An invitation to festa della mamma lunch, at the home of friends in Sicily can start as early as 11 am and carry-on until dusk. Silvana, Natale, Francesco and Pamela prepared an outstanding al fresco afternoon for us. Casa Barone-Vallone is situated at the foot of a lush mountain inhabited by assorted fairytale creatures: fox volpe, rabbit coniglio, wild boar cinghiale, and falcon falco. Any movement of the eye on the terrazza is consumed with vibrant flowers planted in an array of weathered vessels.
Eggplant pieces were cut a half-inch thick, soaked for an hour in water, salt and olive oil; Francesco said this takes any bitterness away, a small tip before putting on the grill. As the year progresses eggplants contain more seeds; our melanzane grigliate didn’t have a seed to be detected. While the eggplant cooked, bearing rustic grill marks, each was basted with olive oil, diced mint, oregano and garlic. If I should eat only one dish at my final hour, I’m putting grilled eggplant with olive oil, mint, oregano, and garlic on the top five.
Grilled yellow, green, and red peppers peperoni were also plated with Silvana’s cured olives from their trees, alongside semistagionato, a cheese so sharp it made my cheeks pucker. What’s an antipasto without bruschetta? In Silvana’s case, the topping was blended into a course purée, then spooned onto slices of toasted Italian sesame bread.
Natale and Francesco grilled two types of sausages: one classic Sicilian with fennel, another much darker, made with wild boar salsiccia di suino nero dei Nebrodi, fattier, unusual spices and to die for. The chicken was pounded super thin, seasoned to perfection, grilled three minutes on each side. Soon after, spring red onions wrapped in pancetta came off the grill, along with halved plump tomatoes.
I desperately wanted to eat slowly, except my brain wouldn’t cooperate. The pistacchio and nocciola Vernaci gelato went down far too easy, followed by Panificio Cacioppo biscotti.
Our afternoon was accentuated by the sound of bells worn on sheep who descended a nameless mountain. They graze all day on glorious land; like clock-work the herd passes our host’s home, sometime thereafter helping produce exquisite Sicilian cheese.
Silvana surprised us with a short drive to visit Chiesa Madonna di Fatima, nestled on the mountain’s neighboring ridge. The minuscule church was celebrating its annual Mother’s Day mass which spilled churchgoers outside. It’s almost encouraged to stroke Our Lady of Fatima’s statuette, all public displays of affection felt customary; any prayer though was held in private.
Silvana, Pamela, Jeanette, LouLou and I returned to Casa Barone-Vallone an hour later to catch the sun’s exit behind the mountaintop while birds sang the day farewell, utterly magical savoring Silvana’s closing treat — lemon granita, homemade from her dreamy garden.