Thursday, February 28, 2013


I don't often get food cravings, except for ice cream, but the other day I decided I just have to have chicken with cream and lemons.  I rarely use cream in my savoury cooking as cooked cream upsets my stomach but Italian panna di cucina is lighter than British single cream and does not cause me any problems. 

Get the butcher to cut one skinned and boned chicken breast [that is, two breasts as they are sold in the UK and one as sold in Italy] crosswise into not too thin medallion shapes.  Soften a chopped, medium white onion in 4 tablesp olive oil in a wide, fairly deep pan. Don't let the onion brown. Turn the chicken pieces in about 2 tablesp flour and add them to the pan.  Seal them on both sides.  Add 300 ml white wine, the grated zest and juice of 1 Sicilian or unwaxed lemon and stir well. Add 250 gr chopped mushrooms, a little chopped fresh thyme and parsley and a little dried oregano.  Stir well and season.  Simmer for 45 mins, then add 200 ml panna di cucina or other thin cream and stir. Simmer for another 15 mins, then serve with orange salad and enjoy!

Serves 4.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


If ever a country needed a morning-after pill, it was Italy this morning. As Italians went to bed last night - those who did bother to turn in, that is - there was no clear general election result and things weren't any better when they woke up this morning.  As I write, the number of seats allotted to each group in both parliamentary chambers is still changing and this is everybody's nightmare scenario here; an outcome so close that no one will be capable of governing, or at least, not for long.

You can see the results for yourself on the Ministero dell'Interno site and at the moment the centre-left coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani has 340 seats in the Camera dei Deputati or lower chamber, Beppe Grillo's anti-corruption M5S [Five-Star Movement] has 108, Mr Berlusconi's centre-right coalition has 124 seats and Mario Monti's Scelta Civica coalition just 45 seats.  This makes Beppe Grillo's party - but not group because it is not part of one - the most popular in Italy.  In the Senate, the upper chamber, where seats are allocated according to regional voting, Mr Berlusconi's coalition has 116 seats, Mr Bersani's 113, Mr Grillo's party 54 and Mr Monti's group 18.  [I repeat - the situation is constantly changing and both the ANSA news agency and Corriere della Sera are now giving the figures as 119 for Mr Bersani and 117 for Mr Berlusconi in the Senate.]

In the Senate elections, Sicily went with the Berlusconi coalition, with Beppe Grillo's party coming a close second and Mr Bersani's coalition third.  In the Camera, however, Sicily favoured the Grillo Movement, with  the Berlusconi coalition coming second and the Bersani group third [with almost 50% less votes than the Berlusconi group]. The difference in this region's results for the two chambers may be explained by the fact that you have to be over 25 years of age to vote for the Senate.

In this election young people have had their say and what they have said is that they are fed up with corruption and do not want more of the same. They want jobs and hope and in my opinion it is the lack of hope offered by the undoubtedly sincere Mr Monti that has lost him the vote. You cannot tell people who were not even old enough to vote when the crisis began that, because of a situation which could not possibly have been their fault, they have to accept ever-increasing austerity measures with no end in sight and no dream to follow.  

As for Mr Berlusconi, as usual it is difficult to find anyone who will admit to having voted for him and some people will tell you that they are voting not for him, but for his coalition [which is technically true]. "I wouldn't vote for him but as a celebrity he's fantastic", remarked a friend of mine after one of Mr Berlusconi's recent  television interviews.  "That's just the trouble", I replied. "He's not a celebrity but your former Prime Minister" ["and", I might have added had the conversation taken place tonight, "possibly a future one."] I'm willing to bet that this friend did vote for Mr Berlusconi! Why?  Because "everybody's Silvio" represents Italians as some would like to see themselves, because they admire his business audacity and because, many would say, "Who else is there?"

"Grillo", we might answer. The Left's criticisms of Mr Grillo have been levelled at the fact that he and his party members do not have governmental experience and certainly, this makes many Italians doubt his ability to really carry through.  But who, among those elected previously, has done so?  Mr Grillo is so suspicious of Italy's political establishment and institutions that at one point on Sunday he was urging voters to "lick their pencils" in order to make it harder for an unscrupulous vote-counter to erase their mark.  If I might venture a personal opinion here I would like to tell Beppe that, much as I have always admired him, his scant attention to hygiene in this instance would not give me confidence in a member of his party as Minister of Health. But I always was a fussy soul and anyway, do not have the right to vote in Italian national elections [only local and EU ones].

