Palermo, That Good-Eating Town
Nino’s uncle, Zio Toto’, put it this way: “if you come here, you’ll return….to eat,” adding, “Here, you can eat at all hours…everywhere.” He was talking about Palermo, for me, “Good-Eating Capital of the World.” But he could have been talking about his nephew Nino’s Campofelice country house (about an hour east of Palermo, overlooking the Mediterranean) where Nino and his wife, Maria (both palermitani), head for the month of August.
When Maria’s not taking a kitchen break crocheting on the veranda, she’s at the burners creating wonders for lunches, then for dinners with the produce Nino – and his two bachelor elderly uncles (“gli zii”) – grow on the land around the house. Their small stucco house is surrounded by olive trees, tangerine, orange and lemon trees. Prickly pear stands tall, too, in the groves, huge spiky leaves like giant green paddles smacking the blue sky.
A visit to Nino – Pino’s childhood friend – and Maria is always a stop for us on our August Palermo visits. The elderly zii will always be there, too, living together now in a Campofelice apartment but also with a house nearby on the land. Three crates of eggplants, peppers, chili peppers and tomatoes in a corner of the veranda are sign their passione for the land, its goodness – of how they like to pass their summer days.
In the pasta sauce Maria made for our lunch, eggplants joined their tomatoes, garlic, onion, basil and olive oil, ground local sausage added, too. A huge bowl of just-grated caciocavallo cheese was there for sprinkling on top, flanked by a plate of ricotta di pecora (sheep’s milk ricotta) for those wishing to add a dollop on top of the pasta. I did: wherever we go, I sample the local ricotte di pecora. This one was from the Madonie mountains, rocky rib towering off in the distance – an area of shepherds.
To date: best ricotta di pecora ever.
But no lunch with Nino, Maria and gli zii – and Nino’s mamma, Rosalia joined us, too – ends with pasta: Nino and his uncles always have the fire going for grilled meats. Sizzling sausages and grilled chicken crowded the grill nudging up to Maria’s involtini. Che bontà! Maria’s Sicilian “wraps” are prize-winners: very thin veal slices filled with a tasty mixture of bread crumbs, caramelized onions, pine nuts, tiny Sicilian currants (la passolina), Sicilian cheeses only (caciocavallo and primo sale).
Other local sheep’s milk Sicilian cheeses were on the table, too: tuma and primintio. (So good that before we left to head back to Palermo, Nino took us into Campofelice to buy some – and not only!).
Peeled prickly pears (peeling them is an art – Nino has mastered it) for dessert.
A rest for all on the veranda – and then a swim in the Mediterranean for Pino and me before we headed back to Palermo.
A taste of Campofelice was in the motorcycle trunk with our wet swimsuits: Maria had wrapped up cherry tomatoes from their garden and chili peppers.
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Palermo stays always mean “good eating”