I have wanted to visit Sicily for years, ever since I heard that Sicilian lemons were so sweet, the locals ate them like oranges, and since I saw the breathtaking photography for the opening credits for the Sicilian crime drama Inspector Montebalno. So in February, me and my husband finally went and spent a week in the small coastal town of Taormina, to the east of Sicily.
Taormina is a really beautiful town, with lovely shops, some wonderful history including an ancient Greek theatre (which we visited, see picture) and from our hotel we had an incredible view of the active volcano Mount Etna. We found a couple of excellent restaurants too and so were able to enjoy some truly superb Sicilian cuisine. It was in one of these restaurants that we had the privilege of being served Parmigiana di Melanzane, a truly delectable experience of aubergines, mozzarella, tomatoes and parmesan. It was quite funny, because I had never come across Parmigiana before, so when I was presented with it, served with a portion of excellent Caponata and some pieces of melting deep fried soft cheese, I was wooed into an oblivion of delight and wonder. I thought I had perhaps fallen upon a great Sicilian delicacy, that was yet undiscovered outside of the country. As an aubergine lover, I was boggled as to how I hadn’t seen a recipe for Parmigiana in any cookbook that I owned, & had never seen it featured online. I felt a sense of mounting excitement, and it began to dawn on me that maybe I was feeling something akin to Howard Carter when he had discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun.
What a sap! For as soon as I came home and started to check through the indexes of my collection of cookery books, I found I had several books featuring it – it was clearly getting the culinary coverage it deserved.
Anyway, this dish is phenomenally delicious. I’m not sure that tiddlebobs will go mad for it, but I have found that most adults at least recognise how well the ingredients, textures and flavours work together. So, I am sorry not to have a precise recipe for you, at least not yet. I am determined to create a Parmigiana recipe that effectively replicates the experience I had of eating it in Sicily and I haven’t succeeded so far. When I do, I’ll let you know.
I have however, taken a photograph of one of my attempts to make it (please see below), to give you an idea of what Parmigiana looks like. Just please bear in mind, that there shouldn’t be as much tomato sauce as shown.
We arrived in Sicily on the Saturday and on the Monday, we decided to take an early morning run. We had learnt that you could take a route down many steps to the beach, and then take the cable car back up to the top. We set off in our running gear and as we started to make our way down the hundreds of steps, it started to snow. We were quite surprised, though not entirely, because Mount Etna was covered in snow and the hotel staff had explained, that over the previous two weeks it was the first time it had snowed in Taormina in 25 years! Thankfully, we still managed to reach the beach which was beautiful, spent about twenty minutes looking out at the Ionian Sea and then up quite a few steps again to the cable car to the town.
We were cold and in need of something hot, so we legged it to a cafe just along from our hotel & opposite the medieval Duomo. My husband had an Americano coffee and I ordered a Sicilian hot chocolate. Well, two actually, and in quick succession; because I was so cold and because it was so good. This is the wonderful hot chocolate the waiter brought for me.
Sicilian hot chocolate is a glorious thing. Quite unlike British hot chocolate (and please don’t think I’m slighting properly made British hot chocolate, because I’m not), Sicilian hot chocolate is dark and intense and has a thicker consistency, not unlike custard. Made with a good quantity of cocoa powder or dark melted chocolate, it is whisked into hot water or a mixture of milk/cream and sugar, to which corn flour (corn starch) is added and then whisked on the heat some more, until the consistency is as desired. It’s served with cream (either squirty or whipped) and if you can’t resist it, some dark chocolate grated on top.
Again, I’m not giving you a precise recipe here, but I will do another day soon.
My homemade Sicilian Hot Chocolate.