Sicilian Splendors: discovering the secret places that speak to the heart

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Photo by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash

 

I discovered the work of John Keahey by accident a few years ago when his first book about Sicily (Seeking Sicily: a cultural journey through myth and reality in the heart of the Mediterranean) randomly popped up on my Amazon search for books on my usual trawl through the internet for inspiration.
After a quick, effortless click, John Keahey’s book was instantly on my e-reader. This turned out to be a beautiful discovery, and to my delight I soon found this book to be only the last in a succession of many dedicated to Italy.

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It was apparent I’d review it for Sicily Inside and Out and I definitely wanted to do an interview as I had with other excellent authors who have been inspired by Sicily and in turn become an inspiration to me.
John Keahey is a retired American journalist who has gradually fallen more and more deeply in love with Sicily through the years ever since his first visit in 1986.
I sent an email to Keahey’s publisher, but I didn’t get an immediate response and then found him on Facebook and messaged him. He said yes, to my surprise and I emailed him some questions. Here is the original article about his first Sicilian themed travel book Seeking Sicily.

 

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After that, we became virtual acquaintances on Facebook, his comments, likes and questions about my Sicilian posts and on the struggles I’ve had writing my first book have become most welcomed. I like to think we are friends, even though we haven’t met in person just yet, we still encourage one another through our shared love of writing and this complex Mediterranean island.

When he said he was working on a new book about small Sicilian villages, my heart skipped a beat at the prospect of yet another excellent book about Sicily and I’m happy to report it is now available.

This time I preordered on Amazon and on the day of its release Sicilian Splendors: discovering the secret places that speak to the heart magically appeared, automatically downloaded onto my e-reader.

 

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What makes John Keahey’s approach to Sicily so special is his dedication to slow travel. He explores a place through its history, people, food, landscape and in turn crafts his own personal story which is a pleasure to read.

John is an exceptional traveller and writer, not a simple tourist blindly ticking things off a senseless status driven bucket list he is drawn to a place through his own personal interests and he then lets chance and his ability to connect with people around him to guide him.

In short, Keahey is exploring Sicily precisely as it should be, driving by car to small non-touristy places, making contact with the locals, pulling out threads of history, literature, culture and current events that intrigue him and then following them back to their original source. His journalistic approach is refreshing and offers up many fascinating insights.

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It is a pleasure to see Sicily through John’s eyes as he is always so open to the world around him, he sits with the pensioners in the piazza, knocks back double espressos and cornetti like a local, puffs on Italian cigars, savours every meal and tries to understand Sicily more and more deeply with every visit.

He’s never in a hurry, always stops to ask polite questions and is opened to the art of spontaneity and surprise which never disappoints. Sicily is definitely a place which offers its best when visitors give themselves space to be creative. It is difficult to plan anything in Sicily as things tend to develop organically and randomly.

Whenever he visits Sicily, he tries to live it from a locals perspective, and the result is a wonderfully personal travelogue which reflects the true nature of Sicily. It is always a pleasure to travel with John Keahey, he makes is wonderful company and his passion is contagious.

 

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I hope to meet John Keahley on his next visit to Sicily and finally offer him a double espresso and cornetto while secretly hoping to get a Sicilian themed trilogy from him.

I was even surprised to see my name in the acknowledgements at the end of Sicilian Splendors, which is undeniably kind and I thank him very much.

The new book Sicilian Splendors: Discovering the Secret Places that Speak to the Heart has just been released this November (2018) and is available on Amazon (also in audio book format).

Seeking Sicily is still available on  Amazon.

Yuletide Sicily

The festive season is always a beautiful time of the year to visit Sicily as it is filled with the colours, tastes and sensations of a traditional Sicilian Christmas.

A Yuletide Sicily offers visitors a unique way of experiencing the island which is inhabited by fewer tourists and is ultimately a more authentically Italian celebration.
December in Sicily is about traditions based around the nativity, Christmas markets with a little decadence thrown in.

Winter on the island over the past few years has been rather pleasant, apart from the chilly weather, a definite chill in the air, some rain it is quite rare to see snow be deposited around most of the island, apart from of the higher parts and the snowfields of the Madonie Mountains and Etna’s favourite skiing tracks.

The focus of December is as always about the food and traditions, the advent calendar is filled with roasted chestnuts in the squares, folk concerts around churches, food festivals dedicated to things like fried dumplings and other sweets. Wine is always featured in winter feats, and roasted pork is the featured meat dish.

As Christmas gets closer there impromptu folk music performances featuring traditional instruments like the Sicilian bagpipe or zampogna. Religious art is always a firm part of the Christmas season with exhibitions of detailed dioramas of the Nativity in Papier Mache, or even live reenactments of the nativity tale from the Bible.

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Every major city has its own traditional characteristic Christmas markets filled with folk art, Christmas decorations and food and wine stands which are also common in other European cities.

In Sicily, the religious festivals are as always a substantial part of the events and include everything from the feast days of St Barbara, the Immaculate Conception, San Nicola di Bari, St Lucy, Santo Natale, San Silvestro (New Year’s Eve) through to and the Epiphany in early January.

