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Citrus, olives, grapes play supporting roles for Sicilian cuisine


For years northern Italian cuisine has captured the spotlight, but now Sicilian cooking is coming back into vogue. With vegetables, pasta, fish and bread as its staples, it fits right in with today's ideas about good food.

The island of Sicily, situated just 3 miles off the toe of the Italian mainland, is dotted with groves of citrus fruit, olives and grapes. Its mountains create spectacular scenery, and it has miles of sandy beaches.

Perciatelli -- a long, hollow pasta -- adds texture and flavor to our entree. If you can't find it in the supermarket or local Italian market, substitute ziti.

The dish is garnished with pecorino, a hard country cheese made from sheep's milk. It's similar to Parmesan (which you may substitute) but is aged for a much shorter time.

Fennel, a popular Italian vegetable that's available here throughout the year, makes a wonderfully refreshing salad. It has a bulb-like base, feathery stems, a texture similar to celery and a flavor reminiscent of anise or licorice. (In this recipe, you may use Belgian endive instead.)

Warm Italian bread and a glass of red wine -- pinot noir or merlot are good choices -- will enhance the flavors of Sicily in this quick meal for two.

Perciatelli with broccoli

Serves 2.

1/2 pound broccoli, cut into florets

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/2 cup sliced onion

2 anchovy fillets

1 garlic clove, crushed ( 1/2 teaspoon)

1 large tomato, cut into cubes (about 1 cup)

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons raisins

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1/2 pound perciatelli

1 sprig fresh basil

3 tablespoons grated pecorino cheese

Cook broccoli in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain thoroughly. Heat oil in non-stick frying pan and add onion. Saute until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the anchovies and garlic and saute until anchovies dissolve into a paste. Add the tomatoes and a little salt and pepper to taste. (Be careful with the salt because the anchovies are salty.) Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Add the raisins, pine nuts and broccoli and simmer 5 more minutes. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the macaroni and bring back to a boil. Cook 9 minutes or until macaroni is cooked through but firm. Drain and place in a serving dish. Pour the sauce over macaroni and toss well. Chop the fresh basil leaves and mix in. Sprinkle the pecorino cheese on top. Serve immediately.

Fennel and orange salad

Serves 2.

1 medium fennel bulb

1 orange

1 teaspoon lemon juice

orange juice

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

salt to taste

Remove stalk, any brown or damaged leaves and green stem from fennel bulb. Quarter and slice. Over a bowl, peel and slice orange, catching as much juice as possible. Cut slices in half. Measure juice in bowl, adding more if necessary to make 1 tablespoon. Whisk together the orange juice, lemon juice and olive oil. Add salt to taste. Toss with fennel and orange slices.

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