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!!
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.
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!!
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: