After exploring Catania’s fabulous fresh produce in its markets, it was time to learn how to put it to use. We headed up into the foothills of Mount Etna to meet Monica Consoli, our guide through the delicious world of Sicilian cookery. Monica is the daughter of cookbook author Eleanora Consoli and our class took place in Eleanora’s lovely 18th century villa. Over drinks under the lemon trees in the garden, Monica explained how waves of invaders over the years brought new ingredients and cooking techniques to Sicily, but the Sicilian national identity always stayed strong.
For a coastal city, it’s strangely easy to spend time in Catania and forget the sea is even there. Most of the city’s seafront is filled with its busy harbour, but you don’t need to go far to get a taste of sea air. Just north of the city are a string of former fishing villages, where dark volcanic rocks formed by Mount Etna’s eruptions meet the clear turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea. Off the coast at Aci Trezza you can see three tall, rocky outcrops known as the Cyclops Islands.
Like a lot of people, before going to Sicily I’d assumed that as part of Italy it would have a similar cuisine to other areas of the country. But the food of this island is a lot more complex than that. Years of occupation have left it with a mix of influences, so you’ll find ingredients and dishes you’d expect to see in Greece, Spain or even North Africa.
As part of my mission to ‘Take 12 Trips’ in 2014, I’m taking at least one trip each month – which can be anything from a local day out to an international trip. So far this year my trips have taken me from the North of England to the souks of Morocco and then back to my old hometown of London. But May was my busiest travel month yet.