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Photo by Charl van Rooy on Unsplash

The festive table is always filled with baroque bounties where the best of what is available is consumed liberally throughout Sicily.

Christmas celebrations are seriously religious here in Italy, but the true religion is not in a church but at the table, a hedonistic ritual which demands extensive preparation and consumption. Celebrations begin on the Eve’s. Yes, the most important meals are Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve which stuff you with so much food you don’t want to eat for an entire year.

The Italian Cenone is the essence of gluttony.

A Sicilian menu is endless: starting with appetisers like bruschetta, arancini rice balls, fried bread batter, canapes, cheeses, ham and cold meats. Then a selection of at least two different pasta dishes which could be anything like lasagna, cannelloni, tortellini, farfalle or fusilli prepared with an array of rich sauces ranging from hefty béchamel flavoured with smoked salmon, porcini mushrooms or the classic Bolognese. The menu varies depending on which part of Italy you find yourself. Some believe each Vigilia must be celebrated only with seafood.

A typical menu can include main courses of roasted beef, pork, lamb, chicken, baby kid, wild boar, stuffed pigs feet, fried crumbed veal cutlets, fried baccalà or dried and salted cod, seafood salad, Russian coleslaw or lobster. Everything is washed down with red and white wines, topped off with a selection of exotic and winter fruits such as pineapple, dried figs stuffed with hazelnuts, oranges, mandarines.

 

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Photo by Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

Then there is the obligatory slab of Panettone or Pandoro Christmas cake for those who don’t like sultanas or caramelised fruit. Not to mention the endless desserts like drenched liquor dumplings, cannoli, profiterole cream puffs and alike!
Finally, there is a glass of sparkling Spumante for good luck, before a night of indigestion and antacids.

For those brave of heart and strong of stomach you might indulge in a shot of digestive liquor ranging from potent Grappa, sour as hell Amaro, lemony Lemoncello or deliciously light chocolate or hazelnut delights.

The Cenone is sacred, and it’s only once a year, thank goodness!

The abundance of Christmas provisions serves to be shared with equally abundant friends and family as the festive season is where the gregarious Italian culture finds its true expression, it is excessive but needs to be as you never know how many relatives will show up between Christmas and new years.

Here below is my own personal list of events in Sicily this December (2018) for you to pin and use as a guide on your Yuletide planning.

Buon Natale to everyone and to all a good Nye celebration.

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Yuletide Sicily

Ottobre in Sicilia

'Falling' in love with Sicily

October in Sicily is a beautiful time of the year, there is a distinct cold snap which reminds you of the comforting warmth of a sweater and the new season brings with it new sensations and tastes which are as inebriating as newly fermenting wines.

While I am always sad to see the end of the summer, I’m reminded of the wisdom of many Italian proverbs which tell me of the magic of autumn in Italy.

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This year’s change in temperature has come quickly and decisively which means I’m now wearing a jacket and have put a blanket onto my bead clothes. And this will also mean the quick demise of the insects which have been torturing us all summer.

Thanks to the humidity there are always plenty of mosquitoes, over this past year they have also made many people sick over the summer with numerous cases of the West Nile virus being reported. But as the Italian proverb above reminds us, this won’t be a problem anymore!

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My favourite fruit of the autumn has to be the mushroom. There is nothing like walking through the woods and finding little colonies of mushroom clusters. I’m probably the worst mushroom hunter in the world, but thank goodness that I am surrounded by experts.

I always look forward to preparing flavoursome risotto with porcini mushrooms, or preserving small yellow field mushrooms and discovering different varieties like these meaty ‘deer antler’ variety we discovered this year, which are filled with wonderful properties.

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In Italian, it is known as the Grifola frondosa and grows in clusters at the base of trees, particularly oaks. The mushroom is commonly known among English speakers as hen of the woods, hen-of-the-woods, ram’s head and sheep’s head.

It is typically found in late summer to early autumn. In the United States, it is known by its Japanese name maitake (舞茸, or the dancing mushroom). This mushroom stimulates the immune system, has anti-cancer qualities, lowers blood sugar levels and is often sold as a supplement in health food stores.

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October also means we are preparing our garden by planting our winter vegetables. With the rains and cold our cauliflower, broccoli, fennel, pumpkins, spinach and kale will ripen for us. I can’t wait for the more opulent dishes of autumn and winter.

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Over the past week of pleasant coolness, my appetite has already been stimulated. Pork becomes the taster as pigs are naturally fattened up and with the October sagra season is beginning this time of year even busier than the summer for food festivals in Sicily.

From big festivals lasting every weekend in October like at Ottobrata at Zefferana Etenea and Ottobrando at Floresta there are endless things to taste and eat.

From grapes, new wine, cheeses cooked grape juice (or mostarda), honey, apples and other local, seasonal fruits being harvested including fichi d’india (prickly pear), pomegranates, hazelnuts, chestnuts, walnuts, pistachios, olive oil and many preserves under olive oil (conserve sott’olio).

October has an even more abundant amount of flavours still.

