Let’s start by saying that granita is not syrup and ice mixed together on the spot. This is what you might have been led to believe in other countries or even in other Italian regions. But now that you are in Sicily, you’ll finally know the truth. Granita siciliana is tradition, pride and a meticulous, continuous gesture of uniting water, sugar and fresh ingredients like pistachios, mulberries (gelso), almonds and lemons.
Sicilians usually like to enjoy it for breakfast together with a warm soft brioche, but do not limit yourself. You’ll meet lots of people with granita during an afternoon stroll.
In this post I wanted to introduce you to our top 5 places where to enjoy the best granita siciliana in the area between Catania and Acireale, but I really could not bring myself to pick only 5 out of these 7. That’s how it became a Top 7.
Bar Russo, historical pastry since 1880, in Santa Venerina;
Trattoria La Timpa in Santa Maria la Scala in front of a little church;
Seafood is one of Sicily’s most appreciated perks. Even better when it compliments a dish that it will remind you of the scent of holidays by the sea forever. Today I have in mind pasta with sea urchins, alias pasta con i ricci.
For those who are not familiar with these sea creatures, sea urchins are somehow cute and potentially very painful spiky balls often attached to the rocks in shallow waters and found in all oceans. Although I would advise to carefully avoid them while snorkelling, I could not possibly give you the same advice when you find them listed on the menu.
At the fish market of Catania as well as at my Sicilian wedding I’ve eaten them raw or sprinkled with fresh lemon. The inside of a sea urchins presents itself as a tiny flattened orange star perfectly attached to the bottom of its armour and – to my surprise – might pass unnoticed to a virgin eye. I’ve been brought to realise this by some of my Dutch guests who believed them to be almost empty. If this post has any value in contributing to a better society, it would be to prevent you from ever tossing one of these delicious sea creatures away for this reason. Due to their small size, when you would like to buy sea urchins to accompany pasta for 3-4 servings, you should consider buying at least 50 of them. That is the equivalent of what would fill up an espresso cup!
As for many great Italian dishes, the quality of the ingredients and the timing rather than the amount and the complex procedures are the keys for a superb result. What you need for pasta con i ricci is pasta,sea urchins, virgin olive oil, garlic and fresh Italian parsley. That’s it.
The best pasta con i ricci I ever ate was the one prepared by my Sicilian friend Tiziana La Piana. If she had a restaurant I would have not hesitate to reccomend it. Instead, she decided to pursue her artistic talent for her career and to reserve her culinary skill only for her family and a few other privileged people. Lucky me!
If this post made you even a little curious of the taste of the sea released by this dish, you are left with three other alternatives:
befriend Tiziana or another Sicilian who loves seafood;
learn how to make your own pasta con i ricci, provided that you live in a country where it is possible to find them fresh;
go to Sicily and enjoy this dish in one of the many restaurants in Capo Mulini or Aci Trezza, preferably accompanied by a glass of Inzolia.
I never imagined my wedding although it was somehow on my to-do list. It was only when my then boyfriend proposed to me on a dock in Indonesia during a tropical sunset that lasted less than 30 seconds that I actually started picturing it. I was radiant in a wraparound dress. The color was not yet clear in my mind but it was definitely lace. My husband and I were the host of a party that every single one of our guest would have remembered. I imagined them having the time of their life while sharing ours. And too bad if they did not like sea food (of which both my husband and I are particularly fond).
It took us less than one day to decide that Sicily would create the right magic. My husband is Dutch. I’m Italian, from Abruzzo. But neither of the two locations we are from had everything we were looking for. Sicily, on the other hand, had repeatedly stolen our hearts during many holidays. So we were simply happy to have a reason at last to bring everyone we love to visit it.
To find the exact location took some thinking and a little research.
Finally, we decided for Aci Trezza and surroundings. The place had all the right ingredients for a wedding alla Siciliana: a cute fisherman village for everyone to enjoy, close to the airport of Catania, an unforgettable bay, a strong tradition of sea food dishes and pastries and a Norman Castle by the sea in black lava stone which could be rented for about 20 minutes, just the time for wedding vows.
The result was a day saturated with beauty and happiness…
After the civil ceremony in the castle we all moved to Grand Hotel Baia Verde in the nearby village of Cannizzaro. In here the most professional and friendly staff captained by Beppe – the excellent chef with a pigtail – took very good care of both our eyes and stomachs. Unfortunately I don’t have many pictures of the out-of-this-world food we had because everyone was too busy enjoying it. Including the photographer. I only say that it all ended up with wonderful Cannoli Siciliani, the ultimate and sacred ingredient for a long lasting life together.
P.S. If you are interested in marrying your significant other in the stunning setting of the Norman Castle of Aci Castello, you can easily reserve your 20 minutes by sending an email to the municipality of Aci Castello. You can choose among four locations within the castle. Two are outdoors (one of which was mine) and two others are indoors (the most interesting of the two is a small church within a tiny cactus garden).
If you are looking for a stress-free wedding in Sicily, I would reccomend the wedding and event planner Alessandra Bentivoglio. (email@example.com,
Mob. +39 345 2109500, T. +39 095 535094).
WHERE TO STAY:
Casa Cycas: waterfront apartment with two bedrooms and a great view on the Faraglioni of Aci Trezza;
Casa delle Alohe: super panoramic apartment at 500 meter from the centre of Aci Trezza, ideal suite for newly weds.
It was about 10 a.m. in the morning when my friend Aster and I decided to plunge in the Catania fish market. Quite late for any Italian market that comes to life at 6 a.m and by 8 a.m. has given away all its best products. But we did not care much about that. We were in our holiday rhythm and our only goals were to try something different to snack and to enjoy that warm livelihood swarming around us before heading back to the Netherlands.
We begun strolling along the overcrowded stalls like in a maze of faces and strong smells. We were constantly distracted by the loud voices of the vendors communicating with each others and with their clients as if they were kilometres apart. Our eyes felt overwhelmed by all the different products that the market was ostentatiously selling.
We inquired for the price of gorgeous octopuses and we got mixed feelings by the view of live eels in a bucket. Finally we bought gelso, deliciously sweet white mulberry and what we thought were a very weird kind of artichokes. They were already cooked so we started eating while continuing walking. I believe we were offered to eat raw mussels, sea urchins and also several slices of salame on the way too.
By 11 a.m. we already ate quite a few things simply granted here and there by the vendors who all in all achieved their goal: opening up our stomach and making us wanting more. We looked for a restaurant but all of those in the outskirts of the market were not open yet. Finally the chef of a restaurant who was leaning against his door smoking a cigarette agreed on serving us some cold starters as the kitchen was not ready yet. My friend and I looked each other in the eyes and shared instantly the same thought: if these starters are like all the starters that we have been having on this holiday we could not desire more. Our expectations and more were fully met: marinated anchovies, carpaccio of swordfish and tuna with lemon juice and orange zest and raw shrimp and two gorgeous glasses of white wine.
Yes, all at 11 a.m. in the morning, but as I mentioned before we were on holiday clock and that is what a wonderful morning in Catania can look like!
On the 15th of August you might find yourself wondering around a deserted Sicilian town with no shops open if not a few cafes that are able to gather together all the people that like you are asking: what is it happening?
This is what Ferragosto does to Italians. The 15th of August is the most sacred holiday after Christmas. Perhaps it is even holier than Christmas although it is strictly pagan (from Feriae Augusti – riposo di Augusto, roman Emperor). On this day every single person is on holiday and in Sicily it will be impossible to find a plumber, let alone a cleaner. On Ferragosto forget shopping and try to stay healthy as many doctors too are joining all the other Sicilians. Where? Well, by the sea, of course!
Sicily would not be the same without Mount Etna, but Mount Etna is a world all on its own. It’s clear in summer, when the Sicilian landscape yields to the burnt shades under the sun while Mount Etna rises in all its craters with lushes green vegetation and its black lava rocks villages.
For the people who have thrived on its slopes, the volcano is a generous mother who gives more than she threatens. Yes, because while dangerous eruptions are rare for this volcano, the products harvested from its lava soil are plenty and of incredible quality. Wine, pistachios, chestnut honey, oranges, lemons, olive oil, ficodindia are just just the first that come up to my mind.
Wine is one of Etna’s most recent prides, although the wine production on this vulcano is not at all new. It can be traced back for thousands of years and in the 19th century it even lived a short heyday when it was able to fill the void in the market left by the Phylloxera, an insect that decimated the Europe production. However, once the threat of Phylloxera disappeared and the Great War followed, the demand as well as the production of Etna wine dropped rapidly into oblivion. Until recent years. It has been, indeed, only in the last twenty years that several wine producers have begun to invest again in its rich black soil. A soil that is able to give a distinctive savory and minerally character to its best production.
Nerello Mascalese and Carricante are the two native grapes of the Etna that are used alone or blended with other grapes to create Etna Rosso and Etna Bianco respectively.
Nerello Mascalese is a red, more in vogue as well as more widely produced and that the most enthusiasts dare to compare to Pinot Noir of Burgundy for its elegance. Carricante is a white, far less known, but strongly supported in the area of Milo where producers like Benanti were able to reveal its distinctive savoury and even saline qualities at best.
These vineyards extend between 400 and 800 m. above sea level in lines of little trees (alberello) protected by low walls of lava stones. Fields and fields of vines interrupted now and then by peer and apple trees and embracing black villages perched on the flanks of the Etna: Trecastagni, Zafferana Etnea, Milo, Randazzo, Castiglione di Sicilia just to mention a few and each with a tradition of their own.
Are you already imagining yourself strolling along these vineyards while waiting for an aperitivo or a wine tasting to be served?
I’ll list below the main producers of Nerello and Carricante. You might like to contact them for a wine tour or simply look them up to buy a wine to drink at home. My advise, however, is to not underestimate the home made production of the locals. Everyone on the Etna has a family member, an uncle, a grandmother that produces the so called vino sfuso (bulk wine) in their own private cellar. A wine that often has nothing to envy to a proper winery and that – most importantly – will be happily and proudly shared by the host with his or her guest.
Here are the main producers of Nerello Mascalese (by GamberoRosso):
Benanti, Cottanera, Graci, Passopisciaro, Pietradolce, Girolamo Russo, Tenuta Terre Nere.
And here are the best bottles of Carricante (according to GamberoRosso):
Etna Bianco Superiore Pietramarina by Benanti; Etna Bianco by Cantine Russo; Etna Bianco Superiore by Barone di Villagrande; Etna Bianco by Cottanera; Etna Bianco A’ Puddara by Tenuta di Fessina; Etna Bianco Arcuria by Graci; Etna Bianco Archineri by Pietradolce; Carricante Eruzione 1614 by Planeta; Carjcanti by Gulfi; Etna Bianco Cuvée delle Vigne Nichi by Tenuta delle Terre Nere.
WHERE TO STAY
Casa Rosa:panoramic with private garden in Zafferana Etnea; Casa nel Palmento:converted winery in Trecastagni; Casa Lavica:lava rock house surrounded by vineyards in Passopisciaro (hamlet of Castiglione di Sicilia)
A research states that 36% of the travellers have chosen a destination based on a setting seen in a movie. Did you ever planned your holiday this way?
In Italy, one of the most travel-inspiring movies is certainly the award winning ‘Il Postino’ (1994), directed by Michael Radford and Massimo Troisi. The movie retraces the footsteps of the exile of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda on a island in the south of Italy. A must see movie, in my opinion.
My husband and I went for our honeymoon to the setting of this very movie, Salina. Technically in our case one could not talk of movie-tourism as we watched the movie after our holiday. We realised that Salina had been the set of ‘Il Postino’ on the island itself thanks to several ‘movie souvenirs’ strategically scattered around.
Nevertheless, the movie definitely brought us back to our holiday mood. And it almost felt like finally having the least amateurish version possible of a honeymoon home video.
Imagine our disappointment when a friend who went on holiday on the island of Procida off the coast of Naples claimed that the movie, ‘Il Postino’, was shot there. Turned out we were both right. Movies are rarely shot consistently in one place.
No doubt though about the opening image of the movie. That brings you straight to the magic harbour of Pollara.
WHERE TO STAY:
Casa Arturo: unique location overlooking the beach of Punta Scario;
The beach of San Lorenzo is one of the best pieces of Sicilian coast. “Lovely sandy beach with crystal clear water”, “quiet outside of the high season in August” and “next to the Vendicari nature reserve.”
Who is saying that?A Sicilian? Well, no. In this case the majority of the readers of The Guardian came to this conclusion.
Do you want to discover the other most voted Sicilian beaches? Here’s the link: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2017/jun/22/sicily-best-beaches-coves-nature-reserves-readers-tips
WHERE TO STAY
Casa Coco, San Lorenzo. Independent house with private garden in San Lorenzo residence, a few steps away from the sand;
Casa Cinzia, Marzamemi. Waterfront modern apartment, 100 m from the village’s main square;
Casa Diga, Marzamemi. Waterfront apartment, 100 m from the village’s main square;