Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sweet & sour Caponata

Hello from sunny Sicily! Yes, spring is on and summer is coming soon. Weather is getting warmer and warmer and it’s time for my favourite vegetables and food. I can start dreaming about caponata, parmigiana, peperonata, granite and all those unique dishes that give Sicilian cuisine a unique savour.

For Sicilian cookery tradition caponata means summer, eggplants, magic and delicate equilibrium between sweet and sour, flavours that get mixed up without confusing. Don’t ask me what caponata means. I tried to find out but the etymology is not that clear. It might come from the latin word capare meaning chopping up ingredients to mix them in a kind of alchemic way of cooking. It might come from the Italian name of the cat fish capone which was originally used in the past in the haute-cuisine of the Monsu’, the French chefs cooking for the noble Sicilian families. Common people couldn’t afford to buy fresh fish, quite expensive even at those times, so they customized the recipe using fresh season vegetables. It is not a difficult dish, it takes only a lot of time to cook it properly, but I would suggest you how to save time without losing flavor. There are many versions of caponata, I will give you mine, a family recipe.

Serves 4 pax

2 medium-size aubergines
2 medium-size yellow and red peppers
1 big or 2 medium-size onions
the core of 1 celery
about 20g of capers
100g of stoned green olives
about 30g of raisins
about 20g of pine-seeds
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp of sugar
1 coffee cup of vinegar (balsamic is fine)

1. Prepare the most important ingredients first: cut the aubergines in small pieces , use a bowl with cold water, pour the aubergines and let them rest for about 30 minutes , then stir them. Clean the peppers and cut them in small pieces, be careful not to leave any seeds. Cut the onions in small pieces as well as the celery and the green olives.

2. Use a frying-pan to brown each ingredient one per time: first the aubergines, second peppers, then onions.

3. Mix aubergines, peppers and onions and add all ingredients (except sugar, vinegar and bay leaves). Let everything cook for about 10 minutes giving astir now and then.

4. Add vinegar, sugar and bay leaves, give a stir and let everything cook for about 5 minutes.

5. Let everything rest and cool as it must be served cold.

Tricks & tips
- For a light version put all ingredients in a baking-pan and cook put in the oven for about 30 minutes at 240°C stirring every 10 minutes. Then, add vinegar, sugar and bay leaves, give a stir and let everything cook for about 5 minutes.
- You can also use zucchini as an additional ingredient.
- Caponata is usually a side-dish for meat and fish but, if you use no vinegar and no sugar you can also use it to season pasta (absolutely short pasta such as penne).

Buon appetito!

© Text and pictures by
Doriana Briguglio

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Therapeutical oregano and pasta?

During Easter holidays I had a couple of very good friends from Norway, we spent most of the time eating, you know :) … a welcome dinner at home on Friday, we went out for lunch and dinner on Saturday, family lunch for Easter day, and again what we call “scampagnata” (a day trip into the country) on Easter Monday, yes … definitely too much food!
I guess everything started on Sat morning when I brought them out for a walking tour downtown in Catania. We stopped both at the fish market and at the central marked and they were truly amazed by the mountains of fresh and dried oregano.
Then, eating here and there, they realized how much we use oregano when cooking and finally they asked that question. What about oregano and why do you use it so much? It was not only me surprised I mean, some of my friends there were really upset and looked at them as a sort of extraterrestrial phenomena!

I recovered and soon realized they were right somehow, we use a lot of oregano every day. I guess there are food and ingredients we take for granted and it is not so. It’s only us from Mediterranean countries or is anyone else in the rest of the world so crazy about oregano?
To tell the true they were a bit confused about oregano, they thought that oregano is the essential herb to be used for pizza only, they also confused oregano and wild majorana! They look very much alike, but sorry, they are not the same herb.
We urged to fill the gap and explain them how to use oregano when cooking, with some tricks and tips.
The oregano plant is a perennial which grows up to two feet tall and bears tiny leaves which lend a pungent aroma and strong flavor to a variety of savory foods. While its gentler flavor is sweeter and its aroma not quite as pungent, marjoram belongs to the same family (Laminaceae) as the oregano (Origanum majorana and origanum vulgare). Wild marjoram has leaves which are slightly hairy and more gray-green in color. When in bloom, the plant or oregano sports pink or purple flowers which are also edible. The leaves are used fresh from the plant or dried. Oregano is one of the few herbs that is stronger when dried than when fresh.
My granny used to praise its therapeutical properties thanks to its active principles, fat, mineral salts, proteins and vitamins: analgesic, antalgic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and tonic. She used its brew to naturally cure cough, headache and rheumatic pains.

Back to cuisine, this is a fragrant and appetizing pasta dish, perfect to cook when your larder is almost empty or you have short time to spend in the kitchen or when you are just tempted by a good pasta dish.

Serves 4 pax

400g of ruled penne pasta
extra-virgin olive oil
1 big onion
1 tbsp tomato puree
grated parmesan cheese

1. Slice off finely the onion. Pour some extra-virgin olive oil in a frying pan and add the onion.
2.When it gets brown add a spoon of tomato puree and stir for a couple of seconds so to combine well the sauce, then add some oregano and taste as you go.
3.In the meanwhile, put a saucepan on to cook with water for the pasta and bring it to the boil. Add about 2 tbsp of salt and pour the penne.
4.Be careful to strain al dente then pour it into the frying pan stirring well the pasta and its sauce. Serve it in a bowl covering with parmesan cheese.

Tricks & Tips
* When using dried oregano, crush it in the palm of your hand before adding to the food. This helps release essential oils and revive flavor.
* Oregano can become overpowering and bitter if too much is used on foods with mild flavor. Taste as you go.
* Don't be afraid, try it out with salads, fish and meat!

My Norwegian friends went back home with half a kilo of dried oregano in their suitcases!

Buon appetito!

© Text and pictures by Doriana Briguglio

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Easter delights for senses

It would be easy to say I made these small cute pastries but it wouldn't be true. These are masterpieces of the ancient tradition of the Sicilian convents and are made by the gentle and skilled hands of old nuns whose recipes will maybe disapper with them.

My good friend Aldo Grasso, I've already posted about him and about his Enoteca di Sicilia, did a great job. He is a taste hunter who travels aorund Sicily to seek and find out stories and recipes of our culinary traditions. Easter travel is undoubtly the most interesting one made to discover that great cutural heritage hidden into the kitchens of the convents. Pastries and desserts of Holy week come from cloisters located mostly in Western Sicily: Mazara del Vallo, Alcamo, Erice, Agrigento, Palam di Montechiaro, Mistretta. These pastries are true masterpieces of the culinary art, some of them dating back to the Midde-Ages. Made basically of Sicilian almonds, sometimes filled with pistach or citron, they offer a perfect balance of taste, fragrance and sugar. Aboslutely hand-made, there is no space for industrial production.
For those of you who see themselves as taste hunters I strongly suggest to order these unique Sicilian delicacies, a great delight for adults and children!

Enoteca di Sicilia
Viale Africa 31
95100 Catania (Sicily, Italy)
T + 39 095 7462210

Picture & text © Doriana Briguglio