Focaccia Caltanissetta Style
The rich farmland of the province of
Caltanissetta produces grain and a variety of vegetables, making agriculture an important contributor to the local
economy. In this province, high quality red wine (the Nero di Avola), fine olive oil (the extra virgin Colli Nisseni DOP) and a large quantity of pecorino cheese are produced in the
surrounding hills and fertile mountains.
The inhabitants of Caltanissetta, called
Nisseni, and of the entire province prefer plain cooking, largely with
the use of the local vegetables. Meat dishes are rarely cooked apart from holidays or special occasions. The people
residing by the shore consume fish, which they catch themselves and are easily affordable.
The impanata Nissena is prepared for
special occasions. They are ordinarily stuffed with cauliflower and eel, and for Christmas, with baccala’, salt cod and a special tomato sauce.
The classic mpanata Nissena is made with three
layers of dough, but if the middle layer is not cooked to perfection, the result is a regrettable waste of efforts
The following recipe follows the rubric of the
standard Sicilian mpanata, which is made with two layers of dough with
the stuffing in between them.
· 2 oz fresh active yeast or 3 envelopes of dry
· 4 tablespoons olive
· ½ teaspoon
· Pinch of
Or buy 2 lb. of bread
dough in your local Italian bakery and work 4 tablespoons of olive oil into the
In a bowl, mix ½ cup of warm water with the
yeast. Add the sugar and ½ cup of flour and mix until it is well blended and a soft dough is formed. If it is too
dry, add some water; if it is too watery, add some flour. Set aside, covered, in a warm place.
After 45 minutes to 1 hour, combine risen
dough with remaining flour. Add some lukewarm water, the oil and a pinch of salt and knead to obtain an
elastic dough similar to bread dough. Make a ball, cut across the top to allow it to rise again, cover and
put in a warm place until it almost doubles in size, 1 to 2 hours.
· Florets of a medium head of cauliflower, about
1½ lb, rinsed
· 1 medium onion, finely
· 3 tablespoons olive
· 2 cups red
· Salt and
· 2 lb eels, skin removed and cut into 1½-inch
· 2 garlic cloves,
· ¼ cup chopped
· 3 bay
· 3 tablespoons olive
· Salt and
½ cup toasted
grated Piacentino or pecorino cheese
Greased baking pan (13 x
2 tablespoons of olive oil
In a 4-quart saucepan, over a medium flame,
heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil with the onions and cook until the onions are translucent. Add cauliflower and
sauté for 5 to 7 minutes or until the onions are light golden in color, stirring frequently.
Add wine and increase to a high heat to allow
the alcohol to quickly evaporate. Lower heat to low, add salt and pepper and simmer for an additional 10 minutes or
until all the liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally. Set aside. Should the result be too moist, add some
Clean the eels and dry on a clean paper towel
or kitchen towel.
In a 3 ½- or 4-quart sauté pan, over a medium
flame, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the eels, garlic, bay leaves and
salt and pepper. Sauté until the eels are scorched on all sides.
Add the parsley and 1 cup of water.
Lower the flame and simmer for 20 minutes,
If needed, add a few tablespoons of
Remove from flame and, using a slotted spoon,
place in a colander to drain. Set aside. When it is cool, discard bay leaves and garlic, remove the bones from the
eels and mince them finely. Place in a bowl and mix in the breadcrumbs and cheese. Set aside.
When dough is ready, split it into 2 pieces.
Briefly knead each piece and roll one to cover the greased baking pan (13 x 8). Make sure that the dough goes a
little over the edge of the pan.
Pour the minced eels into the pan and evenly
spread the cauliflower over it.
Moisten the edge of the impanata with water and knead the other piece of
dough, roll and place it on top. Pinch it all around to make sure it is firmly sealed.
Cut 2 or 3 slits on top to allow the vapor to
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bake for
15 minutes. Remove from oven and wash top of the mpanata with 2
tablespoons of olive oil.
Return to oven for an additional 15 to 20
minutes until light golden brown.