Sunday, November 1, 2015

The traditional sweet in Catania for All Souls Day? It's the "Rame di Napoli!"

Do you know what the 'Rame di Napoli' are? Literally the translation means Naples' copper and they are a dessert prepared for the festivity of All Saints and All Souls, the first two days of November. Funny as it sounds they are not from Naples (Napoli) but from Catania. Why? 

History tells us that during the Borbonic domination in Sicily, also known as Regno delle Due Sicilie, a new copper coin was forged as a substitute for the more valuable silver and gold coins. People then decided to pay homage to this coin creating a sweet that would reproduce it. That's how the Rama di Napoli was born!

Ingredients & Preparation: 
For the mixture
500 gr 00 flour

150 gr caster sugar
100 gr honey
100 gr butter
100 gr cocoa powder 

350 ml milk
3 ts of ground cinnamon
1 ts ammonia for desserts

some cloves (around 12)

For the icing
200 gr dark chocolate
80 gr butter
Orange marmelade or hazelnut spread
Grounded or chopped pistachio (Bronte)

Preheat the oven at 180°. Melt the butter with milk and honey in a sauce pan on a medium heat. In a large bowl sieve the flour together with the cocoa powder, ammonia, cinnamon and the grounded cloves. Add the sugar and mix all well. Pour the mix of milk into the bowl and stir until you have a smooth mixture (as shown in the pic above).

On an oven tray place a sheet of baking paper and transfer the mixture in small quantities (around 2 or 3 full tablespoons each) paying attention in keeping them distant one another. 
As soon as the oven has reached the right temperature bake your cookies for 15 minutes. Don't worry if while they are in the oven there will be an unpleasant smell, it's the ammonia, and it will completely disappear once the cookies are cooked and ready. Take them out and let them cool down. 
In the meantime prepare the frosting by melting the dark chocolate and the butter together. Spread either a veil of orange marmalade or the hazelnut spread, and then, once the frosting is ready use it to cover the cookies. 

Leave them few minutes to set and then finish the decoration by sparkling the pistachio on top. Here we go... your rama di Napoli is ready to be tasted. Enjoy!

A special thanks to Nora for this recipe and these beautiful pictures. All right reserved.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Sicilian Ragù: the classic seasoning for pasta and rotisserie

Do you know what "Ragù alla Siciliana" is? The term ragù comes originally from the French ragout and is basically a sauce with meat that is slow-cooked for few hours. The most famous ragù in the world is the Bolognese one (from the city of Bologna), but here in Sicily we also have our Sicilian version, made with minced meat, the soffritto, tomato sauce and peas.

This sauce is usually prepared for a festivity or a Sunday lunch. It is the typical seasoning for our lovely baked anelletti and for some of our traditional pieces of rotisserie as well. But now let's have a look at all the ingredients that we need for our ragù.

Ingredients & Preparation for 8 people:
250 gr beed minced meat
250 gr pork minced meat
1 lt tomato passata
half teaspoon of sugar
1 tbs tomato purè
150 gr fresh small peas
half glass of dry white wine
1 carrot
1 celery
half onion
salt & pepper
extra virgin olive oil

1. Let's start with the preparation of the traditional soffritto: onion, carrot and celery finely chopped.
On a medium heat pour a drizzle of e.v.o of olive (around 3-4 tablespoons) in a sauce pan and let the soffritto cook for 5 minutes on its own.
2. Add the minced meat using a fork or a wooden spatula and make sure you open it up, so that you don't have big chunks of meat left.
3. After 7-8 minutes pour the white wine and let it reduce completely.
4. Now it's time to add the tomato passata (which needs to be seasoned with half teaspoon of sugar, a pinch of salt and black pepper and nutmeg) plus the tomato purè and some water (a couple of full glasses).
5. Finally add the peas and stir everything for a couple of minutes, until you are sure that all the flavors are well mixed together.
6. Put a lid on the pan, lower the heat at the minimum and let is slow cook for at least one hour, stirring from time to time. If you think it's too watery leave it for another 30 minutes, on the other hand if it looks already too thick add a little more water, like another glass and let it cook until you have the right consistency and texture of the one in the picture here on the right.

