Sicily has been on my mind. Both my maternal grandparents came from Sicily, but I never met that grandfather, Antonio, who died before I was born. My maternal grandmother, Francesco, died when I was nine years old. Interestingly, it is because of my grandfather’s early death that Michele and I were able to obtain our Italian citizenship: he never became an American citizen, which qualified us to become citizens of his country. Sicily, the place one set of my grandparents left, was my key to becoming officially Italian!
We know my dad’s Italian family well: we have spent lots of time with our wonderful cousins in the town, Senigallia, on the Adriatic coast in Le Marche, that my paternal grandfather left in 1911 to seek his fortune in America. But my mother’s family in Italy has always been a bit of an unknown.
That’s all about to change this September: We have been invited to the wedding of a lovely cousin on our mother’s side of the family: an authentic Italian–no, Sicilian–wedding! Lots of family will be there too, of course, including many we have never met, so we are beyond excited for this reunion and celebration of a new couple, which will take place on Sicily’s north coast not far from the town where my maternal grandparents met, were wed, and left to come to America.
The last time I visited Sicily was a long time ago and I really don’t remember it. Both Michele and I are looking forward to soaking up the food and wine culture. We are carefully planning our trip to avoid the potential (read: probable) “White Lotus, Season 2” crowds. That show was largely filmed in Taormina, so we will definitely avoid that part of the island. (Fortunately we all visited Taormina briefly in 2007, so there are plenty of other wonderful places to see.)
Sicilian-American food was all around me growing up, so it will be very interesting to see what Sicilian food looks like today in modern Italy. Friends who have traveled there recently, and have palettes I trust, tell me that some of the best food and wine in Italy is now Sicilian. What I remember most from my Italian-American upbringing are cannoli and Sfincione (Sicilian Pizza). Summer rice salad and cassata (cake) are also from Sicily.
Sicily is also well known for sweet-and-sour dishes. That flavor profile is the inspiration for this recipe. Thought to have come from the Arabs, sweet (raisins and pine nuts) and sour (lemons, olives, capers) have worked their way into favorite Sicilian dishes like caponata, or beef (or swordfish) involtini.
In the summertime, I enjoy the simple cooking of a roasted or grilled chicken and a nice light-but-flavorful vegetable. Sicilian flavors can transform an otherwise-pedestrian vegetable dish into a beguiling treat. This sweet-and-sour preparation of Romanesco broccoli surely fills the bill.
Romanesco broccoli is in the cabbage family and a close cousin to standard broccoli. It has been known throughout the Roman countryside (hence the name). You could substitute standard broccoli or cauliflower for this preparation. Also, pine nuts have gotten very expensive and travel a long way to get to the U.S.A. The last batch I bought came from Mongolia. So feel free to substitute raw pistachios.
- 1 head Romaneso Broccoli, florets cut from stem
- 3 good quality oil packed anchovies
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely
- ¼ cup golden raisins, plumped in hot water, drained and chopped
- ¼ cup raw pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry skillet (1)
- 1 lemon, cut in half
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat an oven to 400℉.
- In a bowl, liberally coat the Romanesco broccoli with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Onto a sheet pan (optionally covered with parchment paper), spread out the prepared broccoli into a single layer. Roast for about 45-minutes turning over about midway through the cooking. Roast until lightly browned all over.
- Meanwhile in a skillet large enough to old the broccoli prepare the seasoning. Heat 2 tbsps of olive oil in the skillet over medium-low heat. Add anchovies and break them up with the back of a wooden spoon. When they are dissolved in the oil, add the chopped and lightly brown. Then add the prepared raisins and olive oil and stir to incorporate. Remove from the heat.
- When the Romanesco broccoli is cooked, add it and any accumulated oil to the skillet with the seasonings. Juice a lemon into the mixture and toss to combine.
- Serve hot or at room temperature.
(1) when toasting pine nuts in a skillet, closely watch them because they burn fast and also remove them to a bowl from the hot pan when done