Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Easter Monday, also known as Little Easter (Pasquetta) is an official Italian holiday that is often spent enjoying the fresh Spring weather with family and friends in picnics at "una campagna", in the country. Yesterday, after ten in the morning, we were off to the store to pick up the necessary ingredients for a feast at Luca's house by the sea in Giardini Naxos. Imagine the confusion... Cars everywhere, traffic lined up for miles, and people standing in the street outside the town butcher. People from all over literally travel to our town to buy meat at Macelleria Fratelli Cerra. I've met people from all over Sicily, while waiting for my number to be called...

The girls preparing the meal in the kitchen... Vita, Maria, and myself.

The boys, Salvo, Antonello, and Luca...
Sitting down to enjoy my Cuddura.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The tradition of the "Cuddura cu l'ova"

Buona Pasqua! history behind the cuddura
Right about now, every child in Italy probably has a room full of chocolate eggs that were giving to them as an Easter gift. Wrapped in a colorful presentation, usually with their favorite cartoon character, and filled with a little surprise. The temptation to join this ritual it overwhelming as we know they are considered expected. But, this year we wanted to come back to what is becoming the lost tradition of the Cuddura.

The Cuddura can be traced back to Ancient Greece, when the Greeks colonized Sicily over 2500 years ago. The Greeks would offer something similar to their Gods calling it a Coulloura. Christianity then spread with time through Sicily and this offering was then adapted into the Easter celebrations, becoming a gift during the festival of Easter. The cuddura has an odd-numbered amount of hard-boiled eggs decorating the confection, each crossed with strips of dough. Forms include a bell tower to ring the bells of Christ Risen, a basket to wish for abundance, a chicken (or dove) for boys, and a doll for girls. For engaged couples, a young woman presents her betrothed with a cuddura in the shape of a heart and in turn, he returns the favor with one in the shape of a little ring.

The memories that awakened when each child opened their wrapped Cuddura were priceless... I heard about stories from long ago, when great-grandmothers made these Cuddure after making the bread for Easter, in their wood ovens. Need I mention that these were the days before colored sprinkles? The Cuddura was a gift for all ages and one I hope to continue in my family.

Elisa enjoying her bambola, little doll...

Mario and his Cuddura...

Cuddure500g flour
150g sugar
100g butter
10g ammoniaca (2 teaspoons baking powder)
150ml of milk at room temperature
skin of one orange
2 eggs
8 hard boiled egg

In a bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, butter, milk, orange, and fresh eggs.
Mix well and then add the ammoniaca. Fold into a dough, then on a lightly floured surface, knead gently for a few minutes until pliable. Roll dough till about 1cm thick, cut out forms, and place on a cookie sheet lined with baking parchment. Place a hard boiled egg on each form, cross with two strips of dough, and brush with beaten egg. Finally, decorate with sprinkles and bake in the oven at 200° per 20-25 minutes.

Buon Compleanno Antonello

Yesterday was Antonello's Birthday! We invited friends over to share a dinner together and on the menu we served carciofi e ricotta tortellini, and for the second dentice in crosta di sale. (Artichoke and ricotta tortellini, and local Snapper cooked in a salt crust)

Carciofi e Ricotta Tortellini

Clean all the exterior leaves off.

Trim off the top, cut into quarters, and drop into a pot of water with lemon.

At this point, boil the artichokes in lightly salted water till they are tender.
Using an immersion blender, blend the artichokes till a creamy consistency. We then added ricotta at this point to fill our tortellini.

This time, when making the pasta, we used our pasta machine. We were able to make a large assembly line to fill and form our tortellini.

We served the tortellini with a sage butter sauce. A light taste, so not to cover the delicate artichokes.

With a hammering technique, Antonello cracked open the salt shield. Inside, we were treated with a delicacy...

Auguri Amore Mio!

Luca and Maria

dentice crosta di sale1 dentice around 1,5 Kg
2 Kg of large grain salt

Once the fish has been cleaned, place a few sprigs of parsley inside the fish. Line a baking tray with paper and cover with a layer of salt. Place the fish on top of the salt and carefully cover the fish with the remaining salt. Water and the use of egg whites can help with the salt application. Place it in the oven for about an hour and 15 min at 180 ° (250°). When the fish is cooked, break open the shell and serve with an extra virgin olive oil mixture. Olive oil, lemon, parsley, garlic, and salt.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


It is a tradition to indulge on this Sicilian pastry, known as Zeppole, on La Festa di San Giuseppe (Saint Joseph's Day). The zeppole di riso or zeppole di San Giuseppe is a typical Sicilian sweet for Father’s Day, made of rise and honey. You may notice that this recipe varies from region to region within Italy. Here, this crispy, honeyed crust, envelops a soft, sweet, warm, goodness.

The recipe may be the same in every pastry shop, but we are sure that the best Zeppole on the Eastern Sicilian Coast, (Maybe in the world!) are the ones made in the little town of Piedimonte
Etneo at Caffe' Cali'. The ones above were freshly made today for the Festa, by this pasty shop.
Sicilian Bakery

In Sicily, thanks are given to San Giuseppe for preventing a famine during the Middle Ages. According to legend, there was a severe drought at the time, and the people prayed for their patron saint to bring them rain. They promised that if he answered their prayers, they would prepare a large feast to honor him. The rain did come, and the people of Sicily prepared a large banquet for their patron saint. The fava bean was the crop, which saved the population from starvation, and is a traditional meal for the day.

rice gr. 150
Milk 1/2 l.
Beer yeast gr. 10
Three tbsp flour
grated orange peel of one orange
pinch of salt
tbsp of sugar
oil for frying
honey (miele di zagara is recommended, that is honey from the orange blossoms.)

