CHILLI MUSSELS…a find on the last vacation we went on. We spent a few days in Western Australia’s city of PERTH where because of a recommendation from Australian travelers we met in Bali we learned of these Mussels in a Tomato, Hot Pepper, and Wine Sauce. Sounds like Mussels Fra Diavolo? Sounds like a typical ItalianAmerican seafood dish? Since I’ve come back from vacation I’ve been trying to see where this dish originated. I’ve found out a few things. You can find them all over Australia, yet on line research always points to Perth and Western Australia. Australia’s proximity to Asia had me thinking these were possibly an Indonesian or Thai or Chinese style of mussels. No. They are decidedly Mediterranean in their style and flavor. Are they different from ItalianAmerican mussels in hot pepper spiked tomato sauce? When That bowl was placed infront of us in Western Australia’s seaside town of CERVANTES my head said..oh, it’s our Fra Diavolo with an Australian name. Sitting in the CERVANTES BAR AND BISTRO after a full day of driving up the coast I can tell you I was in for a great culinary surprise. These had a bit of sweetness to them. I detected maybe sugar in the mix. There were fresh sliced chile peppers in the mix. Aha. That’s it. Quite possibly with Australia’s large Italian Immigrant population this was a creation made by them with some changes as often happens in immigrant communities. There’s a style of cooking called AustralianItalian, just like we have ItalianAmerican in the States. Now you’ll say, what’s the difference??? Why would the dried chile pepper flakes (peperoncino) taste different than the fresh. Well…taste both for yourself. There’s a difference. And this is not a one is better than the other conversation, this is me telling you my foodcentric friends that there’s new dishes to be had when you change an ingredient. Fresh Chiles is possibly more Asian in it’s flavor profile. It’s a bit fruity. There’s a texture the ItalianAmerican mussels don’t have. It was amazing. Travel Food surprises are always welcome. Simply switch out fresh chiles for the peperoncino, add a pinch of sugar, or brown sugar and you’ll get the chilli mussel experience. Most important, use mid sized fresh mussels. Those enormous Green ones don’t work here. For a recipe, since I’ve not made my own version of them yet, here’s a link from Australia’s great Travel magazine, GOURMET TRAVELLER. I fell in love with this magazine after my daughter bought me one for the beach while we were there.
Italy is filled with Pork recipes and ItalianAmerica added more to the scene. This one is one that shows up often in Southern Italian Cooking, the combo of Pork with Peppers. Sometimes it’s with Hot Vinegar Peppers. Sometimes it’s with a simple saute’ of Peppers and Onions. Sometimes it’s AGRODOLCE, meaning sweet and sour peppers and onions. Creating this recipe I used the Sweet and Sour Pepper and Onion stew of Southern Italy known as PEPERONATA. This dish tastes best if you make the peperonata and let it sit in the fridge for 3 days. This allows all the AGRODOLCE components to work their magic on the peppers and onions. So my eager cooks out there, start with this, my recipe for Peperonata.
Let the finished Peperonata sit for up to 3 days to fully develop. Cooking is layering. Each layer needs to be the best flavor it can be. Too often cooking has become a dump in the crock, Instant Pot type of process. While they have their uses approaching every meal you cook with “how quickly can I get this done” doesn’t give the end result that it should have. Certainly don’t cook a dish/meal that needs a ton of time if you are limited. Wait till you have the time, maybe a weekend, a special dinner, etc. and don’t short cut. Peperonata on day one is vastly different from what it tastes like in 3 day or later. Trust me. I’m not going to lie, I enjoy a short cut now and then when it doesn’t compromise the end result just to get it done with quickly. The Sugar and Vinegar need to marinate the Peperonata for it to taste properly. Ok, i’ve beated this dead horse enough. Let’s cook.
