Sicily is magical and ageless, lost in time somewhere between 500 B.C. and the present. All of my visits there have been met with some of the most incredible and unusual experiences in my life. This latest episode is one of my favorites.
While planning last summer's tour of Sicily, we decided we'd like to begin it with two days of down time, as we had just come out of the busiest summer season we've had ever had at Ortygia. While searching for a place to chill out for a few days, we were intrigued by a villa in a tiny, ancient, lost town called Carubba tucked in between the cities of Catania and Taormina. The town was so small that even the cab driver had a hard time finding it.
When we finally arrived, we found ourselves on this non-descript street with nothing really significant to look at. But, all of a sudden we were sitting in front of this enormous wrought-iron gate gazing down a quarter-mile long path just barely wide enough to get the car through. The path was hedged with boxwood, citrus, lavender bushes and lined with enormous clusters of bella donna redolent with an intoxicating bouquet exuding from the hundreds of yellow and pink angel's trumpets.
One of the reasons we choose this residence is that our hosts were proficient in the Monzu style of cooking, which is the style of cooking I employ. Also, music is a big part of our lives and Giuseppe said that he knew a few local musicians that would love to stop by for an informal music jam.
The villa has been in his family for more than 250 years. The gardens were spectacular and the rooms were vintage Sicilian circa 1850
and very spacious. And the food was magnificent! Elvira, Giuseppe's wife, was a retired chef and event planner and he a former architect. It was their love of food and making friends that brought them to make the decision to open up their home. We later learned that we were the first people to discover them online and make a reservation.
Each morning we ate breakfast in an elegant expansive dining room that hadn't changed much in 200 years. The same tables, sideboards, silver and plates that were used then for formal occasions were set out for us. We were made to feel like aristocracy. Homemade breads, marmalades, jams, fruits and wild honey, as well as homemade tarts, local cheeses, and cured meats were laid out each morning for our enjoyment.
In the evening we ate some of the simplest, yet the most incredible meals we had ever eaten, seated at an outdoor table with our hosts and Giuseppe's cousin, Agostino, a professional drummer who was looking forward to our upcoming music jam. We dined on the terrace in the shadow of Mount Etna and feasted on such items as Pasta alla Norma, stuffed swordfish, lemon and almond semi-freddo, which coincidentally happen to be some of the items that we also feature at Ortygia, based on the Monzu technique of cooking.
On our last day there, my cousin drove up from Catania, where he now lives, to take us for a ride through all of the little mountain towns of Etna. Before we left, Giuseppe told us to be back by nightfall, as he had found a group of people who wanted to join us for an informal music jam.
After a long glorious day of feasting on wild figs, walnuts, berries, and raiding an abandoned hazelnut grove, we headed back to the villa just as the sun was setting. As we pulled into the garden path we were met with the magnificent scents of Sicilian gastronomy. Aromas of olive oil, fresh herbs, roasted meats, fresh vegetables and fish filled the air. Also, the sounds of saxophones, guitars and drums were heard as we got closer. That's when we learned that when Giuseppe and Elvira do anything, they do it big. They had set up one of their entire outdoor garden areas with large tables containing some of the most wonderful dishes imaginable. They had also set up a stage with all types of instruments, microphones, professional musicians and a man sitting at a sound board. Also, close to 30 or more of their close friends were there waiting to greet us There was a lone microphone in the center of it all. Giuseppe said, "That's for you. You wanted a music jam, you are the star. Get your harmonicas and start playing." What incredible thoughtful people they were. We ate great and played music all night.
As the night progressed and the music came to an end, I was eating this incredible pasta dish called "Pasta cu Muddica," which I also make at my restaurant, when one of the musicians approached me. He asked me if I had met the drummer Agostino, Giuseppe's cousin. I mentioned that we had dinner together twice and that I loved the way he played. I thought he was fantastic. The man then told me, "Of course he is! That's Agostino Marangolo. He is the most famous drummer in all of Italy!"
Before bed time I went online and looked him up and sure enough, he was correct. He is in a popular progressive rock band that tours all over the world called Goblin. He also plays drums for Pino Danielle, one of the most popular musicians in Italy and Europe. It was quite an incredible evening. The two highlights of my stay there was playing music with Agostino, and eating that wonderful pasta dish. Due to contractual obligations I was not able to record my musical experience to share with you, but there are no restrictions on sharing that delicious pasta dish.
Pasta cu Muddica
1 pound of bucatini
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 clove of garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
Cook anchovies and garlic on low flame in olive oil until anchovies disintegrate. Add tomato paste with equal amounts of hot water and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Toast breadcrumbs until golden in separate pan until golden. Cook bucatini al dente. Cook pasta, and add to sauce.
Add a bunch of breadcrumbs to taste to the pan and mix with flame turned off
Put on plates and sprinkle with additional breadcrumbs. Chef's note: This dish does not contain cheese. The breadcrumbs are used instead. Cheese is not authentic to this dish and in my opinion will ruin it. Makes 4 servings.
Chef Gaetano Cannata, owner of Ortygia Restaurant in Bradenton's Village of the Arts, can be reached at email@example.com.