marzipan
Marzipan in shop window.

Silly us! We thought we were going to Italy.

Don’t be fooled, like we were, by the passport stamp when you step into Palermo or Catania. You aren’t in Italy anymore. Not really. Geographically Sicily’s closer to Tunis than Rome. And its culture and cuisine looks North Africa straight in the eye, with Italy somewhere off in its peripheral vision.

We landed in Catania and realized things would be different when we arrived at the Hertz office. First, it was a metal shed. And an un-airconditioned one at that . Secondly, the man at the desk was endlessly polite and cheerful despite our impatience with a problem. Note: In our defense, we were right. And thirdly, two employees (employees??!) hammed for the camera:hertz-employees

Ah, la dolce vita!

No doubt the island is swarming with tourists in summer. But in the old town of Ortygia in October (our first stop and the most “Italian” of our trip), the only swarms we saw were locals on the Piazza Duomo on Sunday night– families eating dinner, middle-aged couples strolling with friends, kids playing soccer, teenage girls flirting with the boys. It was the social event of the weekend, with everybody checking out the scene. It reminded us of Friday night high school football in Texas.

piazza-family Men at Duomo Ortygia

siracusa-duomo-night-wp

Ortygia Cathedral at Dusk

Ortygia at night

And, oh, to be a 12 year old on a skateboard on Via Cavour. Think they know how cool they look?

Ortygia skateboard boyOrtygia skateboard boy

 

And the food! Mountains of biscotti, cannoli and tortas in the pasticceria windows. Pasta and fish on the restaurant plate. Gelato and granita for sale on the street….All with a history. And the ice cream’s not just for tourists, thank God!

Nun

One thing we learned fast is that ricotta in Sicily bears little resemblance to the grainy glob we get in the U.S. The real thing is delicious– soft in texture, sweet and more akin to cream than cheese. It’s made from whey leftover from the cheese-making process, thus its nickname, “the cheese that isn’t a cheese.”

This super-easy recipe replicates the taste of real ricotta. We may never use the store-bought version again. Sì, che è buono!

Homemade Ricotta
Author: Adapted from [url href=”http://smittenkitchen.com/” target=”_blank”]Smitten Kitchen[/url]
Serves: Makes 3 cups
Ingredients
  • 2 quarts whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Instructions
  1. Line a large sieve with 3-4 layers of cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl.
Thermometer Method
  1. Using a kitchen thermometer and a large heavy pot, slowly bring milk, cream, and salt to 190 degrees, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.
  2. Remove from heat. Add the lemon juice, then gently stir it once or twice. Let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.
  3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow to drain. After one hour, it will be a soft spreadable cheese. Draining it longer produces a firmer cheese.
  4. After draining, eat ricotta immediately or cover, refrigerate and use within 3-4 days. Discard the whey or [url href=”http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2011/06/16-ways-to-use-your-whey.html” target=”_blank”]use it[/url] for something else.
If you don’t have a thermometer
  1. Slowly bring milk, cream and salt to a rolling boil in a large heavy pot, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.
  2. Add lemon juice, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture curdles, about 2 minutes.
  3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined* sieve and allow to drain. After one hour, it will be a soft spreadable cheese. Draining it longer produces a firmer cheese.
  4. After draining, eat ricotta immediately or cover, refrigerate and use within 3-4 days. Discard the whey or [url href=”http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2011/06/16-ways-to-use-your-whey.html” target=”_blank”]use it[/url] for something else.
Note: Although you can use any cheesecloth you have on hand, a loosely-woven cloth seems to allow better draining and a good consistency for the ricotta.

 

Ricotta
Ricotta

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