Sicily, Seafood and Sunsets

“I’m taking you to the best seafood restaurant on the island of Sicily, maybe the entire world!” Roberto proclaimed. Roberto’s insistence that EVERYTHING in Sicily is the best is irritating at times. How can the  food be better than the meals I’d eaten in southern France, Tuscany and Puglia, my favorite places for food adventures? I was anxious to find out.
We drive north from Catania, for about 30 minutes, through narrow, winding neighborhood streets that hug the coastline to arrive in the tiny paese (village) of Santa Maria La Scala.

Santa Maria La Scala sits cradled in a storybook harbor, overlooking a tranquil Ionian Sea. Houses colored ochre, pistachio, melon and granite perch on volcanic rock facing small, bobbing fishing boats. Trattoria Scalo Grande’s location is its decoration. Simple pumpkin colored tablecloths, trimmed in white, and black chairs to match the railing keep the focus on the food. The sun is setting as we sit down at an outdoor table hovering over the harbor. The view is enchanting. The warm breeze invites me to relax into the Sicilian vibe. I glance at the menu but defer to Roberto to order the crudo I’d so anticipated. “Vino?” our waiter states more than asks. “Si! Vino Bianco Locale,” I respond. The wine comes in a recycled green bottle, is cool and delicious. We’ve mostly been drinking white wine on this vacation – weather driven – and its crispness pairs beautifully with the fish and lighter pasta dishes. The Sicilians fill their tumbler glasses a quarter full and drink slowly unlike their food which they inhale like its their last meal.

Loving every minute of this dinner.

Roberto, my guide in all things culinary in Sicily.

For our secondi, or second course, Roberto orders the sepia pasta made with squid ink and I decide to select my fish from the assortment displayed on ice inside the restaurant. The fish is priced by the kilo, so it depends on what you order. The waiter describes the fish using words like “forte,” strong and “pesce a polpa tenera,” soft flesh fish. A chubby “Pauro,” or seabream species, catches my eye. He will be grilled whole with no adornments except olive oil, lemon juice and fresh parsley.

Take your pick! It’s all good.

Our primi arrives in waves. Raw red shrimp, huddled together on a plate drizzled with a hint of olive oil and lemon juice starts us off. After the first bite, I begin to think Roberto really is onto something. Soft, sweet and fresh, melting in my mouth like a bon-bon. I could eat a bowl of these, they are that exquisite. Please be the magical replenishing plate! Alas, we must move on…

Sicilian crudo red shrimp. Fantastico!

I’m not sure how I feel about anchovies. In the U.S., they usually are oily, fishy and not fresh. But, these are different. They gleam. Butterflied to expose their delicate bodies, and dressed with the same olive oil, lemon juice and parsley, their briny and tender taste is bewitching.

Aren’t these the most beautiful anchovies you’ve ever seen?

Small chunks of warm tuna follow, then a delectable mixture of marinated octopus, shrimp and mussels.
The parade of seafood continues. A plate arrives with a trio of perfectly fried anchovies, shrimp and calamari. A squeeze of fresh lemon brings out even more flavor in these crispy bites.

Fried trio
Octopus
Warm tuna

Freshly steamed mussels, heaping in a bowl, are placed between us. I eagerly grab one and with a fork, pry out the orange meat. The subtle taste of wine and garlic accents the mussel’s tender bite. I eat in amazement as I have never eaten a mussel that has no chewiness or after taste. I’m all about texture as well as taste and these are simply the best mussels I have ever eaten. I smile at Roberto, in a fog from all the delectable flavors that have crossed our table, and nod my head. “Yes, Roberto, you are right about everything being fresher, tastier and better in Sicily.” Now there is no denying it.

The best mussels I have ever eaten!

My secondi of Pauro fish is served on an oval platter, laying in a pool of the ubiquitous garnish of olive oil, lemon juice and parsley. He is gorgeous! I expose the inner flesh and easily slide my fork under the set of bones to unlock them and set them aside. The Pauro’s meat is delicate, moist and divine with a spoonful of the sauce. Roberto is just as entranced with his squid ink pasta. Words simply cannot describe this meal.

Pauro
Squid ink pasta

For dessert, I opt for a digestive of lemon sorbetto. I taste a combination of lemon and key lime. Asking the waiter what kind of lemon it is, he replies, “locale,” or local. The different parts of the island deliver their own unique fruit flavors. I eat the cool, slushy sorbetto slowly, savoring every spoonful. Roberto’s mandorle (almond) semi-freddo drizzled with chocolate sauce is heavenly too. It melts in your mouth, is not too sweet and is just the perfect few bites to finish off the meal.

I could never duplicate this meal, this dessert. It is only meant for this place in time. An experience more than just a dinner. It will be etched in my memory forever… the warm ocean air, beautiful views, setting sun illuminating the city lights. Bellissimo!

A beautiful finale.

Trattoria Scalo Grande

66, 95024 Acireale

CT, Italy

39 328 883 2384

 

Her gaze dims as her nostalgia for Palermo overcomes her. Those smells of seaweed dried by the sun, of capers, of ripe figs, she will never find them anywhere else; those burnt and scented shores, those waves slowly breaking, jasmine petals flaking in the sun.”
― Dacia Maraini, The Silent Duchess

Ciao for now,




Eating Crudo

Today's catch

Today’s catch

One afternoon in Pulia, our tour host Mick, asked if anyone would like to join him for a “Crudo” dinner. Crudo, in Italian means raw. We all had puzzled looks on our faces. As he explained what it was and how it was prepared, my hand shot up as a participant. When in Rome.

Certain restaurants that have a “Crudo” designation have met all the criteria for cleanliness, freshness and procurement from reputable fishermen. Because I enjoy sushi, I was curious to taste the difference.

French tuna drenched in olive oil. Can fresh be fresher than fresh?

Fresh tuna drenched in olive oil. Can fresh be fresher than fresh?

Several dishes were set at the table to share. Crudo is not like sushi. There is no wasabi, only lemon slices. The Italians prefer to serve their seafood with a dash of high quality (what else?) olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. Some of the dishes did include a flavor, like the octopus with fresh mint and the cooked shrimp with fresh pineapple.

We did have a few cooked dishes like this shrimp with mint.

We did have a few cooked dishes like this shrimp with mint and pineapple.

The most delectable fried calamari my mouth has ever tasted.

The most delectable fried calamari my mouth has ever tasted.

One of my favorite fish to eat crudo was the swordfish. Sliced paper thin and layered on the plate drizzled with olive oil, its only garnish, a smattering of pink peppercorns and a few bits of spring greens. The pretty red dots that lined the curve of the fish revealed that is was unmistakably swordfish. So sweet and tender and mild. It hit my tongue and dissolved with its saltiness. The tuna was also sliced thin, unlike thicker chunks of sashimi.

Decadent swordfish. Warning: My local fish monger advised against eating swordfish raw here. It must be impeccibly fresh.

Decadent swordfish. Warning: My local fish monger advised against eating swordfish raw here. It must be impeccably fresh.

Something I had never seen or eaten before were red shrimp. These vibrant red creatures shimmered on the plate and tasted of a silky brine, the texture at first jello-y, then with a lobster bite.

Seductive red shrimp

Seductive red shrimp. Aren’t they stunning?

The oysters slid down ever so sweetly – the best I have ever had – or was it because I was in Italy? Raw mussels and clams also graced the table.

Seafood crudo galore.

Seafood crudo galore.

We had eaten cuttlefish, a squid like cephalopod, as an antipasti but not crudo. Crunchy and salty is the best way to describe the experience. The texture is similar to octopus and squid. A delicious side dish of black rice, tiny cubed carrots and corn were the accompaniment to the crudo.

Just enough of a flavor contrast to compliment the raw seafood.

Just enough of a flavor contrast to compliment the raw seafood.

After filling our senses with all the salty flavors of the crudo, we were offered a crudité platter of fresh radishes, Barattino cucumber, sliced in wedges like a cantaloupe, raw fava beans and chicory heart. I had never tasted fresh chicory before. It is unlike what we know as chicory here. The bulb looks like fennel but the flavor is mild and sweet. A perfect palate cleanser. I am researching how to grow it.  After explaining it to one of my dear friends, she purchased some seeds for me from an Italian seed company. They will be planted this fall and I will anxiously await their appearance in my garden.

Refreshing and also raw!

Refreshing and also raw!

Two things capped off this incredible dinner. A very icey, almost liquidy fresh lemon sorbet with just a hint of sweetness, not to be out done by the strawberries it was mingling with. Heavenly.

My mouth waters just looking at this photo!

My mouth waters just looking at this photo!

The owner, acknowledging our extreme pleasure in this meal, treated us to an Italian digestive, Amari Mere, a slightly bitter, herbal flavor that grows on you as you sip.

Per la salute! To your health!

Per la salute! To your health!

With an abundance of wine included in this dinner, the bill was about $40 each. When I return to Pulignano a Mare someday, this restaurant will be at the top of my dining list!

Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture.
-Mark Kurlansky (1948 – present)

Ciao Bella!

Maria