It was the simplicity of Sicily that drew me to this Mediterranean island to escape the Cape winter blues. The simplicity, and the search for the perfect tomato. Because such beautiful produce is found on the island, locals look no further and do not import ingredients. They make the most of what is arms’ length – like the lemons I could pluck from the tree to have with my gin and tonic on the balcony overlooking Isola Bella.
The hillside town of Taormina was our base, and Luigi our welcoming host. He struggled with our many bags precariously balanced on his Vespa up and down the hill. As I smelt the heady fragrance of the citrus trees, looked over the olive trees to the welcoming cerulean ocean, I knew that I would never look at ingredients in the same way again. Because of the constant sunshine, the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna and the influence of the Arabic, North African, Greek, Spanish and French invasions, you could not wish for more intense or sumptuously-flavoured fare. The Sicilians keep their cuisine simple. It is never over-created nor pretentious, and they believe what grows together, goes together.
A few trips to the markets in Taormina and nearby Catania, one cookery course with local chef Massimo and before I knew it we were heading back to SA with suitcases filled with capers preserved in salt and eye-catching, hand-crafted ceramics. Luigi struggled far more schlepping our bulging luggage up the hill than upon arrival! Admittedly after many a cannoli (fried pastry cone filled with ricotta cheese), we too were carrying a few extra kilograms!
Back home I was relieved when reminded that at least the olive oil in SA is as good, and superior to that of Sicily, thanks to producers like Rio Largo. For premium, fresh ingredients like the ubiquitous tomato, olives, aubergines, nuts and citrus I dashed off to the Oranjezicht City Farm market (which, you will be happy to know, opens on both Saturdays and Sundays from October).
Nomu, manufacturers of top quality products, was my lifesaver. I was able to get premium origanum and flavoured salts like the Cook’s Collection garlic and herb, porcini and the rosemary and red onion flavours. Their name is synonymous with chocolate ingredients that were begging to be incorporated into some original recipes. Much recipe-testing later and we were good to go.
Two Sicilian cookery classes were filled with fun, relevant information about ingredients and nutrition, and laughter. Guests gathered on the chilly winter mornings, greeted by a steaming mug of Nomu hot chocolate. Together we prepared bruschetta with tasty toppings, a zesty calamari starter, lemon meatballs, caponata, a Sicilian fennel and orange salad, home-made macaroni with a tangy tomato sauce, and a to-die-for tiramisu-ice cream enriched with a simple chocolate sauce crafted using the Nomu organic dark baking chocolate. Guests left with goodie bags bulging with Nomu quality products that included their stocks and salts. Rio Largo generously gave olive oil, and newly-made friends departed with their recipes to try again at home.