- Arancine - Sicilian Rice Balls with Saffron and Mozzarella — Meike Peters | eat in my kitchen
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Arancine - Sicilian Rice Balls with Saffron and Mozzarella — Meike Peters | eat in my kitchen
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But today was special. I lucked into this encounter through a super cool organization called Traveling Spoon , which curates food experiences for travelers all over the world. My job was to find out.sparapsalo.ml
The few tourists who make it to this area primarily come for the beaches, superb strands of golden sand on the crystalline Ionian Sea, and just a 20 minute drive from nearby Agrigento, which surrounds the Valley of the Temples, a major Greek ruin. But the little village that hangs on the hill above the beach is charming, unaffected by tourism or even the modern world. Eleonora was born to Sicilian parents, but in Montreal, so she was raised speaking Sicilian a distinct dialect of Italian , as well as Italian, English, and French.
And later picked up Spanish.
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And for a typical Sicilian, food is at the very center of life. While he learned some techniques from his Nonna grandmother and Mama, he really honed his cooking skills while living in Rome in a home with other guys from all over Italy. Fist fights are common when this subject comes up. And it comes up often.
They welcomed me, my partner Christian, and mother-in-law Vitoria into their home yesterday to prepare and serve a traditional Sunday lunch, when Sicilians spend several lazy hours cooking, eating, drinking, resting, cooking, eating, drinking, resting, and repeating that several more times. They welcomed us with a sweetened almond milk from nearby Agrigento, scented with a fresh mint leaf. Swordfish is the most commonly eaten fish in Sicily, due to an abundance of these fish in the waters around the island.
Needless to say, it was all supremely good. I fell in love with caponata upon my first bite over a decade ago here in Sicily, and it was the dish that changed my mind about eggplant.
The most basic forms are a mixture of salted eggplant seared in olive oil, mixed with tomato, onion, vinegar and sugar, but most also have garlic, olives, capers, and basil. And while recipes count, to a certain extent, the quality of the ingredient will always be the most important factor in the perfection of any dish.
The older folks remember drinking it out of tiny glass bottles as kids. Now they mix it with wine on hot summer days and think of their youth. It was yummy…not as sweet as our sodas in the US, and indescribable in flavor. A little tart, a little sweet, with a certain depth.
Then it was time for a break. That was a meal, in and of itself, for me. This is an extremely common dish in Sicily, a pesto that uses finely ground pistachios, salt, pepper, olive oil, and water, blended into a very fine paste. This gets extended with bits of anchovy only enough to add saltiness and complexity , fresh tomato, some pasta water, and fresh basil.
He likes this shape because it is a little smaller than rigatoni, smooth on both sides, and lets the sauce roll inside easily. He did not salt the water before adding the pasta. He brought the water bath to a boil, then he added the pasta, and waited about 1 minute. Then he added salt…not fine salt, but a handful of coarse granules of sea salt from nearby Marsala which has been producing salt since at least BC.
I do enjoy al dente pasta, but the pasta here is served just a hair past the crunchy side! Then the cherry tomatoes also from his farm with some water, cooked until the tomatoes were soft. Then the pesto went in, thinned with a bit of pasta water. No additional salt beyond what was in the pesto and what was in the pasta water. No additional cheese garnish, just some finely ground pistachio and fresh basil.
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The dish was transcendent. Vitoria is a fierce critic of this kind of pasta, as it is her favorite. And she has clearly-established favorite restaurants around Sicily for making this dish. I happened to be served a helping that was about twice the size of everyone elses, and about halfway through I slowed down.
They served the dish with a lovely, dry white wine from their favorite winery near Marsala. Normally, Sicilians serve wine in great abundance, so wine here is sold by the jug or box, both at wineries and at stores. There is NO shame in picking up a 4-liter jug of wine, because a jug of wine in Sicily is vastly different from a box of Franzia in the US. The wine here is of truly exceptional quality. Sicilians rarely buy wine by the bottle.
You take a small piece of bread never a full piece and wipe up all the leftover sauce on the plate. It could be that, in the post-war days, when food was scarce and hunger was the norm, people often thought of eating the soles of their shoes… made from tanned cow hides, so basically meat …and thus they never wasted a single bit of food. But Fabrizia proudly brought out a nifty little gadget that turned ropes of the challenging pasta dough into perfectly formed cavatelli with a few turns of the handle. Even pasta-phobic me was quickly cranking them out.
Fabrizia had already prepared the sauce before we arrived. Fabrizia, seeing my surprise, smiled and said one word: Salvia.
It was sage pesto! What a daring, and completely brilliant idea. How do other people do things? Rather than just dump the load of pesto on top of the pasta and then mix it all up, she carefully spooned some sauce into a large, wide serving platter, adding a bit of pasta cooking water to loosen it up. Alternating pesto ,pasta and water, and only gently stirring it every so often, she made sure each little curly cue of pasta was perfectly dressed, yet not bruised or mangled.
If Fabrizia can do it, while looking all elegant and never breaking into a sweat, then you can do. Especially if you go online and order one of these nifty cavatelli makers. Fabrizia used a special whole wheat hard durum stone ground, flour from Molini del Ponte.