Tuesday, September 30, 2014


I enjoyed the joyful BBC series Sweets Made Simple and wish they would bring it back. Perhaps the recipe which most impressed me with its genius and simplicity was the one for gin and lime truffles. I wanted to try it, but unfortunately I can't drink alcohol any more as it's incompatible with my medication. I don't let this stop me sloshing wine into my casseroles or Maraschino into my "tipsy cake" but I was scared I'd find a bottle of gin in the house too much temptation!

This, then, is my take on the truffles and I really want to thank Miss Kitty Hope and Mr Greenwood for the inspiration and especially for pointing out that you can roll truffles in any coating you want. I don't think I'd have thought of the pistacchi otherwise! As I've mentioned before, Bronte near Catania is the pistacchio town and you may be interested to read of its connections with a certain British admiral and of his possible link with three very famous British sisters.

Modican chocolate and lime truffles

100 gr chocolate, broken up - I used half cioccolato fondente [dark chocolate] and half cinnamon-flavoured Modican chocolate
2 tablesp panna da montare if you are in Italy, or double or whipping cream [but don't whip it!]
zest of 1 lime and juice of 2
50 gr unsalted butter in pieces
farina di pistacchi - very finely chopped pistacchi - to coat the truffles

First I must confess that I've lost my double boiler so I decided to melt the chocolate in the microwave:  if you are going to do this, put it in a small Pyrex-style basin with the cream and microwave for 2 minutes on medium low [but keep an eye on it - your microwave may be more powerful than mine.] Give it a good stir.

Add the pieces of butter and stir well to melt.

Add the lime zest and juice and stir till mixed. Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, scoop out coffee-spoonfuls of the mixture and roll into balls. Put on a tray lined with baking paper and refrigerate again for about an hour.

Now roll the truffles in the chopped pistacchi, known as farina di pistacchio [pistacchio flour] here.

Even without the gin, I think these taste quite exciting!

Saturday, September 27, 2014


Two other great Italian artists have celebrated their 80th birthdays this week and they are Ornella Vanoni and Gino Paoli. Tanti auguri and thanks to both of them for all the pleasure they have given to so many of us.

Ornella Vanoni - L'appuntamento

Gino Paoli - Una lunga storia d'amore

Friday, September 26, 2014


The end of summer means the disappearance of these

but heralds the appearance of these

and calls for a special salad, don't you think? Here's the one I came up with last week:

September salad

You need one skinless, boneless chicken breast if you are in Italy and two if you are in the UK, because here the breasts are sold as a pair and in the UK singly. Ask the butcher to cut it or them into escalopes and pound them.  Marinate the escalopes in 2 tablesp balsamic vinegar with 1 teasp sumac for at least two hours [No, I've never found sumac here - friends send it from the UK.] 

Now you need to deal with 4 prickly pears: to peel one, lay it on its side on a board, plunge a fork into it to hold it steady, then make a slit on one side and start peeling the skin off with the knife. Don't touch the skin as, even if the thorns have been removed prior to sale, you can still get some nasty scratches. Then cut the fruit crossways into slices. Grill the slices in 1 tablesp oil on a griddle pan. They won't go very brown or show griddle marks but the grilling will make the flavour quite interesting. Drain the slices on kitchen paper.

Next, cut 1 large red pepper and 1 large yellow pepper into strips, not very thinly, and grill these in the griddle pan in 2 tablesp. oil.  Drain.

Peel and deseed half a large cucumber or a whole small one and chop it. Put the pieces on a plate, sprinkle with fine seasalt and leave for half an hour or so. Then rinse and drain.

Drain the chicken escalopes and discard the marinade. Pat the escalopes as dry as you can with kitchen paper. Now grill them in 2 tablesp oil in all in a griddle pan. Drain on kitchen paper and leave to cool.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut the escalopes into bite-sized pieces with a kitchen scissors. Put the pieces in a large salad bowl and leave in the fridge.

Make a dressing with 6 tablesp olive oil, 1 tablesp honey, 1 teasp sumac, fine seasalt and black pepper to taste. Mix it all well with a fork and refrigerate this, too.

