Sunday, October 31, 2010


Pasta al forno is one of the great comfort dishes of Italy and usually I've got some homemade ragù bolognese in the freezer that I can use for it.  However, a few days ago, being much in need of comfort but without any ragù, I decided to make a quick one with what I did have - Italian sausage and mushrooms.  [A true ragù bolognese takes 3 hours to cook.] This is what I did:

Squeeze the meat out from half a length of Italian sausage and break it up with a fork. [How much is half a length? I don't know! Maybe the length of a Cumberland sausage.]   Brown it in 2 tablesp olive oil.  Chuck in a chopped red onion and brown this, too.  Add about a litre of homemade tomato sauce [I did have some of that in the freezer!] and about 125 ml red wine.  Season and add 300 gr sliced mushrooms.  Let it all simmer, stirring now and then.  Cook 400 gr rigatoni according to the instructions on the pack.  Drain the pasta and place a layer of it in a large, oiled baking dish.  Now add about 200 gr sliced mozzarella, half the ragù, then the rest of the pasta and a little more mozzarella.  Finish off with the rest of the ragù and sprinkle over about a teasp of breadcrumbs and some freshly grated parmesan.  Cook at 180 C for 20 mins.

Your troubles won't vanish but they will seem much smaller.  Buon appetito!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010


Just look at the plate of complimentary antipasti I got with my [non-alcoholic] aperitivo in Bar Cicara yesterday!

I particularly liked the idea of spooning orange and onion salad onto bruschetta [left] - that's one I'm going to copy.

And little ones are not forgotten in the terrace seating arrangements:

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Here is my pick of last week's Italy Magazine articles:

Sicily and Sardinia are popular tourist destinations these days but there is a smaller, quieter island which also has a lot to offer.  Elba is a paradise in many ways and you can find some things to do there in this article.

Our blog of the week was My Paesano, administered by Capri, an Italian American who is passionate about all things Italian.  You'll find lots of travel advice and information on My Paesano too.

Now, ladies, are you looking for a new bra?  This one will set you back a mere $2 million.  Or, if you'd rather spend your money on iPhone apps, this one is for you if you happen to have a church to run!  Meanwhile, a regional council official in Abruzzo has come up with a unique solution to the area's prostitution problem and the Vatican has claimed those two renegades, Bart and Homer Simpson, as its own.

For my Patti Chiari column, I wrote about the elderly in Sicily.  Are the elderly treated well and respected where you are?

Happy reading.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


This is Gino the artist's Christmas collage, in which he has used natural materials, such as carob pods, nuts and asparagus leaves [traditionally used to decorate crib scenes in Sicily] to suggest the shapes, colours and forms of Christmas.  I know that Gino would love to receive some comments from you.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


A new bar, La Cicara - cicara being a Sicilian word for a little cup - has opened just across the road here and of course, I have been to explore it a couple of times.  I must say that the service is good and it has a very pleasant décor and atmosphere.  Today it was already crowded just before 1 pm as people stopped off for an aperitivo and to partake of the delicious complimentary antipasti on offer.

Imagine my delight when, on paying for my coffee, I was presented with this pretty little jar of sweets as a welcome gift and a thank you for my custom.  On the back, there is a quote from the singer-songwriter Vinicio Capossela:

"Il bar non ha ricordi ma i ricordi portano inevitabilmente al bar.
"The bar has no memories but your memories will inevitably lead you to the bar."

I wish Bar Cicara good luck.  Their little gift made my day and traders who will go to so much trouble to please their customers deserve success.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Olive picking with Chiara and family having been rained off yesterday, their friends were invited to lunch just the same and what a homely, comforting aroma greeted us, for no one makes lasagne like Linda: 

Then there was homemade bread

with ham and tomatoes.  I liked this presentation with capers:

There was a selection of Sicilian cheeses,

the new season's grapes

and I resurrected my quickest-ever lemon cake, jazzing it up with pink icing sugar:

A fine lunch for those who had spent a hard morning thinking about olive picking!

Sunday, October 24, 2010


With friends on Chiara's terrace for coffee, tea and cakes yesterday morning.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I'm sure you'll all want to join me in congratulating Rosa, whose first grandchild, Adri, was born last week.

