A starter of gram flour fritters with salsa verde, a seasonal pumpkin stew with a side of garlic chilli greens, and plum and pistachio cake for dessert
Starter: panelle, sea salt and salsa verde (above)
Prep 5 min
Cook 1 hr, including cooling time
Sea salt and pepper
250g chickpea (aka gram) flour
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
1 tbsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
For the salsa verde
½ bunch flat parsley (with stalks)
½ bunch mint
½ bunch chives
½ tbsp capers, drained
2 salted anchovies
1 tbsp red-wine vinegar
Juice of ½ lemon
120ml extra-virgin olive oilAdvertisement
First make the sauce. Put the herbs, capers and anchovies in a jug blender, add the vinegar and lemon juice, and start to blend. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream until it’s all incorporated and you are left with a thick, green, rustic sauce. Season to taste and set aside.
For the panelle, pour the measured water into a saucepan, bring to a boil and season generously. Vigorously whisk in the chickpea flour, and keep whisking until it forms a thick, smooth paste that comes away from the sides of the pan. Check the seasoning, then turn off the heat.
Lightly oil a baking tray (or a kitchen counter), pour the batter on top and smooth out until the mix is about 2cm thick, then leave to cool completely.
In a deep-sided pan, heat the frying oil to 180C – test by dropping in a piece of bread: it should fizzle and turn brown almost immediately. Cut the panelle into rustic strips or triangles, then deep-fry in two or three batches until golden brown, lightly puffed and crisp – about two to three minutes a batch. Drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with the fennel seeds and some sea salt, and serve at once with the salsa verde for dipping. (Or go full Sicilian by stuffing the fritters in a bread roll and dousing them in lemon juice.)
Main: pumpkin and chickpea stew
This is a great way to cook pumpkin; its natural sweetness and texture work brilliantly as a stew base, and the raisins, cinnamon, olives and coriander give it a distinctive, sweet-sour, Moorish slant. In western Sicily this would be served alongside a bowl of ‘cuscus’.
Prep 10 min
Cook 1 hr 30 min
Serves 4, generously
½ small pumpkin (about 1.2kg), iron bark or delica, ideally
Sea salt and black pepper
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
½ bunch coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground chilli flakes
500ml vegetable stock
75g green olives
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 x 400g tin chickpeas
Heat the oven to 210C (190C fan)/410F/gas 6½. Peel the pumpkin, then chop the flesh into 3cm pieces; reserve the seeds. Toss the pumpkin in olive oil to coat, then season lightly, spread out on an oven tray and roast for 35-40 minutes, until golden and caramelised.
Meanwhile, put the onions and a glug of oil in a medium casserole dish over a low heat. Finely chop the coriander stalks and add to the pan with the raisins and most of the cinnamon and chilli flakes (keep a little of both to garnish). Cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally; add splashes of stock as need be, so it doesn’t dry out.
When the pumpkin is done, stir it all into the casserole, taking care not to crush the pumpkin – it looks better when it retains its shape. Bash the olives to split them, remove and discard the stones and add to the pan with the tomatoes and chickpeas – juice and all. Add the rest of the stock, turn up the heat to medium and leave to simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until rich and thick.
Meanwhile, toss the reserved pumpkin seeds with the remaining cinnamon and chilli flakes, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread out in the same roasting tray and roast for around 10 minutes, or until golden and crisp.
Ladle the stew into shallow bowls, scatter with a few spiced pumpkin seeds and serve.
Side: sauteed turnip tops, chilli, garlic and lemon
Turnip tops are a ubiquitous green vegetable all over southern Italy, and they are slowly becoming more popular over here. I love their earthy, bitter, metallic flavour. Sauteeing is easily the best way to cook them.
Prep 10 min
Cook 10 min
500g turnip tops, stalk ends trimmed
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
1 large red chilli, pith and seeds removed, finely sliced
Sea salt and pepper
Grated zest and juice of ½ unwaxed lemon
Cut the turnip tops in half widthways. Put a large saute pan on a medium heat and add a good glug of oil. Add the garlic and chilli, and cook, stirring, until softened and the garlic is just starting to take on some colour. Throw in the turnip tops, season generously and stir rapidly until they wilt, stirring the whole time to prevent the leaves from catching and browning. Turn off the heat, sprinkle over the lemon zest and juice, and serve immediately.
Pudding: plum and pistachio cake with rose water mascarpone
Prep 10 min
Cook 1 hr 40 min
370g caster sugar
Juice of ½ lemon
8 plums, halved, stoned and cut into 1cm pieces
150g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
160g green Iranian pistachios, plus extra for decorating
2 heaped tsp baking powder
150g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
130g thick Greek-style yoghurt
A few drops rosewater
30g icing sugar
Put the water, 215g sugar and the lemon juice in a saucepan on a medium heat, and stir to dissolve the sugar. Turn up the heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and add the chopped plums. Simmer for three minutes, until the syrup thickens and the plums soften (but don’t break down), then turn off the heat and leave to cool.
Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Grease a round nonstick 20cm cake tin with butter, then dust with flour and tap out any excess. Finely grind the nuts in a food processor. Sift the flour, semolina and baking powder into a bowl, then stir in the ground nuts. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and remaining 155g sugar in a bowl until pale and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating in each one well before adding the next. Stir in the flour mixture, then stir in the yoghurt to combine.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and tap the tin on a worktop to smooth the top. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Use the skewer to pierce holes all over the top of the cake, pour over the plums and their syrup, and leave to cool. Meanwhile, whisk the mascarpone, rose water and icing sugar. Transfer the cake to a platter, sprinkle with chopped pistachios and serve with the mascarpone on the side.