Sunday, November 27, 2016

Quarta Parte: A Day in the Life...

Fresh Ricotta

As part of every OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel) trip, they include what is known as “A Day in the Life,” where the group experiences everyday life with the locals. On this trip, it was a visit to a dairy farm in the village of Castelluccio. The family that owns the farm has about 100 acres of land, with views of olive trees that stretch for miles. I absolutely fell in love with the countryside of Sicily. 
Gorgeous Persimmons
Their land is rich with beautiful fruit orchards overflowing with incredibly sweet persimmons and luscious prickly pears. The sun was high and warm as we wandered through the orchards, with the family patriarch plucking pears off the trees and doling out big slices for us to eat out of hand, his two trusty dogs trailing us. 

Prickly Pears for the taking
When I thought the day couldn’t get any better, we went to their cheesemaking hut where we helped his son make fresh ricotta (okay, mostly he made it while we watched), which was still warm when we ate it at lunch. Nirvana! 

Kneading Bread
When we returned to the house, the lovely matriarch of the family invited us to make bread with her. She uses an ancient kneading machine, the kind that has been used in rural villages for decades. We all took a turn at this and believe me, it was not easy. After the dough has been kneaded and has risen, it’s formed and then baked in a wood-fired stove where she’s also added some olive tree branches for flavor.
While the bread was baking, we walked through the olive groves to a spot under the trees where we enjoyed salumi, caciocavallo cheese, and champagne (to celebrate the anniversary of a couple on the trip). It was like a Food and Wine Magazine spread.

For lunch back at the house, they grilled fat pork sausages and tender chicken legs that had been rubbed with lemon, oregano, and olive oil, all washed down with homemade wine in mismatched glasses. Everything we ate had been grown or made on the farm. Whatever they don’t use for themselves, they use to barter with neighbors. This is life in a small, rural Italian village. Hard to believe we were not far from the bustling hill town of Ragusa, that is home to a Michelin starred restaurant. Talk about two extremes. And I loved both equally.

Ciao for now!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

RECIPEinaFLASH: Pumpkin Maple Muffins

Greetings, Dear Readers!

Hope this finds you all well.

I know I owe you the next installment of "Bella Sicilia," but I made these delicious muffins today and thought you might like to add them to your Thanksgiving planning. This recipe comes from the NY Times Cooking site. I made them according to the recipe and got 17 regular size muffins. I added a sprinkle of turbinado sugar to the tops before baking for a little sparkle and extra sweetness. 

They are quick and easy to put together, with a really light texture, and wonderful harvest-time flavors. If you have houseguests coming for the holiday, whip up a batch this weekend and throw them in the freezer (that's what I did). Then all you (or they) will need to do is let them defrost. Love these for a quick breakfast, or as part of a brunch, or afternoon tea.

Wishing you and yours a lovely holiday!

Eat well, stay warm, be happy.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Bella Sicilia: Parte Terza

Sicilian Lemon Cake

As we made our way to Agrigento, we drove past rows of huge cactus and beautiful tall palm trees, this makes sense given Sicily’s semi-tropical climate. 
Temple of Hera
Temple to Hercules
Agrigento is home to the Valley of the Temples, where incredible archeological remains of Greek temples stand from somewhere between 510 and 430 BC. Here we walked the ancient road that links the Temple of Hera (Zeus’ wife), who represented love, marriage, and fertility, to the Temple of Concordia (“peace”), connected to the magnificent Temple to Hercules (this was the first temple to be constructed here), and finally the Temple to Zeus. 
Temple to Zeus

Antique Cart
Antique Cart
We had lunch that day at the home of a family whose late grandfather is something of a local legend. Raffaele La Scala, was a master builder of ornately carved and painted carts, which were used to haul items such as salt, grapes, and grain. La Scala’s family has a mini-museum of this man’s extraordinary talent at their home, and we were fascinated to  hear his story and see these beautiful works of art. Other than the painting, La Scala hand-built the carts and carved the intricate designs on these pieces which are now collector’s items. 

Ricotta Squares
Let me tell you about the wonderful lunch we had at the La Scala home, which began with delicious little ricotta squares dotted with sweet peas. This was followed closely by a fabulous pasta dish (I’m not ashamed to say I had seconds!) made with diced zucchini, salted ricotta, cherry tomatoes, basil, and mint. Accompanying the pasta was a simple side dish of potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, olive oil, and oregano. As they say in Italy, you can never have too many carbs!

Pasta with Zucchini
Sicilian Lemon Cake
The highlight for me, though, was the incredible lemon cake (again, two servings!). Fragrant with fresh lemon juice and zest, a hint of vanilla, and a marvelous texture, I had to have the recipe! I beseeched our trip leader, Alessio, to ask our host (Maria) for the recipe, who graciously complied. As she rattled off the ingredients in Italian, Alessio translated, and I furiously scribbled! Of course, all the measurements were in metrics, which I have since converted. One ingredient they used is called Lievito (a leavening agent), which is what in the US we know as  baking powder. 

I  haven’t made the cake yet so this has not been tested, but am providing the recipe here in case you’d like to give it a try. The directions are rather vague but experienced bakers should be able to make it work. When I make it, I will certainly post the results!

The La Scala family adheres to what my family always believed: one dessert is never enough! After the lemon cake, Maria produced a frozen delight: semi-freddo, chock full of caramelized almonds, sugar, and cream. 

Still to come: 
  • our day at a dairy farm in the idyllic Sicilian countryside making fresh ricotta and baking bread
  • racing through the streets of Modica in vintage Fiats
  • the beautiful seaside village of Ortigia, where I had probably the best spaghetti and clams of my life
  • the gorgeous hillside town of Taormina with its' impressive Greek amphitheatre
  • meeting the sweet donkeys of Mt Etna
  • and, finally, the amazing lunch at Il Duomo in Ragusa
Ciao for now!