Älplermagronen (Swiss Macaroni & Cheese)

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you like macaroni and cheese. But maybe you’re tired of the same old recipe you’ve been making for years. Or maybe you’ve finally grown weary of the sad and predictable world of boxed mac and cheese and that powdery orange substance that most definitely isn’t cheese.
If so, you’re in luck. Today, I’m going to show you how to make Älplermagronen, a rich and creamy version of macaroni and cheese that hails from the mountains of Switzerland.
What sets Älplermagronen apart from your standard macaroni and cheese recipe is the inclusion of potatoes, which are boiled along with the pasta. But that’s only the beginning. What also elevates this macaroni and cheese to a whole other level are the onions, apples and bacon or ham, which are fried in butter right before adding the milk and cheese to the pan. There’s no flour needed in this mac and cheese; the milk and cheese are enough to create a rich creamy sauce.
Once you taste this mac and cheese, your taste buds will go into shock. The creaminess of the sauce, the silkiness of the potatoes, the sweetness of the onions and apples and the wonderful smokiness of the meat. This is macaroni and cheese like you’ve never tasted before.
And if you think Älplermagronen tastes good warm, you’re in for a surprise. It also makes a sweet, creamy and luscious potato salad when served cold.
Try this recipe. You may never want to go back to ordinary mac and cheese again.

 

Ingredients

 

10 oz. (283 g) yellow potatoes, sliced in half, then half again, then 1/2 inch (12 mm) wedges (see footnote 1)

1/2 lb. (227 g) ziti or other tube shaped pasta (see footnote 2)

2 Tbsp. (28 g) butter or vegan butter substitute

1 medium onion (about 7 oz, or 200 g), cut into 1/4 inch (6 mm) rings, then quartered, and separated into strips

2 oz. (56 g) bacon or ham, cut into thin strips, then cut in half (see footnote 3)

10 oz. (283 g) apples, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch (12 mm) cubes (see footnote 4)

2 cups (480 ml) milk or plant based milk (I like to use cashew milk)

salt and pepper

5 oz. (140 g) Swiss cheese or vegan Swiss-style cheese, cut into thin strips

Toasted breadcrumbs (optional) (see footnote 5)

 

Instructions

 

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a rolling boil.
While you’re waiting for the pot to boil, melt the butter on medium high heat in a large deep frying pan. Once the butter is melted and begins to bubble, add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes. Make sure to stir the onions about every minute.
Add the bacon or ham and cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until lightly browned but not crispy. Be sure to stir the onions and bacon once per minute.
Add the apples to the bacon and onion mixture. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the apples are tender, stirring once per minute.
Once the water has come to a rolling boil, add salt along with the potatoes and pasta. You will want to cook the ziti for 9 – 10 minutes; this will be long enough to guarantee that both the pasta and potatoes will be fairly tender.
While you’re waiting for the potatoes and pasta to cook, add the milk, salt and pepper to the frying pan and cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the chopped cheese and reduce heat to medium. Stir the sauce until the cheese is completely melted and the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat.
Once the pasta and potatoes are tender, drain them and add to sauce. Stir until well combined. Serve immediately. If desired, garnish with toasted breadcrumbs. Also tastes great as a cold potato salad.

 

History

 

According to the popular origin story, Älplermagronen came to be around 1882 following the construction of the Gotthard tunnel in southern Switzerland. The story goes that Italian immigrants who were working on the railway introduced pasta to the Swiss, who combined it with local ingredients. According to some, Älplermagronen began as a simple dish of pasta mixed with onions, milk and cream. Potatoes and meat, the former being a common ingredient in Swiss cooking, were added later to make the dish more filling.
However, as is usually the case with these kinds of stories, the amount of fiction usually outweighs the amount of fact. Pasta was in use in Switzerland before the 1880s, as the first pasta factories in that country were built in the 1840s. It was considered a luxury food, more commonly eaten among the wealthy then the working class. It wasn’t until the 1930s that pasta became more readily available and affordable in Switzerland. In fact, the workers who helped build the Gotthard tunnel were men of lower income from the alpine regions of Italy, where rice and polenta are more commonly eaten than pasta. Also, since Italy and Switzerland are in such close proximity to one another, trade between the two countries had been going on long before 1882. So, the idea that pasta did not exist in Switzerland until the 1880s, much less that it was brought there by people who may have not regularly consumed it, should be considered one among many tall tales in the culinary world.

