Sicily Roadtrip

As part of our 3-month trip around the Mediterranean last Fall, after Barcelona and Antibes, we took the train along the water to Genoa, then flew to the largest island in the Mediterranean: SICILY. I was excited to practice my rusty study-abroad Italian and visit a part of Italy I'd never been to. And I was eager to get some Sicilian recipe inspiration for my next book, #ForestFeastTravels!

 
 Aci Castello, Sicily (near Acireale)

Aci Castello, Sicily (near Acireale)

 

Sicily is wild and beautiful. Amazing ocean vistas, ancient seaside villages, citrus orchards, olive groves, vineyards, vibrant bougainvillea vines and stunning beaches. To me, its beauty lies in the fact that it's not super developed or polished. It's lush but also a little rough around the edges, with rich history and agriculture embedded into the landscape and culture.

We flew into Catania and out of Palermo and explored the north-eastern side of the island during our stay. Renting a car seemed to be the best way to get around (although driving was not always easy). We stayed first near Catania in Acireale, where I found a unique Airbnb apartment inside an 18th century villa. The villa was walled and took up what felt like a whole city block, with persimmon and fig trees in the garden, an expansive patio and a tiled outdoor kitchen. Although a decent hub for day trips,  I don't think we'd stay in Acireale again. It has a stunning historic downtown area, but it's much larger than we realized and difficult to drive in an out of.

 The outdoor kitchen at our Airbnb in Acireale.

The outdoor kitchen at our Airbnb in Acireale.

 Garden of our Airbnb villa in Acireale, Sicily.

Garden of our Airbnb villa in Acireale, Sicily.

 The patio and outdoor kitchen of the 18th Century villa we stayed at in Acireale.

The patio and outdoor kitchen of the 18th Century villa we stayed at in Acireale.

 This was not a pretty moment. In Acireale (a maze of oneway streets), GPS routed us down here. We folded the mirrors in and were inching along as cars behind us honked to hurry up. It seemed to get even more narrow up ahead, but we couldn't turn around.  I couldn't take my hand away from my gaping mouth! We knew to rent a small car, but we didn't realize HOW small. Somehow at the end of the trip we returned an unscratched car. Jonathan is one champ of a driver (and understandably, in the moment, he was NOT happy I took this photo! Ha!)

This was not a pretty moment. In Acireale (a maze of oneway streets), GPS routed us down here. We folded the mirrors in and were inching along as cars behind us honked to hurry up. It seemed to get even more narrow up ahead, but we couldn't turn around.  I couldn't take my hand away from my gaping mouth! We knew to rent a small car, but we didn't realize HOW small. Somehow at the end of the trip we returned an unscratched car. Jonathan is one champ of a driver (and understandably, in the moment, he was NOT happy I took this photo! Ha!)

 Acireale, Sicily

Acireale, Sicily

One of my favorite days in Sicily (and potentially of the entire trip) started and ended at the ocean, but midday, we were freezing atop the volcano of Mt. Etna. We started our drive near Catania and wandered through the rugged and rural countryside, past vineyards and dilapidated stone farmhouses. We saw orange trees spilling out everywhere and chestnuts for sale on the side of the road. We passed through the town of Bronte, known for its pistachios.  And Zafferana Etnea, known for its honey. We did a honey tasting at Oro di Etna and brought home some pistachio flavored honey that was delicious with cheese. Near Pedara, we pulled over to what we thought was a small convenient-type store and found that it was actually a wine cellar. Locals were lined up with big plastic water bottles to fill and take home. As we drove higher and higher, it was fascinating to see the landscape change and turn to snow. We barely made it up the mountain without chains, but finally parked and took a cable car to the peak which was FREEZING but offered a stunning view of the island and surrounding ocean. And, of course, they had more honey to taste at the lodge.

 Half way up Mount Etna

Half way up Mount Etna

 Honey Tasting on the way to Mt. Etna

Honey Tasting on the way to Mt. Etna

 After taking the cable car to the top of Mt. Etna

After taking the cable car to the top of Mt. Etna

 After going to the top of Mt. Etna, our day ended here, with a sunset walk on the water in Santa Maria La Scala (near Acireale).

After going to the top of Mt. Etna, our day ended here, with a sunset walk on the water in Santa Maria La Scala (near Acireale).

 The building that housed the "bring your own bottle" wine barrels (near Pedara). Two Euros a liter!

The building that housed the "bring your own bottle" wine barrels (near Pedara). Two Euros a liter!

 Inside: the wine barrels! There were 3: White, Red and Rosato.

Inside: the wine barrels! There were 3: White, Red and Rosato.

