Last Tuesday warm wafts of star jasmine and lavender welcomed me to Palermo. Though it was 93º Farenheit, a cool breeze kept me from knowing it. There was a beautiful level of moisture in the air. The humidity didn’t swallow me whole and I never felt sticky. My hair just had more bounce and body than normal. Then again, so did I after a few good meals.
Our first supper in San Vito Lo Capo was outstanding. I had busiate which is the local pasta in Trapani. The dried noodles look like this:
I ordered them alla norma which is to say with roasted aubergine the consistency of silk and topped with salty ricotta. Henry had his noodles with urchin or as he calls them, the truffles of the sea. Next up was a dish called tonno saporito. It was grilled tuna with sauteed capers, olives, onions, tomatoes, oranges, and toasted pistachios. Of course all this had to end with cannoli and eventually a walk on the beach.
In Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, he writes, “Tancredi, in an attempt to link gallantry with greed, tried to imagine himself tasting, in the aromatic forkfuls, the kisses of his neighbour Angelica, but he realised at once that the experiment was disgusting and suspended it, with a mental reserve about reviving this fantasy with the pudding.” This cannoli invoked all of that for me. As did the late afternoon post-nap cherries and peaches I consumed.
Every day we were by the sea, I made sure to eat something from it. Fish, octopus, squid, lobster, shrimp, you name it. Then when we travelled south to Marsala and inland for a few days at a gorgeous baglio amongst the grillo vines, I ate scaloppine di vitello al marsala or al limone. I snacked on olives and almonds from orchards I could see from our room. I had prosciutto, melons, and blood orange juice at breakfast followed by espresso and chocolate muffins baked with roasted peanuts on top.
I watched England lose to Uruguay whilst sipping an aperol spritz and Italy to Costa Rica with a bottle of chilled frappato so evocative of pomegrante and blueberry I could hardly tell it wasn’t juice instead of wine.
I ate gelati like a school girl.
I also wore respectable dresses when visiting churches and bared some cleavage when I wasn’t.
Sicily is full magic. It’s the kind of place where stray dogs and tiny street cats appear out of nowhere and lavish you with love for a few hours. Crazy men passionate about life will let you sample their private stash of wine that tastes just as it would have when the English first discovered it centuries ago and thought we can manufacture this into something fortified and call it marsala. Butterflies will land on your shoulder. The sun will shine where you’re sitting. And even when multiple road signs point in different directions but supposedly for the same place, you will find your way. When you get there, there will probably even be a perfect scoop of coconut ice cream with your name on it.
I did lots of things in Sicily. More than anything, I just sat in the sand or on a breezy hilltop and enjoyed my husband. Five years and a demanding toddler later, we still like each other. We still slow dance without any music when no one is looking. And we still find the other fascinating and funny and still have things to say. I know five years isn’t a long time but at home in London, a beloved spouse’s words are sometimes lost in the noise of everyday life. It’s hard to hear over the din of a two year old. But in Sicily the summer wind blew our distractions away. All we could notice and revel in was each other (and the amazing food and drink, obviously).
Below is a recipe for a salad I made this evening when we needed a little Sicilian calm. I followed it up with a chilli and crab risotto of Nigella Lawson’s I’ve come to love. I hope you do too.
Sicilian Summer Salad
2 fennel bulbs, sliced
2 oranges, chopped
1/2 a ruby grapefruit, chopped
a handful of green Sicilian olives (I used Nocellara because they’re my favorite)
1 jar of the best tuna you can find (I like tuna in olive oil best even though I drain the oil)
a handful of fresh chopped mint
Method: Drain the tuna and set it aside. Chop/slice your produce and put it in a large dish. Add the tuna. Garnish with mint. That’s it. Sweet like the citrus groves and briny like the sea. This is a salad that would be a pleasing side dish for any Phoenician queen.