Sunday, September 24, 2017

THE END OF SUMMER

Summer has officially ended and, whilst I am not a beachy person and rejoice in everything at last being open again, I will be sorry to see the end of the gelato season and of its companions cremolate and granite.

Left to right:  granita di mandarino; cremolata di gelsi (mulberry); granita di pesche e fichi d'India
(peaches and prickly pear, the latter being a late summer addition to the granita repertoire)


My favourite peaches,  pesche tabbacchierie, get larger and less sweet as August ends but then these delights appear:

Centre:  frutta di Martorana
Right: "cakes" of cotognata (quince paste)



Finally, I cannot let the summer end without sharing this with you:  the other day, a Sicilian friend said he had spotted a British man coming out of the B&B opposite his house. I asked how he had known the man was British.

"Because he was wearing sandals and socks", came the reply.
Embed from Getty Images

Monday, September 18, 2017

SABATO MUSICALE ON MONDAY

I'm sorry there's been a bit of a break - blame the relentless heat, even for Sicily, this summer and, quite posibly, ageing!

Anyway, what better way to kickstart the blog again than with music? This is fabulous and comes from the Celebrity Fight Night Concert with Andrea Bocelli in Rome last week, where millions were raised for the Andrea Bocelli Foundation and the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Centre. 

I am sure you will join me in wishing the tenor well, as he was briefly hospitalised after a fall from his horse on Thursday.  He says he is fine and will travel to Jordan for a concert on Monday.

Andrea Bocelli and guests at Celebrity Fight Night 2017 - Imagine

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

TRUE LOVE

I just thought I'd let you all know that true love is alive and well in Sicily:


I don't know why the sea turned pink in the second photo - perhaps it knows fuschia is my favourite colour!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A TALE OF TWO HEROES

On the eve of the first anniversary of the horrific 24th August earthquake in Central Italy, it is sad indeed to be writing about another quake, this time on the Neapolitan island of Ischia. The quake, which struck on Monday, killed two women and 39 people have been injured, some seriously.

As always, when there is such a tragedy, there is also heroism and courage and the video of firemen rescuing a seven-month-old baby who had been trapped for seven hours went around the world. Who could watch it and not cry? Later the baby's brother, eight-year-old Mattias, was rescued and finally, after 16 hours, the third brother, 11-year-old Ciro, who had saved his siblings by pushing them under a bed. Firemen kept talking to Ciro throughout the rescue operation and at one point he asked a fireman, "Do you love me?" "Yes, I love you", came the reply. "Then come", said Ciro and come they did. Interviewed in hospital today, Ciro said he had thought he would die but that when he was pulled out and saw the light, knew that God exists. All three boys are said to be in a good condition and, though Ciro has a fractured foot, he hopes to be playing football again soon. His pregnant mother, who was in another room when the quake struck, is also well and his father is with them.

Meanwhile, today in Amatrice, the town which was literally half wiped out by last year's quake, a statue honouring a very special dog is being inaugurated. Camilla, a border collie working with the Ligurian Fire Brigade, died in the line of duty in June. In the days following the quake, she helped save dozens of people trapped in the rubble and Amatrice will never forget her. Her statue is also dedicated to all the search and rescue dogs who were deployed during that distressing time.

Let us think of all who have been affected by earthquakes and all - human or canine - who work to help them, wherever they are in the world, over the next few days.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

FEASTING WITH AN OLD FRIEND

My friend Carol King, who has recently returned to Sicily, and I decided to celebrate Ferragosto a day late this year, so I kind of cooked her a little meal:


The antipasti included olives, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh datterini tomatoes, mini sausages, bresaola and Parma ham topped with Grana cheese shavings, marinated mushrooms and - I must tell you about this - watermelon with salted cucumber. My original intention was to chuck the cucumber - peeled, deseeded, chopped, salted, left then rinsed, drained and chilled - into the salad but at the last minute I thought it would be a nice addition to the dish of watermelon. Turns out I was right!  The seemingly small apples around the antipasti dishes are actually azzaroli or Neapolitan medlars, which are related to hawthorn. There are mini-pears as well and they are a fine partner for the cheese.


The main course was grilled chicken salad with grilled nectarines. (Yes, I have a thing for grilled nectarines!)   I marinated the chicken in culinary rosewater before grilling and seasoned it with sumac afterwards. I used the dressing I invented for this recipe. The other ingredients were grilled peppers and rocket leaves.

For dessert, I made strawberry tiramisù and Carol brought along the delicious sweet treats on the right.

Everything on this menu can be made in advance and all you have to do is make the antipasti look pretty and assemble the salad.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

BUON FERRAGOSTO 2017

Top, left to right:  Duomo, Cefalù; looking up from Modica Bassa
Bottom, left to right:  The Madonie; Princess Grace of Monaco depicted in flower petals at Noto Infiorata, 2017

Thursday, August 10, 2017

BUONA NOTTE DI SAN LORENZO 2017

This is the night when Italians look for shooting stars. If you see one, don't forget to make a wish! But don't worry if they don't appear for you tonight - they should be around for a few nights more. Have a happy St Lawrence's night, everyone!

