Parco Nazionale Degli Iblei – a documentary – and recipes from this part of Sicily

Corrado, one of my relatives in Ragusa (in the south eastern corner of Sicily) has sent me a link to watch Storie e luoghi di un Parco (Stories and places of a Park) on Vimeo. It’s a documentary by Vincenzo Cascone.

I sat for over an hour mesmerized, and although not all of you will understand the Italian dialogue, the visuals are sufficient to get the gist of what is being presented.

The soundtrack is also evocative.

Storie e luoghi di un Parco is striking and very comprehensive documentary mainly about the preservation and restoration of biodiversity in a nature reserve to be established in south eastern Sicily.

The park is referred to as the Parco Nazionale Degli Iblei. The Hyblaean Mountains (Italian: Monti Iblei) is a mountain range in south-eastern Sicily, Italy. It straddles the provinces of Ragusa, Syracuse and Catania.

I need to tell you that it is over an hour long, but you can fast forward  bits,  perhaps  the speaking parts , especially if you do not understand Italian.

Establishing and maintaining wildlife reserves and giving nature the space and protection it needs is an obvious solution to preserving biodiversity and healthy ecosystems. For each nature reserve, there are legislated rules, regulations and penalties established to restrict the types and amount of human activities or mismanagement by the community so as protect the habitats, fauna, flora and the geology of the natural area.

This documentary is made even more compelling by the representation of a group of diverse professions supporting and involved in the implementation of this project. The interviews with this group of specialists provide insights and observations on the archaeological, natural, scientific, cultural, historical and aesthetic features of this region of Sicily.  These individuals are continuing to conduct studies and research that aim to restore a healthy biodiversity and promote better understanding of our natural heritage.

The team of professional scientists that are exploring this ecosystem explain how biodiversity can only have occurred over millions of years of evolution and by the different cultural groups who settled in this part of Sicily.

Biodiversity and ecosystems that are undamaged, healthy and finely balanced, contribute to a healthy, sustainable planet.

We all have a responsibility to revitalize our planet and it is up to all of us to prevent widespread ecological damage.

Now for the disappointing bit.

After having given the project a glowing report I decided to do some research. Unfortunately, this worthy project is at a standstill. After all of the support from many noteworthy people and local residents in this area of Sicily, Sicilian bureaucracy has stalled the project.

I do hope there will be sufficient support to make it happen.

Storie e luoghi di un Parco (Stories and places of a Park).

Un documentario di Vincenzo Cascone.

Some recipes from this part of Sicily:

SCACCE (focaccia-like stuffed bread)

KOHLRABI with pasta (Causunnedda )

CONIGLIO A PARTUISA (Braised rabbit as cooked in Ragusa)

RAVIOLI DI RICOTTA e MULINO DI CEREALI A PIETRA (Ricotta ravioli and stone ground flour in Chiaramonte)


It is always good to visit Sicily  in May 2016 and this time I spent most of my time mainly in  South-eastern Sicily.  But we did wander elsewhere – distances are not that great.

As usual, the relatives in Ragusa and Augusta made sure that I was well fed, but I do enjoy getting out and about and seeing the changes and trends that are evident in their food culture. I do that here in Australia as well, or for that matter any place I revisit.

Below are some photos of Sicily and links to existing recipes from the blog … more writing and more recipes soon.

Stunning scenery



And Granmichele,


A Nature Reserve near Donna Fugata



A very old church in Modica.


Inside this old church that has been a stable for many years.


Area Archeologica di Cava d’Ispica


The old stone walls, some being repaired or rebuilt.


Wandering around in Baroque towns

Ragusa Ibla









Brushes with fame

Moltalbano’s apartment in Punta Secca


Some traditional food from S.E. Sicily

*Links to these recipes:



*Ravioli con ricotta




New ways of preparing old recipes

*Marinaded Fish


*Sarde a beccafico


Deconstructed cannolo


Festive Occasions Infiorata in Noto


And more carpets of flowers,


Catania  Fish Market below


Various cuts of Tuna.

Key in the word “Tuna “and you will find many recipes, but suggesting sustainable fish.


*Zucca Lunga







Gelatina_blog_0143 (2)

My father’s relatives live in Ragusa in Sicily.  Ragusa and Modica are very attractive historic Baroque towns in south-eastern Sicily. Modica is  and very close to Ragusa.


Chiaramonte Gulfi is also in this part of Sicily and Gelatina di maiale (Pork Brawn) is very popular. It is sold in butcher shops and markets, but it can also be made at home.