Here are just a fraction of some of the beautiful food festivals in Sicily to put on your bucket list, there are literally too many to put down on one visual.

 

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The eternally misunderstood melanzana

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For more on how to join in on the fun click here.

The Dolce Vita Bloggers are getting serious this month, we are talking about food and our favourite Italian recipes. Thanks again to Kelly from italianatheart.com, Jasmine from questadolcevita.com and Kristie of mammaprada.com for giving me a chance to explore the nature and origins of the aubergine in the Sicilian kitchen and the best way to prepare it. I can’t wait to read everyone’s mouthwatering posts.

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Melanzana, eggplant, aubergine or however you choose to call it is the quintessential Mediterranean vegetable. Aubergines are exotic, sumptuous, voluptuous and irresistible if cooked properly.

Many people don’t understand the eggplant, they find it strange and hate the taste, but if prepared well it can become the crowning glory of any dish.

The Melanzana is a precious fruit of the Sicilian summer, every year I impatiently wait for its plump white flesh to ripen, chop it into cubes, and fry it up to make a signature dish from Catania pasta alla Norma covered in lavish shavings or oven dried ricotta cheese.

I occasionally slice them like French fries and make my own Sicilian chips. Or cook it together with other summer vegetables like tomatoes, capsicum and onions to create a classic Sicilian caponata fry up.

Sicilian’s say ‘la morte della melanzana’ (literally the best death of an aubergine, or the best way to prepare it) is deep frying. Italians in general love to dip everything in batter and cook it in the deep fryer, everything from seafood, to zucchini flowers and even eggplant.

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My favourite Sicilian plate is the involtini di melanzane alla Messinese. A simple oven baked pasta dish prepared in the summer which basically takes slices of deep fried eggplant and wraps them around, cooked, tomato sauce drenched, freshly made Sicilian maccheroni.

In my part of Sicily in the province of Messina maccheroni are long fresh handmade pasta which resemble bucatini. The melanzane wraps are placed into a baking dish, topped with more sauce and a generous topping of grated oven dried ricotta cheese which simmers and melts into a plate of orgasmic proportions.

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The aubergine is so versatile you can eat it fried, stuffed, boiled, sliced, grilled, dried, braised, mashed, pickled, pureed, or breaded and fried. It is an essential ingredient in Italian ratatouille and Middle Eastern baba ganoush.

Eggplant is one of the sponges of the vegetable kingdom and soaking them in salted water before cooking helps reduce its natural oil absorption tendencies and removes any lingering bitterness.

The plant comes from the nightshade family, which also include the potatoes, capsicum peppers and tomatoes. Originally from India, China and Sri Lanka. This spiny, bitter, purple or white oval shaped vegetable with distinctly spongy white pulp has been cultivated for more than one thousand and five hundred years.

The Latin/French term aubergine originally derives from the historical city of Vergina (Βεργίνα) in Greece. The eggplant is estimated to have reached Greece around three hundred and twenty-five B.C after the death of Alexander the Great in Babylon. The conqueror fell in love with this new vegetable during his conquest and its seeds were taken back to Magna Grecia accordingly.

 

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As trade routes opened, the eggplant was introduced to Europe by the Arabs and transported to Africa by the Persians. The Spaniards carried it with them to the New World and by the early eighteen hundreds, both white and purple varieties could be found in American gardens.

In fifth-century China, the plant was made into a black dye which was used by aristocratic ladies to stain their teeth, which, when polished with the eggplant colour gleamed like metal.

Also in China, it was a requirement of a bride’s dowry that a woman must know how to prepare at least twelve eggplant recipes before her wedding day.

In Turkey, the imam bayildi is a tasty treat of stuffed eggplant simmered in olive oil and is said to have made a religious leader swoon in ecstasy.

When first introduced to Italy, people believed that anyone who ate the so-called mad apple was sure to go insane.

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The plant is often misunderstood by many people who just don’t like the taste or develop an irrational aversion to it, but as with any exotic acquired taste you do either love it or hate it.

Legendary Italian movie director Federico Fellini hated the melanzana and once told an elaborate erotic tall tale explaining the reason behind his aversion. Apparently, when Fellini was a young boy with peeping tom tendencies, he accidentally witnessed a lady using an aubergine to pleasure herself, an experience which left him traumatised and unable to stand the sight of the vegetable.

Then there is the terrible corruption of the eggplant emoji which certainly makes you look at an aubergine in an entirely different way. Such a misunderstood vegetable, yet so delicious.

This is part of the #DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #10 September 2018 – Favourite Italian Recipe. Click on over to read other mouth-watering posts.

Past #DolceVitaBlogger Link-Ups:

#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #9 August 2018 – Culture Shock.
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #8 July 2018 – La Dolce Vita
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #7 June 2018 – Hidden Gems in Italy
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #6 May 2018 – Five Italian Words
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #5 April 2018 – The Perfect Day in Italy
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #4 March 2018 – International Women’s Day
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #3 February 2018 – A Love Letter to Italy
#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #2 January 2018 – Favourite Italian City
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #1 December 2017 – ‘The Italian Connection

Food Festivals in Sicily

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Sicily has a wonderfully variegated cuisine, its plate is filled with influences from all around the Mediterranean from the Middle East, to North Africa, Greece and many more.