Eros Ramazzotti e Patsy Kensit - La luce buona delle stelle
City of Stars from La La Land

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

CHICKEN AND CHERRY SALAD


Regular readers will know that, at this time of year, I love experimenting with salads and a few years ago I invented a tagliata and cherry version. This week, I decided I wanted something lighter still and I came up with a chicken and cherry salad.  I wanted to use my favourite spice, sumac, and took the wonderful Nadiya Hussain's advice about sprinkling it on the meat after cooking to keep the red colour. Then I added to the red by playing with pink peppercorns. It all turned out rather well but here is my usual warning to Sicilian purists: I never said it was Sicilian; it's just what I do with the ingredients and cuts of meat available to me here and I like including the Middle Eastern ingredients I learnt to use in Britain.  And yes, the dish contains meat and fruit and I'm not apologising!


Chicken and cherry salad

1 chicken breast, cut into escalopes  (That's two chicken breasts, as sold in Britain, where they are sold in halves, and one as sold in Italy. An Italian butcher will auomatically cut them very thin. In Britain you may need to pound them.)
about 30 fat, dark cherries, stoned
half a large cucumber or 1 small one
500 gr bag rocket leaves
5 tablesp culinary rosewater
olive oil
1 tablesp runny honey
Himalayan pink seasalt
1 dessertsp pink peppercorns, crushed
1 teasp ground ginger
1 teasp ground sumac
1 teasp dried herbes de Provence

First, marinate the chicken pieces for 2 hours in 3 tablesp of the rosewater (or marinate overnight).
Peel the cucumber, deseed and chop it as small as you can. Sprinkle with (ordinary] fine seasalt and leave at least 30 mins. (This is a trick I learned from an early Jennifer Paterson book and I always prepare my salad cucumbers like this.) After 30 mins, rinse, drain and let dry on kitchen paper.
Drain the chicken pieces and pat dry with kitchen paper. Cook them over low heat on a lightly oiled ridged griddle pan - about 2 mins per side. Put them on kitchen paper and let them cool.
In a small bowl, mix well with a fork 6 tablesp olive oil, 2 tablesp rosewater, the honey, ground ginger, pink salt if you have it, half the pink peppercorns and the herbes de Provence. Leave in the fridge.
When the chicken has cooled, cut it into bite-sized pieces - I do this with a kitchen scissors - and place them in a bowl.  Sprinkle the sumac over it and add the cucumber, cherries  and rocket. (At this stage you can leave the salad in the fridge till serving time.] When you are ready, add the dressing and toss well.  Finally, sprinkle the rest of the peppercorns over the salad.

Serves four.

Buon appetito

Note:  Sumac does, in theory, grow in Sicily but I have yet to meet anyone who has heard of it here!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

SWEET CATANIA

A day in Catania is always a welcome change but when it's 40°C, my first port of call is not my favourite bookshop but the first bar selling yummy-looking gelato (not that it ever looks anything but delicious). The one below, with stracciatella, pineapple and gelsi (mulberry) flavours was particularly so.  I liked the idea of the mini-cones on top, too. Later, when a friend suggested a break in order to partake of a little cassata and iced tea, who was I to refuse?


Friday, July 21, 2017

18 THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT PALERMO

Palermo has been selected as Italian Capital of Culture 2018 so here, in no particular order, are 18 facts - some quirky, others not so - that you may not know about the city:

1.  Its Palazzo dei Normanni was, from 1130 , the seat of the Sicilian Parliament, one of the oldest in the world. (I've met a lot of Sicilians who claim that it is, in fact, the oldest.] It now houses the Sicilian Regional Assembly.

2.  In 2016 Palermo was declared the worst city in Italy for traffic congestion.

3.  Frutti di Martorana, the marzipan "fruits" you will see everywhere in Sicily in autumn, were, according to legend, first made in The Martorana Convent in Palermo.

4.  The city's most important Arab and Norman buildings, along with the Cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale, were collectively named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015.

San Giovanni degli Eremiti, Palermo


5.  Palermo street food is legendary. Eat it first, then ask what's in it!

6.  The Palermo football team's badge has been ranked (by the British Daily Mail) as among the best in the world.

7.  The city has wide boulevards reminiscent of towns in France.

8.  The word for traditional Sicilian rice balls, arancini, is used in its feminine form, arancine there.

9.  The Catacombe dei Cappuccini (Capuchin Catacombs) are a very macabre, and often upsetting, sight but must be seen. I once decided to leave them till last on a school trip but my students, having been shown the Parliament, Cathedral and other beautiful buildings, were impatiently demanding, "Can we go and see the dead people now?" by mid-morning.

Me with students in Palermo, 1995


10. The city is second only to Naples for the number of coffee manufacturers that call it home (47 in 2011).

11. During the reign of Ruggero (Roger) II, Palermo was a city in which Muslims, Christians and Jews lived side by side in harmony. This was to come to an end, however, under Frederick II, who expelled the Muslims in 1224.

