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Archive for May, 2011

Constantly referred to as the best restaurant in Sicily, we have come to Licata, a small town on the southern coast of Sicily between Gela and Agrigento, just to eat here.

From the outside, you would not recognize this as a temple of gastronomy.

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After ringing the bell, we are welcomed into a typical italian restaurant – the food is obviously the star here!
Choosing the ‘Creativo’ menu of 9 courses is the best way to try chef, Pino Cuttaia’s treats from his kitchen. When each course is bought to the table, the chef himself appears and tells us about the dish.

This is our lunch.

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Cuttlefish involtini in cauliflower soup with artichoke chips and black cuttlefish powder- amazing!

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Too pretty to eat- but I did! Anchovy in a thin red onion paste base topped with tomato hearts and slices of baby red onion.

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The lightest ever buffalo mozzarella on a base of tomato infused bread and pesto sauce. I don’t know how Pino was able to get the mozzarella so light but it was a similar texture to a snow egg. Unbelievable!

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Tiny baby octopus on a chick pea and rosemary puree

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Raw tuna topped with cooked tuna, artichoke, tomato, beans and fennel slivers with a pepperoncino sauce and a red onion sauce

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Home made pasta with a scampi sauce, raw scampi and artichoke puree.

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Swordfish with roasted pepper, oil and sepia powder sauce with a fennel seed wafer

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Lemon gelato with the lightest brioche

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Torrone gelato with chocolate.

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Cannolo with orange marmalade and marsala gelato.

An unbelievable lunch. Not to be missed!

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La Madia Restaurant
Corso Filippo Re Capriate, 22
Licata
Tel: +39 0922 771443
http://www.ristorantelamadia.it
La Madia

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Hints are flying around the dinner table on how best to see the Valley of the Temples, Agrigento’s claim to fame.

The most important one, we are told, is to catch a taxi from the parking area to the other end of the park. An easy walk then leads you back to the car park, via the temples.
It will be the best 2E per person you spend that day! Look for the sign!

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The Valle dei Templi archaeological park consists of 7 temples built between 510BC & 430BC.
The Temple of Hera, dating from 450BC is the first we see.

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The Temple of Concordia is one of the best preserved Doric Temples in the Valley. It was converted into a church in the 6th century AD.

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There are also early Christian ruins in the park. The Catacombs were cut out of rock to house the bodies of the Christians and the ruins of this network can be seen.

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The Temple of Heracles dates from the 6th century. The eight columns were restored to their original position in 1922 thanks to the efforts of an Englisman, Mr William Hardcastle.

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After crossing the road, we come to the ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Temple of Castor and Pollux which is being restored.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus would have been one of the largest built.
The five steps on which it was built are still standing. In between the columns would have been giant statues called Telamon. A replica of one of the Telamons, which was not in fragments, can be seen. The original is in the Archaeological Museum

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Under the passway and we are back at the car park. Easy!!

The decision is made to drive home via the Scala dei Turchi, Italy’s white cliffs.
A detour on the road flusters the tom tom but all of a sudden they appear, standing out against the blue sea.

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To climb the cliffs, take the steps beside the restaurant.

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We arrive back at Mandranova just in time for aperitivo!

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There are two reasons we want to stay at Mandranova
First is it’s close proximity to Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples and secondly, Sicily’s best restaurant, La Madia at Licata is close by.
Now there is a third reason – to experience the hospitality of Silvia and Giuseppe.

Mandranova is an award winning olive oil estate.

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It has been in Giuseppe’s family for six generations. Additions a few years ago mean they can have a maximum of forty people to stay in four different buildings but at this time of the year, there are only eight people. Perfect!

Our room over the Frantoio, is large and surprisingly modern with Culti products in the bathroom and a large terrace.

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There are plenty of places to relax throughout the grounds
Lounges are dotted around under olive trees, in loggias or on verandahs.

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A short walk away, the pool tempts sun lovers.

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Inside the main building are two sitting rooms decorated with family treasures and the dining room.

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Silvia is a fabulous cook and Giuseppe’s advice on the local wines is expert.
At dinner on the first night, we enjoy rigatoni with red tuna, tomatoes and peperoncino sauce, involtini and eggplant. We drink a lovely Cottanera syrah, Sole di Sesta, from the Mt Etna region.

