Sicilian Caponata

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For everyone else Sicily is: the place of longing, the story about Odysseus and the maelstrom, the mystery of nudity, Lampedusa, arabic princes and their paradisiac gardens, Goethe, the theater of Syracuse, grilled fish, ice cream, opera, maffia, garbage, sulfur mines, migration, Pirandello, the Holy Agatha, Palermo and Mount Etna.

For me Sicily is caponata: a laudation to agrodolce, sweet and sour in one spoon. It is a typical Sicilian village story in the manner of Giovanni Verga, una novella rusticana, una opera Verismo. It is all about a simple local ingredient- aubergine, embellished and enriched with dissonance. The result is pastorale: a composition that celebrates the life on land, the life of shepherds.

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Sicilian Caponata

Ingredients (Serves 6-8):

2 large aubergines,
cut into 2cm dice
Sea Salt
Vegetable oil, to fry
1 large red onion, sliced
5 celery sticks, cut into 2cm dice
1 red chilli (optional), finely chopped
200g ripe tomatoes, diced
60g capers
1 Tbsp honey
150ml passata
100ml red wine vinegar
40g toasted almonds or pine nuts
Small bunch of mint, leaves picked (parsley is also good)

Directions:

1. Lightly salt the diced aubergine and put them in a colander over a sink. Leave to sit for at least 30 minutes, then pat dry.
2. Heat a wide, deep pan one-third-full of vegetable oil. Fry the aubergine in batches  until golden. Drain on kitchen paper.
3. Heat 3 tsp oil in a large, wide pan (for which you have a lid) over a medium-low heat; fry the onion and celery with a pinch of salt until soft and beginning to colour, then stir in the chilli, if using. Fry for another minute, then add the diced tomatoes and fry for another couple of minutes.
4. Stir in the capers, honey, passata, vinegar and bring to the boil, then add the fried vegetables. Season, turn the heat right down, cover and simmer gently for an hour, checking towards the end of cooking and taking the pan off the heat if it seems to be drying out.
5. Take off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, then check the seasoning. Meanwhile, toast the almonds in a dry frying pan, then add them, along with the roughly torn mint, just before serving. DON’T SERVE IT HOT OR WARM!

 

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Octopus in Peka

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A few days ago, I was gazing at the sea, trying to align my breath with the rhythm of the water. Soon after my salted mind had started resting, something made my focus blurry. Something grey, something small. First I thought it’s a sea star. Together with sea urchins, sea stars are permanent guests in the bay. My usually untamed mind broke easily with the arduously reached silence and already picked up its regular speed: no it can’t be a sea star, it’s grey. Sea stars are normally red or brown. This moves to fast. Oh it’s so elegant. Like ballet. Dangerous? Oh, it’s jellyfish. Wait, no, it’s not jelly. Jellyfish is jelly. When jellyfish bites you, it hurts. Can I swim here later? This looks like a flame. Flame in the water? Yeah right! But what is it? Go closer! Slowly! Big head. It looks like a sea spider. Wait! It’s… It’s…
„Mother! Come closer! Sister! Nephew! Look! It’s an octopus!!! Look at it! Shhhhh….“
And we were starring and starring and starring.

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First it danced for us. Then it was starring back. Then the octopus hugged a very small fish with two arms, pulled it close to itself and gently hid it in its mouth until the fish had completely vanished. This was the most elegant appropriation I’ve ever seen. There was nothing violent, nothing bloody, nothing aggressive in this act. An idiot would ask if the octopus is bad? Is the sea a bad place to live in? Is the fish a victim? Who is guilty? Could a human do something to save someone? The smart one does`t ask. But the death necessarily appears to him like an answer, a moment in timeless space, serene and unscrupulous. Breathing out. Nothing to be afraid of. Quiet the contrary: it looked like a opportunity. It was the universal need combined with pleasure.

