This dish is always a big hit when I take it to a potluck dinner.
3-26-ounce containers chopped Italian tomatoes
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
1 pound ground beef
1 pound meatloaf mix( pork, veal, beef)
1 lb Italian sausage, casing removed
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
1/4 cup tomato paste
1½ teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
To prepare the meat sauce
Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4 to 5-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Make a little room in the center of the pot, add in the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the ground beef, meatloaf mix and pork sausage and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring to break up the meat until the meat changes color and the water it gives off is boiled away, about 10 minutes. Continue cooking until the meat is brown, about 5 minutes. Add the seasonings and bring to a boil and cook, scraping up the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pot. Pour in the tomatoes, then stir in the tomato paste until it is dissolved. Bring to a boil, adjust the heat to a lively simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring often, until the sauce thickens and takes on a deep, brick-red color, about 3 hours.
The sauce can be prepared entirely in advance and refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.
Meat Sauce (recipe above)
12 uncooked fresh lasagna noodles
2 containers (15 oz each) ricotta cheese
1 box (9 oz) frozen spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry
2 teaspoons dried basil leaves or Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb sliced mozzarella cheese
Grated Parmesan cheese
In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, spinach, basil, garlic, salt, pepper, and egg.
Oil a 9×13 inch baking dish. Spread about 2 cups of sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. Place 4 fresh noodles on top of the sauce. Layer half of the mozzarella slices on top of the noodles. Spread half of the ricotta filling over the mozzarella. Add 4 more noodles. Spread with some of the meat sauce. Add remaining mozzarella slices, remaining ricotta filling and cover with 4 more noodles. Cover the noodles with a good amount of sauce. You may not need all of the sauce from the recipe above.
Spray a sheet of foil with cooking spray and place it face down on the lasagna and seal tightly. Heat the oven to 375°F. Bake the lasagna for45 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle the top of the lasagna with Parmesan cheese. Return the baking dish to the oven and cook for 15 minutes more. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
To bring to a potluck-cover the dish again and place it in a thermal carrier.
When broccoli rabe shows up in my supermarket, I know spring is not far behind in my area.
Sausage, Mozzarella, and Broccoli Rabe Pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Half of a large sweet onion, chopped
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 container (26-28 ounces) chopped Italian tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
8 ounces short pasta
1 bunch broccoli rabe (about 1 pound), trimmed and cut into two-inch lengths
8 ounces mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In a large skillet or saucepan, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is golden brown, 15 minutes (reduce heat if browning too quickly).
Add garlic and sausage. Cook, breaking meat up with a wooden spoon, until browned, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and Italian seasoning. Cook sauce until slightly thickened, 10 minutes.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta 4 minutes less than package instructions and add the broccoli rabe to the pot with the pasta. Cook for the remaining time. Drain pasta and broccoli rabe and return to the pot. Stir in tomato sausage sauce.
Transfer to an oiled 3-quart baking dish Top with diced mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake until the cheese melts and the sauce is bubbling about 15 minutes. Let rest a few minutes before serving.
Going to a Potluck Dinner? Here are some tips and suggestions for dishes that travel well:
Pre-baked casseroles held together with cheese or eggs
Slow-cooked dishes that travel in the crock pot
Salads with separate dressing to be mixed in just before serving
Savory pies and tarts
Dishes that do not need re-heating – use an insulated carrier to keep the food hot.
Italian-American Meat Sauce
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
Two 35-ounce cans San Marzano tomatoes
2 cups of water
6 oz can tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4 to 5-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Make a little room in the center of the pot, add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic is softened, about 1 minute. Add the ground beef and pork and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring to break up the meat, until the meat is brown, about 10 minutes. Add the bay leaves, Italian seasoning, tomatoes, water and tomato paste. Stir until the paste is dissolved. Season lightly with salt. Bring to a boil, adjust the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring often, until the sauce is thickened, about 2 hours.
