Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Sicilian (Tongue) Twister

'Nfigghiulata Ibla da Ragusa
Sicilian Twisted & Stuffed Focaccia from Ibla, Ragusa

There are so many culinary treasures to discover on the beautiful island of Sicily, home of my parents, my family and my ancestors... and melting pot of so many cultures and traditions through the ages. Simple food, made of mostly humble ingredients, the ingenuity and straightforwardness of many of these dishes is what makes them so wonderful.

One of these simple recipes, is the "n'figghiulata", a rolled up strip of bread dough with a savory filling, most probably having originated from some ingenious housewife who was too smart and sensible to do away with a left-over too small to form a decent loaf or pizza out of. Basically, the fillings were made from whatever people happened to have handy- which may not have been much back in days of yore! Though I visited the town of Ibla, Ragusa last year, I never did get to try out the real thing... and so tonight I decided to make my own! 

I did a little reading-up and decided on 2 simple fillings that are typical to the old town, set in a a deep valley. A breathtaking, vertical and verdant historic town dating back to 1693 after the momentous earthquake, the newer part of the city is built in the hillside above, but the old town holds many of its old treasures and traditions still. Many... except for this one- which I took away with me!

Now, you can go ahead and make a focaccia, bread or pizza dough- but as the old song says, "it ain't what you do- it's the way that you do it"... and so I took the short cut of buying my dough pre-made on a roll- which I think is fine on a weekday night if you are living on your own. On a weekend, with company and a little more time to knead, work and let the dough rest, I would make my own for sure. But again- it is just a matter of kneading flour, water and yeast together and I am not going to get too worked-up about that! I would rather work on those fillings!

The first filling I prepared was the ricotta one. For this I sliced up half of a leek and sautéed it in a small amount of olive oil until it began to soften. I seasoned with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg and then added a handful of finely chopped parsley, which I stirred- in for a minute or two, just to let it slowly start wilting. I then set these to one side to cool of and chopped up 3-4 black olives, ready to add to the mix. Once cooled off, I added 3 tablespoons of ricotta and about a quarter of a Mozzarella cheese, torn up, to the mix. I stirred everything together well and set it to one side... next came the tomato filling!

For the tomato filling I cut a regular-sized tomato in half, discarded the seeds and diced the rest. I added 1 finely chopped Spring onion and a handful of finely chopped bacon to a frying pan, sautéed them for just 2-3 minutes then set them to one side to cool. As soon as it was cool, I added a small handful of finely diced Scamorza cheese, another quarter of mozzarella torn into pieces, a pinch of fennel seed, salt, pepper, a little sugar of course and just a little tomato paste. I stirred this together, prepared a few leaves of basil to add at the end- and was now ready to fill my dough and form those loaves!

I unrolled the dough and cut it in half lengthways- so now I had 2 lengths of dough ready to be filled. I spooned each mixture into the center of the dough along the whole length, the folded the dough together both front and back until the filling was totally enclosed. And then came the fun part- because then I had to twist the dough 5-6 times, which also made it stretch and become longer still! It was like a pizza-conda! A giant snake- haha! Of course I am exaggerating- but you do need to be careful! 

To bake it, I used my favorite trick of starting it off in a dry frying pan on the stove top at top heat, for 2 minutes and then going into the oven for the next 10-15 minutes at 300°F to finish off. The heat to the base will help it to become crispy and firm enough to not turn soggy because of the ricotta, the tomatoes or the soft mozzarella. 

Once it was finished, golden brown and a little cooler I couldn't resist and decided to "get stuck in"! It is so nice to simply tear away each twist of dough as you go along, working your way from the outside in... delicious! And of course the kind of thing that still tastes as wonderful the morning after... so I do hope you do enjoy!


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