Category Archives: SICILIAN CUISINE

SICILIAN CAULIFLOWER FRITTERS….FRITTI DI VRUOCCULI

FRITTI….they come in all shapes, sizes, batters, breadings, fillings, foods and depending on where you are are in Italy they are called Fritti, Pettole, Pittule, Crispeddi, the list goes on. NEVER argue with an Italian about what they call a dish!!! Everyone is right!! Often blanket terms like “Sicilian” mean something from a particular region of Sicily, oh that’s right, not all Sicilian cooking is the same. But it’s all Sicilian cuisine. I started with a basic flour and egg batter for these which is a common way in Sicily to make these. I was bringing them to a family holiday dinner to I wanted to make them special. I dipped into my bag of “what are some good complimentary ingredients that echo the Isola di Sicilia and I came up with Caciocavallo cheese, Mint (yes, Sicilians love the herb), and Sesame Seeds. The Arab conquest of Sicily for centuries brought many of their food traditions, the sesames are one of them and now are emblematic in many of Sicily’s foods/sweets like Cubbaita and Biscotti Regina, topping many panini and loaves of bread. So why not fold them into a savory batter and get the taste of Sicily in every bite? By the Way, Sicily has an ancient language which often borrows from Italian and Cauliflower, in Italian called Cavolofiore is often called Vruocculi, Vruocoli.

SICILIAN CAULIFLOWER FRITTERS

TIME: 2 HOURS MAKES; ABOUT 2 DOZEN

1 LARGE FRESH CAULIFLOWER HEAD, STEAMED, COOLED, THEN SEPARATED INTO FLORETS

2 TBS. AP FLOUR SEASONED WITH SALT AND PEPPER

2 LARGE ORGANIC (IF POSSIBLE) EGGS, BEATEN

1 CUP SIFTED ALL PURPOSE FLOUR

1/2 TSP BAKING POWDER (CHECK YOUR CONTAINER’S FRESHNESS DATE)

3/4 WHOLE MILK

1 TSP SICILIAN SEA SALT

3 TABLESPOONS ROASTED SESAME SEEDS

1 TSP. CRUMBLED DRIED MINT

1/8 CUP GRATED CACIOCAVALLO OR PECORINO

1/2 TSP BLACK PEPPER

OIL FOR FRYING ( I USED CORN OIL)

2 LEMONS, SLICED OR IN WEDGES

10 SPRIGS OF FRESH ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY

sprinkle the seasoned flour over the florets in a bowl and gently get each floret coated in flour. Add the milk and grated cheese to the eggs, beat well. Now add all the other ingredients and slowly create a thick batter. When all is blended well, reserve to the side. Heat 2 inches of oil in a high sided pan/pot ( i use my Cast iron pan) and bring to 325 degrees F. When the oil is ready, coat one of the florets with the batter, let excess drip off and test one. If it’s ready it will immediately sizzle and start fo puff up in size. About 2 minutes per side. Place the florets in the batter in batches and fry no more than 6 at a time our your oil temp drops and we have a greasy finished product. As each batch is done and draining sprinkle sea salt over them. They should be salted when hot, not when cooled. Continue battering and frying until you’re all done. Serve them piping hot on a platter with lots of lemon wedges or slices. Squeeze over the top when serving, extra on the side. Add some chopped parsley leaves as garnish. Enjoy!!

