Wednesday, November 30, 2011


On Sunday Modica named a street in honour of Giuseppe [Peppino] Impastato, the anti-Mafia campaigner from Cinisi [Palermo Province] who was murdered at the age of 30.

Giuseppe Impastato was born into a Mafia family but, traumatised by the Mafia murder of an uncle, began to ask questions and campaign against the criminal organisation during his teenage years. He became estranged from his father, who threw him out of the family home.  As a left-wing activist and writer, Peppino used humour to criticise both the Mafia and politicians and, in the year of his death, became a candidate in local elections.  He was brutally murdered on the night of 8th - 9th May 1978 and his body, with TNT beneath it, was tied to a railway line, either to make it look as if he had been involved in a botched terrorist attack on the line or to simulate his suicide.  Two days later the people of Cinisi symbolically elected him as a town councillor.

Peppino's mother and brother fought for justice for him for many years and in 2002 Gaetano Badalamenti, the head of the Mafia in Cinisi, was sentenced to life for the murder by an Italian court.  However, Badalamenti was already serving time in a US penitentiary and he died in America in 2004.

The house where Giuseppe Impastato was killed is to become an anti-Mafia museum and exhibitions of documents, photos and art have already been held there.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


I have in front of me a little book of 58 pages, 33 of which are filled with reproductions of historical documents.  Yet the story told on these pages is none the less interesting for that.  

In Concetta e Francesca Grimaldi - due donne modicane nel XV111 secolo, Teresa Spadaccino recounts the extraordinary tale of two young Modican noblewomen who, destined to be dowryless, were sent by their father to live out their lives in a convent in 1785.  This was not an uncommon fate for women of their class and circumstances but these two rebelled, first in small ways and later by making a formal request for their freedom, which was granted in 1793 by the Ecclesiastical Court of Siracusa.  The Court found that the ladies had no religious vocation and had been secluded against their will.

As I read the tale, I came to like these two sisters and the ways in which they asserted their independence:  on the night before they were to take their final vows, rather than pretending to enjoy a firework display organised by their father to celebrate the occasion, they hid in their dark room and sobbed.  Afterwards they were more fastidious about their appearance than the other nuns and wore, we are told, cleaner shoes.

Once "released", Concetta and Francesca were the talk of the town for a while.  Later they both married but neither had children;  instead, they became benefactors for their city.

Many women, of course,  were sent to convents "against their will", both before and after the Grimaldi sisters, but few had the courage or determination to contest their fate.  And even if they had, what kind of life would have awaited them outside their convents?  As Teresa Spadaccino points out, it is possible that, by Concetta and Francesca's time, rumours of some of the ideals of the Enlightenment had penetrated even convent walls and it may have been this that encouraged them.

I salute you, brave sisters in every sense, from the twenty-first century and I would like to thank Teresa Spadaccino for telling this tale.

Concetta e Francesca Grimaldi - due donne modicane nel XV111 secolo by Teresa Spadaccino is published by Editore Video Mediterraneo.

Monday, November 28, 2011


My friend Irma can always be trusted to create elegant, light new dishes from simple ingredients so it was a pleasure to have lunch with her on Friday and taste these:

For a light pasta sauce for two, brown a garlic clove in 1 tablesp olive oil, then take it out and add about 500 gr unpeeled cherry tomatoes or medium-sized, peeled and chopped vine tomatoes.  Season and cook them slowly over a low heat for about 20 mins or until they cook down.  Then stir in 1 tablsp Robiola  or Philadelphia cheese and cook for about another five mins.

Then there were thin pieces of veal - not quite as thin as scaloppine - cooked in olive oil with rosemary and capers.

Grazie, Irma.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


At the end of another week, it is with great sorrow that I bring you news of another flood in Italy, this time in the Province of Messina.

Torrential rain hit the area on Tuesday, causing horrific damage in 21 small towns. The worst affected were Scarcelli di Saponara, Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto, Villafranca Tirrena and Rometta.  The ensuing mudslides claimed four victims, all at Scarcelli di Saponara and among them was a ten-year-old boy.  Whole streets, bridges, business premises and homes were destroyed and 830 people, of whom 480 are from Scarcelli di Saponara, have been evacuated. Some of these have lost their homes.

This weekend a massive clearing up operation is under way and evacuees are being helped by local, regional and national organisations and volunteers.

But there is also anger and the inhabitants of Rometta, in particular, have said that they feel abandoned:  their Mayor called for help on Tuesday night but no police or civil protection officials came to the aid of the hamlet's citizens.

