Sicily, a tasty homecoming!

Sicily! The Italian Cousins are coming!
After the flurry, flutter and fluster of nearly missing our train from Naples train station, we settled into a 6 hour train ride south towards Sicily.  There was plenty of time to catch up on reading, sleeping and watching the Italian countryside go by.   Mauritzio and Katiuscia had been shopping and organised a simple Italian lunch of Salami, Prosciutto, Mortadella and Cheese Panini.  A nice regional red wine would have matched perfectly, but alas, we found only water in the shopping bags!

On arrival into Villa San Giovani train station, our train was loaded into a ferry for a train/boat ride the 3km across the Strait of Messina to the home of the Puglisi family, Sicily.

We continued on to Taormina train station where the 11 Italian cousins and their 23 bags (and a clock) were extracted from the train and were met by our effervescent Sicilian guide Gianluca and driver Lilo.

Our home for the next 5 nights was the agriturismo, Case Perrotta near the town of St Alfio on the side of Mt Etna.   Not only a beautiful part of Sicily, high on the mountain, with views of the sea, but also nearby the home of our Sicilian Puglisi cousins in Zafferana. 

On our first evening at Case Perrotta, we enjoyed a beautiful aperitivo of white wine, spices and honey and we were treated to a spectacular 'Welcome to Sicily' dinner. 
A myriad of antipasto came out plate after plate including orange and date salad, porcini mushrooms, stuffed eggplant, cheeses, meats, arancini and more.  This was followed by chestnut and porcini risotto,  Pistachio Pasta (the dish of the trip), followed by Grilled Pork and Tiramisu.  All served with local Etna wines. 
The chef Salvatore and staff offered more than one serve of each dish and we were bursting with Sicilian food and thoughts of what the days to come offered.  John and Sue, 2 new 'temporary' Italian Cousins joined in the fun over the next few days.

Our first full day in Sicily was a visit to Taormina, arguably the most beautiful town in Sicily.  We woke up to torrential rain (maybe it was following us).  We arrived in Taormina in a downpour, we met our guide and were completely soaked through before we arrived at our first destination, the Cathedral.  The guide regaled us with the history of the people and the architecture of Taormina and the cathedral before we braved the rain again. 
It wasn't long before all but one of us (Roy the Brave) gave up on the tour.  As Roy continued on, we burst onto the doorstep of our lunch restaurant, umbrellas, rainjackets and all, and enjoyed coffee and some divine local pasta di mandorla - almond biscuits.
It hasn't taken Gianluca long to figure out that we haven't stopped eating for 2 weeks.  We appreciated a lunch on the 'lighter' side.  Bruschetta and salad would tide us over till the evening.

It was a very precarious drive back to Case Perrotta through landslides and flooding roads. 
As the pouring rain continued into the evening we drank plenty of local wine and enjoyed a cooking class.  Handmade Pizza and Ricotta Filled Canoli were prepared and eaten by us all... and that was just pre-dinners.  Another over-generous menu followed accompanied by plenty of house wine!

A clear morning greeted us the next day and our walkers came back with stories of a view of the sea....but still no sighting of the top of famous volcano we were living on. 
We travelled to an olive oil processing factory where the owner of Case Perrotta was having his olives milled.  After checking out the process we were offered fresh crunchy local artisan bread dipped (soaked) in one day old olive oil.  There were plenty of joyous noises coming from our crew! 

Our next stop was Benanti Winery, with its vineyards on the slope of Etna.  Gianluca had organised a vineyard tour (including fresh ripe persimmons) and winery tour, followed by a tutored tasting of Benanti's best wines over a light antipasto lunch.

A couple of hours of shopping in Zafferana before we met up with the real Sicilian Cousins.  Angelo Puglisi and his sister Maria are first cousins of the Ballandean Angelo Puglisi.  Together with Marias husband they joined us in a local Zafferana restaurant for more Pistacchio pasta, Sicilian fried pizza (yum) and plenty of other local delights.

Another day and still the overcast weather continues.  After our agricultural visits of the day before, it was time to visit a bustling City.  We headed for Catania to visit the fish markets and fresh produce markets.  We started the tour with a traditional salty lemon soda drink and met upon some interesting characters in the markets.   Some serious shopping in the city ended with a glass of Prosecco with lunch.  Pasticceria Prestipino provided a very traditional lunch of Arancini, followed by dessert of brioche and granita.

Back at Case Perrotta, our cousins were treated to a Sicilian BBQ while our hosts Robyn and Julia were swept up and overfed by the Sicilian cousins.  On arriving back at Case Perrotta, we found that a group of the cousins had led our guide Gianluca astray.  During the regaling of many Australian stories, the group drank copious bottles of Limoncello cream and housemade Cinnamon Liqueur.

Finally, on our last morning in Etna, the clouds parted and we were granted uninterrupted views of the spectacular 'smoking' volcano, Etna.  A trip to the top of the volcano is a definite when we return to Sicily.
As we were leaving our Etna home, the olive trees were being harvested.  A very manual job, but we had previously tasted the green-gold oil from this olive grove and knew what a tasting outcome there would be.

Sicilian life and politics were the topics of conversation on our coastal journey to our next destination Cefalu.  The tunnel/bridge highways are incredible feats of construction and engineering.

Our guided tour of this beautiful seaside town included the cathedral, ancient washing facilities and the sicilian architecture.

Antipasto, pasta and wine by the Italian seaside, the first of the trip and a beautiful place to enjoy the friends we have made over the past few weeks.
At the end of this relaxing lunch, the chef and owner of trattoria introduced himself and offered the recipes for the pasta we had eaten.  The first was a sauce of sardines, raisins, pinenuts.  The second a tasty ragu of lamb, eggplant and sheeps testicles.  hmmm..

The final destination on the Italian Cousins...All things Italian tour was Palermo.  To welcome us, Gianluca organised a special wine tasting of only wines from the Volcanic islands surrounding Sicily.  How lucky were we to taste rare regional wines at Enoteca Picone.

Our final full day in Italy with our cousins was spent on a guided tour of Palermo including the U Capu markets. It was at these markets where a very small number of our party (2) were introduced to frittola; an ensemble of calf innards, cartilage and fat which has been boiled and browned and seasoned with salt and pepper.  We were served the frittola on a piece of wax paper and a squeeze of lemon.  Apart from the fact it is served warm in a wicker basket covered with a cloth and your portion is taken by the bare hands of the server, it didn't taste too bad.  I would do it again!

Further along the markets, we were able to convince the cousins to try the fruit of prickly pear.   Just as we have them in Stanthorpe, fresh and tasty!
 Gianluca then guided us to his street food favourite café and we joined the locals eating arancini, panelle (chick pea fritters), crocce (potato cakes) and calf spleen sandwich!

Our final afternoon and there was plenty of time to ing before heading out to ur final Italian Cousins dinner.  Again local wines were aplenty to match with our dinner.  Dessert on this night included ricotta filled canoli and fried ricotta ravioli.

Our final day and the early morning walking crew headed back their favourite bar for a final coffee and custard filled croissant!   Why not!!  
We were full to bursting when we boarded our bus for the journey to Palermo airport.

We have eaten like Kings and Queens for 3 weeks.  Regional food and wine were the highlight.

Most especially, we have met and enjoyed some wonderful travel companions. 

Thanks Gianluca for your energy and enthusiasm.  We all loved Sicily and cannot wait until we get to see more this beautiful island.  We will be back!

Thanks again to Julia Black from Crave Italy for taking our Italian Cousins on this food and wine adventure of a lifetime!