Carota – Carrot in Italy #2 – Tomato Carrot Soup

March 18th, 2010 / Comments 0

Although it has been sunny and warm, Saturday was a cold rainy day and the sea was white with rolling waves.

carrot tomato soup 02 Carota   Carrot in Italy #2   Tomato Carrot Soup

I got wet and cold on a short walk and wanted something to eat, something warm and comforting. Soup! I had carrots and tomatoes so I made tomato and carrot soup. Here’s how I did it: ... read more

Carota – Carrots in Italy # 1 – Carrot Mint Salad

March 17th, 2010 / Comments 0

When I was seven, I liked to eat carrots with vinegar. I would peel a carrot and dip it into a small glass of cider vinegar between each bite. When the carrot was gone, I drank the vinegar. I thought it was wonderful. My sister thought I was out of my mind.

ZPV carrots 01 c egbert Carota   Carrots in Italy # 1   Carrot Mint SaladMy interest in carrots may have been sparked by my desire to be able to read in the dark. I had learned from my mother that carrots were a rich source of carotene, also known as vitamin A, the vitamin that improves night vision. She was living in London, spending nights in the underground, during the Battle of Britain. One night, while waiting for the all-clear siren to sound, she was told that the common carrot would help the Allies win the war. This is the story that she often served with boiled carrots:  “In an attempt to mislead the Germans about their radar capabilities, the Royal Air Force circulated a story that British pilots were able to see in the dark because they ate enormous quantities of carrots. That is why many Britons, who anxious to improve their night vision because of the wartime blackouts, grew and ate so many carrots.”

I moved on from dipping carrots in vinegar to dipping carrots in hummus and blue cheese dressing and to using carrots in soups and stews. Carrots were a way to add a bit of taste and color but I didn’t consider them a vegetable with star power.

 Carota   Carrots in Italy # 1   Carrot Mint SaladBefore I came to Sicily, I thought of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, artichokes and mushrooms as Italian vegetables. Carrots were the wrong color for my red, white and green Italian palette. But, since my daily trips to the market, I have changed my mind. The carrots in the market are freshly pulled, sweet and crisp with attached greens that attest to their freshness. Carrots are no longer merely supporting players, edible utensils used to transport tasty bites from bowl to mouth. They shine as the primary ingredient in appetizers, soups and salads. I used carrots, honey and mint to make a salad that I served with baked salmon. Here’s how I did it:
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Mozzarella Torte – Cheese Maker in Sicily

March 9th, 2010 / comments 14

cb provolone 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in SicilyWhen I was shopping in the market on Friday, I bought a chunk of flavorful, slightly aged provolone at the stall that also sells fresh mozzarella, ricotta, cannoli, ricotta salata and other cheeses that I look forward to being introduced to. Gaetano, the man behind the counter with a scruffy beard and fairly good English, saw me looking at the cauldrons in the small, utilitarian workroom behind the counter.

He explained that most mornings, he and his father Andrea Borderi, the man with the blue silk tie, the sunny smile and the big knife, made ricotta and mozzarella.

I hesitated for less than a minute before I asked if I could watch the next time they made cheese. He frowned, shook his head and said “No,” and then with a smile he said, “Ma (but), you can come and work if you come at seven on lunedi.” I said yes, of course, I would come. A quick check in the Italian/English dictionary confirmed that I had a date for Monday morning at seven.

cb Andrea 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

I started the day by watching the sunrise over the sea. The colors would have inspired Maxfield Parish. Then, Charles and I had to hurry across the empty Piazza Duomo to the cheese shop. We were greeted with smiles, and with a sweep of his arm, Andre invited us into his kitchen. He quickly looped an apron over my head and tied it around my waist. Charles stepped back from the action, camera poised so as not to miss a shot. I washed my hands and was ready to work.

cb ricotta curd 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

My first task was to help with the caldron of ricotta. We used ladles to skim the warm curds into slotted, one liter, plastic containers that were then put on trays. When full, the trays were put into the refrigerator. When ricotta is sold, the slotted container is put into a double plastic bag and the whey continues to drain from the curd making it thicker each day until it has all been eaten.