In Gelatina di maiale the pork’s head provides the gelatinous component. Usually the tongue is included in the head and this adds texture and extra flavour.

 Pork+pieces_0125+blog+crop (1)

Meat also needs to be included and apart from half of a pig’s head I bought 1.500 kilo of lean pork (cut into large pieces) and four pig’s feet.

Over time, I have adapted this recipe and I include bay leaves and peppercorns to the mix.  I boil the meats without vinegar for about 3 hours (until I can see the meat falling off the bones).

Once it is cooked, I leave it to rest overnight.

The next day I remove the meat from the jelly, I add ½ cup of vinegar and the juice of a couple of lemons to the broth and reduce the liquid down to a third of the original amount.

I remove the bones, shred the meat ( not too finely) and place it into a terrine lined with a few bay leaves and cover it with the cooled reduced stock.

Any fat will rise to the surface and can be scraped off when it is cool (in fact, it acts as a seal).

Great as an antipasto or as a main, especially in summer. Gelatina is sold by most butchers in southeastern Sicily.


MODICA and HONEY and Sicilian biscuits called nucatuli

Ancient writers (Greek and Latin) referred to honey from the Iblean Mountains (south eastern Sicily) as the best they had ever tasted; honey from this area of Sicily has maintained its merits throughout the centuries.

This is a very old Sicilian Honey Press, now in the Buscemi Museum (south eastern Sicily).


Lately I have been using (and eating) some very good miele (Italian for honey) given to me by my friend Libby, who has a magnificent garden in Eden Hills, a suburb of Adelaide. On an acre of land she has two traditional, white, bee boxes and a wild hive in the trunk of a grey box tree.

Extracting honey is hard work and she does it in her kitchen; she has won prizes for her honey at the Royal Adelaide Show.

Honey is used in many Sicilian pastries and I have been reading about nucatuli (or nucatuli, nucatula and in Syracuse saschitedda).

I bought these three types of biscuits (photo below) in Modica from Antica Dolceria Bonajuto.  Modica is in the south east part of Sicily and only 20-30 minutes drive from Ragusa where my relatives live. A dolceria sells (and usually manufactures) sweets; a pasticceria has cakes, biscuits and may have sweets as well.

A visit to Modica is always a treat – the small city is dived into two parts: Modica Alta (Upper Modica), and Modica Bassa (Lower Modica). It is fringed by hills (part of Iblean Mountains), has many beautiful baroque buildings, narrow streets, interesting shops, churches and palazzi, pasticcerie and restaurants. And besides, it is a good way to stir up the emotions of my relatives; Modica is the rival of Ragusa.

Modica close up_0004

Did I know that Modica become more famous than Ragusa because during fascist times Mussolini was friendly with a statesman from Modica?  And the ravioli made in Ragusa  are much better than the ones made in Modica; had I not noticed this when I ate them at that particular restaurant in Modica?


Modica in the evening

In the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, chocolate is made using the original methods in the style of the Aztecs and brought by the Spaniards in the 16th century – the Spaniards ruled Sicily at various times and foods from the “New World” (including cocoa beans) were introduced.

Modica church_3838

The biscuits with the white lattice are most commonly known as nucatuli and I chose to write about them because they include honey.

Finding any information about nucatuli in my Italian resources was not easy. In the recipes I found there were many variations in the ingredients and very few recipes had quantities or clear instructions – this is not very surprising in a country that cooks “al’ occhio”, by using one’s eyes, that means by the senses: sight, taste, smell, feel (including textures on the tongue) and hearing.

I am not sure if I will get around to ever making nucateli but I have certainly gathered some interesting information about these little biscuits that I have eaten often in Sicily.

The name is thought to have derived either from the Latin nucatus (nuts) or perhaps from the Arab word naqal  (dry fruit). Apparently they were first made in the fifteenth century in the Santa Elizabetta Monastery in Palermo. Nucatuli  were once usually associated as a Christmas pastry.

The outer case or pastry is made only from flour and warmed honey; the two ingredients are kneaded into a smooth paste which is left to rest for about five hours. In some variations of the recipe and as made in Messina, flour, lard, sugar and egg yolks are used and moistened with rose water or sweet white wine. (The ratio of flour is 1k, 150g of sugar and 150g of lard, 2 egg yolks).

The filling is made of ground walnuts and hazelnuts (lightly toasted) honey, orange peel and cinnamon – all the ingredients are combined, slowly cooked in a saucepan and stirred constantly. And like when making polenta, the filling is not removed from the heat until the contents detach from the sides of the saucepan.

