Our stories regarding food, travel and life in Sicily...
Posted on Sunday 24th of July 2005 under
We have recently finished to run a tailor-made cooking course. The hot weather does make working in the kitchen harder but we consumed a great deal of granite, ice-cream and watermelon, just to keep our body temperature down, and the pool was a safe haven during the hottest hours of the day.
The loveSicily "students" worked very hard and we are all very happy about the way the course went. There is only one thing that makes us even happier in this case, which is knowing that people keep cooking the recipes they learnt during the course when they go home and experiment with Sicilian food.
We often recieve emails from people who have taken the course telling us they have just prepared the Ravioli col Sugo, Arancine, Granita, etc. for their friends, this time one of the "students" of May 2005 course surprised us sending also a picture of his creation.
He had shown his talent and his ability to reinterpret both traditionl recipes and more modern dishes prepared by Chef Guarino during classes and he has just sent us further proof of his dedication to cooking and love for food with a picture of his Scacci prepared for a party for his friends. Scacci are essentially a thin dough rolled up and stuffed with a variety of fillings.
They are from top to bottom: sweet Italian sausage, marinara, parmesean, and mushroom; eggplant, onion, garlic,
ricotta, and fresh basil; marinated artichoke, olive, ricotta, oregano. He served them with grilled asparagus, salad, and berry trifle for dessert.
Well done to him, we are sure the guests enjoyed it and well done for the picture as well. It manages to capture a very rustic feeling.
Posted on Friday 08th of July 2005 under
To be perfectly honest, we were going for a spaghetti with mussels, but Alessandro - the neighbourhood fishmonger - seemed to have a different measure of what are sufficient mussels for four portions of spaghetti. We could have asked him to remove some from the bag but the suggestion of a zuppa di cozze instead of spaghetti quickly convinced us otherwise. Clearly Alessandro has far better sales techniques than Anglo-Saxon supermarkets have trained us for.
There are endless variations of mussel soups across Italy, with perhaps one of the more popular ones being the impepata di cozze, which is essentially mussels with pepper, olive oil and garlic. In south-east Sicily however, a zuppa di cozze is far more often one with a tasty and slightly spicy tomato sauce.
The first step is of course to clean the mussels (getting rid of those that are open already), then simply place them in a pan with a lid and perhaps very very little water. The mussels quickly release their juice and in about 9-10 minutes should be open, which means they are ready.
At this point remove the liquid, pass it through a fine sieve to remove any impurities and place it apart. Also go through the mussels to remove any that have not opened. Now, we can start with the tomato sauce. For the sauce its pretty much what you prefer. We simply started with olive oil and some garlic, added a sauce we had prepared earlier (although canned tomatoes would work just fine) with a bit of basil. After the sauce was slightly bubbling we added half of the mussel juice and allowed it to reduce almost to half. Then we added the rest of the mussel sauce and two chilies and allowed to reduce some more.
Then add the mussels, some chopped parsley on top and you are ready. Healthy portions of bread to dip are a must. As a secondo some grilled calamari.
Posted on Wednesday 06th of July 2005 under
The 2005 international music competition Ibla Grand Prize is currenlty taking place in Ragusa Ibla. The event began on the 28th of June and will end on the 10th of July.
The competition is organised by the IBLA Foundation New York City in collaboration with the local authorities and has been held every year since 1992 becoming a fixture of the "estate Iblea". Pianists, singers, instrumentalists and composers of all ages and nationalities come to compete in Ragusa Ibla during the last week of June and the first week of July before an international jury.
For this 2005 edition, about 200 participants have joined the competition and the jury is presided by maestro Marcello Abbado, a famous concert pianist and composer also known to be the former Director of the Milan Conservatory and founder of the Symphonic Orchestra Verdi in Milan.
Every night Ibla will be transformed into an open theatre for the public with concerts taking place in the nicest venues and corners of this magnificent jewel of Baroque architecture.
On the 10th of July, the final evening of the event, the winners will receive their prizes, but this would just be the beginning of a an exciting year for them as they will then be presented in such venues as Lincoln Center Alice Tully Hall and Carnegie Hall in New York, the Tokyo Opera City Hall, the Tchaikovsky Bolshoi Hall in Moscow as well as other prestigious venues in Canada, Europe, Russia and the USA.
So for those many who cannot make it to Ibla this year, there will be many opportunities to listen to the winning musicians around the world! In the meantime, time to plan your visit for the 2006 Ibla Grand Prize.
Posted on Monday 04th of July 2005 under
A 'sagra' in Italy is best translated as a festival and there are as many variations of how a sagra can be carried out as there are sagre in Italy - in other words, thousands.
The one we went to last night was what would pass as a low key event, i.e. just a couple of thousand people where attending at any moment. The Sagra ra Tunnina - which is its title in Sicilian dialect - is tied to the celebrations of the Madonna delle Grazie which involves a procession around the town of Ispica with a gathering afterwards to enjoy the tuna.
Now, tuna and the Madonna may not be the most immediate of links. But, as ever with such events, the links actually go back at least a few centuries. In the 18th century the most important family of the town of Ispica - Bruno di Belmonte - became the owners of the "tonnara" of Capo Passero. Now, as the family was a God-fearing one (and had excellent PR people) they decided to pay thanks to the Madonna by offering the population of Ispica a huge tuna to be eaten during the celebrations of the Madonna delle Grazie. The tuna was carried from Capo Passero in a big cart and was taken all around the town to ensure that everyone saw exactly how generous the family was.
Fast-forward to 2005. The family of Belmonte has lost its power over the people of Ispica but the people of Ispica have not lost their appetite for tuna. So they get together some sponsors and the town's administration takes care of the arrangements. Just one tuna is not enough these days, so a few are required. It makes for excellent fast food for a summer night, and comes in two variations. Either a "cipolatta" of tuna, which is tuna with lots of finely chopped onions, or simply roasted in a garlic and oregano sauce.
Now, we know that they don't look perfect and the plates are just plastic ones (as were the fork and knives). But that is the whole spirit of a sagra and a fresh piece of tuna for 3.5 euro is not all that bad!
Most chefs will insist that a tuna steak should ideally be pink in the middle and that a tuna dish should simply enhance the taste of the fish itself rather than crowd it. While we do appreciate this we should also point out that dishes like the ones of the sagra above are still fantastic and chefs should start paying more attention. A well roasted tuna has quite a different taste, especially when you allow the edges to go slightly crispy. So next time you get a tuna steak in front of you ignore that recipe book. Try roasting it over a high temperature and try it the old-fashioned way. What is important is to cut it thin (not more that two-three centimetres) .
Posted on Saturday 02nd of July 2005 under
The Via Ritiro N.7 diary is about to complete its first year of life and in this time we have posted precisely 107 stories â€“ so about a story every 3 and a half days. Not bad considering that the past month we havenâ€™t posted a single thing â€“ however we do have an excellent excuse: weâ€™ve have been busy packing everything and moving to Sicily from the UK for good â€“ and changing countries is not the simplest of tasks.
Anyway, back to the central issue. Via Ritiro N.7 is a year old! To celebrate weâ€™ve given the diary a bit of a facelift, but more importantly with us being permanently here the diary will enter a whole new dimension of its life since stories will be all the easier to follow, photograph and report.
And its precisely in this spirit that we would like to share a discovery that we made just last night, quite by chance in a â€œfieraâ€ (a kind of market/exhibition) in Vittoria. The fiera was disappointing to say the least. However, just as we were about to abandon the idea of a bargain we came across the stall of someone selling mozzarella and provolette. Now, discovering mozzarella in Sicily is not exactly a huge surprise. Mozzarella is produced locally. What is surprising was that the stall in question had a huge photo of buffaloes in the back â€“ and buffalo mozzarella produced in Sicily is indeed a surprise.
A short discussion with the owner revealed that the Azienda Agricola Magazze was only three months old and had 140 buffaloes producing 40Kg of mozzarella a day, while the demand for the product was closer to 120Kg. The initial advice the owner got was that this was simply a crazy idea â€“ who had ever heard of buffalo mozzarella in Sicily! However, this is a guy who has spent time in Africa and studied tropical environments at university so he was confident that he could make it work.
And indeed it worked fantastically â€“ the mozzarella was absolutely amazing, because beyond the relative novelty of the buffaloes being in Sicily all the other aspects of creating mozzarella were well taken care of. For dinner add some salami from the black pigs of the Nebrodi and a spicy dry sausage, tomatoes with olive oil and oregano and that pretty much takes care of things!
We should add that we are hoping to visit Magazze in the near future to personally thank the bufalloes for the great work they are doing ;-)
Posted on Friday 03rd of June 2005 under
Smaller farmers in Ragusa are becoming increasingly more aware of the benefits of selling directly to consumers (rather than negotiating complex contracts with middle men). While "mass production" farms have little choice but to sell for export the smaller farmers that have made peace with their land and with themselves can enjoy a direct relationships and over a suprisingly short period of time they build a faithful following of clients.
It is from "the back of the van" of one of these smaller producers that we received the bounty depicted in the picture below.
Cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes from Pachino for a total of 7 euro. Salads with cucumbers and tomatoes, roast peppers with olive oil, mint and garlic, a bit of greek tzatziki and as the English would say "Bob is very much your father's brother" ;-)
Posted on Tuesday 31st of May 2005 under
Finally got round to putting some pictures together of the last days of the cookery course. On Day 5 the course was entitled "ne' carne ne' pesce", in other words neither meat nor fish. Instead we focused on what would be called vegetarian dishes, although they have nothing to do with the usual obligatory sad fare found in most restaurants (at least of the UK).
