Look out, NASA! You've got competition from Sicily, no less, in the form of the "Sicilian Space Program"! This was the brainchild of three young people from Enna - Antonella Barbera, Fabio Leone and Paolo Capasso - who one evening had the idea of sending a cannolo into space.
Our determined space pioneers paid for the mission from their own funds and equipped themselves with two video cameras, an empty ice cream carton, a GPS system, a helium-filled balloon, a small parachute and, of course, the "cannolo", made from modelling paste.
Next, they had to get permission from Enac [the Italian Civil Aviation Authority], Enav [the company which provides civilian air traffic control to the Italian state] and the military at Sigonella - all of which took 45 days, during which time the three friends finalised the details of their project.
At last, the launch date of 2nd February arrived and the cannolo took off from Rocca di Cirere in the Enna Geopark. It reached a height of almost 30,000 metres before the balloon disintegrated two hours later and the parachute brought the adventurous cannolo back to earth as planned. It was retrieved by the "Sicilian Space Program" team at Bompietro in the Madonie [Palermo Province], 25 km from the launch site.
Antonella, Fabio and Paolo say they see the cannolo flight as a gift to Sicilians and hope it has made them smile. I think it is safe to say they have achieved this, as the video has now gone viral. They also say they celebrated with a cannoli party - let's hope that this time they were well-deserved real ones!
Even though it's started raining again, you can tell it's spring by the armfuls of Sicilian asparagus being sold from vegetable lorries at the roadside and the other day I decided I could resist no longer! As there's still a bit of pumpkin to be had, I saw no reason for not combining these two favourite risotto vegetables of mine:
First, take a piece of pumpkin weighing about 250 gr and separate the flesh from the skin. Discard any fibrous bits and the seeds, then chop the flesh into small chunks. Now prepare the asparagus - as I said, I got about an armful! Wash it, then cut it diagonally about an inch below the spears. [Sicilian asparagus is very tender so you can leave more of the stalks on if you wish, or chop and add them separately.] Cook the pumpkin in a pan of salted, boiling water for about 10 mins or until tender, then add the asparagus for just a minute or two. Drain.
In a wide pan at least 2 inches deep, soften a chopped white onion in 4 tablesp olive oil. As I've said before, there are only two secrets to making a good risotto: one is to use the right kind of rice and the other is contained in that word I would ban in other circumstances - pazienza. Once the onion is softened, add about 2 tablesp out of 500 gr arborio or other risotto rice and stir it around for about a minute. Have ready 1 litre of vegetable or chicken stock. [If you are awfully good and have had time you'll have made the stock from the asparagus stalks and some other vegetables but I'm not and I didn't.] Now add the rest of the rice and about one third of the stock. Stir everything, turn the heat down and go and do something useful such as checking that the world didn't end while you weren't on facebook. Come back, check that the rice has absorbed the stock and if it has, add another third. [If it hasn't, stir and wait!] Repeat the process, adding, with the final third of the stock, some seasoning - I decided it was time to use that nice lemon and mint flavoured seasalt I showed you a couple of weeks ago - some chopped fresh sage and the pumpkin and asparagus. Add the juice of a lemon, stir and let the rice absorb the last of the stock. Once it has and is al dente, stir in a couple of tablesp grated Parmesan, Grana Padano or Ragusano cheese and add a few knobs of butter. Stir vigorously and serve.
Spring may have come to Sicily but in Modica there is still a distinct shortage of ice cream. I don't mean the mass-produced stuff, which can always be obtained, but traditional gelato made from the freshest ingredients and, usually, on the premises where you eat it.
Most Sicilians can't understand why anyone would want ice cream in February and even if it were 40°C out there it wouldn't make any difference. It's just not time, you see.
In Catania on Saturday, though, a friend and I did partake of these sinful specimens and very glad we were to have found them!
Italy's new Premier Matteo Renzi is a man who likes to make an impression and he certainly did that in the country's Senate yesterday when, a few minutes into the speech in which he asked for the chamber's confidence, he admitted,
"Non ho l'età" - "I'm not old enough."
