The day I met Dominique Rizzo, it was bright, sunny and beautiful just like the cover of her book, My Taste of Sicily. Dominique was in Canberra presenting cooking demonstrations during Floriade and we were enjoying afternoon tea in the garden at Lindeman's cellar door.
Former head chef and partner of Brisbane's Mondo Organics restaurant, Dominique is a natural teacher and loves to share her knowledge of Sicilian food and cookery. Her company, Pure Food Cooking, teaches school students and adults, and incorporates cooking classes and presentations, recipe development and food styling for magazines. Dominique also appears on Ready, Steady, Cook as well as guest spots on the 7pm Project and national radio segments.
In My Taste of Sicily, Dominique says she has poured herself onto the pages and hopes to inspire readers in the same way that Sicilian has inspired her. 'When I was three years old, my father took the family ... on our first trip to his homeland of Siciliy. My earliest memories of this beautifully rustic land are of my zio's (uncle's) farm. I remember gathering freshly laid eggs as chickens and rabbits ran freely around; orchards filled with plump lemons and oranges; and grapes hanging from the vines like jewels; Zio Fifo entering the house with a lamb hung over his huge shoulders; and Zia Maria carrying a basket of home-grown vegetables (even then I was inquisitive about what they were and how they would be used)', she writes.
The trips to Italy continued over the years and Dominique has gathered her most cherished recipes in a collection of 'honest, delicious food of a beautiful land and its people'. The My Taste of Sicily chapters are broken into salads, starters and soups; pasta, pizza, couscous and rice; vegetables; fish and seafood; meat and poultry; and sweets and desserts. There is also an informative section on the Sicilian pantry and a glossary.
Poppy seeds were a favourite ingredient in my mother's kitchen and, besides, ricotta has been the flavour of the month at our place, therefore I couldn't resist road testing Dominique's Torta di Ricotta, Miele e Semi Di Papavero (baked ricotta, honey and poppy seed cake, page 192). I must add that several other recipes caught my attention immediately, including the Fave con Lattuga e Prosciutto (broad beans with lettuce and prosciutto, page 100). With broad beans in plentiful supply at the Farmer's Markets, that one is definitely on the list.
To make the Torta di Ricotta, first preheat your oven to 170 degrees C. Prepare a rectangular (25 x 17.5cm) or square (21cm) cake tin by greasing and lining with baking paper. I used a heavy-based non stick loaf tin and this worked well. Combine in a food processor 500g fresh ricotta, which has been well drained (I used low fat ricotta) with 30 grams (1.5 tablespoons) of caster sugar, 1/4 cup of honey, half a vanilla pod (seeds scraped), two tablespoons poppy seeds, two free range eggs and 1/3 cup pouring cream. Process until well combined and then transfer this mixture to your prepared tin and bake for about 40-45 minutes or until the cake has just set and is starting to brown around the edges. Take care, as you don't want it overly browned or burned. Leave the cake to cool completely in the tin before cutting into slices. Serve with a honey syrup made from 125mls of water, 1/4 cup of honey, 1/4 cup of caster sugar and 1/2 a vanilla pod (seeds scraped). Dominique suggests serving the cake with almond biscotti, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of double cream. This quantity will serve 8-10.
The verdict: this torta is light and very luscious, not at all rich, nor too sweet. We also enjoyed the delightful crunch of the poppy seeds. A quick and easy to make recipe that I will want to make again and again. My Taste of Sicily by Dominique Rizzo (Lantern $39.95). With photographs throughout by the very talented Alan Benson, this is definitely one for the Christmas stocking! With sincere thanks to Dominique Rizzo and Lantern (Penguin Group).
Incidentally, Dominique's latest project is a series of 'Pure Sicilian Food, Wine and Cooking Tours', which will commence in June 2012. Needless to say, she is excited about the 14 day and 16 day tours which Dominique says will showcase the intoxicating island.
Cookbook reviews and interviews with food writers and chefs.