NOTE - As the preparation requires few hours, one of the thing we usually do in our home is to cook it one day in advance, so saturday if you need it for sunday. This also helps to mix the flavors all together and have an extraordinary result. Some recipes just need to rest to taste better.

What we love about the ragù is the fact that is in someway always related to family, festivities, grandma's stories and get together of any kind. It is also an incredibly versatile dish, perfect with pasta, pies and even fried or baked rotisserie. Anyway you like it basically, ... and that is the reason why it is such a popular recipe!!!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Time for harvesting the "green gold": it's the Bronte's pistachio!

A plant of Bronte's pistachio - Photo by Giuseppe Di Bella

Do you know why the pistachio nut cultivated in Bronte (province of Catania) is one of the most important and renowned product of Sicily? And why is it called the GREEN GOLD? 

I had the pleasure of asking these questions (and some more) to Giuseppe Di Bella (here on the right), an authentic 'Brontese' (Bronte's citizen) who owns a piece of land, a pistacchieto, inherited by his grandfather where he still cultivates this amazing variety of nuts, which is a P.O.D. (Protected Origin Designation.) and is now being harvested.

Which are the origins of this beautiful plant in the town of Bronte? (Drops of history to start with...)

GDB: Bronte is a town at the slopes of Mount Etna, which lies in the valley of the Simeto river, in the eastern part of Sicily. In ancient times, our town used be part of a very extended feud who had different owners: first the Benedictines in the XVIth century, then the Great Hospital in Palermo and lastly the Duke and Admiral Horatio Nelson who received the land in perpetual property from Spanish King Ferdinand in 1800 for his support of the monarchy. Nelson gave the citizens of Bronte the possibility of working their land only in the rocky 'SCIARE'. These sciare are basically igneous lands, due to the continuous eruptions of the Etna volcano, so the territory is arid and rough, really difficult to cultivate. But despite this situation, the people of Bronte started to work and reclaim it, and finally found out that grafting the pistachios' trees did actually take root pretty well there. So it started as a necessity more than anything else.

How does the pistachio's cultivation and harvesting work? Why is it once every 2 years?
GDB: The reason why the harvest of our pistachio is once every two years is because this particular variety needs one year to rest from its last production.

It starts at the end of August and it lasts between four and six weeks. The time is different according to the altitude and position of the pistacchieto as the pistachio is cultivated between 400 and 900 mt of height above sea level, so the ones that are down in the valley start their harvest at the end of august, but as you go up on the hill it will be mid or late september. When is mature the pistachio becomes slightly pink and it means is ready!

What is so special about this variety of nut that is called the Green Gold?
GDB: It's because every phase related to the production of our pistachio (cultivation, pruning, harvesting) is 100% manual labor. In some areas you can't even use nets to harvest it because the territory is too rocky, so you have to pick it with your bare hands. That makes it precious!
There are also two other areas in Sicily were the pistachio is cultivated (in the province of Agrigento and Caltanissetta) but is a completely different variety and the colour is more yellowish, while our Bronte's one is green inside and red outside, infact is also called: "Bronte's red", and for its organoleptic properties is similar to the Iranian pistachio tree. Our production in Italy covers the 98%, while in the whole world is only 1%.

Does the pistachio have a particular meaning in your life? 

GDB: Yes of course, but not in terms of money. For sentimental reasons. Infact I inherited this piece of land from my granpa and I remember when I was a kid, especially during summer breaks, waking up at 4.30 in the morning and just spending time with him, helping him out in whatever we needed to do in the pistacchieto. 

Every season I just coud't wait to go there! This passion stayed with me and I am grateful because I can stay in my own land which I love dearly, if you just look at the amazing landscape I am surrounded by, you will understand!

Which is your favourite pistachios recipe?
GDB: You can prepare a lot of dishes with it, but in my opinion the best way to use our variety is in the patisserie or, in general, for desserts. And it's also something recent as well, because 50 years ago we only used to sell it to retailers, while now things have changed and you can find several bars, restaurants or patisseries which actually use the pistachio in the preparation of recipes of any kind.

