Friday, April 15, 2016


I had always cooked international recipes, and particularly Italian ones, in the UK so it was a bit of a surprise when I first came to Sicily to discover that some of these recipes wouldn't work here because the cuts of meat are different. The second surprise was the lack of spices for, apart from cinnamon, chilli pepper and a mixture known as "curry" [which I leave well alone] for the more adventurous, few are used.  Cumin seeds and ginger are stocked in most supermarkets and you can find harissa, but that's about it.  It is interesting that, despite Arab settlement, Sicily never absorbed the use of spices in the way that other European areas with a Mediterranean coast did.

Yes, I'm well aware that I'm in the country that arguably has the best home cooking in the world and a region within it which is particularly renowned for its culinary traditions, so why would I want to cook dishes outside that repertoire?  Because I'm a Brit and both new and old recipes excite me, I suppose.

I soon worked out ways of adapting the recipes I'd always cooked to what was available here and when I went to Catania and bought unusual spices or my British friends sent me some, I used them to create my own "fusion cooking" as I made friends with my butcher and got to grips with the fine cuts of meat he, and others like him, provide.

Here are three favourites from previously posted  recipes that I have invented myself.

First of all, this is the most read recipe ever on Sicily Scene:

Bistecca alla pizzaiola - 24th August 2008

Bistecca alla pizzaiola: a classic of Neapolitan cuisine, yet these days it is hard to find a recipe for it, among all the rubbish featuring complicated dishes that gets published under the clasification, "Italian cookery". What so many of these authors and their publishers forget is that the primary characteristic of most Italian cookery is that it is simple.

The doyenne of cookery writers, Elizabeth David, of course gives us a pizzaiola recipe, in Italian Food, the volume that, famously, woke the British up to the fact that good food still existed in the postwar era. Valentina Harris [a cook whose earlier books I prefer to her later tomes] also has one, in Italian Regional Cookery. I have mixed the two recipes and added some "Welshcakes" touches!

Here we can buy a pizzaiola cut of beef steak, but if you can't, you need to ask for the widest, thinnest cut possible. Yesterday I was lucky enough to get 4 enormous pieces [which would probably serve 6] for 5.68 euros and they really were so big that I had to cut them in half again!

When I make a pizzaiola, I like to deal with the sauce first: if you want to be a purist, you may use skinned and deseeded tomatoes or your own passata, but for this I find a couple of cans of cherry tomatoes, with their juice, much less trouble and perfectly adequate. Chuck these in a saucepan along with about a tablespoon of olive oil, 2 cloves sliced garlic, some seasalt and ground black pepper and a good handful each of not too finely chopped basil and parsley. You can add some dried oregano too, if you like [and I do!] plus some olives [my touch]. Swirl all this around while it cooks for a few minutes, then take it off the heat.

Now season the meat and cook it in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a wide pan or griddle. [I like to griddle mine.] Whatever you do, do not overcook it. I throw the pieces into the sauce as they are done but authentic recipes will tell you to serve up the meat, then add the sauce. Most Italian cooks would probably let it all cool a little at this point but I serve the dish immediately.

Serves 4 - 6.

Buon appetito!

This is one of the simplest recipes I have come up with and I still make it often:

Militello chicken - 17th October 2010

I invented this dish last night and have decided to call it "Militello Chicken" in honour of the mandarin honey I found in that town last week:

Marinate 8 or so chicken breast escalopes - an Italian butcher will cut these very thinly for you but in the UK you may have to pound them thin - in the juice of 2 clementines, 2 tablesp olive oil and a half teasp saffron powder [or the contents of 2 envelopes of saffron powder in Italy].

After about 2 hours, lift the escalopes out and let them dry a bit on kitchen paper. Heat 2 tablesp olive oil in a ridged griddle pan and cook the escalopes on both sides. [Stand well back as you put them in.] Lift them out onto a plate. They will be a nice, golden colour like this:

Make a dressing with 2 tablesp olive oil, 1 tablesp mandarin honey [or orange blossom honey or, failing this, ordinary honey with some orange juice] seasalt and black pepper. Toss the dressing with salad leaves to which you have added some clementine segments and serve with the chicken.

Serves 4.

Buon appetito.

Summer is coming so here is my favourite main course salad recipe:

Tagliata with cherries - 6th June 2014

The cherry harvest continues and the other day, I decided I wanted to experiment by using some with a tagliata [the sirloin cut]. I know all you Italians will be horrified again at such a mixture of sweet and savoury ingredients, which you claim you never use together, so please, look away now! 

There are also days when I long for some of the Middle Eastern flavours I used in my cooking in Britain and that is why I came up with the idea of using rosewater in the dressing.

The dish turned out well so, for the brave among you. this is what I did:

Ask the butcher for a 600 gr piece of tagliata [if you are in Italy] or sirloin if you are elsewhere.  A few hours before you want to serve the salad, lightly oil the tagliata on both sides, place it on a heated, ridged griddle pan and cook it on both sides to your liking. [I like mine medium rare for a salad.]  Take it out of the pan and leave it to cool on a cutting board. When it has cooled sufficiently, slice it diagonally into fairly wide strips and put in the fridge.

Destalk 500 gr  ready-washed spinach leaves. Tear them if they are very large and put them in the fridge. 

Cook 8 slices frozen, grilled aubergine as directed on the pack and put in the fridge when cool. [You can, of course, grill your own if you have time but let them dry on kitchen paper if you do.]

Wash, stone and halve about 20 cherries and chill these, too.

Now make the dressing:  In a small bowl, mix the following ingredients well with a fork:  5 tablesp olive oil, 3 teasp culinary rosewater, seasalt and black pepper to taste and a few chilli flakes.  Leave the dressing to chill in the fridge.

When you are ready to assemble the salad, put the spinach on a large serving platter, then add the aubergine slices and, on top of these, the tagliata slices, some torn fresh basil leaves and the cherries. Give the dressing a final, robust stir with a fork, then drizzle it over the salad and serve.

Serves 4.

Buon appetito

I hope you've enjoyed this selection from my recipe archives.  More coming soon!

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