Today was Thanksgiving Day back home. After our breakfast buffet, our bus took us to to Sicily’s west coast, where we stopped to explore the ancient Greek site of Segesta, the location of a magnificent Doric temple and a hilltop theater. We enjoyed a light breeze as we hiked.
This was followed by a visit to the home of Maria Grammatica, Sicily’s most famous pastry chef. Because Maria’s mother could not care for her when her husband passed on in the early 1950’s, Maria was sent to live at an orphanage that was run by nuns. The sisters supported themselves by baking, and that is how Maria learned their baking secrets.
At Maria’s home, the buffet table before us was unbelievable. It contained platters filled with fresh ricotta, eggplant alla parmigiana, eggplant caponata, caprese salad, roasted potatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, a vegetable couscous, arancini stuffed with either prosciutto and cheese or with meat and veggies, olives both green and cured, stuffed peppers, sun dried tomatoes, bruschetta, cauliflower fritters, a vegetable frittata, and a platter of cheeses and cold cuts. This was quite a Thanksgiving meal! My ancestors would never have left Sicily if such a bountiful feast had been available to them!
After the feast, I picked up a copy of Maria’s biography/cookbook. I came to a recipe called Biscotti al Fico, fig biscuits. It begins, “Fig-filed biscuits like these are made all over Sicily at Christmas-time, but they are known by different names, such as cudderedde, nucatoli, and bucellatini.” Nucatoli! My name! My cookie! There it was! With great excitement, I showed the page to Nick. I ran to Maria and explained (in Italian; she speaks no English) that my name was Nucatola, like the nucatoli cookies. I ran to the others in our group to share my excitement. My wish had been fulfilled!
Next came a baking lesson. I was the first volunteer. Maria made her own almond paste in an enormous machine. We made two kinds of cookies. The first was made of almond paste rolled in sugar, called “Nuns’ Tits.” The recipe is not in Maria’s book. The second, very similar, is called “Belli e Brutti”meaning Beautiful and Ugly. I do have that recipe. After that, we made cannoli with fresh ricotta, decorated with homemade candied orange peel. Although we had just consumed an enormous meal, we had to taste both cookies and the cannoli. They were heavenly!
Soon it was time to leave Maria’s house for the bus ride to the town of Erice. We noticed that the light breeze was now a fairly strong wind. Upon departing the bus, the wind was even stronger, at least 40 mph with higher gusts. Still, we knew that on our tour, we would be out in all kinds of weather. Several of us braved the wind and the uphill climb, deciding to hike to the summit, where the Castello di Venere stood. The castle was built by the Normans in the 12th century over a Temple of Venus built by the ancient Elymians. We pulled each other the final few steps to the castle, feeling a sense of accomplishment because we had achieved our goal, only to discover that the castle was locked! We made our way through the town and found Maria’s bakery shop among the few stores that were open because of the lack of tourists. We reached our bus, and off we went to Trapani.
I would describe Trapani as a “designer” beach resort town. It was filled with a juxtaposition of ancient churches and very contemporary shops and restaurants. We learned that our hotel was once a convent. We decide to explore the town. We ran into two other couples from our group, Barbara and Bob from California, and Carol and Wendell from Canada. All of us decided to search for gelato, but we discovered that only one restaurant had seating for the six of us. Although a few hours earlier we had eaten enough to feed a village, Nick and I shared a smoked fish platter and Prosecco.
Nick said there was a dramatic storm during the night with lots of lightning and thunder. I heard nothing. We took more than 13,000 steps and climbed the equivalent of 111 flights of stairs that day!