Posted on Monday, 27th July 2009
If I had to use one word to describe Sicily, it would be ‘hot‘. No two words, ‘stinking hot‘. But what else could I possibly expect from this Mediterranean island during the height of summer? Temperatures have been hovering at between 35c and 40c, and at times it is almost unbearable.
And as I write this, I have come to realise that after living in London for a number of years, I must have picked up some element of Britishness. How else can I possibly explain an opening paragraph which is all about the weather? So putting that to one side, let me talk briefly about Catania, my first port of call in Sicily. It’s situated on the east side of the island, and is a rather pleasant town. It’s also a really good base from which to explore the sites of Mount Etna, the town of Syracuse which is steeped in history, and the quaint and picturesque (if a little touristy) town of Taormina.
Aside from the heat (there I go again), I am really enjoying being in Sicily. There’s a go-slow, relaxed attitude that permeates the place (except when it comes to the locals driving!) that makes meandering so enjoyable. And I don‘t even feel bad if I run late because it only makes me feel so Italiano! In the short space of time that I have been here, I have managed to catch some colour, although I still pale into comparison against the locals. But I am sure that a couple more months of sunshine will rectify that. Indeed, I have made it a matter of priority that I must become the brownest person I know by the time I return to London in late September!
Food wise, I have not been able to resist the daily temptation of two scoops of gelato (although I consider it a demonstration of willpower that I only have two scoops and not more). As for dinner, for the first three nights of my stay in Catania I have eaten at the same restaurant, De Fiore, a simple little trattoria which specialises in Sicilian home cooking. It is not my usual modus operandi to eat at the same place all the time, but after my first meal there, I found myself unable to stop salivaitng about their pasta.
A dish of casarecci alla Norma was recommended to me on my first visit to De Fiore. This dish is a not just a Sicilian speciality, but a Catanian one. Casarecci is a type of twisted and rolled tubular pasta. It’s like marcaroni, only slightly curlier and thicker, with the hole that runs through the middle of it being smaller. In this dish the casarecci, which is homemade, is mixed with tomato sauce. The pasta is then covered with a layer of aubergine which has been grilled in olive oil and finished with grated ricotta. The casarecci is quite soft, almost slightly gooey, and quite flavoursome. The tomato sauce, also homemade, was filled with a freshness and earthiness that was resplendent of the Mediterranean, and together with the aubergine, ricotta and fresh basil, it made for an incredibly wholesome and tasty dish that smacked of homeliness.
The dish came out piping hot, and you knew it had been made fresh and from scratch. And the best bit about it was it was only €5. I had this dish again on my third visit to De Fiore and it tasted almost as good as the first time I had it, although the aubergine was not quite as hot as it should have been.
On my second visit I tried the spaghetti alle vongole, spaghetti with clams (€8) which was also very impressive. Lightly finished with olive oil, garlic, prezzemolo (parsley) and what must surely have been sun-ripened cherry tomatoes, the dish was rich with the flavour of freshly caught clams.
I also tried the pesce misto arrosto, grilled mixed fish (€12) and the carne di cavallo alla brace, pan-fried horse meat (€5). The grilled fish (which you can also have deep-fried) contained a mixture of sardines, tuna, calamari and prawns. The seafood tasted extremely fresh, but was a little overcooked, and therefore a bit dry for my liking. The horse, which had been beaten within an inch of its life, had a mild beefy kind of taste to it. It was pleasant enough but was a little chewy.
The service was very friendly and delivered with a smile, and it was nice to know that Rosanna, who is the only one behind the stove, cooks everything to order.
To another thing of note. Of some amusement to me was the fact that the lights black out at around 9pm every night. But they go back on very quickly, so you need not fear that you will have to sit in darkness.
I really liked De Fiore, admittedly more for the pasta than for the cooked meat or fish. As an added bonus it was really cheap, cheaper than some of the nearby restaurants that I took a look at. Its definitely worth a visit if you ever happen to be in Catania.
De Fiore at:
Via Coppola, 24/26
Catania, Sicily, Italy
Tel: +39 095 316283