When you are nearly ready to serve the salad, add  some washed salad leaves to the bowl: I used a whole small radicchio and half an iceberg lettuce, but you can use what leaves you like.  Then add the peppers, prickly pears and cucumber.  Add a few basil leaves and then toss it all in the dressing and serve. 

Serves 4.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Over the years, I've received some nice "gifts" through my supermarket's loyalty card scheme, including a battery-operated cheese grater, a coffee machine, china, bed linen, numerous saucepans, an onion chopper and a cake slicer that plays "Jingle Bells". Therefore I am sorry to see the "gifts" scheme go, and even sorrier to see what has replaced it.

Sometimes I think the Italian national motto should be, "Don't make things simple if you can make them complicated" and there can be no finer example than the new discount coupon scheme that replaces points and gifts. Here's what you have to do to get your €5 discount coupon:

Present your card at the checkout every time you spend so that you can get one "bonus" [instead of a point] per euro. OK. Then, when you've accumulated 200 "bonuses" you have to BOOK your discount coupon. Yes, book it! You get a receipt for the "booking" which you are supposed to keep and after a week you can collect your coupon - if you remember to ask for it before the expiry date on the receipt and can find the latter in the first place . Finally, if you spend €25 in one go, you  can use the coupon!

For goodness sake! Why can't the coupon just be automatically sent to customers' home addresses? Because it would be too simple, that's why! I give up, Italy.

Bring back the points and gifts, please! I could do with another fun cake slicer.....

Monday, September 22, 2014


"Seeing's believing."

I've needed new specs for a very long time and on Saturday I finally managed it. I'd forgotten the world was three-dimensional!

Saturday, September 20, 2014


Italy's favourite lady Sophia Loren is 80 years old today and still lighting up lives with her beauty, grace and intelligence. Buon compleanno, Sofia!

Sophia Loren - Guarda la luna ["Nine"]

And does anyone else remember this piece of delightful nonsense? 
Sophia Loren and Peter Sellers - Bangers and Mash

Buon divertimento, bella!

Friday, September 19, 2014


Now, what do we have here in these pretty packages?

Home-made Modican chocolate, sent to me by a student's mum:

It's always nice to be appreciated and anyone who cooks knows how much work it takes to create such perfection.  Grazie!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Old factory at Sampieri beach, often seen in the Montalbano films

Which fictional character has done the most, in recent years, to improve Sicily's image and attract tourists?  The answer, unsurprisingly, is Il Commissario Montalbano, both in Andrea Camilleri's books and in the TV films based on them, which have been shown all over the world. Now you can see Montalbano's supposed house [in Santa Croce Camerina], partake of Montalbano arancini [rice balls] and other gastronomic delights and tour the film locations in Modica, Scicli, Ragusa Ibla and at the beach at Sampieri.

Why, then, would the show's producers want to stop filming in Sicily and transfer the sets to Puglia? The answer this time, again unsurprisingly for anyone with a knowledge of how Italy works [or doesn't] is the production company's frustration at the lack of financial report from the Sicilian Region over the last 15 years and it seems that author Andrea Camilleri agrees. 

As you may imagine, there has been an outcry in Sicily and this evening producer Carlo Degli Esposti met [after a long wait] with Sicilian Governor Rosario Crocetta, who has said that no one had told him about the situation and that he would do all he could to resolve it.  

I can't help thinking that, whilst a British Prime Minister is tonight at risk of going down in history as the "man who lost Scotland", Mr Crocetta may be remembered as "the man who lost Montalbano."

Don't let it happern, please, Mr Crocetta - Sicily needs and loves her Montalbano!

Luca Zingaretti as Montalbano
Image:  Wikimedia Commons

Monday, September 15, 2014


The news that there have been two major new migration tragedies in the Mediterranean is tonight breaking all over the world and one of these may, according to an IOM [International Organisation for Migration] spokesperson, be "the worst shipwreck in years", for this time we may not be dealing with an accident, but with cold-blooded murder. 

Neither incident occurred in Italian waters but both affect Italy, so I will report them here. I should emphasise that reports of the incidents differ in detail and that the sequence of events has yet to be confirmed .

