Friday, 21 December 2012

Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo!

Buongiorno a tutti. I hope that you are all looking forward to Christmas and are almost finished your preparations! For this special Christmas blog I would love to share with you some interesting Sicilian Christmas images that I have come across recently.

This first photo was taken in the town of Viagrande, around 20 km from Catania. It features the balcony decorations of Giuseppe Sorbello, a local Fiat 500 enthusiast who loves his car collection so much that he has incorporated them into his Christmas! This is truly a 'Sicilian style' Christmas!

The second image is following on from last month's blog post about Christmas Nativities and is actually of an underwater Nativity Scene in the depths of the Tyrrhenian Sea close to Mondello.

This amazing spectacle by Giuseppe Benardo is the result of a collaboration with the local Sea Club, Rotary Club and Theatre 'del Sole' and will be underwater until the 6th January 2013. This Nativity Scene will also be visible at night thanks to a beautiful light installation which lights up the entire sea bed for all to see.
Sicilian cart made of chocolate - Cioccolart Sicily
For the chocolate lovers out there, you will be pleased to hear that there will also be a festival in Taormina dedicated to the art of chocolate! The second edition of the Cioccolato Sicily festival will take place at the 'Chiesa del Carmine' from the 20th December until the 6th January and features a beautiful exhibition of chocolate sculptures. There will even be tasting sessions, Christmas markets and a competition for the best chocolate cake!
Christmas in Palermo 2012

So, as you can see, there are many wonderful things to visit around the island of Sicily throughout the Christmas period. From the more traditional Nativity scenes of Caltagirone as mentioned in November's blog, to the 'not-so-traditional' aspects as shown here.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas wherever you are in the world and a very healthy and happy new year. Thank you so much for your continued support thoughout 2012 - it has been a pleasure, as always, to receive your wonderful stories and photos and I hope that you will keep them coming throughout 2013.
Buon Natale!
Debra Santangelo
P.S. If you enjoy reading my blog please become a follower by registering at the Google 'Join this site' icon on the right of the blog page. Grazie mille!!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Caltagirone Nativity Scenes and Sicilian Christmas Cookies!

Buongiorno a tutti! I hope that you are all well and had a very spooky Halloween. Well, the bad weather has officially hit Italy now which means one thing - Christmas is coming! I know that our American amici will be well into the festive spirit now as they prepare for Thanksgiving and in Sicily preparations are being made for the traditional Nativity scenes that appear across the island in the month of December.

One city in particular that attracts thousands of visitors each year to its Nativity displays is Caltagirone. This Baroque town in the province of Catania has long been famous for its beautiful pottery, in particular its ceramics and terracotta, and actually takes its name from the Arabic words for 'Hill of Vases'. The city's main landmark is the staircase of Santa Maria del Monte which was built in 1608 in the old section of the town. Each of the staircase's 142 steps is adorned with different hand-decorated ceramics using varying styles and figures from the town's ancient tradition of pottery making. To celebrate Caltagirone's Patron Saint 'San Giacomo', or St. James, on the 25th July the steps are lined with terracotta oil lamps which are lit simultaneously by hundreds of locals creating a spectacular effect.

For the month of December the town comes alive with beautiful Nativity scenes made entirely of terracotta which are displayed throughout Caltagirone, some residents even open their homes to show their own intricate displays. One fine example of a Nativity scene is 'Il Presepe Animato in Terracotta' which can be found in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine. This Nativity display features moving figures and extends over 80 square metres - the largest in Italy. On the 25th and 26th December and the 6th January there will be a 'live' Nativity scene in the town's historic centre featuring more than 200 local residents dressed in costume.

Throughout the month of December there will be Christmas markets and processions in the town such as that on the 'Festa dell'Immacolata' on the 8th December. For the two days prior to this feast day there is a delicious aroma throughout the town as bakeries sell the traditional 'muffulette' - a local bread made with fennel seeds.

Any of our friends still looking for inspiration for their Christmas presents should take a look at our new Etna Collection at These necklaces, bracelets and earrings are handmade with real volcanic lava and Swarovski crystals. To thank you for your continued support we are also offering our followers a 10 percent discount until Christmas - just enter the code 'AMICIZIA' at checkout.

So, Happy Thanksgiving to all of our friends in the US and I hope that all of you across the world are beginning to feel that festive spirit. Don't forget to use our recipe for Sicilian Christmas Cookies, or 'Mastazzoli' on last December's blog at -

A presto!


P.S. If you enjoy reading my blog please become a follower by registering at the Google 'Join this site' icon on the right of the blog page. Grazie mille for your support!!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A Siracusan Ghost Story for Halloween!

Buongiorno a tutti! With our memories of the long, hazy days of summer fading fast and the dark evenings setting in, it seems that the time has come again for my traditional Halloween ghost story! Those of you who have visited rural Sicily in the winter months will be aware of the eerieness that descends on the towns as the flocks of tourists leave. As the seasonal mist shrouds the rustic villages, the atmosphere changes and a drive through the Sicilian countryside brings you across many abandoned homes and isolated towns.

This particular legend is set in the province of Siracusa, to be precise, on the road that leads to the town of Ognina. If you travel along this road you will come across an old dilapidated house - which is known in local dialect as 'la casa re spiddi' (the house of the spirits). You will also notice that fellow motorists will sound their car horn three times when passing by this house.

Many legends and local stories surround the house but the most famous version is that of the three sisters who lived in the house in the 9th Century. These sisters lived their entire lives waiting to find potential suitors for them to marry but unfortunately they were deemed too unattractive to pursue. These young girls turned into bitter women who stopped going into the outside world and spent their final years in loneliness within the four walls of their home. Out of their bitterness was born an evil curse which condemned anybody who passed by their house without acknowledging them and sentenced them to death in a brutal car accident.

All motorists who pass by must sound their car horn three times in recognition of the women and to this day sightings are still noted of mysterious hitchhikers outside the house who simply vanish into thin air.
If this story hasn't already sent a shiver down your spine, you can watch this documentary video about the legendary Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, or 'le Catacombe dei Cappuccini' -

These catacombs are also featured in the novel by Trinacria: A Tale of Bourbon Sicily by Anthony Di Renzo at

So, Happy Halloween to all of my Sicilian Connections friends worldwide ........ don't forget to sound your car horn three times if you find yourself on a dark, Siracusan road!

A presto,


P.S. If you enjoy reading my blog please become a follower by registering at the Google 'Join this site' icon on the right of the blog page. Grazie mille for your support!!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Sicilian Pride and Passion Across the World!

Buona sera amici! We are now into October which, in the USA, is celebrated as 'National Italian Heritage Month'. Throughout America there will be numerous celebrations highlighting the sense of pride and loyalty felt towards Italy by the many immigrants who left the peninsula long ago.

