Wednesday, January 30, 2013


It is a sad but undeniable fact that Italy, if it wishes to compete in the 21st century, has to change. The question is not so much whether it will do so, but whether it actually wants to compete. A foreigner observing the current immobile economy could be forgiven for believing that it does not but a five-minute conversation with any member of the country's young, educated, cultured but unemployed masses would lead him to reconsider, for these young people are clearly frustrated beyond endurance.

Change is often unpleasant, especially when thrust upon us by outside forces and an Italy ready to change most of its habits would not be the Italy that so many of us love so dearly, for the very things that exasperate us about the country are also those which we admire:  seemingly endless summer holidays, long lunchtime closures which always begin just as we have arrived at some tourist spot, the ability to "worry about it tomorrow", the shop assistant who holds up the queue [or what passes for a queue] by chatting to the customer for too long but at the same time shows that she cares.... aren't these the characteristics that make us all wish we were Italian?

British schoolchildren wish they were Italian too when they hear about the three-month holiday that their contemporaries enjoy here and I'm sure that they would, had they known about it, have empathised with Italian students' dismay when Mr Monti announced on Monday that a plan to curtail the school summer break was under consideration. A quick look at the Twitter feed on the subject revealed that the idea had not gone down well, to say the least, with teachers taking the news personally and working mothers, who in another country might have welcomed the proposal, up in arms. Most of the commenters seemed to be of the opinion that Italy has more urgent problems than the length of school holidays to solve.

Yet the beleaguered Mr Monti may have been on to something:  could this have been the beginning of a move to bring Italian working practices into a form which would at least be recognisable to the rest of Europe? Something to stop the British, for instance, smirking in that superior way of theirs and remarking that they "are not paying taxes to Europe so that people in the Mediterranean area can lie on the beach for three months"?

When an Italian politician suggested shortening the lunch break a few years ago there was an  outcry, particularly in the South, but those who criticise the long, leisurely family lunch forget that it is too hot down here to do anything anyway and the importance of this time for family cohesion [which, let's face it, countries like my own lack to a tragic degree]. Opening hours, however, are another matter, particularly in areas that are more than ever dependent on tourism to survive.

Yes, there is something wonderful about a country that can look disaster in the eye and then point out that it was here long before the technological age and will be here long after it but even a defender of Italy like me has to admit that the country does have a tendency to go a sunbed too far in summer.

I am able to reassure you, though, that the mothers, teachers and hard done-by schoolchildren of Italy are resting serenely in their beds tonight, for, within hours of Mr Monti's announcement, candidates on his Scelta Civica electoral list acted in unison to deny the existence of any plans to curtail the school summer holidays.  Now if only they could take such decisive action on the economy.....

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Circumstances of high tension in my life have brought pizza night forward from Friday to Tuesday this week, on an "I deserve" basis.  One of my favourite combinations is that of sausages and peppers and what better way to enjoy them could there be than on a Modican pizza?

Monday, January 28, 2013


It is over twenty years since I first came to Sicily and was advised by a friend to always remember to "look up" when out and about. I did just that as I was waiting for a bus in Modica Bassa on Saturday and was rewarded with this view:

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Image:  Holocaust Memorial Day UK

"Qui, ai loro posti, stasera sedevamo noi, i vivi. Ma ridotti di numero, rispetto a un tempo, e non più lieti, ridenti, vocianti, bensì tristi e penseriosi come morti."
"We, the living, were sitting in their place this evening. But there were less of us than before and we were not happier, laughing more or more vocal but sad and lost in thought, like the dead."

- Giorgio Bassani:  Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini

"People sometimes ask me, 'Where was God in Auschwitz?' I believe that God was there Himself - violated and blasphemed. The real question is, 'Where was man in Auschwitz?' "

Rabbi Hugo Gryn: Chasing Shadows

Visit the HMD  Trust UK site to build
your memorial bridge

Saturday, January 26, 2013


We haven't heard from these young men for a while, so here they are with one of my favourite Italian songs:

Il Volo - E' la mia vita

Friday, January 25, 2013


"Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a Dalek gone wrong?" All of these thoughts and more went through my mind when I first saw the Christmas art installation on Modica Bassa's [non - functioning] fountain in Piazza Rizzone.  Then someone told me it was a comet. Silly me.

