And we are back from our wonderful week in Sicily! I am avoiding sunny on purpose as the weather seemed to play tricks on us on our last two days there.
Look, I won't bore you with millions of photos (and I have taken literally millions) or try to make you feel green because we went on holiday while all of you were working hard....but I think you should really consider going to that island continuously kicked by the toe of the Italian boot. And because I hope you find this blog to make sense, useful or interesting, I intend to make this the first of a series of Sicilian posts.
I am relieved that my organisational skills struck again. R. did say he could not have anything to do with it in his run to Aberdeen. Fine with me. I like being in control....
We started in Palermo with an short afternoon trip to Monreale, one day in Cefalu', just one hour by train along the coast, and then Agrigento to admire at the temples, to finish in Trapani and Erice on the western corner of the triangle.
One warning: if you are on a diet or have just started it and cannot have a break DO NOT GO TO SICILY!!! Too dangerous. Seriously.
There is food everywhere. And not just crappy stuff you unwillingly grabbed to sustain yourself while trotting around. But amazing food. Ok it is Italy after all and at least with that we still have a good reputation and do our best but, but, but...*OMG!!* (as my American friends would say).
Palermo is an interesting place. Littered with fabulous buildings, squares and hidden churches - some of which I am sure are even unknown to Palermitans themselves. You can do perfectly well without being trapped in the iconic destinations spending nothing.
May (possibly April and June too) is a perfect month as you can be touched by a pleasant and not intrusive sun without sweating and puffing around - I cannot imagine being there in August.
If you can, avoid booking a hotel, b&b, hostel, pavement etc. near a traffic light. No matter how many cars stop there they will inevitably offer you a *horn* concert at any time of the day. Palermitans seem to enjoy using their clacson, for no specific reason sometimes it seemed. And if someone beats the horn the person behind answers back (possibly twice).
But you forget all the chaos behind as soon as you have one of these marvellous street treats available at almost every corner. *Antica Focacceria di San Francesco* (near San Domenico) is probably the oldest and best place to sample both of these typical antipasti. But anywhere else will do. I would suggest though you find a friggitoria in its full swing just before lunch time.
Arancine, small oranges (there is a real school behind these) are balls of rice dressed with butter, stuffed with cheese (and sometimes ham too), coated in breadcrumbs and egg yolk, and then deep fried.
Panelle, small pieces of bread are flat squares of chickpea flour patties also deep fried.
The secret in both of them is to prepare the ingredients in advance, let it settle for quite a few hours and fry them at the last minute in salted hot vegetable oil. Both of them make great nibbles with a glass of cold white wine.
For 6 people
2 tbsp tomato puree;
a handful of chopped parsley;
1/2 saffron bag;
2 tbsp Parmesan or Pecorino;
1/4 glass of white wine
breadcrumb & flour;
vegetable olive oil
1. Chop the carrot and onion and cook until tender in a deep pan with a couple of table spoons of oil. Add the wine and let it evaporate. Leave the sauce aside. You can also add mince meat if you like and make a ragu'. Chop the caciovallo in small pieces.
2. Add the tomato puree and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Add the parsley and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
3. Cook the rice in salted boiling water, then drain it and pour it in a bowl. Add the saffron (previously soften up in warm water), one egg (previously beaten) and the Parmesan (or pecorino). Mix well and let it cool.
4. When the rice is no longer hot, take a table spoon of it and place it in the palm of your hand, flat it down a bit to make a well and fill it up with the sauce and a few squares of the caciovallo. Cover with another spoon of rice and make a ball ensuring that none of the filling comes out.
5. Make as many arancini as you like. Roll them in flour, beaten egg, and then breadcrumbs. Fry them in hot oil until golden. Drain them and place them on kitchen paper. Serve them hot.
For 8-10 people
250g chickpea flour;
sun flour oil;
salt and pepper
This recipe is even easier than the previous one.
1. Thin the flour in a pan with 750ml lightly salted water.
2. Place the pan on the cooker and mixing always in the same direction let the flour thicken up for about 20 minutes.
3. At this point (if you have managed to burn it) the mix should detach from the sides of the pan. Pour the mixture into a wet tray so that it doesn't stick. You can also add a few drops of oil to be extra safe. Let it cool down.
4. As soon as the mixture has solidified, turn it and onto a plate and cut it into slices. Fry the slices in hot oil and then once drained serve them with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.