Sicily June 2013
A short sojourn from Gozo to Sicily shouldn’t really take that long… you would think? But alas it does and the only thing keeping me going was the thought of some of the most wonderful pastries, iced confections and baked goods I know of, waiting for me when I arrive. So with this in the back of my mind I set off from Victoria in Gozo at the unearthly hour of 02.30 am. With a ferry ride to Malta at 03.30 and another departing from Malta at 04.45, I had to make sure we were all prepared for our morning madness rush to the beautiful lemon scented isle of Sicily.
It was more like a civilised cattle run to the departures desk, a gaggle of hoarse ladies smoking cigarettes as if their lives depended on them.. All of them looking for that ubiquitous lifeline ‘the first espresso of the day’. With a one and a half hour trip we landed on our third island of the day – ‘Viva la Sicilia’…the land of good food, carobs, olive and lemon trees.
Our first destination… Scicli (pronounced Chic-lee)- I had to look it up online to find out the proper way to pronounce it, is a small city in the Province of Ragusa in the south east of Sicily it has been listed as one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites… so I knew it would be special. It lived up to its online reputation, small, pretty, blissfully quiet with two 'tiglio' trees (lime or basswood) in the square that make the air heavenly sweet and buzzing with frenzied bees…
It seems only men are around at this time of day. I took a moment to compose myself and my imagination couldn’t help but wander, these Old Sicilian men hanging around the piazza corners had more than an air of 'gangsta' style about them. I began seeing the ‘Cosa Nostra‘ in all of them…. one eyed Salvatore, Giannino with a crooked smile, the pot-bellied Giuseppe, il Padrino Peppino. I figured it was time for breakfast and a proper coffee..
Motivated by the thought of caffeine, we drove up the beautiful, winding roads, where 12 minutes away from Scicli, lies Modica, another UNESCO site that huddles in a valley just off the southern coast of Sicily. I know exactly where I’m heading, but the parking is difficult. As long as you park within the white lines you are ok. Blue lines mean you need a ticket to be there… and I think the Cosa Nostra manage the local parking … or is that my imagination again ?
I found my favourite spot, Caffe Dell'Arte on the main road in Modica. I ordered an almond granita and was faced with my first dilemma of the day… toasted or raw almond?
Half and half made it an easy choice. Two hot fresh brioches baked in an old stone oven, and an ice cold sweet almond granita, for breakfast. Mopping up the crushed ice with chunks of warm sweet bread. Does it get any better this? Yes, espresso please.
Its such a beautiful city, we wonder around in awe at the wonderful architecture, the young light of the day and the ancient shops, strolling up and down the main street, a stop at a local shop to get some Modica chocolate with Trapani salt for a friend (I like to keep promises) and another stop… at a pastry shop…a quick cannoli, not because I’m hungry but because when you are in Modica you are faced with some of the best pastries you will come across in the whole of Sicily, so you have to take advantage.
Modica is breath taking, truly, but the outstanding quality of the pastries that are produced here should be recognised by Unesco as well as the architecture. In Modica they specialize in small dry biscuits that are mostly almond based, but there is a fantastic selection of ones with pistachio, carob and fig.
The most unusual one is the ‘mpanatigghi’, which is a biscuit for the pilgrims and is made with pounded beef, almonds and chocolate. There is no way that you could tell it contains beef, neither, from the taste nor texture. It is a sweet, spicy and chocolaty confection that I believe can only be appreciated watching the town come to life here in Modica.
Overloaded on sugar and hyped with espresso we head towards Syracuse. its only just over an hour away and one of my favourite places on this wonderful island is the tiny islet of Ortygia it is the historical centre of the city of Syracuse, The island, also known as Città Vecchia (Old City) has three bridges connecting it to the mainland. As you can imagine parking is a nightmare so you need to let your B&B know you are coming by car in advance.
The local Island Police need to be informed in order to register your vehicle so you can avoid a fine. Try and park on the coast, once again between white lines. Then walk to the old Jewish quarter, La Via Della Giudecca, which is quite close to the puppet theatre. The B&B La Giudecca is a paradise, in the heart, of the old quarter of town. A converted old building with touches of classical chic, whilst modern, clean, crisp, and white, this beautiful B&B is sophisticated, central to all cultural elements of Syracuse and the rooms are all individually decorated, all special in their own way its a stunning place to stay. Its mid afternoon and my stomach is informing me I’m missing out on something. So we head to O'Scinna…for deep-fried sardines fillets the crisp light batter a perfect foil for the aubergine puree served with it, then a fresh tuna steak encrusted with local almonds and served with ricotta ravioli with white shrimps and rucola an enchanting lunch with some lovely friends. After lunch? Siesta time. It's been too long a day.
Just before sunset, we have a brief stroll around the stunning ‘Duomo square’ the architecture is just breath taking but we decide to head to the coast for a sunset dinner.
Now don’t get me wrong, I just adore the baking and confections of Sicily, but for me one of the reasons I keep coming here…. is without doubt L'Ancora Fish Restaurant (the anchor) near the market and close to the fishing boats. We say the normal and courteous quick hello’s to Rossana and Giancarlo and head for dinner. Mixed fish starters, then pasta. Razor clams with oil and chilli, raw marinated shrimps with red onion and oranges, deep fried baby fish, popped mussels, octopus stew, cous cous, stewed chunks of fish, marinated white anchovies and sea snails. Then, tagliatelle with walnuts and scampi and trofie with clams, Pachino cherry tomatoes, shrimps and pistachio.
After a short interlude we are presented with Ricotta and lemon cake for desert and I literally had to crawl out of the restaurant. The day has been blissful. Long, yet rewarding, tiresome but tasty. So, a nice walk after dinner and a grappa. Come Dio commanda (as God expects of one).
You could just visit Sicily for the day, there was even an occasion where I crossed over just for lunch, but spending any time on the island is highly recommended. I know there are many beautiful and deserving places around the Mediterranean, but it has to be said Sicily is a magnificent jewel that proudly holds its head above the others.