Photo source:
One of my favourite recipe is a kind of sponge, that we call panettone. You only need 6 eggs, 200 gr. grounded Bronte's pistachio,  200 gr. sugar, 100 gr. flour and some lemon zest. You can either add yeast or not (not necessary) and is really delicate and tasty. You can filled it with our pistachio's nutella cream or just have is plain for breakfast. 

Photo source:
Also our cannoli filled with ricotta cream and pistaches are exquisite, but they are a winter product, as you can find the fresh ricotta only in winter. When you eat them is like paradise on earth, something beyond words! :-)


I woul like to thank Giuseppe for being so kind, helpful and clear in answering all my questions, and Rossella for giving me his contact. 

I wish I can go and visit him and the beautiful town of Bronte very soon. I have learnt a lot of things I didn't know and I can't wait to taste this amazing product in the area where all the magic happens!

Here you can find the dates of the Bronte's pistachio EXPO 2015, at the end of September and beginning of October. Do not miss it!

[Note: All the pictures are property of Giuseppe Di Bella, except the last two which belong to - ALL RIGHT RESERVED]

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Ainsley Harriott's Street Food in Palermo

Last year I was contacted by Channel Four to be part of this tv show which was shot in my city. In this episode, Chef and tv presenter, Ainsley Harriott was visiting Palermo and exploring the world of Sicilian street food.

Unfortunately in the end I coudn't be part of it, which made me very sad, but now I finally found the video, so I would like to share it with you. Enjoy!

Thanks to Street Food profile for sharing :-)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

5 reasons to visit Sicily on Holiday

Portopalo di Capo Passero

In 1887 the eminent German author J. W. Goethe wrote in his renowned book The Italian journey: "To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything."

This is one of the most famous quote about the Trinacria. Now, the spontaneous questions to follow would be: Why? Why Sicily?

I will give you 5 reasons why you should visit this land at least once in your life.

The Volcano Etna at sunset - Photo source:
    Sicily is the biggest island in Italy, it has beautiful coasts washed by blue sea, as well as country-sides, woods, hills, an imposing volcano (Etna!) and two main mountain chains called Madonie and Nebrodi. 

    The weather is amazing almost all year round, so, whether you like swimming in the sea, hiking, skiing in the winter season, or just sunbathing like a lizard, there is a spot for you!

    The Duomo of Monreale (PA)
    There’s no way you get away from it. Even if you are not that kind of tourist you will still be able to appreciate and touch millennial history with your own hands. 

    Culture in Sicily is everywhere,
    as our island boasts more than 3,000 years of history, going back to the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Normans, Arabs, Germans, Spaniards. The list is so long!

    Each and every of these peoples left a remarkable footprint in our dna, in who we are, what we eat and how we do things. Due to all these dominations, the majority of our cities are open-air museums. Simple as that!
Fried calamari, typical Sicilian dish
  • FOOD & WINE – Italian food is renowned all over the world, but who does actually know the ancient tradition of the Sicilian cuisine? Our food is so various and unique, because it’s the result of this melting pot of dominations and cultures. And it changes from one province to another.
    Any true Sicilian human being cannot conceive neither accept any social activity that doesn’t involve eating some kind of food. Also wine is very important in our style of living, just think that 3 of the most famous wines in the world are actually Sicilian: Marsala, Nero d’Avola and Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Come on!
  • PRICES - Compared to a lot of other places in Europe and Italy itself, many parts of Sicily have reasonable prices. Hotels and bed & breakfast can vary according to locations, services offered, high or low seasons, but you can have a cappuccino and a croissant for 3,00 euros and there are lots of places where you can have an excellent dinner or a very good pizza for 16,00-20,00 euros per person, including drinks, starters and sometimes even dessert.
  • SICILIAN HEROES - The last reason is the most delicate and complicated one. No matter how appealing the points 1,2,3 and 4 can be, too often when I talk about Sicily, one of the first comment I get is about the organised crime: “You’ve got the mafia!”
    Thank you. Like I need someone who has never visited my own land to remind me of that! Some of these people make even their remarks winking at me or with an exciting smile on their faces, thinking it will be entertaining just like in the Godfather saga.
The image of St.Pino Puglisi, Catholic priest assassinated by the mafia in 1993

