I was recently invited to the launch event for Rocca delle Tre Contrade, a luxury villa in Sicily, located between the beautiful town of Taormina and Catania. Sicily is a truly wonderful place. Spectacular light, inspiring scenery and vibrant history are just some of the aspects which make it a magical place to visit. When you add its pleasant climate, and superb food and wine culture, it's a place which reaches out and makes an offer you just can't refuse!
Him Indoors and I visited Sicily in 2008. It was a much anticipated trip. We decided to try to see as much as we could in the limited time we had. We hired a car and attempted to get as far round the island as we could in a week. We started in Palermo, moving on to Cefalu, Enna, Taormina and Ortygia (the most ancient part of Siracusa, the home of no less than Archimedes!) It was hectic, but tremendously enjoyable. Finding accommodation as we arrived in each new town was often something of a challenge, since over Easter many Sicilians living abroad come home for Holy Week.
One slightly frivolous highlight was a trip to Savoca. It's a fairly small village near Taormina, which most would just speed past on the way to somewhere else. Except for one crucial matter; its starring role as the stand in for Corleone in The Godfather II. Apparently, Mario Puzo's original setting of Corleone had been ruined by modernisation and development by the time the Sicilian based sequel was about to be made. So a new setting was required. Enter the sleepy village of Savoca; quaint, quiet and rustic - it fitted the bill perfectly!
As a result of having such an amazing time during our 'road trip' of Sicily, I was full of anticipation and curiosity about this event. Which is just as well, because the evening was especially chilly, and the trek from my workplace in the environs of Holborn to Books For Cooks in Notting Hill was something of a mission. My steamy breath as I walked from the tube station reminded me that Winter had truly begun, and at one point I really wondered whether it would have been easier to cuddle up to Him Indoors and Tom the Cat back home...
But as soon as I arrived, I was greeted by the enthusiastic staff of Think Sicily, a company who arrange holiday rentals in Sicily and are the agents for Rocca delle Tre Contrade. Almost as soon as my coat was off, but before I got my scarf off, I had a pleasant and smooth glass of Etna Rosso 100% Nerello Mascalese (red) wine pressed into my hands, transporting me back to the magical island instantly.
We were treated to a number of traditionally Sicilian dishes.
|Pepato fresco cheese|
|Baked ricotta cheese|
The wines were from the Barone di Villagrande winery on the slopes of Mount Etna.
Etna Bianco 100% Carricante
Etna Rosso 100% Nerello Mascalese
Malvasia delle Lipari Passito (dessert wine)
I was shown how to make "Homemade Cannoli with Sweet Ricotta and Pistachio". First you take the fried pastry Cannoli rolls (not suitable for those on a diet!)......
Then, very carefully with an icing piping bag, you fill with the delicious sweet ricotta. This is a speciality product direct from Sicily and tastes unimaginably better than the stuff we seem to find in the chiller in the supermarket. We must start a campaign to be supplied with this wonderful fresh cheese which would make so many superb puddings!
Finally, you dress with the pistachios, and voila!
Now I know what my regular readers are thinking.... "It's all very well you showing off that you got the chance to eat a whole load of lovely food, but where is the cooking?"
Well, Jon the chef at Rocca delle Tre Contrade cooked up two amazing pasta dishes. With his pride in Sicilian food, he made them very typical dishes, demonstrating their characteristic ingredients and flavours....
... but what is more, he has been kind enough to share the recipes with my readers!
So I bring you his two recipes.
Pasta con le sarde e finocchietto selvatico (Pasta with sardine and wild fennel)
Please note that this is a recipe adapted for countries in which authentic ingredients may not be found. For instance, the fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) used in this traditional recipe is unlike the common bulb fennel widely available. If wild fennel is unavailable, you may use the green leaves of the bulb fennel which are milder. Similarly, the traditional fresh semi-dried grapes are substituted with soaked sultanas.
