Have you watched the movie Fifth Element? For those who have, remember the scene when Liilou is confronted by alien life? She has trouble breathing as she takes in the scene of an unfolding frenzied city. Point being, we had a few Liilou moments of our own when venturing the very unconventional and idiosyncratic land known as Sicily. .
Dropping the hire car at the airport early, we decided to hop on a bus and spend one our last days in Sicily’s capital of Palermo as the chaos of driving through the labyrinth had left us on edge. I thought I was well equipped to handle the high level of energy Italians seem to thrive at, fuelled by shots of neat black heart racing coffee, and a manic lifestyle while sharing the same background, I was wrong. Everything regarding Sicily was intensely emotional from the history, food to the views to the traffic and Palermo was no exception. Perpetual and mind boggling ancient streets tightly packed with blocks of noisy residential layers complete with quintessential laundry drying from the romantically decaying balconies. At ground zero, disorganised shops and business spilling out into the streets while goading down on this unruly scene are the soaring Norman Byzantine Cappella Palatina and several Cathedrals from the 12 century. This city is action packed with new marvels at every corner. Gravitated towards the taboo yet enticing backstreet markets, operating much the same for centuries, our senses were immediately overwhelmed. Feeling like time travellers and reversed back a few eons, only to be confronted with pungent odours collaborating with the spectacle of fish mongers washing blood and entrails of unrecognisable sea creatures, down blocked prehistoric ruined gutters. Trays of mint and oil marinated sheep heads staring blindly and awaiting their fate in the hopefully salmonella killing ovens and baskets of disorderly snails trying to make a crawl to freedom as their keepers pluck them back into their fate leaving silvery trails over all other the goods for sale. A comatose alcohol merchant either sleeping or expired on top of his wares had us hurrying past and while trying to avert the kid’s eyes, we ourselves were completely distracted by the representatives of every conceivable human race present selling every conceivable trade good imaginable. We were not in the position to purchase anything as we were leaving the next day but I did manage to stuff a tiny cow print espresso coffee machine into our already overweight luggage. We meandered for hours along this mesmerising scene and our surprise destination was a grandiose wedding of affluent Sicilian family within the 15th century Baroque Chiesa di Santa Maria di Gesu.
Unfortunately the bride was totally eclipsed by the breath taking interior of black and white marble base reliefs crowned by the glorious seventeenth century painting of St Luke by Ignazio Marabitti. While just sitting and marvelling at this most wondrous of environs, we gratifyingly understood our senses had now been saturated soaked and fully sedated. It was with this feeling of completeness we disembarked Sicily. Upon our return to Rome and while sharing our wide eyed and colourful stories with the Italian family, my mother laughed and casually slapping me on my shoulder and remarked. “its life..get into it.”
Pasta Con La Bottarga
150gms Tuna Roe
2to 3 Cloves Garlic
Boil pasta in plenty salted water. Heat oil in pan saute garlic then stir in the roe and crush. Drain pasta, add roe parsley and chilli.
Alcamo or Etna Vino Novello
The Leopard Giuseppe Tomasidi Lampedusa
The Sicilian Mario Puzo
Sicilain Cooking Eufemia Azzolina Pupella
Cooking with Giovanna, First Blog……how exciting
Sicily 10th September 2010
“Howling wind on arrival with impossibly looming and overhanging craggy cliffs offering a false sense of security with protection from the wind on one hand but the ever present thought of a sudden crumbling of cliffs, catapulting everything including us, into the Mediterranean ocean”.
Armed with 2 litres of local homemade wine and fresh cloudy delicious homemade olive oil, purchased from our newfound best friend Enzo who owned the well stocked little (negosia) corner shop, we embarked on what would become a contagious desire to return to the unforgiving cobblestone streets hosting impromptu festivals celebrating everything from the Madonna protecting the fishing fleet to a homage of Bertolli Beans and pasta. We found to our gastronomic pleasure that the rich and fertile volcanic soil germinated produce, permeated with the delicate aroma and flavour of cinnamon which has led us to add cinnamon to most of our culinary practice, evoking the pleasurable eating sensations we discovered.
The surprising but hauntingly beautiful sounds of Islamic call to prayer in some of the westernly situated towns, had perplexed us on more than one occasion, as to what we imagined we had
stumbled into. Coupled with clandestine walks through Palermo’s backstreet markets to gasp in wonder at what was locally considered to be edible. A stop in Corleone to walk the piazza where mafia urban legend tells of a mother licking her son’s blood off the pavement after he was gunned down. Our stay in Sicily was remarkable as it felt akin to the final frontier of cultural fusion with the many influences of its chaotic tumult past, challenging our already heightened senses.
Visiting the extraordinarily ancient city of Syracuse, fortified the Brad Pitts legend of Sinbad the Sailor for the kids while my tantalising Herculean day dream was rudely interrupted by the annoying sounds of a demanding piano accordion playing gypsy chasing me down the street for money.
As this small island is home to over 5 million people in a space less than half the size of Tasmania, negating the roads became a dual of religious faith and iniquity by the offering of my prayers to deactivate my husband’s blasphemy. A little stress while travelling is an expected thing apparently.
So here I am back in Brisbane, busy planing our next venture to Sicily with more people in tow eager to experience for them selves, the vivid and colourful legends we ourselves have created from our wonderful memories of this most ancient of lands.
In honour of the humble Sicilian Zucchini, I offer a traditional recipe eaten by all locals, including ourselves, at the Zucchini Festival. It was passed on to me via Enzo’s 80 year old mother who still makes wine and the best olive oil.
2 large Zucchini diced
3 lg potatoes diced
2 tomatoes chopped
1 onion sliced
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
Fry onion in Sicilian olive oil, (where possible) add garlic then potatoes, cook for 10 mins, stirring occasionally so the don’t stick. Add zucchini and tomatoes with a little water, cook till everything done, approx 10 mins. Season and add to cooked pasta,
Allegro Al Dente. Pasta and Opera.
Lonely Plant Guide to Sicily
The Stone Boudoir, by Teresa Maggio
Normans in Sicily. A medieval history guide. John Norwich
The Legend of Sinbad, Brad Pitt, Catherine Zita Jones.
No self respecting avid traveller would miss the opportunity to visit some of Europe’s most infamous cemeteries including Pere Lachaise in Paris and the Strangers Cemetery in Rome. Being Halloween I thought I would reminisce some highlights of our surreptitious walks through these intriguing locations. As one pensively meanders around the snarling vine encrusted and decaying graves that is the commotion of Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, coupled with typical screeching of overhead crows, one cannot help but be sobered by the sight of such a departure from this life.