Thursday, May 31, 2012


Yesterday an army of Modican school students, along with their teachers and some of their parents, gathered in the city's Piazza Matteotti to begin a very special clean-up:  yes, it was war on cigarette ends!  Fed up with seeing the streets and piazze of their lovely, historic city being scarred by the presence of carelessly discarded cigarette ends and the pollution that the presence of these causes, the students had decided to take action themselves.

And their reward?  For every 50 cigarette ends collected, each student received a traditionally made ice cream supplied by the Pasticceria DolceSalato.    Hmm... if I'd had time, I'd have joined them!

Piazza Mateotti and farmers' market

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Most of you will have read or seen by now that there has been another strong earthquake in Northern Italy, just eight days after the 6.0 quake that terrorised the people of the Province of Modena and displaced thousands, many of whom are being accommodated in tents.  Imagine their fear, then, when a 5.8 quake struck at 9 am today.

The epicentre this time was between Carpi, Medolla and Mirandola, still in the Province of Modena and the quake was felt in parts of  Lombardy, Trentino, Tuscany and even Austria. At 12.56 there was a further, 5.3 quake.

As I write 16 people are reported dead, one person is missing, at least 350 have been injured and 8,000 people are estimated to have been made homeless. The brings the total number of people made homeless by the earthquakes of 20th May and today to a staggering 14,000.  Premier Monti has promised that everything possible will be done to help them.

In such circumstances we must take comfort where we can and at 21.00, exactly twelve hours after this morning's quake, a 60-year-old woman was pulled out of the rubble injured but alive.  The headboard of her bed had protected her as her home collapsed around her.

The University of Bologna, together with the city's schools, will be closed tomorrow whilst safety checks are carried out.  In the city of Modena, where some public buildings have been slightly damaged, schools, cemeteries, museums, swimming pools and theatres will be closed.  I have spent some time in Modena so was sorry to learn that some of the buildings in its lovely historic centre may also have been damaged.

Italians pull together magnificently at times like these and modern technology has also played its part:  when mobile networks in the earthquake-hit area became overloaded this morning, messages asking people to remove their passwords from their wifi systems to enable the rescue services to find people and communicate with each other more efficiently quickly circulated on twitter.  Also on twitter, the singer Laura Pausini urged people in the area whose houses were intact to open up their homes to less fortunate citizens.  If I know Italians, they did not need to be told to do that.

Monday 4th June is to be a national day of mourning in Italy.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Remember the polpettone with spinach that I showed you a couple of weeks ago? Well, I decided to adapt the recipe and make it "mine" by using rocket instead of spinach as I thought it would give a nice peppery flavour and it has the advantage of not needing pre-cooking. I left out the chilli pepper flakes, added peppers to the polpettone as well as the sauce and made some other adjustments too: 

OK, let's start with the sauce: finely chop 1 medium white onion, 2 cloves of garlic and a red pepper. Soften these in 2 tablsp olive oil, then add the contents of a 400 gr can of pomodorini [cherry tomatoes] or of chopped tomatoes. Stir and add the contents of a 200 gr box of passata too. Stir well, season and then add 75 gr washed and chopped rocket, the leaves of 2 sprigs of thyme, a little dried oregano and about 4 torn basil leaves. Now add 12 fresh datterini or cherry tomatoes, squash them a bit with the back of your mixing spoon as you stir the mixture and then let it all cook over a low flame for about 30 mins. Turn off the heat. 

Now for the polpettone: in a large bowl, mix a tablesp of the tomato sauce with 500 gr minced turkey, 1 finely chopped red pepper and 1 finely chopped yellow pepper, 1 beaten egg, another 75 gr washed and chopped rocket and about 8 tablesp pangrattato [or fine fresh breadcrumbs]. Line a baking tray with foil and on top of this, dampened baking paper and here's the fun part! Oil your hands and form the mixture into a long, oval loaf shape. Plonk it onto the tray, wrap the baking paper round it as if it were a sweet and tie the ends with cooking string - it should look a bit like a Christmas cracker. Cook at 180 C for about 50 mins. You can serve this at room temperature with some of the cooled sauce but it will firm up and be easier to slice if you refigerate it for a few hours and serve it cold with the sauce chilled.

This time I remembered to serve the sauce in yellow pepper shells!

