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The Story of the Real Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena at Acetaia Pedroni, Emilia Romagna

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Acetaia Pedroni, near Modena

In a small town outside Modena, there is an acetaia called Aceaia Pedroni. Here they make balsamic vinegar, the real balsamic vinegar, and the Pedroni family have been making it in this location since 1862. Now run by Italo, 80 and his wife Franca (who still cooks in the family taverna), they make balsamic vinegar and some wines, including lambrusco and pignoletto (local sparkling wines).

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Italo, with his vinegars

We all know balsamic vinegar, but few of us know the real stuff. The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (which it must be called by law) takes a minimum of 12 years to mature through a patient process of evaporation and careful management in a family of at least five barrels, called a battery. This process is protected and governed by law, and the vinegar and acetaia are checked by government representatives.

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The barrel batteries

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar starts with grapes, Trebbiano (a white grape) in Acetaia Pedroni’s case. These are gently crushed, now by machine, but before by children primarily, as it needed to be gentle. The grapes are then cooked and reduced to create a grape must. This must is fermented in batteries of barrels, some of which are ancient, as a balsamic barrel is never thrown out, it is repaired, sometimes by putting a new barrel on the outside but always keeping the old barrel, as this is where flavour is. A battery must have a minimum of five barrels, from small to large, each one increasing in size.

The acetaia, complete with confessional. The land used to be owned by the church but it is now owned by a collective of families.

The acetaia, complete with confessional. The land used to be owned by the church but it is now owned by a collective of families and has been for hundreds of years.

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A Weekend in Rome & Where to Eat & Drink There (In Partnership with O2 Travel)

 

Despite four visits, Rome continues to surprise and remains one of my favourite cities to return to. It is utterly charming, from the free running nasones (water fountains, they translate as noses!) to the many fountains.  I always see new things, stay in new places, and discover great places to eat & drink. Well, that is why we go isn’t it? For carbonara, gelato, porchetta, Roman pizza, and that is just the start. I have my favourites, of course, that I return to all the time, but on this occasion, as I was there with O2 Travel to road test their internet and app, I used these to explore further.[Read more]

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Cheese Making at Azienda Zootecnica Facenna in Puglia

Blessed are the cheese makers :)

Blessed are the Facenna cheese makers :)

Tucked away behind a barrage of windy roads lies a small holding. On it, an old two storey house, battered with years and the breeze that besieges its hilltop position. Up some external stairs, there is a little one room apartment. A bed in the corner, windows looking around, a small kitchen and a table. There is no electricity. Below, an old living room with a large fireplace above which cow bells hang on collars of all sizes for the newest calves to the largest bull.

Outside the house, overlooking, is a field full of cows. These are Podolica cows, native to Southern Italy. Large working beasts. Beautiful. In front, and to the right of the house, a long shed. In here there are pigs and piglets. Lots of them. Then calves to the left of them and right beside the house, still milk fed by their mothers. Overlooking, literally, balancing on a stony hedge because they are not satisfied with their massive field, some goats. Peeking in. A cat supervises from the top of the stairs and a puppy is running around beside himself. Because puppies always are, aren’t they?

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Where (and What) to Eat in Northern & Central Puglia

When I visited Puglia, I was surprised to discover that locals consider it under the radar. Ok, I am food obsessed, but I have known about Puglia’s food reputation for years, and have long wanted to visit. I thought that everyone did! (And I think that food bods do). Who could resist the lure of the home of burrata and orecchiette, and all of that lovely fish?

When I arrived in Bari, I was surprised to see very few tourists. There were lots of locals embracing their city, tiny toddlers whizzing around, stumbling on foot, and older siblings speeding by on bicycles (ding-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling!). Nonnis and Nonnas sitting outside their houses chattering, perched on stools. Young couples ambling by, deep in romance. A wedding. A random guy shaving his legs in the middle of the street. Bari has character, and lots of them living there too. I was charmed.

Where we have corner shops, Bari (and Puglia generally) has salumerias. Small shops rich with meaty bounty, bulbous waxy cheeses dangle from the ceiling (cacciovallo), towers of foccacia blink (a specialty of Bari too) and there is fresh hand made orecchiette and cavatelli to take home. They will make you a sandwich with whatever you fancy too.

