Sicily Part I: wining and dining

I escaped from London’s autumn weather last weekend and found myself in mafia-land – sort of. The Italian’s best friend’s girlfriend (close connection there) has published a book and its topic was discussed at a conference in Mazara del Valle in Sicily this weekend. We thought it was a cause to celebrate and flew over.

As per usual we wanted to explore one thing in particular: the food.

At Ajello Winery we went on a wine tasting tour and got to explore the distillery. As the tour was in Italian (and it didn’t feel like the 50+ vintner would appreciate a demand for a bilingual presentation), I picked up things here and there. This year is supposed to be a good one for Ajello, the grapes are of high quality, although there were fewer grapes than expected due to the hot weather.

Stefi (the Italian’s best friend’s girlfriend, who really deserves a name rather than an impersonal presentation), had arranged for us to eat at the vineyard. A 3-course meal was prepared by Sicilian ladies who looked like they knew what they were doing in the kitchen, and we ate in a very atmospheric converted farm house. Salvatore Ajello, the owner and Dottore, was present at dinner and told us passionately about his wines. I wish my Italian language skills were better so I could give an account of… basically anything.

After 7 different wines (including a particularly citrusy dessert wine), it’s fair to say we were all merry and conversation levels had increased ever so slightly. We were served juicy green olives together with a caponata (a Sicilian aubergine dish) as tempting starters. Bread was plentiful and beautifully soft. Then in came the pasta, cooked with tomatoes, parsley and basil. Simple does it.

The Italian turned towards me and said “they’ve done something really bad to the pasta”. I suspected they’d buried a dead mouse in there, but that wasn’t the case. They’d cut the spaghetti, which by the look of the Italian’s face (and stabbing movements to the heart) deserved nothing less than capital punishment. The pasta to me, however, was great.

The lunch continued with, I’m guessing here, homemade fennel sausages and a salad that was so crispy and fresh you could just eat that for your mains, although I wouldn’t want to miss out on the sausages.

So how much did this grand party cost? If I say €30, do you believe me? One word: go. And bring your Italian dictionary.

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