Saturday, May 26, 2012


There's only one song to post today and it is Italy's entry in tonight's Eurovision Song Contest:

Nina Zilli - L'amore è femmina  [Out of Love]

Friday, May 25, 2012


No visit to Noto is complete without a visit to the Caffè Sicilia, where I enjoyed not one, but two treats last weekend.

The first consisted of citron, basil and orange salad ice creams and I assure you that the basil-flavoured gelato was one of the smoothest I have ever tasted.  Ah, you are thinking of a sweet fruit salad of oranges?  No, the flavour of the orange ice cream was of a Sicilian orange salad dressed with olive oil and I can only say it was fantastico!

And who was I to refuse a slice of bergamot and white pepper cake afterwards?

Such tastes are a "must" if you are coming to Sicily!


I have started a new blog for students of English and you can find it here.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


The use of this object, spotted in an interior decorator's window, would not have been confined to Sicily but what is it and who would have worn it?  Your guesses in the comments please and I'll tell you the answer tomorrow.

Update -  Answer:

As the two commenters guessed, it is a Carnival version of a medieval plague doctor's mask.  These masks were filled with aromatics which, along with the design of the mask, were believed to protect the doctors - who were often unqualified or at the very least, inexperienced - from the plague.  

It would be fun if the etymology of the term "quack" for "fraudulent doctor" were linked to the beak-like mask but alas, it comes from a Dutch word meaning "hawker of salve."   In British slang, "quack" is sometimes used for any doctor.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Twenty years ago today the anti-Mafia Judge Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca Morvillo and three members of his escort were killed in a bomb outrage that has become known as the Strage di Capaci - the Capaci Massacre.  Fifty-seven days later his colleague Judge Paolo Borsellino and five members of his escort were killed as he was going to visit his mother in via D'Amelio in Palermo.

Today these two brave men and those who lost their lives trying to protect them have been commemorated in events all over Italy, among them, and taking place as I write, a charity football match between teams of singers and judges in Palermo.  There have been talks in schools, processions and concerts and the Mayor of Rosolini in Siracusa Province asked citizens to hang out white sheets in memory of Judge Falcone this morning.


Strage di Capaci, 23.5.92

Judge Giovanni Falcone
Francesca Morvillo 
Rocco Di Cillo
Antonio Montinaro
Vito Schifani

Strage di via D'Amelio, 19.7 92

Judge Paolo Borsellino
Agostino Catalano
Walter Eddie Cosina
Vincenzo Li Muli
Emanuela Loi
Claudio Traina

Nowhere is the calvary of Judge Giovanni Falcone better documented in English than in John Dickie's Cosa Nostra and I recommend this volume to you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Join me in a walk along Via Nicolaci in Noto to see the 2012 "Carpet of Flowers" [18th - 20th May]. This year's theme was Momenti barocchi.

Slideshow - Infiorata 2012

Monday, May 21, 2012


If the fates were not smiling upon Italy this weekend, someone or something was looking out for little Vittoria Vultaggio from Obici, a hamlet of Finale Emilia [Province of Modena], yesterday:  At 4.04 am, when the quake struck, the five-year-old was sleeping in her room in a house which comprised some restored seventeenth century structures, including a tower. As the tower collapsed onto the roof of Vittoria's room, it seems that two beams protected the little girl's body.  

Vittoria's father, who, with her mother and two-year-old brother, had been able to exit the house, searched for her frantically with the help of neighbours, among them a Mr Ziosi.  Mr Vultaggio climbed onto the remains of the roof, calling Vittoria's name all the time.  Suddenly he heard her respond.  He and Mr Ziosi managed to locate her and remove rubble from her face but they could not free her body.  

Power lines were down and cellphones were not working so the family were unable to contact the emergency services but Vittoria's mother,  hardly aware of what she was doing in her anxiety and distress, kept tapping numbers on her cellphone. At last, a call somehow got through and was answered by a doctor she knew. Unbeknown to Vittoria's mother, the doctor was on a trip to New York but he immediately grasped the situation and called the emergency services in Rome, who in turn passed on the information to their colleagues in Modena.  Thus the rescue and ambulance teams knew exactly where to go and within another half an hour they managed to pull Vittoria out of the rubble.

In the meantime, Mr Ziosi's son Marcello, who was also in New York, had called his father to find out if he had been injured and for a little while, in the confusion, the Vultaggio family thought that it was Marcello who had made that vital call to Rome.  But Marcello said later that the fact that he had called from New York was just a coincidence and that it was definitely the good doctor, whose name Mr and Mrs Vultaggio cannot quite recall, who had made the call.

