils are fully cooked, about 20/30 minutes.

Mm, cheese...

“Argentiera” Cacio Cheese

Ingredients for 6 people:
6 slices of cheese (semiarid Ragusano or Caciocavallo, 5-1/2 oz each)(Note, if unavailable you could try using a semi-aged provolone)
Extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves
3 tbsp of white wine vinegar
Dried Oregano one spoon
Black pepper

Preparation
In a skillet, put extra virgin olive oil and saute garlic. Then remove the garlic from the skillet. Put the cheese and cook until golden brown in color. Spray or drizzle vinegar and a generous sprinkle of oregano and black pepper. Cover the skillet and cook on medium heat for 2-4 minutes. Place cheese on serving plate. Serve hot.

P r i m i

All three pastas

Pasta with “Trapanese pesto”

Ingredients for 6 people:
Campo D’oro “Trapanese” pesto sauce (mixed vegetables)
1 jar of pesto Trapanese
1,1 lb of pasta (busiate shape is preferred, this is like a longer strozzapreti)
Extra virgin olive oil

Preparation
Heat condiment in a large skillet with 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil. Boil pasta until al dente in salted boiling water. Set aside a cup of the water used to boil the pasta. When ready to serve toss pasta in pan with heated condiment and adjust consistency using the water used to boil the pasta.

Pasta with Pistachio Pesto and Eggplant

Ingredients for 6 people:

6 oz eggplant
1 jar of pistachio pesto
1.1 lb of pasta
Extra virgin olive oil
(Note, Zingerman’s Deli and Zingerman’s Mail Order will probably have the pistachio pesto.)

Preparation
Wash the eggplants, peel and dice them making sure that are roughly all the same dimension about 1.20 x 1.20. Place the eggplant in a container full of water and salt, it is important that the eggplants are completely immersed in the water.
Drain and deep frying in extra virgin olive oil. As soon are well cooked set them on a tray, on which you previously placed a paper towel, and let them drain the oil. Sprinkle with some pinches of salt while still warm.
Heat the pistachio pesto in a large skillet with 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and add the fried eggplant. Boil pasta until al dente in salted boiling water. Set aside a cup of the water used to boil the pasta. When ready to serve toss pasta in pan with heated pistachio pesto and adjust consistency using the water used to boil the pasta.

Pasta with cauliflower

Ingredients for 6 people:
1 large head of cauliflower, core removed and discarded, florets coarsely chopped
1.1 lb of pasta (Bugatini shape preferred)
Toasted fresh breadcrumbs for garnishing pasta, 5.3 ounces
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Black pepper
Pine nuts, 2.85 oz
Raisins, 2.45 oz
Onion, half

Preparation
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Break cauliflower into flowerets. Add about a tablespoon of salt to the water, and boil the cauliflower in it until it is tender but not mushy. Using a slotted spoon or strainer, remove the cauliflower and set it aside. (KEEP cooking water.) When it is cool enough to handle, chop it roughly into small pieces.
In a large deep skillet, saute onion, previously chopped very fine, in extra virgin olive oil, until onion is golden. Start cooking pasta in same pot and same water as was used for the cauliflower.
When the onion is ready, add the cauliflower, pine nuts, and raisins and cook for a few minutes until all the ingredients are blended. When pasta is just about done, drain it, reserving about a cup of cooking liquid.
Add pasta to skillet containing the cauliflower, and toss until they are well combined. Add salt and pepper to taste, along with just enough pasta water to keep the mixture moist but not soupy.

S e c o n d i

Roast Beef with salted chocolate

Ingredients for 6 people:
Antica Dolceria Bonajuto Dark chocolate bar flavored with salt 4 oz, cut into small pieces
3.3 lb Roast Beef, tenderloin round
1 big carrot finely minced
1 clove of garlic finely minced
1 bay leaf
5-6 cups beef or vegetable stock
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Black pepper
(Note, Zingerman’s Deli and Zingerman’s Mail Order should have the Bonajuto chocolate.)

Preparation
Lightly season the roast beef with salt and pepper. Put in a saucepan the minced carrot and minced garlic, the bay leaf, 5-6 cups of vegetable stock and extra virgin olive oil. Brown the meat in another pan at high heat. When done, lay the roast in the saucepan with the vegetables and broth and cook in the oven at 375 F until the roast is cooked rare to medium rare. Take the beef from the oven and let rest 15 minutes. Then cut into thin slices. When is ready to serve. Place the roast beef on the plate and garnish with chocolate and serve immediately to avoid the chocolate completely melting before it is served.

Roast beef, stuffed pepper, and a baked onion slice with breadcrumbs

Gioacchino in the Roadhouse rear dining room, at the Sicily dinner

Stuffed Peppers cut in half

Ingredients for 6 people:
3 bell pepper
Salt
Black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
4 potatoes medium size
grated parmigiano cheese 8.9 oz
4 eggs
white bread, 7 oz
parsley
capers, 5.5 oz
pitted olives black olives, 7 oz

Wash the bell peppers dried and cut them in two parts then remove all the seeds contained in.
Prepare the stuffing, cook the potatoes in salted water with all the skin. As soon as cooked make a mash. Soak bread in milk and squeeze tight. Finely chop capers, olives and parsley. When the previous steps are completed put all the ingredients together and add cheese and eggs, mix until the filling is perfectly mixed. Place the bell pepper in a pan previously greased with extra virgin olive oil and add a pinch of salt in the peppers. Stuff the peppers and cover the surface with cheese and a splash of extra virgin olive oil. Bake at a temperature of 380 F for about half an hour.

Breaded baked onions

Ingredients for 6 people:

3 Giarratana or Vidalia onions
Bread crumbs, 7 oz
White wine vinegar, sprinkle
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
Salt
Black pepper

Preparation
Slice the onion in horizontal round slices in order to obtain the same thickness and the maximum size. Oil the baking dish and place the rounds of sliced onions on it. Sprinkle the onions with extra virgin olive oil, add salt and pepper and cover with bread crumbs. Sprinkle all with white wine vinegar and bake at 350 F until the top is a bit brown and bubbling, about 15 – 20 minutes.

D e s s e r t

Mousse of vanilla chocolate

Mousse of vanilla chocolate

Ingredients for 6 people:
Antica Dolceria Bonajuto Dark chocolate bar 45% flavored with vanilla, 2 oz, melted
1 oz Bonajuto chocolate, crumbled
8 oz heavy cream
2 oz sugar

(Note, Zingerman’s Deli and Zingerman’s Mail Order should have the Bonajuto chocolate.)

Preparation
Whip the heavy cream and the sugar until cream is stands in soft peaks in mixing bowl. Add half of the whipped cream to the melted chocolate and combine well by folding it in. Add the rest of the whipped cream and crumbled chocolate to the mixture. Place mousse in serving dish and chill for 1 hour. Garnish with a few pieces of crumbled chocolate and a sprig of mint.

Olive harvest at a family-owned estate in Sicily

During our Sicily food tour, a highlight of the trip is spending time on a family-owned olive estate during the time of olive harvest and extraction of their excellent olive oil. We stroll with the owner in the orchards, gardens, and mill, and learn all about the process and about what goes in to making a great olive oil.

The olive orchard.

The vegetable garden.

We learned that:
– Harvesting the olives at the right moment, while still green, means maximum flavor and lower yields – they much prefer quality to quantity
– Getting the olives to the mill right away is important, so they don’t sit and start to ferment
– Rinsing and sorting them thoroughly, to remove leaves and twigs, helps too
– Extracting the oil using the gentlest mechanism possible, to produce the least heat during the process, also maximizes quality and flavor

The care they take during the entire process means they create an intensely flavorful, fresh oil, with an incredible color too.

Here are two video snippets from one of our visits.

First, the olives being milled – the estate we visit mills its own olives. The olives are hand harvested in their orchards, and driven to the milling building. The olives are unloaded onto a conveyor belt, which takes them into the rinsing stage, they are hand-sorted, then dried, and then move into the extractor, which turns slowly and gently to separate the oil from the solids.

The second video is of the owner, Gabriella, talking a bit about the olives and the harvest process. The harvest goes on for weeks, and she and her father and other family members and workers, work pretty much around the clock.

That evening, we all sat down to a wonderful dinner in her villa of a variety of homemade local specialties, featuring their excellent oil of course, as well as produce from their gardens and fruit trees, local fresh and aged cheeses, and their house-marinated olives. Everything was delicious.

Walking up to the villa with Gabriella

The first course - local cheeses, and homemade spreads and marinated olives.

15-Minute Sicilian Bottarga Pasta

The familiar dilemma – not much time to fix dinner, and, not much food in the house! I made a quick, delicious pasta dish recently with ingredients I had on hand.

