Last weekend, I hit upon the idea of combining good tomato sauce and Dijon-style mustard to cook with pork and this dish worked so well I'll be making it again tomorrow!
Thinly slice 6 courgettes and arrange them in a lightly oiled ceramic or Pyrex roasting dish. Finely chop two red onions and spread them over the courgettes. Season.
Now brown 8 boneless pork chops - thin ones, like escalopes - in 3 tablesp olive oil. Drain them on kitchen paper, then arrange on top of the courgettes and onions. Add a handful of rinsed and drained salted capers.
Mix 330 g homemade tomato sauce or bought passata with a dessertspoon of Dijon-style mustard, some seasoning, a little paprika and a little dried oregano.. Mix well and pour over the chops.
A multi-faith funeral was held in Catania yesterday for the 17 migrants whose bodies were recovered from the Sicilian Channel on 12th May and one can only hope that even the buireaucrats of the EU will be moved to act by the heartbreaking images of the coffins, including two small, white ones containing the bodies of children, placed side by side in the courtyard of the city's Palazzo Platamone.
Mayor of Catania Enzo Biancho said:
"Europe, faced with these coffins, must choose. We can lay to rest, in the always welcoming island of Sicily, these poor birds of passage, carried northwards by their instinct for survival. We do this in this multi-faith ceremony, by which we set great store. We accord these men, women and children who were in search of hope the greatest dignity as we bury them. But Europe must choose - and must do so today - whether we bury with them our moral responsibility as civilised human beings."
The Italian military rescued 200 other migrants from the same boat but no one knows how many were lost.
"Che le cose siano così, non vuol dire che debbano andare così. Solo che, quando si tratta di rimboccarsi le maniche e incominciare a cambiare, vi è un prezzo da pagare, ed è allora che la stragrande maggioranza preferisce lamentarsi piuttosto che fare."
"The fact that things are as they are does not mean that they must stay as they are. But there is this: when it comes to rolling up your sleeves and trying to change things, there is a price for you to pay and it is then that the great majority of people prefer to complain rather than do something."
- Giovanni Falcone, 18.5.1939 - 23.5.1992
Capaci Massacre of 23.5.1992:
Giovanni Falcone - antimafia magistrate Francesca Morvillo - Giovanni Falcone's wife, also a magistrate
Rocco Di Cillo, Antonio Montinaro and Vito Schifani - members of Giovanni Falcone's escort
I cannot let today go by without marking the 90th birthday of a very special Frenchman whose songs have always meant a lot to me so bon anniversaire, cher Charles. I wonder if he knows that he achieved the greatest honour of them all last week - a mention on The Archers!
Here's a delicious pizza topping which requires no pre-cooking and, as I invented it on a Wednesday, I might as well name it for that day!
As I've mentioned before, I use the pizza base recipe in Claudia Roden's original Mediterranean Cookery book, but only half the quantity.
When your pizza dough has risen - after about 1 hour - roll it out into a rectangular shape on a floured board. Pull it a bit with your hands to get it the right shape for a baking tray. Put it on a lightly oiled baking tray and spread the contents of a 400 gr tin tomato pulp on it. [You could use a thick passata if you cannot get this.] Sprinkle over some seasoning and arrange 6 slices of Speck on top. Then add 100 gr chopped mozzarella [we can buy it ready-chopped for pizza here] and arrange 12 halved datterini tomatoes [or the smallest cherry tomatoes you can find] on top of that. Sprinkle over some more seasoning. Next, add a few slices of grilled red and yellow peppers [drained] from a jar of grilled peppers in oil and some drained and rinsed salted capers. Add another 100 gr chopped mozzarella and scatter over some torn basil leaves.
Cook the pizza at 180 - 200 C for 25 mins. Decorate with more fresh basil leaves to serve. Serves four very generously and probably six!
Prices are creeping up in Sicily and last weekend I was horrified at the bill for my supermarket shop, even though the most exotic item on it was a washing-up brush. It was exotic, to me, because it's the first time, in nine years, that I've been able to find one here! I was amused at the attempt at translation on the label, where it was described as a "broom."