12.  In 1185 Roger's daughter and Frederick's mother Costanza d'Altavilla (Constance d'Hauteville) travelled to Germany to be married with the greatest dowry the world had ever seen. She gave birth to her son in the market square in Ancona on her way back to Sicily. You can read more about this extraordinary journey in a book I reviewed here. Costanza is buried in Palermo Cathedral.

13.  Palermo has a museum of traditional puppets  (opera dei pupi) where you can also see puppet shows at certain times of the year.  You can find out more about opera dei pupi in my post here.

Some of my own Sicilian puppets


14.  Traditional Sicilian carts vary, from province to province, in their design and size. Those from Palermo were squarer and wider than many of the others and were originally used for transporting grapes. This is a link to an article on Sicilian carts that I wrote for Italy Magazine in 2010.

15. Not strictly in the City of Palermo but in Palermo Province and a short bus ride away is Monreale, whose cathedral, begun in 1174, is one of the best preserved examples of Norman architecture anywhere. It contains Byzantine mosaics throughout. There are stunning views of Palermo from Monreale.

16. In 2014 the priests of Palermo Cathedral were much criticised for displaying a prominent WC sign in a side chapel there. I don't know about you, but when being a tourist I've often desperately needed the loo by the time I got to a city's cathedral!

17.  Palermo was named Panormus ("complete port" or possibly "well-protected bay") by the Greeks, This became Balarme under Arabic rule.

18.  To end on a sombre note, Palermo Airport, formerly known as Punta Raisi, was renamed in 1995 in honour of the anti-Mafia judges Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone who were both murdered in 1992, the latter along with his wife. The airport's full name is now L''aeroporto Internazionale Falcone e Borsellino di Palermo-Punta Raisi but it is usually referred to as aeroporto Falcone e BorsellinoItaly has been remembering the two judges in this, the 25th anniversary year of the stragi (massacres) of Capaci and via D'Amelio. We must not forget that all but one of their bodyguards died with them on those terrible days.

The candidates for Italian Capital of Culture 2020 are Agrigento, Catania, Messina, Noto, Ragusa and Siracusa. Guess which two I'll be rooting for!


City of Palermo
Coat of Arms





Sunday, July 16, 2017

DOMENICA MUSICALE

Here is Gianluca from Il Volo to cheer us all up:

Il Volo - soloist: Gianluca Ginoble - La Danza (Rossini)

Friday, July 14, 2017

BONNE FÊTE NATIONALE 2017!

Recently I've been reminded how much France and her freedoms have meant to me by reading Sarah Bakewell's At the Existentialist Café, a history of existentialist philosophy told in an effervescent, innovative style which is hinted at in the book's subtitle,  Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails. I felt as if I were "meeting" all the French authors who had so influenced my youth all over again and it brought back the excitement of encountering their thought for the first time.

A detail I'd forgotten but was reminded of in the book is that the lyrics of the song below were penned by none other than "Mr Existentialism" himself, Jean-Paul Sartre. Its subject matter, with its references to executions, is hardly cheery but I remember having great fun with it celebrating Bastille Day in 1989 (the bicentenary of the French Revolution) at the school where I was then head of modern languages. I don't think my noisy teenage students' renderings of it, interspersed by my playing of all nine verses of the Marseillaise, brought my colleagues in neighbouring classrooms much joy but I have fond memories of the day, even though at the end of it I was so tired that I was rather glad there was a century to go till the next such celebration. Vive la France!

Juliette Gréco -  La rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

POLLO ALLO ZA'ATAR

Well, here we are, more than half way through 2017 and I find I have not posted a single recipe this year! So, although other matters, such as health and keeping up with Brexit developments (which will affect me very directly, as they will all expats), mean that I am not currently blogging as often as I'd like, let's at least put the culinary matter to rights.

My pollo allo za'atar is my take on a recipe in the June edition of the Italian magazine Vero cucina. This recipe is for bone-in chicken thighs cooked in very litle oil with lemon slices, then sprinkled with a sauce of lemon juice, garlic and mint. I tried it and found it excellent, but this week I decided I wanted to spice it up a little. There is very little za'atar in my version, actually, but I was so delighted to find some in Catania a few weeks ago that I decided it had to feature in the name of my dish.  Here we go:

Heat the oven to 180° C (fan).
Lightly oil a roasting tin and put in 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs.
Cut 1 lemon into wedges and add these to the pan.
Add 3 grilled peppers, preferably yellow, orange and red, cut up. (In Italy we can buy fresh, ready-grilled peppers in supermarkets but you could use well-drained grilled peppers in oil or, of course, grill them yourself.)
Sprinkle over some coarse seasalt, black pepper, a little sumac and some fresh lemon thyme leaves and drizzle over a little more olive oil.
Cook for 30 mins.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl mix 2 tablesp Chinese plum sauce,  juice of 1 lemon, 1 teasp sumac and half teasp za'atar.

Check the chicken and if necessary give it 10 mins more in the oven. When you take it out, pour the sauce over it and serve.  Garnish with more lemon thyme leaves if you wish.



Sunday, July 02, 2017

DOMENICA MUSICALE

Time for a little fun with the number three song in the Italian charts (not the Volare you may be thinking of!)

Fabio Rovazzi e Gianni Morandi - Volare

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