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.

Here we go round the Mulberry bush

Ripe mulberry fruit in a punnet

“Here we go round the Mulberry bush”

These are the words that start an old nursery rhyme that is believed to be about 150 years old, though its origins are subject to speculation. The same tune and some words are used in similar rhymes eg “Here we go gathering nuts in May” and “The wheels on the bus go round and round”. But back to the subject if mulberry fruit.

The mulberry bush, genus Morus, is well-known both for its fruit, similar in appearance, but not related, to blackberries, and for its leaves that are used for feeding the larva of silk worm moths. Its leaves are also used for making nutritional supplements.

Leaf of the mulberry bush

Nutritionally mulberries are high in vitamin C and a significant source of iron.

High in vitamin C

Significantly rich iron content (14% of daily requirement per serving)

Sources: US Dept of Agriculture via Wikipedia

Ripe mulberry on the tree

This bush is located in the garden where my mother lives. There were just two fruits on the tree, one appears to have been eaten by birds, the other by me!

The fruit varies in flavour, depending on maturity, from acidic to mild. They are ideally suited to eating with yogurt on breakfast cereal. I usually eat fresh or dried fruit with oatmeal each morning.

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

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.

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.

Jabuticaba

screenshot 2019-01-20 at 10.25.41

An unusual but important fruit found in Brazil is Jabuticaba, Plinia cauliflora. The unusual aspect of the fruit, which grows on a small tree, is that they form on the trunk of the tree as well as on its branches and twigs. A mature tree with ripe fruit looks as though its trunk is protected by plastic balls that surround the circumference in a tight profusion of berries.

The Jabuticaba fruit is about the size of a grape thus giving it a common name in English of Brazilian Grape Tree. The skin of the fruit, black when mature, is firm with a slightly sharp taste reminiscent of black-currents, while the pulp is white and sweet, hiding within it a single red seed.

A few ripe and near-ripe Jabuticaba fruit in front of a bowl.

Nutrition

There is a multitude of health benefits in consuming jabuticaba. The fruit is low in calories and carbohydrates and high in protein as well as high in numerous minerals and micronutrients including calcium, iron, phosphorus and vitamin C. It is an important source of antioxidant.

Medicinal benefits

Good source of folic acid and calcium means its a great fruit to eat during pregnancy. The anti-oxidants prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals, while its anti-inflammatory content can help ease arthritis and similar issues.

Preparation

Jabuticaba is best consumed fresh, washed and raw, eating the skin and pulp but not the seed. The fruit doesn’t travel well so it’s hard to find outside its growing rage.

It is possible to make jam from the fruit – the product having the same appearance and consistency as damson jam. Great on toast for breakfast or a snack between meals.

 

 

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NB: While Alan Skyrme has a number of diplomas in Nutrition it is strongly recommended that the latest available analyses of the nutritional contents and benefits are obtained from appropriate sources. Those provided here are indicative only and may be incomplete.

Pastel de Belem

Pastel de Belem, with added fruit as a breakfast treat

Egg custard tarts, also known in UK simply as custard tarts, are very popular and are available in boxes of 6 in supermarkets, or individually in specialist bakeries. Either way, I have always loved them – the pastry tends to be soft and the custard topped with a touch of nutmeg combine beautifully. I always buy them when in UK and have no issues with getting the industrial supermarket version if there isn’t a small bakery or cake shop with fresh stock.

In Brazil, it is often possible to find pasteis de nata in local bread shops (padarias) but, on visits to Lisbon, I found the best of these non-English versions of the humble custard tart – the Pastel de Belem.

Technically the pastel de Belem is another name for the pastel de nata, but the Pastel de Belem has a history going back two hundred years wherein catholic monks prepared pasteis de nata to raise money for themselves, having been evicted in an action against the church. The pastry then became known as Pastel de Belem after the area in Lisbon where they were made and sold mainly to visitors to the Tower of Bethlehem (Torre de Belem), or so the story goes.

There is a bakery, the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, that has been selling these tasty tartlets since those times and which, now, is a tourist magnet with crowds queuing to buy freshly baked pasteis.

The Pastel de Belem looks similar to the traditional (and historically much older) English egg custard tart. The pastry is different – the English version is more of a traditional pie pastry while the Portuguese version is a puff pastry. The flavouring of the custard is different too: the English version is nutmeg flavoured while the Portuguese version has a touch of cinnamon. The Portuguese has less custard and is harder on the bite while the English version has a soft pastry and more custard in the filling.

I like both. No, I LOVE both!!

I haven’t yet tried to make my own Pastel de Belem though it isn’t difficult but, when I get around to it, I shall post the recipe that I use.

Note:

Portuguese                English

Pastel                           Pastry

Pasteis                         Pastries

Nata                             Cream

Belem                          Bethlehem

Fabrica                        Factory

A remote gem

Amor em Delicias Cafeteria, Canelinha – SC

There’s a road that takes one from the main highway (BR101), at a town called Tijucas, into the Atlantic Rainforest countryside towards the town of Brusque in the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil. The road, narrow but well maintained, cuts through some villages and small towns that few people would have heard of unless they are local.

We had taken this route in order to avoid traffic but also for us to see as much of the countryside as we could, despite the rain, on the leisurely drive from Florianopolis airport to our hotel in Brusque. Having had a disappointing lunch in a village called Biguaçu shortly after leaving Florianopolis we were ready for a mid-afternoon snack and still had about an hour still to go to reach our hotel in Brusque. We were about to exit the village limits of Canelinha when we saw a small cafe – so we stopped.

The cafe, Amor em Delicias, (roughly translating to Love in Delights, although there is no exact translation in English), was indeed delightful – very simple in design, very clean, and delicately decorated. The place is a gem despite being so remote. The photo above was taken on our return journey, with better weather, hence the nice blue sky.

There were a few people in the cafe when we entered, not full, but almost. There was seating available on the veranda too but, presumably, only smokers would sit out in rainy weather! I didn’t actually count the tables but, from what I remember, there was seating for about 30 people indoors and another 12 outside.

We sat at a small round table in the centre of the cafe and were quickly provided with menus. Plenty to choose from: cakes, pies, puddings, tarts, croissant, teas, chocolate and coffee. Spoilt for choice in fact, and all looking very tempting.

On our first visit, we had hot chocolate, a slice of chocolate cake and a slice of banoffee pie, while on the second visit we just had expressos.

Hot chocolate with marshmallows

The hot chocolate was good, though having had a really good one (several times) in the town of Canela (Rio Grande do Sul) this one

Chocolate cake

The cake was delicious, light yet tasty

Banoffee pie

Expresso, with a biscuit

There seems to be a regular tour of the region for those interested in Italian Immigrant history, and this cafe is on the path. Well worth visiting.

The veranda

 

Where

Rodovia SC 410, Km 18
88230000 Canelinha, Santa Catarina, Brazil

 

How to get there

Map - Canelinha SC

BR 101 northbound from Florianopolis (state capital of Santa Catarina), or southbound from Balneario Camboriu, to Tijucas, then SC410 towards Sao Joao Batista / Nova Trento.

The BR-101 Transcoastal Highway, also known as the Governador Mário Covas Highway, runs from Touros (Rio Grande do Norte) down the length of the Atlantic coast of Brazil to Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul) – a total of 3,000 miles. I drove the whole length in 4 days with only one speeding fine!