I used Bari as a base and travelled to Barletta, Tranni, Apricena & Polignano a Mare. A cosy four day trip and so easy from London with direct flights. Bari is a small city, with a population of approximately 320,000, a perfect antidote to London when in need of a break. I also visited a farm and a dairy, but more on that in my next post.

This is not a definitive list, and I intend to go back, so if you have any tips for me, please leave them in the comments below. Thank you!

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When in Puglia, generally, you must have orecchiette, but particularly so in Bari. Try it first with pomodoro (tomato sauce) and caccioricotta (also called ricotta dura, a harder saltier ricotta). Foccacia is also king, and the best in Bari is said to be in the old city at Panificio Fiore (Strada Palazzo di Citta’ 38, Bari) – sadly I didn’t make this, but I had an excellent one from a downtown salumeria (the gorgeous Salumeria Nino).

Osteria delle Travi

A friendly family run restaurant in the old city, you can get excellent renditions of the local fare here – orecchiette with pomodori, fritture di pesce (with excellent local Adriatic fish) and braciole (a traditional horsemeat dish).

Osteria delle Travi, Largo Chyurlia 12, 70122 Bari

Ristorante La Cecchina

Located in the town square in the old town, and the perfect location to witness the local hustle bustle, try the wholewheat orecchiette with tomato and burrata and the excellent seafood pasta, and fritture de pesce as above.

Ristorante La Cecchina, Piazza Mercantile, 31, 70121 Bari

Sgagliozze, street food

The best sgagliozze in Bari is said to be cooked by Maria delle Sgagliozze (Maria of the Sgagliozze) outside of her house downtown. I didn’t find her on my trip, but there are plenty of others to sample. I found one as I turned a street corner and peered inside a shop, over a large pot of boiling extra virgin olive oil. Within were long bars of polenta, which had been air dried for up to 3 days, so that they are rendered perfectly crisp when fried, and then served with lots of sea salt. The Bari version of chips (dare I say better?), lots of people make it, just look out for ladies behind big pots on street corners. You can’t miss it. (I paid €1 for 6 too).

The Fish Market

Located on the lungomare, just opposite Piazza Eroi del Mare, this is where the fishermen pull up in their small fishing boats and sell their wares. A great place to try the Puglian tradition of eating raw fish, sample sea urchin (I promise that it is rich, buttery & divine), mussels, or octopus which the fishermen tenderise by the water by beating it with a large wooden paddle (it is dead at the time, naturally).

Salumeria Nino

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I don’t know if Salumeria Nino is the best Salumeria in Bari, I hazard there are many excellent ones, but I was charmed by it and went to stock up on treats to bring home. I highly recommend a visit.

Salumeria Nino, Via Vallisa 30, Bari

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Next Stop: Puglia & #WeAreInPuglia

Next stop: Puglia. This, I am very excited about. Puglia has a rich culinary heritage and diverse wine culture (I have been told there are 24 types of wine that I need to try – ok then!). It is the heel and spur, if Italy was a boot, and has lots of fresh seafood from its long Adriatic coastline. Orecchiete, burrata, friselli, taralli, pizzette, puccia and lots of other joys pepper too.

I am here for four nights to explore, indulge in the food scene and to broadcast all about it from Puglia to Dublin, live. Yes! If in Dublin, be sure to pop down to the roadshow at the Puglia Village on George’s Dock. Running until Tuesday 15th July there will be live music, wine tasting, cooking demos, food samples, and it is all free. They want to share the Puglia love.

I will be broadcasting to the Puglia Village on George’s Dock at 1pm and 4pm on Friday (tomorrow) and 11.30am and 1pm on Saturday. You can only catch this at the Puglia Village so make sure you get on down there if you can. If you can’t, or are not in Dublin, don’t worry, I will be sharing lots here too. You can also follow it all by tracking #WeAreInPuglia on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook.

(Pics above are from my first few hours in Bari – nice, eh?!)