Raffaele Lombardo, the Governor of Sicily, has visited the stricken area this weekend and has said that his first thoughts, of course, are with the families who have lost loved ones.  He has also promised an enquiry into the safety of buildings in the area.  The Monti government has unblocked funds intended to help the people of Giampilieri and Scaletta Zanclea and it is unclear whether some of this money will be used to help those affected by this new disaster.  People in the area are worried that they are less "visible" nationally than the citizens of Genova and may therefore receive less media coverage and help.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Tonight I just have to show you the 2011 Averna TV advertisement as the singer is none other than the girl from Tiger Bay herself, Shirley Bassey:

In case the embedding facility gets taken off for this video, here is the link.

No one belts them out like Shirl!

Dame Shirley Bassey - Get the Party Started

Friday, November 25, 2011


When I mentioned that I had had salame inglese for dessert in a restaurant last week, two commenters asked what it was so I decided to post about it.

Salame inglese or salame di cioccolato which, as we shall see, has several other namesis a mixture of biscuit crumbs, chocolate, butter, nuts and other ingredients which are rolled together into the shape of a roll of salame. It is then refrigerated and, after a few hours, cut into slices and served as a dessert.  It is made all over Italy with regional variations, as you would expect.

No one knows why this dessert is sometimes known as salame inglese but I would imagine that, as with zuppa inglese [a kind of trifle] this was originally a reference to the rich ingredients used.  It probably earned the name salame del Papa [the Pope's salame] for the same reason.  It was dubbed salame turco rather unkindly, because it was said to be the colour of Moorish complexions and it became salame vichingo [Viking salame] when a recipe for it was published in the children's recipe collection La Manuale di Nonna Papera in 1970.

I have found one of the most reliable recipes for this dessert to be the one published by Ursula Ferrigno in Ursula's Italian Cakes and Desserts.  My friend Katia Amore uses Modican chocolate in her excellent version and I made two white chocolate versions last year.

If you have never made salame inglese, I suggest you have a go:  it is not difficult to prepare and I am all for desserts you can make well in advance and forget about till you need them!

Thursday, November 24, 2011


In June I wrote that our rising Modican opera star, Adriana Iozzia, was going to sing the role of Pamina in The Magic Flute in Béziers, France.  The performances were a great success and tonight I thought you would like to see a photo of Adriana in this role.

Soon she will be off to sing Donna Anna in Don Giovanni in Macedonia and she is to be the cover singer for the role of Mimi in La Bohème at the Carlo Felice Theatre in Genova.

Congratulations, Adri!

You can see my interview with Adriana - whom I have known since she was six years old - here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "Memorable Thanksgivings".

I'll say at the outset that this post is going to be a bit of a cheat as I have only been to the USA once and not for Thanksgiving.  It is also late because I have la febbre.  

Anyway, as I can't really write about Thanksgiving, other to say that the holiday is not generally known here, I have decided to write about the things for which I would like to thank America:  

Who, after all, could not love the country which gave us Coca-Cola, Country and Western Music and "Kookie talk?"  I drank my fill of Coca-Cola in my youth and there is nothing like Country and Western music when you are in need of a good wallow in your relationship-induced misery.  As for "Kookie talk", it was a "cool" way of speaking popularised by the actor Edd Byrnes in the TV series 77 Sunset Strip which ran from 1958 - 1964.  Suddenly it was OK to be young and "Kookie" gave us our very own language.  The only problem for me was that my parents knew more of it than I did!

Edd Byrnes as "Kookie"

But there came a day, 48 years ago yesterday, when America changed and so, I believe, did we:  I refer, of course, to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and I can still feel the shockwaves of that news as if it had, indeed, happened only yesterday.  At school, all the boys wanted to be like JFK and all the girls wanted to be like Jackie, the epitome of elegance with her gorgeous suits, gloves and pillbox hats. We girls had "Jackie" fringes, too.  And this brings me to what I really want to talk about - books by or about Americans that I am thankful to have read.  Of all the biographies of Jackie, I have found Sarah Bradford's America's Queen to be the best researched and, however history finally judges this enigmatic woman, "Jackie" fascination is here to stay on both sides of the Atlantic.

Image: Wikipedia via White House

Still in the fifties and sixties and still on biography, let me turn to the person who has made me laugh more than any other in this life - the great,  inimitable Lucille Ball and I recommend Kathleen Brady's biography of her, Lucille.  In another era Lucy Ricardo would have had a job and her adventures would have been lost to us.  So thank you, Lucy, for all the fun.

