The sun sets, and orange and blue colours mix in the water as I sit pondering what am I to write about this week. When two Glaswegians sit down next to me, eating ice cream and conversation begins to flow on Sicilian food.
My week has been one of culture. (I’m not debating the meaning of this word or any other this week.) The island is just full of it, in language, food and history. From the odyssey landing on the island and taking out its cyclops to the sirens north of here singing beautiful music to lure sailors into the rocks. However, this week I thought I’d focus on my experience with food culture. The cuisine is a mixture of Greek, Latin, Arabic and Spanish. There is clearly an Italian base for the cooking. There is also the sea, which is another base of the food here, and mount Etna could even be argued is a base. The nickname for mount Etna is mama Etna. Life-giver, provider and potentially scary as hell. Read into that what you may.
The volcano definitely contributes to the quality of the food. Dropping nitrogen-rich ash over the island, some water to quench the thirst of plants and mama is certainly in charge. A reflection on my experience with some female Sicilian friends who have experienced my cooking and have trusted me as far as they could throw me. (Apparently, their experience with Englishmen in the kitchen has been somewhat 👎🏻.) When I’ve cooked for them, I’ve had to tap them with a wooden spoon and give glaring looks to remove them or stop them interfering with the cooking process.
Food is so important, cooking styles and there are rules are essential. You don’t mess with tradition, and I’ve have had arguments with Sicilians over how to cook certain dishes and what ingredients can be put in to be cooked. You might argue as to what do I know? I’ve run a restaurant for a start, and I’ve been cooking large amounts of Italian food for quite some time, lasagna being a personal favourite of mine, as well as risotto, pasta, basil pesto and gnocchi. Following recipes to the letter from famous chefs and then experimenting. The final compliment and certificate of authenticity has come from the Sicilians themselves who have eaten healthy portions of my food with wide smiles and happy eyes. I think the highest compliment I could have possibly received. Even though they rejected my ingredients, they soon guzzled it down upon the first taste.
One of my favourite dishes is from the sea. The seafood here has been fantastic, cozze (mussels) has been a particular favourite, which I cook in lemon, celery, (an ingredient of many arguments) white wine, garlic and water. It takes 7 minutes to cook and comes out with a beautiful sweet flavour. Here is the best bit. While this has been cooking, I’ve also been preparing a main dish, of pasta and a salsa sauce, (tomato base.) tomatoes 🍅fried in olive oil and a single anchovy until soft. Then add celery, garlic and passata with some basil. I take the water from the mussels and pour it over the pasta, leaving it to soak in the sea flavours. Once this has almost entirely cooked, I add the pasta to some heat until cooked, leaving the salsa on low heat or off. All the while eating and nibbling on the mussels. I then normally mix the salsa and cooked pasta and cook for one minute to meld the flavours. One thing you will not is that with these recipes, I’ve not added any salt or pepper, in fact since I’ve been here I’ve not added any spices at all, the food is just that tasty on its own. Mama Etna provides the flavours.
There is also squid 🦑 although be careful as removing their guts can be difficult and will remind of a scene from Alien. Their ink sac can be a particular threat, glasses/goggles should be warned . They tend to spray, potentially making beautiful modern art, which is a pain to clean afterwards. There are many other dishes to talk about, which I’ll save for another cooking blog or maybe a video. What I will say for now is, if you come here to try the tomatoes and olives in the markets. Fresh fruit for breakfast (peaches, nectarines, apples, bananas, are great for staying the day.) and a cappuccino for breakfast is a great way to start the day. Especially if you fancy saving money. If you fancy splashing out try the cornettos. These are not the ice creams we are used to. Although they might make you want to sing the song from the advert. This is a croissant injected with pistachio cream or orange marmalade or if you can find it an apple and honey flavoured sauce. A particular favourite.
If you fancy a dessert. You couldn’t ask for more or much better.
Cannoli is a thick pastry dish, with supposed Arab origin, filled with thick ricotta cheese. Sprinkled with various sweet treats, cherry, chocolate and pistachio. The men would go to war, and as a reward for surviving. They would be given a cannoli by their wives upon return. (Fair deal…) What surprised me was that the cannoli is meant to represent a penis. So not sure what to make of the men, surviving a war, surviving the journey back and nibbling on a tasty, cream-filled representation of a penis. Whatever the story, it’s a damn good dessert, a particular favourite would be the pistachio flavoured version. Pistachio, a slightly salty and roasted nut, is an excellent flavour for the cream and ice cream out here.
Ice cream, in particular, is a favourite dessert out here. Something to cool you down on those hot 30c days, or to compliment an excellent main meal. The flavours and taste have been fantastic, a particular recommendation is on the marina. A small restaurant/cafe which has a whole host of different flavoured ice cream 🍦 these seemed to have more cream, more natural flavour and less sugar, creating a perfect dessert to pass away the hours watching the ships roll in.
On that note, I’m going to make my excuses, and have some beer. Bye for now.