In the more widely reported incident, which IOM believes happened on Wednesday but which UNHCR thinks happened on Friday, it is possible that up to 500 migrants died after people traffickers deliberately sank their boat off Malta when an argument broke out on board. According to two Palestinian survivors of the wreck who have been brought to Sicily, the migrants started their journey towards Europe from Egypt and were forced to change boats several times. Finally the traffickers,who were travelling in another boat, ordered the migrants to transfer to a vessel which they judged too small and when they refused, the traffickers rammed the migrant boat until it capsized. 

Nine survivors were rescued by Maltese and Greek ships but the other passengers, of Syrian, Palestinian, Egyptian and Sudanese nationality, are feared dead.

The Italian police have begun an enquiry into the circumstances of the wreck.

In another incident which took place on Sunday, a boat carrying 250 migrants sank off Tanjaura, east of Tripoli. The British press are reporting that 26 survivors have been rescued by the Libyan Navy but La Repubblica puts the figure at 36. All these migrants are said to be from North Africa and many of them are women,  This rescue has proved difficult as the Libyan Navy say they do not have specialist boats for the task.

A further 18 people may have died in the wreck of another migrant boat which got into trouble in international waters 300 miles south-east of Malta on Friday night, bringing the total number of deaths in the Mediterranean  in the past few days to over 700 if the rammed boat story is confirmed.

UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, who has been visiting Maltese Naval Rescue HQ, said on Monday,

"We all need to wake up to the scale of this crisis. There is a direct link between the conflicts in Syria and elsewhere and the rise in deaths at sea in the Mediterranean. We have to understand what drives people to take the fearful step of risking their children's lives on crowded, unsafe vessels; it is the overwhelming desire to find refuge. It is also part of a bigger problem - the soaring numbers of people displaced by conflicts around the world today, which now stands at over 51 million. Unless we address the root causes of these conflicts, the numbers of refugees dying or unable to find protection will continue to rise."

The Italian Navy rescued 2,380 migrants in the Mediterranean during the weekend.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


The soprano Magda Olivero died on Monday, aged 104. La Scala honoured her with a minute's silence before that evening's performance.

Magda Olivero - Un bel dì vedremo

Thursday, September 11, 2014


"....and damned if you don't." Thus might the thoughts of the priests of Palermo Cathedral have run last week, when they were subjected to much criticism because of a prominent "WC" sign in a side chapel. Where is the loo in question? Directly behind the altar, a fact which has astonished locals and tourists alike.

One of the priests has said it was the only place in the cathedral where they could have put a toilet facility and that it is needed because there are no public conveniences, or other premises with toilets, nearby. He also said that the general feeling among his colleagues is that it is better to offer the facility than not and emphasised that the altar in question is not used for Mass or to store the host and wine.

What do you think? Would you expect to find a toilet in a cathedral?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Happy birthday to Rosa, who is my friend and also sorts my house out. I made her a summer pudding and Simi thought it was a good idea, too!

Monday, September 08, 2014


After writing about so many tragedies and so much sorrow regarding migrants in the Mediterranean, it is nice to be able to bring you a positive story on this theme: When I read about the Barca di Cioccolato ["Chocolate Boat"] project, I contacted Pierpaolo Ruta of the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, Modica, who in turn, put me in touch with the project's creator, the artist Jonida Xherri.

Jonida is from Albania and is currently living in Modica and Florence. Jonida, too, had dreamed of coming to Italy so felt that she could identify with the migrants and, having received a Modican welcome herself as an immigrant seven years ago, she wanted migrants at the Pozzallo Reception Centre to have a similar experience. Thus, in January this year she launched the first Barca di Cioccolato project and, at the end of August, the second. 

