Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Slow Food in Sicily

Port: Taormina
Mission: Eat

For the second year in a row I have had the good fortune of visiting Sicily in early fall, specifically Taormina. This mountaintop town is on the east coast of the island, in the province of Messina. It is a fabulous walking town complete with many clothing, shoe and pastry shops and of course those offering jewelry made from local coral and volcanic rock. But, of course, I am focused on the food. The town can be seen in the upper left of this picture above, which was taken from our boat.

I was once again working with Gohagan Travel and accompanied their cruise ship through a week in Italy, Croatia and France...but this day in Taormina was the highlight, and indeed one of the best meals of my life. We took small "tenders" (small boats) from our cruise ship to land, where we boarded a small bus up the mountain. The bus deposited us at the edge of town and the first thing we saw was this man selling fresh grapes out of the back of his car; we couldnt resist taking a picture.

Here are some pictures of the typical streets, piazzas as well as a look back at our boat.

Finally we came to a narrow street, an alleyway really that led to our restaurant where we would have an olive oil tasting and lunch.
Arrangements had been made for us to have lunch at Osteria Nero D'Avola, a Slow Food establishment, where we would eat and taste local olive oils.

Here is Elaine Trigani, our olive oil taster introducing our chef, Salvatore Siligato.

True to the Slow Food concept, the menu was not decided upon until that morning....it depended on what was fresh at the market. And then, just as the chef was describing our first course of a tuna tartar, a fishmerman walked in carrying this container of fresh shrimp. They were immediately added to the plate, raw. They tasted of the sea, pure, sweet and salty at the same time, with the heads the sweetest of all.

Here below is the whole plate, drizzled with some olive oil and accented with caper berries, which provided a welcomed acidity.

A wine was poured to accompany the seafood which while of the soil, had a remarkably briny essence.

For our pasta course, we had a traditional Sicilian preparation of swordfish with tomatoes and capers with a fresh pasta - sort of a narrow pappardelle.

The next course featured squid and three kinds of mushrooms, two of which are only found growing in the soil of the local volcano. It was meaty and earthy and utterly unique.
A marvel of a course came next - a refreshing and palate reviving lemon salad. Whole Sicilian lemons, skin intact, were combined with their juice, red onions and olive oil and a bit of salt to create the most unusual salad I have ever had. The lemons were chewy with substance, but not overwhelmingly so and the acidity, the sourness, was thoroughly enjoyable and not the least bit too much. Do Not try this at home with supermarket lemons.

A cheese course followed and then a variety of sweets arrived.
Prickly pears and persimmons....ultra ripe to the point of being obscene with their silky juicy innards.

A pistachio cake, incredibly vivid in color from the local nuts

and a tray of two kinds of local chocolate, both cold tempered, with a pleasantly gritty, unprocessed texture.

We gathered Salvatore and his crew to give them a round of applause

This was, quite simply, one of the meals of my life. If I never return, the memories will remain....but I will try to find a way.