 

Despite its dubious origins, Älplermagronen is now a classic dish in Swiss cooking. It is commonly served at restaurants and resorts throughout Switzerland year round. It also has made regular appearances in official Swiss military cookbooks since 1986, but had been prepared by military cooks years before.

 

Variations

 

As with most recipes in the world, there exist numerous variations of Älplermagronen. Some versions contain potatoes only and omit onions and meat; others substitute various kinds of sausage in place of ham or bacon. There are even some versions that only have onions added. Almost all versions (unlike this one) feature applesauce or alternatively apple or plum compote served as a side dish. Very few versions I’ve come across feature fried apples.
The method for preparing the sauce also varies. In some versions, the potatoes and pasta are boiled in milk and then the cheese is added; others have you adding the milk and cheese to the frying pan when you add the pasta and potatoes. I can’t remember if I’ve seen any quite like the one presented here, where the sauce is made just before the pasta is done.

 

Inspiration

 

I originally learned about Älplermagronen while looking for some kind of pasta recipe featuring cream and apples. I stumbled across Crawfish & Caramel’s recipe for Älplermagronen and I immediately began combing through as many recipes for Älplermagronen that I could. The idea of a pasta with onions, potatoes and applesauce intrigued me.
However, as I started thinking more about the recipe, I reasoned to myself that maybe it would be better to actually have fresh apples incorporated into the dish rather than having them as a sauce served on the side. I’m not sure if this idea came to me before I found this recipe from Lieberlecker, but it certainly was influential in helping me craft this recipe.
The amount of liquid used in this recipe, as well as the amount of cheese, has changed over the past couple months. Originally, I was using 1 1/4 cup, (300 ml) of milk and nearly 2 ounces (50 g) of cheese. I also would add the pasta to the fried stuff along with the potatoes and milk. I heated the milk a little bit, then added the cheese and cooked for a while on medium heat until it was well incorporated.
While the end result was creamy and delicious, I figured it would be better to add a little bit more liquid and cheese to make it even more creamy. I’m very happy with the way this recipe turned out, just as I’m sure you’ll be once you taste it.

 

Footnotes

 

1. I like to use Yukon gold for this recipe, but you can use any type of potato you wish. However, if you decide to use russet potatoes, I recommend that you peel them before cutting them. The skin of those potatoes can be a bit bitter at times.
2. You can use any kind of tube shaped pasta that you wish for this recipe. I use ziti because it is very easy to cook both potatoes and pasta together and both are done cooking around the same time. Just keep in mind that if you do decide to use a different type of tube shaped pasta (such as penne or rigatoni) you may need to cook the pasta a little bit first before adding your potatoes.
3. Feel free to substitute the bacon in this recipe with turkey bacon. It’s usually my go-to choice when making Älplermagronen for myself.
4. For this dish, I recommend you use a sweet variety of apples such as gala, Fuji, honeycrisp or golden delicious. Feel free to use a mixture of apples if you wish.
5. I know, I know; bread crumbs may or may not be a traditional topping for this dish, but the Sicilian in me just can’t resist putting toasted bread crumbs on pasta.

 

Sources

 

http://www.ogs-seebach.ch/p/infoseld.php?src=ogstheme2.php&tid=12&sid=303&id=5796
https://www.coopzeitung.ch/themen/freizeit/2016/alplermagronen—ein-kulinarischer-grenzfall-24300/
http://crawfishandcaramel.com/alpermagronen-swiss-herdsmen-macaroni-potato-and-cheese/
https://lieberlecker.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/alplermagronen/

 

How to Hard Cook Eggs

It’s a story that’s all too familiar. You want to make an egg salad sandwich or potato salad with hard cooked eggs. You can’t bring yourself to buy the pre-cooked eggs from the store because you think they’re too much money, so you decide to do it yourself at home.

 
You get a pot of water boiling, you add the eggs and you cook them for a while. You then drain the eggs, you peel them and then you slice into them.

