Sorry that I have been away from my blog for so long. My excuse is that I have been on an island at a friend's villa without internet access and the nearest town a long and windy road away.
And what an island it was. Salina, one of the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily -- a dramatic volcanic masterpiece.
At the end of each day at the sea, my husband and I happily followed the island's moving feast starting with an aperitivo (at one villa or another or at the spectacular Capo di Faro hotel), dinner (always with a view) and drinks (at another villa or even with the restaurant owner). One evening, at an after-dinner drinks with gelso granita get together to watch fireworks honoring the Madonna del Terzito, the conversation turned to ricotta. We had enjoyed a wonderful cassata siciliana at a local restaurant that evening (Le Tre Pietre in Rinella) and were recounting its lightness and perfection, when the hostess, from Palermo, interrupted to clarify that it was NOT the cassata season, so we would have to come back and try another one (in Palermo at her favorite pasticceria) in the Fall.
Now I have experience with the cherry and strawberry season, and the puntarelli and asparagus season but the cassata siciliana is a man-made not nature-made dish, so how could it be "out of season". Well, it all has to do with the main ingredient, ricotta, and the fact that sheep do not produce as much milk in the heat, nor the same quality. The other guests nodded in agreement. Opps. Now I know that there is also a cassata siciliana season. Then I learned that the best ricotta is made in Sicily (Catania taking the lead) and Piemonte -- maybe ricotta is what holds Italy together from North to South, one unifying gastronomic tie.
Besides ricotta, the best granita is made in Sicily and the best Sicilian granita can be found at Alfredo's in the small town of Lingua on the island of Salina.
Be careful, though, to order the right combination. We went twice and each time asked the waitress to help us. Our host insisted that one of the two flavors had to be mandorla (almond) which limited the choice of a second flavor to either peach, pistacchio or coffee. An acceptable alternative, all concurred, was peach and gelso. I was taken by the level of concern and concentration on the part of our young waitress to make sure that we put together a combination that would exalt instead of negate the flavor of each individual selection. She would not have let us order just any combination, even if that was what we wanted. She had to guide us to a proper granita at Alfredo's experience.
It reminded me of the care taken to choose just the right shoes/handbag/jewelry colors and combinations when dressing. Striving for aesthetic and gastronomic perfection is a fundamental part of daily life and results in that intangible, undefinable something that gives Italy its beauty.
And in the Aeolian islands, this beauty is truly breath-taking.