Skip to main content

Sicily Part II: Siracusa, Ortigia & Palazzolo Acreide

As promised, here is Part II, following from my last post on Sicily Part 1: Modica  and those amazing scacce ragusaneSo our journey continued through the south eastern side of Sicily with my husband’s delightful cousins Anna Maria and Salvatore.  We drove to three additional cities showcasing their ancient beauty and intact Baroque style to include Siracusa and the island of Ortigia; my father in laws home town Palazzolo Acreide and ending our visit in Noto.

Siracusa & Ortigia Island
Our base stay was in Syracusa not far from Ortigia Island. I had heard so much about this historic centre from my friend Rosa who runs yearly tours to Sicily, and has published her 2019 Culinary Tour of Sicily itinerary on her website so do check it out.  This island also known in dialect as ‘u scogghiu’ – the rock, is a treasure.    It is connected to Syracusa by its bridges and walking distance to its small but charming market.
This market echoes the Arab influence with its alleys and aromas of various spices, colourful fresh and preserved local produce and enlivened by catchy phrases being shouted in Sicilian dialect. I was thrilled to see many Sicilian delicacies including cotognata and marmellata di fichi d'India.  The hunks of tuna and sword fish were so fresh and spectacular to photograph and the seasonal fruit and vegetables were too good to pass by and not purchase.

Here we also had our gluttonous stop at the Caseificio Borderi  famous for its street food and for its ricotta cooked three times served hot with olive oil and garlic. Just next door is the amazing deli Fratelli Burgio where my husband found what he could not source here in Melbourne - a jar of minced sundried tomatoes, preserved in olive oil called cappuliato. Not as good as my mother in law would make but close enough to evoke wonderful memories of the dishes she would use this condiment in. 

Additional areas of interest are the impressive Cathedral of Syracusa whose structure includes Doric columns behind a reconstructed Baroque facade; and the church of Santa Lucia alla Badia, which houses the painting of Caravaggio, The Burial of Saint Lucy. We walked along the characteristic Via del Crocefisso, in the Giudecca district inhabited by the Jews until 1492; and did some subterranean exploration through the Ipogei di Piazza Duomo, a set of underground tunnels used during the Second World War as a refuge from bombing. Overlooking the sea is Fonte Aretusa, a fountain that originates in a fresh water spring and creates a small semicircular lake with fish, geese and ducks and where the plants of the only natural Papyrus (Papireto) in Europe grow luxuriantly.

In Syracusa, the central Archaeological Park Neapolis is a must, comprising the Roman Amphitheatre, a Greek Theatre entirely carved into the rock, and the Ear of Dionysius – called this way for its ear shape and above all for its remarkable acoustic properties amplifying the sounds inside. Across the road from where we were staying we visited the Santuario della Madonna delle Lacrime built in memory of a miracle that occurred in 1953, the lacrimation of a plaster effigy of the Virgin Mary.

Palazzolo Acreide
This town is often overlooked by tourist circuits, yet Palazzolo Acreide is well worth a visit. It is a UNESCO World Heritage town that boasts prized Baroque churches, palazzi and intricate facades.  Less busy than Syracusa except when they celebrate their Saints.  Although we just missed this religious event, on the 29 June the town celebrates the colourful Festa di San Paolo and u giru ro pani’ - the tour and blessing of the bread.  The statue of the patron saint comes out of the church in a blaze of fireworks, confetti and streamers, and paraded through the alleys of the historic centre and referred to as 'a sciuta' - the reveal.

This is my father in laws hometown and where my husband’s last living aunt still resides. Reunited with zia Carmela was an emotional day and the privilege to visit her in her home - one of the towns oldest Baroque palazzo’s was a highlight.  Located  in via Garibaldi, its facade has different anthropomorphic and fantastic masks representing figures linked to the magical and mystical world and a labyrinth of rooms, all of which are slowly being meticulously restored. We were encouraged to take many photos with plans for the girls to paint and draw some artworks for the family and for me to document this family treasure. 

And of course the food of this town, one must not miss the obligatory stop at the Corsino pastry shop in via Nazionale, which since 1889 offers the best of Sicilian gastronomy from the classic arancini to the cannoli, as well as almond sweets. An unexpected culinary highlight for me however, was had at Ristorante La Trota a local salmon and trout farm established in the 1960’s just 7 km out of Palazzolo Acreide, whose restaurant was built in a natural grotto. Here our hosts chose a degustation of trout prepared eight different ways to include a trout ceviche with lemon sorbet.

Our last day before flying out of Catania was spent in Noto. I will post about this city and its famous granita alla mandorla with recipe, at the end of the month as part of my contribution to our Cucina Conversations quarterly posts.

Stay tuned!


Popular posts from this blog

Cucina Conversations: Rosette di Pane (Rosette Bread Rolls)

Rosette Soffiate, or puffed rosette rolls are probably one of the hardest bread types I have attempted to make.  It has taken me many attempts and still cannot claim that I have achieved the hollow centre being 'the' inherent characteristic of this Italian panino.  This month, our CucinaConversations topic is all about bread, and provides us with an opportunity to learn more about the many bread types found in the different regions of Italy. There are claims that there are over 350 types of bread in Italy, of which many are specific to their regions while others are more widespread and exist based around religious, utilitarian or prepared for celebrations.  

This rosetta roll is ideal and typically used for fillings due to its hollow centre. In the Friuli-Venezia region of Italy, a region which borders Austria, rosette rolls are similar to Austrian bread, and have a soft, compact crumb.  Like those in Austria, they are sprinkled with poppy seeds. Rosette rolls produced in Milan…

Panzerotti /Tortelli di Castagne & Cioccolato (Chestnut & chocolate filled morsels)

When I think of chestnuts, I reminisce about my birth town - Domodossola, where I was first introduced to this distinctive flavoured nut.  We were fortunate to live close to Sacro Monte Calvario, a mountain lined with chestnut trees. My mother cooked many dishes which used this flavorsome nut, especially sweets such as these panzerotti di castagne & cioccolato.  Withthis sweet mamma has more recently substituted the chestnut filling with chickpeas as they are readily available all year round and knowing that my papa`enjoys this sweetmade frequently.

Chestnut season is a favourite for our whole family and we are of the belief that if you've never had a freshly roasted chestnut you haven't lived. We often visit Daylesford in country Victoria around autumn to purchase them fresh and enjoy them roasted at the farmers markets.

This recipe is a variation of panzerotti / tortelli di ceci which I have shared previously with you.  The filling is more delicate in texture and lighter t…

Cucina Conversations: Cassatelle Siciliane

Cassatelle are typical Sicilian pastries filled with lemon scented ricotta, and also known as cassateddi in Sicilian dialect.  The name derives from the word cassata, and by adding the diminutive suffix ‘ella’ you get the word cassatella, a smaller individual serving. An assortment of these pastries can be found in different regions of Sicily and are considered traditional deserts for the Carnevale and Easter period. In researching this topic, I become enthralled by the history behind the most complex of cassate from Palermo through to these more simple-to-make pastries from Siracusa, and therefore could not help but share some of its history with you.
Sicily is known as the sweets centre of Italy, and it appears that the most colourful and famous cassatasiciliana in all its glory, is one of the reasons.  It is believed to have originated in Palermo, made with sheep’s milk ricotta – at its richest and herbaceous during Spring; and containing other ingredients prevalent to the area suc…