Between the years of 1861 and 1965, almost 25 million Italians left the peninsula in search of a new life. This is considered to be the biggest mass migration of contemporary times and, in Sicily, was partly due to the drop in economy and over-population experienced after the unification of Italy.
In 1906 alone, 100,000 Sicilians emigrated to the United States of America and in 1920, 87 percent of Sicilian immigrants were still headed for the US. Other countries with a significant number of Sicilian immigrants were Venezuela, Brasil, Mexico, Canada, Australia and other countries throughout Europe. Some of the main cities in America where Sicilians settled were New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco and these immigrants tended to reside together in groups depending on the area that they came from. For example, in New Orleans there was a district called ‘Little Palermo’.
These Sicilians were so passionate about their homeland that they took many of their traditions and values with them. They believed in these customs so much that many aspects of Sicilian life have become an intrinsic part of communities worldwide and are still very much in evidence today. Throughout the year there are festivals across the world to celebrate different Sicilian traditions. The island’s way of life is echoed daily in neighbourhoods worldwide through their cuisine, language and culture, such as the music listened to or the plays seen at the theatre.
An example of a tradition which has been taken to America is the ‘Festa di Santa Rosalia’ in Brooklyn which is dedicated to the Patron Saint of Palermo. This annual festival originally took place in the first Italian parish in Brooklyn, the Sacred Hearts and St. Stephens Church in Carroll Gardens, and has since been moved to the community of Bensonhurst. The procession originally involved followers walking barefoot through the streets of the neighbourhood to show their devotion to the Saint.
Every year Italian-American merchants set up stalls at the various festivals around the country selling Sicilian specialities such as ‘cannoli’, zeppole’ and ‘arancini’ and entire communities come together to celebrate their heritage and tell stories about their ancestry. It is viewed as a real honour to belong to such a loyal and devoted community and it is this devotion that will ensure that the respect for ‘u paese vecchiu’, or the old country, will stay strong long into the future.
I created Sicilian Connections because over the years I have met many people of Sicilian origin that, for various reasons, have emigrated and live in different locations worldwide, but the passion that they feel for their homeland has remained strong. It was my aim to create a community where Sicilians could come together and share their wonderful stories of the island and memories of their ancestors and, thanks to the pride and devotion of our Sicilian Connections friends worldwide, this is now a reality.
A presto,
P.S. If you enjoy reading my blog please become a follower by registering at the Google 'Join this site' icon on the right of the page. Grazie mille for your support!!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Trinacria: A Tale of Bourbon Sicily

Buongiorno amici! I hope that you have all had a very enjoyable Summer and, following the advice from my August post, made a wish on a shooting star for 'La Notte di San Lorenzo'!

I am very happy to share with you all that I have recently been given the title of Duchessa ....... I must be honest, however, and admit that this is actually as part of an exciting campaign to publish the historical novel 'Trinacria: A Tale of Bourbon Sicily'. The author of this novel, Anthony Di Renzo, is a Professor at Ithaca College and is also a friend of mine who has impressed me immensely over the past months with his knowledge of Sicily and his enthusiasm for this project.

I was very happy to put Sig. Di Renzo in touch with the experienced Business Consultant Roberto Ragone and together they have created this wonderful campaign to raise the necessary publication funds for Trinacria. The sponsor of the campaign is the Italian Cultural Foundation at Casa Belvedere, a beautiful villa in Staten Island overlooking the Verrazano Bridge, which is dedicated to preserving and promoting an appreciation of the Italian language, culture and heritage.


Set in 18th- and 19th-century Palermo, Naples, and London, Trinàcria: A Tale of Bourbon Sicily revolves around the Marchesa of Scalea, Zita Valanguerra Spinelli, notorious beauty, ferocious wit, secret murderer, and reluctant businesswoman, whose turbulent life mirrors her world’s rocky transition from feudalism to capitalism.

For anybody that wants to get involved (and maybe even gain Duca or Duchessa status!) the Trinacria campaign is at the following link -

You can also watch this fascinating video about the novel's story -

A presto!

Debra Santangelo

P.S. If you enjoy reading my blog please become a follower by registering at the Google 'Join this site' icon on the right of the page. Grazie mille for your support!!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Ferragosto - A Magical Midsummer Celebration!

Buongiorno a tutti! I hope that wherever you are in the world you are enjoying some of the summer sun which is currently in abundance on the island of Sicily. Temperatures have been consistently hitting 40 degrees celsius and across the island beaches are full of both residents and holiday makers looking for a welcome escape from the midsummer heat.

