Caponata , aptly nicknamed “A Hungry Mans Dream”, is quite possibly one of the best meals you can make if you are a body toning nut job who doesn’t want to compromise on the flavour and morale that is usually associated with “Health” food. Its very simply a vegetable stew, but one which allows each vegetable its own little spotlight. People may scoff at the thought of It being healthy as its best made when fried, but it can also be done under the grill or even blanched (maybe for those suffering from Orthorexia)
Caponata is the pinnacle of Sicilian baroque fantasy cooking, with its roots pretty much dipping in and out of nearly all the major culinary influencers (a term I cannot stand) that set up shop on the island.
The earliest recipe for the dish comes from Agrigento, which is apt, as the city like the recipe, was fought and debated over for hundreds of years and by a variety of invaders. A tapestry of Byzantine/Roman sweet and sour (or Agro Dolce), the veg comes courtesy from Arabic and Carthaginian influence and the simplicity is possibly Hellenic. The Norman influence is lacking, I can only assume they were developing that most inferior cousin to Caponata, the Ratatouille.
I have added a touch of honey to this recipe to increase the length of the flavour, plus bees and honey have a wonderful historical significance in Sicily for bringing good luck and fortune.
1 aubergine (I like the round purple aubergines from Sicily for this)
1 stick of fresh celery
1 bunch of fresh mint
Handful of sliced almonds
1 Onion (Tropea are fantastic)
Half a teaspoon of honey
7-8 Torpedino tomatoes
2 litres of sunflower oil
Good extra virgin olive oil
Handful of capers
1.5 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1. Start by finely dicing your onion and sautéing in a little olive oil on a low heat, and half a tablespoon of the vinegar. You want to cook this until its translucent and without any signs of colouring
2. Peel the celery of its strings, finely chop. Bring a pan of slated water to the boil and blanche the celery in the water for 20 seconds before plunging into cold water. Do not throw this water away
3. Heat up some sunflower oil in a pan. Chop an aubergine to your liking, by this I mean a small, medium or large chunk. I personally like a medium/small chop. Salt a little and pat dry. Shallow fry until golden brown and set aside on kitchen paper.
4. In the boiling water, drop the tomatoes in for 20 seconds and carefully remove and skin.
5. Once the Torpedino tomatoes are skinned, roast them in a dry frying pan until a little coloured and removed.
6. Mix the vegetables with finely chopped mint, toasted almonds, capers, some celery leaves, honey, vinegar, olive oil and allow to marinate for 30 minutes minimum, before serving. Tastes better at room temperature.
So how does an Irish Catholic, a lover of Italy, Italian wine and Italian food, who is a solicitor representing most of the Italian community of Chesterfield become known as “Consigliere ” !!
Trust me I am honest and have never personally had anyone killed…but I do know a few Godfathers.
Chesterfield has a quite considerable Italian community essentially because of the mass immigration that occurred from Italy following the Second World War and because there was plenty for work in the Derbyshire area in the coal mines and the local huge chemical works. I came to work in the town some 30 years ago and as a result of my heritage went to the same Roman Catholic Church as many of my firm’s Italian clients and became known to them as a result.
One second-generation Italian youngster turned up on my doorstep with his girlfriend to buy his first house and I immediately developed a friendship with this bright street savvy fella who was clearly going places. Welcome to Martino Mainiero now married to the beautiful girlfriend Nicola. Over the time of our friendship we have moved on from a young salesman and a junior property solicitor to a successful business owner of Delitalia and a senior Commercial lawyer in Banner Jones probably the biggest regional law firm. We even swung a business trip to Vinitaly recently!
Martino has an infectious chuckle and a desire to be amusing and so, appreciating my work position and my passion for all things Italian, delighted in introducing me to his customers as “Consigliere”. The name stuck mainly because all of the customers did think it was funny to give your lawyer such a nickname.
My wife and I over the last 20 years have travelled extensively around Italy, Sardinia and Sicily and I usually come back with tips on food or wine that Martino will follow up on. The beauty of the Delitalia business is that they can work with any size of business from Italy if the product is good .Whilst I do enjoy my Italian food and the provenance that is generally associated with it my real passion is for wine and because I am also quite adventurous in my tastes I am regularly used as Martino’s wine guinea pig. When Martino suggested that I should taste and review officially three or four bottles of wine from Delitalia each month then I didn’t hesitate to accept.
It was an offer I could not refuse…
So my plan is to keep it simple ( unlike my young friend Joe Hurd who clearly wants to be the next AA Gill ) like a normal restaurant customer who is reasonably knowledgeable about the wine and also about where it’s comes from..
Carlo Maria Recchia – born in 1993 – is a very young entrepreneur who built his fortune from an ancient passion, love for the land and for agriculture, which led him to be the first and only producer and distributor of the this black corn Mais Corvino throughout Europe.
In an era in Italy where you hear about youth unemployment and activities in continuous failure, Carlo Maria Recchia is the example of a young man who has not only chosen to remain in Italy but to invest in its territory and revert to a contemporary a very ancient trade: the farmer.
Since the age of 17, following a discovery made during a research project for the school – Istituto Tecnico di Agraria, Crema – he has dedicated himself more and more to the rediscovery and cultivation of the Mais Corvino, a type of black corn which dates back to the time of the Maya, with significant nutritional properties, which in Europe has not been cultivated since 1700.
In 2014 Carlo formed a company called CMR and Mais Corvino was born, an agricultural enterprise of Carlo Maria Recchia, which becomes a direct grower of Mais Corvino of Coldiretti. The Corvino corn plants are then cultivated in 3,000 square meters, in the countryside around Cremona. The corn grains are ground to stone in an historic mill, La Grande Ruota of 1857, by Dello.Il Mulino (the mill) was designed with the aim of further preserving the raw material and its organoleptic properties during the processing phase; thanks to the combination of a stone milling of the cereal – “like that of the past” In addition to flour, CMR Mais Corvino starts the production of pasta and a gluten free beer.
2017 is the year of a new turning point: Carlo Maria Recchia joins the company with Massa di Leoni Srl, a Branded Content agency founded by Luciano Massa and Luca Leoni, and this is how the individual company CMR Mais Corvino becomes a real company, the Corn Corvino Srl. The union of these two and the key know-how of agriculture and digital communication represents in reality the perfect synthesis of innovation of the project by Mais Corvino Srl: a new and revolutionary way of doing business, where the recovery of the past becomes a trend thanks to the foresight and technology in the hands of this young entrepreneurial generation.
Eat better, not less…
Eat better not less is not a slogan but a message of food education. “We are what we eat”, our life and our physical and psychological health, vary according to our diet. Healthy eating is both a right and a duty to be guaranteed to the entire world population.
World estimates say that in 2050 the planet will be populated by more than 9 billion people but, to date, we can not guarantee the minimum amount of food for the survival of more than a billion people.
The awareness of these issues is the first tool that man has available to address the problem of hunger in the world.
The corporate spirit of Mais Corvino Srl supports this position and is committed to enhancing the issues related to nutrition, the protection of nature and mother earth.
Mais Corvino is an ancient cereal, with a black and elongated grain, cultivated by the Maya already in the 3500 A.C.
Compared to common corn, this unique variant contains twice as many proteins, 20% less carbohydrates, 20 times antioxidants, equal to those contained in blueberries. In particular, Corvino Corn is rich in flavonoids, beta-carotene, vitamin A and is gluten-free.
Thanks to Carlo Maria Recchia, who in 2010 manages to have the first 40 seeds of the ancient cereal and for the next two years he cultivates them to multiply them and start production, since the first 40 plants in 2011 he has now managed to plant 1.3m of these unique ancient and prestigious black corn bearing plants to transform into flour so that today we can enjoy this wonderful food across Europe.
A beautiful recipe by Francesco Mazzei can be found here by clicking the link. Francesco having the first dish on a UK menu with Mais Corvino back when he open Sartoria two years ago.
The Thomas Cook middle England “Pilgrimage of The Sun” route
I never did holiday romances growing up, not in the conventional sense, but the closest I got was a story that makes Heathcliff and Cathy look like Alex Reid and Jordan.