GRANDMA BATTAGLIA’S ICED ESPRESSO WITH ORANGE

Summer is here and it’s time for icy refreshing drinks to cool you down when the temps and humidity get high. One of my favorite thirst quenchers was taught to me by my Sicilian born paternal Grandmother, Giuseppa (Josephine) Lucia Vizzi Battaglia. Born in Sciacca, Agrigento, Sicily she immigrated to the USA with her Mom and siblings around 1900. Her Dad already had established residency on NYC’s street of Sicilian immigrants, Elizabeth St. Grandma married my Grandfather, Francesco Battaglia in 1912, they were neighbors on Elizabeth St. He too was born in Sciacca, Sicily and immigrated around the same time. After having 3 children (my Dad being one of them) they moved to the “country”, the NYC borough of Staten Island settling in one of many Italian enclaves during those years. In 1923 they bought a home in the Mariners Harbor section and continued growing their family. Nine children later (one dying as a young child from pneumonia) their family grew exponentially. You couldn’t ask for a Grandma who loved her Grandchildren more, I believe a little more than she loved her own kids. All 24 of us were the apples of her eye. When I think of Grandma Battaglia I think of hugs, great big bear hugs and pinches with those Sicilian mits of hands she had. When you went to her house she fed you, even pushing food into your pockets as you left. One of my favorite memories of “things Grandma made” was her SICILIAN ICED ESPRESSO WITH ORANGE. In true Sicilian tradition her Iced Espresso was strong, very sweet, and infused with the juice and peel of sliced Oranges. Today, June 19 is the 45th anniversary of my beloved Grandma’s passing. Every time I make a pitcher of this it’s as if she’s opening her fridge in her big kitchen and taking the tupperware or Plastic pitcher loaded with Iced espresso, sugar, ice, and oranges and pouring a big glass for me, of course the glass was loaded with ice so it was the sweetest, coldest, most refreshing tumbler of a drink..EVER. Simply brew 10 cups of Espresso, use a good Italian coffee for this. Pour it into a pitcher. Dissolve 1/2 cup of Sugar (super fine works best if you can get it)..what? You’re staying away from sugar? OK, just remember, Sicilians love SWEET things. Since I’m making this Grandma’s way, use the sugar (or keep it unsweetened, not very Sicilian, just sayin….or use Splenda, or any other sugarless sweetner to taste). Slice 2 oranges into wedges. Squeeze each wedge into the coffee. Then add the wedges. Stir well. Taste…sweet enough? If not, add more. Let it chill in the fridge for 2 hours. Then add lots of ice. Stir. Let stand in the fridge for 1 hour. Serve. You’ll be addicted. Pour in Glasses filled with more ice. I’m smiling from ear to ear sharing this with you, a gift from my Grandmother’s kitchen. Everyday I am grateful that I had both my Italian born Grandmothers in my life. When you have your glass, raise it and toast my Grandma Battaglia…Salute’ e Cent’Anni.

1971..Grandma Battaglia in the center surrounded by her children…Anna, Betty, Accursio (Gus), Angelina, Pietro(Pete, my dad), Jennie (Jean) and in front, the twins, Margaret and Lillian. Staten Island, NYC

SKILLET (PAN) EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA…MELANZANE ALLA PARMIGIANA IN PADELLA

EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA…what a gift Italy gave to the world!! Some commentary on La Parmigiana which is what Italians call it often as in Italy the only PARMIGIANA is Eggplant. There’s some conversation that in Sicily there was also Veal Parmigiana but mostly any other type of Parmigiana was not created in Italy but by inventive Italian immigrant cooks to the United States where they adapted their beloved eggplant parmigiana and decided to use meats, fish, poultry in the same style. It took off and became some of America’s most beloved ItalianAmerican dishes. Veal and Chicken Parmigiana when made well are simply wonderful. Pork and Beef as well as Shrimp are made into Parmigiana too. Let’s though talk about Eggplant Parmigiana. History point again to Sicily as the origins of this meltingly delicious blend of layers of cooked eggplant, Italian cheeses, some tomato sauce then baked to meld everything together. It’s a perfect food. I’m smiling as I blog this thinking of how often my mom made it. Hers was almost always thin sliced and breaded in 4C Italian Flavored breadcrumbs in her Electric frying pan. My sister AdeleMarie has one too and swears it’s the only way to fry batches of eggplant without having to change the oil. It cooks them perfectly she says confirming Mom’s love of the Electric frying pan. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs I would salivate incessantly when she’d call for Dad to go down in the basement and bring up the pan. I knew there would be fried eggplant cutlets to eat out of the fryer sprinkled with grated Pecorino Romano. By the way, they make amazing hero sandwiches. When we would go to the beach she’d make cold Eggplant Parmigiana sangwiches along with Ham and Cheese, Chicken roll and Swiss, Bologna and cheese sandwiches. Some plums. Some grapes, maybe some nectarines if she thought they were nice at the farmers market, usually Palermo’s or Bifulco’s. So when I think of Eggplant Parmigiana regardless of how it’s made I think of all those times Mom made it. However…the best eggplant Parmigiana in the family, as good as mom’s was, my Aunt Angie Scaramuzzi made the “most bestest”. Enough with my past Parmigiana…let’s talk about how you make it. There’s not one way and my most popular way of making it is thin sliced, dipped in flour, beaten eggs and pecorino, then fried, then layered in the typical manner with cheeses and sauce and baked. However, there’s also a way to just do it on top of the stove. The eggplants are fried in olive oil. then a sauce is made in that oil that’s been infused with garlic and basil. Then the cooked eggplant is layered into the pan, covered in abundant grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, your choice..then topped with Mozzarella, or Provolone, or Scamorza. Again, your choice. The top is covered and once the cheese has melted you’re done. Nice? Great, I thought you’d like it. This eggplant is naked…it’s just fried. This actually harkens back to most Sicilian recipes for La Parmigiana. Many Sicilian recipe have no stringy melted cheese, just the grated. See? You can make this a few different ways. I’m giving you choices here. The leftovers are amazing, infact they taste better on day 2.