Next week it will officially be midsummer according to the Italian calendar as the entire peninsula celebrates 'Ferragosto' on the 15th August. This festival derives from the Latin Feriae Augusti (the holidays of the Emperor Augustus) and traditionally celebrates summer and the end of hard labour in the fields. In the past, businesses used to close for the whole month of August and even now offices often close for at least one week as Italians travel to the beach for their annual holiday. Cities across the country become almost deserted apart from the ever-present tourists as residents leave the humid city air behind for the unrivalled beauty of the Italian coastline.

Many families and groups of friends actually make their way to the beaches on the evening of the 14th August to light campfires and spend the night under the stars. This often coincides with the peak activity of the Perseid Meteor Shower which is generally between the 9th and the 14th August - providing beach-goers with a front row seat for this spectacular sky scene. According to tradition, the falling stars represent the tears of St. Lawrence who was buried on the 10th August 258 A.D. following a martyr's death. In fact, the Night of St. Lawrence (or La Notte di San Lorenzo) is an enchanting occasion for Italians who look to the sky in the hope of making a wish on a shooting star.

In the early morning of Ferragosto, revellers sit around their campfires and watch the famous Sicilian sunrise before making their way to the nearby beach-front cafés for a morning espresso and delicious granita. This is one of my favourite Italian traditions and one which is now celebrated around the world. An example of this is in Arthur Avenue, New York (or Little Italy in the Bronx) where over 15,000 Italian Americans take to the streets each year in September to enjoy their ancestor's fascinating culture and delicious food.

Buon Ferragosto amici! I hope that you will find a summer celebration near you ... and if not, at least be sure to look up to the sky next week and be ready to make a wish!

A presto,


P.S. If you enjoy reading my blog please become a follower by registering at the Google 'Join this site' icon on the right of the page. Grazie mille for your support!!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Stragusto! Trapani's International Food Festival

Buongiorno amici! We are now in the middle of July, which in Sicily means that Summer is now in full swing. As residents seek shelter from the 40 degree Mediterranean heat, the thousands of tourists now on the island enjoy Sicily's unrivalled selection of golden beaches.

July also means that it is finally time for Stragusto! Trapani's International Food Festival which takes place every year in July. This year the event will take place between the 22nd and 24th July in Piazza Mercato del Pesce, the city's historical fish market which offers a breathtaking panorama over the Mediterranean Sea.

Every evening from 7pm until midnight this beautiful location will play host to stalls selling an endless variety of delicacies, all created and cooked for you in the piazza. These foods include Sicilian specialities such as zeppole, arancini and sfincioni but also showcase a wonderful selection of cuisine from other Mediterranean countries. There will be live entertainment and music including performances displaying international traditions and customs. Wine connoisseurs will also have the opportunity to indulge in tasting at the festival's 'wine sensory analysis laboratories'!

The province of Trapani has long been renowned for its international aspect due to its status as an important fishing port, its vicinity to Tunisia and, like the rest of the island, its many conquerors throughout history. This has culminated in the creation of a fascinating local cuisine which is a fusion of the province's many influences. The area's most famous dish is fish couscous and the town of San Vito lo Capo holds a world-renowned annual couscous festival in September.

San Vito lo Capo is also famous for its beautiful golden beach which has just been voted the best beach in Italy for the second year in a row.

So, buon appetito amici ..... and just incase if you can't make it to this this year's festival, here is a video of Stragusto 2010 for you to enjoy -

A presto!


P.S. If you enjoy reading my blog please become a follower by registering at the Google 'Join this site' icon on the right of the page. Grazie mille for your support!!

Monday, 2 July 2012

My Sicilian Paradise - Taormina & Hotel Villa Angela

Buona sera amici!! This is the first post that I have written in a while as I have been travelling around Sicily undertaking some research for my upcoming travel articles. I have had a wonderful time and seen some truly spectacular places and I would like to share one of the highlights of my trip with you. As I'm sure you all know from my previous posts, I am completely in love with the hill-top town of Taormina in the Sicilian province of Messina. It is my favourite place on the entire island and therefore I could not resist taking the opportunity to stay there overnight while on my journey.

