Kawan kawan, as some of you may have known, I have been away…..on my own, sans enfants and mari. I took me a little trip to the isle of Sicily, best known for its volcano, Etna and the film, The Godfather featuring its very own Corleone which is a town in the province of Palermo.
Sicily is the biggest island in the Mediterranean boasting a wide range of local flavours, flora and fauna, and architecture. Her food has been influenced by the people that have inhabited this island from the Greeks, to the Romans, to the Serecens (Arabs) and the Normans. The Spaniards have passed through and finally the Bourbons before Sicily was united with the rest of Italy under the Monarchy of the Savoys.
In Sicily, I heard the wind singing in the trees, the seagulls calling above me and her people talking in a dialect so musical and quaint. In Sicily, I felt the sand beneath my feet and the flavours of her spices on my tongue. In Sicily, I saw the beauty of her land, the colours of her flora and the endless stretch of ocean beyond her shores. In Sicily, I breathed in the salty sea air, the perfume of her many lemon trees. In Sicily, I tasted the aromas of her various dishes.
For lunch on arrival in Catania where Silvana D met me, we took a drive towards Taourmina. There we found a little antica trattoria and pizzaria, La Botte, after a short stroll through the town. Kawan kawan, I was thrilled to be in Italy and extra excited to be in Sicily. I have heard people waxing lyrical about Sicilian cuisine but have not tried her dishes myself. Silvana D, a blue blooded Siciliana, did all the ordering, eager for me to sample the cuisine she knows best and is so proud of. And Mamma Mia, she has every reason to be.
Under a pergola shaded from the Sicilian sun, we started with a buffet of various Sicilian vegetables, such as the Cabonata, a rich vegetable stew made of aubergines, bell peppers and tomatoes, frittered aubergines, a fritata of aubergines. My personal favourite has the be the melanzane parmiggiana. It was so good that I had it twice!
Aubergines feature quite a lot in Sicilian cuisine. It is such a versatile vegetable that one can do almost anything with it. I’ve had it grilled, fried, stewed, and pickled – all in the 3 days that I was in Sicily. Look at what was on my plate:
The main course consisted of two pasta dishes both served on the same plate. I was advised to sample the ravioli stuffed with ricotta in a creamy pistachio sauce (below on the right). I’ve never had pistachio sauce before so I was very eager to try this. Let me tell you this: I was speechless! The sauce was so delicate yet so flavourful, rich yet still light enough for me to be able to finish the ravioli and go on to the other pasta dish:
The other pasta dish: this was just as good. Tubular pasta soaked in a tomato sauce made from tomatoes from Pachino, a town in the Province of Syracuse. Sicilians are very proud of these tomatoes because they are famous for their juiciness, sweetness, firmness and generally, for their flavour. They are small tomatoes best bought still clinging to its vine. Cultivated in 1925, these tomatoes did not come into favour until the 1970s and they have been granted the I G P (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) which is similar to the D O C in France. That simply means that no other tomatoes can be called the Pachino unless they are grown on Pachino soil in Sicily.
The pasta is garnished with grilled aubergines and generous shavings of ricotta. This is Sicilian Ricotta, kawan kawan, unlike the other ricotta that one is used to. The Sicilian version has been sun soaked and dried to a golden hue, its complexion tanned and browned. This “weathering” causes the ricotta to harden to the consistency of Parmesan so that it can be grated. This cheese is served mainly in Sicily instead of Parmesan.
Every meal has to end with dessert and this is no exception in Sicily which is famous for her various dolci. Of course, we had to have Sicilian cakes and this was what they offered:
Cassata is a cheese cake made from ricotta and filled with candied fruit and soaked in Marsala. It is usually covered in marzipan. The other favourite is the Sicilian Cannoli – a tube of pastry made of white flour, sugar and butter, deep fried to a golden crunch and filled with sweetened ricotta mixed with a little marsala or rum and candied fruit.
The Sicilians call ancient treasures “trovatura”. Sicilian cuisine is a type of trovatura, foods enriched by the ancient powers who had ruled this island, changing the way her people ate. The Sicilians will tell you that from the Greeks, they have learned to grill or barbecue their food and to indulge in honey and wines, from the Normans, they have learnt to eat salt cod and involtini (rolls) and the Spaniards tomato sauces both sweet and sour. From the Arabs, they discovered the aubergine which incidentally went out of favour when they left and was considered poisonous until the Renaissance; it wasn’t until some Carmelite monks who had eaten aubergines in their monasteries in the East and re-introduced this versatile vegetable to Sicily that it became popular again. The Arabs also brought spices such as saffron and chillis. Sicilian food is both aromatic and colourful reflecting her fusion of cultures, a true trovatura.
This does not end my treasure hunt kawan kawan. This is only my first day in Sicily; stay tuned for other treasures that I will be finding on this trip.
La Botte, Antica Trattoria, Pizzaria
4, Piazza Santa Domenica, 98039 Taourmina,
+39 0942 24198, Closed on Mondays.
NB: Woody Allen has eaten here and so have various other American stars. For Italian movie buffs, many Italian celebrities have also set foot in this little trattoria….