Some recipes include ground almonds or a mixture of hazelnuts and almonds, but no walnuts. I have seen some variations that also include some finely chopped, dried figs in the mixture.

The filling is allowed to cool and then spooned onto rectangular strips of the paste – this has been rolled out thinly and most recipes suggest the size to be 3-4 cm wide and 6-7cm long.

The filling is placed to one side of the pastry, rather than in the centre. The pastry casing should cover the entire filling and from the pictures I have seen in books and from my memory, it is pinched together on one side of the biscuit. Once the filling is covered, the biscuits are formed into an S shape.

Usually the biscuits are decorated with a coating of a soft paste made with cocoa thickened with a little flour and hot water and then baked on a well-greased baking sheet in a moderate oven for about 15 minutes; they should only be lightly coloured. In those recipes that give temperatures, anything from 200C – 250C is suggested.

As you can see in the photo these nucatuli bought from Antica Dolceria Bonajuto have an extra squiggle on top and as far as I could tell (by using my senses!) it was likely to be egg white and sugar (like a meringue made by whisking egg white till firm, then adding about 1 cup of caster sugar and a few drops of lemon juice).

Dot it on each biscuit (or pipe it in a squiggle as they did in Modica) then re bake them for another 5 minutes at 250C. One recipe suggested returning them to a very low oven until the frosting dried out.


One day, when I have more time and am in the mood, I will make them – I am pretty good at using recipes without weights and measures or relying on memory, (I may wait until I return to Modica). In the meantime I will continue to enjoy my friend’s honey. My favourite way is to beat some honey lightly into ricotta and to present this with thin, almond biscotti – guests can spread the cream on their biscuits if they wish.


SPAGHETTI CA SARSA MURISCA (Sicilian) – Spaghetti with Moorish sauce

IMG_2644Salsa moresca is an interesting name for a pasta sauce. The sauce is eaten in and around the town of Scicli, a beautiful baroque town not far from Modica (also beautiful) which is close to Ragusa (where my father’s relatives live). The ingredients are a combination of the sweet and the savoury and include bottarga (tuna roe), sugar, pine nuts, cinnamon and the juice and peel of citrus.

I was interested in the name – murisca (moresca is Italian for Moorish). The ingredients could well be of Moorish origins but it is also the name of a dance – la moresca. It is still performed in some regions of Sicily, especially on certain religious feast days.

The dance is said to have been introduced by the Moors into Spain and became popular all over Europe during the 15 th and 16th Centuries. Dances with similar names and features are mentioned in Renaissance documents throughout many Catholic countries of Europe – Sicily, France, Corsica and Malta – and, from the times of the Venetian Republic, Dalmatia – also through Spanish trade, Flanders and Germany.

La moresca is remarkably like the English Morris dance (or Moorish dance) a folk dance usually accompanied by music where the group of dancers use implements such as sticks, swords, and handkerchiefs. In Sicily they only use handkerchiefs, but this may have been modified over time. La Moresca and the Morris dance are considered to be one of the oldest traditional European dances still performed and inspired by the struggle of Christians against the Moors, in some places Christians and Turks, in other places between Arabs and Turks. In parts of England, France, the Netherlands and Germany the performers still blacken their faces but it is uncertain if it is because they represent the Moors. This custom is not observed in Sicily.


Each year in May, there is a sacred performance in Scicli that recalls the historical battle in 1091 between Arabs and Christians. Legend says that “La Madonna delle Milizie” came astride a white horse to champion the Christians. Pasta alla moresca is still cooked to commemorate this event.

Salsa moresca (the sauce for the pasta) is not cooked – it is an impasto – a paste or mixture, and probably traditionally made with a mortar and pestle.

INGREDIENTS: 500g long pasta, (spaghetti or bucatini), 150g grated bottarga, ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, 1-2 chopped red chili, 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic, 4 finely cut anchovies, juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon, peel of ½ lemon, ½ teaspoon of powdered cinnamon, 1 large spoonful of sugar and 1 of vinegar,1 cup pine nuts, ½ cup finely cut parsley, 1 cup breadcrumbs ( from 1-2 day old bread) lightly browned in a little extra virgin olive oil.


Pound all of the ingredients together preferably in a mortar and pestle: begin with the garlic the bottarga and anchovies. Follow with the sugar, cinnamon, pine nuts, breadcrumbs, parsley, peel and chilies – lubricating the paste gradually with the oil and juices as you pound.

Add the vinegar last of all.

And by now, having read about it, you can probably smell it.

Use this to dress spaghetti or bucatini. I scattered basil leaves on top to decorate the pasta dish.