Monday, September 30, 2013


I suppose it must have been about a quarter a century ago that I acquired the British habit of reading cookery books in bed as if they were novels and now, among my many cookery books from many nations, there are what I call the "one-offs" - good for a recipe or two but not otherwise reliable - and there are the stalwarts, the books written by cooks who never let you down.  

From my own country there is the "sainted Delia", often my starting point for a basic recipe or technique and a goddess, long before Nigella, for converting measurements.  Delia is good to watch, too, if you can stand her constant mispronunciation of foreign terms but she went down in my estimation when she started cooking in a conservatory three times the size of most people's homes and up again the day she appeared, apparently drunk, on a football pitch. Well, wouldn't you want to let go after all those years of precision?

Then there are the entertaining cooks, like "cheeky chappie" Jamie Oliver, the "Two Fat Ladies", the late, flamboyant Keith Floyd, and the glamorous, exuberant Nigella. The prose of all these writers is a delight to read and their recipes invariably work, too. There are, though, cookery writers who manage to weave among their recipes  not only their own stories but those of an entire culture and among these I would count Elizabeth David Claudia Roden and Marcella Hazan, who died, at the age of 89, yesterday.  

If I learnt French cooking from Elizabeth David and my beloved Larousse Gastronomique, it was from Marcella that I learned the basic techniques of Italian cooking and I will always be grateful to her for "writing me through" [because it felt as if she was talking me through] the way to cook a veal escalope as the Italians do [not as easy as you may think ] and for teaching me not to be afraid of artichokes.  

Marcella Hazan

Marcella Polini was born in Cesenatico [Forlì-Cesena, Emilia-Romagna] in 1924. She gained a Ph.D in Natural Sciences and Biology from the University of Ferrara and was teaching Maths and Science when she met Victor Hazan,  an Italian-born New Yorker and later a wine writer, whom she married in 1955.  

A few months after their wedding the couple moved to New York and Marcella always said that, before this time, she had no idea how to cook. Perceiving that her husband missed Italian food, Marcella set about turning herself into a serious Italian cook but it wasn't until she was in her forties that she began giving cookery lessons in her apartment. She published her first cookery book, The Classic Italian Cook Book, when she was nearly 50. Victor translated this, and all her books, into English.

Marcella Hazan is credited with introducing "real" Italian cooking into the American kitchen, in much the same way as Julia Child taught Americans to cook French food. 

In 2005 Marcella Hazan became a Cavaliere della Stella della Solidarietà Italiana.

My favourite book by Marcella Hazan is Marcella Cucina and my favourite recipe from it is this one, which I have cooked time and time again here, to much acclaim, for friends.

Grazie, Marcella.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


This duet with Kylie Minogue is the lead track on Laura Pausini's new Greatest Hits compilation, to be released in November to celebrate her 20-year career. Laura Pausini will also be undertaking a world tour.

Laura Pausini e Kylie Minogue - Limpido

Friday, September 27, 2013


I took this photo at Eloro in Siracusa Province many years ago. I found it by chance last night and thought it would be a nice image to end the week with.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


It's that time of year again and here come the prickly pears!  In their honour, I invented this recipe at the weekend. The idea of using fruit in a savoury dish has shocked some of my Italian friends again but the recipe worked really well. It's not for those of you who are sensitive to seeds, though.

Pollo ai fichi d'India - Chicken with prickly pears

If you're in Italy, ask your butcher to cut half a chicken breast a fettine. If you're in the UK, ask him to slice a boned, skinless chicken breast thinly. 

Peel three prickly pears in the way that a Sicilian taught me:  put the fruit on a plate or board and hold it steady on its side with a fork. Top and tail it. Still holding it steady with the fork, cut a lengthwise slit in the skin with a knife and then cut round the fruit.  You have to be careful not to touch the skins with your hands as you can still get a nasty prickle even if you buy the fruit dethorned.  Keep holding it with the fork to slice it.