There is great pride in preparing local specialities and showing off the abundant talent of each chef.

Like in most of Italy each region, even town from town will have its own local variety of wine, interpretation of pasta, bread, cheeses, salami, desserts and even biscuits.

Each place embraces its individuality and has proudly perfected its particular type of local cuisine in the way of distinguishing itself from other towns and in turn showing off the richness of agricultural fertility and skill in the preparation of century-old products.

One way to taste the best of each place is to hunt down a Sagra or food festival, where for only a handful of Euro you are able to sample the best of local fare.

The Sagra event calendar in Sicily is never ending through the year and coincides with the seasonal calendar as Sicilians like all other Italians believe in eating what is strictly in season. So in the summer expect to see a dedication to products like strawberries, melons, tomatoes and peaches. While the winter/fall the Sagra gives you a taste of wine, salami, pork, mushrooms and fried specialities.

Most of the events are annually around the same date and are proudly sponsored by locals as a way of fostering local tourism. The events are local, so the best way to learn about them is through the local press, picking up flyers at your local cafe and looking at posters pasted up on the side of the road.

An excellent general guide for the usual events is the site Sicilia in Festa which will give you a good indication of what’s happening around Sicily during the year month by month and province by province.

Here is my own personal list of the more significant, more well organised and famous food festivals you really shouldn’t miss filled with the best Sicilian ingredients, tastes and music.

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How to eat like an Italian

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I recently saw this image on Facebook from a supposedly Italian restaurant in Australia and was reminded of how different food consumption is in Italy.

Yes, the photo does look delicious, but this is in no way an authentic way of serving Italian food. Italians would never put pasta together with meat on the same plate. This is never done as food preparation has determined rules and procedures which are never broken because each food’s taste must be savoured to the full.

An Italian would be shocked to see two distinct dishes haphazardly heaped together on a plate like this. The standards for food preparations in Italy are very high and demand food to be served in specific ways to respect each unique dishes flavours.

The structure of a meal follows very well-defined stages, which can quickly be picked and chosen from yet each course has its own way of being served.

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Aperitivo [a-pe-ri-tì-vo]: the apéritif usually happens before a meal, where you sip Aperol spritz, non-alcoholic bitters like Crodino or other cocktails and drinks that help stimulate the appetite for a big dinner.

Antipasto [an-ti-pà-sto]: an antipasto is made up of many small samples of food which are meant to show the ingredients and flavours featured in the main meal. If you have seafood, everything will feature the elements in the main seafood menu, while at a Trattoria it can highlight the best ingredients of local cuisine in small dishes of everything from cheese samples, mushrooms, salami’s, bread, fried batters, pickled vegetables and many more.

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Primo [prì-mo]: this is strictly a pasta, rice or minestra [mi-nè-stra] pasta based vegetable soup dish.

Secondo [se-cón-do]: the main course which can be meat, fish or chicken.

Contorno [con-tór-no]: these are your side dishes which are served on separate plates and include any salads or vegetarian options, everything from fries to lettuce or roasted vegetables.

Bis [bìs]: if you love a particular dish or antipasto you can ask for second helping or ‘fare il Bis’ (BIZ). If you are lucky enough to be invited to a wedding or another major party event those waiting on you will automatically ask if you want a second helping of the pasta or main courses.

Dolce [dól-ce]: dessert in Italy is usually dictated by the seasons, if it’s summer there are selections of gelato or fruits, in winter usually pastries.

Digestivo [di-ge-stì-vo] / Caffè [caf-fè]: to help the meal go down well there comes the digestivo which is either a sip of liquor (from grappa, to limoncello or Amaro) or coffee anything that helps with digestion.

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By no means are you expected to consume a huge meal like this each day.

You may go out and have an apéritif with friends after work which is usually accompanied by small snacks like potato chips, pretzels, crackers, olives, peanuts or small canapès.

You can decide on getting an antipasto with only a primo or skip the antipasto and choose a secondo with a contorno.

A Bis is not obligatory, neither is dessert or coffee. An Italian will rarely eat these courses unless it’s for a significant occasion like a wedding when the eating is spread out over a full evening.

If you are going out for a casual pizza at a pizzeria, you can usually get an antipasto, then pizza and if you have room a dolce or digestivo.

There are also many dishes, particularly in the United States, which are marketed as Italian but in reality aren’t at all. Many foods have been created by Italo Americans which have taken their Italian traditions and adapted them into the culture of their new homes, in a unique crossover cuisine which actually does not exist in Italy.

Distinctly Italo American inventions which would surprise and perhaps even be shocking to Italians include:
Deep-Dish Pizza
Pepperoni pizza
Lobster Fra Diavolo
Chicken and Veal Parmigiana
Cioppino (fish stew)
Muffuletta (a bread roll with the lot)
Spaghetti and meatballs
Mozzarella sticks
Shrimp Scampi
Italian dressing

Food and religious festivals in Sicily this August

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August is a month filled with endless food and religious celebrations which fill the table with local fare and many opportunities to witness ancient patron saint festivals. Most Italians have their annual summer vacation this month, so there is a particularly hectic series of outdoor events paired with epic traffic jams to match!