For some time now I have heard wonderful reports about a certain hotel in Taormina and this research trip presented me with the perfect chance to experience the hotel's offerings for myself. This hotel is the Hotel Villa Angela and is the result of a vision by Jim Kerr, the lead singer of Simple Minds who owns the residence and guided its creation from day one. Mr. Kerr was obviously enchanted by Taormina's magic just as I was and he also fell in love with the town many years ago, thus deciding to build the hotel and allow others to enjoy the same experience.

As I travelled up the winding roads above Taormina towards Hotel Villa Angela, the views across the Bay of Naxos became more and more breathtaking and the presence of Mount Etna more magnificent. We arrived at the establishment to find that there was ample car parking which, as anybody who has experienced the labyrinthine 'vias' of Southern Italy will know, is a real bonus. The reception area below opens out onto a large terraced area, with the views of the Ionian Sea ever-present, and we were immediately greeted by the Hotel Manager Charlie Galea who was courteous and obliging from my very first contact with Villa Angela.

In-keeping with the rest of the hotel, our room was adorned with Sicilian furniture and beautiful Caltagirone ceramics and featured a large terrace overlooking the swimming pool. Many hotels in Taormina do not have a full-size pool due to the towns hill-top location therefore it was truly heavenly to take advantage of this element and swim in such a picturesque setting. Breakfast is served on the restaurant terrace and there is a vast selection of local produce on offer.

In the evening, we used the hotel's shuttle bus service and ventured into the resort centre to dine at the Ristorante Granduca which is situated on the seafront. The perfect setting to indulge in some Sicilian cuisine and chilled vino bianco! After dinner we visited my favourite bar 'Caffé Wunderbar' in Piazza IX Aprile and listened to a Sicilian accordian player before heading back to the hotel.

I had such an enjoyable experience in Taormina and at the Hotel Villa Angela that I really didn't want to leave. I shall console myself, however, with the fact that I can now share my time there with my Sicilian Connections friends worldwide and hopefully I shall see you there one day soon!

The hotel's website is if you would like to take a look at their beautiful photographs.

A presto :-)


Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Viva San Giorgio!

Buona sera amici. I would like to start this new blog post by sending my thoughts and prayers out to those affected by the tragic earthquake that struck Emilia Romagna yesterday. To suffer again only ten days after the last earthquake hit the region is terrible and I am sure that you all join me in sending out our sincere condolences to the families of the victims.

On the last Sunday in May every year there is a spectacular feast day held in Ragusa dedicated to the Patron Saint of Ragusa Ibla - St. George or San Giorgio. This year it will actually be held on the 3rd June but the celebrations last across the whole weekend.

The Cathedral of San Giorgio is a beautiful example of Baroque architecture and is characterised by its ornate facade featuring 250 steps and enormous intricate columns. Each evening throughout the celebrations this Cathedral, or Duomo, will be spectacularly lit up and in the Piazza Duomo there will be live events and music bands.

On the Sunday of the 'festa', the statue of San Giorgio, which was sculpted by the Palermitan Rosario Bagnasco in the second half of the 19th century, is paraded through the streets of Ragusa Ibla on the shoulders of devotees. This is followed by a marching band and hundreds of the town's residents and Sicilians who come to Ragusa for the celebrations. When the procession is over, there is a spectacular firework display in the Piazza Duomo which is famous for its elaborate exhibition and magnificent colours that light up the night.

If you won't make it to these wonderful celebrations, take a look at the beautiful video below to see what it is that attracts devotees from across the island -

You can read more about Ragusa on my website -

A presto, amici!


P.S. If you enjoy reading my blog please become a follower by registering at the Google 'Join this site' icon at the top right of the page. Grazie mille for your support!!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Baroque Noto in Bloom

Buongiorno a tutti! I hope that you are all well and that you acted upon my previous blog post's advice to indulge in a Spring Sicilian 'scampagnata'! Today I want to talk about the Infiorata di Noto which is due to take place from the 18th to the 21st of May in the Siracusan town of Noto. This is a beautiful flower festival which takes place each year on the third Sunday of May.