The curds for the mozzarella had been started before we arrived. Whole milk and rennet had been mixed in a huge stainless steel pot and then heated slowly until it reached 32 degrees centigrade or 88 degrees Fahrenheit. It took about 15 minutes for the curd to form. The curd was in a bucket, a dense mass covered with whey. It was large as a watermelon with texture similar to raw liver. Andrea handed me a knife with a blade that was at least two feet long. To cut the curd, I held the knife with its blunt tip resting on bottom of the pail and pulled the blade through the curd again and again. When it had been to cut it into irregular pieces that were about the size of walnuts, it was drained and put into a large basin.

cb curd 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

Andrea asked me to knead ottocento (800) grams of sea salt into it.

cb curd kneading 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

When he decided that it had been sufficiently kneaded, the curds were rinsed with  water until his taste test determined that enough salt had been washed away.

cb curd rinsing 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

The next step involved stretching and shaping. The curd was covered with very, hot water and I was given a three-foot long wooden tool. I mistakenly thought that what looked like the handle was a handle.

cb curd testing 02 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in SicilyAfter Andrea turned it around, he placed my hands on it, put is hands over mine and together we stretched and squeeze the curd until “Ecco!” The curd had become stringy, tender, fresh mozzarella.

With amazing speed and skill Andrea stretched, cut and braided cheese to form ten braided loaves called treccia. It would be smoked later that morning and offered for sale as affumicata the following day.

cb curd shaping 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

Then he pulled a coconut-sized piece of cheese from the mass still in the basin and indicated that I should flatten it into a disc as thin as I could manage. My memory of Lucy and Ethel trying to twirl pizza dough in the air provided the restraint that kept me from trying to do the same thing with this piece of cheese.

cb curd stretching 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

I patted, poked and pulled it until Andrea indicated with a quick nod that it was a good size.

I followed him and the cheese to the large cutting board where he handed me two tomatoes, a handful of mixed olives, a few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley and a knife longer than my arm. He covered the cheese disc with two thin slices of ham, used signs and smiles to indicate that I should cut the tomatoes, seed and chop the olives, chop the parsley and put it all on top of the ham.

cb curd filling 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

When I had finished, he splashed it with olive oil, and it took four hands, his and mine, to lift the cheese and its toppings onto a large piece of foil. The last step was for me to tightly roll the cheese into a cylinder with the ham and vegetables inside. That done, he put the cheese roll in a bag and gave it to me.

cb mozzarella roll 08 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

I shared it and the story of its creation with two new friends who came to our first dinner party in Sicily.

If you would like to recreate the tastes without the travel you could make a mozzarella torte by layering the freshest mozzarella you can find, with the tastiest bits of vegetable and/or cured meat you can imagine, in a straight-sided bowl. Covered, weighed down and chilled it will be perfect served with a smile and a toast to Andrea, THE premier cheese artisan of Siracusa.

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Market Patchwork – Ortigia – Siracusa – Sicilia

March 6th, 2010 / Comments 1

I wanted to share this market patch work.

market patchwork 4x Market Patchwork   Ortigia   Siracusa   Sicilia

A feast for your eyes with love from me to you.