 
And behold, the horror of horrors. You discover that either the yolks are runny or they have that gross green ring around them. You then break down and cry, feeling like a colossal failure and swear to yourself you will never try hard cooking eggs ever again.

 
Well, no more. Today on the Road, I’m going to teach you one way to get perfect hard cooked eggs with firm yolks and no green rings. I learned this method from my dad, who says he learned it from an episode of the Rachael Ray Show.

Instructions

 

Remove your eggs from the refrigerator and leave them out until they reach room temperature. This step is completely optional, as my dad has made hard cooked eggs that came straight out of the refrigerator and had the same results in the end.

 
In a pot, add your eggs and then fill the pot with water until the eggs are almost completely submerged. You want a small amount of shell sticking up above the water.

 
Then, turn your heat on medium-high. Bring the water to a rolling boil, then turn off the heat and cover the pot immediately. Allow the eggs to sit for about 15 to 20 minutes.

 
Very carefully, open the pot and drain the water with a strainer. Then completely submerge the eggs in cold water and leave them to rest until completely cooled. Once cooled, you can peel them or store them in your refrigerator until you’re ready to use them.

 
And oh, the things you can do with hard cooked eggs. Not only can you make egg salad, potato salad and sandwiches with them, you can put them in almost any dish. On occasion, I like to add hard cooked eggs to pasta or serve them with hummus and black olives on sandwiches. There’s no limit to what you can do with hard cooked eggs. And now you know an almost foolproof way to make them perfect every time. So get crackin’!

 
Well, that’s it for today. I’m currently working on several different recipes right now, so expect to see one coming within the next month or two. So until then, I’ll see you on the Road!

 
PS, if anybody out there has any tips on how to peel hard cooked eggs, I’d love to hear from you. I honestly find peeling them to be a real pain. I would like to know if there’s any secret method for removing the shells off easily.

Thinking about Montalbano

Hey there, fellow travelers! As a lot of you know, I do a lot of Sicilian cooking and from time to time feature Sicilian recipes on this blog.

When I was doing a lot of research into the food of Sicily, I came across references to a book and television series by the name of Inspector Montalbano written by Andrea Camilleri. From what I can gather, Montalbano is a Sicilian detective who has a penchant for solving hard cases and a great love for Sicilian cooking.

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about getting into either the book or television series and would like some advice as where I should start. I’m a big fan of mystery novels, especially ones with exotic settings.

Please let me know in the comments section below which books or episodes I should check out first.

PS, Just like Montalbano, I love Pasta Ncasciata and think it’s a dish worthy of Mount Olympus.

 

 

Recipe Suggestion

Hey, all! In a month or two, I’m thinking of putting up a Sicilian seafood recipe on the blog and I’d like your help deciding what you’d like to see.

 

Being an island, seafood is a big deal in Sicily and there are all sorts of very delicious recipes that can be found there. Probably two of the most famous are involtini di pesce spada (rolled stuffed swordfish) and sarde a beccafico (stuffed fresh sardines), two incredibly delicious dishes stuffed with bread crumbs and various seasonings like raisins, capers, citrus zest and parsley.

Some lesser known but equally lovely dishes include tunnina alla Palermitana (tuna steaks marinated in lemon juice, white wine and various herbs) and sogliola alla Saccense (flounder with olives and fennel marinated in orange juice).

 

Which of these recipes, if any, would you like to see featured on the Road? Let me know in comments below and I’ll get to work writing the recipe. 

 

 

Recipe Suggestions

Hey, all! In about a month or two, I’m going to be putting up a new Sicilian recipe and I’d like all you fellow travelers out there to help me decide what you’d like that recipe to be.

I really would like to feature a dessert of some kind, but at the same time I’d really like to feature a pasta recipe or perhaps even a recipe for something else entirely.

So, what would kind of Sicilian recipe would you all like to see featured nextLet me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

Recipe Review: Seffa (Sweet Moroccan Vermicelli)

DSCN1540

Hey, fellow travelers! Today on the road, I’m going to do something that I’ve never done before on this blog. I’m going to review a recipe I recently made.

