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Archive for July, 2011

This was going to be a post about Sicilian desserts, to finish off my holiday scribblings and pass on the heavenly sweet that is Cannoli to the uninitiated.

And then any warm and fuzzy, Jamie Oliver-esque feelings left by the afterglow of my successful food travels, disappeared faster than blue sky over Scotland.

I realise the point of a food blog is usually to inspire others and pass on recipes that actually work but if anyone is suffering a crisis of confidence in the kitchen then a few minutes reliving my week can only serve to improve your mood and its so tragic its almost laughable.

I developed an unhealthy addiction to Cannoli while on our honeymoon and I was so horrified at the thought of going without until I could get back to Sicily that as soon as I had an afternoon to spare I armed myself with a set of Cannoli moulds and a bottle of Passito, thinking I would be writing now and munching contentedly on a second batch… not so I’m afraid. Turns out I’m very good at making edible drain pipes.

I did try various methods of frying and baking the dough but no joy. Not deterred, I decided to come back to Cannoli another day and moved on to the Marsala mousse recipe I was determined to re-create from our last supper.  What at first bite was perfectly light and fluffy, turned out to be hiding an offputting little puddle of sweet wine that was lurking in the bottom of the cup instead of behaving itself in the mousse as planned. Not being able to face making another batch I abandoned that one as well.

Next followed honey and cinnamon cupcakes and then blueberry muffins in an attempt to lift my spirits (not all in one day I should point out) but neither of them turned out to be drop-what-you’re-doing blog worthy creations. In fact the muffins are currently lining the bottom of my dustbin… you know its bad when you feel compelled to throw out cake.

By the weekend I was pretty dejected and my daily wine consumption was nearing dangerous levels.  So who knows why but with what in hindsight seems suicidal determination, I decided to try and make Calzone on Saturday night. I can make a decent pizza but I’ve never had much luck with Calzone as my dough always lands up soggy in the middle and the fillings not quite as good as they do when they get to toast themselves directly under a hot grill.

This time however, pizza was my prozac. The food gods must have taken pity on my hitherto pathetic week because I was slightly obsessive about making sure all my ingredients were moisture free but other than that I did the same things as usual and instead of doughy misery I was rewarded with cheesy happiness. Crispy, chewy, salty, creamy Calzone and Pizza all in one. Even with the  best of both calzone and pizza combined it might not sound like  much of a nirvana but sometimes a simple success is the perfect comfort food.

So for those of you in need of cheering up I recommend the following recipe. I owe the pizza dough recipe to Tessa Kiros and the rest to the food gods.

Home-made Calzone-Pizza

Pizza dough from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros.

  • 500g plain flour plus extra for dusting
  • 370ml warm water
  • 12g instant yeast
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 onion

Toppings

  • 2 smoked bacon rashers, finely chopped
  • large handful baby spinach leaves, steamed and drained
  • 100g ricotta
  • 1 cup grated mozarella
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 1 tin of anchovies in oil
  • 1/4 cup pitted and halved black olives (kalamata are best)
  • 1 birdseye chilli finely chopped
  • 1 tsp dried oregano

Combine the yeast, honey, water and 150g of the flour in a large bowl and whisk well. Leave to stand for 15-30 min until the yeast begins to activate. Add 1 tbsp olive oil and the salt and then the remaining flour. Mix using an electric mixer with a dough hook or by hand, adding more four if required, until the dough is smooth and elastic but not too dry. Place in a clean oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise for 1-1/2 hours until doubled in size.

While the dough is rising, chop the onion and garlic in a blender.  Heat the remaining oil in a saucepan and fry the onion mixture for 5-10 min until soft. Add the rosemary and then the tinned tomatoes and simmer for about 40 min until all the moisture is removed. You want to get from this…

To this…

Take the tomato slush off the heat and leave to cool. In another pan, fry the chopped bacon until very crispy and drain on kitchen towel. Make sure the spinach is completely drained by squashing it against a sieve with a metal spoon before roughly chopping. Drain the anchovies on kitchen towel as well. Prepare the other toppings while the dough is rising. When ready, preheat the oven to 245°C. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide in two. Freeze one half for use another time and roll the other out on a baking sheet into a large rectangle, rolling it thinner on one side than the other. Place a few teaspoons of tomato followed by the spinach, bacon, half the ricotta and a sprinkle of mozzarella on the thinner half, leaving a 2-3 inch gap around the edge.

Fold the dough over the filling and pinch the edges to seal. Spread the remaining half with tomato (freeze whatever is left) and top with the anchovies, olives and chilli. Sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella and the parmesan over the top and finally the oregano.

Place in the oven 15 min until the cheese and edges are golden (I don’t have a pizza stone but I did place my baking sheet with an air pocket in it on the oven rack to provide extra heat from below). Either slice the pizza and calzone separately if people prefer one or the other or cut across so that you get a strip of each with every slice.

 

Grab a napkin and apply to face.

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I know…I’ve been gone rather longer than a month. Sadly not because I got stuck in Sicily. Things have been a bit crazy since we got back and I didn’t want to rush just to get a post out but I have been feeling a bit guilty about not writing.

This morning I finally sat down to go through our holiday snaps and gather together all the photos of food which I had greedily hoarded as we ate our way through Cefalu and Taormina.  I love that photos trigger the visual memory but  a memory of the smells and flavours as well. Although, its a little depressing sitting in front of a rainy window in scotland when your stomach is sitting thousands of miles away in the sun in front of a plate of crispy lemon anchovies.

(I’m having a warm buttery croissant with sweet cactus jam and a creamy coffee to make myself feel better)

Anyway, back to holiday food. Don’t panic. Endless adjective heavy passages about the scenery and dishes of Sicily are not about to follow (you can buy a guide book for that), but I can’t resist writing about a few dishes that I’m still getting hunger pangs over.

Besides discovering Piadine – (an Italian flat bread similar to a tortilla) which we made into toasties nearly every day with  local cheese, tomatoes and thin parma style ham – we ate out a lot so the only dish I actually cooked in Sicily was crispy anchovies and aubergine fritters. I couldn’t resist the fishmonger in Cefalu with its piles and piles of fresh fish and I have a particular soft spot for anchovies so we bought a few large handfuls and grabbed an equally irresistible looking purple aubergine from one of the vegetable stalls and headed back to our little apartment with a view of the mountains and the sea.

Everyone always says there’s no point in trying to recreate something you ate in the Mediterranean because it will never taste the same at home but although I know the aubergines will never be as sweet and firm and the extra ingredient of fierce sunshine will be lacking, Scotland has pretty good seafood so I’m not scared to make these anchovies again. Obviously I was quite limited in my access to cooking utensils so this recipe is all handfuls and pinches and its extremely simple. It doesnt really need exact measurements to work and I think that goes against the idea so I haven’t converted everything into grams and teaspoons.

Crispy Lemon Anchovies with Aubergine Fritters

  • 2-3 large handfuls of anchovies (roughly one handful per person if serving as a meal)
  • 1 aubergine cut into  slices
  • About 2 cups of plain flour (this is a lot of flour but I found it easier to work with more)
  • 2 generous pinches of salt and pepper
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten (you might need another one depending on the size of your eggs)
  • oil for frying

First gut and prepare the anchovies. Make a slit down the belly of each anchovy, remove the guts and cut off the head just behind the gills. Place the anchovy flesh side down and push down the spine to flatten. Turn it over and pull out the spine, including the tail fin.

Split the flour into two bowls and season well. Zest the lemon and add to the flour for the anchovies. Heat two frying pans with a couple of centimetres of oil in each (you could also use a deep fat fryer).

In batches, toss the anchovies in the flour, dip in the egg and then toss in the flour again. Drop them into the oil. For the aubergines, dip each slice in the egg and then in the flour and drop straight into the oil. Fry both anchovies and aubergines for a couple of minutes each side until golden and crispy. Drain on kitchen paper and serve with wedges of lemon and a green salad.

My favourite meal of the whole trip was on our last night in Taormina at a little terrace restaurant called Trattoria don Camillo. When I think of meatballs I think of a heavy tomato sauce but I took the advice of our waiter and had their Polpette arrosto nelle foglie de limone (meatballs cooked in lemon leaves) and Insalata di patate con capperi e cipolle (potato salad with capers and red onion).

Words wont do it justice but the meatballs were heavenly lemony and juicy despite not having a sauce and the potatoes just perfectly balanced against the salty capers and crunchy onion.

Polpette arrosto nelle foglie de limone

Meatballs cooked in lemon leaves. Serves 3-4.

  • 400g veal or beef mince
  • 100g white breadcrumbs
  • 100g grated caciocavallo or parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • salt and pepper to season
  • 16-30 lemon leaves depending on size (you can either wrap one around or use two per meatball)
  • olive oil

Mix the mince and breadcrumbs in a bowl, then add the egg and the grated cheese and mix by hand. Season with salt and pepper. Divide and shape into plum sized balls and flatten slightly. Wrap in the lemon leaves and place on a baking tray (if roasting) or rack (if grilling). Brush with olive oil. Either cook the meatballs in 200°C oven for 10 minutes each side or on a hot grill for 3-5 minutes each side until cooked through. Serve with a light salad or green veg.

As if this wasnt enough to send me into raptures, our waiter then offered me Marsala mousse for dessert – a light and fluffy vanilla mousse delicately flavoured with Marsala wine. I could have quite happily had a second helping and I’m dying to recreate this at home with the bottle of Passito that I brought back.

If I could keep only two recipes from Sicily these would be them, well… these and Cannolli but that’s another post…

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