A Mind’s Journey to Sicily
Three Sicilian recipes to help you escape whenever you need a mental journey: Winter Greens with Persimmon and Vanilla-Citrus Vinaigrette, Sfincione, and Arancini with Kale and Capers.
I frequently travel to Sicily...sometimes a few times a month.
Ok...in reality, I’ve physically visited Sicily twice. But I relish taking a mental holiday and escaping to the Mediterranean island that is well known for its flavors from the sea, land and mountains.
Sicily’s unique mixture of tastes is also the product of an overlapping of the different cultures that, over thousands of years, have made Sicily a crossroads between the culinary traditions of the Western, Ancient Greek and Arab worlds. And behind it all is the local produce of exceptional quality that creates memorable foods that give life to this simple, complex, rustic or refined cuisine.
Sicily endlessly fascinates me. Whenever I have the time or a desire to escape – even within the boundaries of my mind, I dig into a Sicilian recipe – veganize it if necessary – and spend as much time as I want in my kitchen while preparing food that warms my heart and brings a smile to my face.
This week’s recipes are more involved than what I usually share. They require advanced planning and a day in the kitchen – an investment worth making if you want (or need) to extend the pleasures of taking a “mental holiday.” So, slip on some music...maybe watch an episode of The White Lotus and get busy making a delicious salad of winter greens, persimmon slices and tofu feta with a festive vanilla-citrus vinaigrette. Make a traditional thick Sicilian-style pizza bread and some arancini balls that may take your spirit to Palermo's streets. Go on...you deserve it!
Winter Greens with Persimmon and Vanilla-Citrus Vinaigrette
I enjoy this salad from mid-Autumn to the end of the year. The flavors, colors and textures make it a perfect candidate for any holiday meal.
I like combining winter greens – mild lamb’s lettuce, young spinach, robust rocket and a touch of spicy watercress or lemony purslane. The point is to combine different flavors in the salad so every bite is new and exciting. Mixing mild and assertive flavors helps to achieve this goal. I’ve also made this salad with just a nice batch of freshly harvested salad spinach leaves, and it worked great.
There are many different varieties of persimmons that are available during the cooler Autumn months. Generally, they fall into two broad categories: Hachiya and Fuyu. The Hachiya variety is soft and jelly-like, with incredibly high levels of tannins that make them inedible until they are fully ripened. The Fuyu is reminiscent of a pear. It is usually harvested underripe, then allowed to develop at room temperature. The flesh is firm, with a beautiful vanilla-like flavor. This is the type of persimmon to look for when making this salad.
I highlighted the subtle vanilla flavor from the persimmon with a fruity vinaigrette I scented with ground vanilla beans. And to compensate for all that sweetness, I added chunks of salty Bulgarian feta cheese – replaced today with crumbled tofu feta that works remarkably well as an alternative. Tofu feta is increasingly easier to find in health-food stores in larger metropolitan areas worldwide. Making your own is also simple and ends the problem of finding some. Here’s my recipe.
Yield: makes about 4-6 servings
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