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The Delectable Diary of Hayley Harland: What makes a good cookery show? Recipe from Sicily Unpacked

08 February, 2012

What makes a good cookery show? Recipe from Sicily Unpacked

If we are friends, mild acquaintances or we've met once on twitter, you will know it is no secret that I ♥ SICILY. I fell head over heels on my first visit and have never looked back. It has stunning natural beauty, rich art history and if you like eating, what's not to love? This country's ruling has been passed around more times than the village bicycle in the last two millennia and it's food-culture reflects this in a melange of flavours. It's got all the best bits of Italian, Arab, Spanish and Greek cuisine that when combined in a modest, home-cooked dish become so much more than the sum of its parts. There's fish, glorious fish, fresh Med veg or fruit in the markets and dolce so sweet, I haven't plucked up the balls to even write about them yet. I go on about it so much that even my very close friends assume I'm Sicilian. Hi friends! I'm not by the way, in fact I haven't got a drop of Latino in me but like the food, I am a melange, a cosmopolitan, a mongrel some would say.

So when I discovered that I could watch my favourite place in an factual cookery/history/travel show on the telly every Friday, all prior social engagements flew out the window. I would sit in front of a warm fire with a big bowl of caponata and for an hour, I could forget the bone-chilling world beyond the four walls of my cosy flat. Many of my contemporaries did the same, I know they did. The food world loved it. They thought that Giorgio Locatelli and Alan Partridge's clever brother were charming, their subjects complementary, the perfect combination of informative and cute. What really came across was their passion for the place, this wonderful thing that no-one can quite put their finger on. When 2000 years of history is wrapped up in a vineleaf, of course that meaty slab of tuna is going to be emotional! When an ancient bronze statue is dredged up from the bottom of the ocean and its movement is still so liberated, beautiful and flowing, how could it not make you feel from your heart! Even when you discover that the owner of Antica Focacceria di San Francisco in Palermo (that place where everybody goes at lunchtime to get their spleen and cheese sandwiches, an acquired taste, not for everyone, including myself) has gone into hiding for being the first business not to pay protection money to the Mafia, this is still food that you want to try! That famous line from the Godfather, "Leave the gun, take the cannoli," encompasses it all, Sicilians know they have a dark, bloody history and they have suffered but they are always putting that behind them and looking to what is good, what is sweet because la vita e bella.

Us foodies have been feeling a bit starved of decent telly recently so Sicily Unpacked was respite in the repetitive world of X-Factor and the like. Alas, the series came to an end and then everybody exploded with the news of →THIS←. Have you read it? Of course you have. Reading the Daily Mail is worse for your blood pressure than cannoli shells deep-fried in pig fat. Not only does Zilli bitch off goddess Nigella, the queen of putting gorgeousness and food together, and sweet Sophie Dahl who ain't never done a thing to her, but she pitches her new cookery show on the basis that she once showed her mate how to make tomato sauce. It's like she woke up one day and said to herself, "Singing career ground to a halt, I wonder how else can I get myself famous - Ooh, what about Daddy?" It's passionless and not born from a love of food but from a love of Laura Zilli. Also, doesn't she know that cooking in Laboutins will give you terrible bunions?!

Producers have clearly seen the success of these reality programs and decided to apply the formula to cookery shows as well. Don't get me wrong, I love a bit of Masterchef as much as the next Joe Bloggs, that ridiculously sexy husk of Mrs narrator's voice, the extensive repertoir of John and Gregg's theatrical stern/worried faces and undoubtedly, the buttery biscuit bass. But would it be so bad as to ask for a bit more programs like naughty Keith Floyd's or Rick Stein trundling through sunny Spain or young, bouncy, adventurous Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in the old days, back when he ate placenta? There are plenty of shows just waiting to be made and producers are all saying "No" to them. So to help you out broadcasters, I have drawn a fitting pie chart to show you what the producers think will make money and the ingredients that foodies actually want. Take a slice of that and eat it.

Sarde a Beccafico - Palermitan sardines stuffed with breadcrumbs

And now for the food, because that's what we're all bickering over, isn't it? You will find this dish in almost every eatery in Palermo, it's popular and rightly so. Beccafico means songbird because that's what they're meant to resemble in their pretty pinned curves but more of the singing is done in my fluttering heart when one of these passes my lips. They are hundreds of miles more delicious than the average tinned pilchard. I think there's stigma attached to sardines because of the fishy canned kind but prepared in this simple manner you won't ever doubt them again. There are plenty of variations to this recipe but it's best to just keep it simple like Giorgio did. For a perfect roll, get the fishmonger to fillet the sardines "open faced" by descaling, gutting and removing the backbone without separating the fillets or cutting off the tale.

Serves 4

  • Roughly 500g sardines
  • 1 Cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 Orange
  • 2 Tbsp Raisins
  • 2 Tbsp Pinenuts
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Fresh bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200ºC.

Break up the slices of bread into crumbs with your fingers. If it is particularly fresh and gooey you will need to use a blender.

In a mixing bowl, toss the raisins, pinenuts into the breadcrumbs, you can add more if you prefer.

Add the oil and then gradually squeeze in the orange juice, mixing it in every few seconds. You don't want it to get too watery, more like a moist dough. Season to taste.

With the sardines open faced up, spoon 1 - 2 teaspoons of the mixture at the end opposite to the tail. Roll the fish up and pin it from the tail, either individually with a toothpick or several on a skewer.

On a baking tray, put bay leaves in between each rolled sardine and then bake them for 20 minutes.

If you would like to put me on the telly, please do drop me a line. Also, check out my mates on the I ♥ page, they would make great entertainment too. Have you got any suggestions for the broadcaster man? Let them know what you want to see more of in the comments below.

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At 08 February, 2012 18:26 , Blogger Stuart and Gabrielle said...

TV chefs: Love Anjum Anand and Lorraine Pascale; like Nigella but get a bit bored with the soft-focus, sexy finger licking while smiling to camera;find Jamie inspirational and annoying in equal measure; hate Gordon Ramsey and Marco Pierre White is even worse.
Do you remember the TV children's programme, "Why Don't You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go Out and Do Something Less Boring Instead?" ? Perhaps we should have Hayley presenting, "Why don't you just put down that microwaved ready meal, switch off the cooking program and actually get in the bloody kitchen yourself?
Must go, need to go and sit down to eat pheasant molé with stoneground flatbreads and a bottle of claret.

At 09 February, 2012 14:25 , Anonymous ilva said...

Hoho I love this piece of yours, so true. and just to make you envious, I will veryvery probably go to Catania in April to do a workshop...

At 09 February, 2012 14:40 , Blogger Hayley Harland said...

Ooh sounds delightful... can I come?! x

At 09 February, 2012 14:42 , Blogger Hayley Harland said...

I am in total agreement. That kids TV programme isn't very popular anymore, instead we must endure the horrid music of "In the Night Garden" and things like that on in the background. We need someone, a bit like Jamie, to reform kids TV, he's already done their school dinners. Hope your pheasant molé was splendid, I'm a teensy bit jealous.


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