From Pino Cuttaia to Ciccio Sultano, from Mantarro to Toro to Ferreri for an excursus among the first of Trinacria
“Today the contemporary cook is the keeper of knowledge and traditions”. These are the words of chef Pino Cuttaia, two Michelin stars, patron of the restaurant La Madia in Licata, which we can only share. The chef has an important role because he is called to be the ambassador of the tradition, flavors and knowledge of the past, those of the farmer, the shepherd, the fisherman and of the entire supply chain represented in the ingredients that the chef wisely combines in his dishes. The restaurant is a real temple of culture: a place to learn about the history, customs and habits of the area. The restaurant thus becomes not only a sensorial but also an emotional enrichment, a tasty way to keep tradition and culture handed down. The tradition of first courses, for example, is a classic on the tables of Italians. And this tradition seems to date back to the times of the Greeks and Romans, given that there is ample evidence of the use of pasta as food. For each region you visit today, you can find an infinite variety of recipes for pasta and rice-based first courses. For example, in Sicily the production of pasta dates back to the times of ancient Rome. Being the island rich in grain, it served as the main supplier for the city. Let’s discover some of the traditional Sicilian first course recipes through some of the most important chefs on the island. An iconic first course of Sicilian cuisine is definitely Pasta alla Norma. A simple, typically Mediterranean recipe based on pasta, tomato, fried eggplant, salted ricotta and basil. The most accredited origin of this dish is linked to the homonymous work by Vincenzo Bellini (Italian composer, one of the most famous artists of the nineteenth century). In Sicilian Pasta alla Norma can be called in different ways including pasta cu sucu di mulinciani, pasta ca sassa and mulinciani or pasta câ Norma. And Pasta alla Norma is certainly one of the first courses offered by chef Pino Cuttaia, 2 Michelin stars of La Madia in Licata, in the Agrigento area. This dish represents a true synthesis of crafts and traditions that become the highest expression of the South. Chef Cuttaia has revisited this traditional first course, taking a cue from a double eggplant that he tasted in Milazzo, in the province of Messina. His Pasta alla Norma is called “Fuori Norma”. “This is because the Norma is a rule, almost a codified dish that must have a certain pasta shape, a certain type of eggplant, a certain type of ricotta. It is an iconic dish where the Norma is the norm. The only way to play together is to go outside the norm, “Cuttaia tells us. “So I did everything in reverse, putting the aubergine inside, using angel caps and on top with baked tomatoes and ricotta. For the aubergines, you must choose the “lighter” ones, that is, they contain little water and must be fried by immersion in olive oil, strictly in a pan, until they are golden brown. ” Another typical Sicilian first course is pasta with fish and fennel, two typical ingredients of the island. And this dish is one of the novelties of the summer menu of chef Ciccio Sultano, two Michelin stars of the Duomo in Ragusa Ibla. Half paccheri ai Beati Paoli, fish and rose scent: this is how Chef Sultano called this typical dish. Who the Beati Paoli were is not known exactly. There are those who say executioners of the poor, born in the twelfth century and those who, like the historian Pitre, are inclined to a criminal affiliation, born in Palermo in the Cuncuma garden, where there was a large tavern. The half paccheri prepared by the chef are homemade with proprietary bronze dies. “The catalyst element, the spark that gives life and meaning to the dish, is the encounter between wild fennel flower and rose. A combination that leads up, up, up. First pleasure, then joy or even love ”, says Sultano. “The presence of cloves gives that touch of spicy sweetness that reminds me of the cuisine of Sicilian convents”. In this first course there are many elements at play: the Arabian rose which also has the task of bringing a little light, hope and purity into the gray story of the Beati Paoli, the white sauce, the fish that enriches and softens recipe. Fennel, paired with prawns, is the ingredient chosen by another great Sicilian chef from among the many traditional first courses, which combines ingredients from the sea with those from the earth. This time we are talking about the spaghetti with prawns and fennel that chef Pietro D’Agostino, chef and patron of the starred restaurant La Capinera in Taormina, has always been offering on the menu of his restaurant, a real must, for