I am in Puglia for #WeAreInPuglia, a collaboration between iAmbassador and the Tourism Board of Puglia supporting the #WeAreInPuglia European road show, sponsored by the Tourism Board of Puglia. All editorial is mine, as always.

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Making Tagliatelle with Ragu with Anna – an Emilia Romagna Recipe

Serving up the ragu! Anna, on the left.

Serving up the ragu. Anna, on the left.

One thing  that I learned on my recent trip to Emilia Romagna is that every recipe and every dish is personal. Passion exudes from every pore, and never more than when the topic of food or the particulars of a recipe are under discussion. People in Emilia Romagna are very animated over lunch, and they are mainly discussing the food that they are eating, and just that. I love that.

People get particularly excited about homemade tagliatelle with ragu. It originates there, and Emilia has one way, Romagna another. Within those regions different families have their own approach. Bologna has a meaty dense ragu of its own (hence, Bolognese sauce). The personal differences are glorious. I had so many different ragus in trattorias all over the region. Some dense with meat and assertive, one cooked in lard and layered with white pepper (my favourite, I think), some rich and fruity with tomato with the meat appearing to surf it.

Romagnola ragu, ready to dish up.

Romagnola ragu, ready to dish up.

I cooked ragu with two people in Emilia Romagna. The first was Anna, a wonderful lady based in Savignano sul Rubicone in Emilia Romagna. Romagna, to be precise, so the ragu here is different to Bologna, which is in Emilia. Anna learned from her mother, a recipe that has been passed down the generations. Anna’s ragu is a rich sauce made from a mixture of minced beef, pork and (Italian) sausage, with soffrito, red wine and passata. The second was Walter, from Lazio, but we cooked in Bologna style. I will share that another time.

Hand rolling the pasta in Anna's kitchen. now my new favourite thing!

Hand rolling the pasta in Anna’s kitchen. now my new favourite thing!

Today I am going to share Anna’s ragu recipe with you. She is extraordinarily generous, and gave me her time, as well as her family recipe. She is a joy to watch and to learn from, cooking with love and care, and her ragu is incredibly frugal (as I think a lot of Italian food is).

It will feed 10 people, which is quite striking when you see how little meat is involved. You probably aren’t feeding 10 people, but you know, it tastes great the next day. I love all the little extra steps in Anna’s recipe. Set aside an afternoon and make it, and think of that lovely lady Anna, who took the time to share it with me, so that I could share it with you.

Do make the effort with the homemade pasta, if you can. It makes a huge difference. It is so rewarding, too. There is a link to and Emilia Romagna homemade pasta recipe and instructions in the method below.

Thank you, Anna!

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Where to Eat and Drink in Bologna

Emilia Romagna is an Italian province, nestled between Milan, Florence, Venice and Genoa. It is actually two historical provinces, Emilia & Romagna, both with their own food & wine identity, but with common threads.

Home to Parma ham, parmsesan cheese & balsamic vinegar, and those are just the most famous ones that you have heard of, it is also the home of pasta, specifically tagliatelle with ragu, lasagne, tortelloni and tortellini in brodo. There are several local breads, gnocco fritto (called torta fritta in Parma), a fried puffed bread that you stuff with salami, and tigelle, small patterned breads traditionally made in stacks of heated round terracotta tiles, now in pans over a fire.

The capital, Bologna is a great city to start from. Easy on the eye, brown, orange and yellow buildings are lined with porticoes – arched walkways – which protect from the rain in winter and the sun in summer. It is a gorgeous bohemian city, the perfect size for a weekend exploring, and has much to offer in terms of trattorias, gelaterias and salumerias. It is a great base from which to explore the rest of  Emilia Romagna. Trains are reasonable and frequent, if you have a car, the countryside has lots to offer too and you would miss much if you didn’t explore it.

Lambrusco and Sangiovese are the most prolific local wines. Lambrusco, a gorgeous sparkling wine, whose reputation has sadly suffered due to lots of cheap imitators in our supermarkets. My favourites were the dry sparkling reds and rosés, some rich and thick, and others light and transparent. Lambrusco is the wine of Emilia, which is perfect for clearing the palate after the rich foods usually cooked in butter there. Sangiovese is more commonly found in Romagna, where olive oil is the cooking fat of choice. Both use lard too.

