Monday, January 5, 2009

The worst...

This quality of life poll ranks the 20 regions of Italy, with Valle d'Aosta coming in 1st (apparently the pigs must climb onto the table and salt-cure themselves up there). Our beloved homeland, Sicily? Dead last in 20th place.

That's ok - we never thought to consult one of these so-called "reports" or "fact-based studies" before we decided to leave the States. Sicily continues to be a mystifying place - everyday we find ourselves bouncing from bewilderment to laughter, from frustration (with learning a new language, with the maniac drivers, with the constestants on Affari Tuoi who keep pressing their luck despite the generosity of the dottore) to enchantment (catching a glimpse of an elegant past or discovering a new favorite "gelato burger" place.

We are starting to understand more and more how difficult the life is here for a lot of people - we haven't even traveled into the interior yet. A new friend, Luigi, who we met at a party on New Years Eve, suddenly broke from the evening's theme of levity when we asked him about getting to know the real Sicily. Luigi had a sweet, calm way about him, but he dropped his smile and politely told us that we could never understand what Sicily is truly like. (We'd had some wine at this point, so I am paraphrasing) "Life here is hard. Everyone will be nice to you, because this is our way. But there isn't always work and the people struggle." The conversation lightened almost immediately when Giuseppe, our neighbor in town, asked us how we (Americans, because now we represent the nation) could possibly stomach coffee and bacon in the morning (breakfast here is coffee and maybe a pastry). But we got the point from Luigi - enjoy our time here in Sicily. Enjoy discovering this beautiful and beguiling part of Italy. There is much to see here, the history, the food, the people. We're not quite tourists and we're not quite Sicilian. We're safe enough to enjoy the wonders of Sicily, but close enough to feel some of the sadness creeping in...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Years in Balestrate

We spent New Years Eve at our friend Gioacchino's house, taking in a ridiculous meal that consisted of an absurd amount of food. Here's what happened:

negroni with snacks: chips, cherry peppers stuffed with anchovies, olives stuffed with goat cheese, smoked salmon spread with toast
antipasti: a cheese tart with gorgonzola, a cheese tart with parmiggiano, roasted peppers stuffed with sausage, roasted oyster mushrooms and eggplant with primo sale and lemon vinaigrette, zucchini and ricotta tarts
pasta 1: vegetarian lasagna
pasta 2: fettucine with meat sauce
meat: veal roulade with peas, egg and prosciutto cotto
fish: swordfish steaks lightly breaded and fried
vegetable: peas, carrots and potatoes
dessert: an assortment of cannoli, cream puffs, and other little sweets. oh and i musn't forget the ever-present pannetone.

As if all of this wasn't enough, we were pretty much forced to eat lentils to usher in the new year. It's a tradition that eating lentils brings good luck and money in the coming year. I definitely reached maximum capacity and needed a bed as soon as possible.

I'll leave you with my recipe for the stuffed peppers:
6 bell peppers
1 1/2 lbs. sausage, casing removed
1/2 onion, small dice
1/4 Cup pine nuts
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 Tbsp cocoa, unsweetened
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp crushed red pepper
3 Cups tomato puree

Roast the peppers until soft, peel off skin, and remove seeds. I had really big peppers so I was able to cut each one into 3 to get 18 servings. Brown sausage in saucepan, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Remove sausage from pan and set aside. Saute onion and pine nuts in some olive oil until nuts are browned and onion is translucent. Add garlic, cocoa, cinnamon, red pepper and tomato puree (and salt to your liking). Let simmer on low heat for at least 15 minutes...adding more tomato puree (or stock or water) if it gets to thick for your taste. Add sausage back to pan and simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Add some parsley leaves at end for color. Place this mixture inside of flattened pepper and roll. We ate them at room temp...but hot would also be really good. Enjoy!

Christmas in Rome

Don't get me wrong, spending Christmas in Rome was fantastic, but since I've never been away from home on a holiday before it was very, very strange. Even with all of the streets decorated, nativity scenes everywhere (and I truly mean everywhere) and countless sightings of Babbo just didn't feel like Christmas. There was no Christmas Eve dinner with the family, no exchange of gifts, no pollyanna with the cousins (or the girlfriends, or the grade school friends), no Christmas morning breakfast at Mom and Dad's. It was surreal to say the least.

The Rome trip started out with a bang...our flight from Palermo was delayed 2 1/2 hours. Instead of arriving at our hotel at 7:30pm like we planned, we got there at 10pm. For future reference: if you are going to Rome on Christmas Eve there is no subway service after 9pm. We didn't know this, even though we did exhausting amounts of research for this trip, including going to the Rome metro website, where nothing was listed about a 9pm closing time. Why am I continually shocked by things like this happening in Italy? At any rate, we walked from the train station to the hotel, threw our bags down and went out to explore. A night time walk past the Colosseum, Piazza Venezia, Fontana di Trevi, Piazza della Rotunda and onto Piazza Navona for a delicious pork sandwich for dinner. Not exactly my usual Christmas Eve dinner of fish...but it was late, restaurants were no longer seating for dinner, and there was a stand with a huge roasted porchetta calling our names.

After the pork sandwich we got pizza. Overkill? Yes, but we don't care...that's how we do.

The next few days were basically filled with eating and sightseeing. We went to the Basilica, toured the Vatican Museum, saw a display of 106 nativity scenes in Piazza del Popolo, went to an art gallery to see the works of Giovanni Bellini (where we also saw Sam Waterston of my beloved Law and Order...I'm not joking, he was really there, Scott can attest), and visited the Pantheon.

The culinary highlight of the trip was a great place called Cul de Sac. Teresa and I have eaten there before and I knew Scott would love it. We got wild boar pate, crottin cheese with truffles and head cheese salame. Soooo good and the place has a great atmosphere. The pate had chocolate in the middle, which we didn't expect because it wasn't written on the menu. It might sound strange, but it was absolutely delicious.

We did a lot of walking, drinking, eating and touring. It was great fun, but not better than being with family and friends. No more holidays away from home for us.