At last! Someone has provided the Comune of Modica with the correct translation of "centro storico". I've been telling my students that "old town" is preferable to "historic centre" for years, but few of them have believed me. One of our local newspapers isn't entirely convinced, either but I'd like to assure them it's right. Long may the old town live on!
I like Negramaro's take on this famous song, which has been adopted by the Italian World Cup squad. I'm not posting the official video as it would probably get taken off if I did but it's fun and you can find it here. Hope this version stays on!
As regular readers will know, I have enjoyed all three series of MasterChef Italiaand have written about the programme several times, the most recent post being this one.
It had been a long time since I'd watched MasterChef UK but this year - thanks to the wonders of technology - I managed it and what a series it has been! Last night's episode from Barcelona was a joy to watch and tonight's final kept everyone guessing until the very last minute. For those of you who are not in the UK, the deserving winner was this lady.
I must say I found the series very refreshing and calm after the noise and clamour of the Italian version! That is not to imply that the contestants do not work flat out in the UK version, because they do. They just don't let their inner panic show and, although a few tears of relief and exhaustion are not unheard of at the end of particularly challenging rounds, emotion is largely contained.
The British contestants do not argue with the judges, make bitchy or near-racist remarks about each other, clap themselves or sulk and, strangely enough, the programme's twitter commenters do not generally tweet their observations about the contestants' or judges' appearance or clothes [and here I must confess that I couldn't help asking where Spanish guest judge Christian Escribà got his spectacles last night]. It would also be hard to imagine the UK judges throwing dishes they don't like across the studio, à la Joe Bastianich.
From watching the series, I have learnt that in my own country there is a fashion for "deconstructing" classic dishes, a concept which would be incomprehensible to an Italian, to whom a tiramisù, for instance, is a tiramisù and if it is deconstructed, it is something, or several things, else. The British cooks, inspired by some of their country's top chefs, also have a penchant for precariously leaning one piece of food against another, creating dishes with at least seventeen component parts [ or "throwing too much at a plate", as a series catchphrase goes] and for serving dishes which consist of just one piece of pasta - beautifully filled, admittedly, but horrifying to an Italian cook.
On this programme, no one can pronounce pistacchio, bruschetta or gnocchi and chefs and voice-over lady alike have trouble with the concept that pasta types are plural.
But what has really surprised me is the extent to which the British chefs use their bare hands during the cooking process and in "plating up". [Incidentally , the Italian equivalent of this word, impiattare, has just entered the dictionary.] They even use their hands to press down food that is in a hot pan and there is never a catering glove in sight! Yes, I know you have to use your bare hands sometimes and my own mother used to say, "A good cook uses her hands" but there are some limits! I suppose this has struck me because Italians are very fussy about not touching food with their hands, especially when they're eating in public. If you are served a croissant with jam in a bar, for instance, it won't come on a plate with a knife and a little pot of jam; the jam will have been injected in and the croissant will be part-wrapped in a paper napkin so that you don't have to touch it with your hands. The only exception to this "no hands" rule is, of course, pizza.
Anyway, the British series is over for another year and I'm wondering who I can fall in love with now that lovely, knowledgeable chef John Torode and Cockney charmer Gregg Wallace will not be popping up on my screen on Wednesday - Friday nights. During the Italian series, you may remember, I was rather taken with Italy's "sexy chef" Carlo Cracco and I did start watching his Hell's Kitchen Italiaseries. I stopped, however, after an episode in which two teams of contestants were taken to a farm to "catch" the animals for the food they were to prepare. I do eat meat and that means I have to accept that animals are killed to feed me but I don't have to watch people making a game of it.
I have one suggestion for John, Gregg and the MasterChef UK team - next year, why not bring the contestants to Modica, the chocolate town?
Pozzallo, so often in the news these days as an arrival point for migrants or in connection with migrant tragedies, had something to celebrate yesterday when its beach again won the right to display the prestigious blue flag. In what must have been an enormous blow to the town, Pozzallo had lost its bandiera blu last year, so it was good to read that it has got it back.
The bandiera blu is awarded annually by the Foundation for Environmental Education [FEE] to over 3,850 beaches and marinas in 48 countries. Water quality, safety, environmental management and education, information and services are among the criteria.