Image:  Corriere di Ragusa

The "comet", by Modican artist Angelo Ruta, has caused almost as much bewilderment, since it appeared, as the biblical one, and also a fair amount of controversy:  there are those who think it is a fine artistic specimen and others who criticise it for being unorganic and completely out of tune with its surroundings [which consist mainly of traffic].  

No one seemed to know if it was going to be there forever but yesterday all doubt was removed when the local Councillor for Culture announced that it is definitely temporary and will be leaving us after January 30th. However, as the temporary has a curious habit of becoming permanent and vice-versa in Sicily, I am not so sure about that and am waiting for a sign....

Thursday, January 24, 2013


One of the many facts that I hadn't known about the Second World War is that Catania, because of its strategic position and the importance of its port, was the target of more Allied air raids than any other city in Sicily. No fewer than 87 air raids on Catania were recorded by Italian Supreme Command, as compared with 69 on Palermo and 58 on Messina. Ragusa, for the record, was targeted 27 times.  In reality there were probably more raids than this, as it is possible that some were deliberately not noted in the interests of morale.

I learnt this and absorbed much more knowledge that was new to me as I walked, with my friend Carol King, through the Museo dello Sbarco or Allied Landings in Sicily Museum in Catania on Saturday.  We had both wanted to visit the museum for some time but had never got around to it and we were pleasantly surprised by how well it is organised, its exhibits and excellent annotation.

As you enter the museum a guide tells you what to expect and about events leading up to the 1943 landings. There is backup on film as there is throughout the museum. The first exhibition area that you enter is a simulation of a Sicilian square of the time and you can see into meticulously recreated houses, offices and shops.  Then you are invited into a simulated air-raid shelter, where you can experience a "bombardment", complete with vibrations.  It was dark and quite scary!  As you emerge from this room, you realise you are again in the square, only now two-thirds of it have been destroyed in the raid.

The museum occupies three floors and some 3,000 square metres of space, so there is a lot to see. There are exhibits of newspapers and the propaganda of the period, a mock-up of a street and rooms with octagonal tables featuring electronic chronicles of the progress of the various armies from day to day.

There is a simulated bunker which you can enter, a reconstructed field hospital tent, and further on there are armaments and exhibitions of the military uniforms of all sides. There are also waxworks of  some of the main protagonists of WW2, including Churchill, Roosevelt, Mussolini, Hitler and King Vittorio Emanuele 111.  Towards the end, there is a reconstruction of the tent where the Cassibile Armistice was signed.

Both Carol and I were struck by the newsreel footage of the civilian population and, in particular, how thin so many of the people looked. The museum's excellent guidebook points out that the "liberators" were hailed not so much for any democratic ideals which they might have brought with them but because they symbolised the end of the killing and an end to that older enemy of Sicilians, hunger. Episodes such as the Mafia's alleged role in the landings and the Massacre at Acate [Biscari] are not overlooked.

The very last exhibit is an electronic memorial plaque dedicated to all the soldiers who lost their lives during the landings and ensuing Sicily campaign. One thousand of their names, selected at random, are read out in their own languages.  We both had a lump in our throats as we left.

