Breakfast & Dinner Sicilian Style

March 9th, 2011 / Comments 4

Our trip to Ortigia was long and uneventful. We flew from Boston to Philadelphia and then on to Rome where we connected to our flight to Catania, Sicily. In Catania, Charles and I shared a simple ham and tomato panini while we waited for the bus that took us to Siracusa and Ortigia. Our apartment was just as we had left it and the Ionian Sea crashing against the sea wall provided the lullaby for a late afternoon nap. We walked to Zsa’s, a trattoria on Via Roma, and shared a mixed salad and pasta alla Norma for dinner.

apt 01 sunrise1 Breakfast & Dinner Sicilian Style

My first two meals in Sicily, reminded me that a few simple ingredients carefully combined often result in a sublime meal. Pasta alla Norma, a Sicilian classic, is inspired by Mt. Etna. The chunks of eggplant suggest lava and the creamy white, ricotta salata cheese sprinkled on top represents the snow that I saw as the plane circled the still active volcano just before we landed.

Thursday morning, we set off to reconnect with the vendors at the market. With so many tourists passing through the market each year, I wondered if my return would be noticed. I needn’t have worried; we were warmly welcomed with hugs and smiles, bits of cheese, samples of olives and chunks of bread. The bustle of the shoppers, the raucous calls of the fish vendors and the bright colors of the fruits and vegetables energized the market. Inspired by the meals we had eaten since our arrival and by the limited resources in my Sicilian kitchen, I’ve decided to try to live, cook and eat simply for the next eight weeks.

fruit parfait1 Breakfast & Dinner Sicilian Style

We would begin with a market breakfast. I chose three pale yellow pears touched with pink blush, red strawberries in a bright blue container, three blood oranges with garnet red splotched flesh and three lemons still sporting green leaves. After we had found a loaf of crusty bread, a jar of orange blossom honey and fresh ricotta and yogurt we headed home for a late morning treat. Here’s how I made it:

 Creamy Ricotta with Fruit

I used a fork to combine a half a cup of ricotta with two tablespoons of vanilla yogurt and a teaspoon of honey. When the cheese mixture was smooth, I made fruit parfaits by alternating the ricotta mixture with layers of diced pear, blood orange and strawberries. Combined with the sunshine, a chunk of bread dripping with honey, the roar of the crashing surf and the warm Mediterranean breeze, breakfast was simply perfect.

Download and print creamy ricotta & fruit recipe with an ingredients list here.

Friday we spent the day deciphering bus routes, schedules and tickets so that we could get to the Super Mercato to buy a small toaster oven to go with our very simple, three burner cook top, the small fridge, and the non-existent electric mixer, toaster, blender and food processor. At the end of a long, wet, rainy afternoon we unpacked the oven and walked to the closest pizzeria for dinner.

Saturday, with a clear head and a lovely sunny day, I was ready to make dinner. Vegetables, cheese, fresh tomato paste made with sundried tomatoes and olive oil, all from the open air market, was all I needed to make pasta primavera. Here’s how I did it:

Pasta Primavera

I began the sauce by knocking clumps of mud from the roots of one very large scallion, discarded the top twenty inches of ragged greens and cut the rest into thin slices. I sauteed it over medium heat in two tablespoons of olive oil, added one clove of garlic, one small zucchini cut in quarter-inch dice, four minced black olives and a handful of flat leaf parsley. When the vegetables were soft, I added two tablespoons of sun dried tomato paste, reduced the heat and cooked it for three more minutes.

I quartered six small plum tomatoes and grated a quarter of a cup of ricotta salata cheese while I waited for the large pot of the water to come to a boil. While half a pound of pasta cooked, I added the tomatoes to the sauce and turned the heat to low. I reserved a cup of the salty pasta water before I drained the al dente spaghetti. I raised the heat to medium, stirred two thirds of a cup of the pasta water into the vegetable mixture and used a wooden spoon to combine the thick tomato paste and vegetables with the water to create a tomato sauce. I added the drained pasta and stirred to coat the noodles with the sauce. Topped with freshly grated ricotta salata, dinner was ready.

This recipe is very forgiving, an exercise in Sicilian simplicity. I used zucchini, but mushrooms, bell pepper, or celery could be substituted. When I don’t have sun dried tomato paste, I use either tomato paste that comes in a tube, like toothpaste, or canned tomato paste, preferably Italian. Pasta water, scooped from the pot just before the noodles are drained, is the secret ingredient. It’s difficult to give an exact quantity.  You need “enough, until it’s just right.” Fiorina, my son Noah’s Italian great-grandmother, said many years ago when I asked, “How much do I add to the pan?” “Look and taste, you will know!” she assured me. So, scoop out a cup of water just before you drain the noodles, add a bit, look and taste and you will know when it is enough. Ciao!

Download and print pasta primavera recipe with an ingredients list here.

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