First, I looked in the fridge and freezer to see what kinds of ingredients I had. A pasta dish came immediately to mind when I found the jar of dried bottarga (which is salted, dried tuna roe) that I had purchased at a market in Palermo on a previous Zingerman’s Food Tour to Sicily, and remembered the wonderful pasta dishes with bottarga that I had eaten on that trip. I also turned up my last container of Roma tomatoes I had frozen last fall, and I always have a chunk of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano cheese on hand. Together with a bag of penne, some garlic, and a green onion and a handful of chard from my garden, I was set.

Dried bottarga from Palermo

Chard from the garden

Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Garlic, green onion, and Roma tomatoes

First, I started the pasta water, and put my bag of frozen Romas in a bowl of hot water to do a speedy defrost. Then washed the chard and tore it into bit sized pieces, grated a generous amount of Parm Reg (about a cup), and chopped the green onion and 4 cloves of garlic.

When the pasta water came to a boil, I added a tablespoon of salt, and the bag of penne pasta.

I added a tablespoon of olive oil to another pot and fried the green onion and garlic for 2 minutes over medium heat, and then poured in my bag of Roma tomatoes (about 3 cups worth of tomatoes and juice). I let that cook for about 5 minutes, breaking up the tomatoes and letting some of the juices cook off.

When the pasta was almost done I put the chard into the pasta pot, let it boil about 30 seconds, and then drained it all. I mixed the cooked, drained pasta and chard into the pot with the tomatoes, garlic, and green onion, immediately added the cheese and a teaspoon of the bottarga, and ground some fresh pepper over, and tossed. After tasting I added a little more bottarga (to taste, about 1/2 t more), and a pinch of sea salt, and dinner was ready. (The bottarga and the Parm Reg are both salty so no additional salt may be needed.) Perfect with a glass of a Sicilian white wine, and more grated Parm on the side for those who like their pasta extra-cheesy.

Almost ready

Dinner on the back deck

Sicily tour 2010, it’s a wrap!

Marsala – Trapani – Erice
(Photos are at the end of the post.)

Our last three days in the Trapani region in northwestern Sicily were lovely. One highlight was visiting a family-owned olive estate; the harvest had begun so we got to watch the olive oil making process, taste the fresh oil, and then sat down to a homemade dinner at their villa. We also visited a honey producer, and tasted the range of honeys that the bees make, depending on what is in flower – from the delicate, light-colored acacia or orange-blossom to the intense dark chestnut honey. And of course, we visited a Marsala wine-maker, Pellegrino, learned about their process, tasted wines, and had lunch up high in a former storage tower turned restaurant, with a great view of the town and the water. We spent an afternoon strolling the romantic streets of the mountaintop village of Erice – gorgeous views of land and sea on all sides, narrow pedestrian streets lined with shops and cafes and paved in meticulously placed little stones.

Monday night we had our final dinner together at the hotel, and said goodbye. Very early Tuesday morning (5am!) the first group of us headed to the Palermo airport, with others heading out at various times during the day with different destinations. A truly wonderful 10 days. Am glad I brought a lot of goodies home with me, so I can keep enjoying Sicily for a while yet!

Hand-picked olives being rinsed before the oil is extracted.

Olive oil doesn't get any fresher than this!

Our Sicilian guide Gioacchino holding a honeycomb up for the honey-producer.

Fresh honey!

Me in Erice.

Our little bus by the market in Trapani.

Preparing for the Sicily tour!

The Zingerman’s Food Tour to Sicily starts Sunday!  I’m excited. Elph and I are going two days early, to help with a few final logistics. And, this also makes it far more certain that we will get there ahead of our guests, even if a flight is canceled or what-have-you. It’s such a wonderful thing to leave the day-to-day routines behind, to wake up my brain and senses in a different place and culture. I love listening to Italian being spoken. And I’m especially looking forward to enjoying the foods that I can only get there – like the freshly made unpasteurized ricotta, the wonderful cannoli, and the only almond-paste (called Pasta Reale there but the name I knew it by is marzipan) I have ever liked, with a pure almond flavor and not too sweet.

Freshly made ricotta.

Sicilian Granitas

We had a very Sicilian treat recently, made by one of my neighbors – lemon and raspberry Granitas (shaved ice) topped with mint sprigs. They were both delicious! Lemon was my favorite but it was hard to decide. Granitas are wonderful on a hot day, and a lot lighter than gelato.