Everyone should take a sailboat trip around Italian islands at some point in their life.
Now when Domenico Modugno sang ‘Nel blu dipinto di blu‘ this is what he was talking about!
A recent cruise around the Egadi Islands off of Sicily’s western coast (departures from Marsala or Trapani – both fantastic small cities for restaurants, art, antiquities, and having fun!) brought me to La Scaletta, Giovanni Maiorana’s superb bistro on the island of Marettimo. What a treat! And how unexpected, in this unassuming 2nd floor restaurant overlooking the little port of this magical island.
There is something Homeric about the place – the grottoes, the luring blue waters. Giovanni weaves his magic spell from the first course, a lovely tuna tartare on basmati rice with avocado mousse.
But the real eye opener is the second antipasto:
This dish revealed all that is divine inspiration working with what is at hand. Those are not roasted peppers under the lightly batter-fried sarde, a somewhat larger fresh anchovy fish. It is apples, sweet-and-sour. The balsamic vinegar glaze helps strike that peculiar balance between sweet and salty, sour and tang. Pure genius!
It was the kind of dish that has you asking, can I have seconds?
But then of course there’s the pasta. Here we have casarecce, or ‘homemades’, with seafood, almonds, a bit of red pepper in a light tomato sauce with the ever-present in these parts of Sicily prezzemolo (parsley) – exquisite!
And just when you think there is no room for more, it is time for the secondo, a lovely fish dish, tasty, simple, authentic.
In the master-planning that went into this meal, that was actually brilliant. The aromas of the island, the freshness of the sea, whet my appetite for dolce: a homemade cassata!
And to top it all off, Giovanni’s son distributes sugar cubes. Only these are no ordinary sugar cubes: they are soaked in something so potent, so magical, that you digest in a moment and feel like you start all over again!
The man who makes this all happen, Giovanni, has published a little book of his philosophy, Aglio e Viole. The viola di mare is a fish, not a flower.
This man is all about passion – for life, for food, for friends, sharing. He asked me to read aloud from his little volume and I’d like to translate the passage here:
“Once you’ve gone back to Milan, or Hamburg, or elsewhere, don’t try to re-do these dishes. You’d risk a disastrous outcome that could involve in the failure even the memories of happy moments.”
The magical word of this magical island is ‘capitau‘ which means it happened, it happens or it will happen — it is a moment of life, serendipity.
Grazie, Giovanni – the genius of Marettimo!