Next: Cannoli

fullsizerenderStarting at Sicily’s Catania airport, I was in cannoli heaven!  I’m not sure why, but it is one of my favorite sweets and not a common menu offering in the States.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat really set cannoli in Sicily apart was having it made with fresh, creamy ricotta inserted into just made shells.

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After watching a demonstration of the whole process in Ragusa, I determined that cannoli was doable and would definitely be the dessert for the anticipated Sicilian gourmet gathering.

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The first step was ordering these little tubes around which the cannoli dough is wrapped for frying.  They allow the shells to hold their shape and to slide off easily once they are done.

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Making the shells requires a bit of elbow grease, a pasta maker or rolling pin and a lot of patience.  Might I add that’s it more fun with two as there is opportunity for lots of chuckles.  All done, there is quite a sense of accomplishment!

img_8232-1Most cannoli has a ricotta based filling that may have such as pistachios, candied fruit or chocolate chips as an added ingredient.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThinking that everyone would like it, I opted for a filling with chocolate chips and a subtle taste of orange.  If there is a best hint for making cannoli, it is to use a pastry tube to fill the shells otherwise it’s a messy process.

OK, there you have it, a perfect ending to a Sicilian dinner.  What made it especially fun was the arancini and the cannoli were firsts for some of the diners, and you know how hard it is to introduce new tastes to gourmands.

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Dishing It & Digging It

First the Arancini

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith the table set, it was time to get busy in the kitchen preparing the Sicilian dinner.

Without question, one of my favorite foods in Sicily was arancini which I swore not to make noting that it was rather labor intensive.  No way though could I pass on it knowing that it possibly would be a new taste treat, so I bit the bullet and got started.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArancini is basically a risotto ball so the first step is making your favorite risotto being sure not to let it get too soft and mushy.  Al dente is the buzz word.  When it has cooled enough to handle, roll the risotto into golf ball sized shapes with a small mozzarella ball in the middle.  Dip the balls in beaten egg whites and roll them in a mixture of equal parts flour and bread crumbs seasoned with salt, pepper and chopped basil.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce your balls are prepared,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfry then in olive or canola oil over medium high heat until browned on all sides.  A deep fryer would likely be a little more efficient than a skillet.  I must tell you this part can be a little tricky as the balls tend to fall apart if they are handled too much so do use care when moving them around.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARemove the balls from the oil and drain them well on paper towels.  Making the arancini is more time consuming than difficult I learned, but the good thing is it can be made a day ahead and reheated in the oven or warming drawer.  That takes a lot of the pain out of preparing the rest of the meal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt serving time, put a heaping portion of  meat sauce in a bowl and top with 2-3 arancini.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and coarsely chopped basil or Italian parsley. Then sit back and enjoy the moans of pleasure that will come from your table.  That makes the effort all worthwhile!

While you may have a favorite meat sauce, I can’t resist sharing Chef Michael’s recipe for Sicilian meat sauce with its flavorful blend of ingredients.

1/4 c. olive oil

1/2 c.  each finely chopped onion, carrot and celery

1 lb. ground pork or Italian sausage

1/2 c. red wine

6 oz. tomato paste

28 oz. can of diced tomatoes

3 c. beef broth

1 T. fennel seeds, toasted and ground fine

2 cloves minced garlic

1 bay leaf

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and add the onions, carrots and celery.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the pork or sausage, stir until broken up and cook until browned.

Pour in the wine and cook until it has nearly evaporated.

Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add diced tomatoes, beef broth, seasonings and bay leaf and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours.

Remove the bay leaf and season to taste.

As you might guess, this sauce is great with most any pasta.  Double the recipe, freeze the extra and you have sauce ready for another time.  Not a bad idea!

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Full Plate Thursday

Share Your Cup Thursday

Foodie Friday

 

How It Started

When the gourmet group heard we were going to Sicily for another Foodie Adventure, a request was made for a Sicilian meal when we next hosted.   Lucky I was warned because that made me pay attention to tables and accessories when we were there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt a market I found a cloth which started the thought process.

I was very attracted to ceramic heads which were a reflection of the Moorish influence in Sicily.    I finally yielded to temptation and purchased two small ones that I knew would work into whatever tablescape would eventually evolve.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen the time came to put a table together, I brought out the chianti bottles which have been used  many times over the years.  Now I know chianti is Tuscan, but I figured as long as I kept the Italian thing going, it would be OK.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe same thing applies to the handpainted plates which were gotten in Ravello some years ago. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs I looked at the table, it dawned on me that citrus was everywhere in southern Sicily, so I went outside, cut a few stems of holly fern and arranged whatever oranges, lemons and grapefruit were in the refrigerator on the table.  They actually play off some of the images on the cloth which is proving to be quite an effective inspiration.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA dish towel doubling as a napkin and folded into a pocket for flatware

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand an orange atop the salad plate completes a table that turns out to be very reflective of sunny Sicily.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd to think it all started with a request for a Sicilian dinner which I’ll share next time.

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Centerpiece Wednesday

Tablescape Thursday

In the Kitchen

pb032656After a full day of seeing the sights and tasting food, wine and cheese, we return “home” to don our aprons and head to the kitchen to prepare the evening’s meal under the watchful eye of Chef Michael. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s no mystery about what we are going to fix as in our welcoming folder the menus and recipes for the week are included.  Can you tell that each dinner is a whole lot of food?

img_8110-1Funny how cooking is much more fun with a group, and it took all of us to prepare the evening’s vittles.

We laugh and joke as we mix, stir, slice and dice

 

pb032650and discover that for some things it takes two!

