It’s Sunday morning in Sicily. When in Rome, do as the Romans do and when in Sicily, do as the Sicilians. That is, take your time to awaken, listening to the waves roll gently onto the shore. Listen again and you’ll hear the call of seagulls in the distance and perhaps the playful laughter of a child running on the beach, anticipating her father’s approach as he tries to catch her. I slipped out of bed, feeling strangely discombobulated as I was alone – sans enfants and mari. It felt both luxurious to be toute seule and yet lonely because I missed my family. But that feeling soon gave way to awe because look at what I could see from the terrace of the appartemento that Silvana D had rented:
What a sight to behold – the infinity of the ocean. I have always preferred the seas to the mountains. Oceans represent a beyond for me, a world to be discovered and explored.
Silvana D had promised me a typical Sicilian breakfast and I couldn’t wait. We took our time to get dressed and pack up for it was my last day in Sicily. A short drive later, we were in the town of Capo d’Orlando where there is a bar that Silvana D likes, a coffee bar, that is. Here, I had the breakfast from heaven – caffé con granita e panna – coffee with granita and whipped cream.
The Sicilians call shaved ice granita. Granita can be flavoured with lemon, strawberries and even pistachios, the king of nut in Sicily, next to the queen, almond. There are variations of granita in that the flavourings can be made with cordial or fresh fruit juice. Here in Sicily, it is usually made with fresh fruit juice, certomente.
It was the Arabs who first introduced granite (plural of granita) to Sicily. The Arabs used to fetch snow from Mt Etna, flavouring the snow with sugar syrup and jasmine water and the rest is history as the Sicilians will tell you. Sicilians also became the great masters of ice cream making before anyone else in Europe. They are particularly famous for their sorbets or sorbetti. This word derived from an Arab word, sciarbat, is now the vernacular in the Sicilian dialect. Say sciarbat and you’ll impress even the hardest Siciliano.
Just a little digression, the Café Procope in Paris was first opened by a Sicilian known as Procopio Coltelli in 1686 and thanks to him, les parisiens got to taste ice cream for the first time. Yes, it is still there in its original venue after almost 300 years. It is worth a visit, if you haven’t already been there.
Now back to my breakfast, just take a look:
I was told that this is what Sicilians have for breakfast as soon as the months become hotter. It you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know that I am a fan of le café glacé or iced coffee. In Paris, I discovered Carette where they serve up a very good one. Another place to go for iced coffee is the Boulangerie Yamazaki where they serve it correctly – with a sugar syrup solution rather than granulated sugar. Here, see:
and their cakes and pastries are sedap too!
The caffé granita con panna was simply out of this world. The panna which is whipped cream or chantilly is really pas la même chose. It is not the same as the chantilly or whipped cream that you magic up yourself and definitely not of the same calibre as that which you can spray from a can. No, no!! This is cream with trés haute standing! Panna is a rich and unctuous crême so dense and creamy that the first taste brings you back for more. However, as soon as it settles on your tongue, the cream melts airily, leaving you with the feeling of lightness that you just have to have another spoonful. That magic lies in the consistency of the cream, kawan kawan, the balance between being dense and airy. How? Je ne sais pas. All I know is that I want some more!
This iced coffee is accompanied by a brioche, a sweet bread that is similar to the one found in France accept that the Italian brioche is less buttery. This is eaten dunked into the coffee where it absorbs the liquid and is also smeared with the panna. Totally divine!
This iced coffee tops all cafés glacés. I was in iced coffee heaven. I would have had another if Silvana D hadn’t reminded me that we have another meal to partake of – lunch.
With it being a Sunday morning, we took a drive to Tindari where the Sanctuary of the Black Virgin can be found. This Black Madonna has a cult following where devotees world wide flock to worship her. The story of this Black Virgin is stuff that legends are made of it. She is definitely from the Byzantium era smuggled out of Constantinople. The ship in which she sailed out from Constantinople got caught in a storm, forcing the sailors to disembark at the port of Tindari where they deposited their load in the local abbey for safekeeping.
Another legend has her saving the life a little girl whose mother came to the sanctuary to give thanks to the Madonna Nera for having healed her daughter from a previous life threatening malady. Seeing that the Virgin Mary was of a darker hue, she exclaimed her disbelief and disgust whereby her daughter promptly fell off the cliff where the sanctuary was situated. She came out unscathed and her mother, misty eyed and in shock, thanked the Black Virgin for her benevolence and kicked herself for her lack of propriety and political incorrectness!
The shrine to the Black Madonna was indeed beautiful, the seat and emblem of feminine power. As a mass was being held, Silvana D and I decided to take a stroll in the surrounding area. We walked up the hill where we caught the breath taking view of the verdant hills of Tidari below us on one side and the sea on the other.
A slight sea breeze brought the scent of meat being grilled our way. My stomach was doing its usual thing – a pavlovian rumbling could be heard. It was nearing lunch time and suitably located 20 metres from us was a bar where we could have salsiccia sandwiches or aranicini de riso. If there was a savoury metaphor for oranges, then this little balls of rice aptly named little oranges, would be it. This is the savoury doppelgänger of the sweet version.
The arancinni are rice balls stuffed with a meaty ragù and ricotta or mozerella, as an alternative. It is usually pear shaped but you can fashion them into balls when making them if you want. Sicilians make them at home as party food and simpler versions come without the meat sauce, only ricotta. Here take a look:
The rice is warm and moist, the meat sauce tangy and flavoursome after hours of stewing. The risotto is coated in a little tomato sauce from the ragù ensuring that the rice remains moist and the ricotta gave it a creamy consistency and taste. This is what it looks like inside:
The rice grains are the pulp and the ragù is synonymous with the juice and the crusty bread crumbed exterior mirrors the textured peel of the orange fruit. Stretching this metaphor further, one can even say that the ricotta resembles the pith. Sicilians must have been inspired by the myriad of orange trees heavy with fruit that grow wild in their landscape. I was inspired by the basket of oranges and lemons being sold at a fruiterer in the town of Taourmina.
Let’s not forget that Sicily is also well known for their home made sausages. with the arancinni as my starter, I was eager for the salsiccia that was being grilled not far from me. These sausages were accompanied by pickled aubergines. The vinegar from the pickles married well with the sausages literally de-greasing the meat as we ate.
Kawan kawan, I have never eaten something so good, so simple and so inexpensive in Europe. The grand total for todays’s lunch was 6€ 40 centimes. This has been a truly wonderful eating experience. Alas, this ends my tale of Sicily. I promised Silvana D that I’d leave a part of my heart in Sicily and I have. So, I will be back for more, bien sûr!
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