I Love Lucy - Vitameatavegamin

Then there are the autobiographical volumes and poetry of Maya Angelou. What woman who has ever carried a little extra weight could not be cheered up by this?

Maya Angelou reads Phenomenal Woman

My favourite American poets are Longfellow, Edna St Vincent Millay, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  If you do not know it, I recommend the latter's Christ Climbed Down as wise, seasonal reading.

My post would not be complete if I did not mention two Americans who have written beautifully about Sicilian food:  They are Mary Taylor Simeti and Victoria Granof.  I have written about their books here and here.

But my favourite American author of all remains the one who delighted me as a child and she is Louisa May Alcott.  I'm still waiting for Professor Bhaer.

Happy Thanksgiving to all Americans and thank you for reading this blog.

Below is a full list of bloggers participating in this round of the Blog Off:


cool myspace layouts

I have been struck down by la febbre, so there was no posting here yesterday.  La febbre in Sicily describes anything from the merest hint of a cold to full-blown 'flu and I rather think I have got the latter.

If you live in Sicily and haven't caught la febbre at this time of year, you are probably suffering from the cervicale instead. This is arthritis of the neck and both conditions are blamed upon seasonal humidity.  In my opinion much suffering could be avoided if Sicilians would only put the heating on in their houses but most prefer to sit around at home in jackets and woolly hats.  Cold, it seems, is something to be endured with pazienza rather than combatted.

As for what to do about la febbre, it is believed here that you should sweat it out and I felt like one of Grazia's loaves as I lay under my blankets this morning.  There are many folk remedies, too and one of these is to cut off some of the hairy leaves of the tasso barbasso [verbascum] plant with your left hand whilst making the sign of the cross in the air with your left foot.  While you are coordinating your movements and attempting to keep your balance, you must also utter a dialect incantation to make the fever leave you.

Hmm - it's back under the blankets for me!

Monday, November 21, 2011


On Friday afternoon the ladies [and one or two gentlemen] of the Modica and Ragusa "foreign legion" held a very special gathering, for my kind friend Grazia, who is one of the best Sicilian cooks I know, had decided to show us how to make traditional Sicilian bread - the pane di casa that the housewife used to produce for her family at the beginning of every week. 

I hope you are all feeling energetic, as this is hard work!

Having made a yeast "starter", Grazia uses the "fountain" method to work the dough:  in this the flour is put in the centre of the work board - here a large wooden container with high sides, called a maidda in dialect - a "well" is formed in the centre of the flour and the starter is mixed in with more water as needed:

As you can see, every bit of flour is gathered into the bread:

Now the roll will be left under a teatowel for ten minutes.

But what is this?  Ah, this is the kneading table, the briula, with its briuni on the left:

Grazia sits at one end of the briula, from where she will turn the dough, and today she has no shortage of helpers to wield the briuni

Up and down goes the briuni, until Grazia is satisfied with the kneading:

Now she cuts off a tiny portion of dough and uses the knife to etch the shape of the cross on the cut edge of the rest. Then she cuts off pieces and begins to form them into traditional shapes:

Now it's time for the special effects!

The S-shaped forms are typical.  Now they are all left to rise under teatowels and blankets.  How long for?  For as long as it takes - pazienza.

After baking, the bread can be "dressed" with oil, salt, oregano, sundried tomatoes or local cheese.  Now it has become pane condito and it is delicious:

What else did we eat at our gathering?  Well.....

Tiralucci biscuits

One of Linda and Chiara's sponges

Candied orange peel, sometimes dipped in chocolate, appears at this time of year
But the star of the show was the bread.  Grazie per la lezione, Grazia.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


This song, written by Claudio Baglioni for his newborn son in 1982, is one of the most beautiful expressions of parental love ever attempted:

Claudio Baglioni - Avrai

Friday, November 18, 2011


The other day I wanted to make an autumnal  risotto with particularly Sicilian ingredients and risotto purists had better look away now!

I decided that kaki [Sharon fruit or persimmons] which are so plentiful here in this season, should be the main ingredients. If you are going to use these, you must make sure you have the sweet kind or that they are ripe because otherwise they will leave a horrible, dry taste in your mouth. The ones we get here are truly sublime.   I also used pistacchi, ground so finely that in Italy the result is called farina [flour] di pistacchi and a few twists of canella from my trusty cinnamon mill.