almost 15 years. “From time to time it has undergone some variation on the theme. A rich dish that I have broken down and reassembled in my kitchen. Having laid bare the raw materials, I declined them in an essential key for a dish that is recognizable in every single ingredient, playing with a little creativity “, says the chef. “Today it is a dish of agnolotti in shellfish sauce. First of all, having replaced the spaghetti with a pasta prepared by me and stuffed with a shellfish pulp, we find the shellfish on the outside in a light and tasty sauce. The final touch of wild fennel, as tradition dictates, is given by an essential infusion, prepared by me, sprinkled at the end of preparation “. We continue this roundup of typical Sicilian first courses with another cult of the island’s tradition, pasta with tenerumi and zucchini. The tenerumi are vegetables that grow in the summer in Sicily. Both the leaves and the long courgettes are used from this plant. Many families use them on Mondays or Tuesdays after Sunday lunches to purify themselves. Roberto Toro, executive chef of the Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo with the Otto Geleng restaurant, one Michelin star, is particularly linked to this vegetable. “The best memory linked to this dish is linked to my mother. In fact, when I was little, she used to cook tubettini, a small pasta shape that she cooked in stew with these long zucchini, the leaves of the tenerumi, the Pachino tomato and fresh oil, which could never be missing on our table. ”Recalls chef Toro. “I decided to bring this ancient flavor back into a recipe, the” risotto with cuttlefish, tenerumi and crusco pepper “which is part of the menu of the Otto Geleng. Instead of proposing that pasta shape again, I decided to create a risotto with a tenerumi cream that I get by blending both a part of the long courgette and the leaves of the tenerumi, together with cherry tomato, chopped garlic and onion. With this cream, I go to whip the risotto which I then finish with a cuttlefish sauce and a very thin veil of cuttlefish, with wild herbs that create a mosaic inside the veil. ” And chef Nino Ferreri is also linked to this typical Sicilian vegetable, who tells us about his relationship with tenerumi. “Whenever summer begins, my head can only go straight to pasta (tinnirumi and cucuzza) with tenerumi and zucchini. Pasta with tenerumi is one of those dishes that takes me back in time ”continues the chef. “To be precise in my grandmother’s country house where I spent the whole summer with my little cousins. A rather funny detail about everything is that being a hot soup in the summer, when I ate it all together, we sweated a lot, but it was so good that we couldn’t do without it ”. Traditionally, pasta with tenerumi and courgettes is a pasta soup where “pizziato” (broken) spaghetti is used and is made with Sicilian long courgette and its leaves or the so-called tenerumi. The dish is completed with peeled tomatoes flavored with garlic and basil and a grated caciocavallo or ricotta salata. “I still love to eat at least once a week in the summer. It was from this rather funny detail that I decided to give a touch of freshness to the dish. It is a dish that I have been offering to my customers since 2019 and that every year in the summer menu I propose again trying to perfect it more and more “. Chef Ferreri has reinterpreted this traditional dish by making tortelli of fresh pasta and making them with a knife filling made with tenerumi, courgettes, garlic oil and anchovies. The tortelli are then cooked in a tenerumi broth, and served in front of the customer with a cold broth of peaks parcels made by putting pressure on the pachino tomatoes with garlic and basil. We could not fail to finish this journey in traditional Sicilian dishes with Arancino. The pride of the island’s cuisine, the rice arancino has been officially recognized and included in the MiPAAF list of traditional Italian food products (PAT). Its origins are lost in the memory of time, but every Sicilian doc is intimately linked to it. Just like the chef Massimo Mantarro, award-winning Sicilian chef of the gastronomic offer of the San Domenico Palace, Taormina, a Four Seasons Hotel. “I remember when I was a child I used to go to the nuns on Wednesday afternoons to play football and every week I collected the money to buy myself an arancino when I finished playing. Wednesday was the day of the arancino, of the reward ”recalls the chef. “And obviously this dish could not be missing from the two menus: with meat sauce, with carnaroli rice, with saffron for the Rosso restaurant and in a more gourmet version for Il Principe Cerami: vegetarian with a filling of white Syracuse potato”.