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A journey through Northern-Western Sicily/1. The Red Garlic from Nubia
by Giulia Cannada Bartoli
...and a Couscous traditional recipe
Sicily is may father’s native land. Last year I had a wonderful tour in Southern-Eastern Sicily. This year I have visited the province of Trapani. My starting point is a lovely hamlet of San Vito Lo Capo, Castelluzzo. Here you can find intense colours, scents and tastes.
Nubia is a hamlet of Paceco, near the island of Mozia. Its economy is based on salt mines and the red garlic cultivation which is realized with traditional methods still now. They respect the environment and all the process is hand-made. In the past a long garlic plait was hanged on the wall of balconies. The Red Garlic from Nubia is reddish, the inner part is white whereas the outer part is red. Its scents and tastes are particularly intense, they are strong but also delicately aromatic. It is seeded between December and January, in alternation with the melon, the broad beans and the hard wheat and it is picked fresh in May. Preferably it is picked in the evening or early in the morning when the leaves are wet and it can be easily plaited (even 100 pieces in one plait!).
The producers from Nubia asked for the IGP* certification and in 2002 a Slow Food Presidium was created. It includes about 20 small, local producers who have fixed strict rules and in 2002 they have started to pack the garlic in an eco-friendly way. The wife of one of these producers, Rosa Gallo Placentino, invented a new plait which is composed of four pieces of garlic (this quantity is right for modern needs) and a kind of small handle which allows to hang it. This new technique has already been used by the other Presidium producers. The plaits aren’t realized with plastic or boxes which can’t be easily eliminated but just with the stalks plaited when they aren’t dried yet (they are still flexible). A Slow Food prize was given to this new system in 2008. Nubia can be reached from Trapani going along the SP21 coast road which leads to Marsala, through the picturesque city of Paceco, you will enjoy an exciting view of rich cultivations and the grand setting of salt mines. This territory is level and clayey. The cultivation areas, a farmer told me, face west and for this reason receive the sun rays more slowly both in winter and in spring. This favours the garlic vegetative cycle as it needs little light, above all in spring during which the bulb sprouts and gets bigger. The Red Garlic bulb has white outer parts and vivid red inner parts. The name of the bulb depends on its diameter: “cucchia rossa” (50 mm.), “corrente” (40 mm.), “cucchiscedda” (30 mm.) or “mazzuneddo” (20-25 mm.).
The Red Garlic is widespread in Trapani and in Sicily. When it is raw its taste is completely different from the other kinds: it is soft and aromatic with a spicy aftertaste. Of course, the must dish of San Vito Lo Capo and the Trapani area is the Couscous, the result of the combination of Arabian and local traditions. What a pity! I can’t take part in the Cous Cous Fest which takes place from 22 to 27 September (http://www.couscousfest.it). I tasted many kinds and interpretations of Couscous. Here is the classic version with seafood prepared in San Vito Lo Capo.
One kilogram of semolina for couscous, stick of cinnamon, six laurel leaves, six Nubia red garlic cloves, 200 g peeled pistachios from Bronte, 100 g Sicilian shelled almonds, 100 g capers from Pantelleria (remove the salt from them), green olives from Val di Mazara, a bunch of parsley, a bunch of basil and a bunch of chives, two golden-brown onions, DOP** extra virgin olive oil from Mazara (like the one produced by the Nocellara one produced by Geraci from Partanna), salt from Mozia, green pepper, dried chilli pepper, an aubergine, two green zucchini, a yellow pepper, two carrots, 250 g tomato purée, two fillets of angler-fish (one kilogram) or the Mediterranean red tuna-fish, the amberjack, the dentex or the scorpion fish.
Put the semolina in a capacious terracotta container. Add some water and knead with your hands until it is turned into very small balls (try not to make it lumpy).You may use a colander to sift the semolina. Repeat the process with the remaining semolina. Let it dry on white cotton clothes for about one hour. Put the semolina in an airy room. When it is full dried put it in a capacious container and season with a trickle of oil, salt and pepper to taste, a handful of chopped parsley, some chopped basil leaves, a chopped onion, two chopped garlic cloves, four laurel leaves, a stick of cinnamon, 100 g of ground almonds, 50 g of ground pistachios, 50 g of capers and some chopped chives. After seasoning it put the couscous in a terracotta pan with the holes only on the bottom and put a pan of the same diameter on it and put an onion, some parsley and laurel in it. Then mix some hard wheat flour and water and arrange a dough stick which can be used to seal the pans. Put the sealed pans on a high heat and let the cooking liquids come out. Cook the couscous for about ninety minutes on a medium heat. In an another pan prepare the soup which can accompany the couscous and makes it tasty.