A total of 14,864 soldiers from Italy, Germany, the USA and the Commonwealth lost their lives during the Allied Landings in Sicily.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


If not exactly warm in Catania on Saturday afternoon, it was not too cold to sit on a café terrace and as it's just impossible to visit that fair city without having a gelato, whatever the weather, my friend and I gave in gracefully. Refreshing Tarocco orange juice completed our treat:

Gianduia and pistacchio flavours for me

and coffee and chocolate ice cream for my friend.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Orange salad is one of my favourite Sicilian dishes and it is so simple! For those of you who have not seen my previous posts on this, all you do is segment however many [cold] oranges you wish to serve and drizzle them with olive oil. You can season it if you wish and you can add onion, too - sometimes I do and sometimes I don't.  Last night my orange salad tasted even zingier and orangier thanks to the addition of some of the orange-flavoured olive oil I'd found in the salumeria - once I'd worked out how to open the container, that is:

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Here's another one I like from Italy's X Factor:

Davide - 100000 parole d'amore


Sometimes I clash with someone very dear to me, mostly because he always sees the positive aspects of any initiative whilst I, having had longer to become acquainted with disappointment, tend to see the pitfalls first.  The other day my friend pointed to the positive and negative ends of a battery and said, "Ma funziona"  = "But it works" and together, we kind of do.....

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


As I write, Messina, Enna and Caltanissetta Provinces have snow and it is extremely cold, by Sicilian standards, all over the island - a state of affairs not helped, of course, by the fact that Sicilian houses are built to protect dwellers from heat rather than freezing temperatures.

In Ragusa Province we have had two days of heavy hailstorms and this will probably continue tonight, according to forecasts. When I say "heavy" I mean it literally as the stones were the size of walnuts and the accompanying noise was quite something. I did think of going outside to photograph one of the stones for you but decided that "She finally succumbed to a passing hailstone" would have been an unfitting obituary.

Despite slippery roads and awful drainage, a severe hailstorm here does not stop people from using their cars - it would take Armageddon to do that - but it is enough to empty supermarkets, encourage people to cancel appointments and cause anxious mothers to wrap their offspring in as many layers of clothing as they can find and at least three wooly hats worn one on top of another [and that is only for indoors].

On the serious side, there has been a lot of damage to fruit and vegetable crops and at Randello Kamarina a 12,000-metre tomato crop has been totally destroyed.  Many other greenhouses and polytunnels along the Ragusan coastline have also been damaged.  Local politicians are calling for urgent regional government help for the growers.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


I'm proud to say that the provinces of Ragusa and Catania have establishments that have won Best in Sicily 2013 awards from .  

Let's start with Ragusa:  Modica's very own Caffè dell'Arte has won the "best bar" award and this is well deserved. They make delicious chocolate, ice cream, granita and pastries and you'll be pleased to know that the loo is OK, too! [In fact, when I first came to Sicily in 1992 it was about the only bar in Modica Bassa with a decent one and I used to go there just for that particular need but, of course, I'd stay on to have a pastry....]  The town of Chiaramonte Gulfi, also in Ragusa Province, wins the award for best "food and wine town".

The best wine producer award goes to Giuseppe Russo of Girolamo Russo in Passopisciaro-Castiglione di Sicilia in Catania Province while Maurizio Spinello of Santa Rita [Caltanissetta Province] has been named best baker. The best pastry shop award goes to Dolcezze delle Madonie in Calcarelli, Castellana Sicula [Palermo Province] and the best restaurant, according to the judges, is that of the Hotel Signum on Salina [Messina Province].  The best pizzeria  award has been won by La Brace di Isnello [Palermo Province] and I sure want to go there!

The awards ceremony will take place on 22nd January at Castello Utveggio in Palermo.

Let's hear it for the Caffè dell'Arte!

Thanks to my friend Carol King for pointing out this news to me.

["Gong" is British slang for an honour or military decoration.]

Monday, January 14, 2013


One year after the Costa Concordia disaster, I am reposting this song by Antonello Tonna, the catanese pianist who survived the tragedy, and the Dutch singer Justine Pelmelay.

Mr Tonna, who immediately after the disaster said that he had felt as if he were living scenes from Titanic, wrote on his facebook page yesterday that the events of that terrible night still seem to him like a sequence from a film. He says that his thoughts are with those who were lost and their loved ones and that he is particularly thinking of his drummer friend Giuseppe Girolamo, who didn't have the strength to throw himself into the sea.

