That is international cuisine
A cooking workshop with Sue Style – savouring Sicily in Alsace as presented by an Englishwoman.
By Shirley L. Kearney, Photos: Sue Style
In the first 2014 issue (Nr. 13, from page 28) of The Basel Journal, an interview with food and drink writer Sue Style mentioned among other things the workshops that Sue holds at home. My husband Kevin and I recently attended one such programme, which featured the cuisine of Sicily. Sue and her family had just returned from a visit to the island, where they had mainly devoted their time to exploring the food markets with the abundant fresh fish and vibrantly coloured vegetables, and subsequently basking in their freshness and flavour.
Sicilian cuisine has a multi-cultural history owing to the many foreign occupations of the island, which it luckily survived and from which we now benefit: the Greeks brought honey, capers, figs, walnuts and pomegranates; the Arabs planted artichokes, lemons, aubergines, limes, pine nuts, sugarcane and pistachios, and figured out how to make ice cream. The Spanish brought chocolate, squash, tomatoes, peppers and cactus on heavily laden ships from Mexico. When the Spanish Royal Court moved to Palermo, French chefs arrived. Sardines and swordfish are “locals”. In 1861 Sicily unified with Italy, ushering in both a retro and a new trend in edible delights.
The nine participants who signed up for the Savouring Sicily workshop were from Australia, Denmark, Sweden, the USA, Ireland and the UK. Seated around the table, we began discussing while leafing through the extensive seven-dish menu Sue had formulated. After we had noted and lingered over the recipes, enthusiasm and inspiration ignited. The regrouped cooking partners then trekked into the kitchen to don aprons and arm themselves with various utensils, the knife being the most important. The chopping sounds against the wooden boards, accompanied by “oohs” and “aahs”, supplied our music in the spacious and airy kitchen which opens out onto the garden where herbs and chili peppers were plucked. The challenge began. Roasted pumpkin; a salad or stew-type mixture of artichokes, peas and beans; sardines filled with breadcrumbs (a staple in Sicily); a caponata; and a squid ink pasta: all these comprised the antipasti segment of the workshop. A delightful stew of lamb with fennel served as the main dish; and homemade peach ice cream cushioned on half a brioche (the Sicilians’ preferred breakfast food) topped off the menu.
After the chopping, slicing, mixing, stirring, tasting, timing and washing-up, we cheered ourselves with a freshly mashed peach Bellini, after which we “plated” our creations and returned to our positions in the dining room. Sue was always on hand, ready to answer the many questions and to chop and assist. Comfortably seated and hungry, we savoured a Sicilian white and red (purchased locally) that complemented our successful gastronomic adventure. Constructive criticism and praises were tossed around. A pleasantly buzzing atmosphere enveloped us. And the end result deserves comment on the homepage.
Sue commented: “Yes, we flew to Catania from Basel and stayed near Donnalucata, about an hour and a half south of Catania, close to Scicli, Modica, Ragusa – and the sea! The whole family loves to cook (and eat…) and we always do self-catering so we can raid the local markets – the fish market in Catania is spectacular and there was also a small one in Donnalucata, 5 minutes from the villa, with fresh fish every morning (swordfish, tuna, prawns, sea bass, squid…). With local olive oil, tomatoes, aubergines/eggplant and basil from the villa garden, we had all we needed. Otherwise the gelaterie were right up to expectations and we even did the obligatory gelato with brioche for breakfast one morning in Ragusa Ibla, sitting on the square where much of the Montalbano police series was filmed. Magic!”