When Calabria started getting too hot for my fur lined Yorkshire father, we switched up and would go to the cooler Adriatic climes of Cattolica, a tributary party town of the once great 70’s package holiday Mecca, Rimini. It was a brilliant melange of amusement arcades, knock off football shirts, granita stands, seasonally burnt German tourists, pastel tablecloths and sticky plastic garden chairs – perfect for a teenager from Hull.
Of course, being on the Thomas Cook middle England “Pilgrimage of The Sun” route, you got plenty of opportunities to meet girls and I reckon many of the lads, with whom I would spend my days smacking a 99p flyer* backwards and forwards across the luminous green pool,did.
No, back in those days I had one main occupation on holiday -eating. I was like a horse with blinkers and a nose bag attached. From the morning buffet of salami, prosciutto cotto, hot rolls and Nutella brioche to the evening 6 course meals of Salumi, giardineri, veal, passatelli, during the whole shebang with various interruptions throughout the day of Stracciatella gelato and granita, I grazed merrily under the Italian sun like a fatted lazarini.
It was on one of these trips, however, I arguably fell in love with a cheese that had about as much affect on my life as Helen did on the history of Troy.
Stracchino is that shy, shrinking wall flower of the cheese world. It’s hard to find in the UK, difficult to contain and has a reputation for not travelling well. It arrives begrudgingly, from tired (Stracche is a Lombard colloquialism for “tired”) stressed cows brought down from their summer vacation in the lush mountain pastures of Lombardy and Piedemonte. The first milk they produce is slightly fatty, rich and bitter and this is where Stracchino gets it trademark boozy aroma from. It makes for the perfect turophile love story.
In 2001 my parents finally liberated me from the hotel’s poolside lunch menu of stomach cramping lasagna, chlorine spattered imitation beef burgers and a Salad Nicoise solely designed as a threat to punish any infant miscreant. I was free to wander through the lunchtime human tide of sweltering shimmering Germans, willowy red Dutchmen and English families perpetually on the hunt for “Spag *shudder* Bol” .
The one place that seemed to cater for any of the actual inhabitants of Cattolica was a blue garden shed run by a mother and son team flipping out hot Piadina by the truck load. For a greedy teen boy, or anyone this side of vegetarian, what isn’t to love about hot flat bread made from strutto (good time pig juice/lard) with a thick white mantle of rich, acidic spreadable cheese with a yeasty back taste? I didn’t know what I was asking for but my now honed technique of pointing and moving my head in a culinary direction landed me with Stracchino and prosciutto day after day.
Stracchino was a revelation. It’s not a cheese that slaps you round the face and leaves you drooling on the floor, no Stracchino is dairy humility. It’s the cheese equivalent to Barry Manilow’s “Mandy”; It gives a lot, you overlook it, maybe even dismiss it…then a few days later realise it’s possibly one of the best things to have ever entered your mouth. The flavour is one of persistance, it builds and grows before registering in your brain as something quite unreal and moreish.
It’s an oddball cheese to be fair. The texture, when straight out the fridge is satisfyingly gelatinous but give it time at room temperature and it acquires the solemn ooze of lava, letting itself spread out much like a midriff on a fat man following a 12 course dinner. On the palate it’s thick, sticky and heavy, you could even say a little bit boozy? It coats every corner of the mouth with a satisfying earthy, acidic farm yard flavour, before dissipating into sweet, milky vapours that remind you of a young grana padano.
Italian restaurants named after cooking utensils
I was hooked, but I didn’t realise it until my return to the UK. I had taken my alabaster goddess, with her un-sculpted lines and love handles that make it look more like some flabby bread dough than cheese, totally for granted. In the UK, circa 2001, it was nowhere to be found.
I remember clearly going into our local branch of Safeways and keeping my eyes partially closed in Christmas morning-like anticipation,hoping that maybe one of those featureless tubs, nestled amongst the spiky bergs of Parmiggiano Reggiano, would be my creamy Holy Grail but only to be totally disappointed on finding largely insipid pots of supermarket mascarpone and ricotta.
Later, when I was a little older, we hooked up in Bologna. Shunning the opportunity to catch up on some underage drinking round the back of the Conad supermarket, I’d wander the colonnades of the old town tucking into this block of alabaster cheese tang like it was an apple.
I even got bold, smuggling as much stracchino wrapped in cling film through customs at the height of the foot and mouth scare like a crazed dairy obsessed Howard Marks as I could fit in an Umbro duffel bag. The border control didn’t scupper me but the intense heat in my bag generated in the near greenhouse conditions of Charles de Gaulle airport transformed the cheese into a fizzing ball of milk funk. I was gutted.
It would be years later I saw stracchino again, sitting prettily in the shop window of one of London’s outrageously priced Italian delis. She was still the same, pearl white, plain and unassuming, hiding the mysteries contained within but now with a price tag of nearing five quid and rendering it way out my league.
We are older now. Stracchino is becoming more available to the public, whereas with abs to maintain, I’m becoming less available to cheese. I see it now and again; in place of Mozzarella on a Pizza, where its beautiful melting abilities and subtle richness outshine the best buffalo and burrata. Occasionally she pops up tucked into a tortellini or stuffed into a veal chop by recent converts with Italian restaurants named after cooking utensils, sat jauntily on a blue rimmed plate atop a marble counter. Soon the East end hipsters will come and elevate it to lofty cheese heights, waddling West London food bloggers will rave and strike their piggy little flags into its terra un-firma. But me and Stracchino will always have that summer, in Cattolica.
A story of great tasting salami recipes that date back over a hundred and fifty years. Maletti Salumeria was born in Casinalbo, in the suburbs of Modena, towards the end of the 19th century, from a small kitchen workshop Francesco Maletti’s passion grew for excellence in Salumeria and his products soon became known for their unique flavour and aroma. Soon after his products were set to be exported all over the world and served the most beautiful delicatessens in Europe.
Maletti cured meats began to be distributed, first in Italy, then also abroad, the kitchen workshop became a small factory and a company store was created for the local consumers from Modena and Bologna where they could purchase direct from the store and chat with the family members about their goods.
Salsiccia di Secondegliano
QUALITY: choice pure pork, belly and shoulder only.
SPICES AND FLAVOURINGS: white wine (Sweet); white wine and crushed chilli pepper (Strong).
FLAVOUR: the mouth watering flavouring is sweetened by the light smoking (Sweet). Quite hot due to the wild chilli pepper, which gives it an unmistakable fragrance and flavour (Strong).
All love stories begin in the same way, firstly you have to meet each other and this is exactly what happened with the Torpedino. The Di Vito’s family business has always been in tomato production and when everyone thought it was impossible to grow a particular variety of tomato with a natural sweetness, they never stopped searching for the perfect answer. Finally in 2007, the Di Vito’s family discovered the Torpedino. Torpedino is the greatest expression of a territory that has always been devoted to the production and culture of tomatoes and this is what makes it an authentic product. It is a rustic variety, belonging to the family of Mini SanMarzano with a well-balanced relationship between sweetness and acidity, a solid pulp, and very little seeds. In the category of small size fruits this is the only one that can be consumed both red and green and it can be enjoyed both fresh and cooked. The shelf life of this gem extends beyond other tomatoes and will keep perfectly up to 20 days out of the fridge. Torpedino is a product that involves a close and passionate group of producers working the countryside, united by their love for quality, all working to achieve perfection.
Francesco Mazzei when he discovered the aroma and taste of Torpedino, now a firm favourite within the menus of his restaurants.
It’s a four season tomato, fresh all year round.
Torpedino grows from May to November in Fondi. When the climate turns cold the Torpedino production is moved to the south of Italy in the Sicilian countryside of Licata and Vittoria. The sun of Sicily can guarantee a reasonable quantity of fresh products from December to April making it a tomato to enjoy all year round.
We at Delitalia have fallen in love with this jewel and import it weekly to be enjoyed in restaurants around the UK. Transformed into elegant decoration, garnishes, accompaniments and rustic dishes by chefs hands, it can change the way you think about a simple tomato – have you tried the true taste of tomato?
Martino and Mariano di Vito (Mr Torpedino) visit customers across the UK.