Here we go, then:  Heat 3 tablsp olive oil in a wide pan and soften a finely chopped onion in this.  Then add 400 gr Arborio rice and stir it around for a couple of minutes. Add seasalt to taste.  Have ready a jug of 300 ml white wine and 300 ml water, turn the heat down and add a little of the liquid. As soon as it is absorbed, add a little more and repeat the process, stirring, for about 15 mins or until nearly all the liquid is absorbed.  Now add 2 peeled and chopped kaki, a sprinkling of farina di pistacchi and some ground cinnamon, stir everything again and cook for about 2 minutes more.  Add some chopped parsley and serve.

Risotto is usually served a little "wetter" in Italy than it would be in the UK.  
Be careful with your clothes when handling kaki fruit - if the juice stains your clothes, you will never get the stain out!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Tonight a friend invited me out to have a pizza in celebration of a certain recent event in Italy.

My local pizzeria is an unpretentious little place, staffed by the owner, a cook who looks too tiny to be able to manage the enormous pizza oven and a waitress / cashier.  This evening, although the heating was on, the owner was standing around in his warm, flat cap, gazing up at the television in the corner - there is always a television in the corner - when he was not directing customers to, or clearing, tables.  But by golly, the pizza is good, with crusts to die for:

Pizza alla campagnola with tomato, aubergine, artichokes and peas for me

Pizza alla diavola for my companion

Prettily presented salame inglese for us both as dessert


Wednesday, November 16, 2011


The first time I showed Sicilian green lemons on this blog, several commenters were convinced that they were limes!  I assure you they are lemons and are just as "lemony" in flavour as their yellow cousins.  They appear here between yellow lemon harvests and today I found these giant, round ones.  I spotted the tiny chilli peppers at the same time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Duomo di Genova
Image:  Wikimedia Commons
Last week I wrote about the terrible floods that have recently taken place in the city of Genova [Genoa] and I started thinking about some happy times I've spent there.  I want to share one of these memories with you today:

In the 1980s, on a school trip to the city, I took my band of merry pupils to see the house of Cristoforo Colombo there. Next, we went to the Cathedral, where one of my charges exclaimed, at the top of his voice,

"Cor! This is big! 'Oose 'ouse is this, then?"

"God's", said I.  "Now shut up."

Me in Genova - 1984

Monday, November 14, 2011


Dear Mr Monti,

I'm sure that, in this situation, you deplore waste so before you tackle the economy, could you please do something about the cooking foil in this country?  Whatever brand I buy, it tears in the middle when I take off the stupid tape - which, I regret to say, only a man would have put there in the first place - and, unless I am cooking portions for elves, this renders the stuff virtually useless.

After all, you did say that we need "cohesion" today!


Pat and Simi in Sicily 

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Image:  Wikipedia
In Italy we have been witnessing a "great show" all week and its finale was played out in front of the eyes of the world yesterday, when Silvio Berlusconi at last resigned.  

Rumours of the Premier's political demise had  begun to circulate on Monday on twitter, as Italy struggled to save itself fiscally by satisfying the demands of its eurozone neighbours.  But by the afternoon the Premier had denied the rumours and people all over Italy were trying to work out how to get the cork back into a bottle of champagne.

By Tuesday, however, the scenario had changed again and it was announced that the Premier would resign, but only after full approval of the "Stability Budget" by Parliament - a process which, under normal circumstances, could have taken up to a month.

This time, though, the President and the people, aware of the gravity of the country's situation and of its terrible image abroad, swung into action:  The Budget was rushed through Parliament and by yesterday afternoon everyone was waiting to watch Mr Berlusconi's last journey as Premier - to the Quirinale to hand in his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano.

The Premier's appointment with the President was, we were told, for 8.30 pm but, this being Italy, no one really expected events to run to time.  Nevertheless, as the minutes ticked by and it became known that Mr Berlusconi was holding a Party meeting, everyone began to wonder if he was about to pull a last rabbit out of the hat - and in fact he did, laying down certain conditions for the Pdl's [People of Freedom] participation in and support of a new, transitional government.  The most reported of these conditions is that Mario Monti, the academic and former EU Commissioner who has become Prime Minister while I have been writing this post, will not, as an unelected Premier, be a candidate when elections are eventually held.

At last, nearly an hour late, Mr Berlusconi was driven to the Quirinale.  He made it known that he was upset and "embittered" by the jeering crowds, who were singing the partisan song, "Bella Ciao" and chanting "Galera!" ["Prison!"] and  "Buffone!"  Ah, Silvio, thus have the mighty ever fallen.  

