Sunday, August 25, 2013

Green Tomatoes: A Sicilian Woman's Musings on “Southern” Cuisine

Green tomatoes from my California garden.

My husband and I have an inside joke.  I call myself a “southern” woman, which, between America and Italy, can mean a lot of things. The fact is there are some strong similarities between the American South and the Italian South, which may explain why I feel in my element in the American South.   These musings are occurring as a result of a road trip my husband and I are taking from Florida to Washington DC.   Among my favorite areas are the small towns on the east coast of Florida, most notably Amelia Island, as well as Savannah, Georgia, and the beautiful Carolina coastline.
Oglethorpe Square, Savannah

Life unfolds slowly in the American South and there is time to savor it in all its richness—an attribute of the Italian South as well.  As my husband and I strolled arm in arm in the many lovely squares of Savannah, enveloped by the summer heat, I felt transported to a place and time familiar to me from my life in Sicily.   As we continue our adventure next month from DC to Sicily, I expect the similarities will become even more evident.

One of my favorite (American) Southern foods is green tomato, and I marvel that it is not a staple in Sicilian cuisine.  In fact I have never even heard of it except in the American South.  I would like to lay claim to this dish for Sicily, but I have promised you that I would write only on classical (read ‘historic’) foods of Sicily.  But let’s imagine for a moment what fried green tomatoes might look like in the hands of a Sicilian chef.

My 'southern' interpretation of fried green tomatoes!
For starters the tomatoes would be hand picked fresh from the garden and cut in thick round slices, then sprinkled with sea salt and ground red peperoncino.  They would be dusted with semolina flour, and flash sautéed in olive oil until  tender but not cooked through, with a bit of crunch to the bite.  A Sicilian cook would then take a handful of sweet, ripe “ciliegino”  cherry tomatoes, sauté them in olive oil in a separate pan, with salt and freshly ground pepper, until a delicate little sauce is formed.  The sauce would be spooned onto a plate, where the fried tomato slices would be stacked.  A dusting of aged pecorino cheese and a fragrant cluster of basil leaves would finish the oeuvre.

As my husband and I continue our trip to Sicily, who knows what influences of the American South might find their way into the culinary repertoire of the Sciacca family of Marsala! I will report my findings back to you!

Ciao a presto!