My focus in Bologna was tagliatelle with ragu (there is no such thing as spaghetti bolognese in Bologna), primarily, then tortellini in brodo and lasagne, both at home and in restaurants. After that gelato, aperetivo (a traditional drink at 6pm, how could I refuse?), and the local breads. Every local you speak to has a preference and strong opinion on all of these dishes. The Bolognese ragu tends to be very meaty and served with a toothsome homemade tagliatelle. Some prefer the pasta thin, but not me, I was to discover.[Read more]

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A Postcard from Rimini (and Where to Eat)

I am holed up on the floor of a hot train in between carriages. There isn’t much space but I have managed to sit, curled. I can’t quite feel my legs and I am not all that bothered. I have had a great couple of days on an impromptu trip to the Emilia Romagna seaside town of Rimini, and it is cushioning me on the way home.

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I had heard a lot about Rimini, little of it good. That it was a heavily touristed town and quite tacky. It is a beach town and I hate beach holidays too, although I adore the sea. When on holiday, I like to read (in the shade), mooch and wander, and explore the local food and wine scene.

But when I arrived in Bologna, locals started to tell me about the food culture in Rimini, that there were some great restaurants serving local specialities. That the centre of Rimini is an old Roman town. I had no plans for the weekend so I thought, why not? 1.5 hours on the train from Bologna and a €20 return ticket, seemed not too terrifying a gamble.

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The sea air, how I miss it. It is different here to my sea air at home, all warm and gentle. Where I grew up, on the Atlantic coast in southern Ireland, the air in winter is like a constant exfoliation. It can be harsh and it is certainly direct. Here it is soft and clear, reflecting the gentle lull of the Adriatic. [Read more]

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Pellegrino Artusi & A Recipe for Perfect Pasta Dough (Photo Illustrated)

Pellegrino Artusi, Casa Artusi, The Art of Cooking Well in Forlimpopoli & A Recipe for Perfect Pasta Dough (Photo Illustrated)

Pellegrino Artusi is widely referred to as the father of Italian cuisine. Penning the first pan Italian cookbook, (self) published only 20 years after the unification of Italy in 1891 and in the language of the new unified Italy (which was the dialect of Florence), when he was 71.

Artusi’s cookbook, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, featured over 475 recipes gathered from Italian home cooks on his travels as a business man. 15 editions were published before he died 20 years later, with many further recipes added (finishing with 750).

Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well was predicted to be a commercial failure by Italian publishers at the time, and they refused to publish it, but it was a tremendous success. It has been in print since publication, and is in almost every Italian home. It has been translated into several languages also (it was translated to English in 1997). 200,000 copies were sold in his lifetime and many more in the 103 years since then.

(So, you know, the message being if you believe in something strongly enough, take a risk and make it happen. You never know, do you?)
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A Postcard from Parma and Torrechiara, Emilia Romagna

I have just come back from a gorgeous day. The sun shone, the sky was bright blue and was a perfect contrast to the rust brown and lighter buildings. I visited a Parmigiano Reggiano dairy and saw the whole process, I had a wonderful lunch (at a last minute destination – I am glad I made that decision!), and then I visited a prosciutto di parma producer. So far, so awesome.

I have been busy eating in Bologna, but I won’t share my list of where to eat here until the end of the trip, as there are many more eating days to go. As mentioned in my last post, you can follow everything as I go on social media which is a more immediate update. Do so by checking in on @eatlikeagirl on twitter and instagram, the Eat Like a Girl page on Facebook, and by following the hashtags#Blogville (twitter) and #InEmiliaRomagna (twitter) in all of those spaces too. I include restaurant names above the picture on instagram, which clicks through to a map too.

My day was split between Parma itself, just outside at the dairy and a few hours within for lunch and a wander. Then I went to Langhirano, home to the Parma ham producer I was visiting, and Torrechiara, which has a gorgeous 15th century castle overlooking. The castle was affected by the recent earthquake but they have done a wonderful job of restoring it. Many rooms are covered in stunning mythological 15th century frescoes, and the views are divine.

