S-Stufed-Brd-art - 6/28/13
"Bazmawards and pasticcio Ibn Ath Thumnaby" by Lady Adelisa di Salerno. (Previously known as Lady Gianotta dalla Fiora). Sicilian Stuffed Bread.
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Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Bazmawards and pasticcio Ibn Ath Thumna
by Lady Adelisa Salernitana
(Previously known as Lady Gianotta dalla Fiora)
The history of the island of Sicily is reflected in its cuisine, a melange of the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, French, and Spanish who came in waves to settle the island. The Arabs of Sicily, who held the island for 200 years and existed under the Norman and Hohenstaufen kings for another 200, had an impact on the island’s culture that can be detected in the present day, in the island’s language and its foodways. The Norman and Hohenstaufen kings had Arab courts, with Arab cooks and Arab dancing girls. They and their non-Arab courtiers even wore Arabic garb. The Arabs during their rule, from 827 when they invaded Sicily to about 1090 when the island was fully conquered by the Normans, introduced eggplants, rice, oranges, lemons, date palms, mulberries, and sugar to the island.
Trying to figure out what those Arabicized kings ate, however, is difficult. For example, although dried hard-wheat pasta is known to have come from the Arabs and possibly was invented on the island, there are no existing recipes to tell us what that pasta was eaten with. But some educated guesses can be made, looking at recipes from cookbooks from the Middle East that are roughly within the period and comparing these recipes with some "modern-day" Sicilian recipes, This can be dangerous, because linguistics can be misleading; additionally, a lack of awareness of what foods came from where and when they were introduced can send the train of logic off the tracks.
But there is one recipe that I will argue is period plausible: Pasticcio ibn Ath Thumna, allegedly the favorite dish of one of the last emirs of the island. In fact, according to Arab chroniclers of the period, ibn Ath Thumna had invited Robert and Roger d’Hauteville to conquer the island. The ingredients of the modern-day redaction are simple: braised, minced chicken with bread crumbs, lemon juice, parsley, capers, almonds, pistachios, and beaten eggs, mixed and baked in a hollowed bread loaf. The loaf is sliced and served at room temperature.
In reading the Charles Perry translation of "A Baghdad Cookery Book: The Book of Dishes (Kitab al-Tabikh)," one recipe caught my eye: bazmaward. For this recipe, roast meat is cut up and sprinkled with mint leaves, salted lemons, vinegar, walnuts, and rosewater, and pounded with a cleaver into a pulp. The mixture is put into a hollowed bread loaf, which is then sliced up. The slices are packed into a moistened earthernware tub lined with mint leaves, and served at room temperature.
"The Book of Dishes" was compiled in the 13th century; by this time, the Arabs had been removed from Sicily to the mainland, to be settled in Lucera in Apulia. By 1250 the Lucerian colony had been destroyed. But the Jews of Sicily remained on the island, admittedly reduced in number, until 1492, when they were expelled under Aragonese rule. It was they who preserved many of the Arabic foods in the cuisine.
Bread held a special place in the hearts of the Muslims and the Greeks. For the Greeks, Sicily was the island of Demeter, and in Roman times the island was known as the granary of Rome. Food historian Clifford Wright notes by the time the Muslims arrived on the island, Greek bakers had come up with 72 different types of bread. Muslims swore oaths on bread and salt, and according to Mr. Wright, even as late as 1350, there is a record of two Muslims merchants in the Palermo marketplace swearing an contract on bread and salt.
What kind of bread was eaten by the Muslims? This is unknown. The island predominantly grows semolina, or durum wheat, although in winter a soft wheat is grown. Today, the Arab legacy in breads is shown with bread flavored with sesame seed or cumin seed. And bread is not cut, but torn by the hands, just as the Cario Geniza documents specify that it should be, according to Mr. Wright.
The bread recipe I am including is for the ubiquitous pane riminciato from Mary Taylor Simeti’s book, which is made from durum wheat. Breadmaking traditions vary from town to town in Sicily; Ms. Simeti says one old woman told her that in her childhood in her tiny mountain village, they kneaded elderflowers into the dough.
I have made this recipe with good results, although I have not tried reserving a criscenti to use to rise the next batch.
7 1/2 cups of durum wheat flour (this is semolina flour ground to a silky finish, if you cannot find durum wheat flour, use 4 cups semolina to 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour).
*I have used all-semolina, Bob’s Red Mill, but it’s coarser. This means additional kneading time, noted below. If you have an Indian grocery near you, you can also try Golden Temple Drum Atta flour, which is finer.
2 tablespoons of yeast
2 1/2 cups warm water
1/4 cup of olive oil
salt (a nice sea salt is very Sicilian, salt is produced on the flats of Trapani)
Put the flour into a bowl and make a well in the middle of it. Dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of the water and wait for 15 minutes until it is foamy; then pour the yeast solution into the well of the flour, mixing it with your fingers, and rubbing the flour between your hands so that the yeast is well-distributed. Add the rest of the warm water a little at a time, mixing constantly with your fingers. When you have a dough that holds together, turn out onto a floured board or table, and knead for 5-10 minutes (15-20 minutes if you are using Bob’s Red Mill or other coarse-grained semolina flour), punching the dough to release the gluten.
Form the dough into a ball and put into an oiled bowl, and let rise for 45 minutes. When the dough is risen, remove from the bowl and if you wish to make criscenti for the next baking, do it now. Take some of the dough and make little balls, like golf balls, oil the surface of each ball well, and put into an airtight jar in the refrigerator, where they should keep for about a week. Each ball of dough, when combined with 3/4 cup of flour and a little water and left to rise overnight, should provide the yeast for two pounds of flour. If you don’t want to put aside criscenti, or after you’ve done the criscenti, take the dough and knead it, flatten it out, and sprinkle with some of the olive oil and salt. Knead the dough until the oil is absorbed, then flatten, add more oil and salt, fold, and knead. You should fold and knead the dough with the oil and salt three times. You can then separate your dough into about two loaves and let rise for another 45 minutes, or shape the loaves, let rest for 10 minutes, and put them into a 420 degree Fahrenheit oven. You can sprinkle the dough with sesame seeds before baking.
Pasticcio di Mohammed ibn Itmnah (the Emir of Catania’s chicken)
This recipe is also from Pomp and Sustenance, but has been modified by me to include spices and herbs well-known to the medieval Arab cook, including sumac. Sumac still grows wild in Sicily, but it is not used for culinary purposes anymore. Later in time, it was used by tanners as a source of tannin.
1 pound of deboned chicken breast and thighs 1⁄4 cup olive oil
juice of 4 lemons
sea salt to taste
2 tsp ground cubebs
1 tsp of sumac
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp of ground rosemary
1 tsp of ground savory
1/8 cup almonds
1/4 cup pistachios
1 medium onion
2 lightly beaten eggs
2 tablespoons of capers
1 large round loaf of semolina bread
Make a horizontal slice off the top of the loaf of bread and hollow out the interior, setting aside the crumbs and the slice off the top as a lid. Cut up the chicken and sauté it in the olive oil with the chopped-up onion and the spices. Puree the chicken in a food processor, adding the nuts and reserved bread crumbs, while gradually streaming in the chicken broth and lemon juice; pulse often; add the capers, parsley, and eggs, pulse until just mixed with the meat/bread/nut paste. Put the paste into the loaf, cover with the lid, and bake at 350 F for 20 minutes. Serve cold, sliced.
An additional note about sumac in Sicily
The following comes from the Champaign-Urbana Herb Society’s Website; sumac was rhe "Herb of the Month" in February 2002. http://cuherbsociety.org/hotm/sumac.htm
SICILIAN SUMAC (Rhus coriaria)
Sicilian sumac is the primary culinary sumac. It is native to southern Italy, Sicily and throughout the Middle East and is cultivated there as well as growing wild. It grows to about ten feet. Though the spice does not have much fragrance, it has a tart, tangy flavor due to the malic acid in the berries. The berries, which are the plant used in cooking, are reputed to be the best flavored of the sumacs. Those grown at the highest altitude are supposed to be best. They are picked just before they ripen. They’re dried and keep indefinitely. Sumac is used in the cooking of Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Iran. Ground sumac is rubbed into meats for grilling and is good with potatoes, beetroot, and in mixed bean salads. It can be purchased at Middle Eastern food shops. Whole, cracked or ground sumac berries are also used to make a fruity, sour culinary juice which can be added to marinades, salad dressings, sauces and yogurt. This is made by soaking the berries for 15 to 20 minutes in warm water, squeezing the berries to get all the flavor, and then straining the liquid. The juice can be added to food at the end of cooking. Historically, the Romans used Sicilian sumac as a souring agent, the way we would use lemon juice or vinegar. Medicinally it was used for upset stomach, fever, or bowel complaints.
I chose to include the use of sumac in this recipe although in Italian cooking, lemon juice became the sole souring agent. However, some meat recipes in Perry’s al-Baghdadi cookbook use sumac and lemon juice in the same dish. And the spice was well-known to the Greeks and Romans as a useful medicinal spice when added to food. With Sicily’s long Greek and Roman occupation, and the knowledge of Greek and Roman medical books by the Arabs, the use of sumac in food could not have been unknown to the cooks of the Norman kings.
From Pedanius Dioscorides "De Materia Medica," Chapter One, "On Aromatics":
Rhus (which is sprinkled among sauces and also called erythrum) is the fruit of rhus coriaria, which is called this because tanners use it for thickening their hides. It is a little tree which grows on rocks — two feet high, the leaves somewhat long and red, jagged all around. The fruit is like little bunches of grapes — thick, the size of that of terminthos [1-91], and somewhat broad. That which encloses the fruit is very useful. The leaves are astringent and good for the same purposes as acacia. A decoction dyes the hair black, and is a suppository for dysentery. It is a liquid medicine, hip bath, and an instillation for discharges of the ears. The leaves applied as a poultice with vinegar or honey stop pterygium [membrane on the eye] and gangrene. The juice of the dried leaves boiled with water to the consistency of honey are as useful for as many things as lycium [1-132]. The fruit does the same things (being food) in mixing it with meat for coeliac [intestinal complaints] and dysentery. Applied as a plaster with water it prevents inflammation of fractures, desquamation or skin peeling, and blueness of wounds. It cleans rough tongues with honey. It prevents the excessive discharges called whites [leucorrhoea — a mucosal vaginal discharge] and cures haemorrhoids, applied with oak coals pounded into small pieces. The boiled liquid of this fruit gathers a cream that is better for these purposes than the fruit itself. It also leaves a gum which is put into the cavities of teeth to take away their pain.
Dioscorides, Pedanius "De Materia Medica," Chapter One, "On Aromatics" English translation and PDF found at http://www.cancerlynx.com/dioscorides.html
Perry, Charles, "A Baghdad Cookery Cook," Prospect Books, 2006
Taylor, Mary Simeti, "Pomp And Sustenance: Twenty Five Centuries Of Sicilian Food." Alfred A. Knopf, 1989
Clifford A. Wright’s Website, http://www.cliffordawright.com. The essays cited from were "Breads in Sicily" and "The Medieval Beginnings of Sicilian Cuisine."
Copyright 2011 by Christiane Truelove, 657 New Buckley Street, Bristol, PA 19007. <christianetrue at earthlink.net>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.