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Sicilian Food Memories and a Day with 2 Star Michelin Chef Pino Cuttaia

Sicilian Food Memories and a Day with 2 Star Michelin Chef Pino Cuttaia

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

Savoring the sweet life in Italia. A guest post with Melissa from Studentessa Matta

Lucca, Italy

Savoring the sweet life in Italia: reveling in the sights, smells and sounds in Lucca!

Italia! You can’t say the word without conjuring up all manner of wonderful images: Renaissance palaces embellished with colorful frescos; silky smooth marble statues that stand proudly in front of public buildings; crenulated medieval towers that rise high into a piercing blue sky; sun drenched ruby red tomatoes that drip with sweet juices; church bells that sonorously clang and vespas that ferociously whirrrrrr, like the hornets that they are named after.

When I am in Italy my senses are heightened by all the sights, smells, tastes and sounds. Sometimes Italy can make me feel calm, serene and satisfied, other times it can leave me breathless, disoriented and craving to discover more. The first time I traveled to Italy was to study Renaissance art in Florence. Although I was there for only six months, the experience of living amongst Italians made a huge impression on me. The more I basked in the music of Italy’s accents, light, art, food and wine, the more I became enamored by the Italians and their language.

My quest to know more about Italy, her language and culture, has prompted me to return time and time and again to “il bel paese” and I have traveled all over the country from the Alps and the Dolomites to the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Adriatic ocean. I have visited big and small cities, and have lived like a local with friends, participating in festivals and local rituals, as well as engaging in day-to-day household routines. Each time I return to Italy the experience is rewarding. Italy never fails to disappoint; she is full to overflowing will all manner of things that tickle my senses and “dietro ogni angolo” (around every corner) I am continually making new and wonderful discoveries. Take for instance my recent stay in the delightful Tuscan town of Lucca. It took just one step inside Lucca’s medieval walls to feel embraced and intoxicated by all the marvelous sounds, smells, sights and tastes that this Tuscan city has to offer.

Sounds. Everywhere I went in Lucca I heard compelling sounds; the air was filled with laughter, chatter and music. People joked and conversed in the piazzas and the out door “trattorie” and music from street musicians floated on the air and echoed in the alleyways. Church gongs rang and bicycle bells chimed and each morning a friendly man passed under my window calling out “Buon dì!” (Good morning). Fountains splashed pleasantly calming the nerves and ambulance sirens blared “bee booo bee booo” elevating one’s blood pressure! An evening concert in a local church enveloped me in the dulcet melodies of Puccini and I found myself humming arias composed by Lucca’s famous musician, as I biked the path on top of wall the encircles the city. The sound of the Italian language was also music to my ears and I reveled in the harmony of all the lovely notes. People were kind and generous and paused to chat with me all over town. I made friends with shopkeepers and folks I met in the piazzas and parks, as well as with the delightful Mario, who always has a good word for you and will often sing you a song should you run into him in the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, in the heart of Lucca.

Smells. The aromas of Lucca are intoxicating. It is hard to resist the heady fragrance of a warm “cornetto” and a hot “cappuccino” at the local bar in the morning, the enticing scent of a warm bowl of “farro” (barley) soup from an out door caffè in the afternoon, or the perfume of a bitter sweet orange Aperol in piazza Napoleone right before dinner. About the city there is a pleasant bouquet of aromas concocted not only of dusty bricks and lush green trees, but also of fancy colognes and the fragrance of rich earthy shoe leather from the classy shops in via Fillungo.

Sights. Lucca is filled with beautiful things to see and the city glows with rich warm colors. Climbing to the top of “il torre Guinigi”, the tallest medieval tower in the city, you will be treated to an incredible view. From this bird’s eye vantage point, gazing over the jumble of yellow buildings and terracotta roofs, you will begin to see in the distance the purple and teal hues of the mountains of the Garfaganana. The view is best described as “mozzafiato” - it takes your breath away! Art is everywhere you look in Lucca, from the statue of the lovely bare breasted signora, known as the Pupporona in Piazza S. Salvatore, to the ornate facade of S. Michele that stands in the spot of the ancient Roman forum. Not only can you see traces of antiquity in the curvature of the Lucca’s walls, but you can also see signs of modernity in the remnants of graffiti left over from Lucca’s annual Comics & Games festival, or the street art chalked by local street artists in the piazzas.

Tastes. My tastebuds were kept quite happy during my stay in Lucca. I enjoyed fine wines from the Furbiano, Buonamico and Fattoria Sardi Giustiniani wineries and I dined on delicious ravioli, sformatini di verdura, pasta and panna cotta made by myself under the tutelage of my lovely friend Eva. I also sampled roasted meats, lardo, maccheroni and cacio a peppe from restaurants like Canuleia (in via Canuleia) and of course pizza by the slice from the local hot spot - Pizza da Felice (in via Buia). And yes, there is a wonderful assortment of gelaterie all over Lucca to keep your sweet tooth satisfied! From “pesca” (peach) to “stracciatella” (chocolate chip), each day I tried all the delicious flavors that I could fit into “una coppetta” (a little cup).

Lucca is a delightful place to experience the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Italy. Like so many other enchanting Italian towns from Liguria to Puglia, after spending time in Lucca your senses will be filled to the brim! There is much for you to discover and savor...”ma state attenti!” (but be beware!), it only takes a short time for you to be craving more. I for one can’t resist the allures of Italy and will soon be returning to drink up more of her charms!

Melissa Muldoon, is the "crazy linguist" - la studentessa matta! She has made the study of Italian a lifestyle choice. A day doesn't go by in which she doesn’t listen, read, write, speak or work on Italian. She takes great pleasure in sharing her language learning journey through the Studentessa Matta blog, the podcast "Tutti matti per l'Italiano" and through Italian Language Immersion programs in Italy that she organizes with Italian Schools & event planners. The Matta blog explores Italian culture & language in a light & fun way, as well as provides language learning tips. The podcast features clips of native speakers & is designed to help auditory skills. On the Matta Facebook page she shares news of Italy, culture, travel and language tips. Her trips are designed to give participants a chance to live and study in Italy and to immerse in language and culture.

Thank you, Melissa, for this fabulous guest post about the sweet life in Italia!

Here is where you can find more of Melissa:


Pickled Jalapeños Peppers

Pickled Jalapeño Peppers

Some like it hot, I do! If you do, enjoy these easy to make pickled jalapeno peppers. Summertime means easier recipes. We can’t wait for it to officially be barbecue season and to start grilling! I don’t know why I was obsessed with making pickled jalapeno peppers. It was something I had on mind for months!

Rosemary Grissini #TwelveLoaves

Rosemary Grissini

Oh, this has been a doozy of a week weather-wise. It has been pouring! And I mean POURING! I never thought I'd get to baking my rosemary grissini. I kept saying, "Tomorrow I'll bake them!"

That tomorrow never came. The weather was awful and when there was a break from the rain and the sun peaked out, I didn't have the dough ready. So I finally just made the dough and I figured that, rain or shine, these grissini would be baked!

Did it rain the day I baked them (which was yesterday...boy, did I procrastinate!). YES! For goodness sake, it was a deluge. I even went outside in vain at one point to try to get a photo in "natural" light and the drops were dripping on my baking pan. But somehow, I managed to get a few shots.

So I really wanted these to be sassy and sophisticated grissini. YOU know...those really thin and pretty ones that look so elegant sitting next to a plate of prosciutto di Parma and some really great cheese. Obviously, that didn't happen!

And, my husband even reminded me...

They're really good, he told me. Then he said, "They're supposed to be tinner." Hey, he has a heavy Italian accent so thin is tin most of the times.

No, they weren't 'tin' grissini. They were on the thicker side and they were just LOVELY! Really, so good! I made cauliflower soup, because as I mentioned, it was raining buckets! And because I honestly had no clue what to make for dinner besides these grissini. It was also because I  didn't happen to have any prosciutto di Parma to go along with them! We had soup and we had grissini (the "ticker" kind) and it was raining and it was not even chilly and it was all so wonderful!

This baking adventure of bread and summer herbs is for our #TwelveLoaves August challenge!

#TwelveLoaves is a bread baking group I started over 2 years ago!
#TwelveLoaves runs smoothly with the help of our friends. A huge thanks to our hostess Sherron from Simply Gourmet!

Here is what the amazing #TwelveLoaves bakers created this month with Summer Herbs!

I followed this recipe from The Kitchn

 Rosemary Grissini
  1. 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour
  2. 3/4 cup warm water
  3. 1 teaspoon honey
  4. 1 package (1 scant tablespoon) active-dry yeast
  5. 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  6. 3 tablespoons good extra-virgin olive oil
  7. 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  8. 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  9. Oil for the bowl
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the whole wheat flour, water, honey and yeast. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine and let sit for 10 minutes. The mixture will be foamy when it's ready.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients. Add the all-purpose flour, olive oil, and salt. Mix on low speed with the dough hook attachment until combined, and then on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes until the dough is smooth and shiny.
  3. Remove the dough from the mixer bowl and transfer it to a small bowl. Drizzle a tiny amount of olive oil over the dough and roll it around until it has been coated. Cover with a tea towel and let it rest in a warm place for one hour or until doubled in bulk.
  4. Preheat the oven and prep the baking sheets. When the dough is ready, preheat your oven to 425°F and line 2 or 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Divide dough (optional). If you would like to make several different varieties of grissini from a single batch, punch the dough down and divide into portions. For this post, I made rosemary grissini.
  6. For plain grissini, shape the dough into a rough, flat rectangle. Slice a finger-sized piece from the long length of the rectangle with a sharp knife or a bench scrapper. Roll it into a long, irregularly shaped long strip and place on the baking sheet. Continue with the remaining dough, placing the dough strips about 1/2" apart. Note: The dough contains enough olive oil that you shouldn't need flour to roll it out. If, for some reason, it is sticky, sprinkle a small amount of four on your surface before rolling.
  7. For rosemary grissini, knead about 1 teaspoon of finely chopped rosemary into the dough and roll into snakes. Place the strips on the baking sheet. If you want to twist them, pick it up and twist into a swirl.
  8. Let the grissini rest for a few minutes before baking, so they puff up a bit, about 15 minutes.
  9. Place the baking sheets with grissini into the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. At 5 minutes, rotate the pans and check their progress. The grissini are quite thin, so they will burn easily! Keep an eye on them and take them out when they are golden brown.
  10. Carefully move the grissini to a cooling rack to cool. Once they are cool, store them in an airtight container (for up to 2 to 3 days) until ready to serve.


Kiwi and Raspberry Pavlova

Kiwi and Raspberry Pavlova

If I really want to impress my friends and family, I make a pavlova! They are just so pretty look at and they are not as complicated to make as you may think!

Making a pavlova is pretty easy and relatively fool-proof! The results:  crunchy on the outside and as fluffy as a marshmallow inside. Topped with luscious whipped cream and gorgeous kiwis and raspberries...this is a dessert to IMPRESS!!
You could decorate your pavlova with whatever you prefer: fresh berries, cooked pears or apples (very fall!). For the chocolate lovers: you could add cocoa powder to the meringue and top with chocolate and cream...a chocolate pavlova delight!
Kiwi and Raspberry Pavlova

The pavlova is as fluffy as a cloud and very delicate! Be super careful (it's very fragile!) when you remove it from the parchment paper.

Important to remember: When the egg whites have quadrupled in volume, that is the time to add the sugar just a little bit at a time and keep on beating! and adding them slowly while whipping the mixture continuously. Even more important, when they are whipped to perfection...don't wait to bake them. It's important to get them shaped on your pan and put in the oven. No hesitating.

My very important tip for you: let it cool completely on the pan before transferring to your serving plate. I didn't wait the most recent time I baked it and my pavlova did break apart a bit before I had a chance to decorate it. Luckily, nobody complained! Even not so perfect to look was perfection to taste!

I slightly adapted a recipe from Saveur. 

 Kiwi and Raspberry Pavlova
  1. 4 egg whites
  2. 1 cup sugar
  3. 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  4. 1/4 teaspoon salt
  5. 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  6. 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
  7. 1 cup heavy cream chilled
  8. 1/2 cup chilled plain yogurt
  9. 1 cup fresh raspberries
  10. 2 kiwi, peeled and sliced
  11. honey

  1. Preheat oven to 200 F. Let egg whites stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Draw a 10-inch circle on the paper. Flip the paper over so circle is on the other side on the pan.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together sugar, cornstarch, and salt; set aside.
  3. For the meringue: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, beat egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form. Add the sugar mixture 1 Tablespoon at a time; continue beating on high speed until very stiff and glossy peaks form, about 5 more minutes. Beat in the vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of the vanilla.
  4. Using a rubber spatula, spread the meringue over the circle. Shape it into a 9" disk by making the meringue conform to the circular outline; smooth top and sides with rubber spatula.
  5. Bake for 1 hour and do not open the open door (make sure you don't open to just check on will be fine).
  6. Turn off the oven and let the meringue dry in the oven with the door closed for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it cool completely (about 3-4 hours).
  7. Gently peel parchment paper from the meringue and, using 2 metal spatulas, transfer meringue to a cake stand.
  8. In a medium bowl, beat the whipped cream, yogurt and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla until stiff peaks form. Pour the whipped cream mixture onto the cooled meringue and spread evenly over meringue's top using a rubber spatula.
  9. Decorate with kiwis and raspberries. Drizzle on the honey.