Personally I’d rather be associated with names like Saint Pino Puglisi, Paolo Borsellino, Libero Grassi, Peppino Impastato, Giovanni Falcone and many others. Who are they?
A catholic priest, a judje, an entrepreneur, a free thinker, another judje. What do they have in common?
Well, these are only few names of the thousands of men and women that heroically stepped out from the crowd and faced the mafia. They decided not to compromise or hid their head in the sand, even when their lives were in danger. They wanted to live a free life and fought to make Sicily a better place, until the ultimate sacrifice.

So… if you want to come to Sicily please do it for our beautiful blue sea and breathtaking landscapes, our extraordinary history, our monuments, our exquisite food and superb wine, our very competitive prices, but come also to honor our heroes. Because when you pay respect to them you inevitably give voice to freedom, courage, integrity, hope, honest work, legality, pure love.

This is the REAL SOUL of Sicily.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

In Mazara del Vallo the 3 days of the "Red Prawn!"

The Red Prawn of Mazara, photo source:

The prince of shellfish is going to be the protagonist of the next three days in Mazara del Vallo, Western Sicily. I am obviously talking about the RED PRAWN, which is one of the most sought-after quality of prawns in the Mediterranean sea and is typical of the area of Mazara, in the province of Trapani.

Organized by a cultural association "Innovazione e Cultura", the event will start tomorrow the 23rd of July and will end Sunday the 26th at the Hotel Mahara. There will be workshops, conversations about food and cooking shows where three chefs from the last edition of Masterchef Italy (Filippo Cassano, Arianna Contenti and Giuseppe Garozzo Zannini Quirini) will cook this amazing sea product in different ways, explaining all the steps of their recipes.

The Medieval Castle of Erice (Tp)
I am sure this occasion will be an excellent starting point for letting visitors try this superb seafood of our territory and discover the area of Trapani and Mazara more and more, area which has a lot to offer to tourists in terms of delicious food but also breathtaking spots and history. 
And to give even more importance to this event on saturday 25th the Mazara Council has decided to have a "white night", which means that museums, shops and commercial activities in general should remain open even at night to allow visitors to see, taste, appreciate the best of our local products.

Suggestion: while you are there, why not passing by some amazing locations like San Vito Lo Capo, Marsala, the Saline in Trapani or Erice? What better opportunity than this to spend some exciting days in Western Sicily? The red prawn and not only the red prawn is waiting for you.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

King prawns linguine paired with Mandrarossa Viognier

Do you know how to cook a delicious plate of "linguine with gamberi" in the Sicilian way? This is an exquisite dish if you love sea food like me and have the right ingredient: fresh prawns!
Its preparation is pretty straitghtforward but I would suggest to make the sauce at least one hour in advance so that has enough time to set and blend all the flavors

Ingredients for 4 people:
400 gr. linguine
400 gr cooked chopped tomatoes
a pinch of nutmeg
1 clove of garlic
200 gr. king prawns (or any other quality you like)
half glass of white wine
half of a small chilli pepper
a bunch of fresh parsley

1. On a high heat prepare the pot for the linguine with 3/4 of water.
2. In the meantime in a frying pan or a sauce pan pour a drizzle of olive oil and a clove of garlic and leave it for few minutes until the garlic becomes slightly gold.
3. Add the king prawns and after a couple of minutes the half glass of wine and let them cook until the wine is completely reduced.
4. Finally it's the turn of the chopped tomatoes. Mix all together and let the sauce cook for at least 10-15 more minutes adjusting also with salt, sugar, chilli pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. 

5. When the water in the pot is boiling, cook pasta as usual, but don't forget to salt it first. Normally you can find the cooking time on the packet, according to the shape and lenght of pasta. 
If it says 12 minutes, drain it after 10 e mix it in the sauce pan with the sauce for 2-3 more minutes, so that it will continue to cook together with the sauce, just like the picture here on the left. As soon as it's ready, place it on a plate and sprinkle some fresh parsley on top. 

