Monday, October 13, 2014

SEASONAL FOODS: All things Orange

It's October -- a lovely month, my birthday month, probably my favorite month of the year. The weather has cooled off from the steamy days of summer, but it's still great weather for walking and exploring the city (or country!). I correlate October with other "O" words, especially ORANGE. When I think of this month and the real beginning of autumn, I think of orange leaves, sunsets, sweaters, brilliant flaming fires in the fireplace, and above all else, delicious orange food. What does orange food offer? Besides a great variety of delicious fruits and vegetables, many of them seasonal to autumn, orange foods boast carotenoids, which are fat-soluble nutrients that produce the orange, bright yellow, or red color in the foods that contain them. The best known carotenoid is beta carotene, which our bodies convert to Vitamin A when it enters our bloodstream. Orange foods are, on the whole, anti-inflammatory and full of nutrients that fight aging and skin issues, they help sharpen our vision, they aid in weight loss with a high fiber and low caloric content, and often help our digestive and immune systems. They help fight cancers and cardiovascular disease and basically amp up our systems to work at their most efficient. 

Trips to the farm stand this time of year are wonderful: this is when harvests are at their most bountiful, and a stroll through a well-stocked farmer's market provides a sensory explosion (more on this later in my seasonal "MARKETS" blog post). October offers a vast variety of orange and orange-tinged foods, many of which are outlined for you below, along with their key nutritional benefits, and some ideas on dishes to prepare with the excellent orange primary ingredients... 

Carrots: Rich in vitamin A, they help ward off various types of cancer, they prevent macular degeneration, slow down cellular aging, and keep skin clear. I love roasting whole baby carrots, tossing them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses and some sea salt, and baking them at 400 degrees until charred on the outside.

Papaya: This fruit is known for the wonders it works on digestive health, and serves as an immunity booster. It also contains digestive enzymes that make all food go down a lot easier. Try it out of hand, or in fruit smoothies. Green papayas are great in Thai salads, though they don't share the same healthful properties as regular papayas.

Butternut squash: This dense, orange squash is high in fiber and potassium, and helps build and preserve bone strength. It's incredibly versatile, and little do most people know, but the canned "pumpkin" sold across America for pumpkin pie? It's really a butternut squash puree. You can oven roast the peeled pieces of the squash for a homemade puree for baking if you're a DIY-type. Or use the roasted butternut in salads with vegetables, grains, and fruits.You can whip the roasted squash in a food processor to make a topping for crostini, as in the photo here, where I've made many of my clients' fall favorite: butternut squash crostini with crispy pancetta, parmigiano, and sage. You can also boil the peeled butternut squash with some veggie stock until it's soft, and then use an immersion blender to turn it into a healthy and nutritious soup -- no cream needed.
 
Pumpkin: There are many varieties found across America and Europe, but the typical pumpkin that's good for eating is on the small side and is more squat than round, or cylindrical like the butternut squash. Pumpkin keeps your eyesight sharp, aids in weight loss, and its seeds protect us from heart disease - -and they're a delicious snack when roasted. One of my favorite dishes of the season is pumpkin ravioli (which can also be made with butternut squash), with the roasted puree filling hand-made fresh pasta dough. I cook them simply with a butter and sage sauce, and top with either parmigiano and toasted hazelnuts, or with a crumbling of amaretti cookies to bring out the sweetness of the pumpkin. And speaking of sweetness, pumpkin sweets are a fabulous way to make desserts a tad healthier in the autumn months. Menus all over are stuffed with pumpkin donuts, pumpkin spice cupcakes and layer cakes, pumpkin panna cotta, and one of my personal favorites, pumpkin cheesecake. The photo at right is dressed with a cinnamon sour cream topping, candied rosemary, sugared pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds), and pumpkin seed brittle.

Sweet potatoes: These tubers are rich in Vitamin A, which is anti-inflammatory and keeps skin clear. Roasted in the oven is a great, simple way to have them, and peeled and fried is a healthier alternative to french fries. But I love them peeled, grated, and turned into sweet potato latkes. Perhaps it's the innate Jewish mother in me, but I think these savory little pancakes are delicious, especially as I serve them at cocktail parties, with a chipotle sour cream and topped with wasabi caviar. They certainly lend themselves to sweet iterations -- hold the onions in the latke prep, and add a dash of cinnamon instead. Top with homemade apple sauce or pear butter.
 