Heat 4 tablesp olive oil in a wide pan and brown the chicken fillet slices lightly. Add 350 gr button mushrooms or sliced mushrooms and 250 ml white wine.  Stir everything and then add the drained contents of a 190 gr jar of small artichokes in oil. Set aside three or four of your tidiest prickly pear slices for a garnish later and add the rest of the slices to the pan. Season the mixture with seasalt to taste and a few twists from a peppermill of mixed peppercorns. Cover the pan and cook for about 50 mins over a low heat.

Just before the end of cooking, take the pan off the heat and add 200 ml panna di cucina [Italian cooking cream, which is thinner than British single cream].  Stir it in well and put the pan back on the heat for a couple of minutes, still stirring.

Garnish the dish with the reserved prickly pear slices.

Buon appetito.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


What a beautifully set table there was at a party to celebrate my friends' 50th wedding anniversary on Saturday:

The menu consisted of dishes that brought back memories of places where the couple had lived and you may be able to see the little Spoleto pizze at the top of the place settings.  The antipasti were all Italian but the main course was roast beef and Yorkshire puddings!

I've mentioned before that a lot of Sicilians are reluctant to try foreign food and so it was with the Yorkshire puddings and gravy. "Peggio per loro - so much the worse for them", as this meant that there was more for the British contingent.

There were three kinds of anniversary cake - an Italian sponge, a chocolate cake and a traditional British wedding cake, which further perplexed some of the Italians. Those who did try it, though, agreed with the Brits that it was delicious.

I think you need a closer look at the cakes:

I had a lovely time and felt honoured to have been invited so "happy anniversary" again, my dear friends.

Monday, September 23, 2013


The world may have pulled back from the brink but, as diplomats continue to negotiate and politicians continue with their sparring and rhetoric, there has been no ceasefire in the civil wars which are causing so much suffering. Thus the "boatloads of sorrow" carrying desperate migrants towards Europe continue to arrive in Sicily's ports.

As many as 1,000 migrants arrived at the weekend and of these, 634 landed at Siracusa or on the Island of Lampedusa. One inadequate, 20-metre fishing boat which was letting in water was signalled to the Sicilian Coast Guard by the Red Cross on Friday and was then spotted, 140 miles off Siracusa, by a Coast Guard plane. A Romanian patrol boat working for the European external border agency Frontex went to the aid of the passengers and was quickly joined by two Sicilian Coast Guard motorboats. Between them, they brought the boat to safety at Siracusa. On board were 299 people, all believed to be Egyptian or Syrian, including 114 minors - among them an eight-year-old and a newborn baby - 54 women and a man who was cradling the body of his 22-year-old daughter in his arms.

Izdihar Maham Abdulla was travelling towards what she and her father believed would be a better life. They had set out on the boat from Egypt a week before but the journey proved too much for Izdihar, who was diabetic and had no insulin with her. She died two days before reaching Sicilian waters and her father had held her body, covered with a few jumpers to accord her what dignity he could, for all that time. A doctor called to the scene as the boat landed was able to confirm the cause and approximate time of death.

Unless her family indicate that they have other wishes, Izdihar's funeral and burial will take place on Wednesday, according to Muslim rites, in the churchyard of Siracusa Cathedral and in the presence of the Archbishop and Mayor of Siracusa.

One Egyptian man has been arrested on suspicion of people-trafficking in connection with this case.

It is estimated that 9,000 migrants have arrived on Sicily's shores since the beginning of this year.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Friday, September 20, 2013


Some words of Chinese wisdom spotted in a Modica shop window:

"There is a time to fish and a time to dry the nets."

Most languages have a version of this saying and Modican dialect is not to be outdone:

"Tannu è festa quando veni."  - "Celebrate the festival on the day of the festival." 

Let's listen to a Welsh lady singing Pete Seeger's famous song:

Mary Hopkin - Turn! Turn! Turn!

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Sometimes the aroma from the pizzeria on the corner is just too tempting to resist and I enjoyed this Biancaneve condita ["Snow White" pizza with extra flavourings] from there the other evening. It contains mozzarella, ham, mushrooms, olives, salame, aubergine, onion and Würstel sausage:

I'm sorry I can't share the pizza with you, but I can share this!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


There has been no sadder sight in Italy today than the righted Costa Concordia and I am sure that everyone is thinking of those who were lost, the two passengers who are still missing and their loved ones. At 4 am when completion of the operation was announced, ships' sirens sounded in homage, the people of Giglio understandably breathed a collective sigh of relief and the salvage team were, deservedly, congratulated. It is worth noting that senior salvage master Nick Sloane has said that few countries other than Italy would have been able to put together the resources for such a massive rotation operation.

