JUSU E SUSUJune 4, 2021
The Saltflats of PrioloJune 18, 2021
an embassy of taste of the Sicilian hinterland.
Twenty-five years ago, when Andrea Alì opened his restaurant in Palazzolo Acreide, one of the most beautiful towns of the Sicilian hinterland, the local gastronomic offerings were restricted almost exclusively, to fish-based cuisine. Andrea’s passion is the countryside, though, and he still suffers on those days he can’t visit it, so, thinking of wild vegetables, mushrooms, and wild fennel, so he decided to focus on local food, and chose the name Andrea sapori montani, Andrea’s mountain flavours. Despite the rocky start, the idea was the right one, and the success he obtained allowed him to change the name simply to Andrea, as he is now recognised as a true, very active, ambassador of taste, not only in his area, but also all over Sicily “because - he says - behind the blue of the sea there is green, the green of the Sicilian hinterland, and I try to bring to the table everything the countryside offers me”. In his five hectares of land he produces fruit, olives, and herbs he uses to cook, and whatever he doesn’t produce himself is supplied by “searchers” who go to the country in his stead, or he buys from local producers for whom he was a “business incubator” by urging them, for example, to breed the Nebrodi pig locally or to prepare ricotta with the old techniques. Likewise, the bread and pasta served by Andrea are home-made, using Sicilian flours.
Andrea, though apparently shy and reserved, is a very active presence in his area. For years he has cooperated with Slow Food, with whom he launched the Palazzolo Sausage Supervision, and with a group of colleagues he created Vicoli e Sapori, Alleys and flavours, a very popular event that will certainly return after the pandemic, and he is also in contact with the Contemporary Gallery San Sebastiano/Casa Bramante, for which he created a dish for an exhibition, turmeric cod with artichoke cream.
However, it is important to note that his cuisine has nothing in common with what’s trendy and glamorous! On the contrary it expresses, very simply, a rural wisdom that is a far cry from the contrived chefs of TV. “The public’s taste must be accustomed to novelty - he states - you can’t experiment too much, my cuisine follows an elegant route where the flavours must be real and well defined.” His seasonal menus speak for themselves, some dishes like the tagliolini with truffles are available all year long, but the type of truffle changes, the mushrooms are available from August to December, in the spring there is an explosion of colour with wild vegetables such as yellow asphodeline, which can only be harvested for two weeks every year. His first bet was to bring certain meats to the table in summer, like pig or sausage, and he won it by combining them with vegetables, and testing recipes such as black pork in a pistachio crust, which results fresh and pleasant thanks to the ginger and lemon peel which are part of the breading. His research and studies have been continuous, and he sometimes compares his work with that of his famous colleagues, though the most important discussions are the ones he has with his customers, who occasionally push him to question himself, for example when he wanted to take the carob custard off the summer menu, and was forced to backtrack. To be fair, the clients were right, as it’s so good, “I indigenized the recipe for Catalan cream - he admits - with a frugal dose of carob pulp flour because, if you look for colour, you only obtain a cloying effect”.
Though it’s something inexplicably rare in the restaurants of the Island, Andrea’s menus always have a good choice of selected cheeses, which come from local small farmers. That’s because he’s an authentic ambassador of taste.
A lifetime spent telling stories with words, pens, type-writers, computers, the camera-lens. The latest one is told in the book Il patrimonio degli equivoci. Allarme beni culturali in Sicilia because this is an area which he has dealt with for a long time for work and for personal interest. He directed the organisation of the International Prize for Cinema and Narrative Efebo d’oro for many years, and was a founder of No mafia Memorial. He couldn’t resist the thought of guiding SiracusaCulture and is chief editor.