Sunday, April 25, 2010

Case Study 60: "The Cupedia"

"There is still the wind that I remember
firing the manes of horses, racing,
slanting, across the plains,
the wind that stains and scours the sandstone,
and the heart of gloomy columns, telamons,
overthrown in the grass. Spirit of the ancients, grey
with rancour, return on the wind,
breathe in that feather-light moss
that covers those giants, hurled down by heaven.
How alone in the space that’s still yours!
And greater, your pain, if you hear, once more,
the sound that moves, far off, towards the sea,
where Hesperus streaks the sky with morning:
the jew’s-harp vibrates
in the waggoner’s mouth
as he climbs the hill of moonlight, slow,
in the murmur of Saracen olive trees."
- Salvatore Quasimodo 

The day after Thanksgiving, we landed at the foot of Etna.  It wouldn't be the last of the Sicilian volcanoes we'd stand in awe of that year, but it was our first trip south, and coming around the corner of Catania, we saw her fiery mouth bathing in a clear blue pool of the Mediterranean. We headed south to Siracusa, and met an old British lady at our apartamento, an expat of England who fled the rainy isles 30 years earlier for Florence, only to find herself retired in a Sicilian port town.  Hours later, while dodging stray cats on the dusty gray streets, we'd come upon her in a cobbler's shop down some quiet back alley, throwing her head back in laughter as she flirted with the little old man whose face was worn like the leathers he polished.

After popping a few steaming zeppole in our mouths, we labeled our journey a food tour.  Sure we would skip down lemon groves in quiet archeological parks older than Ancient Greece.  We would eventually take that archaic one car train through the dessert all the way down to Pozzallo, the last Siclian coast town before reaching Africa.  But most of all, we would eat.  We would salivate over squid and swordfish caught just earlier, grilled to perfection with nothing but a little oil and lemon.  We would become professional marzipan samplers, tasting the fruits of every town.  And we would suck the world's creamiest ricotta out of the world's lightest cannoli shells.  But the best thing we would eat was the torrone

"The Cupedia" is a ricotta and almond cupcake topped with a vanilla-raw honey buttercream and sprinkled with the best torrone that good old Arthur Avenue has to offer.  The history of torrone is foggy at best.  While some claim it was created in the 15th century for a wedding ceremony in Cremona, others believe the sugar-loving Arab Sarcens brought it through Sicily on their conquest by sea.  But the Romans, who called nougat candy "cupedia," held the delicate sweet in the highest regard, reserving it for special celebrations or in offerings to the gods.  A gift for the gods? Consider me sold.

When you are in Italy, you go to church, and not necessarily in the traditional way.  You literally head towards the chapel first and then the altar, because that's where the treasures lie: the most beloved art, the most revered sculptures, the most brilliant architecture.  And so, like any good students of the Italian world, we made a beeline for God, and stumbled upon freshly excavated walls from the 10th century in a Modican church.  We walked the walls, brushing our fingers along the faded ponies and soldiers that were etched by some proud disciple more than a thousand years earlier. 

Later we made our way up to a clock tower where we met a little old man who spoke nothing close to the Florentine we knew back up in Bologna.  But we leaned in anyway, shook our heads knowingly, and followed that man for over an hour as the sun set on the hill.  Two wide-eyed and blonde American anthropologists-in-training in the Venice of the south, hundreds of years later on a rainy November afternoon.  We would only pass that way once.


Laura said...

Mi riccordo essattamente tutto quello che racconti qui-i sapori, i profumi, i colori-e addesso li sento di novo. Il tuo mondo è così romantico, tutti sono scopati li dentro! Grazie mille per riportarmi à questi giorni!


Jamie said...

have you tried making them? i'd love to try, they sound amazing. i can't find a recipe though...i'll keep searching:)
cute blog, i'm glad i found you!