Eggplant salad, INSALATA DI MELANZANE (with Saint Anthony and other saints)

I ate at Bar Idda again last night and this time I was directly in the gaze of Sant’ Antonio. On the table, sitting in a glass was a small holy picture with the image of Sant’ Agata, (the size to fit into one’s prayer book). She is the patron saint of Catania. On the back of the card there is the information about a six-course feast on Sunday 7th February at Bar Idda.

Saint Padre Pio was still there, but out of sight around the corner.


Once again I had a wonderful meal. Sicilian ‘peasant’ food does not have to be tasteless and Bar Idda’s food may be simple (choice of inexpensive ingredients, method of cooking and presentation), but it is always full of Sicilian authentic flavours. I am talking about the agro dolce, mint, fennel seeds, cinnamon and cloves. The food is fresh and seasonal, and I always enjoy eating there.

I know all about Sant’ Agata (Agatha). She was the beautiful and rich young woman who lived the life of a saint while she was still alive. A man of power (Quinctianus) wanted her, but she refused. She was beaten, imprisoned and tortured. Her breasts were cut off and finally she was roasted over hot coals.

Naturally there were miracles – she is recognised for averting eruptions of Mount Etna (over Catania) and she also saved the Catanesi from the plague. And they still love her in Catania and celebrate her feast day. There are cakes and sweets (shaped as breasts), not to make fun of her, but to commemorate her sanctity.
But Sant’ Antonio is said to be from Padua in the north of Italy. It is a short distance west of Venice. So why is he in a Sicilian Restaurant?

It so happens that the picture belonged to Lisa’s nonna. Sant’ Antonio is usually depicted holding baby Jesus in his arms.  He also holds a lily – in Christian art the lily is a symbol of integrity and purity of life.  In Europe, lilies are in bloom in the middle of June when the feast of St. Anthony is celebrated. Sometimes he is also holding a book because he was a scholar. He is the saint who finds lost things (old Sicilian recipes?). He was primarily a saint of the people – especially the poor. He was also close to St. Francis of Assisi. He, too, performed many miracles during his lifetime.

But Sant’ Antonio is not from Padua at all. He was born in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1195 and entered the Augustinian Order at the age of 15. Two years later, he relocated to the convent of Santa Cruz in Coimbra and spent eight years in study and prayer.

In 1220 a number or Franciscans were martyred in Morocco. Saint Anthony was inspired by their martyrdom and was determined to preach the Gospel in the Moslem lands of North Africa. He joined the Franciscans and tried to sail to Morocco, but his ship ran into storms and was blown east across the Mediterranean on the east coast of Sicily. The friars in Messina nursed him back to health.

And there you have it – a connection to Sicily. Whether Lisa and Alfredo of Bar Idda know this or not, they do know that Sant’ Antonio is the patron of finding lost things and they have him facing the kitchen, keeping an eye on the ingredients.
Sant’ Antonio later went to France and Italy and ended up in Padua and died there on June 13 in 1231 at the age of 36.

One of the simple things I ate last night was an eggplant salad. I know about this recipe because a Sicilian friend of my mother used to make it.


Wash, prick and cook 2 whole eggplants in salted boiling water.
Once cooked (and soft), place them in a colander and cut them into strips- allow them to drain.
Dress with extra virgin olive oil, a dash of vinegar, salt and fresh mint (cut finely).

When I make this salad I also add some finely chopped garlic.

I also know that as a variation in some parts of Sicily (this salad is also common in some parts of Calabria) a few chopped anchovies can be added, but I prefer the fresh taste of the eggplant. Simple, in season and fragrant!!!

Well done Bar Idda once again.

This photo of two different types of eggplants (the light purple ones are called violette) was taken in the Ballaro` market in Palermo.


Bar Idda

132 Lygon Street, Brunswick East, Melbourne
Phone 9380 5339
Food Sicilian
Owner Alfredo and Lisa La Spina

See my earlier post ‘BAR IDDA and PADRE PIO’