By BARBARA LAUTERBACH
I have just returned from 10 wonderful days on the island of Sicily. A land steeped in history and mythology, it is a crossroad of civilizations. The Greeks, Corinthians and Romans all contributed to its art, architecture and cuisine. Four important crops in Sicily are oranges, lemons, almonds and pistachios. We passed acres of orchards; the oranges hung heavily from the trees, not quite ready for harvest. We visited a chocolate shop, where dark chocolate-coated almonds and pistachio bars were sampled by our group and came home with many of us.
I participated in a cooking demonstration in Ragusa Ibla, where sardines were filleted, then rolled up with a stuffing of bread crumbs and herbs, sprinkled with lemon juice and baked. The sardines were from nearby waters. Each of the group took a turn at rolling the sardines. We had three surgeons in the group – they did the best work! I also attended a cooking class at the school of cooking of Anna Tasca Lanza, author of the wonderful cookbook “Coming Home to Sicily.” The chef demonstrated how to make a traditional Sicilian Dolce (dessert or sweet) Cassata, a very delicious cake for special occasions.
At the Biviere Estate, the ancestral home of the Borghese family, we were entertained for lunch by Virginia, the daughter-in-law of the Principessa Borghese. The Principessa and Virginia had written a cookbook of her memories of dishes from the estate’s kitchen. The recipe style is different, as there are no measurements, or number of servings; the Principessa says “leaving this task up to the “chef” to figure these things out after reading the description of the dish.” I have taken to liberty of estimating measurements for her recipe for potato and caper salad.
Potato and Caper Salad Biviere
Boil some potatoes (1 pound small potatoes) without removing their skin. When cooked (when pierced with knife and tender) then cut into round slices. Wash a nice handful (about 1/3 cup) of salt-packed capers under running water and in a sieve. When all the salt has been removed, add to the potatoes and dress with olive oil. (1/4 cup).
The Principessa concludes the recipe by saying “It is not a very well known salad, but a very appetizing one.” I ran it by several friends who happened to like capers and they approved wholeheartedly. This recipe would make a nice addition to a holiday buffet, and would hold well, since there is no mayonnaise. FYI, the caper is the flower bud of a bush that grows in the Mediterranean. You can see the bushes growing out of ancient stone walls in Sicily. The buds are picked, sun-dried, and then pickled in brine. They vary in size, the smallest being considered the finest. They can be packed in brine, or packed in salt.
They make a nice garnish on meat dishes.
Rolling the sardines