1 RECIPE OF FINISHED PEPERONATA
1 3/4 PORK LOIN SLICED IN STRIPS OR SMALL PIECES
1/3 CUP SEASONED SIFTED FLOUR
1/3 CUP WHITE ITALIAN WINE
PINCH OF OREGANO OR MARJORAM
PINCH OF PEPERONCINO
SALT TO TASTE
In a Large heavy pan, heat 2 tbs of olive oil and in batches brown the pork. Loin of Pork cooks fairly quickly. When the batches of pork are done add the oregano and peperoncino, salt…and toss together for 5 minutes. Now deglaze the pan with the White Wine. Blend well. Now Add the Peperonata and mix gently. Let this simmer for 1/2 hour. Done. Basta. Simple. I like serving this with whole small potatoes roasted in Olive Oil, garlic and Rosemary. And some Crostini you’ve dipped into the cooking juices It’s heaven on a plate Mi Amici. Pork and peppers really brings out my Southern Italian Roots. Let’s hope you feel the same! Happy Cooking!!!
It’s a new year, 2019. Time to add to my blogging style and give you wonderful followers my fantastic and memorable Travel Food memories. Through my traveling I’ve experienced so many foods along the way that I need to share them all. Keeping the photo files uploaded means they’ll never get seen really so….for 2019 I’m going to add my travels and the foods I encountered to my blog. I’ll continue to blog my recipes from my home kitchen as well. More to read. More to share. More to learn. In July of 2015 for our family vacation we did a road trip through Central Europe. Now the best airfare we found for the 4 of us routed us on Turkish Airlines so first stop was Turkey. After a sizeable layover it was off to our first destination, Belgium. From Belgium we rode a train to our second stop, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Next was renting a car there and embarking on a 1600 mile drive from the Netherlands, to Germany, to the Czech Republic, to Poland, to Slovakia, to Hungary, to Austria. There we boarded a plane for our return flight home via Istanbul. So we added a few days in Turkey at the end of the trip. Our trip itineraries usually revolve around our flights. I grew up in very ItalianAmerican Staten Island but not in an Italian neighborhood. I was raised in the Travis section of this part of New York City and it was a sleepy little town that we often called Mayberry, like the fictional town of the 60’s show, the Andy Griffith Show. Only it was filled with Polish people, some Austrian, Hungarian, Czech and Slovak, Russian. Because of this I’ve always had a very sentimental place in my heart for anything Polish. It was like my adopted 2d nationality. Hearing the language often spoken in the Catholic church we attended, St. Anthony of Padua, being familiar with the Polish Language signage in the church, the hymns, the peoples’ last names made Poland a place I’d had on my bucket list. This trip was the ticket to finally see Poland and while there see the Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration Camp, also high on our list of things to experience. I must admit, it was one of the most heart wrenching and moving experiences of our lives. The route we mapped out (we do all our own travel planning) only allowed a few days in the city of Krakow and we made the most of it.
Poland did not disappoint us and in fact we were surprised at so many things we encountered. It’s a beautiful place. Verdant, pleasant spaces, well maintained medieval squares, churches, castles, buildings, but the people. They are wonderful. And so is the Ice Cream. I’m starting this travel food post with the ice cream. A small place on Stolarska, a medieval street that was infront of our hotel, the HOTEL SANTI was where we first had this delicious sweet creamy ice cream. Now most likely these ice creams we had were not made in Poland, Nestle Scholler is a German company and Movenpick is a Swiss company. But we had them in Poland. I had a cup with two scoops and I went for the two you see in the picture. BAKALIA is a Polish flavor made of Nuts and Dried Fruits in a Vanilla Ice Cream Base. If you like Rum Raisin you’ll love this flavor. So right there, something Polish, something new, something Travel Food. I still haven’t seen BAKALIA here in the USA which makes these memories fantastic. OWOCE LESNE was my other choice. Any Ice cream that is that color ALWAYS gets my vote. This is a popular flavor which translates as “Forest Fruit” or “Wild Fruit”. Basically is a mixed berry flavor and that rich ice cream was like eating bowls of ripe fruit. But better. Because it was Ice cream!! lol. This flavor is apparently loved by the Poles as you find teas infused with it in all the shops. Strolling back to our hotel after a full morning sightseeing, having a kielbasa and pierogi lunch, topping it off with that ice cream…Those are the dreams travel is made off. The 3 minute walk back to the hotel was only made sweeter with a street musician on one corner and Polish Caramels waiting for us in our hotel room.
