Piero and Ernesto stir the sauce . . .
We spent five days in Taormina with the Halls. During the hot afternoons, we sat for hours under the sun with a deck of cards. We never dealt a hand until a punishment had been decided for the two losers (nothing too painful, just enough to keep the games competitive). Some examples: fetch drinks for the winners, call a taxi when needed, wear a speedo for the day, get train supplies, plan dinner, make reservations, wear something embarrassing to the restaurant, etc. But the best bet was paid after Matt and Lynn lost a close game of spades and were in charge of the evening’s entertainment.
On the way to dinner, they announced how a cooking demonstration had been arranged just up the street with the chef at Trattoria Rosticepi. It was there that we had eaten a plate of pasta with sardines that was out of this world. I couldn’t believe it. Matt described how Lynn talked her way past some daunting resistance from the chef’s family when they initially asked to learn the recipe. However, when we arrived, the staff (all family) were so incredibly gracious to us. There was barely enough room in the small, hot kitchen for the adults, so the kids hung out at our table. The hostess gave us each a chef hat and introduced us to Piero, our teacher for the evening.
Without wasting a moment, Piero pulled out a piece of fish from the fridge and first taught us how to make swordfish carpaccio. With expressive hand gestures and unwavering confidence in his voice, he described for us, in no uncertain terms, the precise way of making a perfect appetizer:
Using a mandolin, thinly slice 5 pieces of swordfish and arrange them on a plate. (Piero freezes his fish in order to slice it easily.)
Generously salt the fish and then squeeze plenty of fresh lemon all over.
Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve immediately.
The swordfish was so delicious it warrants buying a mandolin, if only for this purpose.
Next we gathered around the stove for a lesson on cooking pasta with sardines (There is a photo of this dish on the previous blog post):
In a saucepan, add some extra virgin olive oil, a big spoonful of diced red onions, a handful of chopped wild fennel tops, a big pour of white wine, a pinch of flour, some salt, and a sprinkle of saffron. Slowly cook for an hour. This makes a pretty green sauce that can be made ahead and used when you are ready to make dinner.
In another saucepan, heat some extra virgin olive oil, salt, a scoop of pine nuts, some raisins, about 7 fresh sardines or fresh anchovies (not jarred or canned) and plenty of the green sauce. Bring to a simmer.
Cook dried pasta in boiling water with a sprinkle of flour and a cup of the green sauce. Before the pasta is finished cooking, drain the water and add it to the green sauce to finish. Add more sardines or anchovies with the pasta. Serve al dente with plenty of finely crumbled fresh breadcrumbs.
Throughout the process, Piero sampled the flavor and doneness of the ingredients. He offered us tastes along the way, adamant that we learn each step just right. What an honor. We left with a ton of respect for the man as well as an appreciation for the passionate Sicilian attention to food.