Sicilian food: the best this side of Heaven – or maybe even better.

Before taking leave of these Sicilian blogs, I thought you might like to see why Sicily was seen as a virtual paradise by so many of the ancient cultures that decided to settle here. The Mediterranean climate added to the fertile volcanic soil made Sicily for centuries, the picnic hamper of the World.

You only have to walk round the market stalls to see the abundance on offer…not just the juiciest of fruits..

…but monsters like this swordfish…..

…or those most tempting, but maybe not to my taste, works of art, these very sweet marzipan fruits.

I was drawn instead to the Sicilian cheeses especially enjoying the regional favourite, ricotta, a mix of sheep and goat’s milk.

Vegetables grow to monster proportions as you can see by these eye-catchingly whooper zucchinis

..and these too – they grow them long in Sicily.

I am no cook but even I could see why meals, even simple ones, take on a luxurious character with ingredients such as these.

A bowl of cherries in my apartment went just too well with a bottle of Sicilian Chardonnay and a juicy orange straight off a tree.

For quick food, Sicilian style, this Arancina, a vegetable and rice stew in orange batter, was unlike anything I had tasted before and was well balanced with a glass of fresh orange juice and a mug of lemon tea.

It was difficult not having a sense of euphoria every time I went into a restaurant. Like here on the seashore at Cefalù, Food Sicily, where I had coffee every morning and apperitifs most evenings as the sun set over the Tyrrhenian Sea.

In the way of all good holidays, I got to know the waiting staff well and we were, I like to think, friends by the time I had to leave.

Anyone, though, who can give me such coffee on demand will always be my friend.

…and, in the evening, after a tiring time in the clear and not too warm or cold sea, this restaurant was first port of call and it was a struggle to only have this surprizingly wonderful snack once: Italian vanilla icecream in a brioche with olives and a Campari and soda. Everyone has to try this, believe me.

..another regional speciality is pasta al Norma, named after an opera by Vincenzo Bellini, which seems to get that classic mix of griddled aubergine, ricotta cheese and tomato absolutely right.

At another  of my favourite Cefalù restaurants, Ti Vitti (website under construction), there was always something unexpected on the menu – like this light anchovy tart….

..or this hot octupus salad…..

…to say nothing of the griddled ricciola fish…..

..a giant fish known as the Queen Of The Mediterranean that has a succulent meaty flavour somehow redolent of Southern Europe.

As was often the case in Sicily, the best meals were simply presented like that riccioli which was served with griddled aubergines….

and perfectly turned-out potatoes.

The dessert could have been invented just for me. I have never in my life as a caffeine addict had such a dish: coffee and vanilla icecream with a chilled espresso sauce. I still dream about this.

So thanks to my new friend Vincenzo and the rest of the staff at Ti Vitti – we got to understand each other well.

…well enough, in fact to mark the end of the trip with a very “reviving” glass of sweet Marsala wine.

There were, naturally, places where you could just go for a cooling glass of Campari listening to jazz and trying to eavesdrop on those three women talking in Italian.

That arty bar was next to the truly wonderful restaurant La Brace

Where even the house red wine was felt like a luxury.

I shall long remember their perfect chicken livers in mustard sauce, chicken liver pate with raisins soaked in Marrsala and those amazing pork chops in orange sauce.

I enjoyed this restaurant too down by the sea and rocks on a small wooden pier attached to an establishment called Il Saraceno. Apparently, the composer Bellini, had this shoreline in mind when writing the opening to his first hit opera, Il Pirata (the pirate) with its tale of shipwrecks and hidden identities. I was happy enough though to forget the opera for a moment and to settle down to a perfectly grilled steak and the best icecream with chocolate sauce you can imagine.

Sicilian food was just too, too tempting and the only way to stop myself getting too fat to return home by air was to make sure that I did my one hour’s worth of martial arts practice on the beach every morning. It was the perfect way to start each day and it helped me feel less guilty about that icecream brioche.

Getting here earlier enough each morning, I had one of the best beaches in Europe to myself, well, almost.

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