Sicilian Frittedda: A Riot of Tender Spring Flavors

Fritedda (Sicily) (5) In the springtime in Sicily a simply named dish reveals an explosion of flavor that belies its satisfying complexity. It is a dish special with spring vegetables — fava, peas, scallions and artichokes — and called frittedda (or fritedda).

In western Sicily, where frittedda was born, it is served as a grape ‘u pitittu, a Sicilian expression that means “a mouth-opener,” a culinary concept much closer to a Middle Eastern meze than an Italian antipasto. Pino Correnti, a leading Sicilian gastronome, believes that the name of this preparation comes from the Latin frigere, because it is prepared in a large frying pan.

The young artichokes needed for this dish can be hard to find. They are very tender and have not yet developed chokes. Because this dish is affected by the age and size of the vegetables, you will have to judge for yourself the right cooking time and how much salt, pepper and nutmeg you want to use, so keep tasting. This is a good time to use a very good quality estate-bottled extra virgin olive oil from Sicily. READ MORE

Time Traveler’s Primer on Modern Coffee Shops

Coffee-siphon (2) Once upon a time one had their coffee in a coffee shop. A waitress, perhaps calling you hon, would arrive at your table within seconds of your sitting with a pot of coffee in one hand and ask “coffee?” There were two choices: black coffee was black. Regular coffee was coffee with milk in it. The waitress would come around occasionally to refill your cup which was a heavy white ceramic mug (see photo below). This was known as the bottomless cup of coffee.

Flash forward some 40 years to contemporary Los Angeles and a time traveler would hardly recognize a coffee shop. In fact, I don’t think they’re actually called coffee shops. Maybe they’re called cafés, or caffées, or coffee bars (I don’t know for sure). One will be confronted with a dizzying array of choices, nearly all with Italian names—macchiato, espresso, Americano, latte, cappuccino. One must specify a size because the bottomless cup of coffee no longer exists. The coffee will not be immediately poured. One has to stand aside and wait for the coffee. We are not sure why this is, but everyone complies without complaint. If you ask for a black coffee they will ask if you want room for milk. You will need to force yourself not to say “no, you twit, that’s why it’s called a black coffee.” Relax, maybe you shouldn’t have such a large coffee.

At home I sometimes make my own espresso using the same Medaglia d’Oro espresso coffee my Italian grandfather use to use. This is an intense coffee which provides you about a thimbleful which is why I make it at home as I’m unwilling to pay $3 for it when I’m out. I have a little $20 stovetop espresso maker not a $1,200 machine which I believe you have to be certifiably crazy to have for a thimbleful of coffee. I occasionally have some Turkish coffee, also known as Arabic coffee, an even more intense thick coffee I also make at home—this is coffee on steroids and curiously you cannot get it in coffee shops. I never drink either in the morning. In the morning I only want my bottomless cup of coffee.

However, coffee drinking has gotten even more complex in Los Angeles and I assume in other cities as well. There are no longer waitresses pouring coffee asking if you want refill, hon. You will approach the counter to place your order with a good deal of trepidation because the old Bunn VPR Pourover Coffee Brewer is gone. In its place you will see a line of Rube Goldberg-like contraptions involving siphons and other devices looking more like a chemical lab than a coffee shop. The waitress is gone and a barista has taken her place. A barista is a person who knows more about coffee than anyone else, anywhere. They might be female, but they might be male, sometimes bearded, with a funny little bun on the top of their head. They are not in a funny costume; this is called fashion. Try not to laugh. They think this look is cool, which of course it’s not. Dean Martin circa 1962 is cool. Coffee-ceramic mug (2)

The barista will not know what a regular coffee is and when you ask for black coffee you will be asked a series of questions and given information concerning growing practices in Third World countries and free-trade agreements. You must choose whence your coffee bean. I think I chose Ethiopia. (Can’t travel there, so I thought this is the next best thing). The coffee will take a good deal of time to arrive because it has to go through the siphon system (I guess) or maybe it has to arrive from Ethiopia. (Damn I knew I should have chosen the “California” bean—just kidding, they didn’t have a California bean). In any case when it arrives it will not be as hot as you would like, it will have cost $6, it will not be re-fillable, the barista will not call you hon, and when they look at you to see what you think it’s best not to do what I innocently did which was to say, approvingly, “it’s just as good as the Folgers I drink at home.”

Cherry and Lamb Skewers on the Grill

Kafta bi'l-karaz (Syria) (2)

Around the now sad and destroyed Aleppo in Syria is a dish fondly remade as best they can by Aleppines in exile and Syrians in general that will remind them of the good times once had.  In fact, I first had kafta bi’l-karaz, grilled ground lamb and … [Continue reading]

An Italian Casserole called Taiedda–Apulia’s Family Favorite

Tiella alla Pugliese (Apulia) (5)

Taiedda -- tiella alla pugliese in Italian -- is one of the most renowned dishes in Apulia (the region of Italy called the heel of the Italian boot), a casserole of layered onion, potatoes, zucchini, mussels, and rice.  This is a dish they make in … [Continue reading]

A Clutch of Eggs

Egg and Scrapple

This round-up of eggs--a clutch of eggs--are some of my favorite photos of egg preparations.         … [Continue reading]

Sicily’s Cucina Erotica All in a Seafood Stew

Anguilla a Picchi-Pacchiu all'Agrodolce (eel sweet and sour) (Sicily) (3)

Sicilians are noted for culinary preparations with vulgar names. It’s not clear when this tradition began, but many of these dishes are sexual in nature and considered part of what would be called cucina erotica.  One particular style of … [Continue reading]

A Catalan Way with Fava Beans

Faves i pesols

As spring arrives and fava bean season comes with it one will see mounds of long thick green fava bean pods piled high at the farmers markets.  Generally, they will be mature pods of about  6 to 7 inches long, but if you were to have your own plant … [Continue reading]

The Best Crêpes in the World and Fast

Raspberry Preserve Crepes (CAWCOM) (3)

The Italians would call them crispelle, but by any name these sweet crêpes are my favorite fast dessert with luscious tastes.  Top them with a sprinkling of confectioner's sugar or cinnamon if desired.  In the photo they are garnished with … [Continue reading]

Linguine And Seafood: Perfecting A Classic Pair

Linguine with Tuna and Green Beans (CAWCOM) (1)

Italian-Americans will tell you flat out that linguine accompanies seafood. Well, at least Long Island Italian-Americans will tell you that. My grandfather, who was from a small village 85 kilometers east of Naples, immigrated to New York in the … [Continue reading]

Luscious Winter Braise from Provence

Tendrons de Veau a la Gardiane (Provence) (1)

Winter isn't over yet and if your culinary sensibilities are like mine you're still in the "fire-up-the-oven" mode. There's nothing cozier than a winter braise wafting through the house when the chill of the end of winter still lingers. Many people … [Continue reading]

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