Monday, December 7, 2009

Perfect pasta (with pistachios)...

Three confessions: first, I admit to not being the world's greatest pasta fan; second, all that changed on my recent trip, in a village just outside Catania; thirdly, I omitted to take a photo of the dish but here's one of the featured (locally sourced) ingredients...

However, I can still tell you all about it, more than whet your appetite and offer some inspiration for at-home experimentation (or just gustatory jealousy).

On my second evening in lively Catania, I headed-off with local wine expert, Glauco, on a whistle-stop tour of must-see venues. For cena, Glauco's first choice was closed (time of year, or just the fact that it was a Tuesday evening) so we ended-up in Giarre, at La Spiga.

There was a happy buzzing atmosphere in the pizzeria with large family tables and adult-only groups enjoying each others company, good food and wine accompanied by the all-important, on-screen calcio (football). Sometimes, I take all my time making my choice but I had no such trouble on the unintimidating menu. Nothing for it but to jump straight in at the twisty Strozzapreti (literally translated as choke - or strangle - the priests!) cooked with baby tomatoes, chunks of swordfish and aubergine, scattered with a generous top-layer of ground pistachios. Served piping hot, it more than lived-up to my expectations. Packed-full of local flavour, it was a genuine Sicilian savoury delight.

A good lesson in eating local and relishing inventive flavour combinations. Swordfish is plentiful and fished locally. Aubergines are prized and adored in Sicilian cuisine. Tomatoes are sweetly nutritious. The pistachios are from nearby Bronte - as shown in the photo pack pictured above, purchased from Catania's wondrous daily market - ground to a powder. They're prevalent throughout Catania in a plethora of sweet and savoury delights (notably ice-cream, biscotti, pizza and pasta). Buon appetito!

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