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Two days before I saw this living octopus, I had an octopus for dinner- dead. It was a fresh catch, one to one. The scenery is very simple: one morning one young man stood up, put his neoprene suit on and dived into the blue. Using his experience and virtuosity, he hunted this octopus and sold it to people from the island. To its inhabitants who depend on the sea food. For the island is like a big, white rock, that humans frequently bite and chew, making themselves a „natural“ habitat. The stone gives you a house, a building, a school, a natural isolation, a grave, but it never gives you food. Grains and rice, beans and potatoes, nuts and seeds, most of the animals are longing for the warmness and softness of dark earth. Fish, olives, salt and herbs are the burning and nourishing energy on this quarry. And a pure pleasure.

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Octopuses are well known for making people pleasure, not only on the table, but also in the bedroom. Only there, instead of humans, octopuses are going oral. Based on the ancient Taishokan tale of the diver woman who stole a jewel from the Dragon King’s Palace at the bottom of the sea, the japanese artist Kitao Shigemasa drew an image of an octopus and diving woman in his erotic book Yo-kyoku iro bangumi of 1781. This painting was an inspiration for the artist Hokusai who around 30 years later made the most fascinating shunga woodblock with this motive: Having dragged the diving woman into a cleft between two rocks, a large octopus is taking its pleasure, using almost all of its eight legs to coil around and play with her arms, legs and nipple. A second, smaller octopus simultaneously ‘kisses’ her mouth.

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It is an intensive image with almost baroques forms and exquisite coloring. Lying there like a corps, the women gives her body to the hungry octopuses. Her long sighs, cries and exclamations fill the dialogue text surrounding them. Lost in the tight hug of numerous tentacles and under the penetrant gaze of the creatures, the woman offers herself to the pleasure of le petite mort.

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Many other japanese shunga artists like Katsukawa Shuncho or Suzuki Harunobu used this motive as a pattern for the next interpretations of this image. In Europe the image fascinated many writers and end-of-the-century artists from diverse artistic movements who went on making their own versions, including Rops, Khnopff, Corrêa, Rassenfosse, Rodin and Picasso.

I found my inspiration for this dish in Aida and Boris, our lovely hosts, friends, and almost neighbors on the island. Aida was born close to Dubrovnik, and she is one of the best chefs of dalmatian food I’ve ever met. And she always selflessly shares her knowledge with me.

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Octopus is a common food in Dalmatia and this is why you can call this dish traditional. But the way of preparing it, in peka, has it’s own supra-regional history. Peka, or how we call it in Bosnia „Sac“, is a large metal or ceramic lid like a shallow bell with which bread dough, meat, vegetables or pastry are covered for baking, and over which ashes and glowing coals are placed. It enables even, convection baking, and the bell shape allows the steam to recirculate, which makes the food to remain juicy, and flavors intermixed. The bell itself probably comes from bell-shaped ovens used for flatbread baking in middle-east. Today, the baking appliance is commonly used by restaurants and sometimes homes all over Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Greece, Kroatia, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo.

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This was my second time preparing this dish with Aida and I’m very happy to share the recipe with you. But you know, it is not everything in food. It is in making the fire, waiting for the right temperature, chatting, sipping wine, being bitten by mosquitos, cooking under the sunset, eating under the moonlight.

Thank you again, our dear hosts!

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Octopus in peka

Ingredients (serving 6):

1 fresh octopus weight of 3 kg
1 kg young potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 kg onions, peeled and quartered
1/2 kg bell pepper, peeled and quartered
5 Tsp olive oil
few brunches of fresh rosemary

Directions:

1. Wash and clean the octopus. If you are on the seaside (and I suggest you to make this recipe only with fresh octopus on the seaside), clean the octopus in the sea. Put out the entrails, separate the head and tentacles. Let the octopus peaces dry. Don’t salt it, because the octopus is already enough salty!
2. Make the fire. Try to make enough cinder. You musst be able to cover the whole bell with it. This takes about 30 min. During the last 10 minutes put the bell over the cinder, so it gets very hot. The food must be cooked from all sides with the same intensity.
3. In a deeper baking trail put the octopus and pour only 2 Tsp olive oil on it. You don’t need more oil, because the octopus is already fat.
4. Remove the bell from the cinder and place it aside. Using the iron scoop, make a cinder-free space in the middle of the oven, moving the cinder on the sides. Place the baking trail in the middle, but not on the cinder. Close it with the bell. Take the iron scoop again and place the cinder all over the bell and the baking trail. Cook for 10 min.
5. Remove the cinder from peka. Remove the bell, the octopus should have now a nice, red color, and add the vegetables, rosemary and pour everything with the rest of the olive oil. Put the bell back over the baking trail, move it in the middle of the oven and cover again with the cinder. The more the cinder the better. Cook for another 45 min.
6. Again, remove the cinder from the bell, remove the bell and test if the octopus is done. It should be very soft, very well combined with vegetables and juicy. If the octopus need more time, but it back for another 10 minutes. The cooking time, depends on the quality of the cinder and on the size of the octopus.
7. Remove everything from the cinder and set for another 10 minutes aside. Serve with good wine. And don`t forget to dunk bread into the juices.

