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.
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.
Only 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 >
I may not have been to an olive harvest before but I have been to an olive press, including the ancient ones in Volubilis near Meknes, Morocco. However, the one Tonino and Mary use near their farm has nothing ancient about it. In fact, it is very modern with the process completely automated from when the olives are poured into an underground chamber (through a grill to catch the last of the branches) to when they are sucked onto a conveyor belt ferrying them to a washing chamber then onto another conveyor belt which carries them to the press. The process is fascinating to watch even if not very aesthetic, at least not at Sole che Sorge whose lovely owner in the picture below doesn’t seem to have much concern for a photographer’s worry about nice backgrounds to her pictures!