Savory Sicily: a cooking class

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Villa Britannia is a lovely bed and breakfast outside the Porta Messina in Taormina. The home is inviting and filled with aromas that draw you immediately to the kitchen. Host Louisa greets everyone with a brief history of the home, introduces her husband Marco and her father-in-law, who are also hands-on in the multi-course meal process, and explains the simple, pure and fresh ingredients of the Sicilian diet. We began by chopping vegetables for a caponata (a cold Sicilian roasted eggplant and vegetable salad), tomato sauce, and a second kind of eggplant salad. After we got the sautés going on the stove, we headed to the outside garden to make our pasta. Sicilian custom is to use durum wheat semolina and water. The durum wheat semolina is a product that is less refined compared to the re-milled semolina; yellow color, a little more coarse in texture. First roll and knead…

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Taormina: The terrific and tasty island in the sky

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Taormina is perched on a cliff overlooking the Ionian Coast and is often referred to as the island in the sky. It claims to have been inhabited by an Italic tribe during the Iron Age even before the Greeks arrived on the island in 734 BC. The city has been both a well-known tourist destination and a draw for artists and writers for millennia. The main road, Corso Umberto, runs the length of the town between two entries, Porta Messina and Porta Catania. Mostly pedestrian, it is filled with shops, restaurants and several great plazas with views of the sea below, Madonna della Rocca church and a Castello above, and when the clouds part, we are told, a stunning view of Mt. Etna. The ancient 3rd century Greek theater is well preserved and continues to be used for performances (mostly on weekends). There are remarkable views of Mt. Etna and…

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Excursion Etna

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Mount Etna, an active volcano with more than 300 craters, occupies almost a third of the northeast corner of Sicily. The mountain has been in our sites from a sort-of safe distance (nowhere is really safe) for the past week or so and we planned a hike on the north side of Europe’s largest volcano. Sicily Life organized a tour that brought us into the national park and drove us to the Silvestri Craters, which are at 7,000 feet above sea level. Here, we climbed up and around several trails giving us great views of past lava flows and deep craters. In the winter months, this area is used for skiing and snowboarding with the craters acting as natural half-pipes. There are trails and a cable car that climbs another 2,000 feet for longer ski trails and a closer look vDWat the top of the volcano. The weather was incredibly…

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A celebration of true love and food in Taormina

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Weddings are always a time of joy and celebration; this one was extraordinary on many levels. The amount of love expressed by guests for the bride and groom was only surpassed by the special love between the magical couple. Beginning with the service, followed by a stroll to the plaza in the center of Taormina, accompanied by a folk band and a vintage Alfa Romeo, was a fitting way to begin the festivities.The reception was held at the stunning Castello San Marco. The red carpet at the entry led us to a aperitivo spread that set the tone for the night.Plato said of Sicily ‘Sicilians build things like they will live forever and eat like they will die tomorrow.’ These words ring true to this day. We experienced an outrageously delicious five-course meal (not including the incredible dessert spread along with cake). The band played on, family and…

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Sensational Savoca

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A picture perfect day began with some smoke atop Mt. Etna. There was a fresh snowfall, too.We joined the wedding party for an adventure to Savoca. A small town which sits high above the Ionian coast, Savoca has a great view of the sea and mainland Italy’s Calabria. The village is most remembered for a few scenes, including the wedding scene, from The Godfather. We were greeted by cousin Maria Teresa. She made a special presentation to the bride and groom-to-be and welcomed us to her town.We walked through the town toward the museum where we sampled the most delicious lemon granita with zuccherata; a sweet breadstick that dunks into the granita. It is a delicious treat often served for breakfast.A group photo was taken in front of the church made famous by the movie.Our multi-course lunch was filled with local specialties including pickled…

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Mangia on Mt. Etna: mangiare e bere (let’s eat and drink)

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When it rains we find solace in food and beverages. Lucky for us, the family of our friends welcome visitors with open arms and delicious food. We traveled to the small fishing village of Roccalumera, halfway between Taormina and Messina. The Italian mainland region of Calabria was visible across the straits of Messina, like New Jersey across the Hudson River from New York. Our greeting was filled with love and amazing aromas from the kitchen. Risotto with porcini mushrooms (that were foraged earlier in the day), Stocco stew, a delicious traditional cod dish, pulpo, caponata, stuffed anchovies and so much more. Coupled with homemade wine and finished with gelato, pistachio-filled cannoli, a plate of fresh melon and a dish of persimmons. The language of food, and lots of pantomime along with the family’s pretty good English (compared to our pretty rough Italian) made this special evening extraordinary.

We have begun…

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Green Gold: Pistachios of Bronte

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The sky was blue, the air crisp and Etna was smoking.Bronte is the pistachio capital of Sicily. The trees are not indigenous but they date back to the days of the Phoenicians, so almost native. The Sicilian pistachios are longer, thinner and richer in flavor than other pistachios, probably due to the volcanic soil and biennial harvesting.

We were thrilled to spend the day with Laura Lupo, owner of Aricchigia. This company is about five years old, but the pistachios, almonds, olives and fruits are from their family farm which goes back at least three generations.

The organic farm is filled with volcanic stones and Mt. Etna is visibly steaming and smoking in the not-really-distant distance. Trees grow around and through the stones. Dried nuts are then used in savory (pesto, oils) and sweet (cream/spreads) products. It was our first look at a pistachio tree; we learned there…

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