On the Friday of the festival, artists start to create their own individual work of art with flower petals, organic seeds and a special kind of soil. These pieces all come together to create a beautiful flower scene stretching all of the way along the Via Corrado Nicolaci. The stunning effect is almost like a stained glass window and leads up to Chiesa di Montevergini which is also worth a visit to see its beautiful ornate marble altar and concave facade. Hundreds of visitors will come to the festival over the weekend to enjoy the 'Infiorata' and on the Monday local children will be allowed to run through the flowers to destroy the exhibit until next year.

Via Corrado Nicolaci is also home to the elegant Palazzo Nicolaci, a Baroque-style residence which now houses the local library and is renowned for its intricate balconies such as the one in the image below. The city of Noto is famous for its 18th century buildings including its beautiful cathedral and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Anyone who won't be able to make it to Noto for the flower festival should at least make a visit to our new Facebook group - Siclian Connections 'La Piazza' at the following link -!/groups/304770149603514/. This group has been created to allow our friends across the world to share their favourite Sicilian photographs and songs so please join us!

A presto!


P.S. If you enjoy reading my blog please become a follower by registering at the Google 'Join this site' icon at the top right of the page. Grazie mille for your support!!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Sicilian Sunshine and 'Scampagnate'!

Ciao amici - I hope that you all had a wonderful Easter! In Italy, no sooner are residents back to work and school after the Easter holidays then other celebrations make their appearance.

The 25th April is the 'Festa della Liberazione' in Italy, or, Liberation Day. This 'festa' commemorates the day in 1945 that signalled the end of the the Fascist regime in Italy and is now a national public holiday. Throughout the country ceremonies take place in commemorance of the peninsula's fallen soldiers and exuberant marching bands play in hundreds of beautiful piazzas.

The 1st May is also a national public holiday known as the 'Festa dei Lavoratori' or, the celebration of the workers. This is to celebrate the achievements of Italian workers in the struggle for their rights and Italian Labour Unions organise an annual concert in Rome's Piazza San Giovanni which is attended by internationally famous music groups. In Sicily, families and groups of friends head into the country for a 'scampagnata', or picnic, which usually entails an abundance of barbecue-cooked meat and litres of homemade wine being consumed! Many people also head to the coast where beaches open for the summer and the sun is finally hot enough for the first swim of the season.

At the 'Lago di Pozzillo', in Regalbuto (Enna), boat races are held on this day every year attracting numerous visitors to the shores of this beautiful artificial lake - one of the largest man-made lakes in Europe. I would recommend a trip to this area at any time of the year just to experience the beauty of rural Sicily and to see for yourself the expanse of the hills and valleys with the legendary backdrop of Mount Etna. Regalbuto itself is an ancient town set high up on the Sicilian hills and is the location of many stunning Baroque churches and aristocratic buildings.

Many Italian residents, especially office workers, will take advantage of these two public holidays by taking off all of the days inbetween to enjoy a leisurely extra-long weekend. The expression for this is a 'ponte', which literally means bridge.
So amici, enjoy this 'ponte'  - and I hope that those of you who are not in Italy will be able to enjoy a delicious 'gelato' somewhere scenic ....... or why not even organise a full-blown Sicilian 'scampagnata'!!

A presto :-)


P.S. If you enjoy reading my blog please become a follower by registering at the Google 'Join this site' icon at the top right of the page. Grazie mille for your support!!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Buona Pasqua!

