I am constantly, astounded and enthralled by Italy’s culinary agenda. Pizza, pasta, prosciutto, gelato, brioche – so many of the greats hail from the Italian shores.
Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world, and I can guarantee that many flock to the Mediterranean must-have in search of mouth-watering pizza, fresh pasta, good coffee and a decent brioche. Italy is a country defined by its gastronomy, name me a city and I can guarantee that an Italian restaurant will be looming conspicuously in sight.
My favourites? I am fortunate in that my other half is Italian, with parents residing in Milan. Christmas is a culinary feast with lasagna, vitello tonnato, panettone, prosecco and chianti featuring as the main protagonists. Pasqua (Eater) is again a cause for culinary celebration – Carciofi e patate soffritti, arancini and agnello come out in force. But, there’s one thing that’s always slightly bewildered me – I don’t gain copious amounts of weight when I eat Italian food. In fact, I gain none. Rather, the quality is sublime and while it may be a carb-heavy diet, there’s something to be said about only using eminent ingredients and abstaining from ready-meals.
My time in Sicily was marvelous and gastronomically it was an enlightenment. Arancini balls as big as your fists, homemade brioches stuffed with hazelnut crème, fresh figs, lashings of spaghetti and mussels freshly picked from the sea – everything oozed freshness, quality, care and love.
Too often do we buy our ingredients and meals in haste. Too often do we have a sandwich on the go and wash it down with a fizzy drink and a side of salty crisps. Even the commercially favoured takeaway coffee cannot be found in Sicily. Rather, there’s a wonderful culture of enjoying a shot of espresso at the ‘bar’ (not, in the traditional sense) in a delicate crisp white china cup alongside a chaser of sparkling water.
Like most travelers in an unknown city, we found a favourite restaurant and returned religiously every night. Sapori di Mare is located on the footsteps of UNESCO site, Scalla dei Turchi. It was here, in this local trattoria that we ate an antipasto of zuppa di cozze (mussels) drenched in white wine and parsley and mopped it up with homemade pane (bread).
The Italians have a word for ‘mopping up’ (so bland in English). La Scarpetta, literally meaning ‘make the little shoe’, is the ritual of cleaning your plate and savoring the last of your sauce with a slice of bread. It is so ingrained within Italian gastronomic culture that no matter where you eat, whether at home or in a restaurant, bread is always served.
For our divine dinner, a side of baby friend squid was the perfect accompaniment to a first course of spaghetti vongole. The clams still tasted of salty sea water and with a little oil and chili, was the epitome of epicurean heaven.
For main, swordfish and a green salad, with a shot of limoncello as a digestive.
Simple food, simple pleasures. Or, as the Italians say: Mangiare per vivere e non vivere per mangiare – Eat to live, not live to eat.
Antipasto / Zuppe di cozze
Primo / Spaghetti alle vongole
Secondo / Pesce Spada
Contorno / Insalata Verde
Dolce / Granita
Beve / Vino Bianco e Limoncello