Nearly five weeks to the day, I did what I try and do every time a birthday comes around – (OK, this year I admit, as a leap year, it wasn’t a real one) – escape the cold, wet and bleak February weather and exchange it for winter sun. One destination neither my far better half nor I had visited was Sicily, and after a bit of last minute searching, we managed to secure a very reasonable priced week away. The joy of being able to travel off season is simple – far less crowds to battle through, cooler weather, and some heavy discounts in terms of travel and accommodation to boot. We were very much in our element for the duration of our stay, and it was fair to say that the holiday blues had started to kick in before even reaching Catania airport.
We decided upon spending a week on the small island of Ortygia, or the Città Vecchia (Old City) of Syracuse – and landed in what could best be described as a foodie’s paradise. Not only did we dine in some genuinely excellent restaurants – Ortygia has an fantastic range of places to eat to suit all budgets – but we were equally blessed by the diversity of first-rate local ingredients which gave us the inspiration to ‘get creative’. The imagination and passion for local and fresh ingredients truly inspired me to try new things – and having tried a combination of anchovies with fresh orange was the inspiration for this dish.
Not only were the daily market and a number of excellent delicatessens pure delights to muddle thorough, the experience was also a highly pleasurable attack on our senses. I have never seen so much fresh fennel, raddicchio, freshest tomatoes, olive oils, nuts – the list of fresh and great value ingredients goes on and on. I love making salads, and when back home – sad to say – depend entirely on what my local supermarket stocks. Seeing such great produce to experiment with made us think – let’s prepare some of the meals ourselves so we can truly enjoy the entire market experience. As we were staying in a hotel – the very pleasant Des Etrangers Hotel & Spa I might add – I hadn’t factored in the requirement at the time of booking for a food preparation area and fully equipped kitchen. To be honest, I am glad I did not have my usual kitchen tools and equipment at my disposal – it put my improvisation skills to the test and made the challenge a lot more fun.