The Shape of Sicilian Water

When Metternich famously dismissed Italy as “a geographical expression,” the peninsula was divided into states ruled by (to name only the principals) Austrians, the Vatican, and Spanish Bourbons.  Yet even 150 years after the Kingdom of Piedmont united Italy by conquest, the truth of Metternich’s description remains perceptible to anyone who travels from Torino to Firenze.  If you are flying from Milan to Palermo, the change is profound, more like going from Zurich to Madrid than going from Boston to Birmingham.

The change in cuisine is more noticeable than even the differences in dialect.  In the Emilia there is, for example, a fineness in the tortelli and ravioli that is only occasionally found in Florence.  Go to Sicily, however, and even the freshest pasta is often thicker and cruder than you will find anywhere else.  Upon reflection, however, you will realize that the tagliatelle made in Bologna would not stand up against the passionate abandon of the flavors of a Sicilian sauce, which might include olives, sultanas, pistachio nuts, and saffron.  What might at first seem crude turns out to be something both powerful and subtle, the result of thousands of years of conflicting culinary styles that settled into a tradition.

I don’t know Sicily at all well.  I’ve visited the island perhaps half a dozen times and driven round the perimeter and across the center. ...

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