If you’ve been following this blog for some time, you know that I’m a guy who likes to try lots of different stuff. A while back, I somehow found out about seffa or sfa (pronounced ss-fuh), a traditional Moroccan dish that consists of broken vermicelli (sometimes rice or couscous), raisins, cinnamon and icing sugar. It’s eaten as a dessert or sometimes paired with chicken, beef or lamb, which is usually buried beneath the pasta.

I’ve been wanting to make this for a while now, so So I did a little bit of research on Pinterest and stumbled across Farih Mohamed’s recipe for seffa.  After reading the recipe for a little bit, I decided to give it a shot.

Before I go on, I have to acknowledge that I had to make a few changes to the recipe, but I did follow the exact procedure given.  First, I had to do quite a bit of mathematics to break down the recipe to a single portion, which involved me having to subtract the recipe by 80 percent.  Second, I reduced the amount of sugar and cinnamon.  And lastly, I used to pistachios in place of almonds (I’m too lazy to open my bag of almonds , plus I’m saving them for a future recipe).

So the first thing I did was steam my vermicelli. Yeah, you read that right. Steamed vermicelli. Sounds kind of weird, at least to a guy who grew up eating pasta boiled in water. I guess it’s a traditional method for preparing some pasta dishes from Northern Africa.  It’s kind of a pain though, because you don’t just drop the pasta in a steam basket.  Instead, you have to keep taking it out and mix it with water and oil and return it to the steamer until it’s done.

Nuisance though it was, I steamed anyhow.  First, I poured about 2 teaspoons (10 ml) of olive oil over the pasta and mixed it around.  I put it in my steam basket and cooked for about 15 minutes.  After the first steaming, I took out the vermicelli and poured a tablespoon (15 ml) of water mixed with salt over it.  I mixed the pasta again and put it back to the steamer.

10 minutes later, I took out the pasta and poured 1 1/2 tsp of salted water over the pasta, added the raisins, mixed it together and put back in for another 10 minutes.  One thing you can say about this recipe is that it’s practically an upper body workout in itself.

Anyway, I took the vermicelli out 10 minutes later and drizzled a  teaspoon of olive oil over it.  Then, I piled the pasta up into a large dome and sprinkled the cinnamon, icing sugar and chopped pistachios over it.

Then, after 35 minutes of cooking and 5-10 of trying to get decent pictures (which is a real battle when you’re in this kind of business), I finally got to taste it.

image

And honestly? I didn’t like it. At least, not at first. It was sweet, but it other than the raisins, it seemed like all the sweetness was stuck on the top. I know that the sugar and cinnamon is usually sprinkled over the seffa for visual effects, but that’s honestly about all that’s good for.  Only sprinkling spices, sugar or nuts on the surface of something will leave the sweetness topside.  Once you get down to the bottom layer, all you end up with is spaghetti with raisins.  And that’s kind of boring.

Don’t get me wrong though.  I’m not saying the recipe itself was bad.  I liked the combination of flavors in the dish, I just think it would’ve been better if those flavors had been more evenly distributed throughout the seffa.

So in closing, my conclusion is that this recipe for seffa was okay.  I liked the blend of flavors, I just think he would’ve worked better had they been more spread out.

So, that’s my review for today.  Not sure how many of these I’m going to do, but it’s kinda fun.  And before I go, I’m going to leave you with a quick recipe for the seffa I’d made:

 

Seffa (Sweet Moroccan Vermicelli)

 

  • 1 cup (100 g) broken vermicelli
  • 2 1/2 tsp (12 ml) olive oil
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) water mixed with salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp (7 ml) water mixed with salt
  • 2 tbsp (15 g) raisins
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) olive oil
  • Icing sugar, to taste (based on my calculations, I was really supposed to use 2 tbsp, but I only used 1/2 tsp)
  • Finely chopped almonds or pistachios, to taste (You probably need about 1/4 cup or 20 g)

Instructions

 

In a pot, prepare your water along with your steam basket.  Once the water is boiling, place the vermicelli on a large dish or bowl and pour the olive oil over the vermicelli. Mix well then place in the steam basket, cover, reduce heat to medium and steam for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, remove the vermicelli and mix with a tablespoon of salted water.  Return to the steamer and cook an additional 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, remove the vermicelli and add the raisins, along with 1 1/2 teaspoon of salted water.  Return to the steamer for another 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, the pasta should be tender.  If not, return to the steamer for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.