We also took a daytrip to the idyllic hillside town of Taormina, where we strolled the cobblestone main drag (with great shopping) and visited the ancient theater with a stunning ocean view. I ate Pasta alla Norma there which I am recreating for the book. The town is so pretty, it's a must-see.

 Taormina

Taormina

 Taormina

Taormina

 Plate for sale in Taormina

Plate for sale in Taormina

 Pasta alla Norma in Taormina. 

Pasta alla Norma in Taormina. 

 Taormina. (Max is 11 months and Ezra is 3)

Taormina. (Max is 11 months and Ezra is 3)

Next we headed to Cefalu, where we stayed in an oceanview Airbnb full of antique furniture for 4 days. I loved Cefalu. We could walk to the beach and the downtown area and although it was December, it didn't keep us from playing on the beach and even swimming in the ocean.  I loved wandering the narrow cobblestone streets of the historic area that runs along the water. Stay in this area if you can.  I'd recommend a drink or lunch (mainly for the view, the food is fairly basic) perched over the sand at Il Covo del Pirata. We really enjoyed our meal in the pretty garden at Galleria Restaurant. I thought their dishes were tasty and had interesting flavor combinations and presentation. 

 Our Airbnb in Cefalu

Our Airbnb in Cefalu

 in Cefalu with Max

in Cefalu with Max

 Jon swimming in Cefalu.

Jon swimming in Cefalu.

 Fruit and vegetable stand in Cefalu.

Fruit and vegetable stand in Cefalu.

 This roasted vegetable and cheese plate with honey and oregano (and potato!) at Galleria Restaurant in Cefalu has inspired a similar dish in my upcoming book.

This roasted vegetable and cheese plate with honey and oregano (and potato!) at Galleria Restaurant in Cefalu has inspired a similar dish in my upcoming book.

 Il Covo Pirata Restaurant in Cefalu.

Il Covo Pirata Restaurant in Cefalu.

 The historic area of Cefalu.

The historic area of Cefalu.

On a daytrip from Cefalu, we explored country roads in the mountains and even had to stop once for a herd of goats! We LOVED the nearby town of Castelbuono. The town itself is adorable and has a beautiful castle to to visit. Just outside of town, we had a memorable lunch by the fireplace at a farm/hotel called Agritourismo Bergi. We were the only guests and they cooked just for us with ingredients almost entirely produced onsite. After lunch we strolled through the citrus groves and saw the animals.

 Coffee stop in Castelbuono.

Coffee stop in Castelbuono.

 Exploring the castle in Castelbuono.

Exploring the castle in Castelbuono.

 Agritourismo Bergi, near Castelbuono.

Agritourismo Bergi, near Castelbuono.

 Persimmons and house-made wine for dessert at Agritourismo Bergi

Persimmons and house-made wine for dessert at Agritourismo Bergi

 Agritourismo Bergi

Agritourismo Bergi

 Orange grove at Agritourismo Bergi

Orange grove at Agritourismo Bergi

Even though the winter weather is mild, I'd love to go back to Sicily in Summer, and explore more of the island. 

 Sunset on the beach in Cefalu.

Sunset on the beach in Cefalu.

Arrivaderci, Italia!

After Cefalu, we flew out of Palermo to Lisbon. Stories from Portugal coming soon!

Yellow Squash Ribbon Quiche

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With 2 picky toddlers, lately we’ve been having what feels like weeknight dinner fails. Much of the food ends up on the floor and by the end someone is in tears (usually me, just kidding). I just assumed that since we eat so many vegetables our kids would love them too, but man was I wrong! We go through phases, and re-introducing things helps, but it’s not like they’ll sit down and eat a salad (yet!). I am fairly confident they will turn into vegetable-loving adults, but in the meantime I just want them to ingest something green (or yellow, or red). I don’t love the idea of sneaking the veggies into food, as I’d rather they know what they are having, but sometimes I just want to make sure some veg is making its way down. (That’s usually when I break down and make a peanut butter-banana-spinach smoothie for dessert.)

Our boys will never turn down scrambled eggs, and they don’t seem to mind or notice when I finely grate some yellow squash or even zucchini in there. This week I’m going to try this quiche on them (minus the herbs probably). Anyone have favorite toddler-approved veg dishes?! 

YELLOW SQUASH RIBBON QUICHE

6 eggs

handful grated cheese (any kind)

1/3 c milk (I use almond, but can be any kind. Cream or half-n-half will make it more rich and custardy)

a pinch of salt

one small yellow squash (crooked neck or zucchini shaped ones work)

store-bought pie crust

Mix the eggs, cheese, milk and salt in a bowl and pour the mixture into a pie dish lined with pie crust. (I don't pre-bake the crust because I don't mind it occasionally doughy at the bottom, but you could if you don't mind the extra step and time.) Use a potato peeler to make ribbons from one small yellow squash and lay them all around in the egg mixture, pressing them down a bit under the egg. Sprinkle fresh thyme on top, plus more salt and pepper if you wish. Bake at 375F for 35-40 minutes or until set.

