Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sicily in Seattle

In the spring of 2006 we traveled to Sicily—that big island at the “toe” of the Italian “boot”. We landed in Palermo, spent a few days exploring the city on foot and then rented a car to drive around the island. We stayed in a couple of places with kitchens and did quite a few room picnics for dinner. The food was fascinating. Somewhere along the way we saw a travel poster that said, “Invade Sicily—everyone else has!” Phoenicians, Moors, Persians, Greeks, Romans--Ancient and Holy—have all tried to rule this island kingdom; and everyone brought their own idea of cuisine. Add in today’s immigrants from Asia and India and today’s Sicilian cuisine is indeed unique!

The island still has farms, olive groves, vineyards and, of course, a big fishing industry. Everywhere we ate, fish and shellfish were always on the menu. I could quite have quite happily subsisted on fresh sardines (called that because they were originally imported from a nearby island: Sardinia) with salads, pasta or bread and the lovely local olive oils.

Sicily has more ruins of Greek temples than does Greece. Just outside the city of Agrigento there is a large historic site where you walk down broad alleys with temples in a variety of states: from piles of rubble to some almost “whole”. You may have seen pictures of these temples—shining white against a cloudless blue sky. At the height of their use they were not white, but heavily painted and gilded to honor the gods and goddesses they housed.

All of this walking built up an appetite, so we went off to find lunch. Capriccio Di Mare (I think something like “Sea Breeze”) had been recommended and turned out to be excellent. We were seated in a beautifully painted room with a view of the sea and big windows that caught a cool and refreshing breeze. For the first course—the pasta course—Ed chose spaghetti with crayfish and “scrimps”. We found this interesting word on several Italian menus. There are no words with the “sh” sound in Italian, so I think inexperienced translators don’t believe that combination really exists! The sauce on this dish was very simple: olive oil, butter, lemon, garlic and parsley.

When we get home from trips we often search my journals for dishes we can recreate for friends. And this one has become a “standard”. Since crayfish are not a local delicacy, we substituted Dungeness crabmeat and used small Canadian or Oregon shrimp. Meyer lemons, when available, improve the flavor without altering the character of the dish. We use a light hand with the garlic and are careful not to overcook it—pale gold is the color you are looking for. Take it out of the pan before it turns darker as it will then become bitter.

Oh, oh, no more spaghetti-o….for this glutenless cook, anyway. Recently I tried a variation: garlic in the oil/butter and when golden, dash in ½ cup white wine. Reduce to a thickened state, stir in lemon zest, juice of about ½ a Meyer lemon, ¼ cup parsley and the shellfish. And just serve it like that. The guests had fresh bread to sop up the sauce; I had some gluten free toast.

It’s all good!


  1. wow! can you imagine being gluten free in italy? thats an amazing feat that you adapted their cuisine to fit your dietary needs - i'm glad you found a way to eat delicious italian food along with everyone else. :) i've never been to sicily - it sounds amazing.

  2. Actually, I have occasionally wondered why I always eat pasta with Italian food. They serve it that way, of course, but it isn't necessarily the only way I'd enjoy it. I'll try it sometime.