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Saturday, 21 June 2008

Sagra del Cappero - The Caper Festival

Anyone who’s seen the movie Il Postino (The Postman), shot on the Sicilian island of Salina, will be familiar with the magnificent beach at Pollara. Thankfully, nothing much has changed since this piece of paradise was captured on film. The best time to come to Pollara beach is at the end of the day to swim under the overhanging cliffs and to later, watch the sunset.

Pollara is not only famous for being the location of the house of Pablo Neruda (Philip Noiret) in the movie "Il Postino", but it also hosts an exuberant annual caper festival, celebrating tondina (or nocellara), the main variety cultivated on the island.

La Sagra del Cappero is held in the village square with plenty of dancing and drinking. There are stalls serving classic caper dishes such as cheeses stuffed with capers, spaghetti with capers and tomato and caper salad.

When : first Sunday of June
Where : Piazza di Pollara, Salina (Aeolian Islands)
Tickets : free

The festival takes place in the square in front of the church of Saint Onofrio, it includes sports events, street games, folklore and musical shows, but the main performer is the caper. This little ingredient seems to delightfully stun visitors who taste the Virgona family salads and crostini, and Michelle’s pasta dishes and many of the other traditional dishes prepared by restaurants and local residents. Gennaro Contaldo, the man who taught Jamie Oliver about Italian food, speaks passionately, not only about cooking with capers, but of the memories of his Southern Italian childhood that their flavours invoke.

Salina is one of the best bases for Aeolian Island hopping. The second largest, lushest and arguably the prettiest of the islands, it has several fine hotels and good connections for day-trips to the other islands. Head for the village of Malfa, on a fertile plain filled with vines and caper bushes, where you’ll find the charismatic Hotel Signum – a great place to stay and day-trip to the other islands.

Renowned Hotel Signum chef Michele Caruso is your ticket to the most amazing culinary experience during your stay : Try the likes of sea urchin (ricci) crostini; palamita e cocomero crudo (marinated bonito and watermelon); pasta with sardines and wild fennel; or simply grilled fish such as mupa (gilthead bream) or ricciola (amberjack) with onion sauce.

...and don't miss the sweet Malvasia dessert wine, made from grapes cultivated in Salina's sun kissed vineyards.

Siciliamo also recommends :

Da Alfredo for the Aeolians’ best refreshing homemade granitas and regarded by some as the best granitas found anywhere! Piazza Marina Garibaldi, Lingua, Salina, +39 090 984 3075.

Cosi Duci: Superb homemade Aeolian pastries, biscuits, jams and honey. Via San Lorenzo, 9, Malfa, Salina, +39 090 9844 358.

For some great travel articles on Salina and the beautiful Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily, look here, here and here. You can also read what the EasyJet inflight magazine says about The Caper Festival. The Isole Eolie are my personal favourite for sailing, swimming, eating, and just enjoying life. They are stunning...and the capers are world class too!

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Sicilian artichokes

Catherine de Medici introduced artichokes to France when she wed Henri II.
Sicilian immigrants planted California's first artichoke farm near Half Moon Bay in the late 1800s and Marilyn Monroe was crowned California's first artichoke queen in 1948.

A theory suggests that artichokes actually originated in Sicily and were introduced to the rest of Europe around the 12th century. In fact, records show artichokes being grown in Sicily as early as 287 BC, and were a favourite of the Romans in Sicily. They were "re-introduced" again to Sicily by the Moors in the 9th Century. Since then, they always been a staple in Sicilian cuisine: The delicacy and sweetness of Sicilian artichokes contain hidden flavours and fragrances just waiting to explode.

Sicilian artichokes not only are delicious but a good source of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), niacin, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, phosphorus, calcium and fibre. The substance cynarin is thought to benefit digestion, while the juice of the leaves is used in skin cosmetics.
An artichoke liqueur, part of the Campari group, bears the name Cynar and is made with artichokes from Sicily. Its distinctive flavour is enriched from an infusion of 13 herbs and plants, making it a completely natural drink.

As Capers, Sausages, Ricotta, Cous Cous, Oranges, Pistacchi and other Sicilian delicacies feature their own personal sagre (festivals) around Sicily, even the humble carciofo has a sagra of his own, taking place in Cerda every 25 April, only 58 km from Palermo.
The artichoke is celebrated every year with a festival that mixes art exhibits and other artichoke-themed entertainment with live traditional bands and parades through the town.
Apr 2009 (annual)
Opening Hours:
Parades and bands start at 9am
Tasting starts at 12pm
Contact Details
+39 091 899 10 03

As you approach downtown Cerda, the enormous statue of an artichoke will remind you of what will be the "king dish" on the menu (the photo, above, is of the "Big Artichoke" sculpture in the main piazza of Cerda).
But whether you will want to visit Cerda or not, if you are on your way to Sicily don't forget to sample some Sicilian carciofi at the restaurant.
These are a must try :
Carciofi Ammuttunati - or ripieni (artichokes stuffed with breadcrumbs, raising, parmigian and herbs)
Carciofi alla Villanella -
Carciofi in pastella (deep fried artichokes)

If this tantalises your taste buds, try this recipe.

For those wanting to purchase authentic Cerda artichokes direct from the source, go here.

And here is a nice article in praise of Sicilian Artichokes.