Spinach Ricotta Cheese Filling
Two 10 oz pkgs frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
32 oz container whole milk ricotta cheese
1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
½ teaspoon garlic powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Combine all of the filling ingredients in a mixing bowl and store in the refrigerator until ready to stuff the shells.
Stuffed Jumbo Shells
One 12 oz box jumbo shells (about 46 shells)
Spinach ricotta cheese stuffing (see recipe)
Meat sauce (see recipe)
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Drop the jumbo shells into boiling salted water and cook about 10 minutes or until tender but not overcooked. Drain and place on kitchen towels.
Arrange the shells stuffed side up in the baking dish. Spoon more meat sauce over the shells and sprinkle with the grated cheese.
Cover the dishes with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
Italian Cheese Stuffed Peppers
Take advantage of the lower prices for red bell peppers this month. There are so many different ways to fill them and they make a delicious entrée for dinner.
For each 2 servings
1 large red bell pepper
1/2 cup Tomato Sausage Sauce, recipe below
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
¼ teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 400°F Coat a small baking dish or ramekin with olive oil cooking spray.
Slice the bell pepper in half lengthwise and remove the ribs and seeds.
Place pepper halves in the prepared baking dish and bake for 20 minutes on the middle rack of the oven.
Remove the peppers from oven.
Mix the ricotta cheese with the salt and Parmesan cheese.
Fill each pepper half with ¼ cup of the tomato sausage sauce.
Spoon 2 tablespoons of the ricotta cheese mixture on top of the meat sauce in each pepper cup.
Pour an additional 2 tablespoons of sausage sauce on top of the ricotta cheese in each pepper half.
Top each pepper with 2 tablespoons mozzarella cheese.
Bake on the middle rack for 15-20 minutes.
Tomato Sausage Sauce
You will only need a small portion of this sauce for the stuffed pepper recipe, depending on how many peppers you make. Leftover sauce can be used in a number of other dishes.
1 lb Italian sausage, casing removed (You could also use ground meat of your choice.)
¼ of a large onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
26-28 oz container chopped Italian tomatoes
6 oz. can tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Place the oil in a large non-stick sauce pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the sausage, onion, garlic and sea salt.
Cook until the sausage is brown. Drain off any grease in the pan.
Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes.
Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.
Asian Meatball Soup
I prefer to use chicken for the meatballs in this recipe, so they are not heavy. I also like to use almond flour in Asian meatballs instead of all- purpose flour or breadcrumbs because I think the almond flour compliments Asian flavors much better. Asian cabbages are also in season during this month and they make a delicious option in your recipes.\
For the meatballs
1 lb organic ground chicken or ground meat of your choice
2/3 cup almond flour/bread crumbs/all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1/3 cup finely chopped scallions
1 tablespoon regular soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
For the broth
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
1 tablespoon regular soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon red pepper chili flakes
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
For the vegetables
3 cups fresh bean sprouts
3 cups thinly sliced Napa or Bok Choy cabbage
1/2 cup radish sticks
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
To make the meatballs:
Combine all of the meatball ingredients in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly. Using a small cookie scoop, form into 24 bite-sized meatballs and place on a baking sheet covered with foil and coated with vegetable cooking spray. Bake at 375 degrees F for 15-20 minutes or until cooked through.
\To make the soup:
In a large saucepan heat the sesame oil, garlic and ginger for about 1 minute or until sizzling. Add the chicken broth, water, soy sauce, fish sauce, red pepper flakes and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the vegetables and meatballs. Stir well. Bring back to a simmer and cook until the cabbage is tender, about 30 minutes
Have you ever thought of pumpkin as a savory side dish. I hadn’t either until I saw an article that suggested pumpkin was a fall squash that deserved more than being a pie. And they were right. It is delicious. Do not use a large decorative pumpkin. Instead use a sugar/cooking pumpkin between 2 and 3 lbs and your favorite spices.
2-3 lb fresh (cooking, sugar, pie) pumpkin, peeled & seeded
2 tablespoons olive oil
1⁄2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon roasted garlic powder or regular garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Cut the pumpkin in half and remove the seeds.
Cut each half into 1″ thick slices
Place the oil on a baking sheet with sides.
Add the pumpkin slices and sprinkle the seasonings over the pumpkin.
Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes until the pumpkin is soft and tinged brown at the edges.
Turning the slices over halfway through the cooking time.
Pan-cooked Broccoli Rabe with Italian Sausage
1 pound/bunch broccoli rabe
1 pound thin Italian sausage made with parsley and Pecorino cheese (or luganega), cut into 3-inch lengths
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and flattened with a large knife
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste
1/4 cup (or as needed) water
Cut off the tough ends and stalks of the broccoli stems.
Wash the trimmed broccoli rabe in a sink filled with cold water, swishing the stems gently to remove all dirt from between the leaves.
Let the leaves sit a minute or two undisturbed to allow the dirt to settle to the bottom of the sink, then lift the broccoli rabe from the water with your hands and drain in a colander.
Place the broccoli in a deep skillet and cover with water. Bring to a boil, cover the pan and cook the broccoli until tender, about 5 minutes.
Drain and place on a kitchen towel to dry. Wipe out the skillet and heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat.
Add the sausage and cook, turning as necessary, until caramelized on all sides and no trace of pink remains in the center, about 8 minutes for thin sausage or longer for thicker sausages.
Remove the sausages to a plate and cover with aluminum foil to keep them warm.
Pour in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and add the garlic to the oil. Cook, shaking the pan, until golden brown, about 1 minute.
Carefully lay the broccoli rabe into the oil, season lightly with salt and 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper. Stir and toss to distribute the seasonings.
Pour 1/4 cup water into the skillet and bring to a boil.
Cover the skillet tightly and cook, lifting the lid to turn the stalks occasionally, until the broccoli rabe is tender and the water evaporates, about 5 minutes.
Return the sausages to the skillet and heat until warmed through. Serve the sausages and broccoli rabe on a serving platter with crusty Italian bread.
The Province of Naples is a mixture of colors, culture and history. The beautiful islands that dot the blue waters of the Mediterranean are like jewels in a necklace. In a sea so blue that it blends with the sky, three islands can be found: Capri, Ischia and Procida. Mt. Vesuvius overlooks the city and the beautiful bay. The sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum are of great archaeological value and are famous worldwide. The entire area is interspersed with finds from a long-ago past, especially those that saw the presence of the Roman emperors that first recognized the beauty of this terrain.
Naples is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Bronze Age Greek settlements were established in the area in the second millennium BC and Naples played a key role in the merging of Greek culture into Roman society. Naples remained influential after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, serving as the capital city of the Kingdom of Naples between 1282 and 1816. Later, in union with Sicily, it became the capital of the Two Sicilies until the unification of Italy in 1861.
Naples has the fourth-largest urban economy in Italy, after Milan, Rome and Turin. It is the world’s 103rd richest city by purchasing power and the port of Naples is one of the most important in Europe with the world’s second-highest level of passenger flow, after the port of Hong Kong. Numerous major Italian companies are headquartered in Naples. The city also hosts NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command Naples, the SRM Institution for Economic Research and the OPE Company and Study Center.
Neapolitan cuisine took much from the culinary traditions of the Campania region, reaching a balance between dishes based on rural ingredients and seafood. A vast variety of recipes are influenced by a local, more affluent cuisine, like timballi and the sartù di riso, pasta or rice dishes with very elaborate preparation, while some dishes come from the traditions of the poor, like pasta e fagioli (pasta with beans) and other pasta dishes with vegetables. Neapolitan cuisine emerged as a distinct cuisine in the 18th century with ingredients that are typically rich in taste, but remain affordable.
The majority of Italian immigrants who went to the United States during the great migration were from southern Italy. They brought with them their culinary traditions and much of what Americans call Italian food originated in Naples and Sicily.
Naples is traditionally credited as the home of pizza. Pizza was originally a meal of the poor, but under Ferdinand IV it became popular among the upper classes. The famous Margherita pizza was named after Queen Margherita of Savoy after her visit to the city. Cooked traditionally in a wood-burning oven, the ingredients of Neapolitan pizza have been strictly regulated by law since 2004, and must include wheat flour type “00” with the addition of flour type “0” yeast, natural mineral water, peeled tomatoes or fresh cherry tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, sea salt and extra virgin olive oil.
Spaghetti is also associated with the city and is commonly eaten with a sauce called ragù. There are a great variety of Neapolitan pastas. The most popular variety of pasta, besides the classic spaghetti and linguine, are paccheri and ziti, long pipe-shaped pasta usually topped with Neapolitan ragù. Pasta with vegetables is also characteristic of the cuisine. Hand-made gnocchi, prepared with flour and potatoes are also popular.
Other dishes popular in Naples include Parmigiana di melanzane, spaghetti alle vongole and casatiello. As a coastal city, Naples is also known for its numerous seafood dishes, including impepata di cozze (peppered mussels), purpetiello affogato (octopus poached in broth), alici marinate (marinated anchovies), baccalà alla napoletana (salt cod) and baccalà fritto (fried cod), a dish commonly eaten during the Christmas period.
Popular Neapolitan pastries include zeppole, babà, sfogliatelle and pastiera, the latter of which is prepared for Easter celebrations. Another seasonal dessert is struffoli, a sweet-tasting honey dough decorated and eaten around Christmas.
The traditional Neapolitan flip coffee pot, known as the cuccuma or cuccumella, was the basis for the invention of the espresso machine and also inspired the Moka pot.
Naples is also the home of limoncello, a popular lemon liqueur. Limoncello is produced in southern Italy, especially in the region around the Gulf of Naples, the Sorrentine Peninsula and the coast of Amalfi, and islands of Procida, Ischia, and Capri. Traditionally, limoncello is made from the zest of Femminello St. Teresa lemons, also known as Sorrento or Sfusato lemons. The lemon liquid is then mixed with simple syrup. Varying the sugar-to-water ratio and the temperature affects the clarity, viscosity and flavor.
Tomatoes entered Neapolitan cuisine during the 18th century. The industry of preserving tomatoes originated in 19th century Naples, resulting in the export to all parts of the world of the famous “pelati”(peeled tomatoes) and the “concentrato” (tomato paste). There are traditionally several ways of preparing tomato preserves, bottled tomato juice and chopped tomatoes. The famous “conserva” (sun-dried concentrated juice) tomato is cooked for a long time and becomes a dark red cream with a velvety texture.
Buffalo mozzarella is mozzarella made from the milk of the domestic Italian water buffalo. It is a product traditionally produced in the region. The term mozzarella derives from the procedure called mozzare which means “cutting by hand”, that is, the process of the separation of the curd into small balls. It is appreciated for its versatility and elastic texture. The buffalo mozzarella sold as Mozzarella di Bufala Campana has been granted the status of Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC – “Controlled designation of origin”) since 1993. Since 1996 it is also protected under the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin and Protected Geographical Indication labels.
Neapolitan ragù is one of the two most famous varieties of Italian meat sauces called ragù. It is a specialty of Naples, as its name indicates. The other variety originated in Bologna. The Neapolitan type is made with onions, meat and tomato sauce. A major difference is how the meat is used, as well as the amount of tomato in the sauce. Bolognese versions use very finely chopped meat, while the Neapolitan versions use large pieces of meat, taking it from the pot when cooked and served it as a second course. Ingredients also differ. In Naples, white wine is replaced by red wine, butter is replaced with olive oil and lots of basil leaves are added. Bolognese ragù has no herbs. Milk or cream are not used in Naples. Neapolitan ragù is very similar to and may be ancestral to the Italian-American “Sunday Gravy”; the primary difference being the addition of a greater variety of meat in the American version, including meatballs, sausage and pork chops.
- 1 pound rump roast
- 1 large slice of brisket (not too thick)
- 1 pound veal stew meat
- 1 pound pork ribs
- 2 large onions, sliced
- 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 cup of red wine
- 1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, pureed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Fresh basil leaves
Season the meat with salt and pepper. Tie the large pieces with cooking twine to help them keep their shape. In a large pot heat the oil and butter. Add the sliced onions and the meat at the same time.
On medium heat let the meat brown and the onion soften. During this first step you must be vigilant, don’t let the onion dry, stir with a wooden spoon and start adding wine if necessary to keep them moist.
Once the meat has browned, add the tomato paste and a little wine to dissolve it. Stir and combine the ingredients. Let cook slowly for 10 minutes.
Add the pureed tomatoes, season with salt and black pepper and stir. Cover the pot but leave the lid ajar. (You can place a wooden spoon under the lid.)
The sauce must cook very slowly for at least 3-4 hours. After 2 hours add few leaves of basil and continue cooking.
During these 3-4 hours you must keep tending to the ragú, stirring once in a while and making sure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Serve with your favorite pasta.
Pizza Dough Ingredients
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 cups (350 cc) warm water
- 3 1/2 cups (500 g) flour (Italian OO flour)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Pinch of salt
Topping for 1 pizza
- 1 cup (250 g) tomatoes, puréed in a blender
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- Salt and pepper
- 5 fresh basil leaves
- 2 oz (60 g) fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
For the pizza dough:
In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast on the warm water and stir to dissolve it. Set aside until the yeast starts forming bubbles, about 5 minutes.
Sift the flour. Pour the flour into a large bowl or on a work surface. Form the flour in a mound shape with a hole in the center. Pour the yeast mix in the center, then the olive oil and a pinch of salt.
Using a spatula, draw the ingredients together. Then mix with your hands to form a dough. Sprinkle some flour on the work surface. Place the pizza dough on the floured surface.
Knead the pizza dough briefly with your hands pushing and folding. Knead just long enough for the dough to take in a little more flour and until it no longer sticks to your hands.
With your hand, spread a little olive oil inside a bowl. Transfer the dough into the bowl.
On the top of the pizza dough, make two incisions that cross, and spread with a very small amount of olive oil. This last step will prevent the surface of the dough from breaking too much while rising.
Cover the bowl with a kitchen cloth, and set the bowl aside for approximately 1½ – 2 hours or until the dough doubles in volume. The time required for rising will depend on the strength of the yeast and the temperature of the room.
When the dough is about double its original size, punch it down to eliminate the air bubbles.
On a lightly floured work surface, cut the dough into three equal pieces. On the work surface, using a rolling-pin and your hands, shape one piece of dough into a thin 12 inch round layer.
Transfer the dough to a pizza pan. Using your fingertips, push from the center to the sides to cover the entire surface of the pan.
For the pizza
Preheat the oven to 500 F (260 C). In a mixing bowl place the tomatoes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the tomato mixture evenly over the pizza.
With your hands, break the basil leaves into small pieces. Distribute the basil uniformly over the pizza. Spread the rest of the olive oil on the pizza. Add salt to taste.
Bake the pizza for approximately 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and add the mozzarella cheese.
Bake for 10 more minutes. Lift one side to check for readiness. Pizza is ready when the bottom surface is light brown. Top with few more fresh basil leaves, if desired, and serve immediately.
Pasta con i Calamari
Small clams and other fish are sometimes added with the calamari.
- 2 whole fresh squid
- 1 ½ cups cherry tomatoes
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 peperoncino
- Fresh parsley
- Fresh basil
- 1 cup white wine
- Olive oil
- 8 oz paccheri pasta
Cut the squid body into slices and halve the tentacles if they are large.
Clean, remove the seeds and finely chop the tomatoes. Rinse and chop the parsley. Peel and slice the garlic.
Heat a generous amount of oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the peperoncino. Stir in the calamari and cook 3 to 5 minutes.
Add the wine and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.
Add the tomatoes and parsley and stir through. Salt to taste.
Cover and cook on medium for 15 minutes.
While the calamari is cooking, cook the pasta al dente. Remove some of the pasta cooking water.
Stir a bit of the pasta water into the sauce and cook a few minutes longer.
Drain the pasta, add it to the sauce and stir through.
Garnish with a few basil leaves.
Palermo’s history has been anything but stable as the area passed from one dominating power to another with frequency. Its strategic position in the middle of the Mediterranean brought invaders including the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Saracen Arabs, the Normans, the Swabians, the French and the Spanish Bourbons, just to name a few. The result of this history is evident in the vast range of architectural styles, the names of places in the region that are obviously not Italian and the fusion of ingredients used in many local dishes.
Human settlement in the Palermo area goes back to prehistoric times. It is one of the most ancient sites in Sicily. Interesting graffiti and prehistoric paintings were discovered in the Addaura grottoes in 1953 by archaeologist Jole Bovio Marconi. They portray dancing figures performing a rite with shamans. In 734 BC Phoenicians from Tyre (Lebanon) established a flourishing merchant colony in the Palermo area. The relationship of the new colony with the Siculi, the people living in the Eastern part of the Island, involved both commerce and war.
Between the 8th and the 7th centuries BC, the Greeks colonized Sicily. They called the area Panormus (“All port”) and traded with the Carthaginians, Phoenician descendants who were from what is now Tunisia. The two civilizations lived together in Sicily until the Roman conquest.
Situated on one of the most beautiful promontories of the Mediterranean, Palermo is an important trading and business center and the seat of a university. Palermo is connected to the mainland by an international airport and an increasing number of maritime links. The city of Palermo is vibrant and modern and its large harbor and international airport makes it a popular tourist destination. There are many events and festivals that take place throughout the year in Palermo, the most important of which is the feast day of the city’s patron saint, Saint Rosalia. There is a sanctuary dedicated to her at the top of Monte Pellegrino, just outside the city, and the mountain dominates the backdrop to the city. The surrounding area is a green and pleasant nature park and is a favorite picnic area for locals. Also in Palermo are the Catacombs of the Capuchins, a tourist attraction.
In the Sicilian food culture there is no such thing as a “main course”, but rather a series of courses of varying number, depending on the occasion, usually a (primo) first course of pasta, soup, rice, etc. and a (secondo) second course of meat, fish or vegetable, often served with a (contorno) side dish of vegetables. Fresh fruit is usually served as dessert. For a more formal occasion an (antipasto) appetizer comes before the primo.
A number of popular foods are typically served as side dishes or “starters.” Arancini are rice balls stuffed with meat or cheese encrusted in a crispy coating. Caponata is a mixture made with eggplant, olives, capers and celery, and served as an appetizer. Sfincione is a thick form of pizza made with tomatoes, onions and anchovies, usually made in bakeries rather than pizzerias. Panella is a thin paste made of crushed or powdered ceci (garbanzo) beans and served fried. Maccu is a creamy soup made from the same bean, usually served in winter. Crocché (croquet) are fried potato dumplings made with cheese, parsley and eggs. Fritedda is a springtime vegetable dish or pasta sauce made with fresh green fava beans, peas and artichoke hearts.
Ricotta is a soft cheese made from sheep’s milk and Ricotta Salata is an aged, salty version. Caciocavallo is aged cow’s cheese used for cooking. Canestrato is similar but made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. Tuma and Primo Sale are sweeter and softer, aged only briefly. Gattò is similar to quiche and made with potatoes, ham and cheese.
Sicily is renowned for its seafood. Grilled swordfish (pesce spada) is popular. Smaller fish, especially triglie (red snapper), are sometimes prepared in a vinegar and sugar sauce. Seppia (cuttlefish) is served in its own black sauce with pasta. Another Sicilian seafood dish made with pasta is finocchio con sarde (fennel with herring). Ricci (urchins) are popular in spring. Beccafico are stuffed roasted sardines.
Meat dishes are traditionally made with lamb or goat. Chicken is usually served on skewers and spiedini are small meat rolls (involtini), also, on a skewer similar to shish kebab. Salsiccia alla pizzaiola is a port sausage filled with onions, tomatoes and other vegetables. Couscous is usually served with meat or seafood.
Sicilian desserts are outstanding and popular. Cannoli are tubular crusts filled with creamy sheep’s milk ricotta. Cassata is a rich cake filled with the same ricotta filling. Frutta di Martorana are almond marzipan pastries colored and shaped to resemble real fruit. Sicilian gelato (ice cream) is popular with flavors ranging from pistachio and hazelnut (nocciola) to jasmine (gelsomino) to mulberry (gelsi) to strawberry (fragala) and rum (zuppa inglese).
Not many people outside of Sicily are familiar with Torta Setteveli. The cake of the seven veils, named after the dance of Salome. The Torta Setteveli is the typical birthday cake in Palermo. It’s a combination of alternating chocolate and hazelnut layers, with a crunchy layer that combines both those flavors. There are many stories about who actually created the cake. You can find the cake throughout Sicily, but it is in every pasticceria in Palermo. The Palermitani see it as the ultimate dessert to enjoy on special occasions, especially for birthdays.
This dish is a popular “pasta bake” in Palermo and it is made with a very specific pasta shape called anelletti (little rings). In Sicily it is often sold in cafés as timbaletti, which are single portions that are shaped like a cone. When eaten at home, however, it is often made like a “pasta cake” to be portioned and shared by the whole family.
- 1 lb anelletti pasta
- 2 large, long eggplants
- 1/2 lb mortadella, cubed
- 1 lb mozzarella, cubed
- Grated pecorino cheese
For the Ragu
- 1/2 lb ground pork
- 1/2 lb ground beef
- 28 oz crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 lb peas
- 1 medium onion, sliced thin
- 2 basil leaves
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Wash the eggplant, peel and slice them lengthwise about 1/4″ thick.
Coat each slice with olive oil, put them on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F. Set them aside. Turn the oven to 375 degrees F.
Make the ragu:
In a saucepan, add a 1 tablespoon of olive oil and brown the ground pork and beef. Discard any fat that is produced. Set aside in a separate bowl.
In the saucepan, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the onion. Once the onion is translucent add the browned ground meat.
Saute the meat and onion for a few minutes and add the peas followed by the crushed tomatoes and the basil. Add salt to taste.
Cover and let the ragu cook for 20 minutes over medium heat.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta al dente and drain well. Place in a mixing bowl. Add a few tablespoons of the sauce to the pasta so that it does not stick together and set aside.
In a 10″ x 5″ bundt, tube or springform pan line the bottom and sides with the slices of baked eggplant so that part of the slices hang outside the top of the pan. Add a layer of pasta followed by a layer of the meat sauce, some grated cheese, a layer of mortadella and then a layer of mozzarella.
Repeat the layering process again.
Once finished, turn the eggplant slices hanging from the pan onto the top of the pasta.
Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes. Let rest before cutting. Garnish with grated cheese and parsley or basil.
Merluzzo alla Siciliana (Cod Sicilian Style)
- 1 ½ lbs (800 g) cod fillets
- 2 ½ cups (500 g) chopped fresh tomato pulp (seeds removed)
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 2 tablespoon capers
- 15 pitted green olives
- 2 pinches of dried oregano
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup of white wine
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
Heat a skillet and add the olive oil and crushed garlic.