Carol

Ricotta Burger a REAL Cheese Burger

March 4th, 2010 / comments 8

Beef, chicken and pork seem to have disappeared from my pantry. The market in Sicily is filled with fish, fruit, vegetables and cheese. There are stores that are more similar to American grocery stores where virtually everything is wrapped in plastic including cuts of beef, pork and chiken; but, none of it appeals to me.

cow mucca c egbert  Ricotta Burger a REAL Cheese Burger

The only role an animal has in my diet is to provide milk that is the decorative element that tops  my cappuccino.

cappuchino 02 Ricotta Burger a REAL Cheese Burger

Or the liquid that is magically transformed into an extraordinary variety of fresh and aged cheeses.

ricotta patty 021 Ricotta Burger a REAL Cheese Burger

I remembered hearing about using ricotta to make a cheese burger and so decided to give it a try.  It was quite simple to do. I put the usual burger toppers, lettuce and tomato, under it  added a few olives, and skipped the sesame seed roll and mayo.  Here’s how I did it: … read more

Swordfish – Ortigia Market Dinner

March 2nd, 2010 / comments 14

veg patchwork 0rtigia 01 Swordfish   Ortigia Market Dinner Most mornings I walk to the open-air market with no idea of what I will buy. The fresh vegetable stalls are piled high with white and purple cauliflower, broccoli, plum tomatoes still attached to vines, fluted heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, fennel, potatoes, carrots, onions and eggplant all carefully arranged to form a patchwork of colors.

There are leafy greens that I can’t identify near the familiar bunches of parsley, mint and basil. I bought a few small potatoes, one zucchini, and bunches of parsley and mint from the vendor who waited patiently as I figured out the correct combination of coins to pay him.

oranges ortigia Swordfish   Ortigia Market Dinner

The fruit stalls are filled with citrus – blood oranges, mandarins, ordinary lemons and two-fisted, lumpy Sicilian lemons. One stall had five small containers of wild strawberries. They were three times as expensive as the more familiar cultivated ones but I couldn’t resist the extravagance.

The fish section of the market is the most lively.

fish vendor sicily 041 Swordfish   Ortigia Market Dinner

The loud calls of men selling fish and seafood fill the air with promises and banter that I don’t understand.

fish vendor 02 sicily1 Swordfish   Ortigia Market Dinner

The metal tables are filled with squid, cuttlefish, three kinds of shrimp, cockles, mussels, sea urchin, octopus, fish filets, mustard-yellow dotted eels, small pink fish, and silver striped black striped fish. A large piece of fish ready to be sliced into steaks sat beside the up-ended head of the swordfish it came from. I decided on swordfish for dinner because it would be the simplest to cook. I used my fingers to indicate that I wanted a one-inch thick steak. I’ll deal with boning, skinning, filleting and cleaning the less familiar fish another day.

The vendors who sell ripe and green, brine and oil cured olives, also sell heads of garlic, and capers and anchovies preserved in salt.

tomato paste ortigia Swordfish   Ortigia Market Dinner

A spatula that looks like a putty knife sat on a large platter next to a mound of tomato paste made from sun dried tomatoes. I bought an herb blend marked Herba Tipico Siciliano and a small quantity of salted capers to experiment with.

The smoky smell of peppers and onions roasting on a small charcoal grill at the end of the lane perfumed the air. This was the only stall where a woman was working. Her husband was in charge of roasting and negotiating sales and her role was limited to wrapping a pepper after I had paid for it.

The cheese man tempts every passer-by with a sample. He reaches across the cheese case to offer samples of smoked mozzarella or provolone on the tip of his huge knife. When I pointed at the creamy cheese studded with red peppers, he used that same knife to create an instant sandwich with the cheese, bits of sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil and a crust of ciabatta bread. His smile was at least as sweet as the cannoli I bought from him for our dessert.

chocolate vendor ortigia Swordfish   Ortigia Market Dinner

My heavy market bag made it easy to resist stopping at the stalls with almonds and walnuts, blocks of almond paste, dates, dried fruit and chocolate bars from Modica that are seasoned with black pepper, ginger, orange or chili. I considered menu possibilities as I walked home until I was distracted by a young girl trying to perfect her skating technique in the Piazza Doumo. By the time I finished unpacking the groceries, I had decided to marinate the swordfish and then bake it. Parsley would flavor a mixture of vegetables, and the wild strawberries would top the already perfect canolli. Dinner was meraviglioso! Here’s how I did it: … read more

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