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Thursday, 28 February 2008

The gutter in the guts...

The French may talk the most about sex and baking, but the Sicilians have the best renditions....
The bread called "coppiette" is made to resemble a couple involved in, shall we say, carnal knowledge. This is an apparent reference (we believe) to the ancient custom of a couple having sex in the wheat field in order to ensure its fertility.
There's a particular shaped pastry called "prucitanu", that seems to resemble a woman's genitals, which is often given by the wife to her husband at Christmas (the pastry that is). Conversely, she might give him the cream-filled phallus/biscuit called "viscotta di san martinu", named after the patron saint of the cuckolded husband.
The best tale relates to the "xuccarati", a hard circular pastry with a hole in the middle that well endowed grooms use to calm fearful brides. You put seven on your, ahem...penis and remove one for each night you're together. Other hot dishes draw inspirations from erogenous body part including the pistacchio-flavoured pastries, called "fedde" - they linguisitcally refer to, and physically resemble, buttocks!
The most common of these erotic mouthfuls is the "minni di virgini", or Virgin's breasts, a custard filled pastry shaped like a woman's breast and topped with an aroused cherry nipple. Also sold-sans niple-as genovesi. The story behind this delicious pastry, however is less than appetizing.: the pastry commemorated the martrydom of St. Agatha, who had her breasts cut off by Roman pagans for refusing to renounce Christ. This story, however, is thought to be simply a Christianiztion of of an ancient Egyptian rite in which priests carried about a golden breast-supposedly of Osiris-and poured milk libations for the devout.
Whether it is a phallus-shaped bisquit, sweet buttocks or a couple of breasts, we do not ask questions but simply enjoy the taste!

The following is based on the recipe created by the Monastery of the Virgins of Palermo, as described by writer June di Schino in her article, "The Waning of Sexually Allusive Monastic Confectionery in Southern Italy" in the book, "Disappearing Foods". Makes eight. Best enjoyed warm.

Minni di Virgini (Virgin's breasts)
Three cups of basic pastry dough.
½ cup Basic Pastry cream,
Candied pumpkin (succatta) or filling of your choice
Powdered Sugar and candied cherries cut in half.

Preheat oven to 425F (220C). Divide the dough into seven pieces and roll them into rectangles about 6x 4 x 1/4. Place two tablespoons of the filling made up of pastry cream on one half of the rectangle and sprinkled with chopped candied pumpkin and/or chocolate. Fold the other half over it. Seal it well and then cut out a circular shape about three inches round with a glass of pastry cutter. Put the halved candied cherry in the middle and bake for 6-8 minutes or until lightly browned. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and serve.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Blood Oranges - The Anti-Ageing Orange

Continuing our series on the health benefits of Sicilian food (see our recent story showcasing Olive Oil), we turn our attention to the Blood Orange.

The Blood Orange is believed to have appeared around 1600 as a product of natural mutation. Also known as its varietal names, Moro, Tarocco and Sanguinello, the Blood Orange is native exclusively to Sicily. In fact, it naturally occurs in and around Mount Etna in Catania Province. (This provides an even better reason for its name ;)

Blood Oranges contain a pigment called anthocyanin which is not typically found in citrus but more so in other red fruits and flowers.

Blood oranges are great for juicing and using as you would common orange juice. The dark red colour of the juice makes it a good cocktail ingredient. Use fresh blood orange segments in salads, sauces, sorbets, granitas and compotes.

While Blood Oranges have been imported and grow in many other countries, nothing beats the original Sicilian flavour and kick. With over 40% higher levels of Vitamin C content than standard orange varieties, Blood Oranges have been shown to provide a natural resistance to cancer as well as assisting in the prevention of ocular disease, obesity, heart disease and stress.

Recent studies have proven so effective that a pharmaceutical-grade product, called ROC (Red Orange Complex) has been released to the medical and health & beauty community as an anti-ageing product.

To read more on the medical properties of Blood Oranges here. To read more about someone's obsession with Blood Oranges go here.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Want to Live Longer? The Answer is Simple - Eat more Sicilian Food

A Sicilian orientated Mediterranean diet was one of the key factors to longevity; so says renown nutritional academic and endocrinologist at the University of Palermo in Italy, Dr Ligia Dominguez. She states that Mediterranean countries, in particular, Italy enjoy what she terms as "successful ageing" via the Mediterranean Diet.

Olive oil is the key to this beneficial diet, "An olive oil-based diet, together with physical activity, helps to avoid the development of age-associated diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis and neurodegenerative diseases." says Dr Ligia Dominguez. "Olive oil lowers blood cholesterol levels, lowers blood sugar levels and blood pressure, and prevents the formation of free radicals, offering protection from some types of cancer".

What makes Sicily the ideal place for olives is based on the fact that the olive tree is difficult to cultivate. You cannot plant it just anywhere, Professor Paolo Inglese of the Department of Horticulture at the University of Palermo, says.

"The olive is a specific plant. Even in Sicily, one of the biggest producers of olive oil in the world, each cultivar has its own specific place. It cannot be successfully grown elsewhere."

As a result, every olive oil-producing region of Sicily has its own cultivar. Nocellara del Belice, which produces oil with a nutty taste, for example, is grown close to the capital, Palermo; Nocellara Etnea favours the volcanic areas near Mt Etna, while Ogliarola messinese is planted in the Messina area in the northern part of Sicily.

Sicily has been cultivating olives since the 7th century BC, Prof Inglese said, showing photos of trees hundreds of years old. Sicilian olive oil tends to be strongly flavoured and spicy, and it usually has a pronounced grassy fragrance, he said.

Read more of this story in the Bangkok Post.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

The Palermo Casanova Chef makes an Appearance on Aussie TV

One of our favourite chefs in Palermo, Vincenzo Clemente, owner of the Sicilian Baroque influenced, Ristorante Cin Cin in central Palermo has recently appeared on one of Australia's most popular lifestyle and travel programs, The Great Outdoors. In the segment, Vincenzo took the Aussie host through the food markets that make up the soul of Palermo.

"If you turn around and you don't find something delicious to eat. Then you are not in Palermo", so the saying goes.

Vincenzo is otherwise known as the "Palermo Casanova Chef" on account of numerous reports of foreign women swooning upon eating his famous, house-made, semifreddo (see photo). Next time you are in Palermo, pay a visit to Ristorante Cin Cin, which can be found down the steps at Via Manin 22, off Via Libertà near Piazza Croci and the Giardino Inglese (English Gardens), just a few blocks from the Politeama Theatre. Ask for "The Wolf" for a free glass of Prosecco.

Vincenzo also holds half day market cooking workshops too for those who really want the full Sicilian cooking experience.

A Foreigner's Passion For Arancine

Regular visitors to this blog will know that there is one Sicilian dish held high above all others. That is the Arancina, if you are in Palermo and western Sicily, or the Arancini, if you are in the eastern part of Sicily (no one really knows why there is a difference in spelling). Most foreigners who come to Sicily see the Arancina as just a street food. Few people understand that this food is such a part of the psyche of a Sicilians life. Many Sicilians refuse to leave Sicily because they are afraid they cannot survive without their daily dose of this "national dish".

These fried rice balls containing a delicious helping of meat sauce ragu in the centre have also taken the heart of a genuine Swiss foodie where in his gastronomical blog, there is an entry entitled "Arancini, The Cult Sicilian Dish", where he states that in Sicily, "everybody knows a person who makes the best arancinis"

How True.