Once the vermicelli is tender, place on a large dish and mix with a teaspoon of olive oil.  Now you have a decision: you can either pile the vermicelli into a large mound and sprinkle it with cinnamon, the icing sugar and the chopped nuts or you can mix everything together and then pile it up. I’ll leave it up to you decide.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for today. If you want to see some recipes that I made, all you have to do is scroll down. Or you can check me out on Tumblr, YouTube, or  Pinterest. See ya on the Road!

Mexican Gorditas

DSCN1488

Hey, fellow travelers! I’m back again with another new recipe, just in time for Cinco de Mayo. Today, I’m going to teach you how to make gorditas, tasty little Mexican morsels that have few ingredients but are big in taste.

Now, what exactly a gordita is and how it is prepared varies greatly depending on where you are in Latin America. There are some gorditas that are more like pitas or puffy tortillas that are cooked on the stove top and then are split open and stuffed with a variety of fillings. There are other gorditas that look more similar to tortillas and are not stuffed, but have toppings placed on them after cooking. There are even other gorditas that are more similar to empanadas and are stuffed before cooking and then deep fried.

The gorditas that I will teach you how to make today are something of a cross between a tortilla, an American biscuit and an English muffin. This style of gordita is very similar to some varieties that are traditionally prepared in the northern states of Mexico. My gordita recipe is made with a mixture of all purpose flour and Masa harina (corn flour) along with a little salt, water and baking powder. They are cooked on the stove top and will inflate while cooking. This makes them perfect for stuffing with any kind of filling that you wish. Refried beans, guacamole, shredded chicken or pork, ground beef, salsa… the possibilities are endless.

These gorditas cook up in less than 10 minutes and are an excellent quick breakfast or great addition to any meal. And what’s even better is that you don’t need any oil to cook them. While some recipes for gorditas are either deep fried or fried in lard or oil, my recipe is simply cooked in a nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. If you want to have gorditas that are golden brown, you can use one to two teaspoons (about 5 – 10ml) of olive oil, but that isn’t required.

So what do you say we head on over to the kitchen and whip up something good?

 

Ingredients

1 cup (100 g) Masa harina (see footnote 1)
3/4 cup (100 g) all purpose flour (I use enriched and presifted)
salt to taste (I like to use about an 1/8 teaspoon for myself)
3 teaspoons (12 g) baking powder
about 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp (175 ml) warm water (see footnote 2)
1 – 2 tsp (5-10 ml) olive oil (optional)

 

Instructions

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the Masa, all purpose flour, salt and baking powder until well Incorporated.

Pour in about half the amount of water and begin to mix. Continue to mix while gradually adding more. You’ll want to stop once you get a dough that has the texture and consistency of Play-Doh, not too dry but not too wet.

Break off pieces of dough and shape into balls about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) in diameter. Using your hands or a glass, slightly flatten the balls. You’ll want the gorditas to look like small fat pitas: you don’t them to be as flat as a tortilla, at least not for this recipe. Leave them to rest on a large dish.

Preheat a large nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. Once the skillet is hot, place the gorditas inside, keeping them spaced apart from one another so they’re easier to turn. Cook gorditas for about 3 – 4 minutes per side. You want the gorditas to be slightly brown and blistered on each side. Once the gorditas are done cooking, transfer them to a dish and allow them to sit for about 2 – 3 minutes, until they cool slightly. Using a fork, slightly split open the gordita and stuff with filling of choice.

Makes about six 2 1/2 inch (6.5 cm) gorditas.

 

Notes

My gordita recipe is partially adapted from a recipe made by former MasterChef Season 4 contestant Adriana Guillen. my recipe is essentially the same as hers, except I use slightly more flour and less baking powder.
1. Masa harina is a type of flour made from ground corn that is commonly used in Mexican cooking. You can find Masa harina in Mexican grocery stores, as well as in most chain supermarkets. You can even find small bags of it at some dollar stores in North America. There’s one particular chain where you can get a small bag of Masa for just a dollar. My American readers will probably know which one I’m referring to. 😉 Let’s just say money grows on it.

