Thursday, May 30, 2013


I'm having a very oniony week for not only are the large, white Giarratana onions in season, but it is also time for the famous red onions of Tropea to make their appearance. These onions are grown around the beach resort town of Tropea in Vibo Valentia Province and particularly between Briatico and Capo Vaticano.  

The soil of the area makes the onions sweet and they contain vitamins C and E, iron, iodine, zinc and magnesium. A few years ago it was discovered that they also contain nitric oxide, a component of that pill for the gentlemen.  Sweets for your sweetie?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Baked, stuffed onions are a favourite in Sicily during the Giarratana onion season and I used the largest ones I could find for this recipe.  The ragù with dried apricots and almonds is my own invention because I wanted to do something different, so all you Sicilians who are shocked by the mix of "sweet and savoury" had better look away now!

First, clean, trim and peel 6 large, flattish onions and then put them in simmering, salted water for 20 minutes or until tender but not falling apart.  Lift them out of the pan with a slotted spoon and let them dry on kitchen paper on a plate.

Heat the oven to 170 C while you make the ragù.  These quantities are enough to fill the 6 large onions and to have some ragù left to put around them:

4 tablesp olive oil + extra for drizzling
200 gr mixed, minced meat [typically pork and beef in Sicily]
200 gr pasta di salame [sausage mince]
125 gr mushrooms, chopped
6 fresh mint leaves, chopped
125 ml white wine
100 gr chopped almonds
100 gr dried apricots, chopped
coarse seasalt and black pepper
mint leaves to garnish

Brown all the meat in the 4 tablesp olive oil and add the mushrooms. Stir well, then add the wine, chopped almonds, chopped mint and apricots. Season the mixture, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 25 mins.

Meanwhile, scoop out the centre of the onions as best you can. [I used a small knife and a teaspoon.] Oil a glass or ceramic oven dish and place the onions in it. Now fill them with the ragù and spoon the remaining ragù around them. Drizzle more olive oil over the contents of the dish and bake for about 30 mins. Garnish with more mint leaves.

Buon appetito!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


"My poet", Antonio Lonardo, whom I also call "Il poeta del ponte", has been busy since he last appeeared on this blog. Since the collection of poems Il profumo del pensiero, which I translated into English, three more Lonardo anthologies have been published and Antonio has continued to be awarded honourable mentions in, and to win, numerous poetry competitions.

His latest collection is entitled Orizzonti sconvolti [Unsettled Horizons] and is divided into three sections: Storia, about historical events and people in history; Crisi, about the crisis in our values; and Speranze, about hope.  The author of this article calls Antonio a "determined" poet and, whilst I would agree with this, I would also describe his message as triumphant, for he always gives us hope.

Incidentally, I get a mention in the article too!

Saturday, May 25, 2013


A passionate song from popular Emma Marrone [who at last has a non-weird hairstyle]:

Emma Marrone - Amami

Friday, May 24, 2013


Italians don't go in for food crazes in the way that the British do, and especially not in Sicily, where people still tend to eat seasonal food and are convinced that their own is the best.  

Lately, though, I've noticed a growing interest in different kinds of salt and I have collected these specimens.  I was particularly pleased to see grey Breton salt among the range as I hadn't been able to find any in eight years and I have missed it. Now I think the manufacturers should add Welsh seasalt, too.

I'm expecting a salt-admonishing blog visit from my friend James any minute but meanwhile it's time for that summer song:

Gino Paoli - Sapore di sale

Thursday, May 23, 2013


 Giovanni Falcone
Image: Wikipedia Italia

"Gli uomini passano, le idee restano. Restano le loro tensioni morali 
e continueranno a camminare sulle gambe di altri uomini."

"Men die but ideas live on. Their moral power remains and they walk
 forward on the legs of other men."

- Judge Giovanni Falcone, 18 May 1939 - 23 May 1992

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


It's always gratifying when a mousse, semifreddo, timballo or any other dish that is meant to turn out actually does just that, so I thought I'd show you this zucchini mousse. Admittedly , it would have looked better if I'd had the patience to cut the zucchini for the top into ultra-thin ribbons but I didn't have the patience tonight and sliced them in the processor. 

The recipe, for those of you in Italy, was in Donna Moderna about three weeks ago but I'm afraid I can't find the date on the pages I kept. You are supposed to use goat's cheese but, as I couldn't find any, I used Crescenza.  The dish also contains eggs, chives, basil, more grated zucchini and panna di cucina [cream for general cooking - it is thinner than British single cream]. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Speakers of other languages are often surprised to find that, in English, it is possible to string several adjectives together in one sentence and that there is an accepted order for these adjectives, according to their meaning.  We say, for example, "a nice young man" rather than "a young nice man".  The native speaker usually uses the correct order automatically and does not have to think about it but the English learner needs some rules to hold on to, so is taught that the "opinion" adjective comes first, then the "size" one, then the "age" adjective, then "shape", "colour",  "nationality", "material" and "purpose" ["a nice, big, new, rectangular, brown, British, wooden dining table"].