You have to be 40 to be elected to the Senate, you see and Mr Renzi is a mere stripling of 39 - old enough, therefore, to lead his country but too young for its upper chamber. Yes, I know this is absurd, but pazienza - we are in Italy! Those of you who are as old as I am may remember that the line is the title of the Italian song which won both Sanremo and the Eurovision Song Contest in 1964, when it was sung by Gigliola Cinquetti.
The joke, along with the rest of Mr Renzi's speech, went down quite well with young people, although some expressed concern on twitter that he doesn't know any more modern songs. And I take my twitter hat off to the tweeter who first came up with the idea of changing the hashtag #nonholeta to #nonholetta - "I don't have Letta"!
Gigliola Cinquetti, now aged 66, said she was pleased that the song had been quoted and hoped it was an omen for an efficient government.
For me the masterstroke of Mr Renzi's speech was the assertion that he hoped he would be the last Prime Minister who would have to ask the Senate for a vote of confidence - a reference to reforms of the parliamentary system that he wishes to bring in. He also said that education will be a priority. I do not wish to be cynical but where have I heard that before?
Sanremo 2014 had its high points - among them standing ovations for guest stars Gino Paoli, Claudio Baglioni, Ligabue and Cat Stevens - but I can't say that there was any one song in the competition which made me want to rush to my phone and vote.
This song from Arisa was the winner and it probably was the best of the bunch:
Trains are generally held to be unreliable in Sicily and sweeping service cuts by Trenitalia since December have not exactly restored confidence. However, the unitiated might have been impressed by the company's announcement that on the Palermo-Messina line, a train would leave Cefalù at 06.56 and arrive in Castelbuono a mere seven minutes later, while a train running in the opposite direction would leave Castelbuono at 06.53 and arrive in Cefalù at 07.00 precisely. The only detail the planners had overlooked was the fact that this segment of the line is single-track.
Needless to say, commuters in the area are not happy and I can't help wondering what Mr Tim Parks would make of it!
I am hopeless with plants - they see me and die - but, like Welsh folk everywhere, I feel honour-bound to obtain some daffodils for St David's Day [coming up on March 1st.] The carpet of daffodils that is Wales in the spring is something I really miss.
Daffodils are hard to find here but a couple of weeks ago I found a few bulbs, which I have been nurturing on the kitchen table. I was so pleased to discover that one of the plants had actually flowered yesterday! As you see, I am hardly likely to produce "a host" of them but I'm trying, Wales, really!
I was very pleased and touched when my student Giorgio put this photo on facebook with the caption,
"Un amico mi disse: 'Investi su te stesso, fai un corso di inglese - ti servirà.' Be che dirti avevi veramente ragione. A friend said to me, 'Invest in yourself - do an English course because it will be useful.' I have to say you were right."
For my part, it's always nice to be someone's first English teacher. Thank you, Giorgio!
Here is yet another variation on a whole piece of lonza [pork loin]! This time I had decided I needed to use up the cranberry sauce I'd made just after Christmas, and had the idea of using it with lonza. I knew it needed a kick of something but couldn't think quite what. Then, in the middle of the night, I thought of campari. I didn't have any in the house but the owner of the bar opposite was happy to give me some in an espresso cup! Here's what I did:
Ask your butcher to make a few incisions in a 1.5 kg piece of lonza so that you can insert slices of orange in them. [This time you don't want the lonza in butcher's netting.] When you get the meat home, insert half an orange slice in each incision, along with a leaf of fresh sage and a couple of rosemary needles. Rub over some coarse seasalt [I used pink Himalayan salt] and a couple of grindings of mixed peppercorns and tie the lonza at intervals with kitchen string. Put it in a dish and pour over the juice of an orange and 200 ml white wine. Marinate in the fridge for 2 hours or so, turning once.
When you are ready to cook, turn the lonza back over and place it in a smallish roasting pan lined first with foil and then with baking parchment. Pour the marinade over it and cook for 1 hour at 180 C. [Italian ovens tend to be fast so I turned mine down to 160 C half way through cooking.] Baste the lonza after half an hour.
Just before the cooking time is up, mix about 200 gr cranberry sauce with the juice of another orange and half an espresso cup of campari. Place in a shallow pan on the hob and cook, stirring. When the mixture bubbles, turn the heat down and keep stirring for another 2 mins. Pour this over the pork and give it another 5 mins in the oven.
Cut off the string, carve the pork and serve with the sauce.