When I think about Sicily...
I think of my numerous family in Licata and of the time I lived there.
I think of my brother and I stopping on a loud and bustling corner to buy a little pizza. I think of the tang from the tomatoes in that first bite and I think I don't want the next bite to be the last.
I think of long walks on the beach with my cousins. I think of me walking until the backs of my knees are burned and my thirst is so great, but I keep walking knowing we will soon stop and peel fichi d'india (prickly pears) just picked by zio Angelo.
I think that after eating our fresh fruit, we will then devour the clams we dug by the seashore.
I think of me, ten years old, on a walk with my dad. I think of us walking, hand and hand, to the port. I think of my dad bartering in dialect with the fisherman. I think that I've never seen so many fish before.
I think of my zia Angela and the pizzas she made in her wood burning oven.
I think of my cousins and, I returning from a long journey along the shore, following the intoxicating smell of her pizza. I think of the smell of wood burning and the aroma tempting all of us back home.
I think of my zia Mariolina's parmigiana. I think of me standing by the counter with my cousin Rita sneaking some bites. I think that this may be one of the most delicious dishes I've ever had in my life. I think I am sure I have never tasted a parmigiana like this.
I think of me as a little girl running on my nonno Giuseppe's farm. I think of my brother and I eating figs that were just picked from my nonno's tree. I think of the sweet nectar dripping down my chin and my mom not even bothering to wipe it clean.
I think of my dad pulling a bucket out of the well of the coldest pear juice for my brother and I to drink.
I think of my zia Pina's roasted chicken and pasta al forno; the same dishes she made for us every Sunday. I think of my hunger increasing while turning the corner laughing with my brother and cousins on the streets we know by heart. I think of the scent of rosemary beckoning us inside as we approach the back door a little too loudly.
I think of breakfast on the hottest of Sicilian summer mornings.
I think of buying Nicola's lemon granita in the fluffiest brioche rolls for breakfast.
I think of my zia Giovanna's amarene in syrup drizzled all over the top of the brioche bursting with lemony granita.
I think of sneaking into a pastry shop with my brother just to buy cannoli.
I think of the shells so crispy, gently cracking with each bite, and falling to the ground as we greedily try to reach the cream. I think of the cream so sweet; cream that is made from the sheeps that graze the land. I think you can only find the best cannoli in the world in Licata.
I think of my dad's face lighting up with joy whenever someone would show him a photo of Pino Cuttaia online. I think of my dad's eyes twinkling saying, "He's from Licata! My Licata!!" I think how sweet that my dad never met this chef and he's so proud of him. I think maybe someday I shall meet him and let my dad know what his food tastes like.
You see, many of my memories of Sicily are food related. Each of these food memories evoke so many emotions.
When I did get the chance to finally meet chef Pino Cuttaia, I wasn't sure what to expect. I had heard so much about him and I was sure the food would be delightful.
My cousin Francesco invited us to dine at La Madia last summer, and the timing wasn't right. This summer, we made sure we wouldn't miss the opportunity and planned it in our itinerary. When you are traveling with nine people and four of those people are children, it's a little tricky deciding how to visit a 2 star Michelin chef. But we arranged a date, and nothing would stop us from our special day together.
Pino was born in Sicily, but moved as a child to the north of Italy. Pino worked with some of the best Michelin-starred restaurants in the northern Italy and dreamed of returning to his Sicilian birthplace. Pino's dream was realized in 2000 when he returned to Licata and opened Ristorante La Madia with his wife, Loredana. In opening La Madia, Pino mastered combining the incredible techniques he learned working with Michelin chefs with Sicily's natural ingredients.
La Madia is regarded as one of the best restaurants in Sicily. Chef Pino's passion and creativity has brought La Madia universal acclaim. La Madia quickly gained a listing in Italian restaurant guide Gambero Rosso, and chef Pino was awarded two of the very coveted Michelin stars by 2009. Chef Pino explains,"Licata is the only place in the world where I can make my dreams come true. For me, each recipe tells you my childhood stories. Creativity and simplicity grant new elegance to traditional recipes, allowing perfumes and flavors of a radiant Sicily, now lost in time, to return to mind. All of my dishes are a personal memory of Sicilian classics." Chef Pino always says, “We should ask fishermen and farmers, for they teach us their simple traditions and recipes – And the tradition, in Licata, is getting the most flavorful food. Fishermen and farmers also taught us how to respect seasons in farming and fishing. (yes! In fishing too!), and we respectfully cook the most seasonal food ever." Chef Pino recently released his first cookbook: Per le Scale di Sicilia.
After finishing our delectable meal, it was time to visit Pino's market just across the street: Uovo di Seppia. Pino immediately offered us an espresso. Pino showed us around his work area and gave us samples of his jam to take home. He explained it was made with only two ingredients: apricot and sugar. He offered us a loaf of his homemade bread. He explained how the jam would be better enjoyed slathered on a slice of the bread lightly toasted for breakfast.
This was my second time meeting a Michelin-star chef. How would I describe Pino from the short time we were in his presence?I would start by saying he is insanely talented and also, sweetly humble. Pino could be described as a determined chef on a mission to preserve his memories interspersed with his island's flavors. Pino is a world famous culinary personality still bursting with Sicilian warmth.
It is likely that most people would probably not put Licata on their map as a stop while visiting Sicily. Those that are smarter know that not only does Licata have incredible beaches and delicious pastries, but it is also home to one of Sicily's greatest culinary treasures: chef Pino Cuttaia and La Madia.
Ristorante La Madia:
Corso F. Re Capriata, 22
Licata (Ag) 92027
Tel. (+39) 0922 771443
Corso Filippo Re Capriata, 29
92027 Licata (Ag)
Tel. 0922 894250