Antonella is an excellent cook. She takes a pride in her dishes, simple foods, classic Sicilian dishes. Three courses each sublime. Her passion for simple unfussy fayre comes through as she talks. It is a fusion of simple and natural ingredients with classic, uncomplicated presentation. It looked stunning. It tasted truly divine.
The first course, a simple fried vegetable selection......zucchini, onion, green pepper, olives, potato slices.
The second course, spaghetti mixed with Mediterranean small tomatoes and chopped walnuts, so lightly and delicately drizzled in olive oil. It was elegantly presented in a coiled mound in the centre of a large white dish; the only adornment, one solitary green basil leaf.
I have always shied away from taking photos of the food served in restaurants. Many British chefs get angry about it......”taste it, savour it, consume it slowly to allow the taste fusions to challenge your taste buds but don't waste time by letting it go cold by photographing it” is how one famously irritable TV chef put it. However, I regret not photographing Antonella's spaghetti for my words cannot pay it adequate justice.
The next course was as simple and filling as the first; chicken pieces served with green peas and small pieces of potato in a delicate, discrete, almost missed, creamy sauce. Heavenly. Truly divine.
As all good hosts do, Antonella modestly accepted our compliments under protest. A lovely lady, she made us so welcome from the start. From good cooking to offering sound advice on which sights to see and which to miss, our visit to Agriturismo Coscio de Badia was wonderful. A simple room in an outbuilding, a short walk from the main house; clean, well looked after...and offering wonderful sunset and sunrise views over Mt Etna, at least 100km away to the NE.
“Early morning sunrises bathe the landscape in warm orange hues and cast long shadows over the land. Country people are up early around here. By 6.30 there are the distant sounds of guard dogs barking, tractor engines and pumps coughing into life and working hard to irrigate the valuable crops and periodic ‘phutt bangs’ from bird scarers. The dogs actually howl, a dawn chorus of howling dogs greeting each other across vast distances. Strangely it is uplifting and a joy to hear, however bizarre. Perhaps a genetic hangover from their ancestor wild dogs and wolves? There are the occasional rumble of wheels on tarmac as people head for work accompanied by that sort of whooshing sound as cars travel country lanes at speed; locals driving manically, safe in the knowledge that no one else is on the blind corner they travel around!
An early morning stroll gives glimpses of feet below vines, and of farm men in their forties, grey haired, their faces such a deep tanned leathery brown from countless days in the sun. Tractors are mini caterpillar wheeled affairs, the treads vital for purchase on steep slopes, the powerful Diesel engines giving sufficient 'grunt' to pull the ploughs that create the series ranks of neat low furrows across the plain. There is no attention given to removing rocks and stones here. They are ploughed over, pushed aside or asunder. Tarmac country roads show the faint white scars of parallel lines at right angles to the roads, the indents of threaded caterpillar tracks. It sounds noisy but it isn't. Early morning working day sounds are interwoven with birdsong, cooing pigeons, cockerels crowing and chirping finches in hedges. In short it is the idyllic soundscape of a countryside in harmony with itself.
On our second morning we watched the sun rise over Mount Etna. As the faint tendrils of light scattered across the dark skies, the distinctive shape of Etna began to take form, some 100 Kms away to the north east. In the cold morning skies, a distinct plume rose vertically a short height before being spread eastwards like a flattened, thin cloud, whisping away to nothing. Etna’s silhouette took form in the gathering light, the classic strato volcano shape of steep sided cone but with its two stepped appearance on its eastern slope. The famed Valle de Bove. Few people realise that Etna has four different crater summits, several flank parasitic volcano vents called hornitos and two magma chambers, one below another. It's lava over time has varied between runny basaltic rich lava and the more acidic variety. A decade volcano, it is one of the most intensively monitored, using a complex system of crater side lasers, gas meter and seismometers linked to computers that issue immediate warnings to local municipal authorities. Despite being a continually erupting volcano, very few people have died on its slopes. Which is all rather reassuring since we will be climbing it towards the end of our Sicilian journey.
Meanwhile, Sunrises are an artist’s joy; a deep colour palette ranging from dark cobalt blues of outer space down through the turquoise blues and aquamarines and then into faint pinks, light oranges and finally the deep red oranges as the sun rises. It rises a deep pink red as it's upper circumference just peeps above the horizon. The sky above changes colour so rapidly. Blink, turn away for a few moments, and a lifetime of colour spectrum change has been missed. Standing at the top of a flight of terracotta tiled steps in short sleeved shirt and shorts at 6am in the morning without feeling remotely cold, shivery or goose bumpy is frankly quite novel. I begin to see why so many leave the UK to live in Mediterranean climes”!