Saturday, February 06, 2010

il couscous alla Trapanese

Gabriella's mother-in-law is in town for a few weeks from Trapani. I was thrilled when they invited me over to make couscous, as her mother-in-law brought semolina from Sicily. I jumped at the chance to see how it was made.  I have only eaten the pre-cooked version, never the traditional couscous.  (Semolina for couscous is a coarsely ground durum wheat, difficult to find here in Genova.)
"The couscous that is served today in the homes and the restaurants of the Trapani area has evolved in its own particular fashion. In the first place, it is almost always served with fish, as opposed to the meat or vegetable versions characteristic of the Maghreb, and the rituals of preparation differ as well.

The proper Trapanese housewife disdains the precooked variety for the unprocessed, and sets great store by her ability to execute the 'ncocciata: swirling the rough-ground semolina grains around with one hand in a wide ceramic basin called a mafaradda, she uses the other hand to sprinkle it with just enough water so the individual grains gather into loose but not lumpy clusters." -Mary Taylor Simeti, New Your Times

For every handful of semolina, one spoon of salted water is added.

The couscous is set out onto a cloth to dry.

A pesto of garlic,parsley, blanched almonds, salt, and oil is added to the fish broth as it simmers.  It is essential for an authentic couscous. 
Then a mixture of ground garlic and onion (half onion and 4 garlic cloves) is mixed into the couscous that is now seasoned with a little olive oil, bay leaves, salt and pepper. (We also added shrimp.)  Completely mixed, it is placed into an aluminum couscoussiera, a double boiler in which the tight-fitting upper pot is perforated like a colander. Some people still seals the two layers of the couscoussiera with a flour-and-water paste so the steam will not escape. The couscous is then steamed over water for two hours. Once vapors begin to pass through the couscous, cooking has begun.  Stir from time to time...
Once cooked, the couscous is turned out into a large bowl, and the fish broth is ladled over it. (Making sure  use a strainer to strain out the fish bones.) The bowl is then wrapped in blankets and left to stand for half an hour, while the grains absorb the broth.

Check out another family from Trapani and see how they make il couscous alla Trapanese on YOUTUBE.

SugoFry an onion in a large pot with olive oil.  Once tender, add tomato sauce, simmer and season to taste. Once sauce is "ready to serve with pasta" add a liter of water and salt.  Simmer and bring back to a boil.  Add the pesto of garlic, parsley, blanched almonds, salt, and oil. Simmer and bring back to a boil. At this time, add the fish, the smaller the better. These little fish will boil away into the broth.  Later you will add the larger fish that can be served as a second.

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