Video Story: The Sicilian Kitchen of My Childhood.
Wine Enthusiast Contributor Mike DeSimone on an Italian roots journey with Chiara Planeta, where wine and food take center stage.
By Mike DeSimone
***Scroll down below to see a video of Mike DeSimone’s journey through Sicily.***
When I was growing up in suburban New Jersey, there were a few standard answers to the now politically incorrect question, “What are you?” Standard answers included “Italian,” “Irish,” “German,” “Polish,” or some combination thereof. In sixth grade we moved to a slightly more diverse town, and “Jewish” and “Black” got thrown into the mix. Never settling for standard, my well-rehearsed comeback was the exotic “Sicilian.” Not “Italian.” “Sicilian.” Besides our parents and grandparents, my three siblings and I were the only one hundred percent Sicilians that anybody knew. Well, except for mobsters—and they were in the movies.
I would like to say that my first meal in Sicily was an elegant affair on a moonlit terrace, comprising multiple courses, each one filled with smells, tastes, and textures that set off a flood of emotion. That would have to wait until my second meal. Our first meal, a half hour detour off the autovia on the outskirts of Salemi, was a square of deep-dish pizza at a bar filled with construction workers. Half-starved after a day of airline pretzels, we knew we needed something in our stomachs. I paused during my first bite. The springy focaccia-like crust was lightly drizzled with sweet tomato sauce and dotted with rounds of melted mozzarella. I turned to Jeff, informing him that this was exactly like the pizza my mom’s father made in my youth. Exactly. And my grandfather always let me sip from the glass of red wine he would enjoy with each meal, a tradition I was upholding with this pizza.
I recalled how I would rush home after school on “pizza days,” the anticipation of the first scent of that heady combination of yeast and tomato growing with each step. As I burst through the never-locked front door and ran into the kitchen, Grandpa Termini would scoop me up in his arms, calling me “Micheluzzi,” dip a wooden spoon into a pot of bubbling sauce, and give me a taste of pizza yet to come. Each grandparent’s sauce was different; there was no better or best, and to this day when I make my Sunday sauce, it is hard to pinpoint exactly whose influence comes through strongest. Deep in thought and slightly relaxed from the glass of local red, my reminiscence ended as Jeff reminded me we should probably get to Menfi while we still had sunlight.