Aglio Rosso di Nubia

A bunch of Nubian garlic in “Nonna’s kitchen”

Aside from keeping vampires at bay garlic is perhaps one of the most important ingredients to keep in ones kitchen.

Red Nubian garlic in a wooden bowl

The nutritional and health benefits of garlic have been known for thousands of years. In sicily, certainly in and around the town of Trapani, the Aglio Rosso di Nubia is a common sight. It is grown in the countryside centred on the village of Nubia, just outside Trapani in the direction of Marsala.

While a single clove of garlic is not going to have a significant impact, health-wise, a 100 gms (rather a lot even spread throughout the day) offers significant qualtities of vitamins B6 and C, and the dietary minerals manganese and phosphorus (approx 20% of daily need).

I once ate a whole garlic bulb that had been roasted. Delicious at the time but I suspect those near me weren’t so pleased with the garlic smell that stayed with me till next day!

Source: US Department of Agriculture

Garlic has been used medicinally as a cold remedy, though it seems there is no evidence to prove it works. It does have anti-bacterial properties and may be beneficial in reducing hypertension and some forms of cancer.

Personally I enjoy garlic with soups, sauces and salads and will take it with honey if I have a cold.

Where it is from:

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Arancina Siciliana

Ragu arancina with kebab

The famous Sicilian rice balls, known as arancini in view of their size, shape and colour that remind one of oranges, have to be on the list of the “must try” treats to experience when visiting the island.

The rice balls made with a filling, coated with bread crumbs and then deep fried. The most common fillings are ragù, mozzarella, or ham and mozzarella.

The best in my opinion are the arancini made with ragu filling (minced beef, tomato and herbs – similar to a bolognese sauce).

It is common to find arancini, regarded as snacks or street food, in bakeries, supermarkets and in cafes.

In some parts of Sicily the arancini are formed into a conical shape. In both cases, round or conical, there are similar looking products served in Brazil where they are known as “coxinha” as a result of their taking the approximate shape of a chicken thigh (that’s another story for when I return to Brazil), ball-shaped but with different ingredients.

It is believed that arancini have been around in Sicily since the days of the muslim occupation of the island ie 1000 years or more.

As with many traditional foods the arancina is considered a meal in itself. Like the cornish pastie, or sandwich, arancini were made to be carried and eaten on the move. The original take-aways.

Figs

A few small figs

I always think of bright Mediterranean sunshine when I eat figs, forgetting that my mother had planted a fig tree in our garden in Staffordshire (England) when I was in my teens. That tree yielded masses of delicious figs within a couple of years.

In the garden where my mother now lives in Erice, Sicily, there is a fig tree that has provided us with a few figs in the last couple of weeks. We have eaten perhaps half a dozen but a neighbour harvested about 25 figs to take to his brother on another island. These were all large, soft green fruit and, in general, sweet.

July is expected to see the tree in full production, though a lot of the figs on the tree now are small, are turning black and have a tendency to fall off easily before reaching maturity.

Figs (Ficus carica) is related to the mulberry, about which I wrote just recently, and has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years.

Nutrition

Figs are high in soluble fibre and natural sugars. They are also rich in minerals including potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper and are a good source of antioxidant vitamins A and K. As they are a low calorie food they are an ideal addition to a weight-loss or weight-maintenance diet.

Fresh figs are nice at anytime of day. I like them at breakfast, after meals and between meals as a snack.

Sicilian fig biscuits

Dried figs are nice too though a bit on the seedy side. The seeds are softer in fresh figs, to the point of being unnoticeable. And the flavour is quite a lot different too – much stronger in dried figs.

I hope the tree produces a few decent fruit soon as, despite the countryside and gardens being edged by fig trees, the fruit in supermarkets are pretty expensive. Time will tell.

Cassata

Traditional Sicilian painted wagon

Before having a siesta after lunch last week I came across something on Face Book that a friend had posted.

http://www.custonaciweb.it/i-dolci-piu-buoni-del-mondo-sono-siciliani-ad-affermarlo-e-il-new-york-times/

It’s an article that appeared on the village webpage of Custonaci, a small town outside Erice. The article references a piece published at the end of last year in the Los Angeles Times about the best pastries in the world being made in Sicily.

While in general I would agree, as soon as I saw the article I was struck by deja vu. To finish off our lunch of roast chicken and panelle we had …. one of the very same pastries featured above.

Cassatina Sicilianathe classic mini Sicilian cassata

The ones we bought were from a local pasticceria in Erice, while not the best that I have eaten they were a nice way to finish our meal.

