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.

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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.


Ingredients:

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!

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STEP 1
Take off the basil stems and wash the leaves. Pat dry them with kitchen roll.

STEP 2
Put all of the ingredients in a bowl and blend till smooth with a stick blender.

And it’s done!


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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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Hands, facial expressions, movements, emotions and words: that’s how Sicilians talk.

Within every Sicilian there is a world of cultures different from each other. And it seems that using hand gestures is the only way to make all of them coming out at once.

Italians use a lot of gestures and Sicilians even more. And it’s not just about moving their hands while they talk: each gesture has got a meaning that can be translated not just in words, but into emotions too.

Photo credits :“Hands Fidgeting From Boredom” by Mark Spearman is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Facial expressions play an important role, also. The key for expressing yourself with Italian and Sicilian gestures is the feeling. If you don’t feel it, the movement of your hands will just be… a movement.

What is communicated through a gesture is a concept that goes beyond words. It is more about an expression of all of the emotions inside a person.

Sicilians learn to understand this special sign language very soon… no Sicilian child wants to see their mum biting her hand (meaning: if I’ll get you, you’ll be in trouble).

It seems that this habit comes from the Greeks, people to whom Sicilians still owe their special way of saying ’no’. Have you ever heard the Sicilian ’no’? Well, that’s a ntz sound (as if you wanted to make the sound of a kiss but with your tongue touching the top of your back upper teeth). While Sicilians make that sound, they lift their head up, similarly to a nod. A bit confusing, isn’t it?

Photo credits: “A view out to sea from Tahomina in Sicily. #sea #sicily #tahomina #beach #bay #island” by ocean-design is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Probably the use of gestures was born for the necessity of communicating with so many different people: Sicily is in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and it was a very popular destination for everyone.

Within every Sicilian there is a world of cultures different from each other. And it seems that using hand gestures is the only way to make all of them coming out at once.

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With my great surprise, our son who speaks mainly English, uses the Sicilian ‘ntz’ sound. Needless to say that this makes me very happy.
Here a video that explains about Italian gestures.
And this is a fun video that explains about Sicilian gestures
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Almond brittle: torrone, cubaita or minnulata. Just two ingredients for a delicious dessert.

Almond brittle: torrone, cubaita or minnulata. Just two basic ingredients for a dessert that tastes like the old times.

Almonds, along with dried figs and ricotta are the basic ingredients of the traditional Sicilian desserts. In times when sweets and big meals were intended just for the main festivities during the year, even the poorest families could afford to make the minnulata using just almonds and sugar.
Photo credits: “Tito Luis’ almonds” by Tom Raftery is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Mandorla (Italian), Mennula (Sicilian) = Almond
Minnulata (Sicilian) = something made with almonds, almond brittle.

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For this very simple but tasty almond brittle, you’re going to need just two ingredients.

Ingredients for 6 people:

200g almonds
150g sugar

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

  1. put the almonds in the oven at 180 degrees C for 12-15 min depending on how toasted you like them.
  2. Caramelise the sugar: put the sugar in a pan at low heat. Leave it till caramelised (it needs to become golden brown and completely melted).
  3. Take the almonds out of the oven and pour them in the sugar. Stir the taosted almonds for a few seconds to coat them with sugar.

4. Transfer the almonds in an oiled piece of baking paper

5. Spread the almonds with a spoon to make a square. Careful, they’re hot!

6. Press from the top with baking paper

7. Cut the square in pieces with a big knife and your minnulata is ready!

Buon appetito!

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Sesame seeds biscuits: Biscotti con il sesamo. The best things are simple!

Sesame seeds biscuits: the best things are simple!

Sesame seeds biscuits are my favourite! I asked many times to my parents to send them to me in boxes, I put them in my luggage to bring back to the UK, I asked friends coming back from Sicily to bring me some. This till I found out how to make them myself.

These type of biscuits are called in Sicilian biscotti col cimino (English ‘ch’ sound) or biscotti con la giggiulena (all the g’s pronounced as the the final ‘g’ sound in ‘fridge’). They can be found in bakeries and are not fancy biscuits at all. Still they are very good. Once I start, I can’t stop eating them.

Looking on the internet I found out some recipes and I finally managed to recreate them my own way with the ingredients I can find in the UK.

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Ingredients:

250g plain flour
80g spreadable butter (if you use normal, unsalted butter you need to add some salt)
80g caster sugar
1 egg  
3g baking ammonia
100g sesame seeds

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

*first thing, get the spreadable butter you need and leave it outside of the fridge for 10 min so that it cools downs.

*in a bowl, put the flour, sugar and baking ammonia. Create a little hole on the top. This is where you’ll put the butter and egg.

*put the egg (room temperature) and the cooled down butter in the bowl with the flour, sugar and ammonia.

*mix everything together with your hands to create a ball. You’ll see that the mix feels crumbly, don’t worry. It will get to shape. If it doesn’t, with your fingertips, get some of the leftover butter at the bottom of the bowl you used earlier and carry on working the mix. It will form a ball eventually.

*put the ball in cling film or freezing bag and leave it in the fridge for 45 min.

*in the meantime, get a medium size pan and pour the sesame seeds inside. Toast them on low heat. Stir till they become brown. You’ll see they become shiny too.

*After the 45 min (even more, it’s not a problem), get the dough from the fridge. In a bowl put the seeds and in another bowl some water to deep your fingers in.

*get a piece of dough and form a long cylinder a bit wider that a finger. Cut the cylinder in pieces the length of a baby finger. 

*deep your hands in water, get what you have just cut and wet it a bit. Roll it in the sesame seeds so that you can cover the whole biscuit. Put it on a tray with baking paper on. 

*do this till you have dough.

*put the uncooked biscuits in preheated oven (180 degrees C) for 15 min (using baking ammonia, you need to make sure that they are cooked. Cooking time depends on the type of oven, too).

*take them out and let them cool down.

*when cool, put them back in the oven at 150 degrees C for 10 min.

Your biscuits are ready! If you have some leftover sesame seeds, sprinkle them on an apple. It will taste amazing!

Biscotto means cooked two times (bis-cotto: 2 times-cooked).
 Some Italian words have ‘bis” in them, like Bisnonno (bis-nonno: 2 times-grandfater, greatgrandfater).

When someone takes a second portion of the same dish, they say: faccio il bis!

Give a try with these biscotti: a simple, yet full of taste Sicilian experience!

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Aubergine Parmigiana: a true Sicilian favourite!

Aubergine Parmigiana: A traditional Sicilian dish that you can make yourself at home as I’ll show you. But there is a faster alternative: a specific brand ready-made version, so good that brought me back to my years back home in Catania when it was my mum and dad cooking for me. Carry on reading to find out of which one I’m talking about!

Aubergine Parmigiana: A traditional Sicilian dish that you can make yourself at home as I’ll show you. But there is a faster alternative: a specific brand ready-made version, so good that brought me back to my years back home in Catania when it was my mum and dad cooking for me. Carry on reading to find out of which one I’m talking about!

In Catania we make everything with aubergines: pasta alla Norma (pasta in tomato sauce, fried aubergines and grated salted ricotta), arancini (fried rice balls), aubergine cotoletta (breaded and fried aubergines)… it can be added to pasta bake, as well, for the authentic taste of the Inspector Montalbano’s pasta ‘ncasciata!

You can make it at home too and I’ll show you how. Even if Lee is the chef, I do most of the cooking at home.


Ingredients:

3 oval aubergines
1 lt passata (thin tomato sauce, with no herbs inside)
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
3 spoons Olive oil (extra virgin if you want the real Mediterranean feel)
Oil for frying
100 g parmigiano 
250 g mozzarella cheese (the hardish type for pizzas, must not give out too much water)
Salt 
Coarse salt 
Basil 


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

*get the aubergines ready: wash them, take off the top bit and cut them in thin long slices of more or less 0.5 cm.
Put a bit of coarse salt on top of each aubergine and put them in layers inside a bowl. Cover the aubergines with a plate and put a weight on top of the plate so that the aubergines will be squashed. All of this so that the bitter water inside the aubergines will come out. Leave the aubergines like this for about 1hour.

Bowl containing salted aubergines in layers, covered by a plate and a weight. This will eliminate the bitter water from the aubergines

*in the meantime, prepare the sauce: In a pan, brown slightly the garlic in the olive oil and add the tomato sauce. Add a bit of salt. Cook for 30min. At the end, when it’s still hot, add some basil leaves and stir.

*get now your aubergines, rinse them and squeeze them. Pat them dry with kitchen roll.
In a frying pan, add a couple of cm of frying oil and fry each slice for about 3 min. Put them again on kitchen roll to absorb the excess of oil.

Now you have all you need to create your parmigiana

Get a baking dish and spread some tomato sauce at the bottom.
Add a layer of fried aubergines to cover the base of the dish, all in the same direction, left to right (horizontally).
Sprinkle parmigiano and mozzarella cheese.
Spread more tomato sauce.
Now form another aubergines layer, but this time put the aubergines vertically.
Sprinkle cheeses, spread tomato sauce.
Carry on till you have aubergines.
Finish with a nice layer of sauce and chesses sprinkled on top.

Now put everything in the oven at 180/200 degrees for 40/30 min or till the cheese il melted and nicely golden on top.

Take it out and eat it!

If you remember, I said at the beginning that I found a fast alternative to make all of this. I still make my own parmigiana, but sometimes it’s nice to let someone else to cook for you.

Do you recognise the brand?
Yes, it’s Gino D’acampo’s aubergine parmigiana! When I tasted it the first time, it threw me back to my years in Sicily, when I was still living at home and my mamma and papa’ used to cook for me. Believe me when I say that this is an original Mediterranean taste experience! 

 Buonissima e bellissima: la parmigiana di melanzane!
Tasty and beautiful: the aubergine parmigiana!

Follow me for more recipes… Buon appetito! 

Lee finds out that in Sicily we have the ‘day of the dead people’

Halloween can’t be considered a traditional Sicilian festivity even though nowadays is celebrated by some. When Lee asked what Halloween used to be like when I was a little girl, I had to explain that things are a bit different in Sicily during that time of the year.

Halloween can’t be considered a traditional Sicilian festivity even though nowadays is celebrated by some. When Lee asked what Halloween used to be like when I was a little girl, I had to explain that things are a bit different in Sicily during that time of the year.

In fact, Lee was a bit shocked when I told him that instead of Halloween, we celebrate the first of November as
‘All Saints day’ (Tutti i Santi). This is a National festivity: children don’t go to school, offices and banks are closed. 

Just in Sicily, though, following Tutti i Santi day, we celebrate the dead people. The second of November is called 
Il giorno dei morti’ (the day of dead people).

TUTTI I SANTI
All Saints

IL GIORNO DEI MORTI

The day of the dead people

The night between the first and second of November, according to what has been told to children for generations, relatives and friends who have died come to Earth to pay a visit and to bring sweets and toys. These spirits were said to be quite mischievous, hiding the presents and the sweets baskets for the children to find the following morning. And if children had misbehaved during the year, their feet would have been tickled by the spirits!

In the past, il giorno dei morti and Christmas were the only occasions in which children used to receive presents. Some parents had to take away the toys after a few days and save them for the following year. What was supposed to be enjoyed on the same day with no objections was the basket packed with sweets. The central piece of the composition was a doll entirely made with sugar: la pupa di zucchero. 

PUPA RI ZUCCARO
Doll of sugar (as in, made of sugar) Sicilian

This is an example of basket made for our son, Logan Tancredi. My mum and I picked a Donald Duck pupa di zucchero. The rest of the basket is traditionally filled with dried fruit, marzipan, chocolate, etc… 

Today, as in the past,  il giorno dei morti is an occasion to visit relatives at the grave yard, but it is a time to go out shopping for toys and traditional sweets as well. It’s a tradition to go and visit the market that is specifically held in this time of the year. Lee visited it once and was impressed with the amount of stalls. Lots of people from Malta come to visit the market, too. It is definitely worth a visit!

If you feel like learning a good sentence along the line of il giorno dei morti, listen to this song by Zucchero: E’ un peccato morir (It’s a shame to die)Follow the link and sing along.

Now, leave a comment saying what a shame is for you. For example, for me…..

….E’ un peccato non mangiare la pupa di zucchero. What did I say?? 

A presto!

Introducing yourself

Lee has just arrived to Sicily and he’s ready to meet my family and friends. What will he say to them? Follow Lee in his first journey in the most beautiful garden in the centre on the Mediterranean Sea.

Lee has just arrived to Sicily and he’s ready to meet my family and friends. What will he say to them? Follow Lee in his very first journey in the most beautiful garden in the centre on the Mediterranean Sea.

No one knows him and everybody is very excited to know the very first English man that will join the family. In fact, my family members are all Sicilians, or Italians at the most!
Before arriving, I told Lee to introduce himself with one of these two forms:

MI CHIAMO LEE E SONO UNO CHEF
My name is Lee and I am a chef

MI CHIAMO LEE E FACCIO LO SCHEF
My name is Lee and I’m a chef (literally: I do the chef)

Lee will soon learn that some people in Sicily like to gossip a lot. In Sicilian Gossip is called ‘Cuttigghiu‘ from “Cortile” (Courtyard), the place where women used to sit on chairs in front of their house doors and talk about all of the interesting facts happening in the village.
Some people still spend the hot summer nights sitting on chairs just at their doorstep.

Now it’s your turn to practise a bit and learn these two forms Lee has just used with my family.

I’ll redirect you to a web page where you can listen to and sing along a beautiful song from Antonello Venditti, Che fantastica storia e’ la vita. Make sure that you can see both the Italian and English lyrics versions on your screen. You should be able to play the song through a YouTube video on the same page, but this depends on the device that you’re using. Click here to visit the page.


Best way to learn is having fun! A presto!