There is absolutely nothing in the world that I have experienced like Sicilian hospitality! Maybe our wonderful experiences also came about because we are Mimmo's "American family". Even though we brought a few small gifts, I was overwhelmed by Mimmo's sense of love and hospitality to his guests.
We had a late afternoon flight into Palermo and by the time we collected luggage and the like, it was beginning to get dark. Mimmo needed to stop at one of his local farmer stands to pick up some vegetables and fruits as he was going to make us a light dinner. It was a delightful place and instead of using bags, the store clerk took a piece of paper and rolled it into a cone-very eco-friendly way to shop.
Mimmo has a wonderful house which was fallen into ruin when he bought it about 10 years ago. It took him two years of repairs to make it habitable and you can tell he's still working on some areas outside - like an outdoor kitchen (near his attached to the house but outside laundry room) for entertaining in the summer. He made a marvelous pasta with artichoke and a little bit of tuna in it for dinner.
"Villa Lombardo" is about 10 minutes from downtown Palermo atop a small hill with a wonderful view of the ocean, where he swims when it warms up. He's also close to a beach area which is reminiscent of any beach-side tourist town with vendors and boats and nearby restaurants. There is a turn-of-the-century "bathing palace" (like the old Sutro ruins in San Francisco) which has been turned into a restaurant there. You'll see some photos of it on the Flickr site after this has posted, We even found an outdoor cafe which offered the Venetian spritzs.
That evening we were invited to his friend Louisa's house for dinner. I asked Mimmo if I should dress up a bit, but he said no worries. I should have been worried, as when we got there, I felt like a schlump in my black T-shirt & jeans, while the other ladies were more elegantly attired. I should have known better than to ask a guy that question though. I take complete responsibility.
Not only did we have dinner with Louisa, but with three other friends - Massimo, Tomas and Anna Maria. They were all doctors with the exception of Tomas, who is a landscape designer. Mimmo works for a national history agency where he is working on a program to overlay maps from the old days with maps from the present day. Or that is what I understood. Although Louisa and Anna Maria had some English, Mimmo did most of the translating.
What a meal it was, first starting with some mushrooms and olives for appetizers, then the soup (tomato and other veggies with short, thin noodles in it). Next was the fish, two of them actually - one which had been baked in salt and the other breaded and then sauteed - both were mild yet flavorful. After that came the salad and then the desert - a special Sicilian cake made with marzipan with beautifully crafted marzipan fruits on top accompanied by a local Muscato, a light but sweet dessert wine.
The one day trip we took was to Erice, some 60 miles SW of Palermo. The guide books say that the town is over 3,000 years old but what remains today is a medieveal, mist-shrouded city high in the mountains. We has lunch there and tried to get into the castle there, but it was closed with no reason posted?!? I was very interested to see this image that depicted a woman's face, wings and 3 legs spiraling out of it.
Our final day there was wonderful. We had a fabulous 3 course lunch made by Mimmo's sister - Pasta Alla Norma; a great pork roast made by her Georgian (country, not US state) friend that had a marvelous eggplant sauce, then salad and desert with wonderful wines. That night we were invited over to Tomas and Annamaria's house. Another feast ensued with a fabulous pasta that had been poured into a baking dish that had been lined with slices of eggplant so after it cooked, you inverted the baking dish onto a platter and had this very impressive dish! My memory is a trifle clouded now as to what else we had for dinner, but I remember shrimp and these fabulous stuffed artichokes and onions that Annamaria's mother made for us. By the time I got to dessert, I was not only feeling but beginning to look like a stuffed sausage! It was a beautifyl Sicilian ricotta cake that Louisa had made. I was only able to eat part of a slice and really wanted to take it on the plane with us that next morning... but knew it was nutty to even try it.
I was lucky enough to find a cookbook that had the two pasta recipes we had at Mimmo's friends' houses when we toured the Cappella Palatina. I will also post some of my photos but this will give you a sense of the beauty of the place.
The next morning, it was airport for us to travel back to Rome... where JK & I then took separate flights to San Francisco, where we had our car and a room for the night. It was a marvelous trip and I can't wait to have the opportunity to get back to explore more of Italy and spend more time with Mimmo, who is a delightful guy. We're hoping that he and his friend Louisa will come to visit in San Francisco next year. Would be great to make it a semi-annual thing to visit each other.
In another couple of days I will get the rest of the photos posted to the Flickr site, so be on the lookout in the near future. I've been amiss not posted for so long because we had family in town for my niece's graduation, then JK's cousin who he hadn't seen in 45 years showed up and then I got sick. I'm also working on art for the NadaDada Motel show the 3rd weekend of June up in Reno. More about that later...