Everyone has a job,

img_8198 some more tedious than others. I have to confess to being nothing more than a cheerleader when it came to making this dessert!

Everywhere in the kitchen is evidence of our effort,

img_8232-1and when all is said and done we turn out some pretty good eats!  Since I have mentioned cannoli more than once in recent posts, you might guess it was my very favorite dessert, one that will be made at home though I might cheat and use purchased shells as making them from scratch requires quite an effort. 

Now that your appetite is whetted, here is a recipe from the kitchen for you to try.  

Sicilian Caponata

2 medium eggplants

3 T. extra virgin olive oil

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 celery stalks, peeled and diced

1/2 c. green olives, pitted and halved

1/4 c. capers

1/4 c. sundried tomatoes, chopped

1/3 c. red wine vinegar

2 T. sugar

1 c. tomato sauce

1/4 c. basil, chopped

kosher salt and black pepper

Cut the eggplants into 1/2″ cubes and place them in a bowl.  Toss with 3 T. of salt and let them sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.  Rinse the eggplant in cold water and drain well.  Squeeze to release excess water, then place on paper towels to dry thoroughly.

Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium high heat.  Fry the eggplant until it’s well browned.  Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.  Return the pan to medium heat and add the sliced onion.  Cook for 2 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.  Add celery and continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring well.  Last, add the capers and sundried tomatoes and and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the vinegar, sugar and tomato sauce and cook for about 5 minutes or until the mixture is cooked down.  Remove from the heat and stir in the basil.  Season to taste.

The caponata may be used in a variety of ways such as a sauce for fish or pasta or as a spread for crostini.

So, there you have the experience of a Foodie Adventure.  If going to interesting places, staying in a wonderful villa and having opportunity for  hands on cooking appeals to you, you just might want to join in the fun.

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Impressions and Tidbits

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 7 days it is not possible to experience all that Sicily has to offer, but we did get a good taste of the southern part with visits to Modica, Siricusa, Ragusa, Ragusa Ibla and Scicli plus a few other spots.  While none have very large populations, all have tightly packed residential and business areas.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASicily is largely agricultural, fascinating considering the rocky terrain.  Clearing the land must require back breaking labor and  what happens to all those rocks?   It appears that most become dry stone walls which mark plots of land and define boundaries.

img_8240Not all crops are out in the open.  There are literally thousands of green houses dotting the landscape which I suppose allow year round farming.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWithout question there is a lot of food emphasis in Sicily, and I loved the combination of flavors in dishes like arancini.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFood goes beyond what is eaten.  According to our guide, food references are common to every day language.  For example, being told you look like mozzarella means you have a very white body.  Being compared to ricotta implies no muscle tone.  A nice person is said to be sweet as honey and straight, glossy hair is like spaghetti.  Are you getting the drift?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA real delight was learning that Sicily is known for cannoli, one of my very favorite sweets.  I made it a point to have at least one each day and justified it by telling myself that I was walking it off!   Can I tell you how good cannoli is when the shells are fresh made and filled with creamy homemade ricotta.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother find is Modica’s chocolate made in the Aztec tradition dating back hundreds of years. It has a somewhat grainy texture and is not as sweet as most chocolate. The bars are said to be good not only for eating but perfect for delicious hot chocolate made thick by adding a dab of cornstarch.  Hopefully, my chocolate will last long enough for me to try it!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA special treat at the chocolate maker was trying traditional mpanatigghi biscuits filled with chocolate made from carob.  The  prickly pear was a tasty complement that required special skill to peel without puncturing a finger.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASicily does not appear to be as noted for art and architecture as say Tuscany or Rome, but it has its own unique character and flavor.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is much to enjoy and for sure, no visit would be complete without a stroll along one of its beautiful beaches.

In a nutshell, these are some impressions and tidbits of Sicily.  Next, I will share the important part of a Foodie Adventure, time in the kitchen.

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Foodie Adventure #4

For the fourth time, the hubby and I have joined Chef Michael Salmon for a Foodie Adventure, this time in southern Sicily.  Now, before sharing bits of the adventure with you I’ll answer the question I’ve been asked again and again: What is a Foodie Adventure?

The simple answer is it is a delightful week of eating, touring, eating, cooking and eating with 16-20 other fun loving and adventurous folks who come from all over the U.S.  Some will have met on another of the Foodie Adventures so friendships are renewed.  For sure it is an experience to be savored.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChef Michael and his energetic wife Mary Jo of Camden, Maine’s Hartstone Inn always find wonderful places for us Foodies to stay.  This time lovely accommodations are at Cavalonga in wide open spaces  surrounded by olive, citrus and almond trees near Ragusa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we arrive we are greeted with appetizing antipasti trays and refreshing beverages perfect for tired travelers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWaiting in our rooms are lots of happys that Chef Michael and Mary Jo have left for us.  The most important one is the apron that will get lots of use and more than a few stains as we prepare nightly feasts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASettled in, we are ready to begin the adventure.  Each day begins with breakfast prepared by Chef Michael who gets up earlier than the rest of us.

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Then it’s on the bus for a day of visiting local points of interests

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Learning to make cannoli

plus places having to do with food.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALadies, of course, always want to do a little shopping, and the guys just shrug their shoulders and look for the nearest place to have gelato or a glass of wine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALate afternoon we return to our temporary home, wash our hands, don the apron and head to the kitchen to prepare the evening meal under the watchful eye of Chef Michael.  

By the time we are finished, we’ve worked up an appetite for our 4 course meal, and we appreciate it enormously for having worked together to make it happen.

So now you know about a Foodie Adventure.  Next, I’ll have to share a bit of Sicily and a recipe or two from the week.  Do come back.

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind