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Sicilian Food Stories

Italy is one of my favourite countries to visit. I love the culture, the people and of course their passion for food- growing it, making it, talking about it and eating it! On my travel bucket list was Sicily and  an Italian cooking course which I did recently.

Piazza Duomo, Catania

I visited Catania and Southern Sicily staying in  a beautiful villa on an  agriturismo farm in Rosolini with Flavours Holidays.  Sicily has so much history that has influenced the cuisine.  My key learning was ‘less is more’ with the simplicity of the recipes, using only a few ingredients and  the amazing local produce.  The understanding of how to combine them to ‘make them sing’ . Using olive oil with one or two herbs at most , perhaps a touch of garlic, delivering an incredible tasting dish- a symphony  on the tongue!

Mount Etna view, Catania

In Catania, Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano dominates the area and  its black soil is fertile producing some fantastic  food & wine such as  lemons,  olives, olive oil , honey, chestnuts, pistachios, almonds, Etna Rosso wines but more of that later.

A trip to Savia, the oldest  Pasticceria in Catania was a must. Friday afternoon was busy with locals enjoying an espresso and a pastry. I tried two Sicilian specialities – Arancini al Ragù   & Cannoli.

Arancini at Pasticceria Savia, Catania

Arancini are  risotto rice balls filled with a rich tomato, vegetable, meat & cheese filling, dipped in breadcrumbs and fried until golden. The Sicilian arancini are ‘cone shaped’, with the shape supposedly making it easier to eat, by hand as the locals informed me.  A bit of a challenge, I did eventually resort to using a fork, very tasty and filling with the layers of flavour.

Cannoli – a Sicilian Speciality, Pasticceria Savia

The cannoli were fabulous- thin, crisp outer shell with a lightly whipped ricotta filling with tiny cubes of candied lemon and crushed pistachios at each end. Much lighter & less sweet  than those I’ve tried before and absolutely delicious.

Pistachio pastry and an espresso at Pasticceria Savia, Catania

 

Meandering around the cobbled streets in search of pizza, I found myself outside Pizzeria Locanda Cerami, a restaurant with a buzzy atmosphere and  full of locals, always a good sign. They had a fantastic selection but what caught my eye was one using pistachio pesto instead of the usual tomato sauce- something I’ve never had on a pizza but can highly recommend.

Pizza with Pistachio Pesto at Pizzeria Locanda Cerami, Catania

It was delicious with some local cherry tomatoes, speck, mozzarella  and crushed pistachios on top. A perfect Friday night Sicilian supper with a glass of Etna Rosso taking in the atmosphere. I found out afterwards from Claudia, our Cooking School host , that I had eaten in one of the best pizza places in Catania.  I did a walking tour of Etna, visiting a cave and then via a cable car & all terrain vehicle up to  2500 metres .

Trekking on Mount Etna

Walking around with the contrast of black volcanic rock & soil, white snow, and steam rising from the enormous craters. An incredible and unforgettable experience- other worldly and magical. We visited a farm to taste some of the local olive oil, pesto, honey , fruit curds, and wines produced on Etna. After enjoying the pizza I bought some pistachio pesto and chestnut honey. Following a day trekking on Etna I was ready for dinner and stumbled upon one of the best restaurants in Catania – Giardino Di Bacco.

Fantastic fish tasting plate at Giardino Di Bacco,Catania

I chose  their fish tasting plate so I could sample a number of local dishes . I tasted swordfish rolls and long rolls, squid stuffed with prawns and asparagus and tuna wrapped in lemon leaves and grilled. I also enjoyed a glass of Frappato Sicilian red wine. This was  one of the best meals I have eaten and definitely a restaurant I would go back to and recommend. After my short visit to Catania  I met up with my fellow Flavours Cooking Crew- 8 enthusiastic foodies for a week cooking and touring around Southern Sicily. Our base was a beautiful 19th century villa on Schembari farm near Rosolini surrounded by fields of olive, lemon, almond and carob trees- so picturesque.  Carmela our chef was a great teacher, and she guided us through lots of Sicilian specialities with a smile and nod of encouragement and approval – she only spoke Italian- so Claudia our fab  host translated.

Carmela our chef making arancini

The savoury recipes we cooked were: arancini, ravioli filled with ricotta, tomato sauce, cavatelli pasta, meatballs with Sicilian lemon, caponata with aubergines, Falsomagro, or ‘ False Thin’ , a rolled beef or veal joint layered with salami, ham, sausagemeat and boiled eggs, then cooked in a tomato sauce-served  in slices . Definitely a dish for festivals and celebrations.

Sicilian Meatballs wrapped in Lemon Leaves from the farm

Homemade Cavatelli with tomato sauce

One of my favourites was  Scacce  Modicane – a savoury thin  pastry filled with various fillings including ricotta & sausage; tomato, aubergine, basil; potato, parsley & onion with some local casiacavallo cheese then  rolled up like a Swiss roll & baked.

Making Scacce Modicane

It was then sliced – delicious eaten just warm and also the next day  cold – perfect picnic food.

Scacce Modicane

The sweet recipes were cannoli,  the trickiest recipe we made but great fun.

 

 

Also biancomangiare, a cold blancmange made with homemade almond milk, sugar flavoured with lemon rind & topped with crushed pistachios.  

Torrone- caramelised almond brittle

We made almond biscuits and torrone- caramelised almond brittle. This was used to top my favourite dessert  a semi freddo – semi frozen ice cream-  served  with a dark chocolate sauce using the famous chocolate from Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, the oldest Sicilian chocolate maker in Modica. Rich, indulgent and totally yummy. Definitely  Delizioso!  

Semi Freddo with torrone & dark chocolate sauce

We would have classes in the morning and eat what we cooked for lunch. The classes were lots of fun- with banter & bonding over who could roll the thinnest pasta!

We also visited Modica, with its history of chocolate making; Syracuse and Ortigia Island , a fab foodie market with lots of tomato paste, nuts & cheese purchased- especially after meeting Antonio the cheese maker from Borderi Gli Artisti.

Antonio the Cheese maker from Borderi, Ortigia Island

He had Italian charisma, flirting and  plying us with samples of his triple baked ricotta and pecorino with peppercorns. A great character and very effective salesman as we all ended up buying lots of cheese.

Cheese from Boderi, Food Market, Ortigia Island

We enjoyed lunch at a fish restaurant, sampling the mussels, clams, calamari and prawns, Frito Misto Di Mare and pasta alla Norma – with aubergines and rich tomato sauce.

Sicilian seafood platter, Ortigia Island

We went to Marzamemi, an old fishing village , with some wonderful wine tasting & canapés at Feudoromaddini a local vineyard nearby.

Wine Tasting at Feudormaddini Vineyard

We visited some picturesque towns such as Noto & Ragusa Ibla – beautiful baroque architecture, cathedrals and churches, and stunning views.

Claudia & Flavours Cooking Crew in Noto

Sunset travelling to Ragusa Ibla

I fell in love with Sicily – a beautiful island with great culture, people  and food. I hope to return to see more of the island for more Sicilian food stories.

Carmela & Flavours Cooking Crew

 

 

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Fresh Tuna Tacos

As a food blogger, I love discovering new food ranges and their creators,  especially if there’s  an interesting story.  I met  Lizzy Hodcroft, Founder of The Sweet Beet UK in London at a Food Show in November 2017  and we chatted about all things foodie  – no surprise there!

The Sweet Beet Range

I tasted Lizzy’s range of tasty  condiments – with the strap line: ‘Born in Texas, Made in the UK’ . I was intrigued to know how Lizzy  became a condiment creator and had to find out more.  Lizzy was born in Scotland, grew up in Texas, and moved to Newcastle, UK, to train as a chef. Quite quickly, Lizzy realised that it was important to find value in herself and her  foodie passion  whilst being in control of  her own destiny. Summed up in her own words as ”dancing to my own sweet beet”, and a brand name was born.  Previously Lizzy had a street food business in Newcastle and lots of customers asked about where they could find the tasty homemade condiments that were a key feature of her dishes. After attending a local Business Accelerator, the opportunity to utilise her chef’s expertise in a different way  became clear. Business plan in place, Lizzy relished  the development of the Sweet Beet brand and range, no pun intended! The goal of launching the range in  retail became a reality.  In  2017,  she launched Maple Bacon Jam, winning  a Great Taste Award in the same year and Habanero Lime Jelly. The range quickly expanded in Autumn 2017 with Texas Beer Jelly, Oak Smoked Apple Butter & Strawberry Chipotle BBQ Sauce. Lizzy’s proudest achievement was being awarded Young Entrepreneur  of the Year in October 2017 at the  Win  Awards, which recognises the  achievement of  women in business in the North East of England. Lizzy supports other Start Ups through her Mental Health & Wellbeing Group, part of Entrepreneurial Spark.  She is happy to  share her personal story about the challenges of setting up a business, the struggles as well as the success.

Habanero Line Jelly used to glaze the tuna

The Sweet Beet range of five can be purchased  on the website,  Fenwick stores and Farm shop’s & Deli’s throughout the U.K., and also as of February,  2018  from Ocado, the on line retailer. The  weblinks are included following the recipe below.

In taste2taste style we have come up with our tasty fresh tuna taco’s  recipe. It’s easy to make and pairs perfectly with the Habanero Lime Jelly condiment, with its great  balance of sweet red peppers, lime citrus tang with a warming kick of Habanero chilli. We have served together with our taste2taste take on ‘cowboy caviar’ – a veggie combo of sweet corn, black beans, mixed bell peppers as a  salsa/side. You’ll find the original recipe in our blog archives via the following link:

https://www.taste2taste.com/2015/07/01/july4-a-side-order-of-cowboy-chow-for-the-bbq/

I have adapted it very slightly for this recipe.

Ingredients

 

Ingredients ( serves 2)

400g/ 14 oz fresh tuna steak, cut into 2 slices. I used wild yellow fin tuna handline -caught, certified sustainable by Marine Stewardship Council. You can also use Ahi tuna steak.

2 teaspoons of vegetable oil, I use rapeseed

freshly ground sea salt & black pepper

squeeze of fresh lime

6 teaspoons of The Sweet Beet habanero lime jelly

2 large  corn & wheat soft tortillas

3 leaves of cos lettuce, washed & shredded

1-2 teaspoon sour cream ( optional)

’Cowboy Caviar’ salsa/side:

1/2  tin of black beans, 120g/ 4 oz drained I used Epicure Organic

1 small tin of sweet corn, 160g/ 5.5 oz drained

1/2 small red pepper finely chopped

1/2 small orange pepper finely chopped

1/2 small red onion finely chopped

1 small handful of fresh flat leaf parsley , chopped

Juice of 1/2 fresh lime

Freshly ground sea salt & black pepper to taste

Method

Marinade the tuna in oil, salt & black pepper & squeeze of lime for about 10-15 minutes.  Heat a chargrill pan to medium hot .

‘Cowboy Caviar’ Veggie Salsa/Side

Prepare the cowboy caviar & combine in a bowl.  Sear the tuna for 1 – 1.5 minutes  on each side. The tuna will be rare in the middle with chargrill marks. If you prefer your tuna slightly more cooked , increase the cooking time by 1 minute on each side. Remove from the pan and while still warm glaze with 4 teaspoons of the habanero lime jelly. Allow to rest, then slice into bite size pieces.Heat a frying pan on medium heat and warm the soft tortillas for 5 seconds on each side. Remove from pan and spread a teaspoon of habanero lime jelly and a teaspoon of sour cream ( if using) on each tortilla. Add few teaspoons of cowboy caviar, shredded lettuce and sliced tuna. Roll ‘em and eat! Serve with some more cowboy caviar veggies on the side. I served with a Numero Uno craft lager brewed with agave nectar and lime zest from Flying Dog Brewery, MD, USA.

Great with a Numero Uno Beer – cheers!

Our tasty Tuna Tacos with the Sweet Beet Habanero Lime  Jelly,  born in Texas, made in U.K.

A great combo!

Weblinks:

https://www.thesweetbeet.co.uk

https://www.fenwick.co.uk

https://www.ocado.com

https://www.flyingdogbrewery.com

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Orange Marmalade Recipe Made Easy

Marmalade – at its simplest just three ingredients- oranges, sugar, water. I have always been a fan of eating the citrusy tangy orange jam, like Paddington Bear, but never made it myself. As a food blogger I would like to think I know my way around a kitchen & a jam jar, having made jams and chutneys many times. So after recipe reading, lots of opinions, tips & techniques, a mistake or two along the way, here goes – my marmalade tales: my how to/how not to guide of what I did, learnt and made.

Seville & Blood Oranges & Lemons

Timing & sourcing – the first important tip. January is the Seville orange season, and my original plan was to make marmalade then. A few weeks delay meant a quest and hunt for the allusive key ingredient.   My local green grocer said  “you won’t find Seville oranges now in February you’re too late for this season”.  Three shops later I had decided to make with Italian blood oranges only so bought a large quantity.

Beautiful Fruit – Seville Oranges from Ave María Farm

Just one more shop, and to my surprise there they were- a few boxes of organic Seville-amazing! The Ave María farm (@avemariafarm) of Mairena del Alcoa, Seville,  the growers – my marmalade saviours.  To my delight at finding Seville oranges – lots more oranges purchased. Which leads to my next key learning- time. Sounds obvious but ensure you have enough time, especially as a first timer. My first mistake- the more oranges, the longer it will take to prepare and make – simple. So marmalade ingredients found, knives sharpened, bowls, jam pan & stock pot at the ready. Lots of research – who knew there would be so many recipes, hints, tips, opinions on how to make marmalade.  I found a recipe that said “foolproof, although it takes time, it is easy, just follow the steps and you are 100% guaranteed great marmalade”.  I was “sold” so fruit washed and soaked in 2 big stock pots overnight. I am a fan of the Slow Food movement but 3,300 minutes, really? Blog banter the next day with Simon, who laughed  telling me his Mum Rayner, a seasoned marmalade maker, never takes that long! So my second mistake  re-reading the recipe was “where is the rind? “ I like my marmalade with “thick cut” peel and no mention of peeling, paring or cutting! So change of recipe and some great advice from the Yotam Ottolenghi Facebook group  crew- Kate, Zahra,  Lous especially- on line help from UK &  Netherlands plus all the encouraging comments from further afield- global supportive foodie communities are fab! So oranges now on the boil  with wonderful citrusy aromas wafting around the kitchen. I made 17 jars of Seville & blood orange marmalade with muscovado  sugar &  Auchentoshan Scotch whisky, recipe below. Also 3 jars of blood orange, fresh ginger and Campari marmalade. I have scaled down the recipe to a more manageable number of oranges and included the things I learnt.

taste2taste test!

I even got the thumbs up from a VIP: marmalade lover, food critic, my cookery teacher and inspiration- my Mum! Thanks to everyone for all your support, encouragement, banter. You never know next year,  the World Marmalade Awards held at Dalemain Mansion, Cumbria, UK: @marmaladeawards, @dalemainmansion, newcomer category- I can but dream 🍊🍊🍊

Ingredients makes about 10  x  450g or 1 lb jars marmalade

450g/ or 1/2 lb Seville Oranges

450g or  1/2 lb Blood Oranges

Juice of 2 lemons, retain the pips

900g/2lb  granulated sugar

100g/0.2lb Muscovado sugar ( if not using just substitute with extra granulated)

Cold water, enough to cover fruit about 2.25l or  4 pints

3 tablespoons of Scotch Whisky ( optional)

Kit

10 glass jars & lids washed in warm soapy water & drip dried, more in method about sterilising jars & lids

Jam pan or large deep heavy based pan- stock pot or casserole

Large heatproof  bowls

Large slotted spoon, large metal spoon or metal ladle, large wooden spoon/ jam spoon & a metal tablespoon

Large muslin square

Kitchen string

Food processor ( optional)

Jam thermometer ( optional), check photo & method  for set point

2 metal baking trays

Metal jam funnel (optional) or a steady hand!