As the night wears on, desperate attempts are being made to form a coalition capable of governing but I am not hopeful: this is a country in which getting to the point is not regarded as a virtue and anyone asking a question at a public meeting or conference embeds it in the middle of so much flowery rhetoric that often the addressee has no idea what is being asked; writers do not use paragraphs, a contract is treated much like a used bus ticket and an appointment is a vague arrangement which probably means, "I'll call you if I remember to think about it."  What we should be wondering at, then, is not that the political system doesn't work but that anything, ever, works at all. When it does, it works beautifully and stuns the rest of the world and I wish this could be the case with this election result.

As I close my post, there is still no clear winner but I fear that there is a clear loser; its name is Italy.

Monday, February 25, 2013


Corso Umberto, Modica

"What do you usually do on Saturday evenings?" I asked a student during an oral exam simulation today.

"I go out with my friends", said he.

"And where do you go?"

"To the Corso."

"What's the Corso?"

"It's - the Corso!"

"Imagine I'm an examiner from Britain, I've never been to Italy before and I don't speak Italian. What's the Corso?"

"It's.... you know ... the Corso, in Modica Bassa."

"No, I'm afraid I don't know. What's the Corso? Is it a bar?" [I stopped myself from inquiring whether it was a bird or a plane.]

At this point the student is looking at me as if I am particularly stupid but he then manages, "It's a street!"

"What kind of street? A little street?"

"No, it's the Corso!"  [At this point I'm sure he, in turn, stopped himself from adding, "Idiot!"]

Finally he volunteered, "It's the main street."

"Ah, the main street! And what do you and your friends do in the main street on a Saturday night?"

"We walk up and down the Corso."

Here endeth the lesson.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


A sabato musicale of divided loyalties today, as Wales and Italy face each other in Rome in the Six Nations Rugby Tournament.  No apologies for reposting this:

Max Boyce - The Glory That Was Rome

Friday, February 22, 2013


Once in a while it's an unexpected and very welcome treat when a friend brings me fresh lemons from her garden.  These perfume the kitchen even more.  And when, on the same day, another friend brings me some of her pretty, handmade chocolates I know I'm in for a blissful evening:

I'll just let you have a closer look at the chocolates....

Happy weekend, everybody!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Now and then buying a bunch of Sicilian lemons, with their leaves still attached, perfumes the kitchen, reminds me where I am and brightens my day:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


At other times the antipasti are as good as the main course. Here are two platters I've enjoyed sharing recently:

But the star of the second meal - my birthday one - was undoubtedly the strawberry mousse, with candle thoughtfully provided by my friend Carol King!

Monday, February 18, 2013


Sometimes, when you have had a long, hard day and want to watch a long but rewarding programme like Masterchef Italia or Sanremo, or are looking forward, as I am this evening, to watching Beppe Fiorello playing the great singer Domenico Modugno [of Volare fame] in a Rai mini-series, you need good, fast food.  That's when the local butcher comes up trumps:

 Now, here's a golden oldie that I first heard in Italy over 40 years ago. It was the B-side of Anthony Quinn's record [for such was the terminology then] I Love You, You Love Me. Those were the days!

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Another Sanremo Festival has come and gone and here are the three top songs plus the one I voted for. I must admit the winning song, L'Essenziale, does nothing for me but I do like the song that finished in third position, from Modà. Elio e le Storie Tese not only came second, but won both the Critics' Prize and the Best Arrangement Prize and it would have been fun if they'd got the hat-trick.  My favourite song of the Festival remains E Colpa Mia, sung by Maria Nazionale in Neapolitan dialect.

I'd like to thank all participants, the organisers and Rai Uno for five evenings of superb entertainment!

Saturday, February 16, 2013


As the final evening of the 2013 Sanremo Song Festival gets under way, I just have to share with you Almamegretta's showstopping version, with Clementino and James Senese, of the Adriano Celentano song, Il ragazzo della via Gluck. The absence of group member Raiz for religious reasons caused some comment but, as presenter Fabio Fazio says in his introduction, it is a decision to be respected:


Image:  wp clipart

"Holy smoke!" was my reaction when I read the news of the Pope's retirement on Monday but it's been hard to explain to friends in Italy that the announcement did not cause the consternation in Britain that it has done in Catholic countries. Several people I've spoken to here have accused the Pontiff of cowardice and have made unfavourable comparisons with his predecessor's approach to ageing and increasing frailty - harsh judgement, indeed, considering that we do not know the exact circumstances which have led Pope Benedict to take his momentous decision.