We were practising such combinations today in class and, towards the end of the lesson I asked students to use three adjectives together in a sentence describing a person and another three in a sentence describing an object.  One student wrote,

"My English teacher is a beautiful, middle-aged, Welsh woman."

Besides admiring his good judgement in his choice of "opinion" adjective, I could have hugged him for having the gallantry to leave "size" out of it and for not writing "old". What's more, he even remembered that I am Welsh! Could this mean that I am getting somewhere in my campaign to convince Sicilians that "Inghilterra" is not Britain and that Britain is not England? No.... that would be too optimistic!

Weren't these the days?
Image:  WP Clipart

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Good luck to Italy's Marco Mengoni, who returns to the stage with his winning Sanremo song, L'Essenziale, in the Eurovision Song Contest tonight:

Marco Mengoni - L'Essenziale

And, because the UK will be represented by a Welshwoman, I have to root for Bonnie Tyler as well!

Bonnie Tyler - Believe in Me

Friday, May 17, 2013


As I've written many times before, the stuzzichini or antipasti served in many a Sicilian bar are often plentiful and delicious enough to form a meal in themselves.  Thus it was when a friend and I had dinner out last weekend and it was a nice surprise to get a mini-dish of pasta too:

Thursday, May 16, 2013


If I asked you what you think Sicilians' favourite smell is, what would you say? You might think it was the scent of jasmine or orange blossom wafting through the air at this time of year or one of these in perfume form. Or, talking of perfume, perhaps the island's women finish their toilette with a generous spray of Acqua di Parma's almond fragrance or D&G's Sicily.

Then again, maybe the way to a Sicilian's olfactory nerve is through the kitchen and you might imagine that the unmistakeable scent of vanilla as numerous pasticcerie set to work in the morning or the aroma of freshly prepared foccaccia, pizza or arancini in the evening would be at the top of every Sicilian's good smell list.

All of the above would make the list but I can tell you with certainty that none of them would top it: I recently  had to visit a non-medical establishment which had been spring-cleaned with particular vigour and everyone - man or woman - who came in while I was there stopped as they crossed the threshold, sniffed the air and declared joyfully, 

"Che bel profumo di pulizia!" ["What a beautiful smell of cleaning!"]

And that, dear reader, is Sicilians' favourite smell.  What's yours? Just for fun, do please vote in the poll in the sidebar. Thank you.

Image: WP Clipart

Monday, May 13, 2013


And I'm not talking about Britain's goddess of cuisine, Nigella! No, tonight's post is about another of my favourite ladies, the Greek goddess Demeter, and that most divine of foods, chocolate.  

Those clever people at Modica's Antica Dolceria Bonajuto have put the two together and produced a chocolate medallion featuring the head of Demeter. They got the idea two years ago when they worked on a project for the Museo Biscari with Sicilian goldsmith Massimo Izzo and Catania-born designer Marella Ferrera. Back then, they produced a gold chocolate impression of the goddess but now they have decided to produce a whole line of chocolate deities, each made with the same type of mould that Massimo Izzo uses to make his "real" jewels and presented in its own jewelbox. The line, appropriately, is called cioccolato-gioiello.

For those of you who do not know of Demeter and Persephone's connection with Sicily, here is an edited version of a post I wrote about this in 2007:

Persephone [Core / Kora], daughter of Zeus and Demeter [Ceres], was abducted by Hades [Aidoneus / Pluto] whilst gathering flowers at Enna*. Demeter's grief for her daughter knew no bounds and she wandered the earth trying to find her, neglecting her duties as goddess of corn and so causing a worldwide famine. Zeus, forced to intervene, persuaded Hades to allow Persephone to return from the underworld, but she was tricked into eating some pomegranate seeds, the "food of the dead". [According to Robert Graves in The Greek Myths, there was an ancient taboo on red-coloured food.] This precluded Persephone's return to earth. Sources vary in their accounts of how many seeds she ate - Homer says one, Graves seven, Tennyson assumes three, other sources six - but it was agreed that Persephone would spend a month with Hades for each one. Let us believe, for the sake of the story, that it was three or four. Thus Persephone spends the winter months with her husband, returning to earth and Demeter for the spring. She brings much-needed rain for the crops with her as the lucky girl had received Sicily as a wedding present. Therefore it is only fitting that she should take special care of it.
* The Sicilians, and I, believe it was at Enna. It could have been almost anywhere in the Greek world.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


This is the title track of Alberto Molon's first solo album. In the song he is trying to convince himself that he's fine, even without the one he loves.  Haven't we all been there?

