Monday, May 29, 2017

Cooking With Mama Rosa: We Visit Sicily


We went to nearby Cefalu in part because I am a decrepit septuagenerian now and had neglected to pack the £4 fluorescent trunks I’d bought at the Primark in Brighton during my birthday excursion two weeks before. The hotel gift shop had a rackful of half-price (12€) trunks, but they were all XXXL, and I’m still reasonably svelte. For even less money, there were the sort of bikini bottoms Dame Zelda tells me Brits call budgie-smugglers (and which I decided to call bungee-jumpers), and in which no boy from Playa del Rey, California, would ever be caught dead. I wound up paying 15€ for ghastly 120 percent polyester Chinese-made swimming trunks. 

Emerging from the shop, we were nearly swept away by a huge wave of students, whose placards I at first misread as advertising a Mafia recruitment drive. I realised in the nick of time it was in fact a kiddies’ anti-Mafia protest. I suspect the Mafia no longer cuts off and mails to the local newspapers the heads of those who speak out against them.


Top: Dame Zelda enjoys the red wine at

Mama Rosa's. Middle: Godfather-styled
souvenirs in a Cefalu shop window. 
Bottom: The Children's Anti-Mafia
Crusade. 
Forty-eight hours later, we were driven up into the mountains south and east of Cefalu, to a town in the clouds called San Mauro Castelverde, from which the 1930s opera singer Santa Biondo, of whom you have surely heard, immigrated to the United States as a child. Dame Zelda noted that the locals who watched us suspiciously from the doors of their ominously numerous butcher shops were unignorably inbred-looking. None played the banjo, though, and the only toilet in town seemed to be in the pasticceria in which we were urged to spend money at the conclusion of our walking tour. Failing to notice the pedal beneath the sink, Dame Zelda was unable to wash her hands, and had to cleanse them with the little vial of posh pink Marks & Spencer hand sanitiser she carries with her for exactly such emergencies.

We proceeded down the mountain to La Posada Ristorante, where we were to witness a cooking demonstration by the celebrated (if only by the tour provider) local cook Mama Rosa, and then to enjoy a meal of her creation. Grinning maniacally, her accordionist husband or brother-in-law played for us as we got off the tour bus and trooped up to Mama’s, uh, test kitchen, across the road from the actual restaurant. There we learned, for instance, that if one wishes to fry an aubergine (that is, eggplant) in hot oil, it is necessary to place the former in the latter, rather than leaving it on the counter in the salted water in which it has been bathed (to reduce bitterness). Which is to say that the monolingual Mama, in a scarily glossy black wig of the sort Gene Simmons might wear on a dress-up occasion, didn’t exactly impart a wealth of useful cooking tips. (Our guide kept ducking out for a smoke, and Mama seemed to speak no English.) 

She made a frittata with more ricotta than I’d ever seen in one place, and I was reminded of how, on Saturday mornings in San Francisco in the late 1980s, my daughter Brigitte and I used to giggle when, on television, Julia Child would say, for instance, “We will now add a gallon of cream and a pound of butter,” as we were unable to think of anything that wouldn’t taste pretty good terrific drowned in cream and butter.

As we trooped dutifully back across the road, the accordionist grinned rapturously and of course tore into "Arrividerci Roma". We were seated together on long tables and served the worst red wine drunk anywhere in western Europe that evening. It belonged on a salad — specifically, a salad that had offended you in some way. We were served a succession of antipasti, of which I enjoyed only the prickly pear. (Sicily abounds in cacti, to the point at which the jetlagged American visitor might imagine himself in Arizona.) Godfather-themed souvenirs abound.

The carnivores in our touring party got meat and potatoes as their main course. Dame Zelda and I got little side salads instead. In fairness, the lettuce and tomatoes were fresh and flavourful. At meal’s end, the accordionist, whom not a few of us had come to want to strangle, placed before us a glass containing a paper serviette on which he’d inscribed TIPS. I found his doing so obnoxious, and was tempted to tell him, “Buy low and sell high,” but I don’t think he’d have…gotten it.




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