Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sicilian icons: Paolo Borsellino & the Antica focacceria San Francesco

Do you know what the "Antica focacceria San Francesco" is? And what has to do with Paolo Borsellino? Well, read on and everything will be clarified.

In the city of Palermo, capital of Sicily there is a place that we all consider an "institution", not only because is very famous and the food is great, but also because it's ancient (as the word 'antica' suggests) and traditional.  I am talking about the "Antica focacceria San Francesco" located in via Paternostro, just opposite the church of San Francesco di Assisi, which explains why it got this name. You cannot visit Palermo without going there at least once. 

The focacceria is a unique place because you can find both the Sicilian street food (sfincione, spleen sandwich, pane e panelle and local home cooked dishes such as sarde a beccaficobaked anelletti, eggplants rolls and so on, but also some traditional rotisserie like our famous arancine. Personally I love this place not only for the food but also for the atmosphere, infact when you walk inside you have the illusion of going back in the past somehow... the style, the pictures on the wall, you feel that something is still connected to the ancient times... in some ways and I find it extremely charming and fascinating. I also met John Turturro there :)))

Now, another person born in Palermo that loved to go to this place was: PAOLO BORSELLINO. He was a judje that fought against the mafia all his life and was assassinated by the mob at 52 years old, on july 19th 1992, on a hot sunday afternoon while going to visit his mother. Today we remember the 20th anniversary of his death. 

I want to remember him as well from my blog because talking about food doesn't necessarily mean that we have to forget about the rest. I do CARE and I want readers to know about his sacrifice, his courage, his humanity, his consistency, his professionalism. We owe him a lot and we should try every day to be more like him and follow his example. The world would just be a BETTER PLACE.

Few weeks before his death, he knew that the moment had come for him, he knew he was going to be killed just like some of his collegues before and he also knew the "explosive" had arrived to blow him up, but instead of running away, hiding or disappearing, he continued his work until the very end. That is what makes him such a HERO!

His name is on our airport and our velodrome, he is a Sicilian hero and an example for every human being, but I want you to know he was also a simple man, passionate about his job and his family; he liked cycling and eating fish, and loved to go to the Antica Focacceria.

                                                              WE WILL NEVER FORGET YOU.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sicilian folklore: "Il festino di Santa Rusulia"

Do you know what "festino" (or fistinu) means? Fistinu is the Sicilian word to indicate the Festino of Santa Rosalia, a huge festivity dedicated to the Patron Saint of Palermo: Saint Rosalia. Tradition wants that on the 15th of july 1624 in a cave inside mount Pellegrino, the famous mountain of Palermo were founded the remainings of this virgin saint that had lived as recluse there.

The legend:

In that period Palermo-city was suffering from a terrible plague. The Saint appeared to a man saying that those bones were hers and she suggested that if he would put them on a carriage and go around the city she would cure the people and save them from the plague. So he did and the miracle happened, people actually recovered from the terrible disease and Palermo was safe again.

That's at least the legend we keep remembering. So since then, this great tradition got a foothold and every july the 14th (on the eve of the feast) in the city there is a huge parade.

The carriage (big pic above) with the statue of the Saint starts moving from the Cathedral of Palermo (pic up on the left) to the "Quattro Canti" (pic here on the right) and down to "Porta Felice and the Foro Italico", near the sea (pic below), where everything usually ends with one hour of the most beautiful and colorful fireworks.

A very important moment is when the Mayor gets on the carriage and says the very traditional words: "Viva Palermo e viva Santa Rosalia!" (literally 'Hurrah for Palermo and Saint Rosalia').

It's definetely a mixture of myth, devotion and popular tradition that make this event so particular but it's also important to understand the metaphor behind. We remember those ancient days in which she saved our city from plague, but we hope and pray she can help us cure once again our diseases, setting us free from the evils that afflict our society and our troubled lives. 

While walking in the crowd I met a small group of American tourists looking a bit deafened and dazed about what this was all about. A girl looked at me and said: "We don't understand!"... so I tried to explain a little bit of this story. Hilarious!

If you want to visit western Sicily you are very welcome all year around, but there is no more popular and traditional event than this one to feel and get in touch with the real atmosphere of the capital of Sicily

Just remember that you should be prepared to tolerate the tremendous heat and walk for about 4 hours with thousands and thousands of noisy Sicilians chatting and folkloristicly shouting: "VIVA PALERMO E SANTA ROSALIA!" :-)))

Definetely an experience that cannot be missed!!!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Tonnare indietro nel tempo", the new book of Gaetano Basile

Yesterday I spent a lovely afternoon in the beautiful "Kursaal Tonnara" (pic above). Tonnara is the Italian name for a specific place and comes from the word tonno that means tuna. Infact that was the place where tuna fish were trapped and killed by the fishermen.

Nowadays all the tuna nets, the tonnare, are closed and eventually became something else just like this one that is a place for events, concerts and presentations. And infact just there was presented the new book of Gaetano Basile, journalist and local institution for everything regarding the history of Sicily and the Sicilian food and cuisine. 

His latest book talks about the historical places that were the tonnare, about tuna and about fish in general and has got several recipes too. The title is: "Tonnare indietro nel tempo", which means tonnare back in times. 

I couldn't miss this great event and the pleasure of listening to the story of this traditional places that made our wonderful island special for so many centuries. So thanks Mr. Basile for all you do and your great passion you put into it. Very inspiring!!!

If you want to know more about Prof. Basile you can have a look at his Italian website:
Spaghetti italiani

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A white focaccia with onions: can I please have some more?

Do you know how to prepare a lovely rustic white focaccia with white onions and caciocavallo cheese? (We call it white because there is no tomato sauce.) Apart from the bread itself to prepare this recipe you will need:  high quality extra vergin olive oil, salt, oregano, 2 white onions, 50 gr. caciocavallo cheese (Sicilian local cheese).

First of all, to make the focaccia bread: you can prepare it on your own by following this simple recipe unless you can find a very good dough ready to be cooked in a deli or market. Follow the instructions, then, while the dough is rising, cut in rings and scald the onions and cut also the caciocavallo cheese in little cubes. 
With your thumb do little imprints into the dough and brush some olive oil on top, the onions rings previously scalded, the cheese in cubes, a little salt because the cheese is very tasty and finally sprinkle with oregano.

Put in the oven at 180°c (should be 425 degrees) for about 15-20 minutes. Have a look at the bottom to be sure that under is brown and not white. If too pale let it cook for 5 more minutes until golden brown. 

That's it!!! You made your lovely white mediterranean focaccia! Now you just have to eat it and enjoy, and you will agree with me... it won't be enough!!! :-)