Tomorrow the search for the two missing passengers begins again and, in tribute to them and all affected by this tragedy, I am posting, for the third time on this blog, the song written by Costa Concordia survivors Antonello Tonna [from Catania] and Justine Pelmalay:

Monday, September 16, 2013


"Chi viene a Ispica compierà 100 anni - Those who come to Ispica will live to the age of 100", goes the saying in these parts but perhaps we now need to add, "Chi è nato a Enna - Those born in Enna....." for the world's oldest man comes from there.
Arturo Licata, who celebrated his 111th birthday in May, officially became the oldest man in the world at the weekend, following the death of 112-year-old Salustiano "Shorty" Sanchez in the USA.
Arturo sadly lost his wife in 1980 but he has seven children and is looked after by them in his home town of Enna. One of his sons says that, although Arturo can no longer see or hear, he is in reasonably good health, which he partly attributes to the fact that his father has never smoked and limits his alcohol consumption to a glass of red wine with meals. He has also always eaten lots of vegetables and is partial to a raw onion from time to time. Arturo's favourite dish is pasta with ricotta.
After working in the sulphur mines of Pasquasia for 20 years, Arturo became a nurse in the Enna Dispensary. One of his duties was to take children with tubercolosis  to hospital in Palermo. He also served in the military in Africa during the Fascist period.
Later Arturo learnt to play the guitar and was often called upon to compose love songs for friends who wanted to impress the ladies.  He developed a love of poetry and won several prizes in poetry competitions.
Now he passes the time telling the children in his family all about his long and interesting life. Let's hear it for Arturo and pasta alla ricotta!

Saturday, September 14, 2013


Jimmy Fontana in Modica, 2011

This 1971 song was another big hit for Jimmy Fontana, who died on Wednesday. Jimmy wrote the music with Italo "Lilli" Greco and the words with Franco Migliacci. The song was sung at the 1971 Sanremo Festival by both the Ricchi e Poveri and José Feliciano and was awarded second place. Feliciano went on to record the song in Italian, Spanish and English. This song about having to leave the place where you were born still resonates with many Italians today and continues to be loved. 

Jimmy Fontana - Che Sarà

I Ricchi e Poveri - Che Sarà [Sanremo 1971]

José Feliciano - Che Sarà

Friday, September 13, 2013


The late Jennifer Paterson's "Suffolk Lemon Pudding" is a dessert I have often made here and my Sicilian friends seem to like it, especially when I explain that it's a sort of semifreddo. My friend Irma is fascinated by this dish and I was flattered when she rang me a few weeks ago to ask for the recipe as she wanted to serve it at a party she was planning.  I hadn't imagined she would make four of them but she did!  You can see them in the bottom picture among the other cool and tempting dolci on the table:

The company of friends, a song from Irma's talented daughter and "Suffolk Lemon Pudding" in a moonlit Sicilian courtyard - what better way could there be to spend a summer evening?

Thursday, September 12, 2013


This is how we make appointments in Sicily:

"I'll definitely be there at ten", said the man [from whom I needed to buy something - I wasn't selling]. "But if I forget, call me."

At 11.40 I made the call: "I'm coming! Just give me a couple of minutes to get there." [He lives in the next street.]

One hour later, he arrived and was absolutely charming.

"Sorry I was a bit late", said he at the end.

"No problem", said I.

After all, it was only two hours and forty minutes.

Image: WP  Clipart

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Jimmy Fontana in Modica, 2011

I was sad to read tonight of the death of the singer Jimmy Fontana, whose songs were some of the first I listened to in Italian as a teenager. I have written here about Jimmy's performance in Modica in 2011. Never did I think, as I sang along to Jimmy's hits in the sixties, that I would be singing along to them at a live concert of his near my home in Sicily almost half a century later!

Jimmy's biggest hit was the 1965 song Il Mondo, which he wrote with Carlo Pes. The lyrics are by Gianni Meccia and the original arrangement was by Ennio Morricone.

