Holy Canolli, Let’s Go to Sicily! Part Two
It was the morning of the big Sicilian birthday party. I grabbed a cannoli from my nightstand and threw on the baggiest of all my travel clothes. Luigi honked at us from outside the hotel and we piled into his car. We drove upwards, through the centre of Catania, past the prison and the football stadium (which look the same *cough*) and carried on up Mouth Etna.
It was windy and the tablecloths that had been draped around the garden tables were flapping wildly. We were early but I could see that there was a large wooden table with no chairs around it; it was the table for the three course buffet. The view from Luigi’s garden is almost eerie; the tip of Mount Etna looms in the background, small puffs of smoke erupting every now and then, apparently it would have been a good day for skiing. I drank Campari fizz and Pimms in espresso sized plastic cups and played Shithead with my sister and her trusty pack of cards (essential when at a party where you don’t speak the same language as any of the guests).
The family gathered around the large wooden table, which was now laden with plates of food, salads and more arancini. There were jokes bandied about which I imagine were about the bottles of wine from the family’s vineyard which had been embellished with stickers which read ‘Don Mimmo’ in honour of the birthday boy. We tucked into the first course and then the second course of sliced pork in cream sauce, meatballs and pasta baked with wild fennel. All the while my dad pointed at the fennel pasta and said ‘this is the best, I told you about this, this is the best’ but for me it was all about the sliced meat in cream sauce, so delicately flavoured with capers but so deliciously creamy and decadent, I could have eaten that all day and well into the evening.
The birthday cake was presented, a huge fruit covered cream and sponge cake. Pale blue frosting scattered with strawberries and kiwi fruit slices, that cake was almost like any other cream cake but there was something about it, it was so sweet and light, the sponge was so airy that is was just incredible. I don’t know what they did to that cake but it was perfect.
More desserts were laid out and despite being hideously full, I had one of everything…and another two cannolis for good measure.
On our final day in Sicily we were picked up early and taken over to the fish market in the centre of Catania. We walked through the vegetable stalls full of purple broccoli and piles of heirloom tomatoes in yellow, orange and green. We sauntered down to the tables with buckets of baby fish and huge chunks of swordfish. We stopped by a young guy who was expertly popping open oyster shells. Naturally we ate some, squirted with Sicilian lemon (of course) the oysters were salty, smooth and sharp, tasting of nothing but Fresh Ocean with a strong hint of citric tang.
We piled back into the car and were carted off towards the coast. We stopped at a restaurant where again we ate more courses than were countable. Ceviche of shrimp and calamari, marinated octopus and baby squid. We ate deep fried fish which had been flattened and stuffed with sultanas, these are meant to appear like the little fried birds which the wealthier Italians would have eaten and that the poorer Sicilians would have imitated with fish. We ate pasta which looked like little sea snail shells with langoustines and then linguine with seaweed and clams, this dish was so rich and silky, so full of salty undersea flavour. This was Luigi’s favourite dish and I have to say that I too am still thinking about it. Of course the pasta wasn’t the last course, we ate grilled sea bass and swordfish and giant prawns to finish and then reclined with an espresso and watched the waves from our perch in the restaurant.
We grabbed a cone of super velvety ice cream on our way back to Catania. Ice cream full of candied fruit, pistachios and sugared hazelnuts. We headed off to the airport from here, so full that we barely noticed the hazardous Sicilian driving. Swerving between bashed up cars and lorries and whizzing mopeds we finally reached the airport. We checked in and went to recline and digest before our flight, but not before heading to the premium lounge to see what first class goods we could stash for the remainder of our journey.