Buongiorno a tutti i miei amici!! I hope that you are all well and enjoying the Spring sunshine :-)

We are now entering a period which, to me, is the most significant week in the Sicilian calendar, and that is Easter. Every year, the atmosphere in Sicilian towns changes considerably throughout the week according to the day and its religious implications. Even the weather usually changes accordingly, with the week prior to Easter being dark and miserable, only to give way to glorious sunshine on Easter Sunday. My own personal experiences of the week's events have mostly been in the town of Adrano, which is situated at the foot of Mount Etna, in the province of Catania. The processions are so elaborate and moving here, and they attract thousands of devotees.

Today the procession of 'Cristo alla Colonna' takes place from 6pm until 3am tomorrow morning, when the statue of Christ on the cross is carried throughout the streets of Adrano, calling in at each of the town's churches in order for the men carrying the statue to kneel at each altar. This is so emotional to watch as the statue is carried very slowly, three steps forward then two steps back, and sways from side to side. On Good Friday from 7am until 2pm the statue of the Virgin Mary, l'Addolorata, is carried through the streets visiting each church looking for her son Jesus, and at 8pm there is the procession of 'Cristo Morto'. In dialect, this is 'U Lizzanti' and is the statue of the body of Jesus which makes four stops around the town, each time accompanied by a marching band playing the funeral song 'Canzoncina a Gesù morto'.

On Easter Sunday the sun is normally bright in the sky and hundreds of families head towards the town centre to see the procession of 'Cristo Risorto' (Christ Resurrected), the Angel and of 'Maria Annunziata' (Virgin Mary). The happiest time of the day is when the statues of Jesus and Mary finally meet and this is known as 'A Paci'. The statues are made to dance and kiss and the atmosphere in the piazza is so happy and uplifting. Adrano is renowned for 'la Diavolata', which is a theatrical production held outside in the piazza on Easter Sunday and depicts the fight between good (symbolised by angels) and evil (the devils). In the evening the town holds an incredible fireworks display.

I wish each one of you a 'Buona Pasqua' and will leave you with a video in Italian showing the highlights of Easter in Adrano -

Amici, if you enjoy reading my blog please become a follower by registering at the Google 'Join this site' icon at the top right of the page. Grazie mille for your support!!

A presto :-)


Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Sicilian Springtime and Zeppole :-)

Buongiorno a tutti! We are now into spring and even though it has been a novelty this year to see so much snow in Sicily, it is a welcome change to see the nights becoming longer and the beautiful pink bougainvillea coming into bloom.

This is also an exciting time for Sicilian Connections as we have now launched our new online Art Store and are so happy to finally see the Sicilian images taking pride of place on our website. For those who have not yet seen the gallery at, the photographs are by the very talented New York photographer Joe Zarba who fell in love with Sicily whilst searching for his ancestral family in Leonforte. The photograph below is one of my personal favourites and is of Bar Vitelli in the town of Savoca. This atmospheric establishment is where Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, met Apollonia's father in 'The Godfather' film.

I hope that all Italian fathers enjoyed their 'Festa del Papá' yesterday and that 'le zeppole di San Giuseppe' were eaten in abundance throughout the world :-) For anybody who is not familiar with 'zeppole', they are delicious deep-fried dough balls which can be eaten savoury (for example if filled with ricotta or anchovies) or sweet (eg. filled with cream or smothered with honey). They are traditionally eaten for the 'Festa di San Giuseppe' which is celebrated on the 19th March, but in Sicily, where they are also known as crispelli and sfingi, they are sold throughout the year, especially throughout the summer celebrations. I shall leave you to look at the recipe for ricotta crispelli and to enjoy the gorgeous 'primavera'!

A presto - Debra :-)

                                             Le Zeppole di San Giuseppe/ Crispelli


Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup of flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 pinch salt
1 and a half teaspoons of white sugar
Quarter teaspoon of vanilla extract
Icing sugar for dusting

1) Heat oil in a deep-fryer to 190 degrees (375 degrees F)
2) Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a saucepan. Stir in the eggs, ricotta and vanilla and mix gently over a low heat until combined.
3) Drop carefully into the hot oil a few at a time and fry until brown (about 3 minutes).
4) Drain and dust with icing sugar.

