The Hairy Bikers are coming to Longleat for my balls!

Longleat Food and Drink Festival – 24th June

I’m at Longleat Food and Drink Festival on 24th June where I will be selling my arancini and other delicious Sicilian street food.

Hairy Bikers are coming to Longleat for my balls
The Hairy Bikers are coming to Longleat for my balls

Join us for a great day out at the second Longleat Food and Drink Festival.  We will be selling our street food on Sunday 24th June.  So if you fancy a great day out with all the trimmings of a foodie festival, buy your tickets now!

Don’t miss two of my favourite chefs, Si King and Dave Myers, doing live cooking demonstrations.  After all that cooking, they’ll need some good, Sicilian risotto balls to help keep them energised.

We’ll also be selling some great pasta dishes with fresh, home made pasta and gnocchi. The event will be a good opportunity to introduce the British public to some great Southern Italian food. I’m putting together the menu now.

This is a very exciting time for Sicilian Donkey. My private chef work is really taking off.  I’m booked every Saturday in June and July and starting to take bookings for August. Now, we can also attend your party and serve arancini, cannoli and salads to guests for a great price per head.

I’m also working on a great bowl-food menu. Canapes are as popular as ever but bowl food is very on trend right now. I’m playing with Middle Eastern dishes and exploring Thai cuisine with some great results.  This weekend I’ve done a fantastic Middle Eastern feast with mezze for 15 hens on a coastal Hen Night.  Tonight I’m doing another hen party with a Thai theme. The fresh and zesty flavours of the Thai food are so delicious, I can’t wait to see how my pad thai goes down this evening.

Arancini Boss

Forgot Arancini Bros – I’m the Arancini Boss!

Cannoli: Rhubarb and custard, White chocolate and pistachio, local sheeps ricotta with choc chips

On Saturday 26 May, Sicilian Donkey Street Food made its debut Festival appearance.  I was lucky enough to win a bursary from Thatcher’s Cider.  I set up stall to sell my artisan arancini and cannoli. The event was the Burnham-On-Sea Eat Festival and the feedback from all my customers was amazing.

Cannoli King

I have been perfecting my gourmet cannoli over the past months.  I was amazed with how well they went down.  Many attendees knew them from watching Cake Boss make them.

In Sicily, we fill the fried pastry sheels with a sweetened sheep ricotta with choc chips and candied peel.  I managed to find a local producer, Homewood Cheeses, to supply with the fantastically fresh ewes’ cheese.  This gave them a real, authentic taste of my homeland.

Many were less familiar with my award-winning Arancini but, as soon as they sampled them, they were hooked. One customer, who originally came to me for cannoli was such a fan of the ham hock Arancini, she came back for a second and brought her whole family for a round too.

Loving the arancini
One happy customer

“You are the Arancini Boss” she told me. It’s a great compliment that I’m proud to accept.

I was so happy to receive such great feedback and I’m really looking forwards to my next confirmed event at the Longleat Food and Drink Festival on 24 June.

So get a date in your diary if you want to meet the Arancini Boss at Longleat where I’ll be selling my risotto balls and lots of other delicious Sicilian Street Food.  The Festival is expecting thousands of people to come and James Martin and the Hairy Bikers will be the big name chefs in attendance.

I ‘cannoli’ hope I’ll see you there.  If you can’t make it, why not call Claire to make a booking and treat your guests to a taste of Sicily, Somerset-style.

Arancini Boss makes great risotto balls
Arancini Ragu
Sicilian Donkey Private Chef

Why is a private chef called “Sicilian Donkey”?

Sicilian donkey
Boy with Sicilian donkey

Sicilian Donkey (equus africanus asinus)

Our name – Sicilian Donkey – is a tribute to a rare breed miniature donkey. It used to thrive in Sicily and Sardinia but is now, nearly extinct in its native land. The Sicilian Donkey is a popular pet in North America and here in the UK.

Continue reading “Why is a private chef called “Sicilian Donkey”?”

Sicilian Cauliflower Pasta Recipe

Pasta con Cavolfiori

Cauliflower is the star of this cucina povera dish

pasta con il cavolfiore pasta with cauliflower

Recipe – Serves 4

  • 1 medium cauliflower – Romanesco or white
  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 400g bucatini pasta
  • 50g raisins
  • 30g pine nuts
  • Few strands saffron
  • 50g anchovy fillets in extra virgin olive oil

Wash the cauliflower and cut into florets, blanch in boiling salted water for 5 minutes.  Drain, reserving the cooking liquid.

Sauté the chopped onion in a pan with plenty of oil, add the drained anchovy fillets, sliced ​​into pieces and melt them in the sauce. Then add the raisins, pine nuts and cauliflower and simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently.

Dissolve the saffron with salt and pepper to taste into a cup of the reserved cooking liquid add to the pan and cook the florets for 15 minutes Boil the pasta in the rest of the reserved cooking water until it is al dente, drain and add to the pan with the sauce.  Mix the pasta and sauce, let it rest for 1 minute and serve.

Recipe: Salt Cod Crostini

Mantecato di baccalà Mantecato di baccalà

Mantecato di Baccalà

Serves 6 as a starter/12 – 18 cicchetti

Baccalà is dried salt cod soaked and infused until it becomes soft and flaky before being whisked into a cream with a slow trickle of olive oil.

Prep begins 2 days before you want to serve the crostini. Put your salt cod in a large container of cold water. Leave it to soak for at least 48 hours, changing the water as often as possible to remove the majority of the salt.


1kg salt cod
– soaked in frequently-changed water for 48 hours before preparation.

150 ml full fat milk
350 ml water
2 bay leaves
Sprig of thyme
4 whole black peppercorns
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
Juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 small white onion quartered
200ml of extra virgin olive oil.

Crostini – 2 – 3 per person.
To make uour own crostini, bake thin rounds of baguette (regular or sourdough) in the oven until crispy.


Put the water, milk, onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns and rehydrated cod in a deep can. Ensure the cod is completely covered by the liquid.

Bring to boil over a moderate heat, simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and leave to infuse for 15 minutes.  Drain the cod reserving 2-4 tablespoons of the liquid for later use.

Clean the cod removing skin and any bones – the cod should flake and be nice and soft.

Put the cleaned cod in large bowl with the juice of half a lemon, a couple of tablespoons of the poaching liquid to loosen it up and add the chopped parsley.

Using an electric handwhisk (do not blend as the misture will lose texture and become like a paste) slowly add the oil as you would with mayonnaise. The fish will increase in size and become creamy and fluffy.

Season to taste with black pepper and salt if needed. Spread the Baccalà on warm crostini and serve with a thin wedge of lemon.

Salt Cod Heaven

Greek Strapatsada – Recipe

Greek eggs and tomatoes – Strapatsada

The perfect brunch for a Summer Sunday

Okay, the weather’s not so great but I’ve just got back from Corfu where it was 38C and I think this freshness is quite nice.

The Greeks have a lovely dish that uses the best quality ingredients to transform something relatively simple into a fantastic feast.  It’s called Strapatsada and is similar to Shakshouka,  My favourite things are tomatoes, eggs and oregano so you can see why this is a winner for me.

Enough for 2 or 1 very hungry, egg lover:

Olive oil – approx 3 tablespoons for cooking
1 tablespoon extra virgin oil for drizzling
2 large beef tomatoes diced into 1cm cubes – get good, ones full of flavour or use an Italian brand of tinned like Mutti if not available
A medium thinly-sliced onion
1 garlic clove – peeled and halved
½ tsp sweet smoked paprika
salt & pepper
4 free range eggs
Feta (optional) to garnish

Use a deep frying pan.  Gently sweat the onion slices and garlic halves in 3 tablespoons of the olive oil (not extra virgin) until the onions are translucent but not brown,  Discard the garlic. Add the tomatoes. Season to taste and add the paprika. Cook for 5-10min, until the sauce thickens a bit.

Sprinkle with oregano and taste – add more salt and pepper if required.  If you’re finishing with feta, go easy on the salt.  Use the back of the spoon to make 4 holes in the tomatoes and crack an egg into each hole.  If you’re adding feta, spinkle it around the edges of the eggs, place a lid on the pan for a few minutes. Check to see egg whites are cooked but yolks still runny and serve with crusty bread to mop up the lovely juices.

How Sicilians Are Helping Young Migrants Arriving On Their Island

Tambah Jenneh, 18, is a migrant from Gambia now working at 11eleven in Catania (c) Sean Neil / Al Jazeera

Sicily has first-hand experience of the largest human migration since the end of World War II. Last year over 170,000 migrant people arrived on Italian beaches after a desperate and frightening sea crossing but the dangerous journey claimed at least 3,000 lives. Many of the newly arrived migrants fleeing war, poverty and political instability are young people, orphaned or separated from their families. Some of my fellow countrymen are doing their best to help these kids achieve better lives – the reason they attempted the perilous journey in the first place.