Italy in August means the thermometer hits its peak and the humid Italo summer closes down the entire peninsula as all Italians go to the beach, up to the mountains or overseas.

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Ferragosto is the mid-August holiday, the Latin term Feriae Augusti (Augustus’ rest), was celebration first introduced by Emperor Augustus in 18 BC. In addition to the existing Roman festivals which celebrated harvest times, the Roman Empire chose to revel in the heat and basically take the month to rest.

During the ancient celebrations, horse races were held across the Empire, and beasts of burden were released from their work duties and decorated with flowers. The many Palio horse races all around Italy still reflect these ancient Roman celebrations. The name “Palio” comes from the pallium, a piece of precious fabric which was the prize given to winners of these horse races.

The popular tradition of taking a trip during Ferragosto came about during the Fascist period. In the second half of the 1920s, during the mid-August period, the regime organised hundreds of popular tours. People’s Trains for Ferragosto were available at discounted prices.

Today the 15th of August is a national holiday and a religious feast day which celebrates the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The Roman Catholic church believes it was the day when the Madonna’s sinless soul and the incorruptible body was taken up to heaven.

 

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In Sicily and Italy, there are many ancient festivities in cities where the ‘Virgin of the Assumption’ is the patron or protector. Ferragosto in Sicily offers elaborate parades and celebrations from Randazzo (Catania) to Messina, Capo d’Orlando (Messina), Motta d’Affermo (Catania), Novara di Sicilia (Messina), Montagnareale (Messina), Piazza Armerina (Enna), Aci Catena (Catania) and many more.

 

Here are some annual events to pin for later and check out in August.

 

August in Sicily

 

For an impressive complete list see Sicilia in Festa which provides the most up to date information about festivities province by province during the year for all visitors to Sicily.

Be sure to check out official event links and web pages as event dates may be changed.

A walk to the fig tree

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In the summer Sicilian’s become like frugivorous animals living off the fruits produced by their gardens. So my husband, son and I are obliged to take a walk to the fig tree to gather up its bounty.

The only problem is the tree is hidden deep below a steep precipice behind overgrown bushes and prickly vines. So a simple walk to a fig tree becomes a trek through the Sicilian undergrowth.

According to my son’s fertile imagination, we were buried in the jungle. In reality, we were making a path through the rugged and abandoned countryside. I was imagining twisted ankles, ripped clothes and thorns.

 

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After literally cutting a path through the bushes we were rewarded by a pleasant walk under the shade of overgrown hazelnut trees in a pathway well hidden from the still burning afternoon sun littered with small mulberries we all love to eat.

 

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When we finally reached the tree, we receive the most indulgent reward, an elaborate tree filled with lush mature fruit. Something is satisfying about eating fresh fruit from under a tree. As I pick the most delicious figs, the white sap bleeds onto my hands, and the figs split open, I place them in my mouth.

 

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While slurping up my first fig of the year, I recall how Italian Renaissance poets used the image of the fig as an erotic metaphor for female genitalia, who knew to eat a fig would be so provocative.

 

 

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The fig has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years and is native to the region between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The tree repeatedly appears in the Bible, and some scholars believe the forbidden fruit picked by Eve was a fig rather than an apple.

 

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We are forced to fight off the birds for the figs, as their growing season is so short and intense, we have to be quick, or we’ll miss out. If there is an abundant crop, I might get the chance to make fig jam, or we can choose to dry them in the sun so we can eat them later with roasted hazelnuts in the winter.

The exciting possibilities are endless.

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Una passeggiata fina un albero di fico

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In estate i Siciliani diventano come degli animali erbivori, vivendo dei frutti prodotti dai loro giardini. Perchio mio marito, mio figlio e io sono obbligati a fare una passeggiata fino l’albero di fico per raccogliere i suoi frutti.

L’unico problema è che l’albero è nascosto sotto un ripido precipizio dietro coperto dalla vegetazione e piante spinose. Cosi una semplice passeggiata fino un albero di fico diventa un viaggio attraverso il sottobosco Siciliano.

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Secondo la fertile immaginazione di mio figilio noi eravamo nelle giungle profonda. In realta noi stavamo facendo un percorso attraverso la rocciosa e abbandonata campagna. Io invece non posso smettere di pensare a caviglie slogate, vestite strappati dentro questi rovi.

Dopo aver letteralmente tagliato un percorso attraverso la vegetazione, eravamo ricompensati da una piacevole camminata sotto l’ombra degli alberi di nocciola. In un percorso ben nascosto dall’ancora caldo sole pomeridiano ricoperti da piccole more che tutti amano mangiare.

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Quando finalmente raggiungiamo l’albero riceviamo la più indulgente ricompenso, un elaborato albero pieno di lussureggianti frutti maturi. C’ è qualcosa di soddisfacente nel mangiare il frutto fresco da sotto un albero. Raccogliere i fichi più succulenti, la linfa bianca nelle tue mani e i fichi aperti, mentre li metti nella tua bocca.

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Mentre mangio il mio primo fico dell’anno, io mi riccordo come i poeti Italiani del Rinascemento usavano l’immagine del fico come una metafora erotica per i genitali femminili, che sapeva che mangiare un fico poteva essere cosi provocante.
Il fico è stato coltivato da più di 5,000 anni ed è nativo dell’regione fra il Mediterraneo e il Mar Nero. L’albero appare nella Bibbia e alcuni studiosi credano che il frutto proibito preso da Eva fosse un fico anzichè di una mela.

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Siamo costretti a combattere gli uccelli per i fichi, visto che le loro stagione è così corta e intensa, dobbiamo essere veloci o li perderemo. Se c’è un abbondante raccolta, potrei avere l’occasione di fare un confettura di fichi o possiamo scegliere di assiggarli al sole così possiamo mangiarli più tardi con le nocciole tostate in inverno.

Le possibilità sensuali sono senza fine.

Sagre and Feste in July

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Food and religious festivals (sagre and feste) all over the peninsula are at the heart and soul of Italian traditions. The ones celebrated on the island of Sicily are particularly rich in history, colour and taste.

Sicilians are proud of their cuisine and dedicate a considerable amount of effort in preparing and sharing their typical plates. So a visit to a sagra is a celebration and invitation to taste the best of Sicily.

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While patron Saint celebrations have a long history in Sicily and Italy linked to the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church throughout Europe. Sicilians have a sincere dedication to their hometown Saints and a visit to a big feast day will give a unique experience into the intriguing history of Sicily as each has been linked to a particular place for centuries.

The Saints statues are works of art unto themselves, their stories are miracles are amazing tales, and the churches they are housed in are filled with more colour and art still. The celebrations include elaborate pageants like processions, music, fireworks, food and costumes.

Sicily is dedicated to its Saints and cuisine, and these elaborate parties show the best side of the island for all to see.

Here are some events to pin for your next trip to Sicily.

July in sicily

Summer decadence

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Sicily is filled with many culinary delicacies throughout the year, but it seems to outdo itself for the summer holidays when everyone is out to have a good time and forget their diets. There are the usual pastries and the cliché gelati but two particular summer favourites which simply must not be missed by any visitor to the island.

The first is the simple granita, an iced drink offered in a variety of flavours including lemon, strawberry, coffee, chocolate, almond, berry, peach etc. (the choice is limitless, depending on the imagination of your local café bar owner.) To be clear this isn’t merely shaved ice flavoured with artificial syrups, they are made from fresh seasonal fruit and ingredients.

       

 

The most irresistible temptation for a summer breakfast is packed with tonnes of, ‘ruin your diet,’ calories but, ‘really who the hell cares about that’ taste. A coffee granita, for caffeine lovers, is the ultimate iced coffee. It must be consumed with a thick layer of fresh cream and a giant sweet bread briosche to dip into it as you mix the cream into this exquisite creation.
For those who aren’t a fan of coffee try strawberry with fresh cream, when you mix the two together, it is like eating strawberries and cream. Or if you have something against fresh cream and sweet bread try ordering lemon and strawberry swirled together for a refreshing summertime drink.

 

Secondly but by no means inferior to the granita is an ice cream filled sweet bread. Yes, my friends you heard it right, a mega serving of ice cream inside a bread roll for a hamburger with a difference.
Not for the faint-hearted, a brioche con gelato is a regular meal substitute. Don’t, for example, have it after a big continental breakfast or a typical several course Italian meal because you will end up feeling very ill.
It may seem like a strange thing to eat but believe me, you will be tempted by a filling of two or more of your favourite ice creams, which will be complemented by the texture of the extra soft pastry as you devour it.
Try it, and you’ll understand what I mean.

 

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Decadenza Estiva

Decadenza Estiva blog

La Sicilia è piena di molte delizie culinare durante tutto l’anno, ma sembra che ancora di più vengano fuori per le vacanze estive, quando tutti sono pronti per divertirsi e dimenticono le loro diete. Ci sono i soliti dolci e i classici gelati, due particolari preferenze estive che semplicemente non devono essere dimenticate da ogni visitatore dell’isola.

La prima è l’umile granita, una bevanda ghiacciata offerte in una varietà di gusti, quali: limone, fragola, caffè, cioccolato, mandorle, more, pesca ecc (le scelte è senza limiti, depende dall’immaginazione del propretario del bar. Per essere chiaro questo non è sempice ghiaccio tritato aromatizzato con sciroppi artificiali, sono fatti con frutta fresca stagionale e ingredienti veri.

 

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La più irresistibile tentazione per una colazione estiva è un pacchetto ‘rovina dieta’, ma in verità per quel sapore, chi se ne frega. Una granita al caffè, per gli amanti della caffeina è il migliore caffè freddo della tua vita. Deve essere assolutamente consumato con uno spesso strato di panna montata e uno gigante e dolce brioche da inzuppare in modo da mischiare la panna in questa squisito creazione.

