Tag Archives: Olives

Caponata (Eggplant Stew)

20 Aug

Caponata is a delicious dish, typical of the Sicilian cuisine made with sautéed vegetables (mostly eggplants) and seasoned with sweet and sour sauce.  Sicilians are very proud of it because it is made only native Sicilian ingredients. It can be served cold either as an appetizer or as a side dish, but you can also enjoy it as a main course with a thick slice of homemade bread. It makes a perfect dish for a summer picnic because it can be prepared in advance and stored in the refrigerator.  Actually, it is a handy dish to have ready in your fridge for unexpected guests or nights when you don’t know what to prepare. Like for all recipes, there is a basic recipe and many variations. I learned this recipe which contains peppers from a dear friend from Palermo (Sicily). The origin of this dish is uncertain -: The etymology refers to the Spanish language “caponata” which means “similar”.  According to the Sicilian tradition, the term caponata comes from “capone” which is the name of an expensive fish, served with a sweet and sour sauce, typical of caponata.  Poor people could not afford this expensive fish, therefore they replaced it with the cheapest eggplants.  According to other sources, the name derives from “caupone“, the name of the taverns, in which this dish was served. Regardless this recipe’s origins, the fact is that it is really tasty, definitely something to try!


CAPONATA (EGGPLANT STEW)
Preparation time: 2 ½ hours   Cooking time: 30 minutes    Servings: 8

Caponata (2)


INGREDIENTS
900 g (2 pounds) eggplant
2 medium onions, finely chopped
450 g (1 pound) celery, finely chopped
110 g (⅔ cup) pine nuts
150 g (1 cup) green olives
3 tablespoons cucunci capers (preserved in salt)
450 g (1 pound) peppers
450 g (1 pound) tomatoes S. Marzano, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
110 ml (½ cup) white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
5-6 leaves of fresh basil
Extra Virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS
1. Cut eggplants into pieces about 2,5 cm (1 inch) long, put them in a large colander and sprinkle with coarse salt. Allow to stand for at least two hours under a weight to remove their bitter liquid. To aid the removal of the liquid, try putting the colander in a slightly inclined position. After two hours, remove salt from the eggplant with a kitchen brush and dry by patting them with paper towels. Fry in hot oil olive. Set aside
2. In a pan with high sides, sauté onions, celery, peppers, capers, olives and pine nuts in olive oil for about 7-8 min. Add tomatoes. Cook for about 10 minutes over low heat until celery is tender
3. Add eggplants, basil leaves and sugar dissolved in vinegar. Mix well and cook over medium-low heat for about 5-6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper
4. Let set for a few hours serve at room temperature.

Note: The caponata can be stored in the refrigerator for several days in a glass or ceramic container closed with a lid. Before consuming, leave it at room temperature.  -Paola

 

 

 

 

Insalata di Finocchi e Arance Rosse (Fennel and Blood Orange salad)

2 Mar

This year’s citrus season is almost over, but we still have time to enjoy this delicious Sicilian salad made with fennel bulb, blood orange and olives. This is a simple and refreshing dish, perfect to serve either for a light lunch or as a side dish with dinner. The sweet and beautifully colored blood oranges complement the delicate anise taste of fennel, while the addition of olives makes this recipe a symphony of flavors for your palate. The brilliant red flesh color of Sicilian blood oranges is due to an antioxidant compound which – although found in many fruits but uncommon to citrus fruit – makes this citrus very special! Fennel is indigenous to the Mediterranean area, but it is now widely cultivated in many other parts of world as well. The fennel bulb, foliage and the seed are used in various culinary traditions and medicinal purposes. Fennel is very refreshing, purifying and diuretic. The bulb is a crisp vegetable that can be used in many ways: sautéed, braised, grilled, stewed, au gratin or just eaten raw in salads, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. This salad is not only very beautiful, but it is also delightful and healthy. It is rich in vitamin C, antioxidants and nutrients, and it helps keep you healthy too!