Believe me, it will be one of the most delicate and scented dish of pasta you have ever tasted!

I personally think that the perfect pairing for this recipe is the Mandrarossa white viognier which is called "La Seniè". 
It is a wine with a low percentage of acidity. It is quite structured and highly aromatic. In particular it has aromas of flowers and fruits such as peaches, which make it particularly pleasant and enjoyable to drink.  

Perfect with sea food is also recommended with spicy cuisine. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Considerations on Sicily, food, work and mafia

Who doesn't like the movie "The Godfather"? Undoubtedly it's a good movie. Some say even a masterpiece. But... it's just a movie. Reality is different.
A couple of weeks ago I spent a day out with my colleagues. Being at 50 mt far from the sea we thought the best food to have for lunch was definitely fish & chips. Not particularly original, I know. Anyway, ...we wandered for a little while and, when I say wander I mean it, ... until we found a place to eat. 

As soon as I heard the name I didn't really want to eat there. It was called: "The cod father", obviously re-phrasing the famous Coppola's gansgter movie. Not enough with the name, they probably thought it was also funny to add the image of a happy fish (a cod I can tell!!!) holding a gun.

At this point questions come naturally: WHY? Why would you associate the name of your business to something so dreadful? Do you have a marketing advisor? Can you not sell your fish and chips without gloryfing the mafia? 

I am pretty sure that for the majority of people around the world this is not a problem at all, but let me tell you that if this business was located in another part of the globe... let's say for example... in Sicily, there won't be any laughter, as mob is synonymous of death, illegality, violence on any level, murders of judjes, priests, public officers, innocent men & women and even kids. Yes, for some of us the mafia is actually something not funny at all. And it's not a movie, is everyday life, something you can touch and see with your own eyes.

I will
explain in details how it works in Sicily: when we have an entrepreneur that wants to create a business, open a bar or a restaurant, basically a person who wants to work honestly, life is hard if you are based there. Stories are all the same. Only the names keep changing.
And yet I heard another one recently.

It's the Massaro Bar and Pasticceria who has received unpleasant visits and threats in the last few months. They want the owner and former journalist Francesco Massaro to pay the "pizzo" to the mob, but he stands up strong and with sarcasm replies: "I am not paying for protection, but we have already got raided twice. The third time are we getting a kind of bonus?"

Last year I wrote about the struggles that Chef Natale Giunta had to go through to fight against the organised crime who was asking again money in return for protection of his popular restaurant. Then it was the turn of excellent Sicilian spot Sant'Andrea in the heart of the historical centre of Palermo that, after 20 years of hard work, announced it was about to shut down for good, after receiving continuous threats and intimidations for refusing to payoff, including a huge fire in front of their entrance last march.

After that we heard the story of patisserie Palazzolo, who was asked to pay a large bribe to secure his place inside the airport "Falcone & Borsellino", which not only is illegal and outrageous but if we also consider that Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino are the names of the two judjes killed by the mafia in may 23rd and july 19th 1992 well... it leaves us totally speechless. I could go on and on... as I know thousands of similar stories, and as I said, only the names keep changing. 

Bottom line is... as a Sicilian I feel deeply offended and hurt by all these people that around the world (I know there are several places in other countries as well) exalt something that negative and even make a profit out of it. Something that over decades have spilled so much blood, ripped families apart leaving kids orphans of their parents in so much pain. It's an open wound and always will be! 

Bottom line... if your father, mother, brother, sister or friend were assassinated by one of these organizations only because they wanted to run a business honestly, without bending to their requests, I guess you would take it a bit more seriously. And yesssssss, the world would be a better place. Certainly a place with more conscious human beings.

Are we or are we not living in the era of globalization? You can't say 'I didn't know' anymore, people must start opening their eyes and possibly their brains as well.

I will always support those entrepreneurs that with courage try to work every day in such difficult places around the world, despite the fear, the threats, the violence that surrounds them. And of course I am with those who have lost a relative and suffered for that, because... I can't stress enough the concept: it is not a movie, it is not "tomato sauce" on the shirt, for some of us it's real pain and real blood!