Happy Hanukkah! Yesterday my Jewish friend told me about his family tradition of eating fried foods, such as fried potato pancake & doughnuts, as well as cheese, during the 8-day “Festival of Light”. Finding his cultural celebration interesting, I have decided to cook some fried foods during Hanukkah.
My featured recipe this week is deep-fried Sicilian meatballs made with pecorino cheese and mashed potato. First, I grate 4 oz pecorino cheese and mix with ½ cup bread crumbs, 1 egg, one mashed potato, 4 tablespoons fresh parsley, 4 tablespoons fresh basil, ½ teaspoon sea salt, ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and 1 lb. extra lean ground beef. With my hand, I form 2-inch meatballs and then dust them with flour. In a thick pan, I heat grapeseed oil and fry one sweet onion (chopped). Subsequently, I fry the meatballs until they turn golden and then serve them with fried sweet onion and a tomato marinara sauce.
I’m pairing the tasty Sicilian meatballs with one of my favorite wines in the world, 2008 Cusumano Nero d’Avola from Sicily. Nero d’Avola (i.e. black from Avola) is an indigenous Sicilian grape varietal. A rounder, earthier version of California Zinfandel, this luscious wine grown in Sicilian volcanic soil has vibrant black fruit notes with nice acidity and a soft tannin. I find it incredible that this voluptuous, supple wine is all ours to enjoy for under $15/bottle! It is a great valued wine to pair with many delicious tomato-based dishes.
Just like the extraordinary Sicilian Nero d’Avola & meatballs, my journey to Sicily was out of the ordinary. Sicily is a truly mesmerizing place. Its cuisine is bold and intense. Its natural beauty is spectacular with the active volcano of Mount Etna, the beautiful coast lines and the hilly vineyards. Cultural influence of Greeks, Arabs & Romans is found everywhere in foods, people & architecture. It’s also a land of bitter sweetness. One evening I was impressed with the hospitality of some locals who saw me dinning alone at a restaurant and sent over several glasses of wine. The very next day, I got scared to death when a bus driver kidnapped me on my way from Caltagirone to Taormina. When the driver parked his bus in middle of nowhere and said, “I’d like to have ice cream with you”, I faked a violent coughing fit. And then I said, “I’m sorry I have a SARS. I just got back from China, and I’m dieing.” As I wouldn’t stop coughing, the driver reluctantly opened the door to let me out of his bus. It was probably one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had on my journeys around the world, but I still love Sicily and would go back there in a heartbeat.
I hope all my Jewish friends are having a fabulous Hanukkah, and all my foodie friends are enjoying the discovery of some fabulous Sicilian foods and wines. Happy cooking!