Scopello’s Pane Cunzatu
When our children were small, we headed to Palermo and Pino’s family every August – no visit complete without an all-family outing to Scopello. Our children and their palermitano cousins would scramble to the peaks of the rocky outcrops (“i faraglioni”) rising out of the aquamarine sea and gleefully leap off, arms spread and windmill-spinning, screaming wildly. Nearby and facing the sea , was the Scopello tonnara where tuna (“tonno”) was once unloaded from fishing boats and then processed. The tonnara is now a protected historic landmark and there’s no longer public access to our coveted swimming spot but our Palermo sojourns (no small children now!) continue to include a stop in the village of Scopello on the mountain above, overlooking the sea. A family tradition: our sea-satiated, extended family always headed up there for a stroll and snack as nighttime moved in.
Scopello was once a baglio, a fortified walled rural structure, typical of the Sicilian feudal epoch, generally built high on a mountain in a lookout position. Threshing – and other tasks of the rural year – took place in the limestone-paved inner courtyard which was encircled by two-story buildings. Landlords lived on the upper levels and the peasants on the ground floor with carriages, farm carts, wine cellars, olive oil cellars and courtyard farm animals sharing adjacent spaces. An arched passageway – for the passage of carts, carriages, farm animals and farm equipment during the day – could be closed up at night.
Nowadays, clutches of sun-tanned vacationers walk arm-in-arm through the arched entrance into the former rural courtyard of the baglio, browsing the shops taking the place of the farm cellars and perhaps stopping for a prosecco or gelato at one of the cafes’ now there.
Outside the baglio a painted horse-drawn Sicilian cart awaits children eager for a ride. Some visitors fill up water bottles at the huge fountain, once the place where farm women washed clothes. Others – like us – head to the right, down a pathway, to the outdoor bread oven for pane cunzatu.
If it’s after dark, the line may be out the door and places at the metal tables under the spreading fig trees in front of the forno a legna might be few. Our wait was reasonable – and worth it, as always. Pane cunzatu (in Sicilian dialect, “seasoned bread”) has been offered by the Anselmo family for well over thirty years now. From simply baking loaves of durham wheat bread for villagers, the Anselmis moved on to offering “seasoned” bread to hungry vacationers, heading up to the “baglio village”‘ from the sea. The freshly-baked warm loaf of about 800 grams (and only their bread will do) is split in four sections, each part sprinkled with salt, pepper Sicilian mountain wild oregano (only!), then drizzled with olive oil (the olive oil the family produces from their trees). Sliced very ripe red tomatoes (raised in the intense Sicilian sun) are laid on the bread slices, then topped with slices of Sicilian primosale cheese. Slices of anchovies under oil top the cheese, then the bread slices are put on, pushed firmly with the palms of the hands so that all the flavors blend.
Pane cunzatu is served hot, wrapped in slices of brown butcher paper. Cold beer on the side – or the white Sicilian wine, Insolia? Your call.
Sfincione (Palermo rich pizza), panelle (Palermo chickpea goodness) and pastries line up on the bakery shelf, too. But plastic plates mounded with pane cunsatu tower over everything. The family now has a small bar across from the bakery – the only change. A nephew runs it and make the best granita di limone I’ve ever had: “I squeezed lemons for 4 hours today”, he told me.
No hungry children with us this year on our Sicily trip. They’ve all grown. But whenever they head to Palermo for a visit, like us, they head to Scopello – for pane cunsatu.
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