On our way to celebrate a very special anniversary with some friends in the foothills of Mount Etna, we snatched an extra few days to rediscover Sicily.
This time we didn’t get to see the Ballaro Street market in Palermo but remember the vibrant, bustling, raucous, daily fruit and veg market from my last visit.
It starts at 5am so get there early for gleaming fish and shellfish, don’t miss the sea urchins, sliced open and ready to eat or the raw shrimps with just a squeeze of lime juice, extra virgin olive oil and maybe a whisper of red pepper.
And of course there’s tons of fresh vegetables and perfectly ripe fruit to die for.
I also remember luscious fried artichokes and octopus and great Palermitan spleen sandwich cooked in lard and piled onto a soft bun with a sprinkling of parmesan.
We left the higgledy-piggledy sprawl of Palermo, and headed west for Regaleali.
The countryside is breathtakingly beautiful, aromatic landscape, beautiful rolling countryside, huge wheat fields, olive groves, pencil thin Italian cypress, wildflower roadside verges, hilltop towns.
Overall, the country roads with virtually no traffic are very good and the motorways on stilts provide a fantastic view of the countryside without disturbing farming or village life.
There are more vineyards as we got closer to Vallelunga and Regaleali famous for vineyards.
Here, Fabrizia Lanza followed in her mother Anna Tasca Lanza’s footsteps running the cookery school in the midst of her farm and organic gardens.
Rachel Roddy and Luisa Weiss were facilitating a food writing course when we arrived.
We participated in a pasta course the next day and also learned how to make a cherry and pistachio nut crostata.
Fabrizia has a passion for the garden and brings seeds home from her travels to trial in the gardens.
Here for the first time I saw pistachios, capers and pink peppercorns growing but of course there were also peaches, nectarines, cherry, figs and plums, almonds and walnuts.
Meals were all around the huge square in the dining room with an aperativo in the cobbled courtyard.
I particularly remember the delicious rabbit cacciatori and the alarmed (actually horrified) look on an American lady’s face when she found she was eating rabbit.
A soup of zucchini and the leaves was comforting and piqued my curiosity.
The cucuzze variety is tender, delicious and flavourful and the leaves can also be cooked.
Pasta con sarde with sardines and wild fennel, raisins and pinenuts is one of Sicily’s best-loved pastas.
It’s made with feathery wild fennel.
For most Sicilians, like Italians, breakfast is a cappuccino or a cup of espresso with a ubiquitous cornetto, a jam, chocolate or ricotta or almond filled croissant but I was intrigued to learn the traditional summer breakfast is granita, preferably almond or coffee and a brioche.
The granita di mandorle with wild strawberries I enjoyed at Tre Contrade in Giarre was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
Spaghetti with Walnuts, Anchovies and Parsley
2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
6 anchovy filets, coarsely
4 tablespoons chopped walnuts,
A small or large pinch of chilli flakes,
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley
Flaky sea salt
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add salt (1 tablespoon to 4.8 litres).
Add the pasta, stir, bring back to the boil and continue to cook until al dente, drain but save a little liquid.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a saucepan, add the sliced garlic and cook until very pale golden, add the coarsely chopped anchovies, mash into the oil, add the walnuts , chilli and parsley, stir and pull off the heat.
Drain the pasta, add to the pan, toss, add some cooking water to loosen the sauce.
Taste and tweak if necessary, serve as soon as possible.
There are many versions of this Sicilian vegetable stew; this is one I particularly enjoy.
350g (12oz) celery, stringed and chopped in 5mm (¼in) dice
250g (9oz) onion, peeled and chopped coarsely
200ml (7fl.oz) approx. extra virgin olive oil
1kg (2¼lb) aubergine, cut in 2.5cm (1in) chunks
1 tbsp capers, salted if possible (wash in cold water, drain and dry)
18 green olives, stoned
75g (3oz) homemade tomato paste
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Bring a 1.2L (2pint) saucepan of water to the boil, add 1 teaspoon salt, throw in the celery and onion.
Bring back to the boil, cook for 3 minutes. Drain.
Heat 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a wide heavy frying pan, over a high heat, add about a quarter of the aubergines, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Toss until brown on all sides and almost soft in the centre.
Remove and continue with the remainder of the aubergine. You’ll need to add more olive oil.
Then toss back in the rest, plus the onion and celery, olives, capers, vinegar, tomato puree and sugar.
Stir gently to combine evenly.
Cover and cook for about 15 minutes, taste and correct the seasoning.
Serve warm cold or at room temperature.
Fabrizia Lanza’s Zucchini Soup with Tender Greens
In Sicily this soup is made with the cucuzze squash, long tender pale green zucchini and the leaves can also be used to flavour and add extra nourishment, a comforting delicious soup.
110 ml (4 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped or 1½ cups canned Roma tomatoes, chopped
Fine sea salt and black pepper
2 cucuzze squash or 3 medium zucchini, peeled and chopped
3 bunches tender squash greens, chopped (Tenerumi)
1 small bunch celery leaves, chopped
3 small potatoes, peeled and chopped
4 cups lukewarm water
Combine the olive oil, onion and garlic in a large, wide soup pot and cook over medium high heat until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and cook, breaking them up with a wooden spoon, 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the rest of the vegetables and simmer for 2 minutes.
Add the water, then simmer, covered until the vegetables are tender, 20-25 minutes.
Coming Home to Sicily, Fabrizia Lanza, published by Sterling Epicure
Zucchini Blossoms with Tuma and Anchovies
Tuma is a fresh sheep’s milk cheese made by Sicilian shepherds.
Buffalo mozzarella would made a good substitute
12 freshly picked male zucchini blossoms
Tuma or mozzarella,
175g (6 oz) Durum semolina flour.
350 ml (12 fl oz) beer
good pinch of salt
Olive oil for frying
Cut the cheese into little strips that will fit into the blossom, tuck an anchovy and a little strip of cheese into each flower,
Heat the olive oil in a deep frying pan of deep fry to 180C
Meanwhile, make a simple batter by whisking beer into the durum flour until it’s a light coating consistency.
Add a good pinch of salt. When the oil is hot, dip one flower at a time into the batter twisting the ends as you slip it gently into the hot oil.
Cook a few at a time turning over after a minute or two to crisp the other side, drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately.
Pina’s Pistachio Cake
This gorgeous cake recipe was given to me by some friends, Jon and Marco in Sicily who serve it for breakfast.
Pistachio flour is widely available but one can make pistachio flour in a food processor, use unsalted pistachio nuts.
Sieve, so the pistachio mixture is fine.
130g (4¾oz) butter, melted and cooled
300g (11oz) caster sugar
3 organic eggs
200g (7oz) ‘OO’ flour
200g (7oz) pistachio flour
16g (½-¾oz) dried yeast
200g (7oz) natural yoghurt
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
Butter and flour a 26cm (9in) Bundt tin or 8in (20.5cm) round.
Cream the butter, add the sugar and beat well until light and fluffy. Add a beaten egg, one at a time, beating well before adding the next egg.
Next add the flour and pistachio flour, yeast and yoghurt. Mix well.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 30-35 minutes or until just firm to the touch.
Great Food, Quick: Time starved? Worn out by endless multi-tasking? Driven demented by traffic gridlock? Underwhelmed by the idea of buying convenience food?
Don’t despair. In 2½ days, we’ll show you how to make delicious and nutritious everyday meals fast — heart-warming soups, simple starters, main courses, yummy desserts and homemade bread.
Super-fast actually, because in half an hour or less, from start to finish, you will be able to produce scrumptious dishes, all of which look good, taste good and are easy to prepare after even the most gruelling day.
Monday, July 25, until Wednesday, July 27; www.cookingisfun.ie
Coast with Rachel Allen and Ivan Whelan: This year Rachel took a tour of the Wild Atlantic Way visiting food producers, chefs, and restaurants along the coast. A great TV show and a book, Coast, followed.
In this course Rachel and her side kick Ivan will cook some favourite recipes from their trip using the very best of ingredients from the Atlantic Coast, artisan producers and farmers.
From Wednesday, July 27, until Friday, July 29; www.cookingisfun.ie
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