Hello My Loves,
I feel the urge to talk about food. Perhaps it is because we are in Sicily and there remains here a deep and heartfelt connection to the stuff we put in our bodies. In the States such a connection is rare. In Sicily we are told about the source of the cheese, the flour, the sausage, the olive oil, the tomato sauce, the name of the farmer, the story behind the ingredient. The food has meaning.
In the USA food is increasingly split into factions and sects... communities of exclusion based on what is NOT eaten. Diet has become conceptual, it is based on ideas...this TYPE of food is good, this TYPE of food is bad. The ingredients themselves are standardized and available most everywhere, most of the time. With the exception of farmers markets, the link between the producer and the consumer is broken.
Yesterday we went into the countryside to a young woman's home to learn to make scacce, a very locally specific type of stuffed pie, similar to an empanada or a pasty. We visited the mill where the locally grown wheat is stone ground by a woman whose family has run the mill for generations, since the time the mill wheel was turned exclusively by the river running under the building.
Simona, our scacce maestra, shooed the cats off the table, set down a couple of large boards and measured out a mountain of the gritty, semolina style flour for each of us. As we worked water and olive oil into the dough she spoke of learning about the feel and the sound of the dough from her grandmother and how each time she makes scacce she remembers her, feels her spirit. The food connects her to something bigger. She feels the context.
When our balls of dough are patted into shape they are placed in towels and are literally "put to bed" under the blankets in her bedroom. While they rise we walk down the hill to her garden to pick some fresh parsley, pull an onion and gather a few other ingredients. It is a brilliant, sunny day set amidst the olive trees and lest it all get too idylic she speaks of the brutal work of creating and maintaining the garden...the Sicilians say, "the garden wants you dead."
Back in the house we flatten pieces of the risen dough into disks and roll them out with pins cut from lengths of broom handle. We clumsily imitate Simona's fluid rolling technique and eventually produce some usable, translucently thin rounds of dough for the crusts.
We make three different styles of scacce. The first is a half Moon shaped pie filled with a locally foraged wild green (gifted by a neighbor), chopped, steamed and then mixed with olive oil and garlic (all grown on Simona's land).The next was filled with tomato sauce bottled from the previous summers abundance, mixed with oregano and cubes of the regional cheese. Last was a filling of fresh ricotta and sausage, both ingredients from nearby farms, along with onion and parsley from the garden. Evident in all the ingredients was care and quality. The producer knew his/her customers and the customers knew the producer. As a famous Siciian pastry chef observed, "It takes a quality person to make a quality product."
When the scacce emerged from the oven...simple stuffed pies, nothing fancy... something very special happened... connection...context...shared awareness. The food was the conduit for a fundamental kind of recognition, a remembrance of the Unity we inhabit and that inhabits us.
We sat outside and ate in the sun. It was the best of meals.
With much love,
Here is a link to some videos and photos about the scacce experience.