When we arrived in Palermo, we took a taxi to get from the airport to the hotel downtown, since we had just missed the train, my preferred choice. The taxi ride included:
- driving on the far right of a one-lane street that had become a three-lane one (of which the leftmost lane was the original one) and passing cars and trucks on the right, something which is not allowed in Italy even on the freeway
- driving at 90 miles an hour on the freeway, once we got to it after having to take a detour due to road works under a bridge
- driving on the wrong side of the road in the city and hastily getting back into the legal lane when a bus was coming straight against us.
After recovering from the taxi ride, we went out and walked towards the harbor, then we had dinner at Hostaria da Ciccio. We arrived there shortly after 7 pm, a rather ungodly hour to have dinner in southern Italy. The waitress, in fact, started her shift after our arrival. Fortunately there was another couple of tourists, so we were not the first ones to sit down at a table.
Being in a rush when you eat is a concept that doesn't work in Sicily: I find this a good thing. Our dinner, appetizer and main course of fish with a side of steamed bieta (Swiss chard), took about two hours. The appetizer was caciocavallo all'Argentiera, a simple dish of satisfying flavor and texture.
Caciocavallo is a mature cow milk cheese that is typical of southern Italy (shaped differently in different areas). The plate we received had a slice of caciocavallo a bit more than 1/4-inch thick that had been slightly melted in a pan containing olive oil. A dash of vinegar and a pinch of sugar (una puntina di zucchero, the waitress said) were added to provide the traditional agrodolce (sweet and sour) contrast. The final touch was a sprinkle of dried origano (oregano) and black pepper. The end result was delicious to all the senses. Caciocavallo all'Argentiera must be eaten right away, when it is still hot. The melting process that started in the pan concludes in your mouth with great satisfaction of all taste buds involved.
In the cookbook La Grande Cucina Siciliana by Fiammetta di Napoli Oliver, I read that the same dish can be made with pecorino or other mature cheese. I bought a slice of caciocavallo from a store and a small bag of dried oregano from La Vucciria, one of the outdoor markets that enliven the streets of Palermo. We ate the cheese with bread (I did not have access to a kitchen in Palermo, so unfortunately I could not make caciocavallo all'Argentiera with it) and I will bring the oregano back home as a souvenir that occupies little physical space but a lot of room in flavor-land.
As a side dish for my main course I chose steamed Swiss chard, a quiet companion for the sparkling grilled red mullets that arrived enveloped in an aura of sheer delight. Swiss chard has always been one of my favorite vegetables and has become even dearer to me after I successfully grew it in our neighborhood community garden. As you can see in the photo, I planted rainbow chard and harvested a lot from just a few plants.
I wrote this post as my on-the-road entry for the two-year anniversary of Weekend Herb Blogging, a weekly event started by magic Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen. I then realized that I had missed part of the instructions, so I am using this as a reminder of the big event and of the ongoing name your favorite herb and vegetable election. Apologies to the early readers and stay tuned for the next act.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the caciocavallo all'Argentiera audio file [mp3].
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