Brown the remaining chopped onion in a pan, lower the heat and add the tomato purée. Add some ladles of hot water and cook it on a high heat. Add more water. After coming to the boil add the remaining chopped garlic, 50 grams of capers, a handful of chopped parsley, a handful of basil leaves, the remaining green pepper, a handful of salt, some chive and two chopped chilli peppers and cook for about 15 minutes. Add some water and the seafood fillets (remove the bones and wash the fillets). Cook for further half an hour on a high heat adding water if necessary. Add salt. In a capacious, high pan brown the washed vegetables cut into sticks one centimetre thick and six centimetres long with extra virgin olive oil for about five minutes until they become golden-brown and crisp. Repeat this process with the remaining vegetables keeping the oil temperature high. Put the vegetable sticks on blotting paper, add salt and ground green pepper. When the couscous is fully cooked put it in a ceramic tureen. It can be enriched with the vegetable sticks, some chives and a handful of chopped pistachios. Mix delicately and add three ladles of steaming broth. Let it rest covered with a wool cloth in a hot and damp place for about one hour. Put the couscous in a cylindrical mould or use a pasta cutter 6 centimetres high and 10 centimetres wide. Put it in the centre of a serving plate, put the golden-brown vegetable sticks and press slightly to take the pasta cutter out. Put the couscous on the seafood fillets cut into small cubes or slices. To enrich the garnishing and make the dish tastier prepare a green pesto beating some pistachios, olives, basil, extra virgin olive oil and some ice cubes. Put the pesto on the couscous with a tablespoon. Add some chives and sprinkle with pistachio flour. Add a trickle of raw extra virgin olive oil (of course the one obtained from the typical cultivars of the Trapani area like “biancorilla” and “cerasuola” and the renowned “Nocellara del Belice”).The steaming seafood soup can be put on the couscous.
This dish can be paired with a Marsala Vergine wine served cold. You can choose the one produced by Marco de Bartoli, Florio or Pellegrino. It is the best wine to contrast with the fat typical of this dish. This pairing is the result of the cuisine tradition from Trapani and Marsala. In the past people drank wines with a high alcoholic content (16°/18°) obtained from the Grillo grapes. The evolution of these wines is represented by the Marsala Vergine which contains less added alcohol and is the ideal pairing with this unique dish characterized by a strong, rich, intense and complex taste and persistent aromas which only a good Marsala Vergine wine can balance and accompany. This wine is perfect with all the couscous versions: the Arabian one with meat and pulses and the Sicilian ones with vegetables, crustaceans and the one with tuna-fish and fennel. I had a 15 day couscous tour, I visited many restaurants in the Trapani area, I will write a review about the chef Peppe Buffa, the owner of the Al Ritrovo restaurant from Castelluzzo (phone +39 0923 975656). It takes two days to make a good couscous differently from tourist precooked versions!
The producers of the Red Garlic from Nubia
Nubia Red Garlic Producer Association
Via Santa Maria di Capua, 1
Phone +39 0923 873844
The Presidium staff members
Franco Saccà, phone +39 0923 559490 email@example.com;
Filippo Salerno, phone +39 0923 873844 - +39 347 6673002 - firstname.lastname@example.org
I forgot…you can enjoy the Red Garlic from Nubia at breakfast, early in the morning, instead of a croissant and a cappuccino…”Hot bread with garlic, tomatoes, oregano, anchovies and “Nocellara del Belice” extra virgin olive oil which smells of fruit and tastes spicy (taste the very good oil produced by Planeta, Geraci and Barbera) and a glass of wine obtained from the Grillo grapes, I tasted many kinds of this wine. The 2008 vintage of this autochthonous vine, the symbol of Sicily, is really great.
* (IGP means “Indicazione Geografica Tipica” which stands for Protected Geographical Indication and this term is used to describe those goods for which the relationship between the geographical area and production standards may be limited to just one phase of the production process marks).
** DOP means “Di Origine Protetta” which stands for “Protected Designation of Origin” and this term is used to describe foodstuff which is produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area using recognized know how.