 

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10 new Resolutions for Ritual Cuisine and Spring Quiche

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After a long and a necessary break from my blog (not from cooking!) I decided do start again with 1o new resolutions. No matter what you do in life, sometimes it’s important to take a distance from it. That doesn’t mean to give up. It means to let go or transform all those things that hold you back from the maintenance of the initial purpose you had at first. This is what I decided for myself:

1. Cooking is for you meditation in movement. Keep it simple.
2. Preparing the food is your way of expressing yourself. Be curious. Accept, enjoy and don’t pretend to be something you are not. Be.
3. Don’t start to collect plates, cutlery, pots and other needles requisites in order to make an interesting photo- background. Your kitchen is not a theater fund and you are not a studio photographer. You are into food, not interior design.  You have never liked the “stuff”, anyhow.
4. Also, no one is interested in your new fridge, dishwasher, knife, bathtub, mattress etc. You explore and prepare the food. You are not a lifestyle blogger.
5. Write a lot, but not under the pressure. It’s ok, if you don’t have a story for every recipe. You are writing your PhD and this is the priority. Also, stop buying food-books. Write one!
6. Never again use the word healthy. It’s too abstract and boring. Besides, you are not a doctor, healer, or guru. Stay the witch you have always been.
7. Create a cozy and unpretentious atmosphere in your apartment where other people can enjoy your food. Organize even more of your supper club events!
8. Get finally a driving license and find a place around Berlin where you can grove the food (with your friends)!
9. Never become a vegan.
10. Don’t be a victim of social media. Food is your love, not a circus. Remember: “Being famous on Facebook or Instagram is like being rich in Monopoly.” But, call Ben and finally make this website prettier. You are not some old-school nerd.

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Spring quiche with green asparagus, peas and herbs

Ingredients (for the round baking mold with separable bottom, radius 23 cm):

*If you don`t have asparagus, use a fresh spinach

For the crust:

1 cup (100 g) spelt flour
1/2 cup (50 g) rolled oats ground into flour
5 Tsp. butter, chilled
2 Tsp. ice water
1/2 tsp. sea salt

For the filling:

15 green asparagus, washed, pealed if necessary, and cut in half
150 g fresh green peas
2 larger spring onions, chopped into “coins”
1 tsp. butter
3 or 4 eggs
1/2 cup milk of your choice, I used oat milk
a handful of fresh tarragon leaves (fresh oregano, or dill would work as well)
black pepper

Directions:

1. For the crust, using a electric mixer soften the butter. Slowly add in the flours and  salt and mix everything until the mixture resembles coarse crumbles.
2. With the machine running, slowly add in the water until the dough forms into a ball.
3. Wrap in aluminum foil and stick in the fridge to set for 30 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 200 degrees and roll out the dough to fit your desired pan, creating a 2-3 cm high edges. The crust should not be thicker than 1 cm. Poke holes throughout the dough and bake for 10 minutes or until it starts to brown. Remove from oven and set aside
5. Heat the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the tarragon (or other herbs) and sauté for two minutes. Next, add in asparagus, peas, spring onions, salt, and pepper. Sauté for 5 or so minutes or until everything has softened. Set aside.
6. Beat together the eggs and milk. Pour the vegetable mixture into prepared crust and then pour egg mixture over it all. Bake for 30 minutes or until the eggs have set and there are a few brown spots on top. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
7. Season with more salt and pepper and top with more fresh herbs. Serve warm with some green salad.

 

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