LIVES: Palermo, Sicily
BORN: Palermo, Sicily, 1951
MOTHER TONGUE: Italian
GRANDCHILDREN: Mattia, Samuele, Laura
Pasta con Le Sarde is such a typically Sicilian dish and it’s so simple to make with a very rich flavour of the island. The breadcrumbs to accompany the dish are called ‘Formaggio Povero’ because this once was the parmesan of the poor. It’s also very traditional and I still like to use it instead of parmesan now because it adds great texture to the dish.
What I’m actually best known for amongst my friends is my sugo though. ‘Sugo’ is a traditional pomodoro pasta sauce that everyone here in Italy knows how to make. I’m ‘La Sugara’ amongst my friends because they all want me to make my tomato sauce for them whenever I go to one of their houses. It was the first thing I learned to make and eventually, I learned to make it very well.
It wasn’t always this way though. The first time I tried to make it I was only twelve years old. I tried to cook it without adding water to my saucepan and I burned the pan. At that point in my life, my father had decided I should know how to cook. He just came home from work one day and called me into the kitchen for my first lesson. My parents both worked and my elder sister was married. I was the only girl in the house and my father thought it imperative for me to learn to cook for my brothers.
He was actually the one who taught me how to cook, not my mother. I had to prepare lunch and dinner for my five older brothers every day and so my father taught me very early how to make some classic dishes in order to feed the family. Sometimes my uncle Toto would help too. He lived close by and I’d call him and ask him to come over and show me how to make things. So everything I learned about Sicilian cuisine was from two men, not my mother or nonna, which is usually the case here.
I have never stopped learning new things when it comes to the kitchen though. Whenever I travel to a specific region, I learn a to make a dish from that region. Instead of souvenirs, I collect the typical dishes of each of the places I have visited. I usually ask what ingredients are in each dish, then I come home and get to cooking the dish, experimenting in order to recreate the taste from memory. It’s how I have so many Italian dishes in my repertoire.
For example, I’d never eaten pasta with squid ink before going to Messina and once I’d tried it, I was set on making it at home. As soon as we were back in Palermo, I asked my husband to go out and buy squid then off I went on a mission to recreate it. It wasn’t simple but I managed to get the flavour in the end. In all these years of cooking with this trial and error approach, I’ve somehow managed to hone the skill of perfecting the taste of a dish from memory. It’s so important to keep testing yourself and to keep things interesting. That’s what I like to do in the kitchen. Food is so wrapped up with memories, that I like to recreate these dishes as a form of nostalgia for the happy times I’ve had travelling.
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