It seems to me that, somewhat ironically, given that many would say he has done little to advance the cause of women, the fate of the Pope is similar to that of western women in this 21st century - he simply isn't allowed to grow old gracefully and maybe that is just what he needs, rather than wants, to do. And surely there is some merit in being able to admit that you have reached a point in your life where you cannot carry out your duties as you would like to?

It must be hard being the Pope these days: you have to be supersonic and when you arrive at particularly remote destinations you are expected to walk, with a spring in your step, around terrain that is not going to be exactly user-friendly towards your long, white vestments. After all, the Pope can hardly go and get himself a practical, Clintonesque pants suit, can he?  You also have to listen to everything from Gregorian chant to the songs of Miss Susan Boyle whether you like them or not and, to top it all, you have to be a tweeting pope too. I am not suggesting that His Holiness does not have savvy media advisers to do this for him and if he is anything like me - which I somehow doubt - he will love twitter. But I don't have to be infallible whilst dreaming up pope puns, tweeting links to learned articles to impress my friends or commenting on "The Archers"; nor are 1561856 followers likely to read my nonsense.

No, if part of your job description is to be infallible there are just too many places to be publicly fallible these days!

Finally, here's a word of advice for the Vatican:  choose a woman, dearies -  we're used to being fallible and one of our number would be so much better able to cope with the clothes....

Friday, February 15, 2013


Admittedly, it would have been better, dear readers, if I'd thought to take the photo before friends and students cut the cake - which served as my birthday cake as well -  yesterday but I didn't, so I hope you can imagine it whole!

Now here is the recipe and I swear it's the easiest tipsy cake in the world!

1 sponge cake - one of those dryish, bought ones that are already in layers will do very well. [In Britain, I have made the cake with trifle sponges, too.]
0.25 pint or 150 ml maraschino liqueur
plenty of jam to spread on the layers [you can use a different flavour for each layer if you like].
1 pint or 570 ml custard made with custard powder
almonds and other edible cake decorations

Split the cake into 3 layers if it is not split already and spread the two bottom layers with jam generously.  Put the cake back together, put it on a serving plate and pour the maraschino over. Leave for one hour.  Make up the custard with good old British custard powder [which I found in Catania] then let it cool.   Whisk the cooled custard well and dollop it over the cake. Leave the cake in the fridge for at least a couple of hours or overnight and decorate as you please just before serving. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013


As I write, the second evening of the Sanremo Song Festival 2013 is coming to an end, but let's "begin at the beginning" with an eclectic summary of last night's events:  

This year the show is being presented by the genial talk show host Fabio Fazio and the comedienne Luciana Littizzetto [both of whom can be seen in the video below] and I must say it is pleasant not to have to watch the pirouetting of airheaded supermodels all evening [though we have had to contend with Bar Refaeli tonight]. I like la Littizzetto and I wish she'd give me the name of her make-up artist, but I do think her black tights spoil her outfits.  OK, Luciana, you've got good legs for your age and we all know you're small but please stop making a career of that because you are too intelligent to need to do so. 

Fourteen famous singers are performing two songs over the first two evenings and a televote and press jury vote combined decides which of each singer's songs will remain in the competition.  There is also a separate contest for newcomers. I've already chosen the song I want to win - so it probably won't - and it's this one, from Maria Nazionale:

Last night there was a guest spot which went on too long from the comedian Crozza, funny as his imitation of Berlusconi was. There was also a quiet plea for gay marriage in Italy from the torinese couple Stefano and Federico, who are getting married tomorrow in New York.  Good luck to them but I think we'll see a few more Popes before their request is granted here!

Then there was the great Toto Cutugno, who received a special award from the city of Sanremo. Cutugno sang his relaxed song L'Italiano with a backing group from the distinctly unrelaxed Red Army Choir, which made the song, for me, a double contrast because it expresses all that the rest of the world loves about Italians as well as all that exasperates us!

Tonight une certaine Madame Sarkozy, looking very elegant and proving that she can both sing and play the guitar, appeared and accompanied la Littizzetto in a comic version of one of Bruni's own songs. So Italian men, who dream en masse of la Bruni-Sarkozy, got their Sanremo drool.

But the undoubted star of tonight's show was Asaf Avidan, who got a well-deserved standing ovation.  When Fabio Fazio announced that we were going to the commercials, I'm sure that everyone reached for the tissues - I certainly did!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Celeriac was a good friend to me back in Wales, where I found a salad based on it an excellent standby for all sorts of entertaining and for myself!  What's even better about it is that you can make the salad, dressing and all, a day in advance.  Sadly, I rarely find this vegetable in Sicily but when I do, I make the most of it.  On Saturday I found some and below is my celeriac salad recipe. I now perk it up with some chilli pepper and add carrot as a Sicilian touch:

Celeriac salad

Slice 1 large, peeled celeriac or 2 smaller ones in a processor and tip it into a serving dish. Add some grated carrot or carrot batons and a chopped red chilli pepper.  Make up a dressing of 5 tablesp olive oil, 1 tablesp white wine vinegar, 1 tablesp Dijon mustard, some dried oregano and seasalt and black pepper to taste. Mix the dressing well with a fork and then pour over the salad, stirring.  Cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge for at least a couple of hours.