Blue sugar-coated almonds for the birth of a baby boy

Welcome to the world, little Adri.  You will grow up with the love of a wonderful family and, as a bonus, you'll be able to enjoy your nonna Rosa's great cooking!

My colleague Vale at Italy Magazine chose this song to go with my article about the elderly in Sicily on Friday and, though Rosa is a very young grandmother, I'd like to dedicate the song to her tonight.  For those of you who don't speak Italian, it's about a child who loves her nonna Pina's tagliatelle, which cure everything and are better for you than medicine or coffee:

Zecchino D'Oro - Le tagliatelle di nonna Pina

Friday, October 22, 2010


I love to see mounds of chestnuts on sale and to catch the aroma of their roasting as I walk home on autumn evenings in Sicily.  Broccoli, too, is abundant and the purple kind, especially, adds to the rich tapestry of colours here as you pass greengrocers' shops or fruitsellers' lorries.

The fruitseller who calls me bambina has returned from his extended summer break and who am I to argue when he tells me that his wares are in regalo ["a gift"] today at only €10.00 per crate?  As usual, after asking the nearest passer-by to watch his lorry for a few minutes, he carries the crate home for me.

Domenico Modugno - Ciao, Ciao, Bambina

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Here is my pick of last week's Italy Magazine articles:

First of all, there are only 65 shopping days left until Christmas and a good place to head in order to solve those present problems would be the Oh bej, Oh bej! Christmas market in Milan.

Still with Christmas shopping, maybe the man in your life needs this and this CD is definitely going to be on my own wish list.  The most amazing news of the week from Italy was this surgical breakthrough  whilst a completely different kind of breakthrough occurred on Friday.  I liked the honest logic of this Northern League supporter and,  at the risk of losing my feminist credentials, I cannot help hoping that this film will soon be released outside France.

For my Patti Chiari column, I wrote in more detail about the Prickly Pear Festival at Militello and explained the linguistic confusion surrounding the term mostarda.

Happy reading.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Sicilians will often ask how, in Anglo-Saxon cooking, we can bear to mix sweet and sour, yet this juxtaposition of flavours is one of the characteristics of their own cooking.  Their version is more subtle, though, and stemperata, a sauce with vinegar, is used to flavour fish, chicken, rabbit or just vegetables.   It is always served tepid, rather than hot. I picked up a dish of vegetables alla stemperata at the deli on my way home:

Monday, October 18, 2010


Today bloggers in Italy are turning the blogosphere pink for the nastro rosa [pink ribbon] campaign against breast cancer.

Let us hope that, in encouraging awareness and supporting research, we can enable more women to live as long as my Italian heroine, Rita Levi-Montalcini:

Image: Wikipedia

During the month of October in Italy over 390 LILT [Lega italiana per la lotta contro i tumori] clinics will be open across the country for consultations and examinations.  To find out where your nearest LILT clinic is and the days and times of opening please call

numero verde SOS LILT: 800 - 998877

or visit the nastro rosa or LILT website.

You can find a full list of blogs participating in today's rivoluzione in rosa at the Mamma Felice site.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I invented this dish last night and have decided to call it "Militello Chicken" in honour of the mandarin honey I found in that town last week:

Marinate 8 or so chicken breast escalopes - an Italian butcher will cut these very thinly for you but in the UK you may have to pound them thin - in the juice of 2 clementines, 2 tablesp olive oil and a half teasp saffron powder [or the contents of 2 envelopes of saffron powder in Italy].

After about 2 hours, lift the escalopes out and let them dry a bit on kitchen paper. Heat 2 tablesp olive oil in a ridged griddle pan and cook the escalopes on both sides. [Stand well back as you put them in.] Lift them out onto a plate. They will be a nice, golden colour like this:

Make a dressing with 2 tablesp olive oil, 1 tablesp mandarin honey [or orange blossom honey or, failing this, ordinary honey with some orange juice] seasalt and black pepper. Toss the dressing with salad leaves to which you have added some clementine segments and serve with the chicken:

Buon appetito.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010


Imagine my surprise and delight when a parcel from Wales arrived, containing these beautiful, Welsh gold earrings in the form of daffodils, our national flower:

And here I am wearing them:

I posted this on St David's Day and I just have to post it again tonight:

David Alexander - My Wales

With special love and thanks to you.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Here is my pick of last week's Italy Magazine articles:

We'll start with the news stories tonight:  The issue of the burqa made headlines again as Italy clarified its proposed new law which would ban the face veil.  The children of  Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman who has been condemned to death for adultery and the alleged murder of her husband, turned to Italy first to ask for asylum when they felt themselves to be under threat. I understand that they are now under arrest in Iran. This was also the week in which Italian surgeons gave a teenager a permanent artificial heart and what may be the world's smallest apartment went on sale in Rome.  The organisers of the 2011 Sanremo Song Festival look set to abandon the tradition of the blonde female presenter or co-presenter and the Milanese argued over this statue.

Our blog of the week was The Artichoke Blog and, as I always make a terrible mess when preparing these vegetables, I was relieved when Michael told me that this is OK!  Staying with food, for my travel article I wrote about some of the best chestnut festivals in Italy at this time of year.  And last but definitely not least, I very much enjoyed interviewing Katia Amore of the loveSicily Cookery School and blog for my Patti Chiari column.  Do take a look to find out why Modicans began cooking with chocolate and what Katia thinks about the future of Sicilian cooking.

Happy reading.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Like people all over the world tonight, I am watching the news from Chile,  holding my breath as each man reaches the surface and then crying as he embraces his family. I also find myself gasping at the feats of engineering and technology which are being achieved and, of course, admiring the bravery and resilience of miners and rescuers alike.

Coming from a country with a mining history, I am thinking ,on this night, of all my compatriots who lost their lives in the bowels of the earth and I cannot help wondering how many of them would have been saved had today's technology been available to them.

I would like to quote this passage from one of my favourite books about Wales, Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley:

"There is patience in the Earth to allow us to go into her, and dig and hurt with tunnels and shafts, and if we put back the flesh we have torn from her and so make good what we have weakened, she is content to let us bleed her.  But when we take, and leave her weak where we have taken, she has a soreness, and an anger that we should be so cruel to her and so thoughtless of her comfort.  So she waits for us, and finding us, bears down, and bearing down, makes us part of her, flesh of her flesh, with our clay in place of the clay we have thoughtlessly shovelled away."

Sicily, of course, has a history of sulphur mining, so this island is no stranger to the hardships suffered by mine workers.  Child labour was used in the sulphur mines until well into the twentieth century.

As the world watches and hopes, I feel sure that the Chilean miners have earned a special place in Welsh and Sicilian hearts.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


This is another magazine recipe which I've adapted, mainly by roasting the veal in white wine and honey instead of Marsala.  The grilled courgettes go well with the veal but the part I was most pleased with was the sauce of shallot, capers, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and white wine, all gently heated together.  I do not have one of those meat-slicing machines so beloved of Italians so I couldn't cut the veal as finely as they would but this did not detract from the taste. 

Monday, October 11, 2010


Behold, reader, the lovely colour of this mandarin-flavoured honey that I found in Militello yesterday.  Yes, it tastes as good as it looks!

Sunday, October 10, 2010


The good folk of Militello in Val di Catania sure know how to have a  festa and today my naval officer student Cristiano and I headed there for the Sagra del Fico d'India e della Mostarda or Prickly Pear and Mostarda Festival. 

There were stalls as far as the eye could see, selling everything from clothing to ceramics to honey but the star attractions were the parade of traditional Sicilian carts and the band of the Bersaglieri, the crack troops of the Italian Army who run everywhere.  Obviously, I could not photograph the latter but I can tell you they were a wonderful sight in their traditional black, plumed hats and, of all the bands on show, received the loudest and longest round of applause from the crowd.

All restaurants in Militello being solidly booked for lunch, we headed to Caltagirone and spent a pleasant few hours there, too.  Near the famous ceramic steps, in the Church of San Giuseppe, there is a display of crib figurines from all over the world and this year, a group of volunteers has created a nocturnal crib scene with a model train running on the "bridge" which surrounds it.  The train symbolises a messenger spreading the good news of Christ's coming around the world.  All donations from visitors go to a fund for the vaccination of Tanzanian children against malaria.