Note: In Sicily, the ricotta is usually placed into the middle of the batter but the above method is easier for home baking.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

La Vita é un Carnevale!

Carnival time is here again amici miei! :-) Italian towns have been taken over by revellers in costume, spectacular street parades and merchant stalls selling every kind of Italian delicacy. The official date of 'Carnevale' this year is the 21st February which is the traditional 40 days before Easter, however many towns have been celebrating for weeks already. Carnevale is the final celebration before the restrictions of Lent - in fact the term is widely recognised as originating from the Latin words 'carnem levare' or 'take away the meat'.

The festival itself is thought to have derived from the ancient Roman 'baccanali', celebrations during which drunken revellers would walk around the city with their faces painted whilst singing, yelling and performing pranks. Tricks and pranks are still an integral part of Carnevale, hence the saying 'a carnevale ogni scherzo vale', meaning that during carnival time any kind of mischief can be expected! The 'Carnevale di Misterbianco' is famous for its wonderful costumes such as that in the image below - modelled on the Amazon Rainforest!

The large colourful floats are also thought to have taken root from ancient Roman times when citizens would hold a festival called Saturnalia to honour the god Saturn, in the hope of achieving a fruitful harvest. During this festival parades of floats carrying masked girls and boys would go along the streets and this tradition is still evident throughout Italy. The 'Carnevale di Acireale' in Sicily is world famous for the colourful paper maché floats that pass through the town and each year there is a competition for the best and most original. For those of you who have never been to a Sicilian 'Carnevale' here is Acireale's promotional video for this year to give you an better idea :-) -

Buon Carnevale a tutti!! Enjoy. A presto,

Debra :-)

Friday, 3 February 2012

Viva Sant'Agata!!

Buona sera a tutti  :-) So much has happened in Italy since my January blog post. First, news travelled quickly throughout the world of the Costa Concordia disaster just off the Tuscan island of Giglio. This was such a tragic incident and our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families. The Italian peninsula was then hit by some of its coldest temperatures in decades. Northern and Central Italy are still suffering from heavy snowfall and even many of the higher towns in Sicily have not been spared this rare occurence.

On a more positive note, we are now entering February which is one of the most festive months in the Sicilian calendar and hopefully the sun will return in preparation for the wonderful Sicilian 'primavera'! Today marks the beginning of the annual three day 'Festa di Sant' Agata' in Catania - a world-famous religious festival which celebrates the city's patron saint and attracts almost a million devotees each year. St. Agata is also the patron saint of fire, earthquakes and Mount Etna eruptions and is buried at the Chapel of Sant' Agata within the majestic Duomo di Catania.

The Saint was martyred in the year 251 aged only fifteen and during the celebration the statue of St. Agata which houses her relics is carried through the streets in a silver carriage, or 'fercolo'. This carriage weighs 40,000 pounds, or 18,000 kilograms. and is pulled by 5,000 local men who are welcomed back to the Duomo with a spectacular firework display.

The traditional festival food for 'La Festa di Sant'Agata' are the delicious, sweet 'Olivette di Sant'Agata'. Here is the recipe for those of you who won't be attending this year's festivities.......Enjoy!

Servings: 6-8
Ingredients: 200 grams almonds, shelled
200 grams sugar
1 tablespoon rum 
sugar for coating
green food colouring
Remove the skin from the almonds after immersing for a few seconds in boiling water, and grind together with 100 grams sugar.
Place the remaining sugar in a saucepan with a few tablespoons of water, and heat until it starts to melt. Remove from the heat, and add the almond mixture, rum and a small amount of the green colouring.
Knead until the mixture is smooth.
Rub small balls between the palms into the shape of olives. Coat each “olive” by rolling it in sugar.
Leave for a few hours before serving.

A presto amici,

Debra Santangelo