A Saucy Sicilian Experience

“It’s now or never” as Elvis Presley used to sing in the sixties, well I guess as time passes and you get older, you realise that now is the time. Now more than ever I pursue traditions, even those I had never tried before. In Sicily traditions are a fundamental part of our lives.

Well, I’ll tell you about my new experience which I call: A saucy Sicilian experience.

Every Summer many families still prepare tomatoe sauce preserves for the cold seasons when garden tomatoes are no longer available. Sicilians are very fond of tomatoe sauce and once or twice a week, pasta with sauce is an unfaltering presence on our menu. These preserves are the so-called “buttigghi” which means bottles of tomatoe sauce.

Another preserve prepared with tomatoes is the “sarsa” similar to tomatoe paste, but much more salty and of course much more natural as, the only ingredients are tomatoes, salt and sun. The “sarsa” is used to prepare ragu or stew in which we plunge in our delicious, world-famous meatballs.I had never made the “sarsa” before, although I often use it in my Winter cooking. The sarsa gives dishes that special taste and gives the sauce consistency and a marvelous red coloring. I called Maria, the person that every year sells me a nice big jar of “sarsa”, but she told me that she no longer made it. It was a pity because Maria’s “sarsa” was unique, made with mountain-grown organic tomatoes and dried under the Cinisi mountain sun. A bit reluctantly I asked if she knew anyone who could sell me some and she answered: “Why don’t you make it on your own, it isn’t difficult.” At this point she explained the whole procedure and I diligently took note.

I followed Maria’s instructions carefully because l wanted to be sure that my “sarsa” would turn out successfully and wouldn’t deteriorate nor be attacked by mold.
Early in the morning, I spread the thick and salty sauce on the smooth, big wooden boards (“stinnitura” in Sicilian), the carpenter had prepared for me. Each hour I went up to the terrace and give the sauce a thorough, meticulous swirl to obtain a uniform desiccation of the product. I guess I was lucky because the designated day for my tradition-preserving task, was a very hot and fairly windy August day.  By sunset my “sarsa” was ready, nice and thick. I am very proud and satisfied of my achievement: our family traditions continue.

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