I went a bit crazy in the Parmigiano Reggiano dairy shop, but you all knew I would.

 

A parmigiano reggiano dairy. 1200l of fresh raw & unrefrigerated milk is in each copper and steel tub. Each tub makes 2 wheels of cheese if at capacity.

A parmigiano reggiano dairy. 1200l of fresh raw & unrefrigerated milk is in each copper and steel tub. Each tub makes 2 wheels of cheese if at capacity.

Cutting the cheese twins into two girl cheeses (if only one cheese is made in a tub it is called a boy) in the parmigiano reggiano dairy

Cutting the cheese twins into two girl cheeses (if only one cheese is made in a tub it is called a boy) in the parmigiano reggiano dairy

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Blogville in Bologna & Emilia Romagna: An Eating, Drinking & Cooking Adventure

Bologna and Emilia Romagna await me tomorrow and I could not be more excited. Emilia Romagna is known as the bread basket of Italy, and is home to some of Italys most famous exports like parmesan cheese, parma ham and balsamic vinegar. Bologna itself is home to lasagne, tagliatelle with ragu, tortelloni and tortellini. I will be based in Bologna – and in an apartment, so I will also be able to cook – but I will also be travelling around and exploring the region.

Highlights, which you can follow by checking in on @eatlikeagirl on twitter and instagram, the Eat Like a Girl page on Facebook, and by following the hashtags #Blogville (twitter) and #InEmiliaRomagna (twitter) in all of those spaces too. I will be blogging in time, of course, but for a broader and more immediate spread, check in on social media. There will be a group of bloggers in Emilia Romagna using these hashtags, so you will get to see some quite diverse posts on the region.

Highlights are many, but I am most looking forward to a pasta cooking class in Bologna, a visit to Parma to explore parmesan cheese & parma ham, lunch at Osteria Francescana (Massimo Botturas restaurant, placed at no. 3 in the world on the San Pellegrino Worlds 50 Best Restaurants list) and the gelato university in Bologna. There is lots more planned, but I don’t want to spoil the fun by sharing it all now. It will be my first time in Bologna, so please send tips my way if you have been before. I cannot wait until I have my first bowl of pasta tomorrow.

This campaign was created and sponsored by the Emilia Romagna Tourist Board in partnership with  iambassador.  I maintain full editorial control of the content published, as always.

 

 

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Video: Truffle Hunting with Ezio in Piedmont

I have just come back from a whistle stop tour of Piedmont & Liguria in Italy. I went truffle hunting with a wonderful truffle hunter Ezio, and his fabulous little dog.

I shoot a lot of video but rarely get the time to edit them, so I forced myself to turn this around really quickly this time. I normally shoot them on my DSLR but it committed hari kari recently, so I filmed this on a swish Samsung S4 which I was sent to review.

The results are pretty impressive for a phone – the S4 can’t do ought about my still scratchy voice (5 weeks of coughing takes its toll!). I would like a little tripod / stabiliser thing to do something about the shaking, but otherwise, I am pretty happy.

Enjoy! Here are some photos that I took with the phone also. The timing could not have been more perfect.

Sunset in Piedmont

Sunset in Piedmont

Ezio and his fabulous truffle hunting dog

Ezio and his fabulous truffle hunting dog

… more soon!

I travelled to Piedmont & Liguria and Tra Arte e Querce as a guest of BITEG & the tourist board

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A Postcard from Rome

The Jewish Ghetto in Rome

The Jewish Ghetto in Rome

Greetings from Lisbon, and a delayed greeting from Rome. I haven’t written from either (yet) as I have been ill. Coughing and whooping, I felt like something within was scratching to get out. I am much better now, and sitting in a gorgeous Lisbon apartment bathed in sunshine. I can now write.

Lots to catch up on, lets start with Rome. I spent 4 nights there, working on a HouseTrip city commission, gathering local recipes and checking out the best local places to eat. It was my fourth trip to Rome, but my first in seven years. It was interesting to see how much it had changed. Less Fiat 500s and more Smart cars for  a start.

I stayed near the Vatican, on a hill, in a sleepy quiet part of Rome. Rome is so walkable it was a great location from which to explore. The four days were saturated with nostalgia. I couldn’t help but recall previous trips. The first when I was 19 and so very naive and enthusiastic. I had been in Nice for the summer and had saved some money so I hopped on the train to Italy.

I started in Florence which was nice but too quiet for me, but I loved Rome. I loved it all but I especially loved the potato pizza and the gelato and I went from being a seriously (too) skinny girl to normal size, which was 2 stone heavier. It broadened my culinary horizons and that was when I discovered the joy of culinary travel.

I visited the Vatican and I remember how thrilled my Irish grandmother was when I brought her back some rosary beads. Pope John Paul II was hugely popular in what was a very Catholic Ireland then (not so much now, things have changed in my generation). I walked past it every day on this trip and each day reflected on then and now and what has changed.

Then I recalled my last trip there 7 years ago, when I stayed near the Vatican again. I remember the pizza, the pasta, the croquettes, courgette flowers, the Fiat 500s (sadly less numerous now), men beating the trees with sticks in the evenings (to get birds out?), the crazy lady whose house we stayed in, who enthusiastically showed us the advertised PANORAMA from her apartment then ushered us back to our room which overlooked the bins. Rome doesn’t quite do B&B even though it thinks it does.

More on Rome soon… and Lisbon. For now, enjoy the photos.

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A Solo Sicilian Lunch at Syrah, San Vito Lo Capo

Cous Cous Festival, Sicily

San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily

I have so many posts to write I don’t even know where to start. I’ve yet to write about my lovely trip to the Isle of Wight this summer. There’s so much yet to write about other recent travels to Sweden, Lyon, Glasgow. I still have to tell you about the final of the Cous Cous Fest. I have recipes to post, restaurants to write about. I recently went for lunch at the revamped Savoy and I have yet to write about that. It’s all a bit silly isn’t it? No matter, it’s all stuff I love to write about and I shall do it soon. Hopefully you’ll enjoy reading it too.

Today I am going to write about something a little abstract, as I find I have been thinking about it a lot recently.  A Solo Sicilian Lunch at Syrah, San Vito Lo Capo. The meal itself was funny for its own reasons (solo female diner in Sicily might give you a hint) but the food was lovely, and very inspiring. I’ve found myself gathering ingredients to recreate it this last few days.

So, what’s so interesting? Sicily is an island (yes, we all know that), so there’s lots of seafood as you would expect but the almond is ever present in the cuisine. There isn’t much dairy, but they create almond milk and almond cream and use these instead. And they are delicious. Nutty and rich, gripping the winding busiati pasta, buffering shellfish, thickening sauces. Pleasantly grainy, and velvety too.

On my last day, I really wanted to experience some of the local cuisine that I hadn’t experienced yet. I had had busiati with trapanese pesto (made with almonds, tomatoes, garlic & basil) but wanted to try it again, and otherwise, was open to everything except cous cous, for I had had a lot of that.

The restaurant had other ideas.

I went to Syrah, recommended as one of the best in the town by people who knew what they were talking about and had been there the night before. I am guessing, in hindsight, that a solo female diner was an unusual prospect.

I perused the menu and asked for advice, then made my choices. They were rejected.

No, you shall not have that! You have to have some cous cous! I have had a lot of cous cous this week, I would like to try something else. But our cous cous is very good! We have a whole menu of it!

I really can’t I am sorry. Ok, have instead our special busiati with pancetta, mixed seafood and almond cream. I’d rather have the trapanese pesto? No, I insist. Have our special. OK.

Lunch at Syrah, San Vito Lo Capo, SicilyS

For mains, I queried the veal, I was curious. Well, yes, you could have that but have the local red tuna with almond. But, I am already having a seafood starter? I’d like the veal. No not the veal, have the tuna. His voice was fierce, he was determined, I faltered. OK.

