The secret ingredient to Sicilian soul food is LOVE. If you look carefully at the picture of the cooks on Pantelleria Island above, you will see the secret ingredient hidden in the women’s faces, hands, and hearts. Another secret ingredient is SUN kissed Food. I have never tasted anything so delicious as meals cooked in Sicily!
Evening after evening, the cooks on Pantelleria Island laid out the most incredible dishes. Just when I thought the food couldn’t get any better, they kept outdoing themselves!
Yes, we actually applauded the cooks every time they brought a dish out!
These are BACI (kisses!). Tanti Baci to all the wonderful cooks on Pantelleria Island!
I grew up with one of the best chefs in the universe, who also happened to be from Sicily! Mom showed her love for us with food. Everything we ate was homemade. Mom and dad grew a gigantic organic garden and had a big orchard with many fruit trees. We had plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to keep our plates heaped with healthy wholeness all summer long. My mom made tomato sauce and canned tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables, so we were able to extend the garden’s delights into the winter months. My dad made wine. Together, my parents made sausage and ricotta cheese. Mom made pasta (cavatti) and minestrone, ricotta cakes and spumoni, fig cookies, fresh homemade bread. Mom prepared her own green olives! Dad raised rabbits (my dad tried to prevent me from getting attached to them and naming them!) and they were served on Sundays a la cacciatore.
When we sat down at the table, my mom and dad would beam with pride and say, “Kids, everything on this table was grown, raised, or made by us!” A meal was more than just a meal. The meals nourished our hearts and souls.
Food was so outrageously good in my family that there was a secret war being waged behind the kitchen scenes. Aunt Lily would have me over for sleepovers and she would cook fabulous meals and serve her homemade bread slathered with green olive oil, topped with cracked black pepper and sea salt. As I was devouring her food, Aunt Lily would slyly ask me, “So honey, who cook better? Your mamma o me?” I would stop mid-bite and have to think on my feet to come up with something really clever. It was nerve wracking for a little girl of 5! “Auntie, you’re both great cooks.” “But honey, you tell-a me the troot-a (truth): My breado better den breado di your mamma, No??” I think I was 5 when I developed my diplomatic skills. “Well, hers is soft and chewy and I like that, but yours has crunchy crust and I like that, too.” Honestly, I did like it all. Aunt Lily would give me that funny look and walk away to put more food on the table.
When I returned to my house, my mom would grill me about what I ate at Aunt Lily’s. She wanted to know every detail about the meals. She wouldn’t ask me questions of comparison. Rather, my mom would tell me how much healthier her sauce was and, how, if Aunt Lily had weight issues, it was because her cooking was so darned heavy. Sadly, if I got a tummy ache a week after my sleepover at my aunt’s house, mom would blame it on my aunt’s rich cooking!
They loved each other. It was just their way. They loved through their cooking and they had great pride in knowing they were the best of the best cooks in the world.
Thank you to all the fabulous cooks in my life who have served up scrumptious meals, including the cooks on Pantelleria Island, my mom, and my many aunties.