We’ve been a bit quiet the last few weeks because we’ve been off on the ultimate foodie’s adventure, in Sicily.
Italian food is pretty good at the best of times, but couple that with light north African influences and a hot and humid climate and you get a unique and delicious cuisine full of fantastic fresh ingredients and flavour.
So where to start on this gastronomic delight? With breakfast! To maximise on our adventure into Sicilian food, we stayed at an Agriturismo, a farm that also offers accommodation. Our farm housed cattle and horses grazing outside our windows (I preferred not to think about how these cuties contributed to our meals), olive groves, almond and fig trees and blackberry bushes. All of this produce ended up on our breakfast table…
Our local town was Modica, famous for its chocolate (you can imagine the effect on the waistline) which was brought over by the Spanish in the 16th century. So we often found a lot of chocolate making its way into every meal, including breakfast. Fresh chocolate tart, little chocolate pastries, fresh cheeses and salamis, freshly pressed almond milk as well as my favourites, fresh green figs made for a fab start to every day.
Our days were spent wandering around cute Baroque towns, scurrying into shade to avoid the thick heat of the sun and often taking refuge for very long meals in fantastic local restaurants. Our first experience was at Ristorante Majore in the town of Chiaramonte Gulfi, a town we felt obliged to visit given its specialty of meaty dishes. I eschewed the town tradition to try the Sicilian delicacy of cavati alla Norma, beautiful hand rolled thick pasta with a roasted tomato, aubergine, basil and ricotta sauce. This was simple and stunning.
Next stop was the beach, and being naive tourists we didn’t quite realise how seriously the Italians take their siesta. Having enjoyed relaxing on the beach a bit too much, by 3pm we hadn’t had lunch and were starving, and everything was closed. Driving up and down the coast for half an hour we finally found somewhere open, it didn’t look like much so we ordered pizzas with lowered expectations, but as ever were surprised. This was the best pizza I had had in ages, very fresh ingredients and a great, super thin base.
We wanted to sample more of the ‘cucina povera’ of Sicily so we headed next for a town in the hills called Piazza Armerina which also housed a Roman villa with some of the world’s most well preserved mosaics. Here I sampled one of the classic bean dishes, a ridiculously flavoursome borlotti bean, bacon and potato stew whilst my other half had a super delicious and plentiful antipasti dish with local cheese, salami, olives and vegetables, just fabulous. And in case that wasn’t enough, the town was throwing a medieval festival, so all kinds of interestingly dressed people kept appearing in smocks, leather boots and armour to pick up their late night pizzas.
Our more upmarket food experiences were equally stunning, usually keeping it very simple and letting ingredients speak for themselves. Our particular favourite restaurant was Locanda del Colonnello in the hills of Modica where we had these beauties.
And finally, last but not least, on our final day we were lucky enough to discover the fabulous Basilico restaurant where we ate twice in one day because it was just too good not to. We started with cuttlefish and chickpea salad, which was so simple and delicate that I’ve been inspired to use chickpeas in all my salads from now on. Then we were treated to a master class in how to cook fish again with lightly seared tuna that was almost shown up by a salad of bright, jewel-like and intensely sweet tomatoes.
With ingredients as good as these, they almost don’t need cooking. A pinch of salt, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil is often all that’s required. For me that’s the secret of Italian cooking, stunning fresh ingredients treated with a lot of respect. Sicily, I will miss you.