Even though Massimo is a young 24 years old, his passion for food started early when, at around 10, he spent time in the kitchen watching and learning from his mother and grandmother. At the age of 14 Massimo went to cooking school, giving up his free time (and youth) on Fridays and weekends for class. Incredibly, at 21 Massimo had his own restaurant in Taormina which to me seems so young to be running a business! A joint venture is not without its challenges so Massimo is currently taking some time out from the hard work and long hours, remaining involved with food by hosting daily cooking classes for visitors to Taormina.
Our small class of four met at Port Messina and took a short walk to a daily undercover produce market to buy fresh ingredients. Taormina has other produce markets once a week that are held outdoors in the many piazzas. I was amazed at the all the different varieties, shapes, sizes and colours of pomodoro (tomato)! Massimo told us that each one is different in flavour – for example the tiny tomatoes are much sweeter than the larger types. I also loved the round, dark purple melanzane (eggplant) that have white flesh – this variety is grown in Sicily.
As we marveled at the locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables, Massimo said it’s best to buy small produce as they are much better in flavour than large pieces. This little bit of advice has made me rethink how I shop as I had always thought it was better to go big instead of selecting smaller sized produce.
With our shopping bags full we walked up to Corso Umberto (the main street in Taormina) and went up one of the many side streets to the restaurant where our class would be held. Upstairs in the dining room a long table was prepared with portable stoves and wooden boards, all set for us to prepare a traditional Sicilian lunch.
Lunch is an important meal in Italy, with many people stopping work for a few hours to be with family and share a meal. This is generally followed by a rest period which is something I think is fabulous, because who doesn’t love an afternoon nap?
Massimo set each of us up with equal parts of ’00’ flour and very fine polenta which we mixed together then made wells to crack eggs into. Then it was time to get our hands dirty and make macaroni.
There were no pasta machines here – we did it all by hand. I had always thought of macaroni as small pasta but the type we made was much longer. We each used thin metal rods (like the ones inside an umbrella) to roll up the pasta, creating the hollow inside.
With the pasta done it was time to start cooking the caponata, a traditional Sicilian side dish. There are many variations to caponata but our dish was made to the recipe of Massimo’s grandmother. We used separate pans to fry the eggplant, zucchini and capsicum, so they would retain their individual flavours better than if they were all cooked together in the same pan. More cleaning up but worth it for the result.
Another side dish, again made from the recipe of Massimo’s grandmother, was purple cauliflower and olives cooked in red wine.
With the caponata finished off with celery, pine nuts, olives and capers, it was ready to set aside so it would cool to room temperature by the time we were ready to eat.
Our handmade macaroni was cooked simply in a tomato sauce with eggplant and topped with shavings of ricotta.
As we sat together and proudly feasted on the food we’d prepared, we enjoyed local wines followed by a little glass (or two) of limoncello. A big Sicilian lunch, now that’s something I could get used to!
Check out more of my Sicily posts: