Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Midnight in Sicily

Renato Guttuso's 'La Vucciria'
     Every so often one stumbles across a work of art that grabs you by the scruff of the neck, shakes you out of your daily reverie and demands your rapt attention.  How many hours have I spent quietly gliding the galleries and museums of the world without such a tug?  I know little of art or art history but have tried my best to absorb culture by proximity, rarely succeeding.  The hallowed halls of The Louvre and the countless chapels of Venice blur into one long line of hanging Jesus' and rippled marbles.  The first time I was struck dumb by art was Caravaggio's, The Taking of Christ.  I simply could not believe the realism, the depth of emotion.  I get a similar hit from the above.  Guttuso's depiction of Palermo's market fills me with a confusion of nostalgia, foreboding, hunger and the usual mix of love and despair I get whenever wandering through a continental market.  The 'oh-my-god-it-is-all-so-gorgeous-why-the-hell-can't-we-have-this-in-every-village/town-in-England/Canada' feeling.  Of course what follows is bingeing and suffering.  How very Catholic of me.  My affinity for all things Italian runs deep.  Borne from first love and Coppola to working in a near exclusively Italian kitchen, numerous city breaks and a heavenly Florentine honeymoon.  I firmly believe Italians were created for our amusement and will forever covet their priorities and worship their food. 
Caravaggio's 'The Taking of Christ'
     Guttuso captures everything here.  The rawness of Italian cuisine and culture stripped bare in vibrant perfect produce.  A swordfish head, a dangling rabbit, bundles of finnochio.  The hint of sex through thinly veiled yet ample flesh, the dark look of an approaching man.  The overall claustrophobic yet 'business as usual' feel to the piece.  Guttuso is also well known for his illustrations in Elizabeth David's Italian Food.  A must have for all serious cooks.  Where are the food writers nowadays?  I don't mean cookbooks...books about food.  Books to read.  Books that transport you to the writer's dining table.  I feel a top 30 coming on...  
Further reading- The Leopard, Midnight in Sicily.  


1.5kg Round purple Italian aubergine, 2cm cubes
600gm Celery, peeled and 2cm dice
500gm Red onions, peeled and 2 cm dice (peeled weight)
2 Minced garlic cloves
200gm Pomodoro sauce or passata
3.5tbsp Caster sugar
4tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
130gm Red wine vinegar
75gm Halved green olives
2tbsp Fine capers
2tbsp Reconstituted sultanas
3tbsp Toasted pine nuts
Small handful basil leaves
Celery leaf

1) Lightly season the aubergine pieces with salt and fry in hot oil for 2-3 minutes or until soft.  Drain well on kitchen paper.  
2) Cook the celery, red onion and garlic in the olive oil in a covered pot for approx 30 minutes or until COMPLETELY soft.  
3) Add the sugar and vinegar and cook for another 5-8 minutes or until the majority of the liquid has reduced and the mixture is just beginning to caramelize.  
4) Combine the aubergine and celery/onion mixture in a tray.  Add the capers, pine nuts and olives.  Completely cool.  Mix in the pomodoro sauce, torn basil leaves and celery leaf. 

To serve:
Fantastic and flexible, caponata will stand on its own as a starter or as a garnish for fish or lamb.  Pair with a big Syrah or frizzante Lambrusco.  

     Caponata is a traditional Sicilian dish often referred to as an antipasto, salad or side dish.  The primary flavours being aubergine and that agrodolce hit.  Sweet and sour is not isolated to sticky day-glo Chinese takeaways.  My version is a little more complex than the usual, adding bits of texture contrast and flavour spikes such as the pine nuts, capers and olives.  The final flourish of celery leaf and basil add colour and depth. 

La Bella Cucina

No comments:

Post a Comment