I spent some extra time in the chapter on the Agrigento province as my grandfather was born in the tiny hilltop town of Santa Margherita di Belice. I was curious about the food he enjoyed as a young Sicilian. Pasta con sarde, or pasta with fresh sardines, is part of our family lore and the cookbook did not disappoint. Fresh sardines and fresh anchovies are nothing like the dried, canned and salted versions that often top our pizza here in the United States. When fresh, they both have a very delicate and light ocean taste. Last summer while vacationing on the Italian coast of Cinque Terre, I had anchovies soaked in lemon juice that tasted nothing like their salted dried cousins. If you have any problems finding sardines in your local grocery store, they can often be found in Japanese markets. Ask for iwashi, that’s sardines in Japanese.
Last Saturday, I treated my parents to a Sicilian dinner with gamberi con la conza, which is a shrimp dish from the Agrigento area topped with a mixture of toasted almonds and breadcrumbs called conza. Conza, which Sheldon Johns explains, is often called a poor man’s cheese. Lest you think this means that it’s second best to cheese, think again. We not only sprinkled the conza liberally on our gamberi (shrimp) but also put heaping spoonfuls directly into our mouths. The satisfyingly crunchy nutty taste was a perfect accompaniment to the simple shrimp dish sautéed in garlic, olive oil, chili powder, and a scant one half cup of dry white wine.