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!!
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.
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.
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.
I 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
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….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. 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.
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, 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!!
SPEZZATINO!!!! The Italian word for STEW…although the word STUFATO means stew also, don’t ask, I don’t have an answer for that. I think SPEZZATINO sounds nicer. On the island of Sicily they have a SPEZZATINO culture, over in the Palermo region where they stew meatballs with potatoes. Sounds like heaven. A few years ago my friend Rose Marie Trapani, a native of the Palermo, Sicily region talked about her Mamma’s Meatball and Potato stew. I had to make it. I loved everything about it. In Sicily they also use the term SPEZZATINO AGGRESSATO DI POLPETTE CON PATATE…more new Italian and Sicilian words to increase your culinary vocabulary!! I like!!! However, the stew I made last night was BASED on the principles of the Spezzatino Aggressato but I must drop AGGRESSATO from my recipe title. My meatballs in this recipe are made from Sweet Italian Fennel Sausage Meat. Into the stew I add Broccoli Rabe, Onions, Potatoes, diced Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Borlotti Beans and a nice red wine from Sicily, from REGALEALI, a NERO D’AVOLA. What flavors in this stew! Notice I say Sicilian Style only because I created this dish in my kitchen with things from my pantry and fridge that went well together, it’s not a bona fide Sicilian dish. I try to be careful about my Recipe titles. When I had a bowl of the Spezzatino the next day I added some ricotta to the mix. WOW. Not only did it taste better like all stews do the second day but the ricotta was a very tasty addition! I’d advise making this on one day, and serving it the next. Truly remarkable Italian-Siclian flavors. It has that “Grandma” taste..are you with me here? Capisci??? Good. Now we can start to cook.
First, we make the POLPETTE DI SALSICCE…the Sausage meatballs, made a bit smaller than a Sunday Sauce meatball.
TIME: 1 1/2 HOURS, prep and cooking SERVES: 4
1 LB LOOSE ITALIAN SWEET FENNEL SAUSAGE MEAT
1 BEATEN LARGE EGG
1 CUP STALE ITALIAN BREAD, SOAKED IN MILK AND SQUEEZED
2 TBS CHOPPED ITALIAN PARSLEY
1 CLOVE FINELY MINCED GARLIC
1/4 CUP GRATED PECORINO ROMANO OR PROVOLONE OR CACIOCAVALLO CHEESE
1/8 CUP RED WINE ( A RED SICILIAN, LIKE NERO D’AVOLA FROM REGALEALI IS FANTASTIC)
(do not add any salt to these meatballs as the sausage meat is already salted/seasoned and we are adding grated cheese)
Blend the garlic, parsley, bread with the beaten egg. When combined, add the sausage meat and blend everything until it is well mixed. Let it sit for 15 minutes covered, then form into small balls. Fry the balls in Olive Oil. Reserve in a bowl. You will need to cook in batches. Deglaze the pan with 1/8 cup of the Red Wine scraping the bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour this over the meatballs.
In a large heavy bottom pot heat the olive oil. Add the onions,mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and then add the potatoes. Let this cook for about 10 minutes stirring frequently. Now add the tomato and the greens. Cook for 5 minutes, Add the garlic and when fragrant (about 2 minutes) add the beans.
Mix. Now add the wine first and bring to a boil. The aroma is amazing at this point. Stir and then add the chicken stock and add stir. Add the Sausage Meatballs and any of the liquid that has collected in the bowl of sausage balls. Gently stir and bring to a boil again. Then reduce to a simmer.Now let this simmer until much of the liquid is reduced. You want a sort of thick stew here rather than a soup (and that’s why it’s a SPEZZATINO!!!). This process should take about 40 minutes. Keep an eye on this so it gets to the right consistency. Frequently stir the pot. When it’s done let it sit at least 3 hours before serving. Next day is even better.