After the disaster it was several days before Mr Tonna was told that Justine Pelmelay had survived and in March the two recorded the song.  Since then Mr Tonna has slowly taken up his musical career again and writes that his family, friends and music have helped him through the many sad moments of the past year.

Antonello Tonna e Justine Pelmelay - Il tempo si è fermato [Time Stood Still]

Time stood still again all over Italy last night as the anniversary of the moment of the disaster approached.  On Giglio and along the nearby mainland coastline sirens were sounded in tribute and 32  lanterns were released into the sky in memory of those who lost their lives and the missing.

Costa Concordia - un anno dopo

Saturday, January 12, 2013


A beautiful song about spiritual and social renewal from our new Regional Councillor for Tourism and the Performing Arts, Franco Battiato:

Franco Battiato - Testamento

Friday, January 11, 2013


Friday night is pizza night and I've got me a coppata one, containing tomato, mozzarella, sweetcorn and, of course, pancetta coppata. See you all later!

Thursday, January 10, 2013


As I write, Silvio Berlusconi is taking part in a major television debate on La 7's Servizio Pubblico programme. Having told us that he bears no responsibility for the economic crisis and expounded [again] on the justice system, the former Premier has just indulged in his second TV outburst of the week and, to a chorus of boos, cleaned the chair on which critical journalist Marco Travaglio had been sitting before taking it.  These outbursts have been and are being widely reported, as you would expect.

What has been less widely reported is the former Premier's comment about the actions of the Milan football team, which he owns, to a racist incident last week.  The team, as most of you will know, walked off the pitch in unison in support of a colleague who had been subjected to racist chanting during a "friendly" match.  Mr Berlusconi has expressed his support of the players' action and has said he will back them again whenever similar incidents occur. I am no defender of Mr Berlusconi but for this, at least, he deserves some credit.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013


The other day my Welsh friend Liz asked me how to cook artichokes. I am no expert and freely admit that if they are an ingredient rather than the main focus of the dish, I use antipasti ones or the frozen artichoke hearts that we can buy in Italy.

Preparing artichokes is a pain but, since coming to Sicily, I have learnt that if you have to do it you have got to mean business and be ruthless with the things!  The clearest advice I've found on the preparation stage is from Marcella Hazan.

That said, artichokes in Sicily are often cooked in ways that require very little preparation because all the diners are going to do is suck the delicious juices that will emerge from between the leaves:  the cook just cuts off the stalks, prises open the leaves as best he or she can - bashing the artichokes all around with a rolling pin helps! - then sprinkles seasalt over the vegetables and brushes them with olive oil.  The artichokes are then grilled slowly or roasted in the oven.  If you are roasting them in the oven, stand them close together in a roasting tin so that they don't fall over. Cook them at 200 C for about 50 mins. When they are good and dark, cut off any charred leaves and serve.  Each diner will probably demolish several of them and there will be messy piles of leaves on their plates but you do want them to enjoy the feast, don't you?  Some friends stuff a mixture of breadcrumbs and finely chopped herbs and ham, also moistened with olive oil, between the leaves as a variation.  Sometimes the finely chopped stalks are added to this mixture.

One of my own most successful recipes using artichokes is this pasta al forno.

Monday, January 07, 2013


Everybody needs to be loved and the mayors of Italy's 8,092 comuni are no exception.  Today, with the publication of Il Sole 24 Ore's Governance Poll, 101 mayors found out the extent to which their administrations are satisfying their citizens.

The most loved mayor in Italy, according to the poll, is Salerno's Vincenzo De Luca [PD] and Sicilian mayors Leoluca Orlando of Palermo [Italia dei Valori] and Marco Zambuto [UDC] of Agrigento are in second and third places respectively. The Lega Nord's Flavio Tosi of Verona is in fourth place. 

