Monday, December 11, 2006


I'm continuing my reminiscences of Modican Christmases past today!

31.12.93: The last day of what had been a very sad year for me. Yet there was light at the end of it, for it had also been a year of new friendships in a country where I had always felt at home. Now, in Sicily, I was beginning to feel that I was home.
I remember it was a beautiful, sunny day, just like the warmest of spring days in Britain. I wrote in my diary that I felt "free and happy wandering around Modica Bassa in the sun". Modica Bassa ["Low" Modica] is the old town, but, should you come along the Corso between 1pm and 5pm, do not let the shuttered and somewhat crumbling* façades fool you! For at 5, when the town comes alive again, the shutters are rolled up to reveal the most modern and expensive of boutiques - some displaying shoes to die for! - ceramics shops and perfumeries, interspersed, it is true, with the odd tiny, dark tobacconist's from another world here and there. Modica Alta ["High" Modica] is older still, the remains of its castle and tower seeming to balance precariously on the rock way above the narrow streets.

My morning peregrination has to end as the shutters go down at 1 o'clock, and it is back to Linda's for lunch. Afterwards, the kitchen is again a hive of activity, for Linda and Chiara are preparing a paté**for the evening's festa. It is not, strictly speaking, a Sicilian recipe, but an Umbrian one, though I'm sure it has become an "honorary Sicilian" dish by now!

The paté is taken to zio Giorgio's as the party is to take place in his gym! There are to be about 30 people altogether, including the children of the various families. This is the lovely, inclusive nature of the Italian festa. These people would look at you in uncomprehending horror if you were to speak of babysitters on a night such as this!

Linda had explained to me that it is traditional to eat lentils on New Year's Eve and that the more of them you consume, the more money you will have in the New Year! And indeed, I have had frugal years following the one or two New Year's Eves since then when I have forgotten, or been unable, to eat my lentils! Incidentally, if you overdo the lentils and have the esplosioni the next day, your fortune doesn't seem to be affected. It's eating them in the first place that counts!

Once everyone has arrived and greetings, kisses and preliminary gossip have been exchanged, we are at last seated at a series of trestle tables, each gaily covered in bright tissue paper. Every family has prepared a dish for the occasion and a nominated male from each family walks down the length of the tables proudly serving everyone a helping - or two! A modern and sensible touch is that we eat off jolly, red, plastic plates. We don't need background music as everyone is talking loudly at the same time so that their friends three tables down can hear them. The toddlers are toddling, the older children are playing games and running up and down between courses and the babies are gurgling happily in their prams.

Here is what we ate that night:
Menù del Capo D'Anno 1993
Chiara's paté
2 types of pasta al forno [baked pasta] served from the great, wooden containers used to mix the flour
brodo [broth] of green lentils
Linda's scacce
pollo ripieno [stuffed chicken], served hot
cold chicken
various meats in aspic
mushrooms in mayonnaise

Later out comes the fruit and, later still, the panettone. Just before midnight the sparkling wine is poured, we are all handed a sparkler and the lights are turned off. On the first stroke of 12 we all wave our lit sparklers and everybody kisses everybody else. Then the dancing begins! Buon anno.

This paté, when made with the authentic ingredients, is almost black in appearance. In the UK I have managed to get it quite dark, but not as dark as when Chiara makes it. It must be spread on hard bread. Rye bread or French toasts would do very well. The paté freezes beautifully.

Put in a saucepan:
1 chicken liver
a veal or pork spleen [As far as I know, regulations do not permit spleen to be sold in Britain now. However, a good butcher should be able to recommend a substitute.]
2 slices of mortadella
2 slices of prosciutto crudo
1 Italian sausage
some chopped green or black olives
some capers
lots of chopped rosemary and sage
2 chopped carrots
1 onion studded with 1 or 2 cloves
a bay leaf
2 crushed juniper berries
a slice of lemon

Cover it all with some olive oil [as much as looks right to you!], add some seasalt and pepper, chuck in some strong red wine and a dollop of red wine vinegar. Bring it all to the boil and let it simmer a couple of hours. [Add a little more wine during this time if it appears to be drying or sticking.] Let it cool a bit, then pour it into a food processor and whizz it till it looks, well, paté-ish in texture. Refigerate it overnight.

The photo shows one of the "fortune baskets" that are sold as souvenirs here at this time of year. Note the lentils and the coin tucked in for luck, too.
* The façades are not so crumbling these days.
** For the pedantic among you, I am using the Italian spelling, not the French.


James Higham said...

...Incidentally, if you overdo the lentils and have the esplosioni the next day, your fortune doesn't seem to be affected. It's eating them in the first place that counts!...

So three or four lentils would suffice then?

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

'Evening, James. Yes, I should think so!

Anonymous said...

I love lentils and pulses, I may cook some tomorrow.
I can't imagine any guests taking along some disgusting frozen cheesecake along to one of these feasts.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Ciao, Ellee. Pulses are so comforting in the winter, I think. Well, some Brit ex-pat guests might take along a home-made cheesecake or trifle [both of which fascinate the Italians] but the Italians would probably buy some delectable pastries as their contribution to the feast.

James Higham said...

Confession time, Welshcakes Limoncello - I've never actually tasted them. Are they like beans or more like melon?

Anonymous said...

Talking of trifle, one of my specialities is chocolate Italian trifle with Amaretto soaked cake, then home made custard with chocolate melted into it, very rich and scrummy. I might make it this Christmas instead of my rhubarb lasagne.

I'll let you answer James' questions about the lentils. I like adding lots of garlic and tomato sauce to mine. I'm sure they would be tasty, however he prepared him.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, James. They are definitely more beany! I think they are very comforting in a soup on a cold day.
Ellee, that trifle sounds delicious.

CityUnslicker said...

Best accopmained by some of the fine 'greco' wine local to messina/taormina.

great wine in Sicily

Mark McLellan said...

WL. Now there is a useful vernacular usage to add to my pitifully small Italian vocabulary: "esplosioni", I am partial to pulses but Mary has to avoid chickpeas like they were the very work of the devil! MM.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hello, cityunslicker. Sadly, wine does not agree with me now - drank too much of the stuff in my misspent youth, so I'm a g and t lady now! But I do know that the "greco" wine is very good. You are right. Hi, Mark. I, too, have to be careful with pulses, though I do think chickpeas are so warming. On New Year's Eve I throw lentil-caution to the wind, though [no pun intended!] as the Sicilians have convinced me re that superstition!

Ballpoint Wren said...

Explosioni! My new vocab word of the day! Ha!

You know, in Texas we had to eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day for good fortune. I ordered waffles, and got them with a little scoop of black-eyed peas on the side--they serve them with absolutely everything on Jan. 1. I bet the custom originally came from Europe.


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