Pasta From Sicily
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Wheat, olives, and almonds are some of the traditional crops grown in Sicily. Eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and fennel are planted everywhere in small private gardens. Eggplants (melanzane) are probably the most popular Sicilian vegetable. They can be found in a multitude of dishes; marinated or grilled, fried in slices or cubes, filled and baked, stewed with tomatoes as in caponata or layered with cheese in Eggplant Parmigiana.
Sicily is home to the highest of Europe’s active volcanoes, Mount Etna. Like all volcanoes, Mt. Etna carries the threat of destruction but the lava flows have also brought fertility to the land. Hard wheat, citrus fruits, almond and pistachio trees, as well as vegetables and grapes for wine grow in the rich soil around the volcano. The famous San Marzano tomatoes also grow well in this mineral-rich soil.
Fish and seafood are a major part of any Sicilian menu. Fish is not only served as a main course but often appears as an appetizer or in a pasta sauce. Pasta is a daily meal in Sicily, often tossed with ricotta, seafood , or tomatoes.
Sicilians Prefer Dried Pasta
In Sicily, when you eat pasta, it is almost always dried pasta made from durum wheat. The richer, egg-based fresh pastas typical of Northern Italy are rarely seen in Sicily. Hard durum wheat gives pasta a firm texture that remains even through the cooking process to give your dishes a desirable al dente bite with fresh-bread flavor. Sicilians also call dried pasta maccheroni when referring to any short, dried pasta shape.
Sicily was introduced to the technique of drying pasta by Arabs. According to historians, the Arabs adapted noodles for long journeys and they introduced it to Sicilians during their conquest of Sicily in the late 7th century. This early pasta was an ideal staple for Sicily and it easily spread to the mainland since durum wheat thrives in Italy’s climate.
Spaghetti with Picchi-Pacchi and Shrimp
1/3 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
4 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
6 ounces spaghetti
8 ounces shrimp, shelled and deveined
2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and red pepper flakes. Reduce the heat to low, sauté until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and anchovy paste; sauté 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, wine, and salt; bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the shrimp to the sauce and simmer for 5 minutes.
Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water for 2 minutes less than the time recommended. Drain the spaghetti and add it to the sauce in the skillet. Stir in half of the chopped basil. Cook the pasta in the sauce for 2 minutes. Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl; sprinkle with the remaining basil.
Fish From Three Seas
The three expanses of water surrounding Sicily; the Ionian Sea, Tyrrhenian Sea, and Mediterranean Sea offer some of the richest fishing grounds in Italy. So it is no surprise that fish and seafood are a major part of any Sicilian menu. The swordfish is one of Sicily’s most popular fish. It is mainly caught in the Straits of Messina. Other popular fish are sardines, tuna, and anchovies. Stuffed sardines reflect the Arab influence and almost every restaurant along the coast offers its own version. Seafood like squid (calamari), octopus (polpo), mussels (cozze), and clams (vongole) are other popular menu items. Bottarga di tonno, a specialty known as “Sicilian caviar” consists of roe from the female tuna, that is carefully pressed and salted. Bottarga is usually served sliced thinly or grated. Visitors to Sicily who want to witness the century's old tuna capture, the 'mattanza' can head out to the usually tranquil Egadi Islands, just off Sicily’s western point, where it takes place in May and June each year. This is when the giant fish swim past the coast and fishermen in Sicily and Sardinia use dense nets to capture the Mediterranean bluefin tuna in a ritual known as the mattanza.
Spaghetti with Tuna and Marsala Sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 pound fresh tuna, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry Marsala wine
Pinch ground nutmeg
1 small bay leaf
Salt and pepper
12 ounces spaghetti
Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. Saute until the vegetables are tender but not brown, about 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the tuna. Saute, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste, Marsala, nutmeg, and bay leaf to the skillet. Stir gently to blend the tomato paste into the sauce. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile cook the pasta in boiling salted water. Drain and reserve some of the pasta cooking water. Add the pasta to the sauce and cook to heat through.
Add some of the reserved cooking water if the sauce is too thick.
Sicily produces a wide variety of cheeses. Their milk producing livestock consists of sheep, goats, and cows. Caciocavallo is a stretched curd cheese made from cow's
milk, though its name literally means "horse cheese." The name comes from the way that two cheese forms are always bound together with rope and then left to age by placing them 'a cavallo', like straddling a horse, over a horizontal beam. The flavor of caciocavallo is pleasant and delicate, sweet and slightly tangy when young and gaining
a salty sharpness with age. It has a pale yellow color that darkens with age. Caciocavallo is ideal for grating over pasta or serving with olives, salami, and bread for an antipasti with a full-bodied Sicilian wine. Caciocavallo may be hard to find in your area, but it has a very unique flavor that is worth seeking out at a local Italian deli or online.
Penne with Cauliflower
1 (28 ounce) can peeled tomatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 cup chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
1 pound penne pasta
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup grated caciocavallo or pecorino cheese
Cut the tomatoes in half and remove excess seeds. Coarsely chop the tomatoes; set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and the cauliflower; stir to combine. Add the broth or water and bring to a simmer; reduce the heat to medium.
Cook for 25-30 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender but not mushy.
In the meantime, cook the penne in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain the penne and add it to the skillet with the cauliflower. Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper. Cook the pasta in the sauce for 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl and sprinkle with some of the grated cheese. Pass the remaining cheese for additional self-service.
Pasta and Chickpeas in Garlic Sauce
10-12 ounces ditalini pasta
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, drained
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 ounces thick-cut pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2-3 large garlic cloves, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
16 grape tomatoes, cut in half (optional)
Grated pecorino cheese for serving
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water for 2 minutes less than recommended time. Divide the chickpeas into 2 equal portions. Place one portion into the bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth. The remaining portion will remain whole; set all the chickpeas aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta; cook until the pancetta is golden brown and crisp. Transfer the pancetta to a paper-towel lined plate; set aside. Add the garlic and red pepper to the skillet, sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add the chicken or vegetable broth to the skillet. Add the whole chickpeas and the puree to the skillet; season with salt and pepper. Cook the sauce for 2-3 minutes.
Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce in the skillet; cook for 2 more minutes.
Stir in the parsley and transfer the pasta to a serving bowl. Gently stir in the grape tomatoes; drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top. Serve with grated pecorino cheese.
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ITALIAN AMERICAN FOLKLORE
Italian-Americans compose one of the largest ethnic groups in the United States, numbering more than 14 million in the 1990 census. Based on published research, fiction and interviews, this work offers an diverting overview of the popular cultural baggage--customs, beliefs and entertainments--that Italian immigrants brought to America (and some embellishments they added as they adapted to their new life).
The essence of Sicilian cooking is its simplicity. Whether you want to make a weekend breakfast, a quick supper, or host a relaxing dinner party, these easy, robustly flavored dishes are sure to provide inspiration and win compliments from family and friends.
A GIFT FOR YOUR FAVORITE SICILIAN GIRL
FIORI DI SICILIA
Use about ½ teaspoon in a typical recipe for cookies, pound cake, pie, meringues, or sweet bread.