The first dish was yet another interpretation of the "raviolo aperto", with a mixture of vegetables and an emulsion of fresh tomato sauce and olive oil for dressing.
Chef Guarino also displayed a bit of pyrotechnics with a demonstration of how to prepare smoked ricotta (certainly not one you will by trying at home!).
The ricotta was simply served with some potatoes baked under rock salt
Then everyone got stuck in preparing what would amount to lunch, from preparing the pasta for the "raviolo aperto" to the second dish which was a grilled rice tortino topped with a saute of carrots, celery, fennel and peper.
The final day started with a visit at Ragusa Ibla and a wonderful lunch at Il Duomo where among the various dishes Chef Ciccio Sultano also offered one of his signature dishes - "spaghetti neri con interiora di sepia".
After several other courses in quite an impressive degustation, we finished with a classic cannolo, made more interesting with a zuppa di ficchi, arancia a ricotta.
In the afternoon we delved into the secrets of chocolate making in Modica, courtesy of the Ruta family at the Antica Dolceria Bonaiuto.
The day finished with quite a festive dinner at the Masseria and birthday celebrations for one of our cookery school guests.
The next day they were all on planes, either back home or on to the next destination in their Italian tour. No doubt thinking of their time in Sicily and all the gastronomic delights had!
Posted on Friday 27th of May 2005 under
The cookery course continued at full speed in the past three days and with the diligent collection of photographs this time round we have enough material to post on Via Ritiro N.7 for some time yet!
For the time being we just want to post some of the highlights of Day 3 and 4.
Day 3 was all about fish. We started the lesson with a walk to the Masseria degli Ulivi herb garden, where Chef Guarino wanted to explain the differences between some of the herbs used and in particular between dried and fresh oregano.
Dried oregano was also the central ingredient for a cipollata di tonno - a classic Sicilian recipe which we will revisit in detail, and of which we had several different versions since everyone had a go.
We then moved on to a sea bass pasta, made more interesting by a sea bass broth, where Chef Guarino impressed by using ice in the process.
We also prepared 0ctopus with Nero d'Avola and finally some granitas and sorbets as well as a chocolate cake! In all quite a session.
A trip to the fishing villages rounded up the day.
The fourth day started with a further study into Sicilian granitas at the Mandolfiore pasticceria in Noto, before a wander around town.
Back at the Masseria degli Ulivi for lunch, which started with a tour through the products of the Monti Iblei and Noto. First of some olive oils and then cheese with honey. We will talk about all these varieties in more detail in the future.
For the course we started with some more Sicilian classics, arancini!
With Chef Guarino showing just how they should be made.
Nevertheless, some practice was required before our students reached any appropriate level of competency!
We did much more on the day, including a wonderful explanation by Bruno on how his parents prepare the tomato paste every August and the classic rabbit 'stimpirata'.
Posted on Monday 23rd of May 2005 under
The second day of our Spring cookery course begun with a visit to COS and an introduction into the philosophy of winemaking at the Azienda Agricola COS, which we visited in the morning. After a tour of the cellars we had lunch with the co-owner of COS, Giusto Occhipinti, and a wonderful discussion on the differenes between wine produced at COS and wines using more industrial processes. As Giusto explained for him it was simply a case of intellectual honesty - let us not pretend that industrial wines are actually anything other than that and that the wines that really carry over the true reply of the land are those where minimal or, as in the case of COS, no chemical interventions.
We then went on to visit another Occhipinti, an organic cheese producer. There we saw the process for creating the Ragusano DOP and tasted that as well as ricotta, provoleta and a few others.
In all quite a journey through what the Sicilian countryside can produce. The third day will now turn its attention to what comes out of the sea.
Posted on Sunday 22nd of May 2005 under
Its almost midnight and we just got back home from the first proper day of our 2005 late May cookery course which we decided to record as we go along... hence here we are! The weather was fantastic today, and we begun with a visit to our favourite pastry shop in a little town called Palazzolo Acreided. There we tasted their excellent cannoli and a few other possibilities from what you can see is quite a range.
After a walk around Palazzolo to explore this beautiful baroque city we went back to the Masseria for lunch and then after a little siesta by the pool went into the kitchen for the first course on some of the classic rustic dishes on the area.
We begun with Chef Salvatore explaining the differences between different types of flour used in the bread and 'scacci.
We also tasted the local ragusano cheese as well as the 'drunk' ragusano, which is treated over 36 months with Nero dâ€™Avola wine. We also prepared some of the classic fillings such as ricotta and local sausages, tomato sauce with basil and cheese, and also raisins, anchovies and pinolo.
We then got straight into it and started creating our own 'scacci after Salvatore showed how it really should be done.
From the 'scacci we moved on to bread (which is a whole other story) and then on to the cassatina di pasqua - which is pastry filled with ricotta mixed with just a bit of sugar and lemon zest.
We then enjoyed the labours of quite a productive four hour course over some Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOC for the scacci and some Moscato di Noto to accompany the cassatina.