Thank you, Jimmy, for all the pleasure you have given to millions, including a girl and a woman who never stopped dreaming of Italy.

Jimmy Fontana - Il Mondo

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


I always cheer up when Rosa comes back from Albania at the end of August and, knowing my penchant for earrings, this year she brought me these pretty ones from her home town of Vlorë.

It's Rosa's birthday today and I know you'll all want to say "Tanti auguri" to her, too. I'll tell her!

Monday, September 09, 2013


Belén Rodriguez, the Argentian showgirl and top model that men love to ogle and women love to hate, is getting married. On 20th September she will tie the knot with Stefano De Martino and she has chosen a Modican designer to create both her wedding dress and a cocktail dress for the reception.

The designer is 28-year-old Daniele Carlotta, who comes from a well-known Modican family of textile dealers. Although  he has been working and living in Milan since 2005 and has dressed Lady Gaga, he still has a studio in Modica.   

Belén chose Daniele Carlotta because of his flair, unique style and the exquisite Italian textiles he uses, as befits the son of a woman known in Modica as "the silk lady".  The designer says that Belén's wedding dress will be made of Como silk studded with Swarovski crystals and a piece of 1940s French lace owned by the Carlotta family business and which was being kept for a special occasion. The cocktail dress is inspired by dresses in the film Scarface and will be made of ivory chiffon with Swarovski crystals and gold.

The groom will be dressed by the Udine tailors Chiussi who in the past numbered Gabriele d'Annunzio among their clients.

Belén seems to like Sicilian designers, for it was the messinese Fausto Puglisi who designed the dress - what there was of it - which caused every Italian male watching the 2012 Sanremo Festival on TV to fall out of his chair and every woman to go out into the kitchen to make the espresso machine hiss:

A little more refined this time, perhaps?

Saturday, September 07, 2013


Here's a nice little love song for you:

Gianluca Grignani - Sei sempre stata mia

Friday, September 06, 2013


Audiences and critics at the Venice Film Festival have been impressed not only by Sicilian directors and films featuring Sicily, but also by a certain female politician who has become Sicilian "by adoption".  She is Michela Stancheris, Regional Councillor for Tourism and  Governor of Sicily Rosario Crocetta's right-hand woman.

In Venice to introduce two of the Sicilian films, Miss Stancheris's handling of questions about her possible candidacy for the office of Mayor of her home town of Bergamo was masterful: The idea had first been announced by Mr Crocetta when he was in Bergamo for a meeting and it delighted some residents of that beautiful town whilst surprising others, including the incumbent, rather negatively. Miss Stancheris said she would first like to complete her work in Sicily but that she would consider the proposal seriously if invited to stand. Asked what would be the first thing she would do if elected, she replied that she would create an entertainment centre in Bergamo as, although the city is well-served by its airport, once young people arrive there, there is nothing to do in the evenings.  As for any romantic plans, Miss Stancheris said that she already has a fiancé whose name is Sicily.

But could it be that another career beckons the 31-year-old? An unnamed British film director who saw her at Venice is said to have cried,

"But you look like Diana!"

What do you think? Are they alike?

Michela Stancheris

Diana, Princess of Wales

I'll be watching developments in Bergamo with interest as it was the first Italian city I ever saw and, despite the fact that it is a Lega stronghold, I have a lasting affection for it.

Now, I'm sure you'd like to know about the films in the Festival which have been made by Sicilian directors or which are set in Sicily, so here they are:

Con il fiato sospeso - Costanzia Quatriglio

A 35-minute film but none the less powerful for that and based on a true story:  Anna, a pharmacy student at Catania University, begins some research in the chemistry laboratories there. She soon realises that her working environment is unhealthy and indeed, her fellow-students become ill. Anna's friend Stella, who has dropped out of university, tries to persuade her to stop working in the laboratories but Anna has a dream - to become a qualified pharmacologist. Throughout the film, we hear readings from the real diary of a student called Emanuele, who died of lung cancer in 2003. Five years later the laboratories were closed, after 36 people working or studying in them had become ill.