Before serving, drizzle lightly with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, peperoncino if you like, and of course grated Parmigiano or Pecorino. A hearty bowl of flavors with a Sicilian Twist. Potatoes and Meatballs in a stew…Sicilian genius and comfort food. A few other ingredients and it’s Minestrone meats Sicilian Meatball Stew…fantastico!!! A nice Sicilian Red, like the Nero D’Avola you used in the Spezzatino goes great with it…
Memories taste sweet and one of the sweetest memories I have is of my Mom’s PIGNOLI COOKIES. Hers were not unique but they were hers and that’s what makes them special. I treasure her recipe box which was really not how she cooked, only certain things were committed to a written recipe. Her cooking was mostly recipes in her head…I wonder where I get that from. This was one of her written ones..the PIGNOLI COOKIE which is the GRAND PRIZE if you landed the one or two that are in all ItalianAmerican cookie platters at the end of a special occasion. Almond paste and Pignoli, the two main ingredients have always been wildly expensive. Most bakeries today sell them for 29.99-35.00 @ lb. Making them at home is much cheaper, but not cheap. Here’s Mom’s recipe card: As with all her written recipes, they are incomplete. Her philosophy was , if you know how to cook, you can fill in the blanks. So there you go. I wanted to make them and went by memory. Too lazy to look for Mom’s card. I remembered it right down to the measurements…pretty scary. I did add 2 other items away from Mom’s recipe, one was 3 tbs. of sifted Unbleached flour and 1/2 tsp. of Pure Vanilla (have we had this talk yet..go to your pantry..if your extract says Imitation, throw it out…buy a bottle of PURE Vanilla. Why are you cooking with fake stuff? Unless you are baking everyday in big quantities the additional cost of the real item is not a burden.) The flour just helps stabilize the mixture, the vanilla I use in baking like one uses lemon in savory cooking. It seems to carry the other flavors and enhance them. That almond essence is just fantastic in these chewy almond macaroons (yeah, they are a form of macaroon).
So what’s the history of this cookie? Marzipan is a very well loved and used ingredient in European confections, North, Central and Southern. In Italy the region that Marzipan or PASTA REALE really is King is Sicily. Certainly the Salento and Puglia have their share of Almond Paste treats, but in Sicily it’s almost a religion. Almonds are a crop for the region and Sicilians include almonds in both their sweet and savory foods. No one knows for sure where this pignoli (which is another hallmark of Sicilian cooking) topped almond macaroon came from. The cookie is also made with slivered almonds on top. Since all research I’ve read points to Sicily, I’m going with that premise.
Notice 2 things in my pictures that I don’t want you to do. First is the foil on the baking sheet. I had no Silpat, no parchment paper. I improvised with lightly greasing a foil lining. In a pinch it works, but you SHOULD use silpat or Parchment. The texture will be better. They are also just a touch darker than they should be. I received a work related call while I was baking them and that extra 2 minutes in the oven created a crispy sort of bottom. They should be soft yet browned so, shut your phone off when you are cooking or risk a potential disaster. Had I not pulled them out when I did they would have become AMARETTI, those toasted almond macaroons, delicious, but not what I was making. Seconds count in cooking and baking!!!
TIME: 45 MINUTES YIELD: 18 COOKIES
8 oz. ALMOND PASTE, cut into small pieces then broken up with a mixer into small pieces
2/3 CUP SUGAR
3 TBS. SIFTED UNBLEACHED FLOUR (omit this is you are looking for GLUTEN FREE)
2 BEATEN EGG WHITES at ROOM TEMPERATURE
1/2 TSP. PURE VANILLA EXTRACT
1 CUP PIGNOLI (PINE NUTS)
CONFECTIONER’S SUGAR FOR DUSTING (Check the labels as not all Confectioner’s Sugar is Gluten Free if you are in need of this to be GF, if not, omit)
SILPAT or PARCHMENT PAPER (Mom used Waxed Paper, but I think Parchment is a better choice)
Let’s start baking. Pre heat oven to 325 F. To the already mixed up Almond paste (you can use a food processor too) add the sugar. Mix well, Then add the flour. Mix well. Should look like this: Now add the eggs and vanilla and mix just until the mixture comes together. It will be a sticky dough so don’t be alarmed at that. It should hold a small ball shape. Empty the nuts into a bowl. Now, roll 18 equal sized small balls, i guess a teaspoon full is good. Eyeball this folks, just keep them equal size. That’s also how things bake properly and at the same time. Dip one side of the ball into the bowl of Pignoli. Then place them on the Silpat or Parchment Paper lined baking sheet. Use heavy baking sheets if you can. Less chance of burning will occur. When they are all lined up, with room in between place them into the oven on the middle rack. looking at the foil is killing me. But, honesty in cooking and blogging so there you go.. DON’T USE FOIL!! Bake them for 15 minutes. Then place them in the top rack and bake for addition 5 minutes only. USE YOUR HEADS HERE!! If they look too brown or brown enough don’t do the 5 extra minutes. Every oven is calibrated differently…so use the common sense adjustment for making these. Your eyes are your biggest cooking implement. When you remove them let them sit for 3-4 minutes, then gently transfer them with a spatula to a cooling rack. Let them cook for 1/2 hour. My phone call created those over toasted pignoli on the cookies and the darker ring around the base. No phone calls.. Let it ring. That’s what voicemail is for. Now dust them with Confectioner’s Sugar. If not serving them right away no sugar dusting until you are serving. MAKE SURE THEY ARE STORED IN AIR TIGHT CONTAINERS!!! You will get that wonderful soft and chewy texture then. Like that!! Even with my extended accidental baking time they were wonderfully PIGNOLI COOKIE textured. I can hear my Mom exclaim ” AI’PIGNUL” spoken as Ai PEENYOOL…dialect Italian… That makes this blog and recipe much more personal for me, and so, for you too. You are baking an HEIRLOOM recipe, as much as that overused buzzword can be thrown around, it makes perfect sense here. With anticipation I would watch my Mom remove the Marzipan (Almond Paste) from the plastic covered tubes (Odense was the brand she used) and steal a chunk or two of it before she continued with the rest of the recipe. Food memories make for better tasting food. GRAZIE MOM for this gift, her recipe is like a million others but I have the proof in my hands and her handwriting. And now I pass it on to you. Happy Baking! Happy Eating!!
Stuffed Pizza, or more specifically Sfinciunu di San Vitu (Sfincione di San Vito)..a specialty from the
sunny Island of Sicily which is eaten to celebrate St.Vito’s Day, June 15. Actually the St.Vito piece of
this food puzzle comes from where the savory pie was first made, at a Convent of San Vito in Sicily.
The nuns did some job in putting together some of Sicily’s favorite ingredients. A Sfincione is a
Sicilian word denoting their regional pizza..a spongy doughed rectangular pie topped with a slow
and sweet cooked tomato sauce, anchovies, sauteed onions, caciocavallo, black pepper, olive oil
and bread crumbs. This morphed in America to our Sicilian thick crust pie. A St.Vito Sfincione is
a calzone or a two layered crust covered pizza, differing from the other Sfincione. Confused? You
should be. No matter…follow me on this St.Vito’s Pizza journey. Let’s go to the namesake. St. Vito
himself. One of those early Saints of the Christian period who are part of various legends, in
addition to Central Europe, St. Vito became a popular saint throughout Italy, especially down south
and in Sicily where there is a huge following. One of the prettiest towns in all of Sicily to the west of
Palermo is the beach resort of San Vito lo Capo (Cape of St.Vitus) where there is a huge cous cous
festival held every year. Interestingly enough, this Pizza is more associated with New Year’s Eve than with the actual feast day of S.Vito. I like to highlight though for this June 15 feast day.
This is my personal card of St.Vito which I got in the old San Vito Club in NYC.. My first introduction to St.Vito was when I was a kid and
exploring the old sections of Little Italy in NYC which then extended above Elizabeth St and below
Mulberry St. In fact, the section of Little Italy now known as NoLita was once the first home in America
for thousands and thousands of Sicilian immigrants, Elizabeth Street. Each group of people (paesani)
from a particular town would inhabit one or two adjacent tenanments and would provide a safe place for
new immigrants from that town to stay in upon arrival in the New Country. My grandparents, both from the
town of Sciacca in Sicily lived in opposite buildings, all with other paisani from their town. At one end
by the former Old Church of Our Lady of Loreto a group from the Sicilian town of Cimina settled and in
Our Lady of Loreto was a shrine to St.Vito. Every town had a Society on that street, and one of them was
the Mutual Aid Society of St.Vito for the people of Cimina. All gone now.
So there’s a little history of St.Vito to get you in the mood to cook a pizza named after him. This stuffed
gem is loaded with flavors and fun to make and eat. It would be a great party food, or a full entree,
served with a salad. This recipe will make one Sfinciuni (say it, you’ll feel Sicilian!). Start with the dough.
Don’t be afraid, it sounds scary to make your own dough, but it’s not only tastier and healthier, but it’s
theraputic. 8-10 minutes of kneading is a great stress reducer! In a bowl, add 1 cup of warm water. To
that add 1 tsp. sugar, 3/4 tsp. salt and 1 packet of dry yeast. Mix. Let this sit for up to 15 minutes. The top
will be frothy..IT’S ALIVE! Add 1 cup of sifted bread flour and blend in well with a wooden spoon. Now add
an additional cup. Keep stirring, it should be getting more difficult to stir and the dough will be moving from
the sides of the bowl. It will still be somewhat sticky. Slowly add an additional cup of flour now mixing with
your hands. This should give you an elastic, smooth ball of dough. If it is still sticky sprinkle a little more
flour on. Turn this out onto a floured board and knead for 8-10 minutes. Rub olive oil over it and place it
in the bowl, kitchen towel over the top and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours.
