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Sicilia By Ben Fish (Bloomsbury Absolute, £26) is out now       Photography by Kris Kirkham

Chilled Fennel and Broad Bean Soup

My old friend and fellow chef Antonio moved to the island of Pantellaria a few years ago and I try to make time to visit him at least twice during the summer months. Pantellaria is less crazy than the rest of Sicily and affords a peaceful respite and helps me recharge my culinary batteries. Situated just off Sicily’s south-west coast and a stone’s throw from Tunisia, the island retains a unique dialect incorporating a sort of slang Arabic mixed with Italian. The otherworldly landscape is stunning, at once both beautiful and strange, with its volcanic, alien-like terroir and craters, natural bubbling springs and black volcanic, tiered cliffs. Antonio is not only a very chilled character to be around but also a talented cook and he makes a soup very similar to this one to help combat the sweltering August island heat. It is delicious and perfect to be enjoyed in the midday shade.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

Extra virgin olive oil for cooking

1 very fresh fennel bulb, finely sliced

25g blanched almonds

1 litre chicken or vegetable stock 

(home-made is best)

20g crème fraîche

Lemon juice

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

100g podded young broad beans

A handful of wild fennel
fronds or dill

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

Method

Heat a medium sized saucepan over a medium heat and add a lug of olive oil. Add the fennel and cook briskly, without colouring, until softened. Now add the almonds and stock and bring to the boil, then simmer for five minutes or so until the fennel is fully cooked through and the almonds have softened. Season and add the crème fraîche. 

 

Transfer to a blender and blitz for five minutes or until smooth.

Season to taste and add some lemon juice. Pour into a container and chill. Heat a little oil in a small saucepan over a medium heat and lightly fry the fennel seeds until they become fragrant. 

Transfer to a pestle and mortar and crush lightly. Mix the fennel seeds with the broad beans and fennel fronds or dill. Pour the soup into chilled bowls, spoon in some of the bean and fennel seed mix, and serve. Ideal on a sweltering hot day.

Aeolian-style Summer Salad

This dish is all about the tomatoes. It’s hard to perfectly replicate a delicious, fresh salad from Sicily’s Aeolian islands when in the UK, yet we produce many delicious varieties of tomatoes that will stand up well in comparison. I’d use a plum vine or a Bull’s Heart tomato - ensure they are ripe, but not over ripe. I like to use a sweet-sour grape must (saba) for the dressing, which is smoother and fruitier than a vinegar, but an aged balsamic will also do nicely.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

10 medium-sized, medium-ripe, sweet red tomatoes (vine-ripened are best), 

sliced into rounds

2 tablespoons plump capers

2 handfuls of pitted green olives

2 tropea onions or small red onions, 

finely sliced

6 anchovies in oil, chopped

1 tablespoon oregano leaves

10 basil leaves, torn

 

For the vinaigrette

2 tablespoons saba (grape must) 

or balsamic vinegar

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt & freshly ground
black pepper

Method

Whisk together the grape must and extra virgin olive oil. Season to taste. To assemble the salad, carefully arrange the tomato slices on a serving plate and sprinkle over the capers, olives, onions, anchovies and herbs. Season well, then drizzle over the vinaigrette.

Leave the salad for five minutes, so all the flavours come together, before serving.

Spaghetti with Almond Cream, Fresh Crab, Chilli and Marjoram

Nut-thickened sauces and ‘creams’ are very popular in parts of Sicily. Nuts are natural thickeners and packed with flavour. I first came across a pasta dish similar to this when travelling through the Aeolian islands one summer. An idyllic beach side café had just a couple of pasta options and the one that took my fancy was a spaghetti with almond sauce served with tiny wild mussels that were an ocean in every bite. I think there may have been lemon too. It couldn’t have been more idyllic for the time and place. This is my version.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

100g blanched almonds

300ml full-fat milk

400g dried spaghetti

Extra virgin olive oil for cooking

2 fresh red chillies, deseeded and 

finely chopped

50g brown crab meat

100g fresh white crab meat, picked over to remove any shell or cartilage

Juice of 1 lemon

A handful of marjoram leaves

Sea salt & freshly ground
black pepper

Method

Put the almonds and milk in a saucepan and set aside to soak for 30 minutes. Then bring to the boil and cook for five minutes. 

Pour into a blender and blitz to a smooth sauce consistency. Season and reserve. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the packet instructions.

Meanwhile, add a lug of oil to a large saute pan and gently heat, then add the chillies and fry lightly to soften. Now pour in the almond sauce and stir in the brown and white crab meat. Squeeze in some lemon juice and check the seasoning. When the pasta is cooked, transfer it to the almond sauce using tongs. 

Drizzle in some olive oil and add a ladle of the pasta water. Stir the pasta through with the tongs, ensuring the strands are all coated. If the sauce is too thick add more pasta water and continue to stir or toss through. Transfer the pasta to warmed bowls (doing this with tongs gives a neat presentation) and sprinkle over the marjoram, 

then serve immediately.