Ah, Sicily. Yet another place I dream to visit someday. What is it about it that fascinates me? Well, I fell in love with Italy when I first traveled there in summer 2001…which seems like eons ago and a whole other era now but the memories are seered in forever. But I only got to experience part of the northern region – Venice (where I could have stayed for 6 months) and Lake Como. Breathtaking. And I know there is so much more of Italy to experience.
I have a fascination with islands as I blogged about when I first got fivenineteen underway. And I love traveling to places that are completely different from where I live – guess that’s the main reason…to get immersed in a totally different way of going through life. Complete with different weather. Different food. Different languages and cultures. I am proud of where I live but I know there are many different ways to live life on this planet of ours. And it’s a privilege to travel and experience these different ways.
Let me share with you another cookbook in my collection that I’ve blown the dust off of and rediscovered. Cucina Siciliana by Clarissa Hyman. The link is to the paperback version; I’m very glad to have this treasure in hardback. The book is full of beautiful photography (by Peter Cassidy) and information about the region’s history and people. That’s just as fascinating to me as the food!
The first sentence inside the front cover makes me tingle: “Sicily is where Europe ends and Africa begins, a sun-fired melting pot of East and West.” Ooooh!!! I pulled out a map and sure enough…Sicily is closer to the country of Tunisia than it is to Rome!
I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect in Sicilian-style cooking…what does it mean? Well, in reading through this cookbook I learned it means a lot of things, but mostly this: intense, flavorful and refreshingly simple. Most of these dishes have very few ingredients.
The first recipe I tried was a sausage and eggs dish…for dinner! I had to look twice – nope, this really IS in the dinner section of the book! I scratched my head, for sausage and eggs for me is typically a breakfast or brunch combo. But then I remembered I had some hot Italian sausage and some eggs in the fridge that needed to be used up – perfect timing! And why not try it for dinner?
Fennel seed sausage and scrambled eggs – serves 2
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- Olive oil
- 2-3 fennel seed sausages, chopped, casings removed if thick
- 4 eggs
- 1/3 C pecorino cheese, grated
- Peperoncino or black pepper
- Toasted Italian bread
Fry the onion slowly in the olive oil until soft and golden. Add the sausage and fry for 10 minutes. Beat the eggs, then mix in the cheese, salt and peperoncino. Pour the egg mixture over the heat and scramble gently. Serve over slices of toasted bread.
See what I mean about wonderful yet simple ingredients? This picture was taken right when I poured the egg, cheese and peperoncino into the pan to scramble. Yum! I recommend reducing the heat slightly after adding the eggs, as they will cook quickly and continue to cook somewhat even after removing them from the heat to serve.
I was tempted to substitute a different cheese as I wasn’t familiar with pecorino. Boy I am glad I didn’t! Pecorino is a hard cheese with a sharp, intense flavor that’s hard to describe. But definitely worth a small splurge for the burst it adds to this dish. And since it’s a hard cheese it will keep far longer in your fridge than a softer cheese. And it’s easy to grate. So no excuses…go find some pecorino!
Author’s notes about sausage: “It’s a rare Sicilian who will buy sausages without standing in front of the butcher ensuring they are made to personal specifications. A popular way of cooking them is on a skewered coil on the char-grill (alla bracie) or fried with bitter wild greens.
“Sicilian sausages are thin and made from coarsely chopped pork and wild fennel seeds. Some prefer a combination of pork and veal, others a mixture flavored with cheese and white wine. Opinions vary on whether the cheese should be grated or cubed, and there are those who leave it out altogether and add parsley. The mixture should not be too fatty or too lean; it should be just right. So, the only way to ensure you don’t end up with someone else’s inferior recipe is to stand and watch the butcher make them.” I love it!
Next up was a seafood recipe. I could eat seafood every day and am so glad to live in an area where we are fortunate to have it pretty much fresh right out of the ocean. And so much variety available to us. What caught my eye thumbing through the pages? Swordfish! When was the last time I had swordfish? Probably out at a very nice restaurant.
I am a weirdo and really enjoy grocery shopping. Maybe it’s not so weird – I’m sure there are many of you out there who love it too. It’s definitely a pleasure. And I’ve gotten to know the guys at the seafood counters at a couple of my favorite grocery stores. I’ve learned to not be shy and ASK questions. They LOVE to share information and help you out (duh). I’m certainly not shy, but have started to chit-chat more and ask their opinions about the different types of seafood, where it’s from and how often they get deliveries in.
You can imagine the look on my face when I happily marched up to the seafood counter to ask for swordfish. Whoops! It’s considered ‘exotic’ and usually needs to be ordered in advance. Really? I’m staring at boatloads of beautiful salmon, gorgeous halibut, cod, tuna, oysters, clams, mussels…and no swordfish. Not even at the second place I swung by. I was stunned! But now I know. I suppose I could have trekked over to the Pike Place Market but I didn’t feel like it.
So I went with shrimp as a substitute for this next recipe. It’s definitely not anything like swordfish but practicality won out, as I had some shrimp that needed to be used up.
Swordfish alla ghiotta – serves 4
- 1/4 C olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- a few sprigs fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 stick celery, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2/3 C tomato sauce
- 1 T capers
- 3 oz green olives, chopped
- Peperoncino or black pepper
- 4 swordfish steaks
- Fresh basil leaves
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and saute the onion until it wilts. Add all the other ingredients except the fish and basil, stir well and simmer for 10 minutes. Check the seasoning, then add the fish and spoon some of the sauce over it. Cover and cook on a low heat for 10 minutes. Serve the fish and sauce sprinkled with torn basil leaves.
After reading more of this cookbook, I learned that the swordfish catch in Sicily is limited and commands a high price. I wonder if it’s becoming an extinct species? But as an old Sicilian proverb goes, “If you want to eat fresh fish, you mustn’t have a tight wallet.”
Here’s a shot of all of the ingredients cooking yummily along. Yes, this is actually the same pan I used to cook the eggs and sausage! If I had been using swordfish or other fish steaks I would have definitely used a larger pan. I chose to add the parsley more toward the end rather than as part of the cooking process as the recipe calls for. I don’t like it when parsley gets too wilted – just my personal preference.
“Alla ghiotta” means “appetizing.” It truly is, even substituting the shrimp! I really enjoyed both of these recipes and can’t wait to try more!
And dream of someday wandering the markets of Sicily. Buon appetito!