With Vito Santoro behind the wheel, my sister Suzanne and I headed for Sortino. I'd heard about a Sicilian marionette museum and a local specialty, pizzoli, that I had to try. We passed a favorite truck stop, PANE CONDITO, (big sign, big parking lot, on the right hand side of the road) but didn't have time or space to sample the freshly baked Sicilian bread, split in half, dressed with extra virgin and herbs. And arrived at Sortino's Quattro Canti (Four Corners) where a friend had set up an appointment with Matteo Privitera, owner of a bar and the nearby restaurant Nabila, specialty pizzoli. He explained that the original pizzolo was called facci di vecchia or cutruruni, pizza with oil, oregano and grated cheese. Sortino's Sicilian baroque mentality transformed this simple flatbread, baking a double portion of dough with traditional topping, then stuffing the split pizza with cheese, salumi, vegetables. Cream cheese now plays a big role. Dessert pizzoli include nutella, lemon custard, pistachio, pear with grappa, white or bittersweet chocolate. We promised Matteo that we'd come back for a taste.
Next appointment, Museo Opera dei Pupi, where puparo (manipulator or puppeteer) Gianfranco Salonica told us all about pupi, marionettes, and their two major schools, Catania and Palermo, differently jointed and sized. The dramas (and colors) are the same as those depicted on Sicilian carts, of knights, love, honor, chivalry and battle, with Saracens against Sicilians, Orlando the superhero. Shows were performed in a piazza, attended by uneducated men, not for kids. The Catania-style pupi--knights in armor with swords, turbaned Saracens, dragons, devils, maidens in distress, were wonderful. We promised to come back for a show. Gianfranco showed us another Sortino specialty, honey, sold, along with pupi videos, in a shop that's part of an inexpensive B&B.
We went back to the bar for a pizzoli tasting--sausage and broccoli, mushrooms, tomato, prosciutto and mushroom, bresaola and cream cheese. And a beer. No dessert, since I was already thinking about our dinner plans.
I had been in Palazzuolo Acreide many years ago, fascinated by Akrai, the first colony founded by Syracusans, amphitheater, ruins and Santoni rock reliefs of the goddess Cybele. I returned, intrigued by the name of a restaurant, Andrea Sapori Montani. I made a reservation and asked if there was anyplace interesting nearby where we could stay. The B&B Il Palmento di Pietra was perfect--rustic, well-appointed, inexpensive, in the center of town. There were tented stands along the main drag and piazza--we'd stumbled on a fair, Agrimontana, flavors of Iblei. Stands with cheese, salumi, honey, cookies, cannoli, wood-burning ovens, a group of students and their teacher from the local hotel-restaurant school, a couple of historic cars--Lancia Appia 1953 and Lancia Ardea 1952, on display. We strolled through the fair before dinner and met the mayor who told us about Palazzuolo Acreide's interesting museums and that the Santoni were closed. We admired "Cannolandia", three different colors, two different sizes, flavored ricotta fillings, but weren't even tempted. We were on our way to Andrea. The restaurant was packed; we waited in the courtyard, Andrea's wife Lucia apologized for the delay. The menu featured, as promised, mountain flavors. Porcini and ovoli mushrooms, Nebrodi pork, sausage, local cheese, ricotta ravioli with pistachio, rustic pasta, carob-flavored custard. The wine list was inexpensive, with an ample selection of interesting Sicilian wines. Everyone in the restaurant was drinking beer or soda, eating pizza--a local Saturday night tradition Lucia explained. Our meal was wonderful.
In the morning we breakfasted at Pasticceria Caprice, included in the price of our B&B. I had to take a picture of the cannolata, a cake assembled of many, many, many cannoli. We went to the Museo dei Viaggiatori in Sicilia, a monothematic jewel, beautifully laid out, of great interest to anyone travelling the island. Maps and prints document sites visited on voyages in the 17th century, with photographs of the sites today. The museum made me realize that I was on a Grand Tour and needed to write about it. Thank you, Palazzo Acreide.
Next stops on the Grand Tour: Disastrous mushroom fair, visit to the Maestro, lunch at an old favorite, on to Modica...
Link to map to see the trip!
-November 2009 link to the article published in The Atlantic Magazine