SKILLED EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA FOR 4 PEOPLE TIME: 1 HOUR 20 MINUTES

1 MEDIUM SIZED EGGPLANT SLICED INTO 1/4 INCH ROUNDS

OLIVE OIL

KOSHER SALT, BLACK PEPPER

1 28 OZ CAN SAN MARZANO DOP TOMATOES OR ITALIAN PEELED PLUM TOMATOES

2 TBS TOMATO PASTE

2 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC

FRESH BASIL

GRATED PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO OR LOCATELLI PECORINO ROMANO

1 CUP DICED MOZZARELLA OR DICED SCAMORZA

In a saucepan, add about 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil, place on medium heat. Add the garlic and just when it’s fragrant add the tomato paste, 1/2 tsp of salt, 1/ 2 tsp of pepper, some basil leaves, then cook for 2 minutes. Crush the tomatoes in a processor or with your hands, then add to the pot. Mix and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 1 hour, stirring frequently. While that is happening, heat 1 1/2 tbs of olive oil in a heavy wide skillet. Season the eggplants with salt and pepper. On Medium heat fry the eggplant on both sides (CRITICAL HERE!!!) till they are SOFT, the eggplant has to completely cook before you can finish the dish. If your heat is too high you’ll scorch the eggplants, take your time. Should take about 15 minutes to get them soft thru both sides. Add more oil as needed. Remove the eggplants to paper towels to drain. Pour the cooked sauce into the pan. Lay the eggplants in pan…cover with grated cheese, some basil leaves, more sauce, do a second layer if you have enough, more sauce, cheese and basil. At this point you can cover and let it cook together for 15 minutes. This is a very Sicilian way, with no mozzarella, just the grated cheese. DELICIOUS. OR, top the pan with the diced cheeses and cover. Wait until the cheese has melted, about 15 minutes. Now..remove from the heat and let it sit for 2 hours before serving for maximum flavor, just gently reheat. OR you may serve as soon are you’ve let it rest for 15 minutes. Up to you.

Now there’s plenty of flavor in this dish, and there’s not a shopping cart full of ingredients. It’s simple basic flavor which are the hallmarks of Italian cooking. Enjoy this dish..let me know how you like it!!

PASTA CON ZAFFERANO E CAVOLOFIORE..PASTA WITH CAULIFLOWER AND SAFFRON

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

SEA SALT

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.

SFINCIONE…A PIZZA FROM SICILY TOPPED WITH TOMATO, ONIONS, ANCHOVY, CHEESE AND BREADCRUMBS

SFINCIONE….pronounce it with me…SFEEN-CHEE-OWNAY.  Nice, you’ve said it.  Speaking like a Sicilian because this is the pizza that our SicilianAmerican Pizzeria SICILIAN PIZZA has roots in.  A risen dough pressed into a rectangular pan, somewhat thick, then topped with a slow cooked tomato sauce loaded with onions.  On top of that is a layer of breadcrumbs, anchovies and Sicilian grated cheese, like a Caciocavallo, but Provolone or Pecorino Romano work too.  Caciocavallo isn’t always available.  A little Sicilian Oregano, Sicilian Olive Oil and this bakes into a delicious treat.  My Sicilian born Paternal Grandmother made this and hers had lots of onions on it. Maybe I get my love of anything with lots of onions from her.   Grazie Grandma Battaglia.  Sfincione made this way seems like it may have its origins in the Western part of Sicily, especially the Palermo region.  As with most Italian dishes there are wide variations and what’s most popular will always be one version that seems to be the most popular.  Mine is the more popular version.  There are Sfincione that are also stuffed, or sparsely topped.   Mine is closer to the Sfincione (also spelled Sfingiuni) Palermitano.   Sfincione denotes a larger version of Sfince or Sfingi…those fried dough creations.  The heart of the word SFINCE means “spongy” and it’s a reference to the spongy dough used to make these treats.  Interesting stuff.  Next time you bite into a wonderful square of Sicilian Pizza you’ll now know where its origins are from.  So happy to have been introduced to this dish by my grandmother who, btw, never called it Sfincione.  She just called it A’Pizz.  

As they say in Palermo…” Scairsu r’uogghiu e chin’i pruvulazzu”… meaning Top it with a little Olive Oil and lots of dust…. 

MY VERSION OF LO SFINCIONE

for the SFINGE, the Spongy Dough

3 1/2 CUPS OF TIPO 00 FLOUR OR SIFTED ALL PURPOSE FLOUR

2 1/2 TEASPOONS OF GRANULATED DRY YEAST DISSOLVED IN 1  1/4 CUP OF  WARM WATER WITH 1 TSP. SEA SALT (FINE GROUND, NOT COARSE) let this sit for 15 minutes or until it’s foamy on top.

