Sicily, Syracus, and Sardines

The beaches of Sicily (photo credit: AYA MASSIAS)
The beaches of Sicily
(photo credit: AYA MASSIAS)
On our last visit to Sicily, we dedicated most of our time to discovering the Jewish heritage of the island of Ortigia, an ancient district of Syracuse inhabited by Jews in the Middle Ages. The Jewish community there was probably the first to be established in Sicily and one of the first in what is now Italy. Many of the city’s treasures can be found among limestone palaces, castles, churches and homes. One such jewel is the Syracuse mikve in the Giudecca, the Jewish Quarter until 1493. This is the oldest mikve known to have survived in Europe.
While the cuisine favored by Sicily’s medieval Jews appears to have been similar to Arab cooking, there is a theory that Italian pizza was invented by Jews in Sicily or around Naples. Traditional Sicilian pizza is known as “sfincione,” a focaccia topped with tomatoes, onions and anchovies and often thick-crusted and rectangular. Although I am not providing a pizza recipe this week, there are delicious Sicilian rice balls; spaghetti with fresh sardines and fennel; and trout poached in Marsala wine with prunes and almonds, all typical of the Palermo, Catani and Siracusa areas.
The writer is a trained chef, former owner of restaurants in New York and Jerusalem and runs Yaya Food & Travel Ltd. (gourmet kosher Jewish heritage and culinary tours in Spain, Portugal, Provence, Gibraltar, Sicily and Morocco).
ARANCINI DI RISO (Sicilian rice balls)
■150 gr. risotto rice, boiled
■1 small onion, chopped
■2 garlic cloves, chopped
■1 small carrot, chopped
■ ½ cup frozen peas
■150 gr. tuna in olive oil
■ 4 balls fresh mozzarella cheese
■1 cup fresh basil, chopped
■2 eggs, beaten
■150 gr. breadcrumbs
■Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium-sized pan, pour the olive oil and start to fry the onion, carrot and garlic. When brown and soft, add the peas and tuna. Stir well and form into a paste. Put it aside. Take your boiled rice (cold) and add the chopped basil and mix well. Wet your hands and take a handful of rice. Flatten it on your palm and stuff it with the tuna mixture and a piece of mozzarella and form it into a ball. Dip each ball in the beaten eggs and then the breadcrumbs and deep fry.
Serve 2 per person as an antipasto.
PASTA CON LE SARDE (Spaghetti with fresh sardines and fennel leaves)
Serves 6
■ 10 fresh sardines (clean well and remove the spine)
■ 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
■ 2 garlic cloves, chopped
■ Leaves of one fennel, finely chopped
■ 50 gr. pine nuts
■ 400 gr. spaghetti (preferably freshly made)
■ 25 gr. butter Parmesan cheese, grated
■ Salt and pepper to taste
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add salt and boil the pasta for 15 minutes (if using dry pasta; 7 minutes if fresh) until it is al dente. Drain the pasta and set aside. Pour olive oil into a medium-sized pan and heat.
When hot, sauté the sardines for 3 minutes on each side, then place them on a plate. Put the garlic and pine nuts in the same pan. When the garlic is dark brown, add the sauteed sardines and butter. Once you have a nice sauce going, add the pasta, salt and pepper and stir well. Just before serving, add the chopped fennel leaves and grated Parmesan cheese.
TROTA A LA MARSALA (Trout poached in Marsala with prunes and almonds)
Serves 4
■ 4 fresh pink trout (ask the fishmonger to clean the fish)
■ 16 prunes
■ 100 gr. sliced almonds
■ 500 ml. water
■ 1 cup Marsala wine
■ 1 cup cream, 42% fat
■ 1 bay leaf
■ Curly parsley, chopped
■ Salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pan of water to a boil. Add the bay leaf, salt and pepper. Make a cut in each trout from the head to the tail. Place the trout in the boiling water and cover the pan. Let the trout poach for 20 minutes, then uncover the pan. Remove all the water and pour the Marsala wine over the trout. Add the cream, prunes and almonds and cook for another 5 minutes. Place each trout on a plate. Cook the sauce for 5 more minutes. When it is thick, pour some sauce over each trout. Sprinkle with chopped curly parsley before serving.