From Sicily, 8,000 miles away, you don’t need me to tell you that when an Italian sets the table, the table is set! In Sicily, there are three “F’s”; you know the first, the other two are food and family OR family and food.
Al fresco – eating outside in the summer is never given a second thought; it is a given. In my small community, most of the home owners live in another town about 6-8 miles from here. In the summer, about May 1, which is a national holiday, they pack up their stuff and move from their town to their summer home. They remain here until September. Every summer it is the same and yet different. The sameness is that their family is always present – but there is always the evolution of a son getting married, the second daughter is pregnant again while the third daughter just had another baby.
As far as it goes with the Sicilians whom I know, there are two gastronomies in Sicily, that which comes from the sea and anything else. The sea is another indicator of the sameness.
There is Riccola, Dentice, Gamberi, Totano, Calamari, Sepia, Ricci, Pesce Spada, Tonno, Polipo, to name a few of the fishes that make up the bounty awaiting placement on the table. These fishes can be grilled on the fire, grilled on the stove, sliced thin and eaten with a squirt of lemon and a drop of extra virgin olive oil that the padrone of the casa harvested and brought to the frantoio for pressing the previous autumn. They can be steamed and the liquids used as the base for a fish risotto. The ink from the Sepia is used to make a sauce that is delicate, yet not. It’s sort of like when a Sicilian mother says to her child, “No, no, goia.” She is telling her child NO, but without the rancor. And amazingly enough the kid gets it!
The first plate is just that – the first plate on which the rice or pasta finds its home. Then the plate is taken away!
The second is what we Americans call the center of the plate – the meat or fish. Then that plate is taken away.
Then the verdure – greens. They may come in the form of grilled or sautéed; simple as a salad or complex as caponata, a delicately insistent marriage of eggplant, tomatoes, vinegar, a pinch of sugar and a few other ingredients.
Then, the fruit – whatever is in season.
Then, the dolce. – there are those who like a biscotto (cookie) with crunch (croccante) But, that is not the case with my friends they like RICH. Fresh churned gelato, beignets, baba, and cannoli
The meal is over when the coffee is served.
Although I am a second generation Italo Americana and while growing my family ate dinner every night together, I have been living alone for many years. Sicily has helped me learn that there is more to eating than standing at the sink with my fork (maybe) and an opened can of tuna that Star-Kist wants us to believe is straight from the sea…