Cassatina is a small cake, that’s how I think it’s best to describe it. The nearest thing in UK supermarkets are the famous Mr Kipling French Fancies – small sponge cakes that are covered in icing.

Selection of Mr Kipling French Fancies

Personally, I like the Kipling cakes though do not feel the sane sense of satisfaction after eating them that I get from cassatina’s.

The Sicilian cassatina, if well made, has that level of satisfaction that only comes with freshly made cakes made with great ingredients and the passion of a good pastry chef.

The traditional cassatine are made with a sponge base soaked in fruit juice (or alcohol, eg marsala), with a layer of ricotta cheese and candied fruit, topped with a thin covering of marzipan. Delicious and possible to make at home (though I will write about this at a later date).

Cassatelle alla Trapanese

Cassatelle di ricotta alla Trapanese

You can almost see the calories in this great local dessert from Trapani. Known in the Sicilian dialect as Cassateddi it isn’t so much the calorie count but rather the weight of the ricotta that leaves you feeling you may have over-eaten these delicious half-moon shaped treats. One is usually enough, two cassatelle makes you feel that a bit of exercise may be a good idea to burn the excess energy consumed.

We bought a few cassetelle from a local pasticceria (pastry shop) in Erice, though they are easy to make at home. In my opinion the icing sugar coating was overdone – I prefer a light dusting.

Cassetelle are best fresh since, as with cannoli, the moisture in the ricotta makes the pastry soggy after a time. A damp cannolo is not nice but a cassetelle that is less than fresh is still ok.

Cassetelle with ricotta and chocolate chip filling

Ingredients (non-vegan**):

Pastry:
250 gm plain flour
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
40 gm caster sugar
80 ml white wine
water

a light vegetable oil should be used for frying the cassatelle 

Filling:
300 g ricotta (well drained)**
3 tbsp caster or icing sugar 
1 lemon (finely grated zest)

A few pieces of candied lemon/orange peel or chocolate chips (I like no more than half a dozen small bits per cassetelle, and prefer the fruit to chocolate chip)

Icing sugar for dusting before serving.

** To make a vegan version, try using or making a cashew nut ricotta. I haven’t tried this yet but am confident the cassatelle flavour will be enjoyable.

Preparation

Mix the ricotta, sugar and candied peel in a bowl. Cover the bowl with cling film and place in the fridge until the pastry is ready.

To make the pastry, mix the flour and sugar then add the wine. Continue stirring the mixture while adding water until the dough is firm (neither hard nor too soft). Place in the fridge for an hour.

Roll out the pastry until it is 2-3 mm thick (about 1/10th of an inch). Use a cookie cutter to make circles of 8 to 10 cm diameter.

Add a couple of spoonfuls of filling to each piece of pastry, slightly off-centre, then fold and seal the edges.

Fry until golden brown on both sides.

Remove excess oil from the cassetelle by draining on paper kitchen towels. Cover lightly with icing sugar and serve.

Nutrition

Calories: 117kcal
Carbohydrates: 15gm
Sugar: 5g 
Protein: 3gm
Fat: 4gm
Saturated Fat: 2gm
Cholesterol: 10mg
Vitamin A: 1.9%
Vitamin C: 0.1%
Sodium: 21mg
Potassium: 34mg 
Calcium: 4.7% 
Iron: 3.7%

* NB – the nutritional values will vary with actual ingredients used – treat as a rough guide

A Sicilian Caper!

Caper bush (Capperis spinosa), also known as Flinders Rose

Capers are well known as a pickled condiment. It is the flower buds that are harvested and pickled though, after flowering, the fruit or berries can also be harvested for pickling.

The bush, with its long stems, is a perennial plant that is found throughout the Mediterranean region and in my mother’s garden in Erice.

Flower buds and leaves on the Caper Bush

In addition to the culinary use of the buds and berries the leaves can also be pickled and used in salads.

The delicate flowers of the Caper Bush

The plant is said to have several medicinal benefits including remedies for diabetes, fungal infections, chest congestion, intestinal worms , and skin disease caused by a form of leishmaniasis.

Slender, young seed pods

Capers are used in many Sicilian dishes and salads, while the leaves are more often seen in Cypriot food.

Nutrition

While rich in some nutritional aspects pickled capers have a high sodium content.

Macro-nutrients

Micro-nutrients

Sources: US Dept of Agriculture via Wikipedia

Burik

Burik served in the form of a tube, served with radicchio and olive salad.

Burik (the “u” is short, barely pronounced so the word sounds like bric) is a form of food found in Libya and Tunisia that is normally made in a triangular shape. It looks a bit like a samosa, perhaps having similar ingredients, but the pastry is different.