And I almost forgot: at Militello there were prickly pears on sale everywhere, from €3.50 - €6.00 per crate, depending on the size of the fruit:

Saturday, October 09, 2010


There is only one songwriter that I can feature today, on what would have been his seventieth birthday.  Thanks for the memories and the dreams, John:

Gino Paoli - Imagine - Italian version

John Lennon - Imagine - con sottotitoli in italiano

Friday, October 08, 2010


Here is my pick of last week's Italy Magazine articles:

I very much enjoyed talking to Dana of the Stresa Sights blog  and I learnt a lot from her about that lovely part of Italy.

If you like torrone, this festival is for you and, staying with food, I can't wait to try out Katia's recipe for chocolate fondue with chilli.

Those of you lucky enough to be travelling in the Padua area during October will have a chance to see this interesting exhibition  and, for cycling fans visiting Rome, there is the Fausto Coppi exhibition.

The saddest news story of the week was surely this and I was sorry to read on Monday that the search had been called off.   This was the week in which Italy's Tourism Minister called for the removal of an iPhone application which plays on that old joke, the Mafia - except that it is not, of course, a joke - and I can't say I blame her.  I had a great time summing up Milan Fashion Week and decided that, when I win the lottery, it will be Armani blue and Alviero Martini 1 Classe for me!  It's always reassuring to know what Italy's Supreme Court is up to and that esteemed institution did not let us down last week.

Finally, for my Patti Chiari column, I wrote about the "unofficial saint of Modica", Nino Baglieri, a man I wish I had known. Sadly, Nino is no longer with us but his spirit lives on here in his home town.

Happy reading.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Will someone please tell me why the Intimissimi stores have got hundreds of artificial cakes in their window displays?  Everybody knows you can't get into their stuff if you eat cakes.  It's not fair!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


Lettera a mia figlia che vuole portare il veloLettera a mia figlia che vuole portare il velo by Leila Djitli

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the Italian edition of "Lettre à ma fille qui veut porter le voile" ["Letter to my Daughter who Wants to Wear the Veil"] by the French-Algerian journalist Leila Djitli.

Aicha is a French-Algerrian woman who has fought hard for her freedoms and her place in French society. When her seventeen-year-old daughter, Nawel, suddenly decides that she wants to wear full Islamic dress, Aicha feels that these freedoms are threatened.

Shocked and upset, she resists the temptation to forbid her daughter to wear the veil and instead writes Nawel a long letter in which she explains her beliefs, history, hopes for her daughter's future and fears. She also sets down her thoughts on Islam and modern France.

She points out to Nawel that a Muslim man can wear a religious sign - such as the beard - without changing his whole life but that the moment a woman dons the full veil, the veil "speaks about her and before her". The veil, argues Aicha, demeans not only women but men, as it has implications for the way in which men perceive women.

Aicha feels that the veil negates her own history and, with it, the history of Algerian immigration in twentieth century France. As she awaits Nawel's coming of age, she tries to make her see that the freedoms she is rebelling against could enrich her life and help her achieve her dreams, one of which, Aicha is sure, is independence:

"Religion can give you a lot, but not everything."

We do not know what Nawel's final decision will be but the book leaves the reader hoping that she will heed her mother and not be taken in by the peers who are pressurising her to don the veil for their own reasons. Through pen portraits of some of Aicha's friends, we also learn a lot about the lives of French-Algerian women today. But most of all this is Aicha's story: of immigration, of the battle for acceptance and of a woman who values freedom.

As the "burqa debate" continues to provoke strong feelings in both France and Italy, this is a timely book.


Since the "burqa debate" is indeed, raging in Italy, I will add my thoughts on the whole sorry business here:  I of course value women's freedom to wear what they like but in a country like France where the secular state is at the heart of hard-won liberty, it is not unreasonable to ask all to desist from wearing religious symbols in certain public institutions.  In a country like Italy, whose own citizens are asked to formally  identify themselves every day in order to carry out the simplest transactions, it is not unreasonable to ask a woman to leave her eyes uncovered.   In a country like the UK, in which most schools have uniform policies, it is not unreasonable to ask all students to observe them.  These matters apart, sisters, I care not whether you wish to wear the burqa or the bikini, provided the decision is truly your own.  But remember that generations of women before you fought for your right to do so.  Please respect that heritage because all our freedoms depend upon it.

Monday, October 04, 2010


Love and the trouble it can cause have been subjects much on my mind lately so let's see what the wry Sicilians have to say about it all.

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Match the proverbs 1 - 6 with their meanings a - f .  For answers, highlight the space indicated at the end of the post and they will appear;  they really will;   it's magic, just like love!

1.  Amuri, biddizzi e denari su' tri cosi ch' un' si ponnu ammucciari.

2.  Amuri, tutti dìcinu ch'è amaru, e ognunu voli pruvari siddu è veru.

3.  Lu veru amuri 'ntra lu cori appigghia megghiu di la linazza e di la pagghia.

4.  Pi fari beni l'amuri ci voli 'a forza rê picciuotti e 'u pitittu rê viecci.

5.  'U veru amuri nun anvecchia mai.

6.  Nun c'è rosa senza spini, nun c'è amuri senza peni.

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a.  True love never grows old.

b.  There is no rose without a thorn and there is no love without pain.

c.  Love, beauty and money are three things which cannot be hidden.

d.  Everyone says love is bitter and everyone wants to find out if this is true.

e.  To make love well you need the strength of the young and the desire of the old.

f.  Real love ignites hearts better than flax or straw.

Highlight the space below for answers:
1c; 2d; 3f; 4e; 5a; 6b.

Sunday, October 03, 2010


I adapted this from a recipe in October's Cucinare bene magazine:

Cook 300 gr risotto rice for the length of time stated on the pack in a large pan of water with a little oil, salt and a crushed vegetable stock cube.  Drain it and put the rice into a lightly oiled mould [or 6 individual moulds if you prefer].  Put the mould in an oven heated to 180 C while you prepare the sauce [for no longer than 10 mins].

Chop a red onion and a clove of garlic and cook them in 2 tablesp olive oil in a pan.  Remove 200 gr Italian sausage from its skin and mash it up with a fork.  Add the sausage to the pan and brown it, stirring.  Add  a little white wine and a tablesp honey.  [The magazine recipe says Marsala but I'm not keen on its flavour.]  Also add a goodly dollop of 'strattu [tomato paste] diluted in a little homemade tomato sauce or water.  Stir everything so that the 'strattu dissolves. [The magazine recipe uses chopped tomatoes but, as regular readers know, I'm mad about 'strattu!] Add seasalt and black pepper to taste and reduce the sauce so that it it quite thick.

Turn the rice out onto a plate, pour the sauce around it, garnish as you like and serve.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Friday, October 01, 2010


Image:  Wikimedia Commons

Sicilians believe that nothing succeeds like excess when it comes to entertaining visitors and when Pope Benedict visits Palermo on Sunday he will be feted with the best food the island can offer.  Chef Mario di Ferro will prepare the following menu for the Pope, his entourage and other dignitaries at the newly restored Palazzo Arcivescovile:

Antipasti:  caponata;  crocchettine di latte [vegetable croquettes]; verdure in pastella [vegetables in batter]; panelline [chickpea "chips"].
Primi:  Involtini di melanzana  [aubergine roulades]; risotto di frutti di mare [seafood risotto].
Secondo: filetto in crosta [fillet in pastry]; vegetable sides.
Dolci:  pistacchio and mandarin gelato;  cassata siciliana.

The Pope will also be served a confection of almond paste and pistacchi in the shape of the Trinacria, prepared by the Fiasconaro Brothers of Castelbuono.  This will be served with passito di Pantelleria, a liqueur made from pressed grapes.

Pope Benedict, by all accounts, is a man of modest eating habits so I'm sure he won't manage it all.  I also hear that he drinks only orange juice at meals and at least he is arriving in the right season for that!

I wish him buon appetito and a happy day in Sicily, where much enthusiasm and love await him.

Remember, you read it on Sicily Scene first!

Garden of Archbishop's Palace, Palermo. 
Photo: Bernhard J. Scheuvens aka Bjs
via Wikipedia Italia


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