Vittoria has suffered some injuries to a leg and is obviously still very frightened but has no fractures.

Today we are thinking of all who have been affected by the two terrible events in Italy over the weekend and of the members of the emergency services, hospital staff and others who are helping them.  Let us also salute the courage of the students of the Istituto Morvillo Falcone in Brindisi, who went back to school this morning, two days after a bomb outside the building killed one of their fellow-students and injured ten others.  Like Vittoria's father, the neighbours who came to his aid and our as yet unnamed doctor, these are the people who represent the real Italy.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


This has been such a sad weekend for Italy that, like many others here, I cannot stop crying.  For those of you who may not yet have seen the news, a magnitude 6.0 earthquake struck Northern Italy this morning, leaving at least six dead, 50 injured and perhaps thousands displaced.  The epicentre was 2.4 miles from Camposanto in the Province of Modena, 22 miles north of Bologna.  To give you an idea of the magnitude, the L'Aquila earthquake of 2009 measured 6.3 on the Richter scale.  Now, as then, I offer my beloved adopted country this:

Update at 20.57:  Seven are now confirmed dead and 3,000 people have been made homeless. Premier Mario Monti has said that a state of emergency will be declared in Italy on Tuesday.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


As I write, news of today's tragedy in Brindisi is going round the world and torchlit processions in solidarity with the people of Brindisi are taking place in towns all over Italy.

For the life that had scarcely begun, I offer my tears. I have no words of my own, no quotation, no piece of music that can comfort the bereaved, the injured, the frightened and those still in shock.  I can only hope that love reaches them on this dreadful night and in the difficult days to come.

Friday, May 18, 2012


Bidding ends today for the concession to run Modica's municipal cemetery:  yes, in these hard times even death is being privatised and cemeteries are being sold all over Italy.  In one town in Campania, as we have seen, citizens are simply not allowed to die!

The Modica cemetery is full and bereaved relatives are having to bury their loved ones elsewhere, despite the fact that 1,200 citizens have each already paid a 50 percent deposit on a burial plot in their home town.

The company which wins the concession will be able to manage the cemetery for 26 years but representatives of Italy's three biggest trade unions in the town are, understandably, against the scheme.  They say that a council-run cemetery is a fundamental need of all citizens, on a par with their need for a water service.  And the citizens themselves?  According to local reports they do not much care who runs the cemetery - they just want  it to be expanded and to be managed efficiently.

Meanwhile one business that does not appear to have been hit by the economic crisis is that of undertaking and it was strange to see a row of fairy lights outside one funeral director's premises at Christmas.  Another undertaker whose premises are near my home has his drivers sitting outside, gossiping while they wait for custom [which always comes] in all seasons, weather conditions and at all hours - all hours, that is, except those of the siesta for no one in Modica, it seems, is so inconsiderate as to shuffle off this mortal coil during siesta.

On a cheerier note, you may like to read my article on the causes of longer life expectancy in Sicily for Times of Sicily today.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


I enjoyed making this polpettone filled with minced turkey breast and spinach at the weekend.  You use some of the sauce, which is made with tomatoes, onion, garlic, red pepper, thyme, a little more spinach and red chilli pepper flakes, to moisten the mixture. [I speeded up the sauce making process by substituting a can of pomodorini - peeled cherrry tomatoes - and the contents of a small box of passata for fresh tomatoes.] For those of you who are in Italy, the recipe can be found in the April 25th edition of Donna Moderna.  The illustration in the magazine shows the sauce served in yellow pepper shells but I couldn't get any yellow peppers last week so that will be for next time.  This dish is good served hot or cold.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Meet Hikari, who is Indonesian with Japanese ancestry, and Barbara, who is from Palermo.  Together they are the masterminds behind the Palermo-based company Amuri Wedding Planner.  You can find out what "amuri" means and read all about Hikari and Barbara in my article for Times of Sicily this evening.

Times of Sicily

Monday, May 14, 2012


Chi ha arte, ha parte
He who has an art, has a role in life
- Italian proverb

Everyone, of course, is an artist in Italy and that includes my local butcher, who on Saturdays makes these pretty parcels of minced meat and ham in pastry:

They look good cooked, too!

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Who can resist dancing to this and what better song to welcome summer?