The ones we bought from Dar El Medina restaurant in Trapani (where I had couscous a couple of years ago) were made in the form of a large rolled tube, like a crepe. The filling was not the tastiest that I had eaten and, to be honest, I had to guess what it was made from: possibly fish, potato and parsley. I would have preferred some middle-eastern spice in the mix but the restaurant seems to try to over-localise their dishes.

The “pastry” itself is a thin layer of batter similar to the crepe, but thinner and lighter. The fillings can be made with whatever there is to hand: eggs, potato, left-overs, meat etc. Literally any filling that takes your fancy.

The filling, a spoonful or two, is placed in the centre of the batter. It is then folded to create a closed triangular shape before being fried.

Burik can be served hot or cold. They can be treated as appetisers, snacks, street-food, served with soup, or served at special occasions.

Dar El Medina is a couscous restaurant and pizzeria with in the heart of Trapani, Sicily. The owners are Sicilian of Tunisian descent and prefer to offer Sicilianised versions of Tunisian food. The restaurant would, in my view, benefit from providing a Tunisian ambience rather than the more neutral, even clinical, one that it has.

How to make burik at home

The quick and easy way to make burik at home, for casual dinners, barbecues, picnics or snacks etc, is to use filo pastry. The authentic batter actually differs by country and ethnic group (there are Arab and Jewish versions) so it isn’t cheating

Prepare the filo pastry by rolling it out and cutting into squares.

Prepare the fillings by placing whatever ingredients you choose in a bowl. Add herbs or spices eg paprika, salt and pepper to taste and mix loosely.

Place one or two spoonfuls of the filling into a square of pastry.

Fold the pastry into a triangular or square shape (alternatively roll into a tube form).

Fry until golden brown then place on kitchen roll to remove excess oil.

Can be served immediately or later when cold.

Nutritional notes

Vegan when using traditional filo/phyllo (vegetable oil-based) pastry.

Gluten-free pastry is available in supermarkets.

Nutritional content will depend on filling used.

Sicilian Food – Panelle

Panelle

Reminding me of polenta in appearance only, panelle are fritters that are typically, though not always, eaten in a bun (U’ pane chi panelle in Sicilian).

It is very much a Sicilian speciality, perhaps more so in the capital of Palermo where it is regarded as street food in Palermo, sprinkled with lemon juice.

Panelle is often made at home to be eaten as a snack or an accompaniment to a meal.

My first impression, years ago when I tried the panelle sandwich for the first time, was that it seems as counter-intuitive to treat this snack as appetising as a traditional British “chip butty” but after the first bite I was won over. I also like chip butties!

The panelle recipe is detailed at the end of this article.

Nutrition

Firstly, panelle itself can be used in vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free diets. Chickpeas are a type of legume so, unlike cereals, contain no gluten.

When making panelle sandwiches, however, care needs to be taken to use vegan and/or gluten-free bread. But that’s obvious!

Chickpeas are a rich source of protein, low in fat.

Chickpeas, mature seeds, cooked no salt.

Nutritional value per 100 g

Energy 686 kJ (164 kcal)

Carbohydrate. 27.42 g

Sugars 4.8 g

Dietary fibre 7.6 g

Fat2.59 g

Saturated 0.27 g

Monounsaturated 0.58 g

Polyunsaturated 1.16 g

Protein8.86 g

Vitamins – A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B13, C, E and K

Minerals. – calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium (trace only) and zinc.

Recipe

  • 500gm chickpea flour
  • water (1.5 l)
  • 10 gm finely chopped parsley
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

The principal ingredient of panelle is chickpea flour. The flour is mixed with water, salt and pepper until it becomes lump-free. The mixture is then placed on a low heat, finely chopped parsley added and stirred continuously to avoid it sticking to the pan. When it has the consistency of thick runny cream it is poured onto a plate or tray (coffee saucers are often used since the size of the panelle will be ideal for placing in a bread roll). The mix should be about 3mm (1/10 inch) thick.

Allow to cool and refrigerate till ready to cook.

The panelle may be cut into shapes (squares, triangles etc) about 2 cm x 4 cm, or left round if left to set on a small saucer, and deep fried in vegetable oil till golden brown.

Remove excess oil from the panelle with paper towels, place 3 or 4 in a bread roll, squeeze lemon juice over the panelle and eat while hot.

Enjoy!

Cobbs for Brunch

Outdoor enthusiasts can have a pleasant time browsing and/or buying clothes, accessories or gear for camping, mountaineering or sport at a well-stocked specialist .

Combine such a shopping experience with a good Sunday brunch and you have, potentially, a great way to spend half a day – even better if the other half of the day is spent trekking in the hills.