INSALATA DI FINOCCHI E ARANCE ROSSE (FENNEL AND BLOOD ORANGE SALAD)
Preparation time: 15 minutes                   Servings: 4

insalata di finocchi small

INGREDIENTS
Salad
2 medium fennel bulbs, thinly shaved with a mandolin or meat slicer
2 blood oranges, peeled
12 green olives or black (pitted and sliced) + 4 whole pitted

Dressing
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
1. Soak the unpeeled oranges in boiling water for about 5 minutes. This method facilitates removal of the white membrane when peeling
2. Using a sharp knife peel the oranges and remove membrane. Cut them into the shape you prefer. I like one in small pieces and the other one in slices
3. Coarsely slice the olives
4. Wash the fennel bulbs, slice off the stalk and any fronds, and thinly slice
5. In a large bowl combine the orange pieces, the fennel and the sliced olives. Toss with the dressing
6. Arrange the sliced orange on a serving plate. Place the salad mix in the middle and decorate with the whole olives. Serve immediately.

Note: When you purchase your vegetables choose fresh fennel; it is even better if you use male fennel without sprouts. Oranges should be firm and plump, and feel free to use either green or black olives, whichever you prefer. Fennel turns brown (oxidizes) quickly, so as soon as you slice it, quickly add the dressing to it. The presence of lemon juice will slow down the process. -Paola

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (Spaghetti Puttanesca)

26 Feb

Spaghetti puttanesca is a tasty and piquant dish. It is one of the more popular recipes of Italian cuisine, originally from Lazio and Campania but now spread all over the world. This recipe, fast and simple, is prepared with fresh tomatoes, garlic, olives, anchovies, capers and red chili pepper. The moderate amount of anchovies gives a slight fishy taste to this recipe without overpowering the distinct flavor of the other ingredients. The term puttanesca comes from a legend in which the “brothels” served this appetizing and aphrodisiac dish to attract customers. In fact, you may already know of the stimulating, vasodilator and aphrodisiac properties of red chili pepper (Capsicum annum). In addition to these effects, this spice has other healthy benefits: it is an antibacterial and antifungal agent, it is rich in vitamins C and E, it helps digestion, and it is a strong antioxidant. This plant is indigenous to America and was used by the natives there in ancient times (5500 BC) in several dishes. In Europe, the red chili was brought back by Christopher Columbus and it is now one of the main spices of the Mediterranean cuisine. It is used especially in Italy’s southern regions to prepare various recipes, adding flavor and spiciness to many dishes. In fact, the name Capsicum, seems to come from the Greek word “kapto“, to bite, referring to one biting his tongue because the strong taste.

SPAGHETTI ALLA PUTTANESCA (SPAGHETTI PUTTANESCA)
Preparation time: 20 minutes           Cooking time: 10 minutes            Servings: 4

Spaghetti Puttanesca

INGREDIENTS
340 g (12 oz) spaghetti (artisanal pasta)
600 g (21 oz) ripe tomatoes, S. Marzano or Roma (peeled and diced)
75 ml (5 tbsp) olive oil (Extra Virgin)
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
110 g (¾ cup) black olives or green olives (pitted and sliced)
3 tablespoons Taggiasche olives
3 tablespoons capers (preserved in salt)
8 anchovy fillets (preserved in salt, coarsely chopped)
1-2 dried red chili pepper (finely chopped)
1 tablespoon parsley (finely chopped)

DIRECTIONS
1. Blanche the tomatoes in boiling water, peel and cut into cubes
2. Rinse capers and anchovies under running water. Pat dry with paper. Cut anchovies coarsely
3. Cut black olives into slices
4. In a saucepan, bring 3 liters of salt water to boil
5. In a non-stick skillet on medium-low heat sautè with olive oil garlic, olives, capers and anchovies. Add the tomatoes and red chili pepper, and cook over medium heat for approx. 15 minutes. Add the parsley
6. In the meantime, while the sauce is cooking, boil the spaghetti for approx. 10 minutes (according to the instructions on the package). Drain the spaghetti and pour into the pan with the sauce, heating all together for a few seconds, then serve. If you prefer you can also add the sauce separately to individual plates of spaghetti.

