Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Arancini - the taste of Sicily



Finally air borne, after a four hour delay spent not sampling the delights of Gatwick airport's culinary offerings, I happily tucked into the sandwiches I'd prepared at home almost half a day earlier. A curious combination of the English and Italian - provolone cheese with beetroot, lettuce and salad cream. I apologised to my neighbour who had not had the foresight to come prepared for the worst. His previously single minded focus on the short failings of budget airlines soon wavered and the conversation turned to food - what should he eat in Sicily...what a question! 

My mind began to drift and my taste buds tingled with anticipation. Delicious bread, crunchy green salad tomatoes, super salty pecorino cheese, firm cracked olives spiked with chilli, deep fried pastry ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese and chocolate chips almost too sweet but a perfect counter balance to the eye watering bitterness of the shortest espresso in Italy. 

Pizza, pasta, fresh fish, ice cream these are global phenomena. The true tastes of Sicily are dictated by climate and geography. Sweet, salty, agrodolce - you automatically crave intensely flavoured food, it's a reflex. As you sweat in the heat, day and night, your body demands replenishment. Simple foods stuffed chockablock with three dimensional flavours. So back to the question - what should he eat in Sicily...well arancini of course.

Angela Hartnett serves a version of them as an appetiser at Murano - a sophisticated but ultimately a shadowy interpretation of the real thing. Arancini, literally means little oranges, but are a combination of spicy, herby meat ragu and peas, shrouded in sticky risotto rice, then covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried. This is not a health food snack. This is messy food to be eaten with your fingers, letting the oil drip down your chin. There's a vegetarian option, shaped like a croquette, of spinach and mozzarella, or a conical one with ham and cheese. 

In Sicily arancini are eaten as an early evening snack, freshly prepared for 7pm when the pizzeria opens to tide you over until supper time. As we sat in the piazza under the watchful gaze of Padre Pio, with the church bells summoning believers to early evening mass, our repast was truly a joyful and blessed experience, a multi sensorial delight.

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