Michael Franti e Jovanotti - The Sound of Sunshine

Friday, May 11, 2012


Two years ago, I revealed my addiction to these lovely, smooth desserts.  Well, now there's a new flavour, mirtillo.  Mirtilli are similar to whortleberries and the product is said to contain Canadian whortleberries or blueberries, which, judging by the flavour, are very nice. [Mirtilli rossi are sometimes translated as "cranberries" but the product does not taste of these.]  "What", I would like to ask those innovative people at Ferrero, "is wrong with Sicilian mirtilli?  And where did the chocolate flavour go?"

Thursday, May 10, 2012


It is the season for the tiny, delicious datterini tomatoes in Sicily so I decided to invent a simple chicken dish using them.  You can use cherry tomatoes if you can't get datterini.

For 4 people you need:

4 tablesp olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
8 chicken joints, skin on
500 gr datterini or cherry tomatoes
1 large red pepper, cut into strips
handful fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
seasalt & freshly ground black pepper

Soften the onion in the olive oil in a wide pan over low heat.  Then add the chicken pieces, turn up the heat and brown on all sides. Add the whole datterini, stir them around and squash them a bit with the back of your mixing spoon.  Then add the pepper strips and stir.  Add the basil and seasoning and cook, covered, over a low heat for about 50 mins. 

Buon appetito.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012


According to statistics released last week Sicilian women may now expect to live until they are 83 and men until  they are 78. This represents increases of 1.3% and 1.6% respectively as compared with 2004.

Circulatory disease is the main cause of death in Sicily for both sexes and the figure, at 43%, is higher than the national average. The second most common cause of death is cancer, presenting as breast cancer in women and colon or rectal cancer in men.

If I may make a totally personal and medically unfounded observation on this point, I have noticed quite a high instance of colonic illness even in my immediate circle and it is my theory that, despite the Arabic influences of their past, the fact that Sicilians have not adopted more of the spice cookery of the Mediterranean may play a part here.

However, there is hope for those who live in Ispica [a little town about 10 minutes from Modica]:

"Chi viene a Ispica compierà 100 anni - Those who come to Ispica will live to the age of 100."

I hope that residence is not a qualification and that my occasional visits will suffice.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012


No, it's not a cake for corgis or a novelty for Simi! I've been practising for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, you see. I'm not a monarchist but I am enough of a hypocrite to become one for a day or two, in order to join in the festivities from afar. Therefore I'd been wondering what to make to take along to a friend's Jubilee party here and, as I also wanted to try out the torta paradiso recipe in the Benvenuti a tavola book, this seemed an ideal opportunity.  

But how to decorate it?  I decided that using the red [OK, it's pink but it will do] and blue icing sugar we can get here would be the simplest option and then I began searching the internet for line drawings to use as a stencil.  I rejected crowns, silhouettes of royal personnages, Buckingham Palace shapes and the like because they would have involved complicated cutting with a craft knife on a cutting mat [neither of which I possess].  Finally I found a simple line drawing of a corgi, Her Majesty's favourite pet dog breed, and that, I decided, would be cheerful and different.  Here is the result and, by the way, the torta paradiso did rise but I turned it upside down to decorate it, thinking I could deftly turn the slices over again to serve them. It tasted, as its name suggests, heavenly!

Saturday, May 05, 2012


As a teacher I am always warning students of the dangers and unethicality of copying and pasting the work of others with neither permission nor accreditation but next time I will have this cautionary tale from Catania to back up my admonitions:

A candidate in the municipal elections for the town of Paternò in Catania Province has promised, in his manifesto, to improve the city's finances by creating a port there - the only problem being that Paternò is inland, lying 43 kilometres from the Port of Catania and 142 km from that of Messina.  

It turns out that the unfortunate candidate copied the election manifesto of a candidate from Genova and the  "port" promise was left in by mistake.  Our undoubtedly now red-faced candidate noticed his error too late, for a group called "Paternò a Mare" [Paternò-on-Sea] has already appeared on facebook and members are enjoying themselves creating images of the city surrounded by water.  The "Maritime Republic of Paternò " has also been proclaimed on the page.

I understand that the US State Department proofreads press releases around 35 times before these are made public. Perhaps Sicilian electoral candidates should take note.


More from Alberto Selly, whom I discovered thanks to this programme.

Alberto Selly - I tuoi baci

Thursday, May 03, 2012


On Monday to Friday and Sunday evenings I am incognita from 8 - 8.15 pm., for that is when it is time to listen to The Archers [BBC Radio 4] on the internet:  the phone goes unanswered, as does the doorbell and even the computer is switched off.  My other unmissable appointment with the media takes place on Thursday evenings from 9.10 - 11.30 when I am engrossed in a series called Benvenuti a tavola - Nord vs Sud on Italy's Canale 5.

The story takes place in Milan where two chefs, one local and one from Southern Italy, have restaurants opposite one another.  The Northern chef, Carlo Conforti [Fabrizio Bentivoglio], produces sophisticated food but always with respect for tradition whilst the Southern chef, Paolo Perrone [Giorgio Tirabassi], concentrates on simpler, traditional fare from his own region. Both chefs are helped by their families and  Conforti has the additional "advice" of his father-in-law who thinks that cookery should be exactly as it was 50 years ago.

We see some of the dishes as they are being prepared and I must admit that every episode makes me ravenous!  In addition, at the end of each double episode, each chef quickly gives instructions for a recipe and viewers can vote for the one they prefer, with a chance of winning a prize. [I haven't won yet but I'm working on it!]

But this is not just a story of two rival kitchens:  it is also a tale of two families and of the tensions between North and South. These are sensitively dealt with and stereotypes are avoided whilst the comic potential is retained:  Perrone's restaurant, for instance, is called Terrone [an insulting word, which can roughly be translated as "yokel",  used by some Northern Italians to describe Southerners] because Conforti played a joke on him. Perrone's two teenage daughters are having a hard time at school because of their southern origins and, unbeknown as yet to Conforti, his son, Federico,  is in love with the elder girl, Alessia.

One day, Federico Conforti shyly goes to buy tickets for a concert by the Neapolitan singer Alberto Selly in the hope of impressing Alessia Perrone.  When he finds that the tickets are sold out, he manages to obtain two from a friend of his mother's.  Alessia, however, plays hard to get at first and says she does not want to go to the concert.  When she changes her mind, Federico, to save face in front of his friends, says he is not interested in Alberto Selly so Alessia takes a friend to the concert instead. You can see part of this episode here.

There may be another love affair budding, between Conforti's beautiful, childcare-challenged waitress Pilar [who always makes me want to put a binbag over my head] and Perrone's cousin-in-law Cecio,  but this one could be more complicated.  And with Paolo and Carlo continuing to play tricks upon and threatening to kill each other whilst their wives look on in exasperation, complications abound.

Now we have, in addition, the Benvenuti a tavola book, written by Andrea Grignaffini and Pietro Valsecchi as if they were Carlo and Paolo and filled with photos of characters from the series and recipes .  It does not, alas, contain photos of the food.  Of course the test of any cookery book is whether the recipes actually work and I'll let you know about this as I try them out.

But right now I have to go as I need to publish this post, take Simi the dog out, catch up on The Archers and prepare supper before I unplug the phone, say "See you later" to my twitter friends and settle down to another two and a half hours of sheer joy at 9.10 pm.  Ciao e buon appetito!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012


When someone has treated you badly commiserations are always welcome and at the moment, nothing cheers me up more than hearing friends and acquaintances express the opinion that the offending party should "Vaffanculo" - the Italian equivalent of "f off".

Thus it was that, having related my tale of woe to the beautician on Saturday, I felt immensely comforted by the string of "Vaffanculi" she uttered whilst setting to rights both my feet and my face.  I should point out that there are no chiropodists in Modica - the nearest one is in Ragusa - so the task of preparing the feet of the city's women for summer is entrusted to its many beauticians who, I must say, do a good job.

In Britain a visit to the beautician is a relaxing experience and you can drift into golden slumbers whilst being pampered in the presence of relaxing new-age music.  Such sweet dreaming is but a fond memory in this particular salon, though, as any music played is usually the loudest rock 'n' roll, greetings are yelled at other customers as they arrive, gossip is exchanged at the top of everyone's voice and equipment is clanged about.  The face steamer is as noisy as a Great Western locomotive - but effective - and it would be a brave blemish that defied the beautician's determined squeezing afterwards.  Add to all this my own screaming as foot flaws are mercilessly dealt with and you have quite a noisy morning!

Locomotive at Acireale, Sicily

However, a face pack and  thirty or so "Vaffanculi" later I feel a lot better, as fresh as a Sicilian mai flower and ready for summer. I am walking on air!

Mai flowers at Kamarina, Sicily


Ageing, it is said, is not for the faint-hearted and sometimes I feel exactly like Doris in this clip from Gavin and Stacey, a series that reminds me of home:

Gavin and Stacey - "Doris, where's the salad?"


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