I have always thought that markets are a fantastic source of inspiration and the perfect subject for infinite shots. They truly fascinate me revealing the true spirit of a town. I would put a market before a museum with no hesitation. Especially when samples are on offer...
Palermo is famous for its markets.
Vucciria is probably the oldest. Originally for the sale of meat -from the French boucherie - bucceria - vucceria, it now extends across only a few short streets and mainly of fish. It used to be much larger and possibly a lot busier, and noisier - vucciria in Sicilian means "confusion, bustle, mess". I find it easy to believe.
The other two main markets, Ballaro' (with merchants from Bahalara, near Monreale) and Capo (from the name of the neighborhood, the Head) display a real jumble of merchandise, from sandals, aprons, linen to capers, olives, vegetable and fish. The further you walk the cheaper everything gets. I was told that there are "refurbishment plans" for that area which means that all the stalls will be covered and tidied up under a created frame. A real shame as I am sure it will lose its original character.
Somehow, despite becoming instinctive in Morocco, India or China I never think of haggling in Italy - perhaps Sicily is far enough from the rest of the country to try to do it?
One thing you can be sure is that fish is fresh. The scales seem to still breathing and the eyes are so vivid that the fish seem to be ready to jump at you for a last attempt to escape.
I am sure I must have looked like I had never seen a fish in my life. But I find fish to be really photogenic. As well as on my plate.
Fish comes in multiple options in Sicily and you can be sure of never getting bored with it. Sardines, tuna, swordfish, squids, mackerel, cod are only a few of what you can sample once on the big island.
Here I propose you a variation of the classic squids: calamari ripieni or stuffed squids. I am increasingly impressed by the variety of Mediterranean fish and seafood that is now available in English supermarkets, including squids. So you won't have any troubles in reproducing this recipe if you live here.
I would suggest that you use old bread to make the crumbs as they are softer and do not become as soggy once the oil has been added as already-made crumbs do; likewise, I would urge you to buy capperi sotto sale rather than the nasty acidic capers in vinegar. Even in absence of capperi from Pantelleria, the little island south of Sicily which seems to be a real *caper machine*, you will be fine with any Italian delicatessen.
For 4 people
4 medium squids;
2 garlic cloves (crushed and finely chopped);
180g breadcrumbs (ideally from stale bread left in the house);
a handful of parsley (finely chopped);
1 tbsp capers under salt;
2 tbsp grated pecorino;
2-3 tbsp olive oil;
salt & pepper
1. Clean and wash the squids if your fishmonger hasn't done it for you. Despite my repulsion for cleaning fish in general, the only nice thing of cleaning squids is to see their pen.
2. Remove the tentacles and chop them finely. Add to them the parsley, garlic, pecorino, salt and pepper and mix well. Moist the mixture with the oil until it becomes soft but not soggy.
3. Stuff the squids with the stuffing and close them if necessary with a tooth pick. Place them in a tray with some oil and sprinkle salt and pepper and more oil on the surface of the squids.
4. Cook them in the oven at C180 for 20 minutes circa.
You can serve them with peas cooked in a pan with a table spoon of olive oil and a few leaves of sage. A glass of Grillo (Sicilian wine) would go perfectly!
I leave you with some very vivid shots from the markets of Palermo. Perhaps my vegetarian readers might better stop here...