Jonida wanted to demonstrate not only the economic links that we have with Africa, but also the important cultural ones and the ways in which our traditions are connected. The project was carried out in three phases:

1.  The historical phase: It was the Spanish colonisers who brought the Aztec method of making chocolate to Sicily but the cocoa bean of course had to come from Africa.  At first, it arrived by sea, just as migrants in search of a better life do today, even risking that life to do so.  For this reason, it was decided to make the second "chocolate boat" out of 'mpanatigghi [the word has variant spellings] the traditional Modican pastries containing chocolate and minced beef which, in times gone by, were carried on long journeys, because they would keep. In all, 600 'mpanatigghi were made by the migrants with the help of the staff at Bonajuto. The public were able to see the finished boat from 29th August - 1st September and when it was dismantled the 'mpanatigghi were distributed to the migrants in the reception centre.

2.  Ceramic tiles:  The migrants painted their own designs or wishes on to the tiles, often using African colours or chocolate themes.  Then the tiles were fired and displayed in the reception centre.

3.  Video: the viewing of a video about the first Barca di Cioccolato project, with the aim of showing people that even the poorest countries have a rich cultural heritage and can contribute to the world economically.

After making the boat, the migrants were offered lunch at the Osteria dei Sapori Perduti and ice cream at the Caffè Adamo, both in Modica. They visited the Salvatore Quasimodo exhibition at Modica's Palazzo della Cultura and the town's Garibaldi Theatre.

Jonida writes.

"The young migrants want to use art to express their dreams.  These dreams have led them to undertake a very difficult journey and to risk their lives.  They want to say that they are here and that they need the help of the whole of Europe to have a normal working life."

Slideshow - Barca di Cioccolato 2

Jonida did not receive any public funding for the project and wishes to thank the following private sponsors:

Girolamo Pavingross Srl Carpentieri
Giovanni Modica Scala (fotografo)

Thank you, Jonida, for the information and photos.
All photos are the work of Giovanni Modica Scala.
Giovanni Modica Scala on flickr

Saturday, September 06, 2014


Here are two Italian Americans who make beautiful music together:

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga - Anything Goes

Friday, September 05, 2014


I'm not a very nutty person - well, not foodwise! - but I do like pistacchi, so when I saw that you could get a pizza containing them, I couldn't resist it. My local pizza takeaway calls this a "Bronte" pizza because, as every Sicilian knows, the best pistacchi come from that town.  Here's my "Bronte" pizza, which also contained mozzarella, tomatoes and mortadella:

Now, in 1799 Admiral Horatio Nelson was created Duke of Bronte. Click here to discover how this happened and to find out about the town of Bronte's possible connection with the British Brontë sisters.

Gateway to the Nelson Castle at Maniace

Pistacchi from Bronte

Thursday, September 04, 2014


"These are sweet, like you", said the student who brought me these scrumptious cannoli today. One is filled with Modican chocolate and the other with ricotta:

What a sweet thought!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


I'd studied several recipes for polpette al limone and was particularly inspired by one which suggested cooking the polpette on a bed of lemon leaves but we can't get lemons with the leaves on at this time of year. [They will come in the autumn.] I wondered for a few days what I could use instead and then it came to me - I would try with fresh bay leaves! In my version, I added pinenuts, for the very good reason that I like them in polpette and I used pane grattugiato [very fine dried breadcrumbs which we can buy in packets in Italy] instead of soaking bread in milk and then squeezing it.

OK, you need:

500 gr minced veal
2 large Sicilian or unwaxed lemons
1 clove garlic, crushed
c. 1 tablesp. chopped parsley
a few cut rosemary needles
about 8 leaves fresh sage, chopped
125 gr pane grattugiato
80 gr grated Ragusano or Parmesan cheese
olive oil
seasalt and black pepper
50 gr pinenuts
2 eggs, beaten
about 20 fresh bay leaves

In a bowl, mix the veal, grated zest of the lemons, garlic, herbs, cheese, pane grattugiato, pinenuts, seasoning and eggs with a fork. Roll the mixture into balls with your hands - it should make about 14.

Lightly oil a small roasting tin and place the bay leaves in the base. Put the polpette on top of the bay leaves, then cut the zested lemons into wedges and put these in the gaps.  Drizzle some olive oil over the polpette and scatter a few rosemary sprigs over the top.  Cook at 180 C for 25 minutes.

These are also pretty good cold, so would make interesting picnic food.

Serves 4 generously.


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