Per quelli che non sono fan del caffè provatelo panna e fragola, quando miscelate i due insieme è come mangiare fragole e panna. O se avete qualcosa contro la panna o la briosche provate a ordinare granita fragola e limone insieme per una rinfrescante bevanda. Alcuni Siciliani ordiano acqua minerale con un cucchiao di granita o te freddo e granita o la birra e granita le combinazioni sono infinite.

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Poi c’è la briosche riempito con gelato, che non è inferiore alla granita per niente. Si amici miei avete letto bene, una porzione gigantesca di gelato dentro un panino per un hamburger con una differenza.

Non è per i deboli di cuore, una briosche con gelato è una sostituto di un pasto. Per esempio non mangiatelo dopo un abbondanti colazione o dopo aver mangiato un pranzo con tante portate perchè finireti per sentirvi molto male.

Potrebbe sembrare una strana cosa da mangiare, ma credetevi sareti tentati di sicuro da due o più gusti di gelato Siciliano, che si sposano perfattamente con la consistenza della sofficissima pasta quando la divorate.

Provatela e capirete.

Paste di mandorle: un iconico dolce Siciliano

Blog post Paste di mandorle

Molti dei dolci e dessert Siciliani sono stati creati nelle mura dei conventi,mi piace immaginare una suora che innova e crea nuovi dolci partendo dalla frutta martorana, un marzapane che viene modellato in moltissime forme, un esempio sono le “minne di sant’agata”, letteralmente “seno di sant’agata” dolci a forma di semisfera ripieni di ricotta completati con delle ciliegie rosse a simboleggiare i capezzoli.

Le suore avevano accesso ad ingredienti di alta qualità come ricotta frescha, mandorle, pistacchi e in particolare lo zucchero. Senza dubbio loro avevano il tempo di sperimentare ed usavano le ricorrenze religiose come un modo di esprimire la loro abilità e competenza culinaria; è veramente una bellissima immagine cinematografica pensare a queste donne, che modellano le dolcezze della Sicilia da dentro un ordine religioso.

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Una delle più conosciute creazioni Siciliane sono le ‘Paste di mennula’ regine della pasticcieria Siciliana.

Composte da una semplice pasta croccante, generalmente a forma di ravioli a mezzaluna, coperte da una glassa fatta da zucchero a velo, albume e succo si limone e decorate con zuccherini colorati o cioccolato fondente.

La loro magia viene dall’essere ‘super piene’ di zucchero, nonche’ potenzialmente letali per i denti e per l’aumento dei livelli di zucchero. Fu all’apice della decadenza Siciliana quando le suore stanche del loro digiuno e sacrificio giornaliero, decisero di ‘chiudere’ tutto il glucosio che potevano in un piccolo contenitore.

La pasta è riempita con mandorle tritate che sono lavorate come una marmallata, cotte con sciroppo si zucchero caramellato e insaporite con cannella, spesso arricchite con un mix di arance, limoni e cedro canditi e a volte piccoli pezzi di cioccolato fondente.

Maggioramente usate per Pasqua, le paste di mandorle erano anche usate dai giovani innamorati quando facevano la proposta di matrimonio, i biscotti venivano donati anche ai futuri suoceri.

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Le origini delle paste risalgano alla provincia di Messina in un antico paese di nome Ficarra. I Ficarresi costudiscono fortemente e gelosamente l’originale ricetta segreta.

Ficarra ha un storia che risale al primo periodo Normanno menzionata ufficialmente in un documento di corte del 1082 sotto il dominio del Conte Ruggero I.

Oggi questo bellissimo paese medievale guarda le Isole Eolie dalla sua posizione strategica sui monti Nebrodi, nello stesso idealistico luogo in cui si trova da secoli.

Ecco un Sicilian Moment: Pasti i mennula

To see this post in english click here: Pasti i mennula

 

Eating the Springtime

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One of the life lessons Italy has given me is the special taste of eating according to the seasons. There is something wonderfully simple and logical about living with the natural worlds shifting seasons, as if you are following a natural internal rhythm.

Today we are all spoilt by supermarkets who have everything we want on the shelves throughout the year. But eating fruits and vegetables which have been freshly grown and have gathered the sunshine of the summer or the warmth of spring, the autumn or fall and winter showers, each with its own unique seasonal flavour.

Those who are passionate about gardening can understand all of the work and toil behind the preparation of the soil, planting, grooming, pruning and harvesting everything according to the particular month of the year. It is with a tremendous sense of achievement that they enjoy the fruits of their creation, like crafting a masterpiece, looking after a pet or raising a child.

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Every year I spend in Sicily I have an appointment to eat the spring time, like meeting old friends I look forward to a succession of different foods and tastes. Beginning at the end of March with artichokes which for me symbolise the end of winter, then with the first weeks of sunshine in the flux of changing weather the wild asparagus sprout out in amongst the bushes of the countryside.

