Leaving Ragusa we took the back road SS194, passing more fields bordered with stones and authentic towns with their crumbling buildings covering the hilltops. The weather was still gray and drizzling from the day before as we headed to Mt. Etna for the final phase of our Sicilian adventure, discovering the markets and cooking our own Sicilian dishes with Sicilian ingredients.
We met our landlords at the turn off for Giarre – just north of Catania, between Mt. Etna and the sea. We followed them through the back roads, right at the sex shop sign and then left at the small church, to our new home for the next week. Arriving at Casa di Camellia, it was everything I had expected and more, a pink house set in a lovely lemon orchard, with views of Mt. Etna if it weren’t cloudy. The house has a charming main room that includes the kitchen, dining room and living room, big enough to be comfortable, but it is still a cottage, decorated in a typical Italian country style with a high beamed ceiling. The sizable bedroom is decorated all in white with dark rustic furniture. There is a second bedroom with two very small twin beds, only suitable for children. The house also has a lovely porch or patio big enough for outdoor dining, if it would stop raining, and a hundred year old camellia, hence the name of the cottage.
This being Saturday afternoon and the street markets being generally open only in the morning, we went to the supermarket for a few supplies and groceries. Although the market was quite large, the produce section was pathetic. It was just as well as we would go to the “real” market the next day. For our first dinner we decided on a Sicilian chicken cacciatore. We hadn’t eaten chicken since we’ve been here and this was a very different recipe from the traditional tomato based version as it is a white wine vinegar based sauce with eggplant, peppers, zucchini, onion, olives and capers. Quite tasty; think cacciatore meets caponata. (Click here for the recipe.) It was surprising just how good ordinary supermarket food was. The stock olives were as good if not better than the olive bar olives you buy at home, the ordinary chicken had that true chickeny flavor that you only get from the special breed chickens you buy at Whole Foods, and you can get salt preserved capers right off the grocery store shelf. Just imagine what we’ll find at the markets.
Just when do Sicilians eat in restaurants?
On our way back to Catania this Saturday afternoon we went through town after town looking for an open restaurant. In some of the towns we couldn’t even find a restaurant and when we did find a town with restaurants they were all closed. Finally, near the outskirts of Catania, we found an open restaurant, actually four open restaurants within a 100 yards of each other. We picked one, a huge place, the kind of place you would expect a bus tour to go to or where they might have a wedding reception. The kitchen was open to the dining room and you could see that there were more people working in the kitchen than there were guests in the dining room. No wonder all the restaurants are closed. Besides us there was one Italian couple sitting in the front section of the dining room with all the tables facing a big screen TV turned on to a sports channel. They were having a relaxed lunch with wine, taking a break from time to time to smoke a cigarette or smooch a little. While there was no pizza, there was an impressive selection of antipasto that looked like they had been sitting for a while. We therefore opted for two pasta dishes, mushrooms with pistachios and amatriciana, neither of which are Sicilian but both cooked very well and tasty. You can’t seem to go wrong ordering a plate of pasta in this country.