Food from the island of Sicily, at the southern tip of Italy, stands out from the rest of the country because of the many cultures and invaders that over the centuries have made the place their home. The North African “Moorish” medieval conquerors introduced a tradition of combining dried fruits with savoury foods, the Spaniards brought tomatoes from the New World and olives and pistachios made their way over the sea from neighbouring Greece. All this, combined with the bounty of fresh vegetables and fish, make Sicilian cuisine one of the most interesting and multifaceted in the region.
In the following article, Chef Dario Aloisio, who hails from the capital of Sicily, Palermo, has spent the last decade working in Nairobi’s top Italian restaurants and currently runs La Cantina restaurant on Ngong Road, recreates some of the tastes of Sicily for Yummy readers to try at home.
For part one of his Sicilian Table menu, Chef Dario proposes a classic vegetable stew from his hometown in Palermo, the capital of the southern Italian island of Sicily.
Caponata is most similar to a French Ratatouille although here the aubergines and the celery take centre stage. It is a hearty dish, with sweet and savoury undertones, and with a good crusty bread can be served as the main feature for a lunch.
Serves: 4 People
Cooking Time: 1 Hour
You Will Need:
10 Green Olives
1 Tbsp Capers
1 Tbsp Sugar
1 Tbsp Grated Dark Chocolate
3 Tbsp White Wine Vinegar
- Cut the eggplants into 2cm cubes, place them in a colander and sprinkle them with salt pressing them down with a plate. Allow them to release their water for 45 minutes and then squeeze them with a clean teatowel. Fry them in batches in the sunflower oil until golden
- Chop the celery into 1cm cubes and blanch
- Slice the onion thinly and gently fry them in olive oil until soft and slightly golden
- Add the chopped and deseeded tomatoes to the onions, the celery, the roughly chopped olives, the capers, the eggplants, the sugar and the vinegar and let it all evaporate before adding some salt and pepper to taste.
- Let the caponata rest for at least an hour and serve it sprinkled with the chocolate and topped with toasted bread.
For part two of his Sicilian Table menu, Chef Dario proposes an amazing Sicilian dish which was inspired but then radically changed by the couscous made in Tunisia the shores of which can almost be seen on a clear day from the southern coast of Sicily.
Couscous is a fluffy grain made out of crushed semolina which, in northern Africa, is commonly served alongside a plate of stewed meat. In Sicily they adopted the recipe and soon dropped the “o” in its name and decided to make fish not meat its centerpart.
Serves: 4 People
Cooking Time: 1Hour 30Minutes
You Will Need:
150g Medium grain couscous
1/2L Vegetable stock
1 Tsp Turmeric powder
3 Tbsp Chopped onions
1 Tsp Chopped Garlic
¼ cup Cubed bell peppers
¼ cup courgettes
120g Peeled prawns
120g Sliced calamari
100g Cubed red snapper fillet
100g Cubed king fish
1 glass Dry white wine
100g Halved cherry tomatoes
4 Grilled king prawns (to garnish)
6 Basil leaves
1 Tsp Thyme
Salt/Pepper to taste
Green chilies (optional)
- In a heat proof bowl mix the couscous with a teaspoon of salt and turmeric and pour on 1L of the scalding stock and a glug of olive oil.
- Mix everything with a fork to avoid forming lumps, cover with cling film and let rest for 15 minutes until fully cooked.
- Pour olive oil into a casserole and put in the onions and garlic to gently fry for ten minutes, stirring continuously.
- Add in slow progression: the cubed fish, the prawns and the calamari and sautee at a high flame for five minutes.
- Add the white wine and allow to evaporate then add the cherry tomatoes and the remaining stock
- Lower the fire and let everything simmer for 15 minutes
- Add the basil, chili, thyme and lest rest for 20 minutes.
- Plate the couscous, pour the hot fish mixture on top and garnish with the grilled King prawns.
For part three of his Sicilian Table menu, Chef Dario proposed some Sicilian beef wraps. While on the outside they may seem of unassuming, the contents of these little beefy parcels are delicious and surprisingly flavoursome.
Serves: 4 People
Cooking time: 45Minutes
You will need:
300g Beef fillet
300g Fresh, semi-roasted bread crumbs
200g Chopped onions
80g Olive oil
80g Finely grated pecorino cheese
4 Bay leaves
8 Rosemary stems
100g Peppered beef gravy
For the side:
Sliced onions, peppers, courgettes, sliced and blanched potatoes to be grilled
- Slice the beef fillet into fifteen slices each ½cm wide
- Place the slices in between two plastic sheets and flatten them more
- Prepare the filling by simmering the onions and the sultanas in theolive oil until soft
- Pour the oil and sultana mixture onto the ¾ of the breadcrumbs
- Add the cheese and mix everything until a firm dough is formed
- Form 16 small dough cylinders about 3 cm long each
- Place each cylinder on a slice of beef and roll them tightly
- Roll the involtini on the remaining breadcrumbs and then proceed to skewer them with the rosemary separating the rolls with a bay leaf and a piece of sliced onion
- Grill the skewers on a gentle charcoal fire and serve them with the grilled vegetables drizzled with the gravy