Caltagirone is located in approximately 70 km southwest of Catania, and it is just a 1.5-2 hour journey from the airport by pullman. I made a quick visit after Agrigento and before heading to Lipari in 2014.
Caltagirone is one of the Sicily’s ceramics centres producing particularly maiolica and terra-cotta wares, and its most famous landmark is the Scalinata di Santa Maria del Monte, a stairway of 142 steps running up a hill to the church of Santa Maria del Monte.
From my window:
What makes the staircase most significant and beautiful is that each of the steps has unique hand-painted ceramic tiles with two or three different designs.
I have to go back to see Infiorita held during the last two weeks of May when the steps are covered by an enormous floral display, or/and Illuminata on the 15th of August in which thousands of candles are lighted up and decorate the Scalinata at night.
I usually have just some fruit for breakfast, but how could I have resisted????
I’m sorry to tell you this, but the B&B is located at the halfway up the Scalinata – just right off the stairs….. Your arm muscles might ache – like mine did – after carrying your luggage up steps, but it is worth staying at Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo!
This Fettuccine recipe is adopted from the Raviolini al Limone I enjoyed whilst in Enna for the Holy Monday last year.
Instead of ricotta filled ravioli, I used fettuccine and added the cheese into the sauce. Also scattered with ground pistachios to make it Sicilian!!
(for 2 servings)
200 g dried fettuccine
2 liter water
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
400 g fully ripe tomato, finely chopped
200 ml water from boiled fettuccine
100 ml heavy cream (whipping cream, fat 35%)
2 tbsp ground pistachio (pistachio powder/flour)
100 g ricotta cheese
2 tbsp juice of lemon, freshly squeezed
a few pinches of lemon zest (organic unwaxed), freshly grated
ground white pepper (to taste)
Bring a large pot of the water to the boil. Salt the water and cook fettuccine until 2-3 min short of ‘al dente’. Reserve the cooking liquid for the sauce.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Put in the tomato and fry for a few minutes stirring consistently.
Transfer the fettuccine into the pan and add the cooking liquid. Increase the heat to high and mix well by stirring consistently for 1-2 min or until the liquid thickened. Make sure it doesn’t get dry. Add some more cooking water if required.
Reduce the heat to medium. Pour in the heavy cream and pistachio stirring constantly as it thickens. Add the ricotta, lemon juice and zest, season with the white pepper and toss it well. Once mixed, turn off the heat immediately. Taste it and add salt or some more lemon juice if required.
Plate the pasta, and sprinkle with the chopped pistachio and parsley.
MUST VISIT whilst in ENNA
Villa Romana del Casale, a large and elaborate Roman villa or palace located about 3 km from the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily. Excavations have revealed one of the richest, largest and varied collections of Roman mosaics in the world, for which the site has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The villa and artwork contained within date to the early 4th century AD. (source: Wikipedia)
The Villa is famous for so-called ‘Bikini Girls’ mosaic, but for me, the most impressive one was the Giants.
The mosaic with the Giants shot by the arrows of Hercules is one of the most expressive in the entire residence. The figures are isolated and emerge clearly from the white background, heightening the drama of their poses.
The dying Giants have powerful bodies with reddish brown skin and are called serpent-footed because their lower limbs end in the form of sinuous snakes.
As in the central field, Hercules is not shown in the scene, which instead depicts the result of his vanquishing of enemies who dared challenge Olympus.
How to get to Villa Romana del Casale
1. to Piazza Armerina
by Pullman (intercity bus) – arrives at Piazza Marescalchi
from Enna and Palermo – by SAIS
from Catania, Catania AP, Caltagirone – by Interbus
2. from Piazza Armerina to Villa Romana del Casale
by local bus: Villabus (1st May – 30th Sept. only)
by taxi: leaves from Piazza Marescalchi (main bus station)
If you cannot find any taxies, try the bar at the piazza/near the bus station. They have the phone numbers and will probably call for you if you don’t speak Italian (so I could manage to take a taxi!!). Make sure to book for return. The return fare (both ways) costed about 20 euros as of March 2013.
The Processione dei Misteri di Trapani or simply the Misteri di Trapani (in English, the ‘Procession of the Mysteries of Trapani’ or the ‘Mysteries of Trapani’) is a day-long passion procession featuring twenty floats of lifelike wood, canvas and glue sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion, a passion play at the centre and the culmination of the Holy Week in Trapani.
The Misteri are amongst the oldest continuously running religious events in Europe, having been played every Good Friday since before the Easter of 1612, and running for at least 16 continuous hours, but occasionally well beyond the 24 hours, are the longest religious festival in Sicily and in Italy. (source: Wikipedia)
Programme for Holy Week 2016
The Misteri are an artistic representation of the Passion and Death of Jesus through twenty sculptural groups, including two statues of the Dead Jesus and of the Lady of Sorrows. They were granted in trust, by deeds, by the Brotherhood of St Michael the Archangel, which instituted the rite in the late 16th century, to the members of the local Guilds in exchange of the promise to carry them during the passion procession every Good Friday. (Wikipedia)
At 2 pm, the procession commenced from Chiesa del Purgatorio accompanied by the local marching bands.
The statues are taken around Trapani by the portatori, volunteers who carry them on their shoulders and walk with a particular step called nnacata, rocking sideways.
Stood still for about 5 hours to observe all the 20 statues!
The procession continues throughout the night…
even in rain…. (shower the following morning)
retiring into the church 24 hours after (about 23 hrs in 2016)
I’m a big fan of pistachio, but I don’t mean any. I fell in love with Sicilian pistachio when I travelled to the island for the first time in 2012. Pistachio gelato, biscuit, cake, pistachio cream filled pastry, etc…. I cannot help trying whenever in the island, and bringing back as many the nuts and the products as possible!
Above all, the nuts from Bronte, a small town on the west flank of the active volcano Mt Etna, is the best. Bronte pistachio, so called ‘green gold of Sicily’ or ’emerald of Sicily’, is characterised by its bright green colour and its marked aroma and flavour. Once I baked a loaf with Bronte pistachios and the flour along with some lemons from my parents’ garden, which was absolutely beautiful!
As for crema di pistacchio, or pistachio cream, I was no idea how to use it other than top over vanilla ice cream or spread on pieces of bread, pancakes etc. It could be used for cake filling, but one jar was insufficient in quantity…. The breakfast I was served at a B&B in Enna this March, however, gave me an idea: chickpea flour biscuit with pistachio cream filling.
And also, a recipe booklet the host gave me two years earlier inspired me. The booklet is a collection of sweets recipes for religious festivities around Enna, and a lovely handmade piece!
I added ground almond to make it more Sicilian – like pasticcini di mandorle, Sicilian almond dough biscuit, which is crispy and slightly chewy, but soft and moist inside. The first experiment turned out to be perfect except that the dough was dry and not sticky enough to wrap the cream up. Of course, it’s totally gluten free!! I wanted to follow the traditional Sicilian style and keep ingredients simple, so I made it ‘pinwheel’ as the solution!
Oh, I need to mention the black spiral one with sweetened black sesame paste. The dough was going to go with only pistachio cream at first, but the experiment with black sesame paste unexpectedly resulted in a good outcome! As I didn’t have sufficient cream, I attempted with several substitutes: peanut cream or paste (but not butter) was also nice, but chestnut cream wasn’t at all. I guess hazelnut cream would work.
To be honest, however, the pistachio cream ones are not photogenic at all – the colour becomes dull when together with the dough, so this is the main reason I added black spirals 😀
100 g chickpea flour
100 g ground almond/almond meal
80 g caster sugar
80 g lard or shortening (trans free palm shortening)
40g whisked egg
100 g pistachio cream (or sweetened black sesame/peanut paste as such but not runny)
Preheat oven to 140° C.
In a bowl, cream the lard or shortening and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the whisked egg a third at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold in the flour and almonds until evenly combined. Divide half.
Using your hands, spread half of the dough evenly on a sheet of waxed or baking parchment paper (20 cm x 20 cm square). Trim the edges. Spread half of the cream or the paste over the dough.
Lift the end of the sheet, and roll up using the sheet like a sushi roll but pressing tightly. Wrap with the sheet when it comes to the end. Repeat with the remaining. Refrigerate the two rolls for at least 30 minutes.
Remove from refrigerator and unwrap, then cut into 1.5 cm slices. Put the slices apart on greased baking sheet. Bake at 140° C for 12-15 minutes. Cool completely.
note: If the baking time is not enough, the chickpea dough tastes a little bit grassy. If longer, they turn to crispy like ordinary biscuits. This baking might be a bit tricky. Please adjust the temperature and time.
MUST SHOPS in PALERMO
If you’d like to purchase Sicilian coffee, then go to Ideal Caffè Stagnitta, a roasting company, just off Plazzo Pretorio. Cannot find the way? No worries, the beautiful roasting aroma will lead you to the place. You can also try a cup first at its cafe, Casa Stagnitta adjacent to the shop.
Orland, which I mentioned on my Lemon Spaghetti post, is a good place to buy Bronte pistachios, but I found a new one near Teatro Massiomo. Genuino is a fantastic deli with good quality Sicilian food products, and Enrico will give you a warm welcome when you step into the shop. I recommend the foodstuff from his village: olives, cheeses, cured sausages, breads, sweets, nuts etc. The olives I tried were larger than normal ones, and more plump and juicy!
I don’t remember the name, but the cheese Enrico’s friend makes – he said it ‘invented’ – was superb! You must try it!!
My first stay at Bianko & Bianko was so pleasant that I went back again. The host helped me a lot to plan the visit during the Holy Week – sent me the programme of the processions with useful tips. Her restaurant recommendations are always superb!
On the following day after I saw U Signuruzzu a Cavaddu on Palm Sunday, I left Caccamo early in the morning for Enna. The commune holds traditional rites during the whole Holy Week, and I went up there to observe four religious processions on Holy Monday.
Once my Spanish friends invited me to Valladolid in Spain for its famous fiesta in Semana Santa, Holy Week (unfortunately I couldn’t make it because of my fracture 😦 ). So when I heard about the processions during Settimana Santa in Sicily, it rang a bell and I was right. The Sicilian Easter tradition dates back to the Spanish domination over the island of the 15th to 17th centuries.
Programme of Holy Monday Processions in Enna
9.30 – Confraternity of St Anne (departs from the Church of St Cataldo)
11.00 – Confraternity of Our Lady of Visitation (from the Church of St Mary of Jesus in Mount Salvo)
16.00 – Confraternity of St Mary of Graces (from the Church of St Augustine)
17.00 – Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament (from the Church of St Thomas)
18.00 – Confraternity of Our Lady ‘the New Woman’ (from its church)
I love caponata and cook it quite often (as I posted in June). This time, however, I made it a little bit different – more Sicilian and summery with vegetable and fish in season. (If you are a vegetarian/vegan or not in the mood for fish, just omit it and add some more vegetables since this recipe is just to combine caponata and fried fish.)
Well ripened and juicy tomatoes at their best are abundant now, so I made Passata di Pomodoro myself to add in. This intense tomato purée is absolutely tasty – natural flavours, especially sweetness, are brought out. You would love to use the passata not only for caponata but also for pasta etc. – I’m going to make Moussaka with this passta and aubergines below.
We are in fresh swordfish months here and it has arrived in stores. In Sicily, swordfish, also in season, is eaten well and there are various dishes: Involtini di Pesce Spada (stuffed swordfish rolls), Pesce Spada al Salmoriglio (grilled swordfish with lemon Salmoriglio sauce), Pasta con Pesce Spada e Melanzane (pasta with swordfish and aubergine) etc… and of course, Caponata di Pesce Spada. Yes, I’m posting a caponata with swordfish recipe today.
There various caponata recipes exist in Sicily with local variations: with pine nuts, almonds or pistachio, mint or basil, sugar or honey; with or without garlic, raisins, peppers (capsicums), anchovy are the examples. You might think ‘!!’ or ‘??’ but adding cacao (cocoa powder or grated chocolate) is also one of the varieties. I’m not sure if this is authentic or not. My Sicilian friend in Palermo hasn’t heard of it and says it may be a new recipe while some mention on the web it’s from Syracuse and Catania areas – I though it might be from Modica, a Baroque town famous for its chocolate.
I tried to enhance the flavours to make it summery adding some more vinegar, for example. The first experiment lacked depth. Honey was added instead of sugar, but not enough and still something missing. I was thinking about using balsamic vinegar instead…. After some more experiments, settled on the two recipes: i) with unsweetened cocoa powder (thick and rich) and ii) with raisins soaked in red wine vinegar (mildly sweet). Seems my caponatas are a melting pot of Sicily! 😀
Enjoy the summery caponata(s)!
(for 2 – 3 servings; for 4 as antipasto)
for the Passata
1 kg tomato
300 ml/cc water
for the Caponata
500 g aubergine (preferably ‘Black Beauty’), cut into 2.5 cm dice
1 tsp salt
200 g swordfish, cut into 2 cm wide pieces
1/2 lemon, squeezed
salt and pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
80 g celery, cut into 1 cm dice
vegetable oil to deep fry (I used sunflower oil)
1tbsp olive oil
120 g onion, sliced
100 g red pepper/capsicum, cut into 2cm thick slices
1 tbsp caper in sea salt, rinsed, soaked for 10 min and drained
50 g pitted olive, halved
200 ml/cc passata
1/2 tsp dried oregano
4 tbsp red wine vinegar (acidity 7%)
1 tsp honey (I used orange blossom honey)
i) 1 tsp (a little less than 1 tsp) unsweetened cocoa powder or ii) 20 g raisins
salt and pepper (to taste)
20 g almond
fresh basil (to garnish)
For the passata (Prepare in advance or while salting aubergines), place the tomatoes in a large pot with the water. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Remove from the water and drain for a while, at least 30 minutes, until water doesn’t come out of the tomatoes (Do not press or squeeze!). Strain through a coarse sieve into a bowl, using a wooden spoon to push any larger bits of tomato through. Put the passata in a pan and cook over small heat for 15 minutes or until thickened stirring constantly.
Place the aubergines in a colander, rub with the salt and let it sit for about an hour. Before using, squeeze and pat dry with paper towel.
Rub the fish with the lemon juice and leave for 10 minutes. Pat dry with paper towel, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a frying pan and fry until cooked through and lightly golden. Set aside.
In a pot, bring the vegetable oil to 180°C and deep fry the celery until slightly brown. Then boil the oil again to 190°C and deep fry the aubergines until really brown (but not burnt). Drain the fried vegetables well on paper towel to remove excess oil.
Dissolve the honey in the vinegar – ii) and soak in the raisins for 10 minutes. Set aside. Clean the frying pan, sauté the onion with another 1 tbsp olive oil on medium heat until tender. Add the red pepper and fry for a few minutes, then olives and capers for a minute.
Spoon in the passata with the dried oregano – i) and cocoa powder. Then pour in the vinegar mixture – ii) including raisins, and mix well for a minutes or until pungent aroma subsides.
Add the deep fried vegetables and the fish, and stir gently to combine. Season with ground pepper, taste it and add salt if necessary. Cool to room temperature, then store in an airtight container in the fridge overnight.
Lightly toast and chop the almonds, and scatter over or mix in the caponata. Garnish with the basil and serve.
If swordfish is unavailable, try fresh tuna, another popular fish in Sicily. Mackerel is one of the options, too. Next time I will cook with polpo, or octpus!!
Memoirs of a Foodie
I always bring lots of foodstuff back from Sicily: sun dried tomatoes, dried oregano, pistachio (nuts, powder, cream, pesto), anchovy… and salted caper is one of them.
In 2014, I sailed to a smaller island, Lipari in the Aeolian Islands off the northeastern coast of Sicily. WhenI was enjoying the breathtaking scenery at Chiesa Vecchia di Quattropani, a local farmer talked to me and showed me around the field behind the church explaining the crops and plants (I don’t speak Italian but Icould understand what he said as I had studied Spanish). He seemed very happy with the arrival of spring and as if he wanted to share the joy with someone. Baby leaves of fig and olive…. It was the first time for me to see caper plants, so I was a bit excited. I think that was why he fetched a jar of homemade capers in sea salt for me! What a surprise and what an encounter!! This is one of the reasons I love travelling on my own.
And also he plucked a flower and gave me. At home, fully enjoyed caponata, pasta, salad etc. with the capers.
MUST SEE in LIPARI
Chiesa Vecchia di Quattropani
It was early April and still off season – there were some tourists but very quiet. No one up there, and I had the spectacular view and tranquility all to myself!! (but the farmer disturbed! 😀 )
MUST EAT in LIPARI
Popped in Gilberto e Vera twice while in Lipari for just wine (aperitivo) and for a panino. Friendly Girberto chose red wine for me – Salina Rosso from Salina Island. (Tripadvisor reviews)
Oscar is a not to be missed pasticceria/gelateria in Lipari. Their cannolo is just divine and the best one I have ever had. Ricotta cream was stuffed in a homemade shell in front of me!! They offered me some almond biscuits, which were superb and I couldn’t resist buying two packets!
I make Spaghetti al Limone when I come across ‘good’ organic lemons. I started doing this two years ago when I was offered some lemons and oranges at an organic shop in Palermo. (Maybe because I purchased lots of foodstuff there – like pistachio, almonds, preserves, wine, cheese, almond biscuits, torrone, dried herbs, deli dishes etc. 😀 )
At home, I found their lemons were really nice – juicy, fragrant and agreeably pungent, and Spaghetti al Limone cooked with them was fantastic. Since then, I have been trying experiments whenever I found organic ones. So far, the recipe below is the best result, which I made as simple as possible so that the zesty lemon flavour can be fully enjoyed.
(for 2 servings)
200 g spaghetti
2 liter water
2 tsp salt
40 g butter
1 tbsp lemon zest (organic unwaxed – about 2-3 lemons)
2 tbsp juice of lemon
200 ml water from boiled spaghetti
ground white pepper (to taste)
parsley (to sprinkle)
Bring a large pot of the water to the boil. Salt the water and cook spaghetti until 1 -2 min short of ‘al dente’. Reserve the cooking liquid for the sauce.
Meanwhile, drop the butter in a pan and melt over lower heat. Put in the lemon zest and fry for two minutes stirring consistently.
Transfer the spaghetti into the pan and add the cooking liquid. Increase the heat to high and mix well by stirring consistently for 1-2 min or until the liquid dries off, but make sure it doesn’t get too dry. Add some more cooking water if required.
Reduce the heat to medium. Add the lemon juice, season with the white pepper and toss it well. Taste it and add salt if required.
Plate the pasta and sprinkle with the parsley.
MUST BUY & EAT in PALERMO
Orland – the organic shop I mentioned above. They offer high quality products. If you want to take the cheese back home, they would happily vacuum-pack it. Actually, I brought back a vac-packed Pecorino Siciliano covered with black pepper!
La Cambusa is one of my favourit restaurants in Palermo, and there is another one I repeatedly go back whenever in the town. Il Vecchio Club Rosanero is a family run trattoria and always full of the locals (a good sign!): no frills, less touristy, and much less expensive (I’d rather say ‘cheap’). If you are tempted to try what Palermitano eat, then go to Il Vecchio. They would never disappoint you – both your appetite and budget! I usually order a starter, like fritto misto, carpaccio or caponata and as a secondo, pasta (both half potion) with a ‘piccolo’ bottle of water and a glass of wine, which cost around 10 euros in total.
It’s located just off Via Maqueda and used to be a bit difficult to find, but now a landmark will help you – from Quattro Canti, walk down Via Maqueda towards Teatro Massino and turn left at the ‘sophisticated’ arancini place, kePalle, then take the first left.
Photos below are the pastas I had at Il Vecchio Club. Of course they serve nice seafood ones, but nowadays I prefer something more local.
Fritella (or Fritedda) is a Sicilian springtime braised vegetable dish or vegetable stew cooked with fresh green fava beans, peas, and artichoke hearts, and can be used as pasta sauce. I encountered this dish for the first time while in Caccamo to see U Signuruzzu a Cavaddu.
Caccamo is at the foot of Mount Eurako or San Calogero, and rises on a hill 520 meters above sea level. It was late March but still chilly and very windy up in the mountains. Hearing wind roaring in an empty flat, which I rented over the weekend, I felt myself pretty isolated in the small town with about 9,000 inhabitants.
However, the pasta con fritella I had at a restaurant in town made me somewhat relax, and I felt as if Caccamo had welcomed me warmly. This rather simple dish was a kind of mum’s or good old home cooking, and I liked very much.
I experimented with the pasta several times at home and settled on the recipe below. Just used fennel bulb without any fronds as I wanted to enjoy green peas in season. Tried fresh artichoke hearts but it didn’t work well unfortunately – maybe because they were imported and not so fresh although kept refrigerated. More likely, I didn’t clean and prepare them properly?? Cos I had never cooked before!! Well anyway, smoked hearts in olive oil from a deli worked perfectly, so I used them for my recipe. Much easier than preparing fresh ones, isn’t it? 😀
Another good thing is that this is one-pot cooking!
(for 2 – 3 servings)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
100 g onion, finely chopped
100 g fennel bulb, finely chopped
100 g smoked artichoke hearts in olive oil, drained and chopped
250 g shelled fresh gｒeen peas
600 – 700 cc/ml water (to adjust)
1 tsp salt
100 g ditalini or any short pasta you like
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp white wine vinegar (acidity 6%)
In a pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion and fennel bulb over medium heat until translucent. Add the peas to fry for a few minutes and artichoke hearts for a minute.
Pour in the water with salt and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and cover the pan, then simmer for 5 minutes.
Put in the pasta and cook for 5 minutes or a few minutes less than the cooking time given on the package. Add just enough water to cover if necessary.
Add the sugar and vinegar to the pan and simmer for further 2-3 minutes.
Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with grated pecorino cheese.
On Palm Sunday, Caccamo hosts U Signuruzzu a Cavaddu: a ceremony of eastern origin that recalls Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem; a parade through the main churches with an altar boy, a donkey, elegantly decked and embellished, blesses the bystanders. The altar is the smallest of the aspirated ‘russuliddi’, in clerical garb and accessories completely red. Both Jesus and the 12 apostles are played by boys holding long branches of palm trees, along the way, are intertwined, forming the arches under which passes the birthday boy. (http://www.fhshh.com)
Castello di Caccamo (Caccamo Castle) built in the 12th Century is among the largest and best preserved Norman castles in Sicily, and one of the largest in Italy. The castle is located on a steep cliff and overlooks the surrounding countryside, including the San Leonardo River Valley and the Rosmarina artificial lake.
If you are lucky (?), you might bump into ghosts in the castle!!
I saw another procession later that day. That was neither religious nor traditional one. The Comune di Caccamo just opened a museum of the castle, which is the first monument in Caccamo, so the town hold a ribbon cutting opening ceremony and a ‘Medieval’ procession. How lucky I was to witness two processions in a day!
Must Eat in Caccamo
If you visit Caccamo, you cannot missA Castellana, where I enjoyed fritella. Their pizzas looked good as well, but I highly recommend Fiocchetti ripieni di Speck e Provola con Stracciatella di Burrata, which is a kind of ravioli pasta, stuffed with speck and Provola cheese, with Stracciatella di Burrata cheese sauce. The photo below isn’t nice, but it was fantastic!!
How to get to Caccamo
Direct bus services are available from Palermo or Termini Imerese.
For the timetable, check with Autolinee Randazzo.
To be honest, I don’t care for sardines much. I’m a fan of blueback fish such as mackerel, horse mackerel and Pacific saury, but not sardine. I like anchovy and oiled sardines though – ah, neither herrings but like kippered! Weird, isn’t it? A restaurant in Palermo, however, changed my preference towards the fish (a bit 😀 ).
Sardines are so plentiful in Sicily, and you couldn’t fully enjoy the local food without sardines there. Among them, Pasta con le Sarde, one of the most famous Sicilian dishes, cannot be missed. I know, I know… yet I was still a bit reluctant to try the pasta when I visited Sicily for the first time….
It turned out, however, BINGO! Maybe because fennel makes the strong fishy taste less and helps the dish mellow along with other ingredients. I LOVE (now at last 😀 ) the unique but harmonious combination of the ingredients: not only the fish and the herb/vegetable but also sweet raisins, crunchy pine nuts and pungent saffron – and maybe salty anchovy as well. I think that’s why I like Pasta con Broccoli, too!
Unfortunately, wild fennel is not available here, so I replaced it with fronds of Florence fennel (cultivated fennel) and added some fennel seeds into the water to cook pasta instead of boiling the fronds in it so that it could enhance fennel flavour in the dish.
Pasta con le Sarde (Pasta chî Sardi in Sicilian) is a specialty of Palermo, and bucatini is traditionally used for this dish as well as Pasta con il Broccoli. The pasta can be found anywhere in Sicily, but there are many regional variations: with tomato (in rosso), without tomato and saffron only (in bianco), with roasted almonds, baked (al forno) etc….
Also, Pasta con le Sarde can be eaten all though the year, however, it is especially eaten well around St Joseph’s Day along with Macco. The saint day usually falls during Lent. That is the reason this meatless pasta with mollica, toasted breadcrumbs (cf. Bucatini con Broccoli) which symbolise sawdust (Joseph was thought to be a carpenter), is served.
(for 2 servings)
for topping: mollica 50 g bugget (stale bread is ideal), finely grated
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 liter water
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp salt
200 g bucatini (I used no.6)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
100 g onion, finely chopped
2 fillets of anchovy (3 fillets if small)
20 g raisins
20 g pine nuts
20 g fennel fronds, roughly chopped (big and woody stalks removed)
4 fresh sardines, butterflied and deboned
1/2 tbsp tomato paste
a smidgen (1/32 tsp) of saffron powder
(optional: freshly ground black pepper to taste, fennel frond to garnish)
For toasted breadcrumbs: heat the oil in a frying pan and add the breadcrumbs to toast on low heat, stirring consistently for 5 minutes or until crisp and brown.
Pour the water into a large pot with fennel seeds and bring to the boil. Dissolve the tomato paste and saffron powder in 50 cc/ml of the fennel water and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a pan and sauté the onion over medium heat until translucent. Put in the anchovy, and break with wooden spoon or such. Add the raisins and pine nuts to toss for a few minutes, then chopped fennel fronds to cook and stir for a minute. Add the sardines and fry until brown both sides. Remove half of the sardines from the pan and set aside. Stir and crush the rest of the sardines with a wooden spoon until fall apart and the mixture is well combined. Pour in the saffron liquid and stir well. Taste and season with the black pepper if necessary (Me personally, better without pepper.)
In the meantime, bring the fennel water back to the boil. Add in the salt and cook the pasta 1 -2 min short of ‘al dente’ (bucatini no.6 for about 6 min). Retain the cooking liquid for the sauce.
Transfer the pasta into the sauce and add 150-200 cc/ml pasta cooking water (adjust). Increase the heat to medium-high and stir consistently for 1-2 min or until the liquid dries off (but not too much).
Plate the pasta. Put the sardine and fennel fronds on top. Sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs over the pasta, and Buon’appetit!
If you have a bottle of arak (just wondering if pastis works as well…?) at home, try with the pasta! I happened to have an Israeli one, and enjoyed it very much – the anise flavoured spirits (with some water) cleansed the fishy taste but still fennel flavour (well, anise flavour actually) remained in my mouth, which was really refreshing and comfortable!
La Cambusa is one of my favourite restaurants in Palermo. I go back to the restaurant for the pasta whenever in Palermo. They serve wonderful fish dishes such as of sward fish etc.
Macco, served during winter or up to beginning of spring, and Moscato Passito, dessert wine made from Sicilian native Zibibbo grape, are also nice!
Street Food & Fast Food
Palermo is recognised as the European Capital of Street Food, and it’s in the fifth place in the ‘top ten cities for street food’ ranking published by Virtual Tourist.com. Enjoy the famous traditional delicacies!
Focaccine con Panelle, crocchè etc @ I Cuochini
A small burger with panelle, a chickpea flour fritter and potato croquet. Theirs are rather small like finder food, so better for small bites.
Pane con la Milza or Pani cà Meusa (in Sicilian) @ Antica Focacceria San Francesco
A burger stuffed with grated cheese and boiled and fried veal spleen. Normally served with lemon.
A bit ‘sophisticated’ or ‘frilled’ arancine @ kePalle A deep fried rice ball stuffed with various fillings. They serve about 40 different types – from classic to variant ones: ragù, pasta and aubergine,chicken curry, spinach & tofu (veg) etc… and even sweet ones – Nutella, chocolate, pistachio!
And for a sweet tooth:
Brioche con Gelato @ Brioscià
A brioche bun stuffed with gelato/ice cream. Always busy gelateria.