On a trip to Sicily with my husband, we spent a few days in Catania, with my cousin Mercede and her husband.
I so enjoyed her cooking style, she never fussed over a stove. After all she would come home from work for a short period of time in the afternoon and then go back until about 7-8PM. So there was not time to fuss on food, she would just put together the simplest dishes in a matter of minutes and they were all delicious. Time was better spent at the table enjoying the food and the wine, rather than slaving over a hot stove.
One of my favorite dishes she prepared for us was the Octopus Black Ink Linguine. Which is not easy to find in the States, but if you are blessed with find it, it is a most delicious delicacy.
After lunch we would take a nap. When refreshed from our nap she was on her way to work and we hung around reading or watching TV waiting for her and her husband to come back home.
One night, Alberto, Mercede’s husband, suggested we’d go eat dinner on the water, on the shores of Catania. Except for a night together dining al fresco, we had no other expectations, we were happy to be in their company, as Mercede had been one of my closest cousins and I loved her so much. We drove outside the city, when the stars were already bright in the skies. In front of us the thick darkness of no lighting on the horizon, except for a full moon reflecting it’s light off the water and illuminating the sky.
We parked in between other cars next to a lava cliff created by an ancient Mount Etna eruption, with no sight of a restaurant and I was puzzled because it seemed as if lights and action were too far from the car. But just a few steps off where we parked the car, I caught the sight of some natural steps carved into the mountain, leading down the cliff. The steps took turns to fit around the shape of the mountain and they continued until we reached a stone deck close to the bottom of the cliff overlooking the Ionian Sea, which is what separates Sicily from Greece and its islands.
The scent of food and fresh fish being cooked, filled the air. The noise rises as we get closer to the sound of voices coming from the patrons and utensils hitting the porcelain dishes in the dining room. We leave the darkness behind us to enter a bright loud ambience where sounds of pots and dishes are coming from the kitchen, while the employees with firm, loud voices order and direct the traffic of food to and fro to the tables. The tables are unassuming, made of ruff boards with humble table cloths covering them, but the dishes displayed on them are so colorful and oh…so inviting!
The room is really not a room at all, an all open to the outdoor space and in a corner of the space is what looks like an outdoor fish market. All the fish still moving displayed on a large stand separated by type, in small crates and the guests picking up their fish of choice to be prepared any which way they choose.
Even though I was completely in awe of this unimaginable blissful spot, I think Carlos’ mouth stayed open for a good 15 minutes. He had never seen anything so entrancing. I don’t think he will ever forget that night, especially since he had not been a fish eater until that night. I ordered fresh sardines, that were grilled, for me. Simply grilled with no sauce on it except for the whole lemons sitting on each table as a center piece, that I squeezed freely over my sardines. Carlos ordered fresh shrimp that he wanted fried. He was amazed at the fact that the waiters never wrote any of the order down, they just listened and remembered.
When Carlos received his order of Shrimp, he was dumbfounded, he never realized that they would come with their heads on. Nevertheless he enjoyed them anyway and he’s never stopped talking about them. They will forever remain his favorite way of eating shrimp.
I make them home from time to time if I can get really fresh shrimp. Of course here in Miami if you have connections, and I don’t mean the Mafia but a good fisherman, you can get great shrimp, arriving at your door still moving in a bucket. On those days I make the Sicilian fried shrimp and Carlos always says it reminds him of Catania. It’s moments like this that I feel the Sicilian in me. I find that to be, the best compliment ever, that my dish can take him back to that speck of memorable time at the restaurant at the bottom of the cliff.
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