When the garlic is browned, add the tomato, salt and pepper.
Add the wine and bring the sauce to boil, add the cod fillets and cook for 6-7 minutes, turning them over once.
Add some more salt and pepper (if needed), the olives and capers.
Sprinkle with oregano and continue cooking for another 4-5 minutes.
Serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsley on top.
Pisci di Terra – Sicilian Fried Fennel
- 6 fennel bulbs
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/4 cups (150 g) flour
- 1/2 cup fine, dry homemade breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Oil for frying
- Salt and pepper to taste
Clean the fennel bulbs and cut them in half. Boil them until al dente (fork tender) in lightly salted water. Drain them well and quarter the halves.
Mix the breadcrumbs together with the cheese. Lightly beat the eggs with salt and pepper. Dredge the fennel slices in the flour to coat well, then dip the slices in the egg and then the breadcrumbs.
Fry them in abundant hot oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
Cassata alla Siciliana
This is a classic Sicilian cake. The word Cassata derives from the Latin Caseus, which means cheese. Cassata is one of the world’s first cheesecakes. It comes as no surprise that there are a great many variations throughout Sicily.
- 6 eggs, separated
- A pinch of salt
- 1 1/3 cups (280 g) granulated sugar, divided
- 1 1/4 cups (150 g) flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Half a lemon, zested
- Butter and flour for the cake pan
- Marsala wine
- 1 1/8 pounds (500 g) fresh sheep’s milk ricotta (you can use cow’s milk ricotta)
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 ounces (50 g) finely diced candied fruit
- 2 ounces (50 g) bitter chocolate, shaved
- 9 ounces (250 g) blanched peeled almonds
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract diluted in ¼ cup of water
- Green food coloring
- Potato starch
- 5 cups (500 g) powdered sugar, divided
- 2 egg whites
- Strips of candied fruit
Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).
Whip 6 egg whites to firm peaks with a pinch of salt. In another bowl, beat the 6 yolks with 3/4 cup of the granulated sugar until the mixture is frothy and pale yellow.
Sift the flour with the baking powder and slowly add it to the beaten yolks, together with a couple of tablespoons of whipped egg whites and the lemon zest and then fold in the remaining beaten egg whites
Turn the batter into a buttered and floured pan (9 inch square) and bake it for a half hour; remove the cake from the oven and let it cool before removing it from the pan.
To make the almond paste:
Grind the almonds in a food processor, using short bursts until finely ground. Add 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar and the almond water; blend until the mixture is homogenous.
Dust a work surface with the potato starch before turning the paste out onto it (you can also turn it out onto a sheet of wax paper) and incorporate a few drops of green food coloring diluted in a few drops of water. Work the paste until the color is uniform and then wrap the paste in plastic wrap and chill it in the refrigerator.
Press the ricotta through a fairly fine wire mesh strainer and combine it with 1/2 cup of granulated sugar, the vanilla, the shaved chocolate and the diced candied fruit.
To make the cassata:
Line a 10-inch (25 cm) diameter springform pan with plastic wrap,
Roll the almond paste out to 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick and wide enough to cover the cake pan bottom and sides. Fit the almond paste into the pan.
Next, line the bottom and sides of the pan with half-inch thick pieces of the baked cake.
Make a syrup by diluting some Marsala with a little water and a little sugar, and sprinkle it over the cake. Fill the empty space with the ricotta mixture and cover it with more of the cake, sprinkling again with the Marsala syrup.
Lay a dish on the cassata, press down gently, and chill the cassata for several hours in the refrigerator. Turn the cassata over onto the serving dish and remove the pan and the plastic wrap.
Beat the remaining two egg whites and sift the remaining powdered sugar into them, beating continuously until thick. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and spread it over the cassata. Let the glaze set for a few minutes, then decorate the cassata with candied fruit. Chill the cake for several more hours before serving.