Alberto Molon - Sto bene anche se

Friday, May 10, 2013


Pasta alla Norma is one of my favourite Sicilian dishes and I was thinking of it as I walked home past my local pizzeria last night. The aroma was just too much for me, so I went in and emerged, fifteen minutes later, with this delicious pizza alla Norma.

The pizza was of course enjoyed to strains of Bellini!

Thursday, May 09, 2013


Those of you who know my politics will be surprised to read that I have achieved 15 gnomoseconds of fame in the expat section of the Torygraph and, for those of you who do not hail from Blighty's shores, I should explain that the Telegraph newspaper has this nickname because of its tendency to support the British Conservative party.

Anyway, on the May Day bank holiday I was mucking about on twitter, as is my wont, when I saw a tweet from @TelegraphExpat asking for pictures of garden gnomes belonging to expats. I sent them [the Telegraph people, not the gnomes] a  tweet asking if balcony gnomes counted and a nice lady replied that they definitely did, so I sent her this picture of Pierre gnome and his pals:

I explained that Pierre is from Cardiff, like me and that the dust on him is from Etna. That information found its way into the caption and, although it is true, I only added it because I wasn't feeling energetic or balcony-proud enough to dust Pierre before taking the picture.

Pierre and his little gang are very pleased with themselves but Simi the dog is somewhat miffed at not being in on the act!

The whole gnome gallery is here.

Monday, May 06, 2013


News of the death today of Life Senator and former Prime Minister of Italy Giulio Andreotti has gone around the world but I wonder how many of you have read or heard of the death yesterday of a quiet and courageous woman? Agnese Borsellino, widow of the anti-Mafia judge Paolo Borsellino, murdered in 1992, died in Palermo at the age of 71 after a long illness which she bore with dignity and acceptance.

Agnese Borsellino never wavered in her fight to find out the truth about her husband's murder and, when ill health prevented her from attending some of the demonstartions organised in support of her cause, she chose to send a message to young people, saying that, despite all that had happened and some moments of doubt, she continued to believe in the democratic institutions of her country, as had her husband. In a rare interview which she gave to ANSA last year, signora Borsellino remembered that her husband's sense of duty had led him to ask himself, every evening, whether he had earned his state salary that day. His conscientiousness, sadly, cost him his life.

Mourners in Palermo applauded Agnese Borsellino's coffin as it was carried from the church of Santa Luisa di Marillac this morning and the service was attended by both national and regional government representatives.  Governor of Sicily Rosario Crocetta said that signora Borsellino, who had been deeply aware of the injustices which exist in Italian society, had been an example of courage, strength and values. He said that she and her husband belonged to all who believe in justice.

Saturday, May 04, 2013


This is the first single from young songwriter Mario Cianchi. I like it:

Mario Cianchi - Sarà abbastanza

Friday, May 03, 2013


I once taught the subjunctive to an Advanced Level French class, all of whom were also studying Advanced Level English Literature, by using French versions of lines from Shakespeare that they already knew, because they were more likely to find the subjunctive in Shakespeare than in modern English. The method, I am glad to be able to report, worked.

Here is a confession: I love the subjunctive. I love its elegance, its sound and the grammatical hoops you have to go through in order to use it.  But what is it? It is not a tense but what is known grammatically as a "mood", implying that what is important in the utterance is not what happens but the speaker or writer's attitude towards it.  A simple example in Italian would be, "Penso che sia buono" ["I think it's good"]. The second verb - part of essere [to be] - is in the subjunctive; the speaker or writer thinks something is good but it may not be - so the subjunctive is often an indicator of uncertainty. Half the fun of using it, in the Romance languages, is in judging the degree of uncertainty. In Italian, as in French and Spanish, the subjunctive is also used in certain set expressions and after certain verbs and conjunctions but the uses are not necessarily the same in the different languages.

Frequency of subjunctive use varies from language to language, too: The subjunctive is a rarity and a formal mode of expression in British English so it may surprise some of you to learn that it is more often used in American English. However, it does survive in British English and most of us are unaware that we are using it in forms such as "If I were you". It also survives in our national anthem, for the line "God Save the Queen" is the expression of a wish. 

Alas, even in French, a language passionately defended by its académiciens, the present subjunctive is drowning out the other forms and it is now quite common to hear "Penso che è" rather than "Penso che sia" in Italian - so much so, in fact, that Rosalba Occhipinti, a primary school teacher from Gela, has formed a Society for the Protection of the Subjunctive. All signora Occhipinti's pupils are members of the society and they have promised to seek out examples of the use of the subjunctive and to correct any errors that they come across. Next year, the school will run a competition based on exercises involving the use of the subjunctive. Long live [there's another one] the Associazione a tutela del congiuntivo and may signora Occhipinti's students continue to have fun with the subjunctive for many years to come!

Wednesday, May 01, 2013


No apologies for reposting this lovely song on May Day!

Fabio Concato - Fiore di maggio

"Mai" flowers at Camarina


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