Note: The traditional recipe calls for black olives from Gaeta but I prefer to replace them with green olives and Ligurian Taggiasche olives that have a sweet and delicate flavor. You can choose the type of olives that better suites your taste. The Neapolitan recipe omits anchovies. In addition you can substitute to regular olive oil with olive oil infused with hot chili pepper. This makes your dish even hotter!!! -Paola

Focaccia

29 Jan

Focaccia (pronunced foe-CA-cha) is a soft, flat oven-baked Italian bread, so popular that most people could very well have had their first taste of it in an Italian bakery or restaurant somewhere other than on Italian soil.  It is made of simple ingredients such as flour, yeast, water, olive oil and salt.  It is seasoned with olive oil and herbs and is often topped with different vegetables (tomatoes, onions, potatoes, eggplants, zucchini or whatever else you like), cheese or meat.  It’s something enjoyable any time of the day as an appetizer, a sandwich bread, with a meal instead of traditional bread, or even “come rompi digiuno” – as a snack (this is a common kids’ snack to take to school; they love it!!!).  Focaccia traces its origins to the ancient Roman pan focacious, a flat bread baked on the hearth.  In Latin, in fact, focus means hearth, a place for baking.  Nowadays focaccia is widely spread all over the country, and it seems that each region has its own focaccia recipe.  The most common and wide-spread ones are focaccia Ligure (from Ligury) and focaccia Pugliese (from the region of Puglia).  Focaccia Genovese from the city of Genoa is very simple, prepared with only salt and oil olive on top, but the flavorful and fruity olive oil from this region adds a unique taste to the bread dough and makes this ancient food one of the most appreciated snacks.  The Genovesi (people from Genoa) are very proud of their focaccia, and they even enjoy it for breakfast soaked in cappuccino or latte macchiato.  Not too far away, focaccia di Recco (near Genoa) is richer version with a cheese filling between two thin layers of dough, making it a nice choice for a light lunch.  Focaccia Pugliese is usually prepared with vegetables on top such as fresh tomatoes and olives, finely sliced potatoes or other vegetables such as onions.  You might have also tried Focaccia dolce (sweet focaccia), popular in some Northern regions, made simply from regular sweet focaccia dough sprinkled with sugar, raisins, honey and almonds. 

Preparation time: 2 ½ hours                                  Baking time: 15 minutes                Servings: 6-8 

Focaccia con olive 1 small

INGREDIENTS
Basic recipe
500 g (3 cups) high-gluten flour (Manitoba)
350 ml water (1 cups + 5 tablespoons) at 45°C, 110 °F
130 ml (9 tablespoons) olive oil (Extra Virgin)
10 g (2 teaspoons) salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 package (7 g ;1 heaping teaspoon) dried yeast or 1 cube (25 g; about 1 ounce) fresh yeast
Coarse salt

Topping
Focaccia with rosemary/oregano
The leaves only from 2 fresh rosemary sprigs or 2 tablespoon dried oregano

Focaccia with olives
150 g (1 cups) green olives

DIRECTIONS
1. In a small pitcher dissolve salt in warm water, then add 40 ml (3 tablespoons) olive oil.  Mix well then dissolve sugar in it.  Sugar is the so called “nourishment” for yeast  
2. Pour the liquid in a large glass bowl and combine with half of the flour.  Stir well until you have a smooth batter
3. Add yeast to the batter stirring well.  Remember never add yeast directly to salt because it will prevent the yeast from rising
4. Add the remaining flour to the batter.  Mix well until you have a smooth and even dough, but still a little bit sticky
5. Remove the dough from the bowl and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface; knead briefly for about 1-2 minutesDo not add too much flour otherwise the dough will get tough
6. Lightly oil (with about 3 tablespoons) a 25×35 cm (10×14 in.) baking sheet; place the dough in center of the pan and cover with a cotton towel.  Let rise in a warm, draft-free place (about 30°C, 86°F) for about 60-90 minutes until doubled in size
7. Preheat oven to 220 °C (425°F)
8. Pat the dough into the baking sheet, filling it completely.  Brush the dough with oil and sprinkle with some coarse salt.  Let it rise for about 30 minutes at 30°C until increases its volume
9. Press some deep holes into the dough with your finger tips, covering the entire surface
10. Drizzle with about 3 tablespoons oil olive (cover all areas of the dough) and wet the top with some water, using a spray-bottle, to keep focaccia soft.  Add your favorite topping
11.Bake for 15-20 minutes
12. Remove from oven and cool on a grid.

