I am just back from Sicily where I intend to finish my days, that is if I find the right plot with gorgeous views that will not one day disappear if someone builds in front of me. Anyhow, the prospect of this happening is still some way off and until then, I have the ideal spot where I can live the life I eventually intend for myself, a delightful casetta with the most amazing views on Mary Taylor Simeti‘s organic farm — those who follow me on instagram will have recently seen my daily pictures of stunning sunrise and sunset. It was tenerumi season when I was there and as Mary was describing the pasta she makes with them, I asked her if she would make me some and her being the most wonderful friend, she agreed. We went into the fields to pick some. To be more accurate it was Mary who did the picking. I am hopeless at these things. Too urban I guess. Anyway, tenerumi are the green leaves of the Sicilian cucuzza, a kind of courgettes or a gourd or a squash depending on who translates it — I am almost certain it is the same as Lebanese qara’, which is also in season now and which we pick young and stuff like courgettes and aubergines and finish with a lemony ‘pesto’ made with garlic, dried mint and lemon juice. Mary picked the tenerumi young and tender with some having baby cucuzza attached to them to add a little more texture to the sauce. Here she is below picking what we need for the pasta then showing me her harvest.
And below you can see what qara’ looks like. I personally don’t see much difference. Perhaps the leaves of qara’ have more fuzz on them. In any case, I took the picture in the garden of my lovely late driver Jamil. He supplied us with all our eggs and most of our fresh vegetables which he grew with love. Sadly he was run over by a car and I am not sure if his wife still tends the garden. I hope so.
We took our tenerumi back to the house and Mary got down to trimming them. You need to discard the tendrils and thick bottom stalks and strip the stringy bits off the leaves and stalks which is what Mary is doing in the picture. The photograph at the very top shows you what the trimmed leaves and stalks look like and how small the baby cucuzze are!
After trimming the leaves and stalks Mary chopped them, not too small because they really melt when boiled and you don’t want them to mash up.
She also chopped the baby cucuzza and added them to the leaves.
Now, there are two classic ways of making pasta con tenerumi. One which is described here by another friend, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, and the other which is Mary’s and others and which I also prefer. Mary boils the tenerumi in salted water then removes them with a slotted spoon so that she can use the same water to cook the pasta. Unfortunately I took the pictures of her cooking the pasta in artificial light because we were having it for dinner. When I build my house I will make sure the kitchen is very light so that I can take most of the pictures in daylight. Mary’s house is 19th century and in those days they built bearing protection from the sun and wind in mind. As a result most of the houses have small windows and are dark inside. They also had protection from pirates in mind and the houses had their back turned to the sea with no sea view from inside which is unthinkable nowadays given how prized sea views are!
While the tenerumi then pasta cooked, Mary prepared the tomato sauce. Hers is a salsa cruda with fresh chopped tomatoes, basil, garlic and a little fresh red chilli (also grown on the farm) dressed in olive oil which she mixed in with the hot pasta at the last minute. The result is quite wonderful with each bite offering a mixture of hot and cold and soft and slightly crunchy, with the cheese cut into small cubes as against grated so that it softens in the hot broth without melting completely. An utter delight!
Finally it was time to assemble the pasta, which she broke into small sections as the dish is a cross between a soup and a proper pasta dish with a sauce. Mary scooped out the pasta still al dente with a little broth and added it to the cooked tenerumi.
She then added the tomato sauce and mixed the pasta quickly before serving it to the table where the bowl of diced cheese was waiting. Someone else who also waiting, her most beautiful cat who doesn’t eat pasta but I guess she was hoping for something else. In any case, she made a pretty picture lounging on the mat at Mary’s feet so I snapped her too!
And here below is my bowl of pasta con tenerumi with the cheese scattered on top ready for me to tuck in. It was beyond delicious. Thank you Mary for a wonderful meal, a wonderful stay and a lot more. I can’t wait for my next visit which will be in the dead of winter to see how bleak it gets there at that time of the year. I bet not as bleak as winter in London!
And here is a bunch of tenerumi for sale at a great greengrocer in Alcamo. They were almost as fresh as those we picked on the farm. If only we could have that kind of shopping in London. Actually, I am working on it so watch this space!