AccoglieRete was founded in 2013 to help unaccompanied minors arriving in Sicily. It’s thought 70,000 migrants landed last year on the southwestern shores near Siracusa. This area has seen many young Sicilians (like me) leave the country in search of work and a better lifestyle. The unemployment rate in Sicily is, at 14 percent, amongst the highest in Italy.  Carla Trommino is an immigration lawyer who co-founded AccoglieRete in July 2013. “We are the door of Europe and the government looks at the problem in a general way, but it doesn’t care about the individual,” she says.

Carla and fellow volunteer staff were particularly motivated to help the 4,000+ unaccompanied minors who arrived last year alone.  AccoglieRete workers help in several ways. Firstly, they provide the courts with a list of available volunteer legal guardians to be paired with unaccompanied minors. The purpose of this pairing is to help the kids access healthcare, register with the police, and guide them through the process of getting legal documents.

Many young people cross the sea to Sicily in search of a better life
Many young people cross the sea to Sicily in search of a better life

In addition, AccoglieRete, strives to be part of a process of social inclusion and integration. The guardians often invite young migrants to their homes for the weekend and organise social activities. Some have even become foster parents, bringing children to their homes and away from the large immigrant centres where they are still at risk from human traffickers linked to organised crime.

Before AccoglieRete began their work, about 60 percent of registered children disappeared from the centre. It’s feared many had been lured by human trafficking networks into forced labour or worse. After one year, during which AccoglieRete took on more than 1,000 cases, the rate of disappearances has dropped to 20 percent.

Barbara Sidoti spent years working in Austria, Yemen, and Malawi for the UN but has returned to her native Sicily, to be part of a movement of Sicilians trying to reclaim the island. They want to contribute to an alternative vision for the economy not defined by corruption and organised crime. Last year, she became the legal guardian of four boys from Gambia. “I looked at it as a mode of civic engagement but was surprised at how quickly I became emotionally involved,” she tells Al Jazeera  On weekends at her house, the boys would cook Gambian food, and, when they lacked the proper ingredients, they experimented with what was available. “From this we came up with a dream project, a restaurant to fuse African and Sicilian food. Because what’s rich about Sicilian culture is that it’s a result of centuries of hybridisation between the cultures that have come here – Greek, Roman, Arab.”

The hobby became something much more when a friend from Catania, told her of a theatre which needed a new catering company to run its restaurant. Sidoti partnered with two people – one of whom had been looking for a chance to open a no-waste restaurant. Last October, the group opened their new place in the theatre and called it 11eleven.

11eleven restaurant CataniaFood 11eleven

To date, 33 young people have been paired with new families.  Carlo and Marilena Farina have been family for 15-year-old migrant Ramon for the last 18 months. He left Egypt when he was 14 after a fight with a boy at school. Having left his country to start a new life in Europe, he now is doing well atschool his new school, and speaks fluent Italian.

“We Skype with his parents sometimes,” said Marilena. “His mom thanks me because he’s so well-behaved, and I say ‘no, thank you, he was like that when he got here’.”
The Farinas had been Ramon’s legal guardians and hosted him on weekends. Then he asked about the possibility of moving in on a more permanent basis. Childless Marilena and Carlo agreed. “It was something missing in our lives, he completes me,” Marilena says.  Carlo understands that the immigrant influx took Italy by surprise but Sicily has welcomed many peoples over the centuries.  “It was a shock for people at first when all these people started showing up,” said Carlo. “We were totally unprepared. The state didn’t know what to do.”

But at least some Sicilians have stepped in to help.  Carla Trommino sums it up nicely.

“You can’t stop human migration. All you can do is decide how you are going to respond it.”

This blog post is based on a great article by Sean Neil writing for Al Jazeera

Winning an Electrolux Emix made my May

Stuart Flint Umberto ElectroluxAt Christmas I entered a competition to win an Electrolux Emix.  I never for a minute imagined I would win.  But I did!

Today I had an amazing day at Electrolux Professional’s UK Centre of Excellence in Luton.  I met Stuart Flint who showed me around the world’s most awesome kitchen, let me cook in it and them gave me the most fantastic piece of kit I have ever owned.

I made some fresh pasta and rolled it out so easily with the add-on attachment. The pasta was filled with a burrata and ricotta mix, served on a bed of Caponata and cauliflower puree and dressed with a drizzle of pistachio pesto, Isle of Wight tomatoes and tiny Italian olives. I’m going to share the recipe soon.

Fagottini di burrata - fresh pasta parcels with burrata and ricotta filling
Fagottini di burrata – fresh pasta parcels with burrata and ricotta filling