I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Eating Sicilian


After the rich feasting of Christmas — all that wine and chocolate, all those complicated sauces, stuffings and puddings — one turns with relief to something lighter, simpler and completely different. Yesterday, looking out at the first snowfall of the season, I thought nostalgically of a summer a few years ago, when we spent a fortnight eating our way through Sicily. What can I say about Sicilian food and drink? It's glorious — the fish, the arancini, the limoncello, the amaro, all those Greek and North African influences. Hoping to recapture a little taste of sunny Sicily in the midst of this cold snap, I shopped for the best vine tomatoes I could find. I also bought a packet of dried linguine (De Cecco is one of the best brands) and a jar of caper berries (capers are the buds of the Mediterranean caper bush, and caper berries the larger fruit, which have a slightly less intense, more rounded flavour).

Sometimes the simplest meals are the best, and this dish can be knocked up in an instant. Cook the linguine in furiously boiling salted water for ten minutes or until al dente. In the meantime sauté some crushed garlic in olive oil, then remove the garlic from the pan (you just want to flavour the oil). Halve the tomatoes, squeeze out the juice (you're aiming for a 'dry' sauce), chop roughly, then put them in the pan with some chilli flakes. Add some capers or chopped caper berries, chopped parsley and lots of chopped mint. Season and stir. Mix the pasta with the sauce. Top with grated parmesan and there you have it. You could include all sorts of other things — tuna, aubergine, olives, sultanas  — but I kept it simple. The key lies in the quality of the ingredients. Naturally this won't be as good as using fresh Italian foodstuffs, but it should be a fair approximation, and will bring a warm ray of Sicilian sunshine into your winter kitchen.

The garlic bread and wine in the picture aren't really necessary, but, hey, it's still Christmas! For the bread I made deep scores into a small baguette and filled with a crushed garlic/oregano/parsley/melted butter mixture. Then I wrapped the bread in foil and put it in a hot oven for ten minutes. The wine is Trinacria Bianco, a cheap but perfectly drinkable rustic Sicilian wine from Waitrose.

(The above is adapted from a recipe by Rick Stein.)

9 comments:

Angela said...

Mmm i us to live in Sicily and this took me back. Sounds delicious. Hope you had a good Christmas.

George said...

Looks fabulous. What a relief to the palate after being tortured endlessly by the predictable food of Christmas — and I never tire of Italian food.

The Solitary Walker said...

It was quiet, Angela.... and thankfully so...

... and George, I really like less and less that rich and sumptuous Christmas fare. OK, in Dickensian times, when we really worked for it, looked forward to it and needed the calories — but is it really necessary now, when we can eat pretty well at all times of the year? (Some of us, not all of us, of course, in a global context.) Though I do understand the symbolic and nostalgic value...

I love Italian food, too — not least because of its strong regionality and rustic necessity. Carmen is in the toe of Italy at the moment, and has praised Christmas dinner with an ordinary southern Italian family: fish/shellfood, then a very light lasagne (home-made pasta), followed by fruit and panettone. And some very simple but moving toasts and traditions. Wonderful.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Looks and sounds divine Robert. David and I ate our way round Sicily a few years ago - agree that the food is superb. Even the most ordinary peasant food is exceptional.

Ruth said...

I'm on it!

I love all of this, and the comments, too. Carmen's Christmas dinner, toasts and traditions sound beautiful!

Amanda Summer said...

the simplest of meals as i've said before, are the best. the elemental combo of crushed garlic, tomatoes on pasta, bread sluiced with gobs of herbs and butter and that sparkling glass of vino. molto delicioso.

simpleimages2 said...

I'm very fond of noodles and will put linguini in that category. I like the simplicity of your food.

catharus said...

Sounds wonderful!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Ruth, Amanda, Simpleimages2 and Catharus for your comments.