The Sicilian Cleanse Diet

Cubist Taormina

Six nights on Sicily went by so fast.  We had two nights each in three locations:  Syracuse, Taormina, and Palermo.  I think the most resonant take away from this frenetic island is the astounding natural beauty.  The sea had just a few more shades of turquoise and cerulean than I usually see, and Mt. Etna is a show stopper, though I am partial to volcanic mountains.  Sicily is also odd, though; may I say it?  It has such interesting underpinnings of the many cultures that have dominated it over the millennia:  Greeks, Normans, Spaniards, Arabs, and Romans, but there is also a haunting spirit of callousness.  Development has been marred by a profusion of 70s era apartment blocks and lavish private homes have been plunked onto precious partitions of real estate like beautiful dot islands and precipitous cliff sides.  It felt like some people have a lot of privilege and others try not to mind. I could certainly see the sweet Sicily through it, but I had to focus.

The food was also simpler than I had anticipated.  Unlike the plattered feasts one might have elsewhere in Italy, we had small plates of fried fish, straight forward bowls of pasta, and sometimes, very thinly sliced fried or grilled meat.  Some restaurants had an antipasto buffet and there we found delicious grilled and marinated vegetables which I loved.  Overall, though, we didn’t overeat and got lots of exercise.  It was just yesterday, spending 9+  hours on the ferry crossing, that put us into a food comma.  Having to be in the ferry line in Palermo at 7:00 AM and getting off in Tunis around 9:00 PM, we had to pack food to eat all day.  The easy solution was dried meat like salami and prosciutto, cheese, fruit, and bread.  We had excellent  quality of each, but by the fifth round of hitting the food bag, we couldn’t face another bite of salty meat and even that pistachio studded pecorino had turned soft and unappetizing.  Allan and I both woke up with a headache this morning and agreed that some simple low fat, low salt meals, including lots of greens from our garden, was how we wanted to eat this week.  This recipe from Donna Hay was a delicious tonic meal while still being a little bit Sicilian.

Chicken Meatball Soup

Chicken and Pecorino Meatball Minestrone

  • 500g ground chicken
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino
  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind
  • Sea salt and cracked black pepper
  • 3/4 cup ricotta
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/5 liters chicken stock
  • 200g small pasta
  • 500g hardy greens (like Swiss chard, beet greens, or mustard), trimmed and roughly chopped

Place the ground chicken, egg, pecorino, parsley, lemon rind, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well to combine.  Fold through the ricotta and, using wet hands, roll tablespoons of the mixture into balls.  Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large, deep frying pan over high heat.  Add the meatballs and cook in batches, turning frequently, for 5-8 minutes or until browned.  Remove the meatballs from the pan and set aside.  Wipe the pan clean, add the remaining oil and garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes or until lightly browned.  Add the stock, increase the heat to high and bring to the boil.  *Add the pasta and meatballs, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and cook for 10-12 minutes or until the pasta is just al dente.  Add the greens, cover, and cook for 1-2 minutes or until wilted.  Divide the soup between serving bowls and top with extra pecorino.

*I knew we wouldn’t eat this all in one sitting, and I didn’t want the pasta and other ingredients to get soggy in the broth, so I cooked just enough pasta separately in well-salted water, then heated the broth, greens, and meatballs for two servings, pouring it over the pasta.

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