Tag Archives: sicily

this isn’t just chocolate…this is Aztec chocolate

You’ve just opened a packet of Galaxy chocolate. Or Lindt. Or Cadbury. You can choose which.

You snap off a square (or in my case 4), right on the “break here” line and prepare to chomp. As the chocolate melts in your mouth and the sweet taste cascades down your throat, you become aware of a claggy, sugary coating over your tongue that screams give me more. How many times have we obeyed that apparently not so obvious voice? Yes, it is the cry of fat.

Modica Chocolate, hailing from Modica, Sicily, is a chocolate made without cocoa butter or soy lecithin, ingredients that all the major chocolate brands have in common. Instead, it is made using the traditional Aztec recipe of cacao beans, sugar and flavourings such as vanilla, pepper or sea salt.

Modica is in the South of Sicily in the Val di Noto in the Ragusa area. The Aztec way of making chocolate dates back to the 16th century and was brought over during the Spanish rule of the island who originally found the cacoa beans in Mexico. The method involves cocoa beans being roasted on an instrument called a “metate” (a curved stone resting on two supports), which was then heated. The beans were ground with as stone rolling pin to produce a paste. The cocoa paste was then flavored with spices, vanilla being the most common but also with red pepper, cinnamon and many other spices and local herbs. After, the mixture was rubbed on the metate until it became hard. To avoid having to grind the beans each time, they prepared a paste of cocoa using a small amount of water and corn as a thickener. The production process is considered almost cold at roughly 30-40C  but allows the chocolate to retain its grainy texture, which the chocolate is famous for.

The resulting product is dark brown in colour with a coarse, grainy texture; delightful on your tongue. The taste is less sweet than typical chocolate and is more satisfying and enjoyable. For milk chocolate lovers, don’t fear! cocoa content varies but the taste is not as strong as 70% dark chocolate and lighter flavourings like vanilla are popular with the milk-chocolate fans. The earthy grains of sugar add to the unique texture and taste.  Traditional flavours are vanilla and hot chilli pepper but today one can also buy carrubba, salt, orange peel and nutmeg as well as many others. In past times people also melted the chocolate as a drink or dipped bread into it.

After trying this chocolate I can safely say that I will never enjoy supermarket-chocolate in quite the same way again. After staying in Sicily, I brought some Modica chocolate back with me; my favourites are the carrubba and sea salt – both have an additional crunch that complements the grainy texture so well. You don’t want to stuff your face with square after square because there is no added fat to manipulate your body. Instead you can nibble away at a fantasically rich and textured treat and yes, you will want more, but because it’s simply so damn good.

You can buy Modica Chocolate online, including taster bars, but why bother with a sample? This isn’t just chocolate; it’s not even M&S chocolate. This is real chocolate.

Links: http://modicachocolate.co.uk/products/ciokarrua/salt-chocolate/

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Shell the Extras: Pepe’s, Letojanni, Sicily

The Godfather of Letojanni, that’s what my friend said Pepe was. The man in question owns a seafood restaurant perched on the coastal road in Letojanni, Sicily. You can see from the photo that the view, including Pepe’s yellow boat, is nothing but picturesque.

Under the white marquee where diners can sit to admire the view, the plastic tables and the blue, yellow and red colour scheme clash a little, bunches of flowers and potted plants adding a floral touch that keeps the atmosphere fresh and natural.

The staff were friendly, happily joining tables together to accommodate us. The menu is mostly seafood – a must have in the fishing haven of Sicily – but one can also have steak, a variety of pasta dishes and pizzas. Would it be an Italian if you couldn’t?

Plates piled high with prawns and calamari went down a treat, the fried breadcrumbs just golden and crunchy. The prawns, fully shelled, were generous and tender. Fat sardines were the star of their own dish, best accompanied with a portion of pommes frites, though these were disappointingly average chips one can get at a takeaway. The seafood salad would be my recommendation: tiny shrimps hidden in between rings of slightly rubbery squid while a heap of mussels perched precariously on the edge, most of which were fresh and fine. The steak was decidedly not so good, though if one prefers meat or vegetables there are plenty of beach-side restaurants dotted within 2 minutes walk. The major disappointment was the swordfish and aubergine pasta, or spaghetti pucinella. The spaghetti portion was well worth the €13 though the meagre cubes of swordfish were sparse. The fish itself, a Sicilian speciality, was cooked perfectly but the tomato and oregano sauce overpowered it and was far too watery to take to the pasta anyway. The aubergine added a touch of colour though was slightly mushy.

