Dining in Sicily: La Gazza Ladra*

The final stop in our Sicilian food tour was La Gazza Ladra, a restaurant with one Michelin star located in the hotel Palazzo Failla in the Baroque town of Modica. The hotel and the restaurant are situated in a historic building.

On the Tuesday night when we visited there were only two other tables occupied in the classy dining room. The competition is stiff in this region of Silicy with La Madia and Il Duomo (in Ragusa) close by. The wonderful dinner we had at La Madia was a tough act to follow, and we only visited them in this order because that fitted with our itinerary. Besides à la carte there are two degustation menus, one for 80 euros and one for 95. As such, La Gazza Ladra is cheaper than La Madia and only half the price of Il Duomo. Continue reading “Dining in Sicily: La Gazza Ladra*”

Dining in Sicily: La Madia**

The chef checking his e-mail before the first guests arrived. From the outside the restaurant looks very small, but there is a spacious dining room behind the facade.

Licata is a port town in southern Sicily near Agrigento that doesn’t have much going for it except for the fact that Pino Cuttaia was born here and opened up a restaurant, La Madia. On a Monday night in April the restaurant was full, and I am pretty sure that most of those people came to Licata just to eat here (like we did).

I wrote before about Gambero Rosso and how to rate trattorie with 1, 2 or 3 prawns. Similarly, they rate restaurants with 1, 2 or 3 forks. There is only one restaurant with 3 forks (tre forchette) in Sicily, and this is it. The restaurant also has two Michelin stars. I tend to agree more with Gambero Rosso’s judgements in Italy than I do with Michelin’s, and that holds up in this case as well. Continue reading “Dining in Sicily: La Madia**”

Dining in Sicily: u Sfizziusu

We ended up in the nice sea town of San Vito lo Capo, on the northern coast of Sicily near Trapani, by accident. We were supposed to go to the island of Pantelleria, but our flight got cancelled and we decided to go here instead. It was raining when we arrived, so we decided to have a full pranzo (lunch) like the Italians eat, rather than our usual snack for lunch such as a slice of pizza or  Sicilian rice balls (arancini). Continue reading “Dining in Sicily: u Sfizziusu”

Dining in Sicily: Officina del Gusto Bye Bye Blues

Bye Bye Blues is a well-known restaurant in Palermo with a Michelin star. We didn’t go there but to their trattoria called “Officina del Gusto” (Taste Workshop). We didn’t go to the restaurant so it’s hard to compare, but the prices are lower and I expect the restaurant to be more formal than the trattoria. Continue reading “Dining in Sicily: Officina del Gusto Bye Bye Blues”

Dining in Sicily: Nangalarruni

Our next dining stop in Sicily was in Castelbuono, a charming little town in the Madonie mountains in the North of Sicily. Even though it’s only half an hour from the sea, it is very much a mountain town and the restaurants here have meat on the menu rather than fish. The speciality of Nangalarruni are even mushrooms, which unfortunately our out of season at the moment. Continue reading “Dining in Sicily: Nangalarruni”

Dining in Sicily: Tischi Toschi

Gambero Rosso is an Italian gourmet magazine that amongst other things publishes a guide with their reviews of restaurants in Italy. It is similar to the Michelin Guide, but I find that for Italy I tend to agree more with Gambero Rosso’s judgements than those of Michelin. Restaurants get awarded one, two or three forks (forchette), whereas trattorie may receive one, two or three prawns (gamberi). Only 16 trattorie in all of Italy have received 3 gamberi in the 2013 guide, and Tischi Toschi in Taormina is one of them (when I visited Tischi Toschi, it was still located in Messina). We make a point of eating at trattorie with tre gamberi and even before going to Tischi Toschi last night we had already eaten at 6 out of the 16.

Tischi Toschi is a small restaurant, run by Luca Casablanca and his son. For Luca, who was trained to be a jeweller,  food is a passion and it clearly shows. The restaurant serves authentic Sicilian dishes. Continue reading “Dining in Sicily: Tischi Toschi”

Dining in Chicago: Alinea***

Being jetlagged has its advantages. I’ve just had a fantastic dinner at Alinea and am eager to blog about it, but I wasn’t sure when I would get around to that as I will be travelling in areas where wifi is not something to count on. We went to Alinea with friends from Chicago where we are also staying the night. I’ve slept really well after the dinner at Alinea for about 6 hours, but now it’s 5am (i.e. noon in the timezone I left yesterday) and I am wide awake. So what better thing to do then to do … Continue reading Dining in Chicago: Alinea***

Dining in Italy: La Torre del Saracino

For the 12th anniversary of our first date, I surprised Kees with a visit to La Torre del Saracino in Vico Equense, near Naples. We had been there twice before (in 2008 and 2010), but this was the first time we went there straight from home without going anywhere else. La Torre del Saracino of chef Gennaro Esposito has two Michelin stars (worth a detour), but according to us that should be three (worth the journey). La Torre has two degustation menus (Proposta di Ciro of 6 courses and Proposta di Salvatore of 8 courses) that change with the seasons, … Continue reading Dining in Italy: La Torre del Saracino

Restaurant Reviews

The drawback of knowing how to cook yourself is that the food at many restaurants disappoints. I enjoy cooking so much, that in many cases I rather spend the money on ingredients and wine and do my own thing. When we do go out to eat, we like to go to restaurants where the food is special. Those are often, but certainly not always, restaurants with Michelin stars. When I go out to eat mainly to experience the food (rather than just to chat with friends), I will post a review on my blog. Below is an overview of all … Continue reading Restaurant Reviews

Langoustine Tartare with Mandarin and Bottarga

One of the best dinners we’ve had so far this year was at La Madia in Sicily. One of the dishes there was Battutino di gambero rosso, maionese di bottarga di tonno e olio al mandarino.

The dish at La Madia

This is what I wrote in my review: “Carpaccio of prawns, flattened into a perfect disc, served with a bottarga mayonnaise and mandarin olive oil. It was suggested to spread out the ‘mayo’, which we did, and it was a great combination with the prawns and didn’t overpower them. Great balance of flavors, although I may have liked a slightly ‘fresher’  taste.”

The type of prawns used in this dish is not available fresh in the Netherlands, but I love raw langoustines (scampi) that are locally caught. When I saw fresh langoustines at the market, I decided to create a dish that was inspired by the combination of flavors at La Madia. The result was an appetizer of langoustine tartare with mandarin zest infused olive oil, mandarin juice, bottarga, and mandarin. It was very nice as a small appetizer (amuse bouche). The flavors worked very well together, and I liked that it was ‘fresher’ than the dish at La Madia. The dried bottarga was not as smooth as the bottarga mayo at La Madia, but it was nice all the same. Continue reading “Langoustine Tartare with Mandarin and Bottarga”

Improved Fennel Polpette

A few weeks ago I prepared fennel ‘meatballs’ for the first time, based upon my memory of having them at the great trattoria Tischi Toschi in Messina, Sicily. I was aware that Luca Casablanca, chef and owner of Tischi Toschi, follows my blog, but I had not imagined that he would react to my post. He did, and he left me some constructive feedback. I loved this, as what better way is there to improve upon my cooking then to get feedback from a master? He wrote: “E’ preferibile non passarle nella farina, l’uva passa deve essere quella nera ” Corinto Nero ” nel soffritto mettere cipolla e non aglio, non pomodoro fresco a pezzi bensì salsa di pomodoro, e mi raccomando di metter almeno la metà di parmigiano . Complimenti e grazie del ricordo.”, which means: “It’s better not to put flour on them, the raisins need to be those black ones “Corinto Nero”, use onions instead of garlic for the sauce, not pieces of fresh tomatoes but a tomato sauce, and I recommend to use only half the parmigiano. Well done and thanks for remembering.”

I decided straight away to honor his reaction by making the polpette di finocchietto again, using his suggestions. As you may remember I was not completely happy with the texture of my first attempt, as they were too wet and didn’t keep their shape. I really needed to fix that as well, as without flour they would be even more prone to falling apart. I decided to wring out the fennel greens with a kitchen towel to remove more water from them, and that worked like a charm. Continue reading “Improved Fennel Polpette”

Grilled Octopus with Octopus Sponge, Bell Pepper Coulis and Romanesco

This is another dish that came out of the collaboration with Teun and Albert. I wanted Teun to try octopus sous-vide, and I remember how much I liked the char-grilled octopus at La Madia in Sicily. Although we ended up doing something different, our original idea was to do something along the lines of the octopus dish from La Madia. That dish featured a rock. Due to timing constraints (and also because the rock at La Madia wasn’t very tasty even though it looked great), we decided to go for a soft octopus sponge cake instead.

Recently, Paul of That Other Cooking Blog wrote about a microwave brioche. This is a trick that was originally devised by Ferran Adrià of El Bulli. A batter with a lot of eggs is siphoned into paper cups with nitrous oxide and then cooked for 30 seconds in a microwave oven to get a sponge cake. As octopus leaks a lot of juices when cooked, we thought it would be nice to reduce those juices to a thick octopus syrup and use that to flavor a sponge. We thought it would pair well with a bell pepper coulis, and when we realised our menu needed more vegetables we also included some oven-roasted romanesco (green cauliflower). Continue reading “Grilled Octopus with Octopus Sponge, Bell Pepper Coulis and Romanesco”

Seafood Cous Cous

The final dish in the series of Sicilian dishes I cooked for my parents is a seafood cous cous. I’m hesitant to refer to it as “Cous Cous Siciliano”, because I used a few shortcuts. You see, traditional cous cous in Sicily is made from scratch from coarse semolina flour and water, and then steamed in a terra cotta pot with holes in the bottom called a cuscussiera. The cuscussiera is sealed to the pot with simmering water underneath by a simple dough of flour and water. Instead, I used store-bought cous cous (also made from semolina flour) and followed the instruction on the package for cooking it, which says: combine the cous cous with an equal amount of hot water or stock, cover, and wait 7 minutes. That is indeed a whole lot easier, and although I didn’t do a side by side comparison the cous cous didn’t seem any different from what I remember from trying it in Sicily.

In Sicily, cous cous is flavored with bay leaf, cinnamon, almonds, parsley, onion, and garlic, and served with a tomato-fish stock and fish. I made up this recipe using this general guideline and using gurnard (“rode poon” in Dutch) and mussels as the seafood and we loved it. They keys to great cous cous are fresh fish, homemade stock, and not overcooking the fish. When using store-bought cous cous, it’s not that hard.  Continue reading “Seafood Cous Cous”

Sarde a Beccafico (Stuffed Sardines)

Apart from the fennel balls, I prepared another antipasto for my Sicilian dinner: Sarde a Beccafico. We really liked this dish when we had it at Tischi Toschi, and I copied the presentation from there. Sarde a Beccafico can be served either as antipasto or as secondo (main course). Sardines are stuffed with bread crumbs, raisins, anchovies, parsley, pine nuts, sugar, and baked in the oven with some orange juice. This dish is very tasty and easy to prepare if you ask the fishmonger to turn the sardines into fillets for you.

Continue reading “Sarde a Beccafico (Stuffed Sardines)”

Smoked Halibut ‘Pizza’

The following I dish I prepared for the Sicilian dinner was very loosely based upon one of the appetizers at La Madia, the best restaurant in Sicily with two Michelin stars.

The ‘pizza’ at La Madia

This is what I wrote about this dish in my review of our dinner at La Madia: “We were thoroughly fooled by this pizza, because we were wondering how we were going to survive 8 courses if they were all going to be this big. It turned out to be very light actually. What looks like melted mozzarella is actually potato mousse. The crust was only a very crispy very thin round of dough, and underneath the ‘cheese’ there was lovely cod smoked on pine wood and some semi-dried tomato. Great flavors and wonderful presentation. 10/10”

The dish I prepared is by no means an attempt at recreating chef Pino Cuttaia’s dish, but it has been heavily inspired by it. My ‘pizza’ was made with hot-smoked halibut, potato mousse, and semi-dried tomatoes. It was more substantial than at La Madia and I served it as a main course. Continue reading “Smoked Halibut ‘Pizza’”

Fennel ‘Meatballs’ (Polpette di Finocchietto)

As an appetizer for my Sicilian dinner I prepared vegetarian meatballs made from fennel and dill, served with a tomato sauce. In Italy these polpette di finocchietto are made with wild fennel greens, which grow abundantly in Italy in spring. For lack of the wild fennel greens, I decided to use a mixture of fennel fronds (the green stuff on top of fennel bulbs) and dill. We loved the polpette di finocchietto during our wonderful dinner at Tischi Toschi, the best trattoria of Sicily in the port town of Messina. I did not ask for the recipe, so this is my own version. They came out great with a lot of flavor. If you’d like to cook vegetarian, this is also very suitable as a main course. Continue reading “Fennel ‘Meatballs’ (Polpette di Finocchietto)”


Caponata is a sweet & sour Sicilian dish, consisting of eggplant simmered in tomatoes with other ingredients such as olives and pine nuts. It is eaten either as antipasto (appetizer) or as contorno (side dish) and can be served warm or at room temperature. As with many traditional Italian dishes, there are a lot of different versions of Caponata. I like a slightly ‘minimalistic’ version that does not have too many ingredients. Continue reading “Caponata”

Busiate alla Trapanese

Each region in Italy has its own pasta shape, and in western Sicily around Trapani this is busiate. Like other fresh pasta from the south of Italy it is made from durum wheat flour (semola di grano duro rimacinato) and water only, no eggs. Although it is also available dried, busiate are best when freshly made. Homemade busiate are thin hollow tubes of pasta, about 7 cm (3″) in length and with a diameter of about 4 mm (1/6″). Fancier types have the same dimensions, but resemble telephone cord.

Busiate alla Trapanese as served at U Sfizziusu

The first time I’ve ever tried busiate was at a great trattoria called U Sfizziusu in San Vito Lo Capo, a beach town close to Trapani. There I had Busiate alla Trapanese, busiate with Pesto alla Trapanese. Trapani and Genova are both port towns, and interaction between the two has introduced the concept of pesto from Genova to Trapani. Pesto alla Genovese is made with basil and pine nuts, whereas the principal ingredients of pesto alla trapanese are tomatoes and almonds. Whereas there exists an official recipe for Pesto alla Genovese, this is clearly not the case for pesto alla trapanese. Tomatoes, almonds, and garlic are in all of them. I’ve encountered version with our without (Sicilian) pecorino cheese, whereas thanks to a post by Chef Mimi I found out that Nigella Lawson even adds capers, raisins, anchovies, and chile pepper. I decided to make it as I remember it from U Sfizziusu: with minimal ingredients but great flavor nonetheless. I only left out the eggplant, because I was already serving caponata as part of the same dinner. Continue reading “Busiate alla Trapanese”