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Dessert is the most amazing lemon cake

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Breakfast does not disappoint.
As with most Sicilian breakfast’s, there is an array of fruit, yoghurt, bread, cheese and cake

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The next day, Silvia is giving a cooking class and we cook our own lunch.

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The pork is put on to simmer slowly whilst we chop the cooked eggplant for our capponata starter.

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The cassata is then made. The day before, Silvia had made the lightest sponge for the base. We combine ricotta and chocolate and spoon this over the sponge which has been sliced and laid on the base. After a while in the fridge, it is covered with icing and left to set.

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Finally we cook the broad beans for our pasta dish.

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Accompanied by a light Nero’Avolo red from the Vittorio region, it is the perfect lunch.

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Azienda Agricola Mandranova
Contrada Mandranova
S.S.115 – km 217
92020, Palma di Montichiaro
Tel: +39 393 9862169
http://www.mandranova.it
Mandranova

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Bikinis in the 3rd century. This we have to see!

Today we drive inland to see the Roman mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale just outside Piazza Armerina. From Modica it is about ninety minutes through orange and olive groves and open fields dotted with dry stone walls.

At Villa del Casale, tour buses congregate and we run the gauntlet of side show alley with it’s souvenir stalls, though we do stop to try the oranges being sold from the back of a van.

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There is a lot of restoration taking place and unfortunately a large number of rooms are closed. We are amazed by the size of the site and the near perfect condition of the mosaics.

Mosaics cover the floor of every room of the late 3rd century villa.They have been covered by mud as a result of a flood in the 12th century and not discovered until the 19th century. The major discoveries were made between 1950 and 1960.

The dining room mosaics feature mythological creatures whilst those in the long passage way show hunting scenes.

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The ‘ Hall of the Female Gymnasts in Bikinis’ is an amazing scene with ten gymnasts in different poses.

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On the way home we stop at Caltagirone, the ceramic centre of Sicily.
Il Locandiere at Via Luigi Sturzo, 55 is mentioned in Italy’s Slow Food guide, Osterie d’Italia, as the place to go and it is perfect for lunch. Specializing in fish, the mussels are stunning. Why do they taste so sweet compared to those in Australia?

If you are there on a Monday when Il Locandiere is closed, try La Piazzette, just round the corner in Via Vespri 20.

We explore the town.

The stairway leading to Santa Maria del Monte has it’s 142 steps covered in majolica tiles.

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Flowers decorate the steps to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy.

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What is at the southern most tip of Sicily?
Today we thought we would find out!

We head towards the Vendicari Nature Reserve which is about one hour from Modica.
Established in 1984, paths lead you through the swamps, with their mediterranean vegetation and reeds, to bird watching outposts and finally to the sea.
In the past, the swamps were used as saltpans but now they are home to many species of local and migratory birds. You can walk to the long abandonded tuna factory or further on to the beach of Cala delle Moshe.

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From here, we drive further down the coast to the village of Marzamemi.
Once a major tuna fishing centre, the harbour is now desolate but life is being bought back to the old tuna cannery.Restaurants, bars and shops create a small village around the 18th century church.

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We choose to have lunch at La Conchiglietta, overlooking the sea.
With our Pasta con Vongole, we order a tomato salad. Swimming in an amazing dark green olive oil and capers, it is a taste sensation.

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The tomato, called ‘ciliengo’, have come from the nearby town of Pachino.
Pachino tomatoes are famous for their sweetness.

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Acres and acres of plastic covered greenhouses surround the town.

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The greenhouses protect the tomatoes from the strong winds as well as creating perfect growing conditions.

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From here it is a short drive to the southern most point.
A small island, Isola delle Correnti, lies off the point with a lonely lighthouse on it.

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Boats lay idle on the shore

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Now we know!

Ristorante La Conchietta
Via Regina Elena ,11
Marzamemi
Tel: +39 0931 841007

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Let’s do a cooking class!
I had prevously organised a cooking class for a group in Assisi and it was a disaster, so I was a little worried this would be the same.

Maurizio picked us up and, as we drove to his family’s home and B&B just outside Modica, we learnt he had spent a year in London perfecting his English. His parents, Maria and Giovanni, greeted us. They did not speak English but with Maurizio’s help and our small amount of Italian, we all understood each other.

Giovanni took us down to the garden to pick the vegetables and herbs needed for lunch.
Peas, larger than we had ever seen, were mixed in with flowers amongst the olive and lemon trees. Broad beans and artichokes grew amongst the herbs and wild fennel.
We ate as many as we picked!

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Maurizio amongst his herbs.

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Peas growing everywhere.

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Produce from the garden.

We started shelling the broad beans and peas which together with the artichokes, would be slowly cooked and then made into a timbale.

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Maurizio was in charge of teaching us to make the bread rolls as well as starting on the Modica chocolates.

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He had also made the pizzetta base the night before to give it extra time to rise, making a softer base. All we had to do was add the caramelized onion, homemade tomato sauce and anchovie and pecorino cheese.

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Pizzettas ready for the oven.

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The final result.

Maria then taught us how to make ricotta and wild fennel balls and black ink arancini with cuttlefish, peas and ricotta. Both were coated in very fine breadcrumbs before frying.

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Maria checking our efforts with the ricotta balls.

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Showing us how to make the arancini.

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Arancini ready to be fried.

Meanwhile, Giovanni was working on the pasta sauce.
Onions were slowly cooked in oil before the saffron, sardines and cooked fennel fronds were added. This was left to simmer for about 20 minutes. The pasta would later be cooked in the same water as was the fennel. Breadcrumbs and garlic were fried to put on top of the pasta.

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Once this was completed, he started preparing the fish.
Herbs were placed in the bottom of a dish and spatola fish fillets laid on top.
Very small gamberoni (shrimp) were placed on top of this before another layer of fish was placed over them.

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We finally sat down to enjoy the taste of our morning’s work

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Ricotta balls and arancini

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Pasta with Sicilian sardine sauce

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Baked fish and potatoes

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Lemon Jelly made by Maurizio.

A very relaxed day in the countryside with a lovely Italian family.

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Modicarte
Tel: +39 0932 751577
http://www.modicarte.it
Modicarte

Cost of the cooking class is 60E per person. You can choose either a meat or fish based menu.

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The cooking class was recommended by Luca Giannini from ‘Anime a Sud’
Luca has the most popular 2 bedroom apartment in Modica, so book early.
Another property, 50 metres from the Duomo, is due to open in 2012
http://www.animeasud.it
Anime a Sud

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Ragusa is one of the best known of the baroque towns of South Eastern Sicily.
It is divided into two communities- the old Ragusa Ibla and new Ragusa.

We want to explore old Ragusa, so head towards Piazza Duomo, the centre of Ibla.

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The Duomo of San Giorgio stands at the top of a flight of stairs.

After icecreams at Gelato Divini, we continue down the main street, past the Circolo di Conversazione,a private club with a neoclassical interior and the Baroque Church of San Giuseppe (currently being restored) towards the Giardino Ibleo, the 19th century public gardens which are still beautifully kept.

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We wander back through the town looking for the stairway that joins old and new Ragusa.

If we climb the 340 stairs, we will be late for the real reason for our visit, lunch at Ristorante Duomo, the Michelin starred restaurant of chef Cicciio Sultano.

We may need the stairs after lunch!!

A beautifully presented taster of raw swordfish with an orange and pistachio sauce is an indication of what is to come.

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Layered languostine and smoked potato puree is topped with a deep fried snail. Sounds terrible but was great!

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Entrees included Saffron Ravioli with ricotta and marjoram and topped with a small meatball of black pork.

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Pasta with sea urchins and wild asparagus.

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Pasta with sardines, sicilian style with tomatoes, pinenuts and currants.

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A stunning red wine from the Gulfi Winery at nearby Chiaramonte Gulfi complemented the main courses.

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Red Tuna with a sauce of broad beans and wild asparagus.

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Sicilan Lamb with crunchy vegetables and cumin sauce

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Yes, we had dessert. The lightest and tastiest cannoli disappeared before a photo could be taken!

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Ristorante Duomo
Via Boccieri 31
Ragusa Ibla
Tel: +39 0932 651265

Eat:
Another suggested restaurant in Ragusa is ‘Ai Lumi’. Unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to see if they lived up to their reputation as the best fish restaurant in the area.

Trattoria Ai Lumi
Corso XXV Aprile,16
Ragusa Ibla
Tel: +39 0932 621224

Stay:
At Locanda Don Serafino, a small hotel of 10 rooms in historic Ragusa Ibla. It also has an excellent restaurant.

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Locanda Don Serafino
Via Febbraio XV
Ragusa Ibla
Tel: +39 0932 220065
http://www.locandadonserafino.it
Locanda Don Serafino

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