It is noticeable that the mayors at or near the top of the list have been elected or re-elected recently and have thus had their visibility increased. In general, the results point to a widespread loss of faith in politicians and, with a general election coming up, this is a wake-up call if ever there was one.  Of the 101 mayors listed, 27 received less than a 50% approval rating.

Ragusa's Emanuele [Nello] Dipasquale [who has recently resigned in order to become a candidate for the Regional Assembly] comes in at 59th, while Rome's Gianni Alemanno [PdL] is 70th.  I had to look way down the list to find a woman mayor and when I did, it was Maria Rita Rossa [PD] of Alessandria [Piedmont] in 93rd position.  As far as I could see, she is the only woman on the list, which may reflect the fact that just over 10% of the country's comuni have women mayors.

Now, it would be mean to tell you who is last, but I will anyway:  the mayors of Catania, Messina and Foggia occupy the last three positions. 

The Fourmost - A Little Loving

Saturday, January 05, 2013


The Befana, Italy's good witch, arrives tonight and will bring sweets to those of us who have been good and a lump of coal to the bad among us.

I love this video, which gives six reasons why the Befana is a better person than Santa:

1.  She is ecologically aware, as she travels by broom.
2.  She respects animal rights as she does not use reindeer.
3.  She is working class, as evidenced by her non-designer clothes.  [Not sure about that one!]
4.  She is just, as she gives gifts only to those who deserve them.
5.  She is tolerant, as her punishments consist of lumps of coal and a few ashes.
6.  She is undemanding, as in return for her work, she asks for only a little bread soaked in wine or milk.

Viva la Befana!

Thursday, January 03, 2013


A few months ago, I lamented the fact that Ferrero had withdrawn the chocolate flavour from their Gran Soleil desserts. These are a cross between an ice cream and a mousse and taste smooth and delicious. Well, they brought it back for the Christmas period and the packs came with cute little chocolate trees. I can't show you one of these because they were just begging to be eaten......

Come on, Ferrero, don't be mean - bring the choc one back permanently!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013


Giovanna was my first Sicilian friend and it was she who gave me my first Sicilian cooking tip, twenty years ago: "Always put a potato in the pasta water." I have never been able to establish the scientific basis for this but I have been adding that potato ever since! Giovanna is one of the most creative cooks I know and she is not afraid to mix sweet and savoury or to experiment with ideas from afar. Now I'll let you look at the feast she prepared for New Year's Day:

I loved her new idea for presenting antipasti:

 There were these as well:

As I can't eat fish, I had to pass on the fried baccalà  [salt cod]:

Then we sat down, first to lasagne:

 I had to pass again on the shrimp and strawberry risotto but I'm sure it was delicious:

 Next there was veal in a carrot and mint sauce for the non-fish eaters

and vitello tonnato for the others:

There were stuffed peppers, too:

Pineapple is popular at this time of year to refresh the palate:

Giovanna's tronco was a work of art:

 There was my favourite light dessert, gel al limone:

I'd made and taken along another semifreddo di marrons glacés, as it's light and everybody seems to like it:

And what could be better than a Sicilian cassata with the champagne?

Grazie di nuovo, Giovanna!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013


Even in Roman times, lentils were a symbol of abundance and all over Italy they are eaten on New Year's Eve in the hope that they will bring prosperity.  They are often eaten with sausages and, even though there is a proverb saying that given a choice of lentils, chickpeas or sausages the sausages are tastiest, I think we can  do our lentils more justice than that.

Last night I made this brown lentil and red chilli pepper loaf. It's a dish I often made in the UK but this was the first time I'd made it here and it was as good as I remembered.  

The recipe is in a rather old Vegetarian Cooking edition of the Australian Women's Weekly Home Library series. I used to collect these colourful cookbooks in the UK and, once I got to grips with Australian measures - we British don't do "cups" and an Australian cup is different from an American cup - they served me well.

Every lentil you eat on New Year's Eve symbolises a coin so now all I have to do is wait for the money to roll in!


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