In this guest post, London-based Italian Elena Angela, who writes the Motherdough blog, shares her Sicilian highlights.
Sometimes London surprises you with lovely weather and when that happens, nothing is better than a picnic at the park. But it’s not always like that, is it? And when it’s not (and when you happen to see this sign in the tube) nothing is better than taking a Friday off, getting on a plane and landing in warm, sunny, welcoming Sicily.
That’s what my husband and I did last year: we went to Catania, Sicily on a Friday, ready for a long weekend of beach, sun and, most importantly, incredible food!
First stop: arancino
We landed in Catania around 12:30 pm in perfect weather (30 degrees Celsius, around 85 Fahrenheit) having deliberately avoided snacking on the plane to save our appetites for Sicily.
Just by the airport, in the city of Catania, we stopped at a “bar”. A bar in Italy isn’t a place to have fancy drinks, but typically to have an espresso, a pastry and, in Sicily, a piping hot arancino (a risotto ball). A “bar” is also a place for people to meet and read the paper, sometimes to comment on what’s going on in politics or in the local construction works.
The origins of arancino, like many Italian dishes, are humble and come from the ability of housewives to make great meals out of leftover food, in this case: risotto, cheese, bread and maybe some ham. Leftover risotto isn’t really suitable to be heated up the day after, it loses the creaminess and it becomes really stiff; so Italian women had the brilliant idea to mold it around leftover cheese (and sometimes ham) making a ball, which they then seal with bread crumbs and fry. This is how arancino was born. And it’s delicious!
Second stop: aubergine and swordfish
When you only have 48 hours in Sicily, you don’t want to go to the first beach that pops up, you want the very best, even if that means putting in a little bit of effort. If you’re in the Noto area, that means one thing: the natural oasis of Vendicari! To get to this protected area, you need to park your car and walk half an hour under the melting sun. But you’ll arrive at a heavenly beach where the water is crystal clear and calm, and where it is so relaxed and you can hear the birds singing while you almost fall asleep on the white, warm sand.
We did just that until lunchtime.
Then we remembered noticing a small unpretentious restaurant by the parking lot, with some shade and a couple of hammocks. So we headed back to have a bite before a little sonnellino (siesta). Little did we know that this small unpretentious restaurant, Agriturismo Calamosche, was going to be the best food we had had in a long long time!
If I had to choose one single thing I love about the Sicilian cuisine, I would pick the aubergine and swordfish combination. I like it on its own, with pasta, as an appetizer … anything. It’s just so tasty that you don’t really understand why nobody else makes it.
Aubergine parmesan is my favourite dish. It is like a lasagna but with fried aubergine instead of the pasta and tomato, with mozzarella and parmesan in between. Add swordfish to that and I am in heaven! Heaven being Agriturismo Calamosche.
My husband ate another Sicilian speciality: a swordfish steak, sealed with pistachio crumbs. It doesn’t need any more words to describe how “wow” it was.
Third stop: cannoli (what else?!)
After we woke up from our siesta on the hammock and crawled back to the car, it was time for a walk in the city and something sweet.
The queen of desserts in Sicily is ricotta, and a cannolo is merely a nice throne for the queen to get the appreciation she deserves.
My husband and I walked into a traditional pastry shop in the centre of the little town, with one of those “curtains” made of vertical strings of different colours, that are really typical of southern Italy.
We ordered two cannoli: the man we talked to took the order and disappeared behind the curtain to the back of the shop. My husband worriedly asked “Where did he go? What happened?” This is because in London we would normally find a shiny pre-filled cannolo on a shelf, waiting for us to grab it, pay far too much for it, and run to the catch the tube.
In Sicily, patience is the secret to taste! When you pre-fill a cannolo, the cone gets soggy from the cheese, and the ricotta gets dry on the outside. The only way of having a really good one is by filling the cone right before eating it, of course with amazing, sweet Sicilian ricotta and a sprinkle of pistachio crumbs, my favourite.
Waiting is worth it, I promise, especially when you sit at the entrance of the little shop, your forehead still salty from the sea and a nice breeze coming through the string curtains.
When you learn to sit down and relax, that’s when you know you’re enjoying Sicily! Just in time for your British Airways flight and the Gatwick express to come back to London … with a suitcase full of goodies.
Elena Angela is an Italian techie, married to a Brazilian, living in London and loving it. She describes herself as an engineer from 8am to 8pm and housewife from 8pm to 8am. She loves travelling, eating, cooking, baking and sharing her love for food with the world. Check out her blog Motherdough and find her on Facebook | Twitter | Google+.
Have you been to Sicily? What are your favourite foods and places to eat them?