4-alcamo-tenerumi-picking copyI 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.

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palermo-pani ca meusa-porta carbone copy

As some of you know, I have written a whole book on Mediterranean street food and while researching it, I tasted almost all there is to taste on the streets of Spain, Italy, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt to name a few of the countries I covered. Most of what I tasted was great. Sometimes delicious and fun and sometimes more fun than delicious. But there were a few specialities I did not take to. In particular pani ca meusa, a greasy sicilian spleen sandwich. Nancy Harmon Jenkins who is one of the great writers on Mediterranean food and a friend couldn’t undrestand my repulsion but as much as I love spleen (my mother makes a divine braised version that I will blog one day that I am with her in Lebanon), I couldn’t see the point of this sandwich. Well, not until another great friend, Mary on whose farm we were staying, sent us to Porta Carbona where not only did I finally discover that a greasy spleen sandwich could be absolutely scrumptious but I was also able to convert Amy to it.

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alcamo-orange blossom 3 copy

It was lucky I rented my little Sicilian casetta during orange blossom season. I had included a recipe for the jam in the book I am working on right now and was wondering how I was going to test it. Well, I didn’t have to wonder too long as I walked with Mary through her citrus grove and found the trees bursting with blossom. All I had to do was decide which of the blossom were the right ones for the jam — some were small and others large and fleshy. Thinking back to the orange blossom jam of the Lebanese sweet-makers, I decided to go for the fleshier kind and the next day, Amy and I went down early in the morning to pick 1 kilogram of blossom, which was the quantity I needed for the recipe. We quickly realised that if we were to pick so much, we would be spending the rest of our week making the jam. Not only would it have taken forever to pick the blossom — the flowers are surprisingly light — but we would have had to spend hours picking the petals off them. So, I decided to cut down the recipe to a quarter of the quantities and after a good half hour at least, we had picked what we needed.

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artichokes cooking in the fireOnly one day since my return from Sicily and I am already missing it. I think I will retire there, preferably on a property like Mary‘s, in the middle of fabulous countryside with gorgeous views wherever you look and organic fruit and vegetables to pick whenever you want. I had invited Amy to stay with me in the casetta I had rented and she cooked the most delicious meals with our freshly picked produce while I tinkered on my computer, mostly working. But it was Mary who cooked our last dinner (barbecued artichokes). We had planned to have it outside but it was a little chilly, so, we barbecued in Mary’s fireplace. But first we had to pick the artichokes and not longer than an hour before we needed to cook them according to Mary. Read more >