On a large working surface or board pile the flour into a mound then create a well in the center.  Pour the yeast and water mixture into the center and gently work the flour and water together until it’s all incorportated and you can easily knead it into a ball.  Cover this with a towel and let it rest for up to 5 hours.  

for the topping:

1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sicilian if possible.

3 MEDIUM ONIONS SLICED THIN

1 CAN ITALIAN PEELED PLUM TOMATOES, SAN MARZANO WORK

1/2 CAN ITALIAN IMPORTED TOMATO PASTE

1ANCHOVY FILET, CHOPPED

3/4 LB COARSELY GRATED CACIOCAVALLO (A SICILIAN/SOUTHERN ITALIAN CHEESE)..IF NOT AVAILABLE PECORINO ROMANO OR SHARP PROVOLONE (BOTH FROM ITALY) CAN BE USED

1 TBS. DRIED SICILIAN OREGANO

1 1/2 CUPS ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS (UNSEASONED)

In a large heavy pan heat 1 tbs of olive oil.  When it gets hot add the onions tossing them well in the hot oil.  Season with kosher salt and black pepper. Continue to cook over high heat stirring frequently then add 1 chopped anchovy and a pinch of Oregano.  Let this cook on medium until the onions are soft.  DON’T RUSH THIS!! The longer the onions cook…the better this will taste!!  After about 25 minutes add the Tomato paste and blend in well.  Cook for 5 minutes.  Now with your hands crush the tomatoes and add to the pan.  Mix.  Add a pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil, stir, then reduce to a simmer and let this good as long as it has to so it becomes thick.  Rule of thumb, it will cook for at least 1 hour.  No liquid pools should be accumulating on the top.  

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.  Well oil (grease) a Rectangular 1/2 sheet baking pan and press the dough into the pan all the way up to the sides.  Dough should be about 1 inch thick.  Brush the top with olive oil…a sprinkle of sea salt, black pepper, and 1/2 cup of the grated cheese. Then top with the tomato and onion mixture.    Now top with the remaining cheese mixed into the breadcrumbs along with the remaining oregano.  Drizzle with olive oil and bake for at least 15 minutes being careful not to burn it.    When done the bottom is nice and browned as is the top, more of a golden brown.  It’s amazing.  As always, ovens are all calibrated differently.  My recipes are tested in my oven.  There may always be a temperature/heat difference in your oven so adjust accordingly.  If there is one thing I hope every home cook can learn, is that this recipe is a guide.  Follow it and you’ll be happy with the results but common sense always needs to come in and if your sfincione isn’t quite done when my directions say it is…bake for longer.  Just pay attention to it.  When the pie is cooled down a bit cut into squares and serve.  Can be served warm or at room temperature.   It’s a wonderful addition to a Christmas Eve La Vigilia seafood buffet.  And as a closing note…can we please stop the debate on Italian Seafood and cheese?  Here is an example of seafood and cheese being paired.  Not an Italianamerican idea, or a mistake.  It’s how it’s done.  Enjoy.

SICILIAN CAULIFLOWER AND POTATO CROQUETTES, CAZZILLI DI VRUOCCULI E PATATE

12301481_523460571155581_6765352164488669537_n Italians love fried little bits…fritti…and the fritti come in many forms.  Depending on the region you will often find little street stands or stores that specialize only in Fried Foods. Stop.  I see your eyes rolling.  Life’s too short not to enjoy a fried treat now and then.  The list of Italian fried bits is very long AND delicious but let me introduce you to this one from Sicily.  The CAZZILLO.  Plural, CAZZILLI.  Now pardon my comments here but Sicilians love the bawdy and love things that make you laugh in embarassment.  Cazzo is Italian for the male organ…Cazzilli is Sicilian for, well, a little one LOL.  Are you embarassed and shocked?  The Sicilians have done it again.  Have some fun, life’s too short not to laugh a little.  This dish combines the Sicilians love of a good joke with a few of their favorite foods, potatoes and cauliflower.  VRUOCCULI is actually a type of cauliflower, a little greener than our pure white American Cauliflowers.  This CAZZILLI recipe is a version of the typical Sicilian potato croquette combined with mashed cauliflower.  Sicilians make their potato croquettes either simply rolled in flour and fried OR breaded and fried.  Generally when I’m making a Napoletana style Potato Croquette (Panzarotti) I will bread them. But when making Sicilian ones I don’t bread them.  These Cazzilli have a hefty helping of grated Caciocavallo cheese in them.  Now Caciocavallo is not available everywhere so instead you can use the more accessible Provolone or Pecorino.  See, I”m not going to give you a recipe that you can’t reproduce in your kitchen.  Truth be told most cooks in their homes will use what’s on hand to make a dish so it’s fine to use any one of the three.  Caciocavallo is most Sicilian.  If you have a good cheese store by you see if they carry CACIOCAVALLO RAGUSANO, from Ragusa, Sicily. It’s amazing.   Now here’s a few tips.  Start with leftover or day old Mashed Potatoes.  Many recipes tell you to make it all the same day.  No.  There’s a magic that happens when a cooked starch sits overnight.  Trust me.  ItalianAmerican Moms and Grandmothers would make their versions of Potato croquettes usually with leftover mashed potatoes from the day before’s dinner. Same for RiceBalls (Arancini).  The end result is just better, and they don’t fall apart.  You’ll need 3 cups of mashed potatoes of this recipe.  Steam the cauliflower the day before as well.  One head of cauliflower for 3 cups of mashed potatoes.  When the cauliflower is still warm, mash it well.  set it in a strainer and let it drain overnight.  OR if you have leftover cauliflower, simply mash it.  So those are the starting points for these CAZZILLI.  Let’s get cooking now!!