In Sicily seven locations are listed this year and they are:
Vulcano and Lipari [Aeolian Islands]
il lido di Signorino [Marsala]
Marina di Ragusa
In Italy as a whole Liguria was awarded the most blue flags in 2014, Tuscany is second and le Marche is third.
Some newspapers in Sicily are commenting that seven flags are not many for a place with so many beaches and that the island really ought to have done better. Well done, Pozzallo, all the same!
Yet another tragedy is unfolding in the Mediterranean as I write this evening and it comes only a day after 40 migrants were drowned off the Libyan coast. The facts about today's sad events are not yet clear but this is what we know so far:
At about 1pm Italian time today, the Italian Coast Guard picked up an SOS call from a migrant boat in trouble. The boat was 100 miles south of Lampedusa and actually nearer the Libyan coast than that of Italy. Italian Coast Guard boats, merchant and naval ships and a Guardia di Finanza vessel were scrambled to the scene and saved 200 migrants. Seventeen bodies have also been recovered but it is feared that there may be many more, as it is possible that there were up to 400 people on the boat.
Once again Italian politicians have spoken to EU officials in the strongest terms and this time, it seems, they are listening: Cecilia Malmström has said she is shocked and has called upon all member states to consider how they can help. Prime Minister Renzi is to visit Sicily on Wednesday and he, too, is expected to reiterate calls for urgent EU help.
Libya's Interior Minister has told the EU that his country will help migrants to leave it illegally if the organisation does not help Libya to patrol its borders and today a Libyan naval spokesman said that the nation does not have the means to help in this latest rescue operation. Meanwhile Giovanni Pinto, Italy's Director of Immigration, has asserted that more and more inadequate boats are leaving Libya carrying migrants because the people traffickers know that Italian vessels will go as near as they legally can to the Libyan coast to save their passengers.
Italian newspapers are today carrying a video shot by a Syrian migrant on his sea crossing. He had sailed with 232 others and spent 11 days at sea without food or water. Now in Pozzallo, the man handed the video over to the Italian authorities who used it to help them identify and arrest two alleged people traffickers.
Poor Italy - whatever she does in this situation she seems to be doing it alone and whatever she does she is criticised.
Still they come, the inadequate vessels with their human cargoes fleeing situations which, for most of us, are unimaginable, and the Italian Navy, Coast Guard and other personnel are now saving an estimated 2,000 migrants a day. Operazione Mare Nostrum, the Italian humanitarian mission in the Mediterranean, has become highly controversial as it is being suggested, in some quarters, that it is encouraging migration and helping people traffickers to ply their trade.
On Wednesday alone 2,262 migrants were rescued at sea and brought to safety in Sicilian ports by the Italian Navy. Of these 1,142, among them a new-born baby, were brought to Augusta and 298, including 19 minors, to Pozzallo. Sadly the body of a young Eritrean man was found on one of the migrant boats. Police say he could have died from the hardships of the journey or from injuries sustained prior to it. Murder has not been ruled out as I write this on Thursday. Italian military saluted as the man's body was carried ashore.
This afternoon hundreds of migrants who had been rescued at sea yesterday and taken to the reception centre at Siculiana [Agrigento] escaped and put themselves in danger walking along the motorway towards Agrigento itself. This is only one of many such incidents in recent weeks, for all reception centres in Sicily are now overcrowded and have inadequate facilities.
Most of the migrants want to go north anyway and a lot further north than mainland Italy, where several mayors have made it clear that migrants would not be welcome in their towns. The Mayor of Chieti [Abruzzo] has written to Interior Minister Alfano saying that his town does not have adequate facilities for the migrants and suggesting that those already there are causing "social tensions" in the community. Here in Modica a group of parents protested last week because, having heard that some migrants had been diagnosed with scabies, TB and AIDS, they did not want their children to go on a school trip in a bus that had been used to transport migrants from Pozzallo to Ragusa. Yes, I know there would be outrage and cries of "Racism!" if such a thing were to happen in the UK but here most people have some sympathy with the parents. None of this, of course, makes for happy communities.