Masa harina is much different in texture then cornmeal, so I would advise against trying to substitute cornmeal in place of it.

2. As with most recipes for bread or any kind of recipe that requires you to make a dough, the amount of water given is very suggestive. I’ve learned in the last few months while making various kinds of traditional Sicilian breads that depending on where you live in the world, the amount of water needed in bread recipes varies wildly. The amount I’ve listed is a rough estimate based upon my own experience.

When making any kind of bread or similar recipe with water and flour, it’s a good rule to start with about half the amount of water given and to gradually add the rest in small increments. Depending on where you live, you may or may not need extra water. It’s better to start with a dough that’s too dry and to work your way up from there then to end up with a dough that’s too wet and difficult to work with.

Mexican Gorditas

DSCN1488

Hey, fellow travelers! I’m back again with another new recipe, just in time for Cinco de Mayo. Today, I’m going to teach you how to make gorditas, tasty little Mexican morsels that have few ingredients but are big in taste.

Now, what exactly a gordita is and how it is prepared varies greatly depending on where you are in Latin America. There are some gorditas that are more like pitas or puffy tortillas that are cooked on the stove top and then are split open and stuffed with a variety of fillings. There are other gorditas that look more similar to tortillas and are not stuffed, but have toppings placed on them after cooking. There are even other gorditas that are more similar to empanadas and are stuffed before cooking and then deep fried.

The gorditas that I will teach you how to make today are something of a cross between a tortilla, an American biscuit and an English muffin. This style of gordita is very similar to some varieties that are traditionally prepared in the northern states of Mexico. My gordita recipe is made with a mixture of all purpose flour and Masa harina (corn flour) along with a little salt, water and baking powder. They are cooked on the stove top and will inflate while cooking. This makes them perfect for stuffing with any kind of filling that you wish. Refried beans, guacamole, shredded chicken or pork, ground beef, salsa… the possibilities are endless.

These gorditas cook up in less than 10 minutes and are an excellent quick breakfast or great addition to any meal. And what’s even better is that you don’t need any oil to cook them. While some recipes for gorditas are either deep fried or fried in lard or oil, my recipe is simply cooked in a nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. If you want to have gorditas that are golden brown, you can use one to two teaspoons (about 5 – 10ml) of olive oil, but that isn’t required.

So what do you say we head on over to the kitchen and whip up something good?

 

Ingredients

1 cup (100 g) Masa harina (see footnote 1)
3/4 cup (100 g) all purpose flour (I use enriched and presifted)
salt to taste (I like to use about an 1/8 teaspoon for myself)
3 teaspoons (12 g) baking powder
about 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp (175 ml) warm water (see footnote 2)
1 – 2 tsp (5-10 ml) olive oil (optional)

 

Instructions

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the Masa, all purpose flour, salt and baking powder until well Incorporated.

Pour in about half the amount of water and begin to mix. Continue to mix while gradually adding more. You’ll want to stop once you get a dough that has the texture and consistency of Play-Doh, not too dry but not too wet.

Break off pieces of dough and shape into balls about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) in diameter. Using your hands or a glass, slightly flatten the balls. You’ll want the gorditas to look like small fat pitas: you don’t them to be as flat as a tortilla, at least not for this recipe. Leave them to rest on a large dish.

Preheat a large nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. Once the skillet is hot, place the gorditas inside, keeping them spaced apart from one another so they’re easier to turn. Cook gorditas for about 3 – 4 minutes per side. You want the gorditas to be slightly brown and blistered on each side. Once the gorditas are done cooking, transfer them to a dish and allow them to sit for about 2 – 3 minutes, until they cool slightly. Using a fork, slightly split open the gordita and stuff with filling of choice.

Makes about six 2 1/2 inch (6.5 cm) gorditas.

 

Notes

My gordita recipe is partially adapted from a recipe made by former MasterChef Season 4 contestant Adriana Guillen. my recipe is essentially the same as hers, except I use slightly more flour and less baking powder.
1. Masa harina is a type of flour made from ground corn that is commonly used in Mexican cooking. You can find Masa harina in Mexican grocery stores, as well as in most chain supermarkets. You can even find small bags of it at some dollar stores in North America. There’s one particular chain where you can get a small bag of Masa for just a dollar. My American readers will probably know which one I’m referring to. 😉 Let’s just say money grows on it.

Masa harina is much different in texture then cornmeal, so I would advise against trying to substitute cornmeal in place of it.

2. As with most recipes for bread or any kind of recipe that requires you to make a dough, the amount of water given is very suggestive. I’ve learned in the last few months while making various kinds of traditional Sicilian breads that depending on where you live in the world, the amount of water needed in bread recipes varies wildly. The amount I’ve listed is a rough estimate based upon my own experience.

When making any kind of bread or similar recipe with water and flour, it’s a good rule to start with about half the amount of water given and to gradually add the rest in small increments. Depending on where you live, you may or may not need extra water. It’s better to start with a dough that’s too dry and to work your way up from there then to end up with a dough that’s too wet and difficult to work with.

Maccu di Fave: Sicilian Cream of Fava Bean Soup

Hey, Fellow Travelers! I’m finally back with a brand new recipe! Today, I’m going to teach you how to make maccu or macco di fave (pronounced mock-oo or mock-oh dee fahv-eh), a traditional Sicilian soup or stew of crushed fava (broad) beans.

As I said in a previous post, one of the reasons that I have not been posting very faithfully on here is because I have been very busy cooking a lot of different recipes, mostly Sicilian ones. This recipe in particular is one of my personal favorites that I have discovered recently. I’ve made it several times and I can say that I love it more and more every time I make it. And I’m sure that once you make maccu for yourself, you’ll agree.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Per the unwritten food bloggers code, I have to blather on and on a little bit more before I give you the actual recipe.  😉

Like I said earlier, maccu is a traditional soup of pureed or crushed fava beans that is widely eaten throughout Sicily. It was a meal that according to tradition was eaten by Sicilian farmers before or after a day in the fields. No doubt the beans would either give or replenish some much-needed energy before or after a long hard day of work. It is also a dish that is sometimes eaten on the Feast of St. Joseph, which is observed on March 19th.

Traditionally, maccu is prepared with dried fava beans and often paired with one or more different types of vegetables (for a more detailed discussion of some variants of maccu as well as explanation of the dish’s name, see footnotes 1 and 2). Usually, fava beans are soaked overnight and then boiled for several hours until they turn into a thick mush.

My version, however, takes a much more simplistic approach. Instead of using fresh or dried fava as is usually the case, I use canned fava beans along with the liquid they’re packed in. The beans are cooked until tender or heated through and smashed into a thick paste with a potato masher. Also, my version consists of six simple ingredients: olive oil, spring onions, garlic, fava beans, black pepper and fennel fronds. I love the rich, meaty taste of the fava beans along with the refreshing bits of onion and garlic. The fennel fronds are a very nice finishing touch, adding a subtle sweetness to the dish.

The beautiful thing about maccu is that it is such a versatile dish. It can be eaten as a soup or stew. It can be served hot or cold as a party dip. It can be used as a filling for panini or a topping for bruschetta. It can even be used as a pasta sauce. The earthy, meaty taste of the beans is lovely on pasta. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can even prepare maccu and mix it with a little bit of tomato sauce and plant milk and make a delicious meat-free ragu they even your meat-eating friends will love. You won’t believe it’s not meat!

The not so beautiful thing about maccu is having to skin the fava beans. Ugh. It doesn’t matter if you use fresh, frozen, dried, fresh or canned favas; if you want a relatively smooth and creamy texture, you have to take the skins off the fava beans. It’s an annoying step, but it beats eating the soup and constantly chewing on the skins. Although I have to admit, most of the time I skin only the really big fava beans in the can and leave the smaller ones with the skin on. Nobody said that you can’t always cut a few corners here and there. 😉

While maccu may not be the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen, I guarantee it will be one of the tastiest things you will ever eat.

Note: the following recipe makes enough maccu for about two people. If you want to make more maccu, I recommend doubling the recipe. If you find the maccu too thick, you may wish to water it down a little. I have not yet attempted this as I like maccu very thick. You may also wish to water maccu down slightly if you decide to use it as a pasta sauce, but again I’ve never done this.

 

Ingredients

 

2 tbsp. (30 ml) olive oil

2 spring onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely minced or chopped

1 14 oz. (400 g) can fava/broad beans, drained with liquid reserved (see footnote 3)

Salt and pepper

Fennel fronds, to taste (see footnote 4)

 

Instructions

 

Chop the onions and garlic and put aside.

Drain the fava beans, reserving the liquid until needed.

Remove the skin from the fava beans by grabbing the sides of the beans with your thumb, index and middle finger and gently apply pressure. The skin should slide off easily. Discard the skin. You may wish to not skin the beans or to only skin the larger ones. Be advised that not peeling the beans will give the maccu a much more chewier texture.

Pour the olive oil into a large deep pot. Set the fire to medium-high and once the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic. Fry for about 2-3 minutes.

After 2-3 minutes, turn the heat off and allow the oil to cool slightly. Then add the reserved bean liquid, along with the fava beans.

Turn the heat back on and bring the beans to a boil. Depending on the toughness of the beans, you may need to cook the beans for a few minutes until they become tender. If the beans seem fairly tender before cooking, just bring them up to a boil (see footnote 5).

Remove from heat, then take a potato masher and crush the beans into a thick paste. If you find the puree to be too thin, you may need to simmer it for a few minutes.

Pour the bean puree into bowls to serve as a stew. Garnish with fennel fronds. Alternatively, you can use the puree as a pasta sauce, as a filling for panini, a topping for bruschetta, or serve cold as a party dip.

 

Notes

 

1. The name maccu/macco is believed to be derived from the Latin word maccare, meaning to crush or smash. This seems likely since the soup consists primarily of crushed or smashed fava beans. If this is the case, it can be assumed that this dish had its origins during the period of Roman rule in Sicily (241 BC–476 AD). Recipes for stews consisting of either crushed or pureed fava beans or peas were well-known to the ancient Romans (see Apicius, De re coquinaria V.3.189-191).

2. Throughout Sicily, there exist numerous variants of maccu. Some versions consist merely of fava beans cooked for a long period of time until they become a thick mush. Others consist of crushed fava beans with some type of vegetable, such as carrots, celery, or chopped fennel. In Catania, it is common for fava beans and peas to be paired together, whereas in Palermo there exists a version of maccu with fava and pumpkin. In southeastern Sicily, there also exists a version of maccu with fava beans and other various mixed beans and vegetables that is eaten on the feast of Saint Joseph. There is also a version of maccu that once prepared is allowed to cool completely and is then sliced, breaded and fried, much like the Sicilian chickpea fritters known as panelle.

3. In the United States, fava beans can easily be found in most Italian or Middle Eastern markets, as well as some grocery stores. If you are unable to find fava beans or do not like them, butter beans may be substituted.

Butter beans can be peeled in the same manner as described above, although they tend to be a bit more delicate and are more likely to break apart. This isn’t much of an issue since you’re going to smash the beans anyways. The maccu made from butter beans tends to be a bit more watery then fava based maccu. If it seems too watery, simmer the puree until it thickens.

Maccu made with butter beans tends not to be as meaty tasting as fava bean maccu, but instead tastes very similar to chickpeas, at least to me.

Another bean that can be used in place of fava beans are black eyed peas. These are my favorite beans to use in place of favas since they do not require peeling and their taste is relatively similar to favas, although slightly less bitter. However, maccu made with black eyed peas may need to be simmered in order to thicken, just as when using butter beans.

4. You can also use fresh or dried oregano, thyme, rosemary or basil in place of fennel fronds.

5. The tenderness of canned fava beans tends to be very subjective, at least in my experience. I’ve had cans where the beans were soft and others that felt like they were raw.

A new direction = a new name?

Hey, fellow travelers!

 

Last night, I put out a post in which I’m considering changing the direction of this blog to focus more on Sicilian cuisine and slightly less international food, while not completely abandoning it entirely.

If I do change the direction of the blog, I am considering changing its name to more accurately reflect this transition. But this is something that I’m not certain of.

What you think? Should I change the blog’s name or keep it? Let me know in the comments below.