Sicily, say the word and those lilty string tunes play instantly in your head. Summer breezes flow in your mind and, naturally images of Pacino and Brando will infiltrate your thoughts. Sicily is more than you can imagine, a food lovers paradise, a relaxed and easy going place full of love for their country. One foot on the ground here and you'll never want to leave.
On the eastern coast in the shadow of the ever blustery Mount Etna, we zipped our way up the hills to the village of Forza D'Agro. Aptly named as it was the chosen location for the wedding scene in Godfather 2 and where Michael danced with Appolonia in front of that Church. We expected to find an amusement park type of destination after chugging ur way uphill, breaths taken by the views from the Vespa. Instead we were met by a quiet and pristeen tiny place, lost in time and tiny streets. Plants in pots and the scent of basil filled the warm air, abundant blackberries were crushed on the cobbles, and the views, well, breath was taken far far away.
The hours of hushed revery in churches and ruins made us hungry. In Sicily I wait with anticipation for hunger to arrive so I can indulge in their abundance of fresh fruit, tomatoes, peaches, wild strawberries. Pizza everywhere is excellent and cheap, not to mention the pasta and the local wine. Agri-tourism is prevalent on the upward climb to Etna where volcanic soil makes for the best wine regions.
I spotted a place and did my usual check, if its full of locals it's good. The Osteria Agostiniana was so we snuk in and marvelled at the tables laden with plates and bottles and animated groups and families, not bad for a Monday lunch-time. We ordered the lunch special, splashed out at €25 each and clinked glassed with our starter aperitif of a tangerine seltz, a crushed ice cordial to cool us down from the almost 40degree heat.
With a litre bottle of local white and the better-than-usual breadsticks, the food began to arrive. Some seafood dishes of salmon and an octopus salad were sampled, not bad. Then the mussels in tomato sauce perked us up, tender, juicy and sweet. A carpaccio of swordfish was zesty, melting and invigorating. The mussels in breadcrumbs hit the spot. We began to worry that we ordered the wrong thing as the dishes just kept on coming. Some crispy fish like sardines were lightly battered and so yummy, a prawn cocktail was just like home but with sweeter prawns. Prawn salad surprised with a matching of sweetcorn and a cod with pickled vegetables was out on its own. I asked the waitress if this was the normal lunch and she assured me that, yes, there was nothing to worry about and we wouldn't be washing up for a week.
My starter of griddled, smoked ricotta arrived with the mains. Three cake-like slices of soft and smoky cheese, with lovely burnty bits. The star of the show with a hollywood line up was, the Spaghetti Marinara. This dish I could eat every day for my whole life, but this was the best one so far. Juicy giant prawns, sweet and salty clams and plump mussels with the bitiest pasta and the most subtle tomato and wine sauce. It was hard to imagine this food could be put away after ten plates of fish but, well, we managed. A huge swordfish steak was also polished off and washed down with the light local white wine. We noticed that this was a standard lunch in this eaterie as pairs of workmen sat down scruffily alongside the more standardly turned out, pristeen Sicilians. We smiled, goon faced through our meal, happy as babies up to our nappies in food heaven.
"Dolce?" an immaculate young waiter asked. Desert? You betcha, I'm not holding back now. The banquet of plates and glasses was reshuffled as the boy expertly lay two canolli, two slices of watermelon, two liqueur glasses, sorbets and espressos on the table in a practiced pattern of perfection. Then came the bottles of after dinner drinks. Sicily produces some fine fruit and nut liquers and we tried sips of them all, almond (my favourite) pistachio and hazelnut. Himself couldn't resist a burning sip of grappa but I'd had my fill.
We rolled, three hours later from the restaurant, many diners still enjoying their leisurely lunch into the later afternoon. After a little sit down in the shade of the church we free-wheeled back down the mountainside to one of so-many beautiful beaches to catch a full-bellied swim and fall asleep on a rock.