Whisps of white smoke billowed out of the top, ominous. Its height an imposing force, looming, against the picture-perfect blue skyline. And yet below Mt. Etna, life went on, cheerily, the hustle and bustle of chic Catania in full swing.
I watched the smoke for a little while longer, happy at my balcony view, the cool breeze touching my face in early October in Sicily, the tail end of the pistaccio harvest and the last leg of our honeymoon, a dream being realized. I have always loved Italy but had never been, until now. Born with an old Italian last name; an unquenchable thirst for all things Italy; years in college developing my second language; and now, the culmination, this trip.
This was no ordinary honeymoon. After a whirlwind few days visiting as many cities as possible on the mainland, my new husband and I flew to Sicily, where I was to meet my extended family for the first time ever. A handful of emails and one phone call the night before our plane landed was the full extent of contact I had had with my distant relatives, who before this trip I didn’t even know about. Through the veracious research and gracious email introduction of a stateside cousin, I was put in touch with my cousins, three times removed on my father’s side. They lived in Catania, Sicily and since it was nearby the Taormina hotel my husband had booked us, they graciously invited us to stay with them in their home for a few days before the last part of our trip. Ever the hospitable Italians.
I gripped the phone as I sat on the edge of my hotel bed in Milan, brow furrowed in deep concentration as I listened and replied in my best college Italian to what I hoped were correct flight numbers and arrival times. My sweet English-only speaking husband looking at me with something like blind trust and a smile, completely reliant upon me and my shaky language skills to get us from Milan to their home in Sicily. No pressure.
And yet, the second we descended the stairs of the Catania Airport and walked out to the crowd of people, I locked eyes with my distant cousin and his grown daughter and felt like I was home. Despite not having exchanged pictures of each other, I had easily locked eyes with my Sicilian relatives and just knew it was them despite the throng of people. With watery eyes, I hugged and kissed cheeks, and hugged some more, repeating the few Italian greetings I had studied and overcome with emotion at my new reality. I have family in Sicily. And they are gracious and kind and hospitable and generous and it was an instant, tangible, fierce kind of love for these people who had gone from strangers to famiglia in one hug.
And for three days we stayed in their beautiful home, with views of Mount Etna and beyond. We listened to their stories, our shared family history; They taught my husband how to make a true Italian espresso; and there was not a spot on the island they would not drive us to; We toured the Greek theater of Siracusa; hiked the famous volcano; and shopped in the streets of Catania. We picked fresh arugla from fields near the Greek theater and created an incredibly fresh salad with dinner and snacked on Bastardoni (juicy prickly pears) for a treat. I never wanted to leave.
That was ten long years ago. My husband and I have created our own sweet, young family in Texas since then, with four small children under the age of seven. We will celebrate our ninth anniversary this October and every year I am reminded of our honeymoon and what an honor it was to have made it so much more than a trip by opening up my world and adding family to my life I hadn’t known. We have stayed in touch, but have not yet been back. It is my new dream that one day my children will meet their young Sicilian cousins and I can open their world to a piece of their family story they do not yet know.
But in the meantime, to keep the old memories fresh, I like to create new recipes inspired by my trip and my Sicilian heritage. Last night was one of those recipes! And just like that I’m back in Sicily, around my famiglia’s kitchen table.
It started with a beautiful bread I bought that can be used as the base for a variety of things, but I was already making simple pizzas for the kiddos and wanted to up the flavor factor for a separate ‘adult’ pizza for my husband and I.
This is so simple and quick that I hope you’ll be inspired to make it the next time you crave a slice of pizza pie!
I just rough chopped purple onions, red bell pepper, and zucchini and tossed them in a skillet with some olive oil over medium heat. I added some salt and pepper and let the vegetables get a little tender then added two heaping handfuls and more salt and pepper. Once the spinach is welded down, you’re almost done. I turned off the heat and spooned the veggies onto this beautiful bread, then sprinkled the whole thing with feta. And because I wanted to add a little panache, I quickly made a balsamic glaze to slather over the top of the whole thing. I just eyeballed two cups of good balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan over medium heat and added three tablespoons of brown sugar. Once that was simmering I dropped the heat down to low and whisked it occasionally until it reduced by half and became thick and syrupy and the perfect accompaniment to my vegetable pizza.
If you make this for your next date night or walk down memory lane like I did, tag it with #howtosuburb on Instagram and show me how it turned out!