TIME: 24 hours                   SERVES: 6 (up to 3 per person)

3 cups chilled day-old Mashed Potatoes

1 mashed steamed Cauliflower head

2 beaten eggs

1 1/4 cup grated CACIOCAVALLO or PECORINO or PROVOLONE cheese

2 tbs. All purpose flour

1 tbs. minced flat leaf Italian parsley

salt, fresh ground black pepper

Olive oil for frying

Lemon slices for serving

Simply blend ALL the ingredients and season with salt and lots of black pepper until you can form a small oval shaped croquette, about 2 inches long.  Roll each one in flour, and then chill for 1/2 hour.  In a large heavy high sided pan (pull out the cast iron skillet for this!) Bring 2 inches of  oil to 360 degrees F and start frying the Cazzilli.  DON’T CROWD THE PAN!!! 5-6 at a time works well.   Fry till golden on all sides, takes about 3 minutes per side.  Drain on paper towels.  When done frying transfer to a nice serving platter and garnish with lemon slices.  They are wonderful hot or at room temperature.  Enjoy your CAZZILLI!!! HAPPY COOKING.

SFINGI DI SAN GIUSEPPE PALERMITANI..SAINT JOSEPH’S SFINGI PASTRY, PALERMO STYLE

palmsunday16 044I get excited many times during the year in anticipation of a Holiday or Celebration and the foods that are part of that season, day, or time.  One of my most favorite is the annual Catholic celebration of the Feast of St.Joseph which Southern Italian culture has created a beautiful day of Springtime foods only eaten on March 19.  San Giuseppe is especially  revered in Sicily where he is one of their most beloved patrons.  Huge Celebrations in all the towns and homes flow out into the streets and special savory and sweet foods are made.  No where in Italy is this celebration as exhuberant as in Sicily, but don’t worry, the rest of Italy celebrates it with many different sweet and savory treats as well  This post deals with my most favorite of them all, the SFINGI DI SAN GIUSEPPE.  Sfingi is a term meaning a fried sponge of dough.  Sfingi are also the name for what people in Naples called Zeppole.  However….when the talented Sicilian pastry makers started immigrating to the USA in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s some things made some changes.  I have no idea why or how this happened because at St.Joseph’s time all Italian Pastry shops made 2 types of “St.Joseph’s Pastry”. They are now sold from the beginning of Lent thru Easter with peak production on and about March 19.  The two types are the Sicilian Sfingi which has morphed into a large, sometimes oversized cream puff, baked then filled with a Ricotta Cannoli Cream.  The top of the Cream puff is placed back on and a then a rosette of Cannoli cream added.  To this crushed pistachio or nuts, candied cherry and orange peel are added.  Crowned with powdered sugar.  The other pastry is from Naples, and is called the ZEPPOLE DI SAN GIUSEPPE.  Using a pastry bag and a rosette tip a circle of the cream puff dough is piped out then slid into hot oil and fried.  It’s split and a Vanilla Italian Pastry Cream (Crema Pasticceria) is added to the center, The top is placed on it and a rosette of the cream topped with a sour cherry (Amarena) goes on to finish it.  Both are amazing.  But so strange that the formerly fried SFINGI is now the baked one.  Whatever.  All delicious.  This is a dish that my mom made.  She loved making cream puffs.  She filled them with all sorts of fillings, puddings, whipped cream, italian creams, ricotta cream, chocolate cream.  But for San Giuseppe she made the Sicilian sfingi (she was not Sicilian!) and I watch intently as she went thru each step.  Let’s push this even further as in Palermo they leave the top off, sort of a Sfingi on the Half Shell.  These are the ones I”m showing you here.  Let’s go into the kitchen and bake!!!

First, you need to make the filling.  CREMA DI RICOTTA SICILIANA

1 lb DRAINED WHOLE MILK RICOTTA

1/2 CUP CONFECTIONERS SUGAR

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon or one very very very SMALL drop of Cinnamon Oil.

3 tbs. fine chopped CITRON

2 tbs. small semi sweet CHOCOLATE CHIPS

BLEND TOGETHER UNTIL VERY SMOOTH AND CHILL OVER NIGHT

SHELLS: GLI SFINGI

1 CUP WATER

1/2 CUP BUTTER OR SHORTENING

1/8 TEASPOON OF  KOSHER SALT

1 cup TIPO 00 ITALIAN FLOUR OR 1 CUP SIFTED ALL PURPOSE UNBLEACHED FLOUR

3 EGGS

GARNISH:  CANDIED CHERRIES   CANDIED ORANGE PEELS  CRUSHED PISTACHIOS

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.  Bring a cup of water to a boil.  Add the butter or shortening and the salt.  Stir until the butter/shortening is melted and comes back to the boil.  Lower the heat and gently add all the flour in at once and keep stirring with a wooden spoon until the flour leaves the sides of the pan.  Remove from the heat.  Now add one egg and beat into the hot mixture until it’s fully incorporated.  Do the same with the next two eggs beating thoughroughly after each egg addition.  Place a parchment sheet on a baking pan.  PLace the mixture in a pastry bag and press out a mound about 2 inches wide.  Or form the same with tablespoons.  Bake for 20 minutes in the hot oven.  Then lower the temperature to 325 degrees F and bake for an additional 12 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool on racks. When cool slice in half.. Remove any wet dough from the inside it there is any.   Fill each 1/2 with the Ricotta cream.  Top with a candied cherry, slice of candied orange peel and some crushed Pistachio nuts.  Chill for 2 hours before serving.  Makes about 1 1/2 doz.   BUONA FESTA DI SAN GIUSEPPE!!!

MEATBALLS WITH A SICILIAN INFLUENCE, CREATING A RECIPE, POLPETTINE IN BIANCO

0041Meatballs….one of those perennial favorites, all kinds, all types, all cuisines.  One of my missions with my food blogging and Social Media posting is that people open their minds to meatballs other than the usual suspects. Oh I’m not saying that your favorites aren’t fantastic but instead I’m saying look beyond the familiar and there’s a world of other types to enjoy.  Standing at my stove last night it was St.Joseph’s Day (Festa di San Giuseppe) which is celebrated with much fervor by Italians, specifically Sicilians.  You see the good San Giuseppe saved Sicily from all sorts of bad things and as most religious legends and traditions  do, there is celebrating on the days these saints are honored.  For Sicily there’s a host of foods, and since March 19 falls during LENT when meat was forbidden to be eaten, all the dishes are meatless, emphasis on seafood and fish.  Confused? Asking yourself, um, then why a meatball post?  BECAUSE.  These are not meatballs for St.Joseph’s day but, as with all recipes, they have a development genesis. Ground chuck in the fridge….one daughter who doesn’t like anchovies in her pasta (which was the one of the St.Joseph’s entrees I made)…killing two birds with one stone meant to have something for my daughter, make meatballs out of that chopped chuck.  Easy. Then the recipe developer in me took over and I paired the Sicilian-ness of the day with my meatballs.  No these aren’t a traditional Sicilian meatballs but, again, recipe development has many influences and the Sicilian holiday gave me the inspiration.  Ground Chuck.  Sicilian Oregano.  Pecorino cheese. Black Pepper.  Eggs. Plain Breadcrumbs. Red Onions. Mix, roll, fry in Sicilian Olive Oil and simmer in a mix of that oil, red onion, basil and Marsala Wine, also from Sicily. Sicily’s cuisine does not always contain garlic, oh yes it’s used but Onion will show up more often.   Originally I was going to use White Wine and I named the dish Polpettini in Bianco.  Instead  I switch last minute to the made in Sicily fortified Marsala.  Still in Bianco because that Italian Culinary term means NO TOMATO.  See, more pearls of Italian culinary wisdom.  You’re Welcome.548528_2971219081903_1304531591_32189688_1417227459_n From my hometown of Staten Island NYC comes this picture courtesy of the Staten Island Advance of the San Giuseppe (St.Joseph’s) Procession.    How does any of this factor into developing a recipe? Again, my opinion only, but a good recipe is developed organically…things that should belong together create a special harmony and when you’re in a certain mindset you become even more creative. E COSI’. Let’s make POLPETTINI IN BIANCO.