1 kg fresh small (10cm) sardines
1 large bunch of fresh sicilian wild fennel
6 salt cured anchovies
4 tbs sweet sultanas
4 tbs pine nuts
1/2 glass white wine
125 g plain dried bread crumbs
500 g small dried maccheroni
extra virgin olive oil
Reconstitute the sultanas by soaking them 2-3 hours in lukewarm water. They should resemble softened grapes. Keep the water.
Roast the bread crumbs by adding two table spoons of olive oil to a hot cast-iron pan and gently stirring in the breadcrumbs. Continuously move and turn the crumbs in order not to burn them until they turn dark golden. Add a pinch of salt and pepper before removing from pan and let cool. Store in air tight container.
In the same pan, roast the pine nuts until they reach a light golden colour.
Clean and split the sardines by removing heads, tails and backbones. This is easier if the sardines are small.
Remove the stalks from the fennel and blanch the remaining fine leaves by dropping them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes and then rinsing under cold running water. Leave some fresh leaves for garnish.
Chop the onion finely and add with abundant olive oil to a large warm pan. Let the onion soften slowly and then rinse the salted anchovies and add them. Stir over low heat until the anchovies 'melt' and disintegrate while ensuring nothing burns. Add the white wine and simmer a few minutes until the alcohol evaporates.
Crush 1/4 of the soaked sultanas and add them with the whole sultanas, the pine nuts and half a cup of the grape water. Add some salt and pepper to taste and stir while letting the sauce simmer another few minutes. Chop the blanched fennel leaves coarsely and add to the pan with the sardines.
Put on a pot of boiling salted water and cook the pasta according to the packet's instructions while you let the sauce simmer over low heat. The sauce should be allowed to reduce somewhat while still be liquid (the bread crumbs will absorb some of the liquid when served). If it appears too dry, add some more of the grape water.
Drain the pasta and pour back into the warm pot, add half of the roasted bread crumbs, a generous drizzle of olive oil and mix well. Add the sauce reduction, mix and pour onto a warm serving dish. Garnish with some more bread crumbs and fresh fennel leaves. Your guests may help themselves to more bread crumbs if they wish.
Pasta Alla Norma (Pasta with aubergine and tomato sauce)
3/4 litre home made tomato sauce
100 g mature salted ricotto for grating
500 g "Penne" pasta
Vegetable oil for frying.
Fresh basil leaves
Wash the aubergines, don't peel them but cut into cubes the size of dice. Drizzle with salt and leave in a colander a couple of hours to drain over a bowl or in the sink. Putting a weight on top will accelerate the process.
Choose a high quality italian ready made tomato sauce with only added basil if you don't have your own tomato sauce. Taste and add two tea spoons of sugar if too bitter.
Fry the aubergine cubes in low pan filled 1/3 with hot vegetable oil until they are dark brown. Drain, distribute and leave to cool on wide plate.
Grate the salted ricotta cheese coarsely.
Put on a pot of boiling salted water to cook the pasta while heating the tomato sauce. Drain the pasta and mix with the sauce. Serve in a warm deep dish and garnish with the fried aubergines and the grated cheese. Add a few leaves of fresh basil to decorate.
Rocca delle Tre Contrade is a wonderful place to stay, with enough space to sleep 22. I just wish that my bank balance could stretch to renting it out for a week! With its own dedicated chef, you can have great traditional Sicilian food during your stay, and can even have classes in the preparation and cooking of some of these classic dishes. The properly is looked after by Think Sicily, which was recently voted the “World’s Favourite Villa Rental Company” by readers of Conde Nast Traveller.
Full rental details are available on www.thinksicily.com/Rocca-delle-Tre-Contrade.aspx
More information and updates are available on Tre Contrade's website www.trecontrade.com, on Twitter @trecontrade and on Facebook www.facebook.com/trecontrade.
You are welcome to contact them directly on firstname.lastname@example.org to receive further details.
I would like to thank Think Sicily and Rocca delle Tre Contrade for inviting me to this event and looking after me so well.