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A taste of Sicily: caponata, pasta with sardines and ricotta and apricot cake — recipes

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We arrived in Sicily in a surly mood. The trip had been miserable, but we had been lucky on the destination. Our Airbnb turned out to be a lavish Baroque home with marble fireplaces, antique terracotta tiles, and a majestic stone staircase.

Best of all, it was on a private estate surrounded by an abundance of fruit trees – veteran olives, gnarled, almonds, oranges, lemons, figs – with Mount Etna in the background, smoke billowing from its pit , blessing the ground and whatever flourished from it with its volcanic eruptions. I stood squinting skyward amid a symphony of bird calls and the buzzing of bees, the thud of ripe fruit surrendering to gravity. My London fatigue has evaporated.

With our bellies rumbling, we drove into town in search of lunch, but we had forgotten that Sicilians love a siesta. The shops were closed and the square had emptied for the big siesta to ensue. Stubbornly, we followed our noses to the hot whiff of a trattoria where the clinking of cutlery echoed behind a door left ajar. Inside, friendly diners sat around long tables with platters of cheeses and charcuterie, small marinated fish, generous oiled tomatoes and much more.

It was a private party, the christening of a dimpled baby who turned out to be the owner’s granddaughter. Our charm offensive paid off and they agreed to let us have a table on the terrace as long as we were happy to eat what came out of the kitchen. We gratefully accepted.

Gastronomically speaking, Sicily is the meeting place of at least two great traditions, Arabic and southern Italian. The result, as we discovered that afternoon, is a succession of thrills: an imposition of spices on homemade sauces, sweet and sour based on tangy capers and sweet raisins and rich desserts in nuts and ricotta.

It was quite a culinary parade: a bottle of Etna Rosso flavored like a Catholic church, hearty bowls of caponata, sardines swimming in herbaceous olive oil, mountains of shredded ricotta salata over pasta alla Norma and a cake overflowing with fruit and alcohol served in a pool of cream. Like every time I eat a great meal, I go home and try to recreate its magic. So here’s a taste of Sicily – no Air Miles required.

caponate

©Aaron Graubart

For 6 persons

  1. Heat half the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant in batches and stir occasionally until golden brown, then drain on a plate lined with paper towel. Add the remaining oil to the pan and sauté the onion, celery and bell pepper and stir occasionally until very soft – this will take 8-10 minutes. Sprinkle with cinnamon and garlic and sauté until fragrant, then add the tomatoes, sugar and 250ml water and simmer until reduced by half. Return the eggplant to the skillet and simmer until tender and the mixture has reduced to a thick sauce. Remove from the heat and stir in the olives, capers, currants and vinegar. Season and let cool to room temperature. Serve sprinkled with basil and parsley and a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Sardine Pasta

©Aaron Graubart

For 4 people

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Breadcrumbs

  1. Start by preparing the pangrattato. Preheat the oven to 180C. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, spread on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden and crispy. Put aside.

  2. In a small saucepan, bring the wine to a boil and remove from the heat. Add the raisins and saffron and leave to infuse.

  3. Season the sardines. Drizzle them with a little oil and sauté for 2 minutes on each side until golden, crispy and cooked through. Set aside and keep warm.

  4. Heat the remaining olive oil over low-medium heat. Add fennel and fennel seeds and cook until tender. Add the wine and raisins, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook for 10 minutes or until the liquid has almost evaporated.

  5. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, drain and return to the pot with the fennel. Add the sardines, parsley and half of the pangrattato, then mix gently. Serve immediately, sprinkled with the rest of the breadcrumb mixture and a few lemon wedges.

Ricotta and apricot cake

©Aaron Graubart

For 6 persons

For the sponge

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C, butter lightly and line a 20cm cake tin with parchment paper.

  2. Add the apricots, sugar and Moscato to a saucepan and simmer for five minutes until tender but holding their shape. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

  3. In a large bowl, beat the whole egg, yolks, sugar and vanilla bean seeds until pale and thick. Slowly add the cooled butter followed by the ricotta to the thickened eggs. Once the batter is smooth, stir in the flour, baking powder and salt. Pour the mixture into the mold and smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Remove the skin from the apricots and arrange them on the dough, pressing them down slightly. Spread the slivered almonds evenly over the surface of the cake. Reserve the syrup for later.

  4. Place the cake in the center of the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a knife comes out clean when inserted in the center. Meanwhile, reduce the Moscato syrup over medium heat until thickened and brush the surface of the cake.

  5. Allow cake to cool in pan before slicing and serving. Serve with cream if desired.

Ravinder Bhogal is the chief patron of In the kitchen. Follow Ravinder on Instagram @cookinboots and Twitter @cookinboots

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FT Weekend Festival, London

Jikoni’s chef-patron, Ravinder Bhogal, will cook peaches with silken tofu and Thai basil gremolata on Saturday, September 3 at the FTWeekend Festival. Register today.

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