TIME: 45 MINUTES                                    YIELDS: 25 WALNUT SIZED MEATBALLS, approx.

 

1 LB. GROUND CHUCK (80% lean, 20% fat)

1 LARGE EGG

3 TBS. FINELY MINCED ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY

1 SMALL CALABRIAN RED ONION OR SHALLOT, finely minced

1/2 TSP SICILIAN DRIED OREGANO rubbed between your hands, or any good dried Oregano

1 TBS SICILIAN EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL or another good Extra Virgin, preferably Italian

1/2 CUP DRY PLAIN BREADCRUMBS moistened (hydrated) with 3 tbs milk or cream

1/2 CUP FRESHLY GRATED CACIOCAVALLO OR PECORINO CHEESE

1/2 TSP SEA SALT

1/2 TSP BLACK PEPPER

2 TBS OLIVE OIL (or use the same you used above)

1/2 CUP MARSALA WINE OR WHITE WINE

1/8 CUP STOCK OR WATER

2 FRESH BASIL LEAVES

In a large bowl beat the egg and add the cheese, breadcrumbs, parsley, oregano, all but 1 tsp of the onion, salt and pepper,the tbs of Extra Virgin Olive oil. When this is well mixed together, add the meat and gently blend till it’s all one mixture. Let this rest for 5 minutes. Form into Walnut sized balls and line on a foil or wax paper or parchment paper covered baking sheet.  In a large wide and heavy skillet heat the 2 TBS of Olive Oil and in batches add the meatballs and let them fry for about 6 minutes,397224_3628916283922_1247137950_n then turn, fry for another 4 minutes.  remove them all to a platter keeping them covered until done.  In the pan add the remaining onion and saute for 3 minutes then add the stock and the Marsala, bring to a boil.  Add the basil leaf then the all the meatballs and reduce to a simmer.  Let this simmer for 15 minutes but stir a few times.  Done.Remove from the flame and  give gentle stir.  Let them sit for 15 minutes…then serve.  Wonderful with roasted potatoes and a green sauteed vegetable.  Enjoy making these PURPETTINE CU’BIANCU….what’s that?  POLPETTINE IN BIANCO in Sicilian.  More fun saying it that way I think.  Happy Cooking!!

POTATOES STEWED IN TOMATO, PATATE IN UMIDO, WITH GARLIC AND OLIVE OIL

12924567_1312429585441165_3820909032551130529_nDo you have a dish that brings you back to your childhood kitchen table?  I’m sure , like me, you have many.  Most of mine are simple dishes that my stay at home Mom fed us day after day and while they all left an impression on me some were just more special to me.  Coming in from P.S.26 in Staten Island, NYC at 3:10pm every day would always be made better when the aroma coming from Mom’s kitchen reached out..grabbed me by the nostrils and pulled me in.  These are things you don’t ever forget.  Let me not bore you AGAIN with my ethnic background, OK, I’ll bore you..I’m ItalianAmerican, second generation born in the U.S. and our meals were mostly Italian foods, or ITalianAmerican foods and peppered up with American and other international cuisines.  Mom gave us a great meal every night (not so much on breakfast, Mom hated the mornings). Come Spring I start to miss Mom more than usual (#italianamericanmommasboy), she loved her Spring and all the holidays it contained.  March is a bridge month I think.  A little Winter , A little Summer.  It takes us from the cold barren ice into the budding green and flowers.So winter or colder weather dishes are still great thru the month.  PATATE IN UMIDO…Stewed Potatoes, doesn’t sound to great does it?  Let me change your mind.  I’d eat this dish every night. On it’s own with a nice piece of Italian bread.  In the Summer when Dad’s garden was bursting she’d throw handfuls of his many varieties of green beans into the pot as well.  In that one move she took the hearty Wintry Patate in Umido and turned it into a Summer’s dish.  I smell her Aqua Net shellacked hair do along with her perfume as she’s passing me by as I write this. I’ll bet she wants to make sure I don’t screw up her dish as I share it with you!  LET’S COOK!!!

3 lbs of peeled potatoes

3 tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

4 cloves of garlic

1 can of San Marzano tomatoes, run thru a blender to puree or 2 cups of Passata

pinch of dried Oregano

salt, pepper

3 fresh Basil leaves

water as needed

Pecorino Romano, or Parmigiano Reggiano, grated to taste

Peperoncino, to taste

Like most rustic Italian dishes not a lot of ingredients, all of these are very obtainable.

