We are staying in Ortigia, in the south east corner of Sicily, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a tiny island joined to Siracusa by a bridge. It is filled with narrow laneways lined with ancient sandstone coloured houses with ornate balconies; piazzas with baroque churches and has cobalt blue shorelines. It feels like a village with lots of artisans working in open doorways and nonnas peering down at you from their balconies as you walk past.
Ortigia also has a daily market. One thing I love about the lifestyle in small towns in Italy is daily shopping for food. Imagine walking to the market every day to buy what ingredients you need for your meals on that day only, sourcing only what is fresh and in season. This assumes you have plenty of time available each day – but wouldn’t it be perfect?
We have been staying in an apartment here so I have a kitchen to prepare whatever takes my fancy at the market. Apart from fruit and vegetables, there are fantastic delicatessens at the market and being surrounded by sea, plenty of fish. It is so difficult to choose what to buy but when you realise you will be back again tomorrow, it suddenly becomes easier. What you don’t buy today, you can buy tomorrow.
There is so much lovely summer fruit here – the figs looked especially luscious. The prickly pears (fichi d’india) were called “bastardi” – I imagine they are cross bred? They grow wild everywhere here and look beautiful on the roadside as they grow, though I am yet to try them.
Having the Mediterranean at your doorstep means that there is plenty of seafood, with swordfish being a speciality. I don’t generally eat swordfish in Australia, as it is overfished however I would be happy to buy a steak which the pescivendolo would slice off the slab of whole fish. Sardines are also plentiful and there were trays of filleted ones for only 5 Euros a kilo. How perfect they would be with fennel, pinenuts and lemon zest on some spaghetti.
Ricotta is another local speciality – fresh, baked or salted. It is made with sheep’s milk and the fresh type is soft and creamy and the freshest I have ever found (apart from making it myself). The mounds of baked ricotta looked so colourful.
The tomatoes were, as expected, plentiful, inexpensive (50 cents per kilo) and super ripe. You know they had been picked when ripe so they taste rich, sweet and slightly acidic just as they should. Bunches of wild asparagus were tied up with coloured string and I imagined how wonderful they would taste in an omelette. Fresh herbs were scattered on a bench – they were so fragrant and the basil looked tempting. There was so much to choose from!
You know what they say, the simple things are often the best. I went back to the apartment armed with tomatoes, a bunch of basil, a tub of fresh ricotta and a ciabatta loaf. All I needed was some extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Sicilian sea salt, and it was a perfect lunch at home – ricotta on bread and a tomato and basil salad. And that glass of 2012 Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Bianco of course!