Tag Archives: Food

Foraging for lunch

One thing I love about walking on Mt Etna is that even during the height of summer you can find  a walking trail all to yourself. Yet, last Sunday, it seemed that everyone had forgone the beach and headed up Etna. At this time of the year, if it rains on Etna, porcini mushrooms can be found amongst the fallen leaves, in the damp and humid earth, in the woods on the slopes of Etna. I, however, had thought it was too early in the season for there to be many mushrooms but then I can be a bit clueless about these things. As a result, after an early start with no-one in sight, we soon found ourselves surrounded by people looking for mushrooms. The sight of mushroom hunters resembled something of a search party. They were spread out equally in a line with their baskets and sticks, searching through the undergrowth, moving slowly. I had earlier found a mushroom but as I had only found one by chance and as it was small, I had left it where I found it. I am also not too hot on my mushroom knowledge so I often leave mushrooms where I find them unless I have someone who knows their mushrooms with me. Anyway, there were way too many people for me so we headed off to find a less busy woods to walk our dog.

One of the best things about Etna is the amount and range of ‘free’ food to be found at different times of the year. I would say that this is true for many parts of Sicily. On Etna you can find chestnuts, hazelnuts, cherries, mulberries, blackberries, strawberries, mushrooms, apples (but be sure these aren’t on private land), pears (again take note that they are not on private land) and herbs. In the rest of Sicily, look out for all of the above and wild rocket, capers, wild fennel, asparagus, strawberries, prickly pear, carruba, almonds, figs, thyme, wild mint and borage. Know what borage is? I didn’t either until my partner’s late uncle stopped to collect some he had seen growing next to the roadside when we were out getting water one day. It is a herb of which the flowers can be used to garnish desserts and whose leaves are often boiled and eaten with garlic and oil or used in soups. These are some of the foods that you will find in the wild but there are a whole load more that are ‘free’ if you are lucky enough. For example, branches that overhang onto the road or come through the farmer’s fence are deemed ‘free for all’ and you will often see people stop their cars to claim this fruit. Natural reserves which were once agricultural terraces and have been left to nature are often good places to forage but be warned,for some wild fruit trees, such as orange trees, produce inedible fruit!

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Il Mercato di Ognina – Ognina Market

Men gather on the harbour wall watching the scenes below. Fishermen shout over one another in deep Sicilian voices waving their cleavers around in the air as they advertise their catch of the day. A group crowd around a bucket of fish, jostling for a good position as they start their bargaining. An octopus tries to makes its escape from the plastic bag it has been flung in to as it is unceremoniously plonked on the scales. A fish which has been desperately flapping around in a crate full of apparently lifeless fish is thrown back into a pail of seawater as another one is pulled out in its place; the fisherman’s attempt at showing how fresh his fish are. A man selling parsley pushes through the crowd shouting ‘Prezzemolo, prezzemolo’ over and over again. Another seller cuts a piece of tuna and eats it in front of an interested customer in an attempt to persuade her that his tuna is freshly caught that day whilst a new boat arrives bringing its fresh catch straight from the Mediterranean sea. Next to the fishermen are fruit and vegetable stalls, cockerels and live rabbits are also for sale along with cheese and bread. The smell from the oranges ripening in the sun is intoxicating.

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This is the Sunday market in Ognina, Catania; the one day of the week when the fishermen forgo the middlemen and sell directly to the customer. The market is like an open-air theatre as the fishermen throw their voices and dramatically wave their hands around in the air fighting for attention. Their Sicilian customers are shrewd and know what to look out for and are fully aware that some of the fish will not be fresh and might have come from the freezer of a truck instead. They know to look through the fruit and vegetables that have been placed in punnets and check carefully those at the back where the bruised and old ones are usually hidden and they enjoy the experience knowing  when they are done that they will return home with the freshest fish and cook up a feast for all of the family.

Carciofi at Ognina Market