On to the filling…you’ll love this. Saute’ 1 lb. of loose sausage meat in a little olive oil still just cooked, about
10 minutes. Remove from the pan. While the sausage is cooking, slice 1 large onion and dice one medium
sized potato. Now add the potato to the pan with a little more olive oil, some salt and pepper and fry the
potatoes for about 10 minutes, till done. Add to the sausage. In the same pan fry the onions for 10 minutes
till soft and sweet, then add 1 sliced clove of garlic and when fragrant add 1 tsp. fennel seeds, 1 anchovy filet
and cook for 2 minutes. Now add 1 14 oz Can of Imported Italian Cherry Tomatoes (my new favorite in-
gredient). add some salt and pepper, and stir.
Add all of the sausage and potato to the tomato and onion and cook it on medium-low for 25 minutes. Some versions, and there are many of this, will include 1/2 tsp of ground Cinnamon. That’s up to you.
Now add 1 cup of coarsely chopped black olives, then a sprinkle of oregano and 3 torn basil leaves.
Cook for additional 5 minutes. Turn off the flame and add 1/8 cup grated pecorino, and 1/4 cup diced
caciocavallo. Leave it to sit for about 10 minutes. Pre-heat your oven to 450 now.
So from friend Michael Gottuso who used my recipe when I originally posted this a few years ago, this is his picture of the filling after it was completed:
Time to stuff! Pat down the dough and turn it out onto a board or stone counter. With your hands press
it out into a circular shape about 3/16 of an inch (get our your kitchen ruler..lol) and let it rest for about
Add the filling to the center of the dough and smooth it out so it’s all the same thickness. Gently
pick up one side of the dough and fold it over the filling..gently gently so you don’t tear the dough.
If you do you can always patch it up. Roll of the edges and tightly crimp them in a semi-circle where you
overlapped the dough. This will form a crust.
Dust the top of the Sfinciunu with black pepper
and bake for 16-20 minutes, or till golden brown on top and bottom. When done, tap on the top and
it should be firm and sound hollow.
Let this rest for 10 minutes before you cut into it, it lets all the juices go back into the filling. Cut and
serve, feeds 4-5. A very Sicilian combo here…serve it with a Sicilian red or white…a side of broccoli rabe or a salad.
Let me confuse you even further..as with many recipes centuries old there are many versions. One presses the dough into a round pan and it resembles a Chicago style DeepDish Pizza.. The top crust is covered with tomato sauce. My preference is the calzone style. You make it as you like.
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Happy Sfinciunu i San Vitu making! Enjoy your St.Vito’s Pizza.
Italy is a land of many regions like every other country and each area fiercely promotes it’s different foods, traditions, and dishes. One of the biggest arguments you will encounter when two Italian-Americans get together will be about food, precisely about a dish. One says his mother never made the dish, or makes it a certain way. The other fights back with his mother made better and more importantly his mamma’s way is the RIGHT way because that’s what Mamma made. This bickering is fueled by repetitive filling up of empty red wine glasses and reaches a crescendo when their stomachs are full and the argument is a draw. Both sides walk away thinking regardless of what just went down, they are right, their momma is queen, their region of Italy is the only one that matters so, let’s have espresso and maybe a cannoli. Italian-Americans are a very unique blend of these hardcore Italian regions. Most Italian-Americans (let’s call them IAs, too much typing) are American born of one or both parents having Italian lineage but there are many different regions that married together to form the current IA profile in America. Take A FOOD OBSESSION, my Paternal grandparents were both born in Sciacca, Sicily. My mother’s mother was born in Castelbaronia, Avellino and lived in Naples from 10 to 20 years of age and my maternal grandfather was born in Grassano, Matera in Basilicata. That makes me a product of 3 distinct regions, with my mom’s mom having lived in 2 towns in Campania bringing both those areas’ food traditions into the kitchen. At some point the cooking of Italian food in America became an amalgam of all these regions, some very similar some quite different so remember that next time you hear two IAs making a fuss about whose food is more authentic. What’s all this blabber about anyway? It sets up this blogpost and I present to you a very regional dish, ANELLETTI AL FORNO which comes from in and around the Palermo region of Sicily. It’s basically a baked pasta that uses ANELLETTI (means Little Rings). That’s right..WHOAAA…they look like Spaghetti-O’s..that All American kid’s canned pasta from Chef Boy-Ar-Dee. I’m sure some of you love it as it was served with love to you as a child. IA’s don’t do canned pasta, ever. We’d rather have our tongues cut out. I’m sure the good Chef Boiardi’s employees used this pasta dish as the basis for stuff in the can. Let’s freshen that idea up and go a little “authentic” (almost a silly word, no one really knows exactly what was or is authentic anymore but this is close) and go with my preparation of Anelletti Al Forno. To show you how regional and isolated the food cultures of Italy can be, my Sicilian Grandmother who did cook a tomato sauce with peas (and potatoes) in a very Sicilian style never ever made Anelletti. Why? She came from Sciacca which is directly south on the Mediterranean shore below Palermo. A few hours and some mountains made this dish totally unknown in her kitchen. I was introduced to this dish at the FEAST OF SAINT ROSALIA on 18th Avenue in Brooklyn in the 70’s. Back then the feast which celebrates the patron saint of Palermo was mostly lined with Sicilian food vendors, along with the usual suspects at an Italian-American street feast. In the shadow of Santa Rosalia I enjoyed Stuffed Artichokes, Panelle (Chick pea fritters), Arancini (Rice Balls) and a serving of Anelletti al Forno. I fell in love and never looked back. Sept. 4 in the traditional Feast of St.Rosalia but it’s celebrated in Palermo on July 15 during a celebration called IL FESTINO. Don’t use one or twospecial days to make this pasta, although making it on those days does make it taste a little special..i’m not lying to you..maybe just a little bit. Make it anytime and serve with a nice salad. Let ‘s hit the kitchen.
Makes: 5-6 servings Time: about 3 hours
1 LB. ANELLETTI (PASTA RINGS), COOKED TILL JUST UNDER AL DENTE, follow the package directions but knock off a few minutes at the end.
1/2 lb. GROUND VEAL or BEEF
1/2 LB. GROUND PORK
3 TBS. OLIVE OIL
1 FINE DICED ONION
1 28 OZ CAN IMPORTED ITALIAN TOMATOES (SAN MARZANO IF YOU HAVE THEM, not Sicilian, but very delicious)
1/2 can IMPORTED ITALIAN TOMATO PASTE
3 CHOPPED CELERY LEAVES
1 fine diced CARROT
1 cup RED WINE
2 cups WATER
pinch of OREGANO
1 cup shelled GREEN PEAS
Olive oil and butter for greasing the Baking Pan
3 tbs. BREAD CRUMBS for LINING THE PAN
1 cup grated PECORINO OR CACIOCAVALLO
1 cup diced PRIMOSALE CHEESE or MOZZARELLA or PROVOLONE
OPTIONAL INGREDIENTS: FRIED SLICES OF EGGPLANT (no breading), CHOPPED WHOLE HARD BOILED EGGS, CHOPPED SOPRESSATA
In a large dutch oven, heat 2 tbs of olive oil…add the onions, carrots, and 1/2 the celery leaves , season with salt and pepper and cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add the ground meats to the pot and cook until you don’t see any pink, stirring from time to time, about 10 minutes. Now season with salt and pepper and the celery leaves. and oregano. Cook for 2 minutes then add the wine, bring to a slow boil. Add the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes, then add the water, bring to a boil then down to a simmer. Add the tomatoes, that you crushed with your hands, to the pot. Let this cook down for a good 1 hour 15 minutes. It should be thick, if still watery, continue to reduce until that water is cooked out. Add the peas and the balance of the celery leaves and cook for additional 10 minutes.
While all that is happening, cook the pasta until just under al dente according to the package directions. Notice I’m not telling you to substitute the pasta. This is not a universal pasta dish, it’s a regionally SPECIFIC heritage dish from the Palermo province of Sicily. There’s no substitute..and to make it easy for you here’s a link where you can buy it on line:
There are other places too on the web. as well. It’s INTRINSIC to use the Anelletti. In a baking pan that you have lightly greased with butter or olive oil sprinkle 3/4 of the breadcrumbs around the pan. Mix the pasta and the cheeses together with sauce( reserve 1 cup of sauce for the top) then turn it into the pan. Sprinkle with the diced cheese, the reserved sauce and more breadcrumbs.
Bake in a 375 F degree oven for 40 minutes. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.
This delicious treat sometimes has a thicker layer of crumbs around it, or is cooked in a ring pan or mold. Be creative but keep to the traditions, there’s plenty of wiggle room there.
Here’s the “moral” of this blogpost/story, especially for the most opinionated of you out there—open your mind to things that are not part of the kitchen you grew up on and see why it may be a valid authentic dish. Until that visit to the streets of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn for the St.Rosalia Feast in the 70’s I would have said that Anelletti is NOT a Sicilian dish because my grandmother didn’t make it. How wrong I would have been! And when you hear this jingle from the 60’s you’ll have a WHOLE’nother idea of what that dish is: