Last week I was lucky enough to spend a week’s holiday in Sicily – land of the slow food movement – and if I didn’t just spend the entire 7 days doing my best foie gras duck impression. Turns out, those Sicilians really know their onions. And tomatoes… and coffee, chocolate, cheese and ice-cream…
Drive or wander through the island – avoiding the other scooters and crazy motorists to a cacophony of honking horns and dire Italian radio – and you can’t help but be struck by the incredible natural abundance. As the hot hot sun beats down on lemon and orange trees and olive groves the air is scented with fresh sage and lavender and the roadside stalls heave with swollen, ripe tomatoes, you realise, this is going to be tasty. Bloody tasty.
Even a trip to Carrefour (full disclosure: mooching in foreign supermarkets is one of my ultimate nerdy pleasures) reveals piles of fresh, wonderfully misshapen fruits – surrounded by greedy buzzy flies – and stacks of grana padano, mounds of shiny jellyfish and squid and giant swordfish jutting into the aisles. Whole baby rabbits – their little blue eyes staring glassily through the clingfilm peek at you. And there is row upon row of wine and coffee and olive oil.
Our barbecues – beef, pepper and chilli kebabs - and lamb chops marinated for days in oil and rosemary, huge langoustines grilled over the coals and pasta dressed in a lemon and thyme dressing (fresh from the garden!) with tomatoes and olives in lashings of oil – were intense. From the peach and ham salad to the peppers stuffed with garlic-y, cheesy risotto, everything was fresh and everything was bursting with flavour.
In Noto, a stunning Baroque town, we went for ice-cream at the famous Cafe Sicilia. there we scoffed on granita (in mouth-tingling lemon, juicy blood orange and punchy espresso), smooth hazelnut and rich chocolate gelato and I wolfed down a cassata, made with ricotta, candied fruit and pistachio.
In Modica we bought chocolate from Antica Dolceria Bonajuto - a stunning little artisan chocolate shop where they have made chocolate the same way for six generations. And the chocolate was flavoured with nutmeg or orange peel, pepper or vanilla. Amazing. We were offered and duly tried (more than once) ‘mpanatigghi - a South American empanada – which was filled with meat and chocolate. It was sweet, spicy and slightly metallic. Not entirely lovely but you know, interesting…
At dinner in slow-food tavernas we feasted until we could barely move (seriously, it was filthy) on pork gelatine, arancini - deep fried rice balls – juicy olives, local cheese and salami, mussels, swordfish, homemade ravioli, huge snails, grilled courgette and peppers, so juicy and tender, lasagne cacate, sausages cooked in red wine, giant calzones and tender tomato salads. And that was just for starters!
We ate in bustling squares and in peaceful terraces, we were served with grace and panache and we washed down our food with gallons of punchy red wine.
On a silly level I loved polishing off my meal and then troughing on a crème brûlée vienetta (why why why can’t we get them in the UK?!) and I loved the gorgeous vanilla wafers with my morning espresso. I loved the way that on every corner adults of every persuasion ate icecream at all hours – quite rightly in my opinion. And I jolly well adored seeing the “let’s pizza” hot pizza dispenser in the airport. That’s right. A machine that dispenses slices of pizza. Holy macaroni! The only downside was that it was broken when we rushed to use it but still, a country that has pizza dispensers is all right by me…
Sicily is without question a bombastic place. The dramatic history, the stunning and some times dreadful architecture, the mountains and coastline, the noise and the fuss, the sheer drama of the place is incredible. For those that like to eat and drink and eat and drink again - go. Wear loose fitting outfits and buy a bigger swimsuit. Worry about your diet when you get back. Feast. You won’t regret it!