Therefore a certain politician who landed on this island on Monday must have thought he would find fertile ground for his views. I refer to Mr Matteo Salvini, Federal Secretary of the Lega Nord. Mr Salvini said he had been "called" by the Sicilian people and had come to help them "because Sicily and Italy are [dealing with the situation] alone, while Europe doesn't care." Hmmm - last time I checked Sicily was still part of Italy, Mr Salvini but it is true that Europe, viewed from here, seems to be doing nothing. Mr Salvini believes that Operazione Mare Nostrum should be stopped as the money would be better spent on aid to migrants' countries of origin. Aid may well, in the end, be the only answer, but as I've said many times before, Italy cannot leave desperate people to die just metres from its shores. It is interesting that the leader of a party whose very existence is founded on its disowning of the South suddenly finds himself "called" to be the saviour of Sicily.
I had to take yesterday's post down as the video had been taken off Youtube. I'm sorry I lost some of your comments in the process. However, the video has now become available, with an embedding code, on La Repubblica so let's try again.
As I said yesterday, I have no intention of skateboarding around Modica myself but this delightful clip does remind me why I came here in the first place. Thanks again to my friends at the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto for bringing the video to my attention.
By now, footage and reports of the horrific events which took place in Rome in the name of "sport" on Saturday evening have gone around the world. Even here, amid conflicting reports, it has been hard to ascertain exactly what happened, who started it and the timescale, but what is certain is this:
Ahead of the Italian Cup Final between Napoli and Fiorentina on Saturday, there were clashes between fans outside the Stadio Olimpico and three Napoli supporters were injured, one critically. Italian newspapers reported this morning that this fan, Ciro Esposito, may, if he survives, lose the use of his legs. Inside the stadium, the kick-off was delayed because of these events and Napoli captain Marek Hamsik and the authorities appeared to be "negotiating" with the Napoli ultrà leader known as Genny 'a carogna, who is said to have given his "permission" for the game to start. The authorities say they were not negotiating but were informing Genny 'a carogna of Ciro Esposito's condition.
Eventually, and in the presence of Prime Minister Renzi, the Italian national anthem was booed in the stadium and the game started.
This much, as I have said, has been reported internationally. However, I can find no international press reports about the t-shirt that Genny 'a carogna was wearing, nor of the heartbreak that this has caused a Sicilian widow: The t-shirt slogan read "Free Speziale", a reference to Antonino Speziale, who is serving time for the murder of Sicilian police inspector Filippo Raciti in 2007 during an incident of football violence. Marisa Grasso Raciti told Corriere della Sera that the State seemed to have given in to the will of violent fans on Saturday and that the whole incident was an insult to her husband's memory. She is, understandably, particularly upset by the t-shirt and said that no one in authority had called her to express solidarity or sympathy. As you may imagine, she received a telephone call from Prime Minister Renzi shortly after publication of the interview.
In case anyone is interested, Napoli won the match.
I wrote about the murder of Ispettore Raciti here and here in 2007.
Thanks to Corriere della Sera for making this available:
I am calling this my "May Day Pizza" because I invented it on this day but you can call it "Red onion and aubergine pizza" if you like!
First of all, make your pizza base: I guess we all have a favourite pizza base recipe and mine is in Claudia Roden'sMediterranean Cookery. I only use half the quantity, though.
While the dough is rising, slice 2 large red onions thinly and soak the slices in cold water for about 15 mins. Drain the slices well and pat them dry with kitchen paper. Then you need to cook them very slowly, in a heavy pan with the lid on, with 85 gr unsalted butter and some seasoning. This will also take about 15 mins. Stir them from time to time.
Rinse 6 - 8 slices aubergine preserved in oil, rinse them and drain again. Pat dry with kitchen paper.
When the pizza base has risen - after about 1 hour - roll it out into a rectangular shape on a floured board. Pull it a bit with your hands to get it the right shape for a baking tray. Put it on a lightly oiled baking tray and spread the contents of a 400 gr tin tomato pulp on it. [You could use a thick passata if you cannot get this.] Put the aubergine slices on top of this, then 200 gr mozzarella. [In Italy we can buy it already chopped up for pizza.] Lift the onions out of the saucepan with a slotted spoon and spread them over the top. Finally, add a few sprigs of fresh rosemary.
Cook the pizza at 180 - 200 C for 25 mins. Add a few more fresh rosemary sprigs to serve.
Incidentally, I have read that Claudia Roden's The Food of Italy has been updated and republished to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Congratulations to one of my favourite cookery writers!