Note: You can add two tablespoons of semolina to the flour, this will makes the crust crunchier. The type of water is very important; the pH should be around 6.  I usually use bottled drinking water to avoid having too much chlorine in the dough. The rising temperature is critical too, therefore place the dough in a warm draft-free place and do not open the oven during baking.  Another important information is to never mix salt and yeast directly, because salt inhibits the action of the yeast.  Focaccia can keep for about two days wrapped in plastic wrap, but I suggest eating it fresh, just out of the oven, to fully enjoy its fragrance.  -Paola

Pollo alla Cacciatora (Hunter’s Chicken Stew)

14 Jan

In past centuries, peasants used the vegetables cultivated in their fields and the animals raised on their farms to prepare their meals.  Pollo alla cacciatora is one of these peasant recipes and seems to have originated in Tuscany.  Typically for Sunday dinner, chicken, a readily-available animal, was used to prepare a fine and festive feast.  The addition of fresh vegetables such as garlic, carrots, onion, celery, rosemary, tomatoes – as well as a good dose of wine – enhanced the flavor of the meat.  The name pollo alla cacciatora makes reference to the ingredients like garlic and rosemary, used by hunters (cacciatori) when cooking game.  Today we enjoy this delectable dish throughout the peninsula as a second course or else as main course accompanied by either mashed potatoes or polenta (for the polenta recipe, see Brasato con polenta).  I like this recipe because it is so versatile, and there are many adaptations of the classic recipe (please refer to the notes below for some suggestions).  I personally love to add the delicate flavor of Taggiasche olives to my Pollo alla cacciatora; with their fruity-sweet bouquet and delicate mellow taste, they blend very well with the vegetables and the wine.  These small dark-green olives are typically from Liguria (Western Riviera) and were originally planted and cultivated by the monks on their land overlooking the sea.  Travelling in different countries I have realized that this delicious Italian dish is also well-known and appreciated abroad (no doubt why!!!) and is commonly called Chicken Cacciatore!!!

POLLO ALLA CACCIATORA (HUNTER’S CHICKEN STEW)
Preparation time: 1 ½ hours                                   Servings: 4

pollo cac. 3 small

INGREDIENTS
1 kg (about 2¼ pounds) chicken, cut into pieces
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely sliced
1 medium onion, finely sliced
2 celery stalks, finely sliced
270 ml (1 cup) dry white wine
450 g (1 pound) canned tomatoes (S. Marzano)
200 g (1 cup) pitted Taggiasche olives in Extra Virgin olive oil
130 ml (½ cup) chicken stock (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
1. Clean, wash and dry the chicken
2. After heating the oil olive in a large non-stick skillet, fry the chicken on medium-high heat for about 10-15 minutes until the chicken pieces are golden brown on both sides
3. Add the rosemary and the vegetables.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Cook for 4-5 minutes.  Add the white wine and cook for additional 5 minutes
4. Add the tomatoes and the olives.  Cover and cook for about 20 minutes.  Remove the lid and cook for additional 20 minutes until chicken is tender, stirring occasionally.  If the liquid evaporates add some chicken stock
5. Add a little salt and/or pepper to taste if desired.  Remove the rosemary sprig and serve immediately.

Note: Here are some other ingredients you can use when preparing Pollo alla cacciatora:
1. Wine.  You can substitute white wine with red wine.  Although I prefer to cook chicken in white wine, some people use red wine because it adds a stronger taste to the meat. 
2. Olives.  You can substitute Taggiasche olives with either the pitted black or green olives that you like the most
3. Peperoncino. Cook the chicken with love, passion and add some fresh or dried peperoncino to spice it up a bit!
4. Mushrooms. You can add 200 g (about ½ pound) champignon mushrooms.  Finely slice the mushrooms and add them before the vegetables.  You can also use dried mushrooms instead of champignons.  Dried porcini mushrooms (about a handful) give a special and woodsy taste to this dish, too.  Before using dried mushrooms, soak them in hot – but not boiling – water for about twenty minutes; some (a few tablespoons) of the filtered water can also be used for cooking, to enhance the flavors of your recipe.  If you add mushrooms you have to use white wine and avoid olives. -Paola
 

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