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Seasonal Pantry: Celebrating Easter in Sicily

  • Arancine

If I could spend Easter anywhere in the world, I would choose Sicily.

Sicily is just like the rest of Italy, only more so. I've always thought of it as Italy reduced, in the culinary sense of the word. You put the entire country in a big pot, set it over high heat and let it boil down and thicken: That's Sicily.

Everything seems more intense in Sicily. The sun shines — and burns — brighter, and when there's a storm, the rain comes down with a staggering intensity. I was caught in such a storm one afternoon as I walked through the narrow, winding streets of Ragusa Ilba trying to find my way back to my hotel. One minute there was no rain; the next minute I was drenched to the bone.

Wines are concentrated, cheeses all but explode with flavors, the scent of citrus fills the air of many villages, and the sausages — oh my, the sausages.

Everything seems more delicious in Sicily.

And then there's the religious aspect. Catholic statues and icons are everywhere, in special little recesses on the outsides of apartment buildings, on the tables of street vendors, in wineries, in stores and specialty shops.

During the high religious holidays, the entire island seems to celebrate. The most glorious celebration of all seems to be Easter, when word of the resurrection of Christ is portrayed with great drama.

Mary Taylor Simeti, an American from New York who married a Sicilian man and moved to a farm not far from Palermo several decades ago, tells the story of one of these re-enactments in her memoir "On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal" (Knopf, 1986).

It takes place in a seaside hill town. As Simeti and her husband, Tonino, walk towards the town square where the ritual will unfold, a young man with a full-size sheet pan held above his head runs past them toward a bar where the arancine he is carrying will soon be served. The Simetis follow him and soon are biting into succulent balls of creamy risotto.

"Arancine" means "little orange," a name that captures the appearance of these deep-fried risotto balls, which turn a deep golden brown when they are cooked. In other parts of Italy, risotto balls are called "suppli," but I prefer the evocative Sicilian moniker.

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