Wine, I would just like a glass please of something local, perhaps a Nero d’Avola or a Grillo. Have  a chardonnay from a local grower, it’s very good. I have had that one already it wasn’t to my taste, no thank you. Do you have a Grillo? No, it’s ok you should have this chardonnay, it’s very good. But really, I don’t like it, I have had it already. Don’t worry I will pour you a glass, it’s fine.

I sat slightly anxiously, with a glass of wine that I didn’t like, watching the smiling people around me share their meals wondering what in the name of god have I signed up for. Two dishes I didn’t want were coming to my table. A glass of wine poked fun at my tastebuds. It felt like a hostage situation. I wanted to leave.

Lunch at Syrah, San Vito Lo Capo, SicilyS

The starter arrived. It was enormous. It smelled beautiful, of the sea with the sweetness of tomatoes and a nutty background. The pasta was so good, great firm texture and great flavour. So much fresh seafood and that pancetta was as good as I’ve had. The almond cream was terrific. It was all very good indeed but so big. What to do? I ate half, I just could not take any more and left it. I had been eating so much all week you see, judging the cous cous competition.

The waiter came to clear my table. Didn’t you like it? I did, I really did, but it was so big, I couldn’t finish it. That is a normal portion for us here, he said. I felt bad.

Dejected I awaited my tuna, wondering how I could digest it, and sipped my unwanted chardonnay watching the happy tables around me converse.

Lunch at Syrah, San Vito Lo Capo, SicilyS

The tuna came, in an almond crust with a wedge of lime. A little overcooked for me, I like it rare, it was nevertheless gorgeous and I ate every bit. Carb free too, I could just manage it with a green salad on the side to keep me hydrated.

No dessert, I was so full now, after 6 days of endurance eating, crowned with this very good, but very big meal. That was that.

A perfect Sicilian experience, great food, local specialties, told what to do. I want to recreate each dish and learn more about their cuisine, and go back.

The only thing I don’t forgive them is the wine, but I am glad that they forced me to try their specials, even if I did age a few years in the process.

If in the area, do go. It really is very good.

Syrah, Via Savoia 5, 91010 San Vito lo Capo, Sicilia, Italia
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In Pictures: XIII International Cous Cous Fest in Sicily

Cous Cous Festival, Sicily

Don’t you just love the Italians? So passionate and celebrating everything, there’s a whole week dedicated to cous cous in San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily.

Cous Cous? Italy? The West Coast of Sicily faces North Africa and has some culinary influences from there, one of them is cous cous. Proper cous cous, not this instant type we have in so many places here or the soggy one that hasn’t been cooked properly and has turned you off it. This was light and fluffy cous cous, nutty and airy, with seafood as a traditional accompaniment (in Italy). Unusual too, only one other place (I believe in Tunisia) has seafood with their cous cous.

Chefs from 9 countries gathered and over 2 days we judged the preliminary rounds of dishes. The jury, 8 Italians (from a 2* Michelin chef to a food journalist from La Stampa), 1 Belgian Food Blogger that lives in and blogs from Rome, and me. Persenting were 2 food tv presenters from Italy, there was a Cous Cous Talk Show every night, labs, and it had it’s own Cous Cous Radio Show. Really! There was so much energy and buzz surrounding it, I got a real kick out of being there. And I learned a lot. It was inspiring.

Here’s some pictures to whet your appetite. Just look at the intricacy of those dishes, and they cooked them for 120 people at a time.

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Cous Cous Fest

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Cous Cous Fest

Cous Cous Fest

Cous Cous Fest

Cous Cous Fest

Cous Cous Fest

Cous Cous Fest

Cous Cous Fest

Cous Cous Fest

Cous Cous Fest

Cous Cous Fest

Cous Cous Fest

Cous Cous Fest

Cous Cous Fest

Cous Cous Fest

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A Busiata: Pasta Fresca in San Vito Lo Capo

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I just love it when by accident you happen across somewhere special. Wandering home from Cous Cous Fest, tired and no longer able to deal with the crowds, I saw a little doorway with people lingering outside. I spied the sign “a busiata” outside, and then, lo, above the door, “Fresh Pasta”.