I had a very nice brunch at Cobbs located at Craigdon Mountain Sports store. It was the second time that I’d had brunch there, very pleased with the food quality and ambience on both occasions.

I ordered the Cobbs Works – essentially a full Scottish breakfast.

Cobbs Works – a full Scottish breakfast

Grilled bacon, leek and pork sausages, black pudding, haggis, baked beans, tomatoes, toast and an egg (fried for me). (£8.50 with a hot drink included – I had an americano). I think the toast may have been an extra (£1).

With apologies to vegans and vegetarians I found the two rashers of bacon to be grilled to perfection. The mushrooms,too, were great – I don’t like overcooked mushrooms. The egg was a bit over-fried but I did ask for it to be well done as I am not keen on under-cooked whites. The rest of the items were good.

Anericano coffee

On the last occasion I had the vegan full breakfast which was really good. I have already posted about that so won’t repeat here.

There are lots of options on the menu which is great for families and other small groups. The place is both child friendly and dog friendly so a great option if you like taking walks before or after lunch.

Where

Situated next to the Pentland hills at the roundabout joining Biggar Road and Swanton Drive off the A702.

44, Biggar Road, Edinburgh, EH10 7BJ

Phone: +44 131 445 4581

I could go vegan! At least for a day!

Full vegan breakfast at Brunch & Supper, Edinburgh (vegan haggis, vegan sausage, baked beans, avocado, asparagus, broccoli, tofu, mushroom, potato bread and couscous)

I have to admit that quite a few years ago I regarded vegans as folk that were a bit off the rails. My first experience of a vegetarian (not vegan) was a lady who was on an eight-day trek with me near Machu Picchu in Peru. The cook, who seemingly forgot her dietary preferences, had prepared a rabbit stew – as far as I was concerned a very welcome and warming lunch at the end of the morning’s trek in the rain. To cut a short story shorter she had started to eat the stew before it was confirmed to be a non-veg meal. She sobbed – it was the first time in her (50+ years) life that she had strayed from her meat-free lifestyle. I had to sympathise, mistakes can happen, but was not really able to empathise.

My own life has been a meat-full one. I have been used to meat-and-two-veg meals for lunch and dinner since I was young. My mother liked to experiment in the kitchen so we had a variety of international and traditionally British meals at home with various animal parts as the core component of the meal.

I have lived for many years in Brazil where meat is a staple. The Brazilian barbecue restaurants are world famous through the health benefits of mounds of beef coated in crystals of salt are definitely negative.

The family of one of my daughters is vegan so I am now able to understand this lifestyle choice. With age comes wisdom. In recent years I have tried to limit my intake of meat. I spent a few years in India where a high percentage of the population is vegetarian, so I managed to adapt to and enjoy, local meat-less dishes interspersed with delicious, spicy non-veg meals.

More recently I have tried to eat more vegan dishes. On the most recent occasion, I tried a vegan brunch at Brunch & Supper (a restaurant in Old Town, Edinburgh).

I enjoy a Full Breakfast be it Full English, Full Scottish, Full Cornish or Full Veggie so, while lunching with my daughter and a friend of hers I opted for a Full Vegan breakfast in order to compare the food to other full breakfast meals. Such a comparison is a bit subjective as, unlike in a wine tasting, for example, I was comparing the dish to memories of previous dishes.

The plate came, nicely arranged with a pair of asparagus spears pointing out from the centre of the plate. I found the meal satisfyingly filling and tasty though I have to say, in respect of all of the Scottish breakfast that I have tried, regardless of the restaurant, that the haggis has always been disappointing. I guess I was spoilt by having haggis for the first time (and a couple of other occasions) served at top restaurants ie real deal haggis. Still, I enjoyed the meal and enjoyed the vegan experience

I honestly doubt if I will ever become a vegan, nor even wholly vegetarian, but I can say with certainty that I am reducing the amount of meat in my diet. I don’t have issues with vegan meals, good food us good food, but I would certainly recommend to any restaurant that they include vegetarian and vegan options on their menu – even non-vegetarians like to vary their diet occasionally. And I recommend Brunch & Supper as a place to eat if you happen to be visiting Edinburgh. Need to book as the place is small and popular!

Brunch & Supper

37-39 George IV Bridge,

Edinburgh,

EH1 1EL

Phone: +44 131 225 6690

Url: brunchandsupper.co.uk

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NB: While Alan Skyrme has a number of diplomas in Nutrition and has provided opinions in this post it is strongly recommended that the latest available analyses of the nutritional contents and benefits are obtained from appropriately registered practitioners. The opinions provided here are indicative only and may be incomplete or out of date.