Many Cultures (and Many Pounds)

I bet I gained 5 pounds+ in Sicily. Of course I walked a lot: through old cites and wonderful markets; I swam in the glorious Mediterranean; I hiked the north side of Mt. Aetna (although even the die hard hikers among us thought this hike was “challenging” what with the five-foot drops and the loose scree underfoot.

I learned to make panelle, the classic Sicilian chickpea fritters (although they won’t be on my table anytime soon as I don’t fry); swam in the glorious Mediterranean (followed by a five course lunch on the boat); visited a very old chocolatier in Modena, first donning what looked like what the cap and smock worn before a surgical procedure); got briefly lost in Palermo (I can get lost anywhere and this is a user-friendly city) and more.

Frying panelle

So many civilizations came through Sicily: Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, Aragonese, Lombards, Spaniards, French, Albanians and English. Each left its mark in terms of culture, architecture and design and, of course, food. I had many wonderful experiences: two days at the Anna Lanza Cooking School where I had a beautiful, comfy room although some others did not;  visiting an herb farm near Noto where the owner’s wife hails from Brooklyn and served, among other things, deep fried sage leaves as part of our lunch (another item that won’t be featured on my menu but they were divine); wandering around Ragusa, a medieval town that has a Disneyfied air and is lit at night like a stage set; lunch at a wonderful pizzeria in Syracuse where the actual pizza was preceded by arancini (rice balls around a filling, typically a little meat and some peas) and seafood caponata and complemented by gallons of wine. Actually, everything was accompanied by lots of wine.

Ragusa at night

Home since late October, I’ve peeled off the pounds with a diet of kale and yogurt (well, not quite).

It was a terrific trip complete with beautiful weather except on the very last day in Taormina where it was pouring. Regardless, some of us donned slickers to see the Greek Theater which was entirely worth the rain. 

Greek theater in Taormina

Inspired by the food we had, once home I worked out a way to serve zucchini because my typical way of cooking it (sliced and sautéed along with yellow squash and onion) is boring.

Herewith, Zucchini a la Siciliana

This serves two.

One large zucchini cut in half lengthwise

Feta cheese, crumbled

Olive oil (not in a league with what we downed on the trip- I’m told that you can forget about “EVO” and cold pressed and the like. Look for a date on the label. The most recent is the best.)

Ripe tomatoes (no longer happening here in the northeast)

Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil into a baking dish. Rub the zucchini in it so all sides are coated. Cook at about 350 until zucchini are soft enough to handle. Scrape out the inner flesh, chop up and put in a bowl.

Add to this chopped tomatoes and the feta. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stuff this mixture into the zucchini halves.

Put them back in the oven (same pan) for another twenty minutes or so; the cheese should start to melt and the whole be on the soft side.

Zuchhini a la Siciliana

Serve with a Nero d’Avila wine, (it’s red) a Sicilian grape I’m betting my local liquor store doesn’t stock. Or, a white from the Aetna region, ditto. 

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