Vanilla gelato arrived promptly, the flecks of vanilla spotting the perfect spheres of ice cream. Rich, creamy and not too sweet, it was a welcome dessert. The staff provided clean plates throughout the meal for those with fishy fingers and the traditional basket of bread was also present.

It’s a choosy restaurant. For the fresh fish, I’d probably go. The prices vary from €13 to €30 so you get what you pay for. For pasta, meat and pizza I think I’d go elsewhere, despite the fish it can be served with; they’re extras for the non-seafood people and can be served better. Is Pepe the godfather of Letojanni? For fish lovers, I suppose so, but don’t be afraid to check out the competition nearby.

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Ciao Ciao: but with food this good, it wont be for long!

Dining at Ciao Ciao is the perfect way to relax in the cool evening sunshine of Letojanni, Sicily. The kitchen is set in a typical pastel-coloured building nestled between hotels and restaurants on the seafront but diners can cross the road to sit under a marquee on decking above the beach, looking out across the sea. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

And what’s better is, it doesn’t go wrong. Friendly staff, who speak a good level of basic English, are delighted to help and accommodate you. Drinks were followed by a plate of antipasto; a crust of bruschetta for each guest topped with fresh diced tomatoes, herbs and a dash of olive oil. It was crunchy and refreshing at the same time, and at no charge either.

Mains were a mix of portion sizes and prices. A €6.50 calzone was like a whopping pasty, bursting with strong mozzarella cheese that oozed out of a slightly blackened but soft dough, amidst chunks of tomato and ham. Hugely filling, we couldn’t finish it between 3 of us, but worth every penny.

Spaghetti Arrabbiata, listed as a typical Sicilian dish, was sprinkled with parsley, the hot peppers and onions adding a spicy kick in the back of your throat, living up to the dish’s name. Typical of Sicily too, the portion was adequate without overdoing it.

The seafood pasta was a king prawn, still shelled, and a generous portion of mussels. For an island whose fresh fish is renowned, the mussels weren’t fantastic, though the prawn was fat and tender; good for a non-seafood-specialist restaurant. Again, extremely filling, but spotted with hunks of tomatoes and onion to add flavour.

Finally, a steak was cooked beautifully and served atop a bed of slightly wilted looking greens. The dish was sparse but went down well, though perhaps a little expensive.

No service charge was added though we felt the prompt attention deserved it and we enjoyed a thoroughly relaxed and traditional evening. Great value so if you’re out there be sure to swing by.

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Hotel Akrabello – A Tourist’s Hotel

We kicked off with dinner at the Hotel Akrabello in Agrigento in the south of Sicily. In a rose-clad dining room, suited waiters glided around large round tables. Baskets of small, seeded rolls were crunchy but soft and almost sweet on the inside and bottled water was readily provided.

To start, came macaroni pasta in a tomato and aubergine sauce. The pasta was a little tough and chewy in places but mostly tender. The aubergines were wonderfully fresh, if a little overdone, and the whole dish was seasoned well, bringing out the more positive elements.

The main was more disappointing. Butter-flied chicken breasts were served up beside scoops of greasy, slightly soggy chips. The chicken was golden-brown and tender, surprisingly nice, while the chips were those awful representatives of the name; the twice removed cousin of the skinny frie and the fat, fluffy chip-shop chip, these were the cardboard type served up in fast-food chicken shops that barely qualify as chips.

Dessert came along in a more authentic style. It was a kind of frozen nougat, sprinkled all the way through with crushed almonds which combined well with the cool vanilla. A creamy dessert with a rather strange taste but definitely an enjoyable alternative to ice cream.

From a typical tourist hotel, I suppose dinner was passable, though something rather more native and fresh would have been appreciated.

Moving not too swiftly onto breakfast. Selection was limited but included the expected sugared croissants and bread rolls along with the variety of jams, honey and chocolate spread. The juice was more akin to the British style though thicker and with a slightly appealing bitter tang. A passable meal but lunch out was something to look forward too.

Dinner the second night began with penne pasta in a tomato sauce, worringly similar to the Heinz canned type. Seasoning was lacking and the sauce baby-puree smooth. Main course came as a pork escalope; thinly sliced, lean and very tender with the skin bordering on too hard but it was better than being soft. Accompanying the pork was peas and bacon though the bacon was dark in colour and hardly flavoursome but the peas were appetising and just firm to bite.

Finally to finish came the Italian version of mille feuille, or millefoglie in Italian. A light sponge, similar to madeira cake, atop which sat layers of cream and flaky pastry. It wasn’t as rich as the French delicacy but no worse because of it. It was light and fluffy, the wafer crumbling inside the cream. Very filling but certainly satisfying.

So, would I dine or stay here again? Dine, probably not, though one must remember they were cooking for a group of 37 and may have altered their menu; still, fresher cuisine and more interesting flavours or ingredients would definitely have lifted the meal. One for the tourists who love a good hotel pool and a tasty dessert.

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Hotel Athenaeum, Palermo

The modern, comfortable reception interior of Hotel Athenaeum is a welcome break from the oppressive Sicilian summer. Meals are served in a laid-back, red-tiled dining room, wooden tables and chairs spotted about the space, more traditional than the welcome-desk but pleasant nonetheless.

Breakfast is a buffet; cereals and tinned pears or sugar-dusted croissants complimented by an array of potted jams. A cherry tart was also available, the lattice pastry golden-brown and the deep red cherries ripe but just tart in taste. An interesting mix but it appealed to all tastes, and white bread rolls or packaged golden husk biscuits completed the mix of fresh and classic hotel.

The coffee machine beat expectations, doling out rich dark coffee, perfect with a small sprinkling of sugar. Orange juice was un-diluted and much sweeter than the English variety; thick but not gloopy and very popular amongst guests. Service was non-existent but even that was welcome as everything was laid out neatly and clearly, allowing a relaxed mood.

Overall, tasty, but it was neither in keeping fully with the traditional style of the hotel, nor had it gone the whole continental hog. Depends on what you prefer but I’d say more traditional would have worked better given the simple rooms and dining room decor.

Dinner is always difficult when it comes to 41 diners in a hotel but at the Athenaeum it was done with subtletly and speed, although a little touch of personality wouldn’t have gone amiss.

To start was a small serving of a style of rigatoni pasta with cubes of pork and a rich tomato sauce. Tasty, not too oily, though the pasta was a little rubbery. To follow was a small burger, and going by the taste, it was beef. Colour-wise it was rather pale, admittedly unappealing smattered with the green faces of herbs. A bit of a cheesy taste came from the burger, though there was no cheese in it and it could have done with being a little hotter. To accompany it was a mixed salad of lettuce and tomato dressed in vinegar. It was overdressed and decidedly inconsistent between dishes. To round off the main course was a basket of bread topped with sesame seeds; fresh and strong in taste and a lovely addition.

Again, an interesting medley, though I think quality wise breakfast definitely won. Added to the friendly staff and handy location in Palermo (by the university) I would recommend the Athenaeum to those who like the simple and the comfortable traditional.

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Le grotte del kemonia, Palermo

Any pizzeria that welcomes a foreign group of 41 diners at half past midnight deserves recommendation. But it wasn’t just the friendly, albeit blunt Sicilian hospitality, it was the fanatstic pizzas.

As you enter, you have a clear view of the huge wood-fire oven, the traditional way to cook pizzas so the bottoms come out all lovely and charcoal-black. And they do, too. While sitting on wooden tables set amongst the stone interior lit by soft wall lamps, one can choose from roughly 30 pizzas, all topped with simple but choicy ingredients.

A Margherita was served with a rich tomato sauce, creamy mozzerella oozing hot in the middle. A second pizza of Bruschetta was topped with fat fresh tomatoes, a sprinkling of oregano and garlic and finally a dash of olive oil; the spice was just right. The base was delicately thin under the generous toppings, the crust pillowy yet crispy in all the right places. Proscietto on yet another combination was thinly sliced, a beautiful shade of pink as it lay folded amongst white dollops of cheese.

The service was fast and friendly, a familiar atmosphere created in the traditional downtown pizzeria.

I haven’t eaten extensively in Sicily but I know a good pizzeria from a bad one and a tasty, classic pizza from a anglo-ised one. And this pizzeria is definitely a good one.

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