Cut potatoes into equal but cubes or slices.  Heat, in a heavy bottomed pot 2 Tbs. Olive Oil.  Pinch of salt, a bit of the Oregano, a bit of the pepper. Now add the potatoes and let them cook for 5 minutes stirring as you go.  Add the garlic and saute’ till fragrant.  Blend well.  Now season the potatoes with salt and pepper and then add the tomatoes and 1 cup of water.  Bring to a boil.  Stir.  Now let this pot simmer for 40 minutes.  Test a potato for doneness. Make sure you gently stir without breaking up the potatoes. If they are cooked through you are done.  Remove from the heat.  Tear up 3 basil leaves and gently blend in. DONE!  This makes large servings for 4, or a side dish for 4-6.  Check the dish for seasoning.  Add salt and pepper as needed/to your liking.  Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the pot. Let your diners add their own peperoncino and Grated Cheese.

Thanks again for stopping by and HAPPY COOKING!!

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FENNEL AND TOMATO BAKED CHICKEN, COMBINING DELICIOUS ITALIAN FLAVORS

fennelchicken-003As the weather moves towards the colder side we look to our ovens again.  The aromas that envelope the home as a dish is roasting or baking bring on anticipatory hunger and a generally good feeling all around.  I find Baking/Roasting Chicken can turn a cold rough day into a warm hug everytime.  The combinations and cuisines are endless. Chicken is a blank canvas that pays off with a masterpiece when completed.  CHICKEN SKIN!!!  The flavor center.  It gives up its flavor to the meat and to the cooking juices while keeping some in that skin which makes it a delight.  My cooking is done mostly, almost 99% of the time in absence of a recipe, instead, i use my cooking experience and research to put together dishes that make sense.  Some are actual regional dishes with a set list of ingredients in a particular manner.  Then there are the other times when I use a basic template for a dish and play around.  Like I did one night after work with this BAKED CHICKEN WITH FENNEL, TOMATOES , AND MUSHROOMS.  Fennel (oftentimes LIKE TONIGHT AT THE SUPERMARKET, it’s mislabeled as ANISE, similar tastes but not the same) is in the fall and winter markets.  The type is actually FLORENTINE FENNEL, or FINOCCHIO, and is part of the ItalianAmerican holiday table.  That’s why I bought a big knob with stalks and beautiful fronds tonight.  But I once had some post-Thanksgiving finocchio hanging around in the fridge.  Fennel is often made as a side dish, roasted in the oven. SO….there were some Grape tomatoes and onions in my view, a nice pack of Organic chicken cut into pieces and I thought…let’s make a dish.  The chicken is well seasoned, the tomatoes are thrown in the pan along with some whole mushrooms, chopped fennel, olive oil, some cloves of garlic and White Wine and stock…and then baked. That’s it.  With those ingredients you CAN’T GO WRONG..your home will smell like a country restaurant somewhere in Italy or Sicily where Fennel is king.  Let’s make some chicken with fennel!!

TIME: 1 1/2 HOURS                                     SERVES: 4

1 ORGANIC OR NATURAL CHICKEN, CUT INTO 8 PIECES

2 TSP KOSHER SALT

1 TSP GROUND BLACK PEPPER

1/4 CUP OLIVE OIL

1 FENNEL BULB, TRIMMED AND SLICED

10 CHOPPED FENNEL FRONDS  (THE TOPS OF THE STALKS)

2 PINTS CHERRY TOMATOES

1 LB. WHOLE CREMINI OR BUTTON MUSHROOMS

1 MEDIUM ONION DICED

2 SMASHED CLOVES OF GARLIC

1/4 CUP WHITE WINE

1 TSP. HUNGARIAN PAPRIKA

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  In a bowl, liberally season the chicken with salt, pepper, paprika, and olive oil. In another bowl, do the same with the fennel, tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, garlic.   In a baking pan add the vegetable mixture. Then fit the chicken into the pan. fennelchicken-005

Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top, then the wine.  Place into the oven in the middle rack and let it cook undisturbed for 25 minutes.  Baste the chicken with the pan juices and rotate the pan. Bake for an additional 25 minutes, or until the chicken is reading 165 degrees F on a meat thermometer (so you know, that’s my BFF).  When the chicken is at that temp, remove from the oven. baste with the pan juices and then cover and serve in 5 minutes.Delicious and clean tasting. Meat and a plate of vegetables cooked in the pan juices.  So good.  I like roasted potatoes, or rice, or simply some good bread with this…up to you. fennelchicken-004That pan is DYING for what the Italians call FARE LA SCARPETTA!!  Scooping up those pan juices with a really well crusted piece of Italian bread.  Do it before someone else does…you cooked it, it’s your treat. You deserve it.  Now enjoy your meal!  Happy Cooking!!