Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Oregano and lemon zest, two things I cannot live without!


Give me some pizza and I will put a ton of oregano on it. Ask me to make a sweet pie with ricotta cheese (our traditional cassata) and I will grate some lemon zest inside. If I prepare some healthy steamed cabbage as side-dish and a beef steak I will sprinkle both of them with some oregano and if I cook a plate of pasta alla carbonara or pasta with smoked salmon... here we go again I must have some lemon zest.

I could go on and on and on but I think I made myself quite clear. There isn't another ingredient in the kitchen that I love to taste more than these two when I eat. They both have such a Mediterranean delicate but fabulous smell and are able to turn a good dish into a superb one because of their parfume! Isn't it amazing?

Another reason why I love them it's... I guess that for me they are just home! I like trying different cuisines and new ingredients but when I have something with oregano or lemon zest... that's just where I belong to.

Yesterday by the way, I was watching a tv show about cookery where there was a Sicilian chef. He was preparing some chicken legs cooked in beer with rosemary and garlic, and.... guess what did it put on top of it? Lemon zest! So it's good to know I am not the only one crazy about it :)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sicilian November tradition: "frutta di Martorana & pupi di zucchero"


In Sicily and in particular in Palermo there are two important festivities that come on the beginning of November. On the very 1st of the month we celebrate All Saints' day, which is a religious day dedicated to the Saints, so it's important if we want to ask them help or pray for intercession. The 2nd of November is All Souls' day and is dedicated to the loved ones that we lost and it's a completely different thing.

When we were kids, the 2nd of November was an important awaited day, because parents used to tell children that during the night a deceased relative of the family came on that special day of the year to visit them and bring gifts plus many delicious sweets for the little ones. It was called "u cannistru ri morti", which means the basket brought by the deads! The children had to be very careful, if the deads arrived while they were still awake, they would tickle their feet. Another sweet gift that they used to bring were the famous precious "pupi di zuccaro", beautiful dolls made only of sugar (pic on the right).

But the most renowned sweets that we make for this occasion is the famous "Frutta di Martorana", which means marzipan made with almond flour and shaped in any kind of fruits and vegetables (pic above). The name comes from the Nuns of the Monastery of Martorana, nearby the same Church, who were the ones that used to prepare these fruits on the 1st of November. These fruits are also called "Pasta reale", which means royal pastry, because was often appreciated by many kings during the centuries and is exactly the same that we use on Easter day for representing the Lamb.

Nowadays, it has become more and more difficult to keep this tradition alive, due to the Hallowen influence on our culture. We want to keep this recurrence alive in our own way, thinking that all Souls' Day is not only a commemoration of the deads, but also a real celebration of their lives. They are not with us anymore in body, but we believe they keep staying close and although is sad, we want our children to remember them with a smile, not with fear. Nothing to be afraid of, because without death there wouldn’t be any life and viceversa.