The announcement that the Premier had, indeed, tendered his resignation came at 10 pm, the twitter feeds went crazy and the spumante was flowing in the streets of Rome and several other cities.  Sicily is traditionally conservative and all remained quiet here in Modica, although the town has a left-wing Mayor in office [by the skin of his teeth]. 

And that brings me to the question which is always asked abroad about Mr Berlusconi:  How did this tycoon, so often ridiculed in the rest of the world, stay in power for so long?  Part of the answer is, of course, that the country has had no effective Opposition, but the real answer, I believe, lies in the personality of the Cavaliere himself: Many of his supporters would claim, with justification, that he did not amass his millions by being stupid and that he has received little credit for his business achievements.  They admire a man who can rise to the top and remain there.  Secondly, as I've written before, Mr Berlusconi appeals to a very Italian instinct - the instinct for joy -  and it is this which may, paradoxically, have toppled him.  

The trouble is that the country's young people, who feel they have no hope, can manifest little joy.  Every day I meet students who tell me that they feel they have no future and that they are ashamed of their country.  And I, as a lover of Italy, have been heartbroken at times, in the past few years, to see the country so derided abroad, largely because of the antics of one man.

That said, I do not think that Mr Berlusconi is all bad:  I am sure that he is very charming and I would rather spend an evening with him than with Nicolas Sarkozy.  My hope for Mr Berlusconi is that he will ditch the airhead models and find the companionship he so obviously needs in a kind, intelligent woman nearer his age.  [But when did men ever learn?!]

Now we are going to have a new, "technocrat" transitional government and what will happen is anyone's guess:  Mr Monti may be able to sort the whole, sorry, economic situation out.  If he needs advice, he will find no shortage of it, with those two self-appointed "headteachers" of the eurozone,  Merkel and Sarkozy, ready to fly to Italy to tell him what to do. Personally, I hope he tells Merkozy to get stuffed as some people, it seems, need to be reminded that Italy is a sovereign state.  As so often happens in hard times, we may see a resurgence of the right;  extreme right-wing parties are already advocating an "Italy for Italians" and the independence-seeking Lega Nord may prove to be more dangerous outside government than within it.  My own country, the UK, panicked by events in Greece and Italy, may even leave the EU, a policy which I believe would be domestically disastrous and which would have serious repercussions for British expatriates here.

Let us hope, however, that all will be well.  I have actually been rather proud of Italy this week, for it was not the bankers who ousted Mr Berlusconi - it was democracy in action.

Finally, for those of you who are going to miss the Cavaliere, don't worry too much:  his new CD of love songs will be out on 22nd November.  But you may prefer to spend your hard - earned cash on earplugs.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


In a homage to Modica's lovely Casa delle Farfalle [Butterfly House] my choice today is this anti-war song, written and performed by the great Roberto Vecchioni :

Roberto Vecchioni - La Casa delle Farfalle

"At the end of every night
of every war in every time
there is a house of butterflies in the midst of the wind.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Some soft drinks companies, particularly those whose sales mainly consist of sweetened and fizzy products, have had their bubble burst by an amendment to a new agricultural development law which has been passed by the Sicilian Regional Government:  Under this ruling, the only soft drinks that vending machines in Sicily's schools are now allowed to sell are freshly squeezed orange juice and the juice of citrus fruits grown on the island.

The purposes of the initiative are to improve the health of Sicilian children and combat obesity but members of the Italian soft drinks manufacturers' association Assobibe are not happy with the implied link between the consumption of fizzy drinks and poor health.  Staff at the Italian Ministry of Education are not bubbling over with enthusiasm at the measure either and a spokesperson said that the the initiative, though encouraging, is not enough as children need to do more exercise in order to avoid becoming obese.

I say, "Well done, Sicily!"

Thursday, November 10, 2011


It's always a pleasure to have lunch with Rosa and her family and today her delightful one-year-old grandson, for whom everything and everyone is "Brmmm!" made that the most sensible comment I've heard all week on the unfolding political drama in Italy.

To commence the feast there was pasta with Rosa's special Italo-Albanian ragù

followed by chicken escalopes:

There were focacce too

and Rosa's daughter had baked this scrumptious honey and apple cake :

There is always a tray of pastries in Sicily

and I especially liked the ones that came in their own little almond paste spoons:

Grazie, Rosa.  Brmmm!


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