Via Castellana Bandiera - Emma Dante

Everyone is talking about this film! Two women drivers, one of them played by the director Emma Dante, cause a traffic jam in Palermo and a stand-off ensues. The film can be seen as a homage to the Western but Emma Dante says it is also about principles and the inability to compromise.

Le Donne della Vucciria - Hiam Abbass

Screened in the Giorni degli autori - Venice Days section for independent filmmakers, this is a very short film created as part of the Miu Miu Women's Tales series. Palestinian director Hiam Abass was in Palermo when she was invited to make a film for the project and she immediately knew that the vibrant Vucciria market had to be the background. At the beginning of the film we see Sicilian puppets dressed in Prada clothes and then we see some of the real women of Palermo in celebratory mood. Hiam Abass says she wanted to showcase the city's music, craftsmanship and a "certain kind of femininity".

Summer 82 When Zappa Came to Sicily - Salvo Cuccia

In the Fuori concorso - Not in Competition section: In 1982 Salvo Cuccia, who was doing his military service in the North of Italy, set off for Palermo to see a Frank Zappa concert. Sadly, he didn't arrive in time. Thirty years later, he retraces his steps and remembers his youth. We also meet members of Frank Zappa's family, who are visiting the land of the rock star's ancestors. The film contains previously unseen images from the 1982 concert.

Future Reloaded - 70 Directors for Venice

In addition, Franco Maresco has a short film in the Future Reloaded section, in which 70 directors who have been instrumental in the development of the Festival have been invited to make a short film to celebrate the 70th edition.

Con il fiato sospeso - Trailer

Via Castellana Bandiera - Trailer

Le Donne della Vucciria - Trailer

Wednesday, September 04, 2013


As the "boatloads of sorrow" continue to arrive more frequently than ever on Sicily's shores, a tale of a family who remembered others even as their own hearts were breaking emerges from Siracusa:

A 49-year-old Syrian woman who arrived at Siracusa on a migrant boat with her husband and two children on 28th August was transferred to hospital in the city immediately after landing as she had suffered a cardiac arrest. Her condition could have been caused by the rigours of her journey or by emotion upon landing in a place where she felt she would be safe.  Sadly, the woman died shortly afterwards.

Her husband, as a gesture of gratitude to the community that had welcomed the family, did not hesitate to give permission for the woman's liver and kidneys to be used for transplant.  The transplants have been carried out on three patients in Palermo and Catania and all are said to be doing well.  

So that is how one refugee unknowingly brought to Sicily the gift of life.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013


If George Clooney, doing what he does best, which is to look elegant and nonchalant at the same time, caused most of the excitement at the Venice Film Festival last week - let us be tolerant and ignore the fact that he probably didn't have a permit to pilot the water taxi - today there was, for me, a much more interesting visitor:

Regular readers will know that I have been following the fortunes of Italy's Integration Minister, Cécile Kyenge, a woman who has found herself facing the most outrageous prejudice since her appointment and who has done so with dignity and courage. It was nice, therefore, to see pictures of her looking happy and relaxed, in the company of her daughters, at the Festival.   

The Minister told ANSA,

"The cinema, with its special language that is capable of involving and touching us deeply, is important for integration and for changing people's attitudes towards migrants."

She attended a screening of Fred Kudjo Kuworno's 18 Ius Soli [Jus Soli - the "right of soil"], a film about the right to citizenship of immigrants' children who are born and brought up in Italy. [This is not an automatic right in Italian law and Miss Kyenge is campaigning to change that.]  

Speaking a few days before the start of the new academic year in Italy, Miss Kyenge also said that she believes that school is the place where a country's democratic values can be strengthened and that adults should protect the innocence of children, who do not see difference.

The Minister also saw the film Italy amore mio, directed by Ettore Pasculli. In this love story a Romanian girl in Italy finds herself torn between the two cultures but seeks self-expression in dance. President Napolitano has said that the film gives a good portrayal of the children of immigrants in Italy and that such children are a vital dynamic force in the country.

Asked what kinds of films she likes herself, Cécile Kyenge said that she prefers protest films and films from which you can learn new things. She also likes the films of the great comedian Totò because, she says, they make you laugh whilst helping you understand many aspects of Italian culture.


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