Preparation: Cook the rice in the milk with a little salt. The rice will be cooked when it is creamy. Place the rice in a large bowl and leave to cool. Empty the yeast in a small amount of luke warm water and mix it into the rice. Next, add the flour, sugar, and leave it to rise for at least two hours... Bring a pan of oil to a boil. With the help of a spoon, form the paste into little rolls and set aside. Once the oil is boiling, drop the rice directly into the oil.
Once cooked, place the Zeppole in a large bowl, and cover with honey and orange peel.

Happy Italian Father's Day Daddy...

Piedimonte Etneo, Catania, Sicily, Small sicilian town near Mt. Etna, Piedimonte Etneo (Sicily, Italy). Cittá di Piedimonte Etneo. Last modified: 2004-12-22 by dov gutterman ... Piedimonte Etneo is in Catania province, Sicily. ...sicilian pastries, sicilian dolci,

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Last night for dinner, I prepared the artichokes that I bought from the street market. The artichoke possesses many properties, including antioxidant effects, GI soothing qualities, cholesterol-lowering effects, and helps prevent damage to the liver. Who knew that this little green sphere could do so much good?

Every part is eaten. The artichokes were fresh and sold with the stems, so I cleaned and cut each stem to boil with the artichokes.

I sprinkled a mixture of bread crumbs, parmigiano reggiano, and garlic, making sure to reach each layer.

A small amount of salted water was added to a large pan and then I placed the stuffed artichoke inside.

In the meantime, I prepared some of the smaller artichokes without stuffing. I like to save the hearts and freeze them to make a pasta dish for another day.
It is perfectly OK to pluck and eat artichoke leaves with your fingers. I realize many already know, but to eat the leaves, pull off a leaf by grabbing the pointed end. The wider end has a thin layer of edible flesh, so scrape off the flesh and stuffing with your teeth. Repeat with each remaining leaf. The leaves contain bitter principles that are used in the preparation of aperitif liqueurs. This is considered a digestive aid. The edible portion of the leaf becomes larger as you get closer to the center of the artichoke, where the leaves will become almost white with purple tips just before you get to the very center. Soon you will reach the fuzzy choke; the part that many say is the inedible center portion, guarding the heart of the artichoke. If it is soft enough, there is no problem in eating it.

The heart of the artichoke (considered the best part) is then your reward. The flower contains a sweetener that enhances flavor perception, so whatever you happen to eat afterwards, you are sure to enjoy!

Friday, March 14, 2008

pasta con calamari e mascolini beccafico

Justina and I had plans to head over to the Linguaglossa street market this morning, and there we ran into Bastiano and Irene. Thanks for the picture!
I bought artichokes, flowers, and my favorite toasted almonds... On our way home, we stopped in Linguaglossa's fish market, and it was a treat. I decided on calamari and mascolini for lunch. It is, after all, Friday... (Mascolini in Sicilian, Anchovies in English, and Alici or Acciughe in Italian.)

The man at the fish market insisted on cleaning the calamari for me, so I don't have a before picture. He cleaned out the inside, scraped off the thin outer skin, and cut into pieces.

Here, I sauteed the calamari in olive oil, garlic, and red pepper. Parsley and cherry tomatoes were then added to the pan. White wine would also be a nice addition, but I didn't have any today.

Then, the not quite al dente pasta was added to the pans liquid, where it would finish cooking.

A little sweet a little spicy... Yum.

With the mascolini I thought about making a "type" of beccafico. A very simple combination of bread crumbs, Parmigiano Reggiano, and parsley. After removing the spine, I layered the fish with the breading, and cooked on low heat. You can see other ideas with mascolini here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ricotta Fresca

For me, there is nothing better than fresh ricotta, the original sheep’s milk ricotta. During the spring season, sheep graze on fresh young grass and herbs, which import a delicate flavor to the ricotta.

Often times misrepresented, ricotta is actually not a cheese but a creamy curd. Shepherds utilize whey, a limpid, low-fat, nutritious liquid that is a by-product of cheese production. This leftover hot whey has milk solids and proteins that solidifies under high heat. When the whey is reheated, the solid parts fuse, create a curd, and are skimmed off. This curd, after drainage, is ricotta. Ricotta is known as a lean dairy product and contains very little fat, less than 5%, and very noble proteins; lactoalbumin and lactoglobulin.

The curd is literally cooked twice, re-cooked like its name.
Every week a Shepherd stops by our house to deliver his artisanal creations. His ricotta just happens to be my favorite. I think I see a Torta di Ricotta in the future…

Our plate of ricotta sitting next to my festa della donna mimosa flower arrangement, that was delivered on Saturday....

Che Bella Giornata!

Today we have over 22°C (72°F) outside! It's beautiful...

View of Mt.Etna from our upstairs terrace...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

We are Back!

Our three weeks have come to an end and now we are unpacked and getting back to our daily activities. We had a great time visiting family and friends in Massachusetts and in Virginia! Now, I am going through all the pictures and I hope to add some soon.

Cooking with Mario

I had a visitor yesterday! Around six o'clock, Antonello called me to say that Mario wanted to come over and spend some time with me. So, once he arrived, I thought it would be a good idea to bake some cookies. We made some crunchy honey treats! (MariaElena)

Mario measuring out everything...

He told me that he was strong and he could do the hard work for me... Wasn't I lucky!
Patiently waiting for them to cook.
After all that work you need to take a rest...

"Buonissimo, Zia Jilli"