Then comes a blossoming free for all as the heat ushers in a barrage of ripening fruits as the sleeping vegetation starts to wake. The final wintertime citrus makes way for the mulberries, cherries, strawberries, loquats, apricots, plums and figs.

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While the Spring is flowering the preparations for the summer begin with the planting of vegetable gardens which will yield ripened summer fare in a few months, like tomatoes, basil, eggplant (or aubergine), sweet and hot peppers, capsicums, beans and more.

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With the Spring comes the Sagra /sà·gra/ (festival)  season, the beginning of a series of endless food festivals that each town in all of Italy uses to show off their best local and traditional products, like a series of beauty pageants or country fairs. A preparation of endless stands which will give you a taste of everything over a couple days for only a few euros. The sagra season in Sicily begins with granita and gelato at Acireale in spring and ends with chocolate at Modica in December and literally takes you all around the island. In May alone there are a series of Sagras which are dedicated to ingredients like: asparagus, cheese, loquats, wild fennel, oranges, ricotta and strawberries.

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If you find yourself in Sicily in the spring here is a quick fresh food market vocabulary of what you might find on sale, in the garden or on the menu.

Primavera  /pri·ma·vè·ra/  (Spring)

aprile (April),  maggio (May), giugno (June)

Verdura (vegetable) : Asparagi (asparagus) , barba di frate (agretti, otherwise known as saltwort or friar’s beard), carciofi (artichokes), carote (carrots), cavolfiore (cauliflower, there are many types from a beautiful purple or violetta to a bright green or romano variety, as a self confessed cauliflower hater from childhood I suggest you try one of these Italian cauliflowers you will change your mind), cavolo verza (cabbage), puntarelle (chicory) , insalate primaverili (spring salads), luppolo (wild asparagus), cipollotti (spring onions), fave (broad beans), piselli (peas), zucchine (zucchini), melanzane (eggplant or aubergine), peperoni (capsicum), rucola (rucola salad), lattuga (lettuce), fagiolini (green beans) and cipolle (onions).

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Frutta (fruit): Fragole (strawberries) , nespole (loquats), arance (oranges), mandaranci (a cross of mandarines and oranges), clementine (clementine oranges), pompelmi (grapefruit), cedri (citron), kiwi (kiwi fruit) , limoni (lemons), pere (pears), mele (apples), ciliegie (cherries), pesche (peaches), albicocche (apricots), ciliegie (cherries), amarene (armarena bitter cherries), meloni (melons which include several different varieties) and anguria (watermelon).

Carciofi affumicati e arrostiti

Carciofi

La primavera Siciliana è triste perchè il tempo passa da giorni piovosi a giorni di forte sole. Il vento di Scirocco nasce dal deserto Africano e soffia a lungo durante tutte le stagioni.

I fiori bianchi sugli alberi da frutto si mescolano con il grigio della passata stagione. La primavera è come un  armistizio che permette all’inverno di arrendersi e dare inizio ad un nuovo ciclo.

Artichokes

I carciofi siciliani sono tanto spinosi quanto il cambiare del tempo, ma dopo che le loro spine esterne vengono rimosse, il carnoso fiore interno è un delicato rimedio per il freddo.

Il cariofo è un cardo selvatico e viene dalla stessa famiglia del girasole. Questo fiore commestibile è nativo del Mediterraneo, risale al tempo degli antichi Greci, e venivano coltivati in Italia e Sicilia.

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Secondo la mitologia Greca Zeus creò i carciofi da una donna mortale. Un giorno mentre cercava suo fratello Poseidone, Zeus vide un bellissima giovane donna, ed essendo molto colpito dalla ragazza, di nome Cynara, decise di trasformarla in dea. Cynara accettò questa proposta con la promessa pero’ di non tornare piu’ a casa, tuttavia la ragazza non riusci’ a resistere alla nostalgia e tornò di nascosto a visitare la sua famiglia. Quando Zeus lo scoprì si arrabbiò, decise di ributtare Cynara sulla terra e trasformarla in una pianta.

E’ sempre un piacere preparare i carciofi e servirli in tavola ogni anno. Può sembrare difficile prepararli ma sono molto versatili, facili da imbottire e la tenera parte interna che viene tolta può essere preparata separatamente come condimento per la pasta. Uno delle piante più squisite della primavera.

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Il modo migliore per preparare i primi teneri cariofi della stagione è di imbottirli con una combinazione di aromi freschi come pancetta, prezzemolo, cipolline, aglio, sedano tagliato finemente, un pizzico di peperoncino, il tutto bagnato con un filo di olio extra vergine di olive ed un pò di limone, e poi cuocerli lentamente sui carboni ardente o ‘braci’ come dicono in dialetto locale.

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Mettere i carciofi abbondantemente conditi sulla brace calda e lasciare che gli aromi gradualmente insaporiscano il tutto è il modo migliore per gustarli. Le foglie esterne sono croccanti e bruciate ma fungono da guscio protettivo per permettere al tenero cuore di cuocere. Il grasso della pancetta si scioglie e si amalgama con la dolcezza delle verdure in un irresistibile sapore affumicato.

See the english version of this post here: Smoky Roasted Artichokes