Long before Cauliflower became a trendy-hipster-carb stand in food it was a real thing. For centuries. Sorry folks, you discovered nothing except that Cauliflower is just versatile and delicious. One of the most ancient ways to eat cauliflower is pairing it with pasta. Doesn’t that usually make everything better? I think so. My DNA is 1/2 Sicilian, both paternal grandparents were born in the Sicilian city of Sciacca on Sicily’s southwestern coast. My love of this vegetable I’m going to say is genetic. Maybe not. Maybe yes. There are many versions of this Sicilian pairing of pasta and Cauliflower most notably with Saffron, Breadcrumbs, Raisins and Pignoli. This version of mine is a little paired back but loaded with flavor. Another thing to note…Sicilian food will contain onion more often than garlic. On this side of the Atlantic garlic was added to many dishes that in Sicily were onion only. Oh they use both, rarely in the same dish and usually onion is the more popular ingredient. SAFFRON, or ZAFFERANO, very Mediterranean. The Sicilians due to the many thundering hoardes of invading nations across the island picked up many food ways from east, west, north, south. Food often is a road map of a country’s past. It’s a fascinating trip if you chose to take it. Makes food even more “delicious” for me knowing why, where, and how it became a defining dish for an area. Let’s make a pasta with a little Sicilian in it. It’s wonderful for Vegetarians too.
YIELDS: about 4 SERVINGS TIME: Approx. 1 hour
1/4 TSP. SAFFRON THREADS
1 CAULIFLOWER HEAD, well trimmed and then cut into smaller florets
3 1/2 TBS. SICILIAN EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL (regular fine if that’s what you have)
1 MEDIUM DICED ONION
1/4 TSP. PEPERONCINO
1 lb PENNE COOKED AL DENTE
1 TBS FRESH SQUEEZE LEMON JUICE
2 TSPS FINE MINCED ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY
CACIOCAVALLO OR PROVOLONE CHEESE GRATED
Start by soaking the saffron in 2 tbs of hot boiling water. Set to the side. Fill a large pot with water, add plenty of sea salt and bring to the boil. Gently add the Cauliflower florets and cook till tender…around 5-7 minutes.. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place in a colander to drain further. Bring the Cauliflower cooking water back to the boil. In a heavy skillet add 3/4 of the olive oil and when it’s hot add the onion,pinch of sea salt, peperoncino. So many recipe tell you to cook the onions for about 5 minutes, can we talk here? They will still be crispy. Here’s a trick, AFTER about 8 minutes of cooking, add 3 tbs of the cooking water and let this dance around the pan until it’s evaporated. Don’t listen to me here, TASTE one of the onion pieces and LET YOUR MOUTH TELL YOU it’s now soft. It will NEVER take only 5 minutes to break down onions into delicious softness. The water helps the process. Take your time. Now raise the heat and add the cauliflower and let the florets get some color from the pan, then add 1/4 cup of the cooking water and the saffron with its water. Season with more sea salt and cook till the water is almost 3/4 reduced. Meanwhile you will be cooking your penne just until Al Dente in the Cauliflower cooking water. Drain. Add to the pan of cauliflower and mix well. Drizzle more olive oil over it and toss then remove from the heat and add about 1/2 cup of grated Provolone or Caciocavallo, the lemon juice and the parsley. A very pretty and tasty dish. For those who want a little more Sicily in the dish saute’ a few Anchovy fillets with the onions.