Cantaloupe: Though this is mostly a summer melon, you can still find it into the fall. It's high in vitamins A and C, and in beta carotene. It's great on its own, blended as a cold soup, or sliced and wrapped in some prosciutto for a light lunch.

Apricots: These are also mostly a summer stone fruit, but you can sometimes find them into the autumn months, and you can certainly find them dried throughout the year (though obviously sugar content rises in the dried version). This fruit is high in iron, fiber, and potassium. And they work really well both with sweet preparations and as a savory accompaniment to meat and poultry dishes.
I make crostini with ricotta, herbs, and fresh apricots. I use fresh or dried apricots in North African meat tagines and a dish I make that my parents flip for, a Moroccan chicken I make with apricots, almonds, chick peas, and North African spices over couscous. I also do a brined, grilled pork chop that's juicy enough to stand on its own, but it's brought up to another level when served over an apricot-red pepper sauce, brightened with citrus and vinegar and a pop of spice. I serve it all with wilted kale for a delicious meal in the summer or fall.

Golden beets: All beets are wonderfully healthy for us, but golden beets are particularly healthy (and beautiful!) and full of fiber and potassium, and they prevent constipation. Another plus: their color is lighter and stains less than the traditional magenta beets -- an added benefit if serving them in a "white tablecloth" setting. They can be roasted, blended into a soup (golden borscht!), or served sliced raw into a salad. They pair well with bitter greens like arugula, and their sweetness also pairs well with cheeses, from goat cheese to a potent blue cheese.

Guava: This tropical fruit is orangey-pink, and has high levels of lycopene, making the fruit heart healthy and anti-cancer, particularly effective in preventing prostate cancer. It's also high in potassium. This is great as a juice on its own or mixed into smoothies.

Mangoes: This fruit is high in beta carotene, and helps to prevent prostate and skin cancers. It's great, when ripe, to eat out of hand, or to serve sliced with some coconut rice pudding. The sorbet is actually a really healthy treat as far as desserts go, and you can find mango in fruit shakes and Indian lassis (kefir yogurt-fruit drinks), which do wonders for your intestinal tract and also supply probiotics to keep the good bacteria in your tummy in good health.

Turmeric: Though technically not a food you'd eat on its own, turmeric is a rhizome (like ginger) that seems to be the wonder-food of the year. Its anti-inflammatory properties are well-established, and it helps to prevent kidney and cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome. In its powder form, it's a part of most curry mixes, and it's sometimes dubbed "poor man's saffron" because it lends its bright orange-yellow color to dishes like rice and stews where saffron is too costly. But it's also great used like ginger as a flavor base for meat and fish stews, soups...even juiced with some apples, lemon, and ginger to make a great post-workout replenishing drink. 

And of course, in speaking about orange foods, I'd be remiss not to name the one food actually named for its color: the orange. Fall is not prime season for this citrus fruit, but drinking a glass of orange juice has become how so many Americans start their days, and it is very versatile, especially when its season rolls around in early winter. It doesn't have the A-vitamins many orange foods have, but it's quite high in Vitamin C and folate, so it's great to incorporate into the diet of women who are expecting, or hoping to expect in the near future. You can use orange zest to liven up dishes, its juice to cook into sauces and soups, as a stand-alone drink, or as part of a smoothie or even a cocktail. The possibilities are vast.

I know I'll be getting my fill of ORANGE FOODS this autumn, and happily so. October is the peak month for so many delicious food items that if we remember to eat in season, we'll be that much closer to eating a healthy, well-rounded diet. Just remember: O. October. Orange. It's simple. Get it while you can! 





 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

ESCAPES: Puglia, ITALY, Part 1: The Salento -- Lecce area

I remember a couple of years ago, while strolling the streets of London, a bus drove past me plastered with an image of a sunny coastline and a voluptuous, bronzed, Latin-looking model in a bikini, with the word "Puglia" written in large letters at the top. I chuckled at the idea of the region of Puglia spending countless euros on an advertising campaign touting the charms of a region I would prefer remain a secret -- especially from the masses of tourists looking for, as it's often been deemed, "The Next Tuscany."
No. No, no, and no! First of all, Puglia is nothing like Tuscany. I love Tuscany, and I love Puglia, but they're more dissimilar than they are alike. Tuscany is rolling hills and vineyards and farm land for miles, all central Italian greenery and picturesque landscape. Puglia is a different beast, more ancient Greek than Renaissance chic, more arid-by-the-sea than lush fecundity. Where Tuscany has diminutive olive trees planted alongside its grape vines, the land in Puglia is covered with large, old olive trees with craggy, knotty trunks that look like they've been around for millennia (and they likely have). The land is mostly flat, and you're never very far from the sea, whether it's the Adriatic on the east coast, or the Ionian on the west (interior) coast. So much depends on the wind for the weather, and locals are acutely attuned to it. 

The locals, in fact, are a very interesting facet of daily life in Puglia. They are deeply entrenched in tradition, and speak a dialect closer to Greek than any recognizable Italian. They are reserved with strangers until they get to know you a bit, and then they treat you like family. They are religious and superstitious, they celebrate countless festivals and holidays. There is a sense of civic pride and the streets are clean. And though there is some organized crime here, they say it never really took hold in Puglia as in other regions in the south, because la gente parla: people talk, and so secrets can't be kept so well.

As for the local cuisine, much depends on the wild vegetation and aquatic resources of the "heel of the boot" -- where, incidentally, about 70% of Italy's olive oil is produced. And this oil is good. Very good. It's used to saute' vegetables and to make breads and pizzas. It's drizzled on pastas and seafood fresh from the turquoise waters of the nearby Mediterranean. It's stirred into soups and stews, and even churned into gelato. For the most part, this is cucina povera (cooking of the poor) at its most innovative. The local grains are turned into world-famous breads -- the "Pugliese" loaf is even hawked as far away as Citarella in the east end of Long Island. Even the burnt flour from the process of prepping wheat fields after the "good stuff" has been cultivated isn't wasted on the less fortunate here, who have traditionally turned this burnt grain ("grano arso") flour into a darker, chewier, slightly toasty-flavored pasta. As fate would have it, this has become the newest, dare I say 'hippest' pasta for in-the-know italophiles and restaurateurs, though it's still fairly hard to come by stateside. So take advantage if you see it on a menu in Puglia, and try it. 

LECCE
This Pugliese town is known, outside of Rome itself, as the capital of baroque in Italy. It's also the unofficial capital of the Salento. The local sandstone is soft and therefore more easily sculpted, and artists have taken advantage of this to create intricate, elaborate carvings in the architecture. The piazza del Duomo is a breathtaking example: accessed by a narrow entrance, you enter and as the piazza opens up, you're confronted with a cathedral (12th century), a palace (15th century), and a seminary (18th century) that seem to shine so brightly during the day that they reflect the sun, and at night, seem to glow from within. The basilica di Santa Croce is another baroque gem in Lecce's town center. 
Also of interest is the 2nd century A.D. Roman Amphitheater in piazza Sant'Oronzo -- subterranean and excavated in the 1930's to expose a perfect horseshoe amphitheater with seating for 15,000. In the photo here, it's set up for a summer concert series, a unique experience if you happen to be in town. The city itself is a small, elegant, lively, laid-back university town with boutiques, bars, and restaurants aplenty.
There are a few elegant hotels in the historic center from which you can explore the area. The Patria Palace Hotel is a well-located traditional upscale Italian albergo with gorgeous green Murano glass chandeliers and a fabulous rooftop terrace overlooking the Santa Croce basilica. The Risorgimento Resort is a more modern and stylish spot with a restaurant, wine bar, and rooftop garden. Airbnb also offers a number of great options in and around Lecce, for those travelers who want to feel at home in an apartment or B and B without the services of a 4- or 5-star hotel. These lodgings can be a great value, too.
As for food in Lecce? There are plenty of great options, mostly for food that tends toward the casalinga (housewife) style. It's homey, it's hearty (pasta with beans, potatoes, and mussels is a delicious local specialty, but an Atkins nightmare), and it's often vegetarian-friendly. Both Alle Due Corti and Cucina Casareccia are restaurants that seem like a relative's home -- albeit a relative who's superb in the kitchen. Dishes like orecchiette (the Pugliese regional pasta, "little ears") with cime di rapa (turnip greens), and the vegetable dish of cicoria e fave (sauteed chicory greens and pureed fava beans) are classics of the area. 
Seafood tends to be prepared very simply, either crudo (raw) as in a tartare or carpaccio, or a simple local fish like sarago, cooked in a salt crust and filleted and served with local, top-quality olive oil. For breakfast, try the deservedly-famous pasticciotto leccese, a sort of mini-pie with an almond-flour crust and a creamy filling, ranging from almond cream to Nutella. 

BEYOND LECCE  The small towns surrounding Lecce (many of which have "Lecce" in their names), range from charming hamlets to antique ghost towns, and many are worth exploring. Getting out of the city of Lecce allows you to see the countryside of the Salento, and out to the beaches -- both the dramatic, rocky eastern coastline and the western, interior Ionian coastline and its sandy beaches. I recently traveled to the Salento to attend the wedding of some dear friends of mine in Muro Leccese.  They rented a few houses next to each other for their guests arriving from all over Europe, North America, and the Middle East. The houses felt more like they were plucked from a Greek island, or from the medina in Morocco, mazes of limestone and white stucco, narrow hallways and staircases, lemon trees and creeping bougainvillea. The wedding itself was held at the nearby Botanical Gardens, La Cutura, in Giugianello (province of Lecce). This gorgeous former estate is home to the largest collection of succulents in Italy, and was a truly enchanted setting for the wedding, with dinner and dancing afterwards.
The following day, I prepared a brunch for about 100 guests in the kitchen of those rented villas -- a task that was challenging, fun, and something I couldn't have done without the incredible help of my (mostly) willing help (grazie a tutti quanti)! We served both local dishes (orecchiette with sausage and turnip greens) and dishes from elsewhere in Italy and overseas. It was a sweltering, mostly-sunny, collaborative, memorable afternoon with my trusty crew/amore/dear amici. And of course, the days leading up to that afternoon in prep -- many market trips, searching, inquiring, schlepping, organizing, cooking, more schlepping...a true authentic experience in the mezzogiorno!

And where did we come to rest our weary heads after a long day trekking around the Salento? I wouldn't stay just anywhere. I prefer the likes of Salindia Boutique Bed and Breakfast. It's extremely personal but you are still "hosted" in a Pugliese home. My lovely friends from Rome, Monica and Marcello, run Salindia ("Sal-" for Salento and "India" for Monica's Indian heritage). The married couple set up shop in Caprarica di Lecce, a small village of 2,000 inhabitants roughly 15 minutes south of Lecce. They found a run-down 17th century farmhouse (actually two, which they connected), saw the potential beauty there, and painstakingly refurbished this plot of land in the center of town, turning it into a little heavenly oasis within old stone walls. Their eye for detail is exquisite, and they've managed to stay true to the local whitewashed Greco-Roman aesthetic while intermingling with Italian modern and antique Indian craft. And it works beautifully. There are engraved wood four-post beds draped with Indian silk in the bedroom suites (there are 2), modern bathrooms with deep glass bowl sinks and counters, and stone spa showers with rainfall shower heads. In the common spaces, there are poured cement floors and B+B Italia leather sofas juxtaposed with the original stone fireplaces from 1685, Indian wooden antiques, and colorful mirrored poufs. There is an enclosed back garden for relaxing among the fruit trees and caper bushes, and in the front off of the modern dining room and kitchen, there's the enclosed cortile with a turquoise pool and plenty of space for soaking in the sun. All of this is just steps removed from one of the main streets of the town, though you'd never know it from the inside. And speaking of, you'll get some great insider's advice for things to do and see in and around the Salento, from Monica and Marcello. At the height of the summer season, there always seems to be a sagra, or festival, happening in one of the surrounding towns, or in Caprarica itself. And throughout the rest of the year, there are seasonal festivals and always lots of music of the Salento in the air -- the famous tarantella dance and the pizzica music that accompanies it. (More on this in my next Puglia post).

A note to travelers: renting a car is a must in Puglia to get around, unless you're planning on staying for only a few days in the center of Lecce. But that would be a shame. Rent a car, explore, see the coast, see the city, see the small towns and countryside. It's not Tuscany, it's different. It's Puglia. And it's still, for now, deliciously under-the-radar.







PATRIA PALACE HOTEL LECCE, www.patriapalacelecce.com
RISORGIMENTO RESORT, www.risorgimentoresort.it

SALINDIA Boutique Bed and Breakfast, Caprarica di Lecce. 
www.facebook.com/pages/Salindia-Boutique-BedBreakfast/607730372580032 

** Alle Due Corti, Lecce. Via Prato 42. (0832) 24.22.23. www.alleduecorti.com
Cucina Casareccia, Lecce. Viale Costadura 19. (0832) 24.51.78 * Lecce restaurant*
**
Botanical Gardens "La Cutura", www.lacutura.it






Friday, September 19, 2014

SEASONAL INGREDIENTS: Basil... + Pesto alla Genovese

Quick, hurry! Before summer is officially over in a few (not-really-that-short) days! For anyone who has grown her own basil this summer, whether in the back yard or on a windowsill or -- if she's lucky enough -- in her own lush, expansive, dedicated herb garden: it's pesto time.
Pesto, as a sauce, originates from the Italian verb pestare (to pound or crush), which gave rise to the word pestle, as in mortar-and-pestle -- the instruments originally used to make the sauce. In Italian cuisine, pesto refers to any sauce made with a mortar and pestle, and has myriad iterations. From the northwest coast of Liguria, and the city of Genova, where pesto alla Genovese originates, to the island of Sicily, where the local pesto is most often red (from tomatoes)...a pesto sauce can mean many things to many different people. Today we're focusing on the world's most famous pesto. Made with only a few top-quality ingredients, at their seasonal peak, pesto alla Genovese is the essence of Italian cooking in a simple condiment. 

The basil pesto made famous by the Genovese uses the local ingredient par excellence: basilico genovese, a DOP item (denominazione origine protetta -- meaning the origin and varietal of the basil is protected under Italian law. Meaning it's the good stuff, the real thing). This is crushed with garlic and European pine nuts, plus a little salt. This paste is made into a sauce with the addition of olive oil -- in Liguria, it's the golden, relatively mild and fruity variety made from local taggiasca olives. A grated cheese is added at the end, either parmigiano-reggiano or a pecorino or both.
The cheese you use will determine how salty the end result is, so waiting to add most of the salt until the end is advised. In Genova, this sauce is most commonly served with a local pasta called trofie, a twisted short pasta, and often tossed with boiled potatoes and green beans as well. Of course, the traditional way of making it with a mortar and pestle is the best way to appreciate the process -- but it's the modern day food processor that allows you to make the sauce in a snap.

With the abundant crops of basil throughout the late summer, now is the time to turn the beautiful anise-scented leaves into a perfectly summery sauce that freezes well and lasts for a month or two even in the fridge, as long as it's covered with a layer of olive oil to seal it off from the air. Spread on late summer heirloom tomatoes, this pesto adds the perfect touch to a light September lunch. You can toss it with pasta, serve it with grilled meats, spread it on tomatoes or drizzle it on top and bake the tomatoes. You can use it alone or mix it with mayonnaise for a great sandwich spread or dip. And you can even stir it into vegetable soups as the French in Provence do with their soupe au pistou. Any way you use it, pesto alla Genovese is a great way to use your late summer basil, and to keep enjoying it for months after summer officially ends.

Arrivederci, estate! (Farewell, summer!)

PESTO ALLA GENOVESE 

(8+ servings)

8 cups basil leaves, washed and dried
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup toasted pine nuts
Approximately 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, very good quality (from Liguria if possible)
½ cup grated parmigiano or pecorino cheese, or a mix of both
salt to taste

- In a food processor or blender, turn the switch to on and drop in the garlic clove so it is finely minced.


- Turn off the blender and remove the top, and add about half of the basil leaves. Return top and blend, adding about half of the olive oil. Now add half of the pine nuts. Add salt to taste.


- Continue this process, balancing the flavors until you reach the proper flavor and consistency you’d like. It can be a bit more liquid rather than thick, because you’ll be adding the parmigiano cheese which will thicken it a bit.


- Remove from food processor/blender and pour into a bowl. Stir in the parmigiano cheese.


- When adding to cooked pasta, mix the pesto with some of the pasta’s cooking water to thin. Use also as a sandwich spread. Keeps in the refrigerator for weeks: cover the sauce with a film of olive oil to seal it from air (this way, it won’t turn black). Wrap/cover tightly.




Friday, August 29, 2014

MARKETS: Mercato di Pesce in Catania, Sicily

It's a wild and memorable stop on any giro in the historic center of Catania, Sicily's southeastern city-on-the-sea, in the shadow of Mount Etna: the Mercato di Pesce, or fish market. It encompasses more than just fish, but the daily catch from local waters is really the star of the show here in the mercato. And what a show it is, every day!

Catania is Sicily's second-largest city, with 300,000 residents in the city proper and 1 million people in the metro area. Much of the city's beautiful architecture, like that of the surrounding Val di Noto, is barocco (baroque) -- ornate and expressive with detailed facades and embedded sculpture. Like its surrounding towns in the Noto Valley, Catania was rebuilt after the great earthquake of 1693, and so these towns were redesigned in the popular style of the era, which happened to be Sicilian baroque, disseminated from its origins in Rome. The fish market's fortunate positioning places its entrance just off the Piazza del Duomo, with the gorgeous pale grey-blue facade of its baroque church. The market has been in its current location since the beginning of the 19th century, when the galleria for the market was dug from the site of the historic center's 16th century city walls. 


Once you enter the market, all the tranquility and beauty you just witnessed in the Duomo and the nearby fountain turn to chaos and shouting, hawking and salesmanship and showmanship. That Sicily was once the provenance of the Arab world, (and its proximity to North Africa) can be felt here, viscerally. The mercato di pesce is part Italian market, part souk. The fishmongers are yelling pleas of "buy my fish, it's the best!" and "There is no fish fresher than mine!" and some say simply "Signora, signora, what can I offer you? Best price just for you!" On the whole, these fishmongers are selling more or less identical products. As you wade through the fish stalls (and I do mean wade: wearing wellies is a better idea than wearing sandals or flip-flops), the prices are more or less on par, so the only thing separating these stalls is the quality of the merchandise...and the marketing skills of the sellers. In the photo here, you see some of the most typical seafood for sale: anchovies and sardines, and shrimp of all sizes, including the delicate and delicious gambero rosso, or red shrimp from the Gulf of Catania, best eaten raw. There are triglie and branzino and orata (various Mediterranean white-fleshed fish), and calamari and octopus.

There is famously fresh tuna in these waters, much of which comes from the west and north coasts of Sicily, between the island and Calabria on the peninsula -- most of which either gets cooked and canned sott'olio (in oil) for Sicily's famous high quality preserved tuna fish, or sold to Japan, where its vertiginous prices are paid by the Japanese sushi and sashimi purchasers. But you can find it here, its flesh a fresh semi-translucent ruby red. And you can find its white-fleshed steakfish friend, pesce spada, or swordfish, all over Sicily. It's particularly good here. I purchased some for our dinner later that night, to be composed of entirely market-bought items. I also bought some beautiful whole calamari.
I was ecstatic to find neonati, teeny-tiny "just born" whitings that, grouped together by the hundreds, would make the base for polpetti -- little fish "meatballs." Other interesting items in the fish market include bottarga (salt-cured tuna roe) and ricci di mare, sea urchin. Such items are typical in these parts of southern Italy, and we'd been gorging ourselves on pasta with sea urchin and pasta with bottarga since we arrived down south a week earlier. So I went for something a little different. With my fish gathered and a menu coming together in my head, I passed by a few stalls in the fruit and vegetable part of the market, and then we were off for a swim in the sea just down the street from our apartment. And then, and only then...to cook!

What did I make at the end of the day? My take on various Sicilian specialties and flavors, using locally purchased ingredients, of course. I made those polpetti with neonati, bread crumbs, egg, herbs, and spices, and deep fried them. I took the gorgeous swordfish from the fish market and sliced the steaks as thin as possible, then stuffed them with an eggplant caponata (sweet-and-sour ratatouille) I made from market vegetables, and rolled that into involtini. I made a sort of salsa verde (green sauce) with basil, mint, and parsley from the herb plants on our apartment's terrace, and spread that on top of the oven-cooked swordfish.
And I took the calamari, cleaned them, and chopped the tentacles up and tossed them with bread crumbs, parmigiano cheese, seasoning, and lemon zest, and stuffed the calamari with this mixture. I baked those in the oven as well, and in the meantime made a spicy sauce from the gorgeous local pachino cherry tomatoes and basil and garlic from the market. I served that with the calamari, on the side. It was a memorable meal that we accompanied with a chilled Sicilian white wine from grapes grown in Mt. Etna's volcanic soil, and finished off with some local fresh figs and wild fragoline, tiny strawberries. I found everything we used, except for the bread crumbs and the raisins and pine nuts, at the mercato di pesce and surrounding vegetable market. That's what I call a local meal.

Cin-cin to Sicilia and her gorgeous culinary gifts!

Footnote: If you're not lucky enough to be staying in an apartment with a kitchen, or aren't much of a home cook, there are some terrific, highly-recommended restaurants within a stone's throw (and sometimes inside) of the fish market. Three of these are:
- Ambasciata del Mare
- Osteria Antica Mare
- Trattoria La Paglia