Basil pesto. So good and easy to make that you won’t buy it again.

Basil: a very popular aromatic herb used to make pesto and linked to an old Sicilian tradition.
Try to make your own pesto!

Photo credits:“Basil” by zoyachubby is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Every Sicilian has got a basil plant, big or small… It is used so often that having a little basil plant in the garden or balcony is the most natural thing.


It can be used for parmigiana or pasta alla Norma to give flavour, but you really enjoy all of its potential when you make pesto. This very easy pesto recipe is so easy, cheap and genuine that you’ll never buy a ready-made pesto again.


40g fresh basil leaves
30g olive oil (better if extra virgin)
15g pinenuts
50g parmesan
garlic (to taste, max 1 clove. It can be made without garlic if you don’t like it)

Andiamo in cucina! Let’s go to the kitchen!


Take off the basil stems and wash the leaves. Pat dry them with kitchen roll.

Put all of the ingredients in a bowl and blend till smooth with a stick blender.

And it’s done!


Try not to put too much garlic at first, you can always add it later. Salt is not needed, but you can add a pinch.

You can add this on pasta ideally, but it’s good on focaccia, homemade pizza, rice or pasta salads and everywhere you like it!

Basil is linked to an old Sicilian tradition. To show friendship between two people belonging to different families, a plant of basil decorated with a red ribbon would be given to someone. After receiving the gift, the two people would become comari di basilico or compari di basilico meaning friends of basil (women in the first case and men in the second).

This tradition is described by Giovanni Verga into his book ‘I Malavoglia’: the tormented story of a Sicilian family set in Acitrezza, where you can still visit the house where the novel takes place

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8th of December: let’s put the Christmas decorations on!

In Sicily, Christmas decorations are traditionally put on the 8th of December and in a little village close to Trapani, people go far beyond a Christmas Tree.

The 8th of December is the day in which traditionally all the Christmas decorations are put on in Sicily. This day is known as the Immaculate Conception (Immacolata Concezione) and it is a national festivity in all Italy.

If you find yourself to be in Sicily during Christmas time, a visit to the living nativity scene of Custonaci is well worth.


Photo credits: “Presepe Vivente di Custonaci” by Emanuele Bellini is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Photo credits:“Grotta Mangiapane – 31” by Jim Waddington is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The scene takes place in a prehistoric cave, inhabited till recent times. Such a suggestive place that is has been chosen as cinematographic set in several occasions.

Andrea Camilleri set one of his most famous Inspector Montalbano’s books in this cave, giving a vivid description of it: The Snack Thief.

If you want more info about this event, you can visit the Presepe di Custonaci’s website. It’s written in Italian, but there are lots of pics to look at.

Some Christmas vocabulary for you:

Natale = Christmas
Notte di Natale = Christmas night
Presepe = Nativity
Buon Natale = Merry Christmas

Arancini: Inspector Montalbano’s favourite. With this step-by-step guide you will be able to make yours.

Montalbano’s favourite. With this step-by-step guide you will be able to make yours.

Aranicini are not easy stuff. Making the ones we eat in Sicily takes time. Lee found an easier way to make them and they taste fabulous. 

In short, Lee makes a risotto, creates some balls, coat them in batter and breadcrumb and finally he fries them. This seems quite simple, but along the way there are lots of little tricks he uses to make them taste good. He watched him closely last time he made them and I’m here now to tell you how to do them yourself. 

Arancini can be filled with anything. The classic ones are filled with meat cooked in tomato sauce. They can be vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free, too depending on your choice of filling. Since Lee used to fill them in the restaurant every day in different ways depending on the fresh ingredients he was using for his other tapas, we tried any type of arancini. These ones made with mushrooms, bacon and gorgonzola is my favourite.
Photo courtesy of “Arancini from Taormina, Sicily, Italy” byjaimefok is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Ingredients for 12/14 arancini (depending on size):

For the filling:
500g Risotto rice
150g smoked bacon
75g chorizo 
200g mushrooms
3 spoons olive oli 
1 stock cube 
60g grated parmesan 
125g grated mozzarella
70g blue cheese 
For the batter and coating:
300g breadcrumb
25g flour
1 egg
1-2 l of sunflower oil for frying

Andiamo in cucina! Let’s go to the kitchen!


*In a frying pan, heat some olive oil and put the chorizo, the bacon and the mushroom. Leave them to brown for a while on a medium to high flame and stir so that the bacon does not stick to the pan. You’ll see a reddish sauce forming on the bottom of the pan. That’s what is going to give flavour to the risotto. 

*In the meantime, prepare a stock using 1,5l of water and a stock cube 

*take the mushrooms, bacon and chorizo out of the pan and put them on a plate. Leave on the pan the sauce they made while they were browning. 

leave the sauce in the pan. This will give flavour to the rice

*pour the risotto rice on the pan and stir the rice on the sauce for 3 min. 

*after the 3 min start adding the stock a bit at a time, like for a risotto. Keep stirring and adding water when the rice absorbs it. Taste it and add some salt if needed.  

*when the rice will be about ¾ cooked, add the bacon, mushrooms and chorizo to it. Keep cooking and stirring. 

*stop cooking when the risotto will be still slightly, slightly crunchy.

*now add 60g of grated parmesan and mix it to the rice to create a creamy texture. The parmesan will help to bind the risotto together so that you can create the rice balls. 

*Now transfer it on a tray and let the rice cool down at room temperature. 


*when cooled, put it in the fridge.

*when cold, take it out of the fridge. Add the grated mozzarella and gorgonzola cubes and with wet hands mix everything together. 

*get two bowls and fill one with the breadcrumbs and the other with batter (wisk together flour, egg and 100ml of water)

*with wet hands form a rice ball, roll it in the batter and then roll it in the breadcrumbs.

*heat sunflower oil in a deep pan, when hot add the 3 or 4 rice balls depending on the size of your pan) and leave it frying for about 6 min.

* Take them out and now you have got your arancini!!

You use ‘sono’ + adjective to describe more than one thing

Gli arancini sono buonissimi!! The arancini are very tasty!!
Gli arancini sono bellissimi! The arancini are very beautiful!
Gli arancini sono caldissimi! The arancini are very hot!

Arancini is the plural form of Arancino (singular). This is how we call them in Catania. 
In Palermo they are called Arancine (plural); the singular form would be Arancina.This final vowel matter is a bitter diatribe that has been wearing out East and West Sicily for years. 

I’d say that arancini are the quintessence of Sicilian cousin. So good and famous that are often named by one of the most famous contemporary Sicilian author, Andrea Camilleri. In fact, the inspector Montalbano can’t resist to an arancino and neither can we.


Buon appetito!!


Sparrow – the story of a Sicilian lockdown

In a time when liberty is threatened by lockdown and restrictions, Maria’s story, written in 1869, is more than ever contemporary.
Let’s talk about love and freedom.

In a time when liberty is threatened by lockdown and restrictions, Maria’s story, written in 1869, is more than ever contemporary.
Let’s talk about love and freedom.

It’s 1854 and a Cholera outbreak forces Maria to move from Catania and isolate with her family…. Reminds you of something? Yes, this is very similar to what we’re living now. The only difference is that, while we feel that our freedom has been taken away because of coronavirus, Maria actually gains freedom because she’s moving from the austere convent she has been forced into, to the beautiful countryside on Mount Etna, where she’s finally free from her constrictions.


This story was written in 1869 by Giovanni Verga, an author I would recommend if you feel like being thrown inside the real Sicilian way of living of the 1800s. It is called ‘Storia di una capinera’ (Story of a blackcap).

Sparrow(and other stories): Sicilian Novelle (Dedalus European Classics S) by [Giovanni Verga]
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If you’re not a fan of books, on top of telling you that the only reason why you don’t like books is that you haven’t found the right one for you, I can recommend the film inspired to this book directed by Franco Zeffirelli: “Sparrow”(1993). 
Among the others, the great Vanessa Redgrave, Angela Bettis and Jonathon Schaech paly the main roles in the film.

I would say though, that the two experiences are completely different: Verga’s work is a unique example of epistolary book, while Zeffirelli put a lot of his own imagination into the film. As to say, they are almost two different stories… 
The only voice that you would read in the book is the one of Maria. Through letters addressed to her friend, Marianna, she will tell you all about her story and you’ll witness, as a powerless observer, her fall into the spiral of madness caused by the confinement of her freedom to love.

The part of Catania that is described both in the film and in the book is the beautiful Via Crociferi, a place definitely worth a visit. There is a real monastery of cloistered nuns there. I remember that years ago I use to see their black shadows at the other side of window grills located at the top of the church below the monastery. They always reminded me of Maria. 

Picture courtesy of: “Sacred music” by Mire74 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

All of us have that one film that was played in loop as a child or teenager. For me it was “Sparrow’, the Italian/Sicilian version, of course. And every time, towards the end, I would shout to Maria to run away.


Maria, run away!

This story and the current restrictions we are forced into have lots in common, they make me realise the importance of freedom and, extending the concept, the importance of being free to love. Verga tells this all through Maria’s pen in this  sentence:

“How many things there are in a ray of sunshine!.. All those things that he sees and illuminates at this very moment…so many joys, so many pains, so many people who love each other… and he”

Giovanni Verga, Storia di una capinera

Now, what is it that you love? Cosa ami?

Personally, I love freedom, Io amo la liberta’.

Follow this link to practice these words singing “A modo mio Amo” (In my own way I love) and leave a comment saying what you love.

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