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I peered through the rope doorway and saw a gorgeous little space with a few shelves lined with choice products, a fridge full of glorious handmade pastas, and a counter with some more. Fresh cous cous with herbs and dried cous cous were available, this is the town of cous cous after all. Local almonds, biscotti and other Sicilian biscuits (there are a lot!) graced the counter top and behind it, the matriarch was making busiati. What luck!

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I waited my turn and attempted to communicate (I really need to learn Italian properly!). I wanted everything, but mindful of RyanAir’s ridiculous restrictions I bought 2kg of fresh busiati – 1kg white & 1kg green for €10. A steal. It’s absolutely gorgeous, it may sound weird to say that about a pasta shape, however, I am well versed having spent the last few days eating it and looking for the perfect one to take home. I bought some thinking I had found it only an hour previously, but now I have this. RyanAir can eat my shorts. I may regret that in the morning.

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Busiata is an extremely old pasta from the fusilli family found commonly in West Sicily, especially ion the Trapani area. Records indicate a birth date of about 1000 BC and it is considered the oldest handmade pasta. They were making it before Marco Polo returned from China. I have really enjoyed the mealy flavour and texture, it is really firm and toothsome and is great with the local Pesto Trapinese (I will post a recipe for this soon). I have also had it with Pesto a la Sarde (Sardine Pesto) and, just today with mixed seafood, pancetta and almond cream. I’ve also seen it on menus a la nonna, which is with aubergine and tomatoes with grated ricotta on top.

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I am going to have lots of fun with this when I go home. 2kg is a hell of a lot of lunches and dinners. I can’t wait though. Come back and see if I am saying the same by Thursday.

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From Top to Bottom: Hello Sicily!

Cous Cous Festival, Sicily

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I have been jesting that I have had all four seasons in one month and that is how I contracted a very early Winter cold this year. But, really, it is true. Sparkling summer in Lyon at 35° to London’s Autumn (let’s call it Spring for the story), bouncing over to Ireland for our all year round same season, save two weeks of Summer. Then to an early Winter in Lapland where we were in single digit evenings. Now, HELLO summer in Sicily.

Hot hot hot, bright skies, turquoise seas, mosquitos a-go-go. And we’ve hit Autumn today with lots, and lots, of rain. Thundering rain. Wake you from your sleep rain. Electrical blackout rain.Flood your hotel room rain. Yes, it’s very wet here this evening.

Fabulous though, I have loved every minute. I am never happier as when I am on the move exploring, trying new things, meeting new people, exploring new food cultures, trying new tastes. Generally successful although Tuna Salami is not my friend. Is it anyones? It actually beats Sweden’s fermented herring with its unexpected fishy power and grainy texture.

And so back to Sicily. I am in a small town called San Vito Lo Capo, home to the 13th Annual International Cous Cous Fest, where I am a judge this year. There are ten of us on the panel, from a 2* Michelin chef, to a food journalist from La Stampa, a travel journalist from Condé Nast Traveller and three bloggers, two Italians and me. What illustrious company! More on that later.

For now, let me tell you about Sicily. Rough and ready at times and achingly real, Sicily has preserved many of its customs. Driving from the airport locals harvest salt in the old manner, melons grow, vineyards and olive groves abound. In the mornings men sell vegetables from their vans to old ladies sitting outside their houses. 

Sicily grabs you by the throat and challenges you to disagree. The streets are full of gorgeous big flowers simple yet proud and brightly coloured. Cacti, bigger than I’ve ever seen, lime trees, berries. At streets the night smell of Jasmine, beautifully fragrant, like Jasmine tea but lighter, sweeter and more seductive. The sea whispers and glistens, people try to entice you to their restaurants, and the streets come to life quite late.

Here’s a selection of some photos, which will hopefully give you a taste of my experience. I am off to the Cous Cous Fest final now. All votes have been submitted. I am curious to see who wins.

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Nature Reserve outside San Vito Lo Capo

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Jasmine flowers gracing a nighttime balcony

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Morning fruit & veg deliveries

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Laid back

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Fun times

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Horse

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Cactus proudly displaying it's edible fruit

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Belly dancer (with candles on her head!)