 

 

Video: Nut-Free Charoset for Passover

We are hosting a big Passover seder this weekend and the cooking has already begun! For us, the traditional meal always includes charoset, a paste typically made of nuts and dried fruit with a symbolic meaning to the story told on Passover. This year we came up with a nut-free version that Ezra can take to his preschool seder. It's just 5 simple ingredients. Watch us make it on the deck and the recipe is below. Happy Passover!

Cherry-Date Charoset

1 c pitted dates

1 c dried cherries

1/2 c pumpkin seeds (shelled, roasted and salted)

1/2 c sunflower seeds (shelled, roasted and salted)

juice from 1 large orange

Blend all the ingredients in a food processor until mostly smooth, but some chunks remain. The consistency is up to you; feel free to make it as smooth as you like. If you want it creamier, you may want to add a bit more liquid (another orange, or a splash of water). It can be made a couple days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Spread it on matzah or eat it plain!

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We made this video to share with our friends at Interfaith Family, an organization that helps people engage in Jewish life. Learn more at interfaithfamily.com.

For more Forest Feast Passover recipes (including a Spiced Charoset and Spinach Farfel), check out this post!

Cooking with Friends in Barcelona

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During our month in Barcelona last Fall, some friends who live there invited us over to their house to cook together. Monica grew up in Barcelona and Ricky is from NYC but has lived in Spain for many years. Together they founded the company Delicious & Sons which includes a variety of Mediterranean products (developed by Ricky) including sauces, spreads, oils, vinegars and more, that are all organic, vegan and gluten free...and, well, DELICIOUS! I had fun cooking with them because they infused flavor into a simple dish so effortlessly.

Ricky and Monica have a stunning home – it's like an oasis in the city. Their sun-drenched chef's kitchen overlooks a dreamy backyard that makes outdoor entertaining seem easy. Outside they have a huge vine-covered table that they gather friends around regularly. Using their products we made some simple appetizers to enjoy outside one afternoon during our visit. And of course, I took lots of photos as we cooked.

 With Ricky & Monica in their backyard, eating what we made!

With Ricky & Monica in their backyard, eating what we made!

 Shooting on the stairs that lead out of their kitchen into the back yard.

Shooting on the stairs that lead out of their kitchen into the back yard.

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 We made Aioli Deviled Eggs using their Garlic Aioli with Lemon Zest and Basil. Ricky picked baby basil leaves in the back yard to garnish each egg.  Find the recipe here.

We made Aioli Deviled Eggs using their Garlic Aioli with Lemon Zest and Basil. Ricky picked baby basil leaves in the back yard to garnish each egg. Find the recipe here.

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 I wanted to make a caramelized onion crostini using D&S porcini mushroom tapenade. Ricky had the idea to top them with lime zest which really sealed the deal!  Here's the recipe for these Porcini Crostini.

I wanted to make a caramelized onion crostini using D&S porcini mushroom tapenade. Ricky had the idea to top them with lime zest which really sealed the deal! Here's the recipe for these Porcini Crostini.

 I fried up some eggplant strips in their kitchen (so envious of this stove & grill!!) to make some rolls with their sundried tomato pesto. These are so good I could eat a whole plate of them in one sitting.

I fried up some eggplant strips in their kitchen (so envious of this stove & grill!!) to make some rolls with their sundried tomato pesto. These are so good I could eat a whole plate of them in one sitting.

 Eggplant Rolls with D&S sundried tomato pesto, arugula & Manchego cheese.  Get the recipe here .

Eggplant Rolls with D&S sundried tomato pesto, arugula & Manchego cheese. Get the recipe here.

 So fun cooking together in this kitchen!

So fun cooking together in this kitchen!

 For dessert we made a simple sundae using their thick balsamic glaze over ice cream with fresh figs. So easy and tasty!  Find the recipe here.

For dessert we made a simple sundae using their thick balsamic glaze over ice cream with fresh figs. So easy and tasty! Find the recipe here.

 Thanks for having us, guys! Come to California!

Thanks for having us, guys! Come to California!

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QUICK RECIPES LINKS:

Aioli Deviled Eggs

Porcini Crostini

Eggplant Rolls

Balsamic Fig Sundaes

*This is not a sponsored post...these are just my friends and I love the cool food company they have created! And I think their products are really tasty. For the full blog post that Monica did on our day of cooking together that lists all my recipes and a short interview, click here.

And Click here to see where you can buy Delicious & Sons products (they are sold all over the NYC area, including Zabars). Some of their items are also on Amazon.