Monday, February 11, 2013


It's always a joy to visit Linda and Chiara and I decided that something special was needed when they invited me, along with some other friends, to celebrate Carnevale on Saturday morning. I made my mother's coconut cake, which, for the occasion, became "Carnival Cake" - well, sort of.  Here it is just out of the tin:

And here, with the help of some orange icing sugar, it became a carnival mask cake. This might have worked better if I'd cut the template just a little smaller  but I didn't have time. Anyway, you get the idea?

I am going to give you the recipe in good old ounces, as my mum gave it to me:

My mum's coconut cake

7 oz self-raising flour or, in Italy, farina per torte plus an envelope of vanilla-flavoured lievito
4 oz sugar
4 oz butter, softened and cubed
pinch salt
3 eggs
3 oz dessicated coconut
6 oz mixed red and green glacé cherries, washed and halved

Line the base of a 2lb loaf tin with baking paper and butter the sides.  Then just whizz everything, including the cherries, in a food processor until you have a "cake" consistency - you know, the mixture should just drop off the spoon when you shake it.  [My mum used to beat it by hand but would have loved the innovation.]  Spoon it all into the tin and bake for one hour at 150 C.  It is ready when a skewer plunged into the top comes out clean. Coll on a wire rack. When you slice the cake, the finely chopped cherries will give the slices a satisfactory pink colour.

Enjoy and don't stop the carnival!

Saturday, February 09, 2013


The Sanremo Song Festival starts on Tuesday, so here's a nostalgic sabato musicale for you to enjoy:

Luciano Tajoli - Al Di Là
Sanremo 1961

Friday, February 08, 2013


Here's another photo of the Modican countryside to round off the week:

Wednesday, February 06, 2013


An ordinary Sicilian country road, perhaps.....

Then I remembered my old friend's good advice and looked up, to see these solar-powered streetlamps.  Who says we don't move with the times in Sicily?

Tuesday, February 05, 2013


February evenings can be chilly in Sicily and when that happens, a good spezzatino is what I need.  On Saturday I threw this one together and it was successful:

Spezzatino of pork and peppers
[serves 4]

4 tablesp olive oil
1 kg cubed pork for spezzatino [My butcher makes sure there is a fair bit of fat on the meat, as he believes, rightly, that this will give the stew a better flavour. The "cubes" are big in Sicily!].
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 large red and 1 large yellow pepper, chopped not too finely
400 gr can pomodorini [cherry tomatoes] in their juice or of chopped tomatoes
c. 200 gr sliced mushrooms
a little chopped parsley and sage
large glass white wine
coarse seasalt and black pepper

Brown the pork pieces, stirring, in the oil.  After 2 mins, add the onion and keep stirring. When the meat is brown all over, add the peppers and cook for 10 mins. Add the tomatoes with their juice, white wine and herbs.  Bring to the boil, season and simmer for about one hour.

Serve with orange salad and feel warm and cared about.

Saturday, February 02, 2013


I like this easy-going song, in which Niccolò Fabi tells us how he feels better when he goes to a place where no one knows him, "far away from himself" - even, perhaps, on a Sicilian island:

Niccolò Fabi - Lontano da me

Friday, February 01, 2013


The more eagle-eyed among my regular readers may have noticed that lately, I haven't been posting on Thursday evenings, a fact which may be blamed on this television programme and, in particular, on this man:

Chef Carlo Cracco

I wrote about the MasterChef Italia format in 2011 and in this second season the judges are again the gorgeous Mr Cracco, Joe Bastianich, who likes to pronounce the contestants' dishes "merda" and throw them across the studio, and the kindly but no less exacting Bruno Barbieri, who is displaying an eclectic taste in spectacles during this series.

Carlo, of the cold, appraising eyes and rare smile, was as rigorous as ever whilst judging last night's chiacchiere "duel" at the elimination stage of the contest and the episode reminded me that the Carnival season is upon us.  Since I can't have Mr Cracco, I will have to content myself with these chocolate-decorated chiacchiere which were on sale in the supermarket today:

Read how chiacchiere got their name here.


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