After the Rain – Sunshine and Mushrooms

The first good sign was that I slept through the night and was not woken up by pouring rain, but instead by the cheerful sound of birds as it was just getting light out. I jumped out of bed to check the weather and there it was, a sunrise with all its magical colors. Next I grabbed my shoes and ran around the house and up the flight of stone stairs to the rooftop terrace. No, Mt. Etna was still covered in clouds, but I had my sunrise.

So what do we do on this almost sunny morning? If you can’t stay home when the weather is bad, you certainly can’t stay home when the weather is good. After breakfast we headed for Parco dei  Nebrodi , northwest of Mt. Etna.  The first part of the drive around the north side of the peak was the same road that we had taken a few days before, but today it looked completely different. You could actually see the country side beyond the road; the fields lit from the dazzling sun and the sky an ominous mixture of big fluffy clouds, dark patches and brilliant blue.

Not far into the drive we noticed a big sign that said, “Funghi” with an arrow. We stopped and turned in the direction indicated. As we entered the small parking lot an alarm went off, presumably notifying the patron of our presence. The building was a large prefab kind of structure sparsely filled with shelves of local products, a refrigerated shelving unit with bins of mushrooms and shelves of growing medium filling the back three quarters of the building. A woman came out and we asked about the mushrooms. She had just two kinds and we bought 300 grams of one of them, not knowing exactly what we were getting. She then asked if we wanted to see where they grew the mushrooms. I didn’t understand at first what she meant, but she said come, so we went. In back of the store front were other prefab buildings filled with rows of the bags of growing medium we had seen inside, but with mushrooms growing from them. Another woman wearing a mask was harvesting them, the air filled with the soft wooded smell of funghi.

Interestingly, as we went out past the town of Randazzo towards Parco dei Nebrodi  – we were now in new territory for us – we started to see cars parked along the road with people searching the ground for something, presumably mushrooms – the fruit of five days of rainy weather.

From here the valley started to open up and you could see layers of mountains toward the center of the island. With all the rain the fields were green and the air crystal clear – the Sicilian Alps.

Arriving at Parco dei Nebrodi was a bit of a letdown after the scenery that had led up to the park. The park, Sicily’s largest forest, is made up of mostly a scrubby kind of oak that doesn’t do much more than block the view of the surrounding mountains. On this day it seemed people were mainly here to look for mushrooms. A wise choice.

What kind of mushrooms are these?

For dinner Don grilled the steak we had bought in Passopisciaro, not the thickest piece of meat.  I now think I could do a better job of buying the kind of steak we really wanted, controfiletto (sirloin), rather than just ordering general  manzo costata. However, it was probably a blessing that the steak was cut thin because honestly, the grill is crap, basically coals laying on flat surface without any way for the air to circulate around them. Ok for fish, but doesn’t get hot enough to do a nice steak. The meat had a good beef flavor, not the most tender cut, but not bad. The mushrooms that we bought were surprisingly tasteless raw and more surprisingly too bitter after Don sautéed them in a nice olive oil. The pasta with Bronte pistachios was very simple – onion, ground pistachio and olive oil over spaghetti and garnished with grated ricotta salata (a hard ricotta). Tasty and rich, especially with the cheese. Not the kind of thing we usually eat but definitely worth the calorie impact. The only disappointment was that the bright green color shown in the cookbook photo, for which Bronte (a town on the north side of Mt. Etna) pistachios are known, faded to a soft muted tone when cooked. To go with the steak we had a bold fruity Nero d’Avola, Feudo Montoni by Principato di Villanova, with mellow tannins. Another complex wine with a long finish.

After dinner the weather was nice and we finished our wine on the roof top terrace gazing at the stars – most likely bright planets, that shown between the clouds. “Will it be clear tomorrow?”

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