Heatproof oven gloves

saucer placed in the freezer to test the set point

Method

Wash the oranges, place in a large pan and cover with cold water about 2.25l/ 4 pints. Bring to the boil and simmer on a medium heat for about 1.5 hours until the fruit is soft, skin especially. Using a slotted spoon remove the oranges and place in a large heatproof bowl to cool.

Flesh, pips & pith in muslin

Once cool, halve, and scoop out the flesh, pips/seeds & white pith with a tablespoon. Place these in another bowl lined with the muslin square.  These contain pectin, and are important as this will be key in obtaining a good set or gel like texture. Slice the soft peel/ rind into shreds with a sharp knife. I like a thick cut shred so cut mine into about  1/2 cm or  1/4 inch widths and 3 cm or 1 inch lengths.

Juice and thick cut rind

You can roughly chop using a food processor to save time but I prefer the look of hand cut shreds. Squeeze the juice of 2 lemons and add to the orange cooking water, about 1.4 l or 3 pints liquid. If less just top up with water.  Remove the lemon pips and add to the orange pips, flesh & cooked pith in the muslin. Tie up the muslin tightly, use kitchen string if necessary and add to the pan of cooked orange juice/ water and lemon juice. Simmer on a low/medium heat for 45 minutes then remove from heat to cool.

Cooled ready to squeeze muslin to extract pectin

If you have time you can leave this in a cool place overnight otherwise leave for a minimum of 1 hour. Remove & squeeze out the muslin tightly back into the pan. The juice will be slightly gel- like which is the pectin, the gelling agent naturally present in the oranges & lemon pips and pith. Discard the contents of the muslin- makes fragrant compost! You can wash and re use the muslin. Heat the pan on a medium heat until the liquid is hot then add the granulated and muscovado sugar (if using). Allow to fully dissolve for about 10 -15 minutes without stirring, then turn up the heat to medium hot and bring to the boil.

Marmalade boiling approaching set point

Keep boiling on a rolling boil ( see photo). You now want to keep boiling until you reach the set point. This should take around 20 -30 minutes but it will vary. Give the liquid an occasional stir to ensure it is not catching on the bottom of the pan. Meanwhile prepare the clean jam jars & lids for sterilising. I use Kilner glass jars with the 2 piece lids. I set my oven to 160C /320F fan, place the upright glass jars and outer rings on metal baking trays and heat for 10 minutes. For the inner lid with the rubber rim, follow the instructions as the rubber cannot withstand boiling water or temperatures above 82C/180F. If using a metal only lid these can be sterilised in the oven along with the glass jars.  If you have a jam thermometer  the marmalade set point is 104.5C/220F.

Set point there!

If not see my photos, the mixture will be rapidly boiling, rising up the pan. To test the set point, place a saucer in the freezer for a few minutes. Using a metal spoon taking care as the mixture is extremely hot, place a few drops of marmalade onto the saucer and leave to cool for 2 minutes. If you push your finger through the marmalade and it wrinkles the set point has been reached. If not continue boiling and test again in 5 minutes and repeat if necessary until set point achieved.  Remove the sterilised jars and lids from the oven. Once the set point has been reached, turn off the heat and leave the marmalade for 5-10 minutes. This ensures the peel is evenly distributed throughout as it cools and thickens. Carefully skim off any pale scum on the surface & discard. Then add the whisky if using and stir to mix in. Ensure all utensils are sterilised with boiling water and cooled on a metal tray lined with a clean cloth or paper towel. Once ready to fill use the  jam funnel or metal spoon/ ladle  to fill leaving the jars on the metal tray to catch any drips. Fill right up to the top to allow as little headspace as possible. Screw on the lids using heatproof gloves until tight. Leave the jars on the tray to cool overnight. Give the jars a final tighten, clean off any drips, label when the jars are cool and store in a dark cupboard.

Marmalade with Auchentoshan Whisky aged in American oak bourbon barrels

Now for the best part- the eating! Orange marmalade made easy… enjoy 🍊🍊🍊