Sicily has been on my mind.
I recalled a remarkable day on the northern coast where I learned of 2 new ingredients for my Italian-American cooking, couscous and saffron.
We spent a delightful day in San Vito lo Capo lounging on the soft pink beach, swimming in the Tyrrhenian Sea with Tunisia on the horizon and exploring the annual couscous festival in the small town that hugs the coast.
As the sun began to set we headed back to our hotel in the hills overlooking Palermo. We stopped in a tavola calda in Monreale for a quick meal.
I asked the owner Filippo if he could grill swordfish for me simply seasoned with olive oil, oregano and lemon. It was one of his favorites and he was happy to make it for me.
We talked as he brushed the fresh swordfish steak with oregano-infused olive oil, laid it on the hot iron grate over the open fire and sprinkled it with sea salt. It was on the plate in a jiffy with wedges of lemon. Simply delicious.
On the way out we thanked Filippo for the wonderful meal. He went to the counter and came back with “Zafferano: Giallo il Colore della Felicita” (Yellow: The Color of Happiness), a booklet with dozens of Sicilian recipes made with saffron. He autographed it as a gift for me.
This is one of those recipes and the dish includes saffron and couscous, 2 ingredients that I added to my Italian-American pantry after that wonderful day in Sicily. It can be on your table in about 45 minutes.
The saffron bathes everything in a golden hue. The crusted veal is tender and moist, the vegetables soft and sweet and the nutty couscous absorbs the flavors of it all. Another delicious Italian dish influenced by North African cooking.
- 1 pound veal, cubed
- 1 onion
- ½ cauliflower
- 2 tomatoes cut into 2 inch pieces or 12 small cherry or pear tomatoes cut in half
- 1 carrot, cut in ½ inch slices
- 1 red pepper, cored and seeded, cut 2-inch strips and then in 2-inch pieces
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¾ cup couscous
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- pinch of saffron (the dish is almost as good without saffron)
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- In a enamel or heavy-bottomed pot put 1 tablespoon of olive oil and melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat.
- Add the veal and brown all over.
- Add the vegetables and salt and pepper to taste and cook until the vegetables begin to brown.
- Pour the white wine, scrape the bottom of the pot and cook until the wine is evaporated.
- Continue cooking until the vegetables are knife tender, about 20 minutes. Add some vegetable broth or water if the pot is too dry.
- Add the saffron and gently mix all the ingredients well. Reduce the heat to low to keep the stew warm.
- Meanwhile, pour the couscous in a bowl and mix in 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
- Put the vegetable broth in a pot and bring it to a boil.
- Pour in the couscous, stirring gently.
- Turn off the heat, cover the pot and let the couscous rest for 2 minutes.
- Add the remaining butter, stir and cook over low heat for 3 minutes, stirring the couscous with a fork.
- Remove from heat, cover the pan and let cool for about 8 minutes.
- Place the couscous on a platter and top with the veal stew.
- Serve immediately.