Homage to Siciliy: Sardine Crostini with White Bean Puree and Salmorigliono

It's official, I've booked a ticket to Rome and Sicily. Am ecstatic to get away, to leave things behind, shut my brain off, enjoy more of life for other words, simply do nothing -- il dolce far niente -- literally, the sweetness of doing nothing (an idea that is clearly lost in the United States). I want to be incommunicado (please don't call or write or ask about my whereabouts, well, at least for a few weeks). I want to be lost in the world, with only a good pair of walking shoes, my camera, an open mind, and, of course, a healthy appetite.

It's been ten years since I was last been in Rome.  Have never visited Sicily. There is so much history in Italy, which I'm eager to explore, but will readily admit that travel, for me, is as much (if not more) about the food, as the historical sites. Ten years ago, I was just starting to discover food, so there is a lot to catch up on.

Started doing some research on Sicilian cuisine. It's a melting pot of Arab, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Noman, German, Aragonese, Spanish, French and, modern Italian influence. Couscous, or cuscusu, hearty pastas (pasta with wild fennel and sardines, sea urchin pasta with parsley and tomatoes), incredibly fresh seafood, vegetables (such as artichokes), citrus, capers, olives, fresh ricotta, bottarga (salted fish roe), and wild fennel (which grows all over the island) are staples. Much of Italy's organic produce is grown in Sicily's interior. Sicilian food is all about the sea and land, and I want to try it all. 

So, in honor of my forthcoming trip to Sicily, I've prepared a simple crostini of rosemary and garlic infused white beans with pan fried sardines, topped with wild ramps and salmoriglio, a condiment made from lemon juice, olive oil, minced garlic, chopped oregano, salt, and pepper. Salmoriglio derives from the Sicilian word salmurigghiu, which means a light brine. Bought the ramps from the Green Grocer. They were freshly foraged; have been waiting patiently all winter for ramps (and spring) to arrive. My efforts to coax the location from which the wild ramps were procured was met with a mere smile.

Simple but delicious and with the freshest of ingredients, the hallmark of Sicilian cuisine.

Anybody have any recommendations on Rome and Sicily?? Favorite islands? Restaurants? Must-try food? Destinations? I'm all ears.

Pureed white beans with rosemary: 
3 cups cooked white beans (reserve the cooking liquid)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 teaspoons rosemary, finely chopped
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Squeeze of lemon
1/4 + 1/8 cup olive oil
1/2 cup reserved cooking water

Puree the cooked white beans. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil, garlic, and rosemary in a medium saucepan over low heat. When the garlic is soft, ~ 5 minutes, stir in the pureed beans, ~ 1/2 cup reserved cooking water, squeeze of lemon, and salt and pepper. Turn heat up to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are hot. Add additional cooking liquid if needed. Set aside.

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoon fresh oregano (finely chopped) or 1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 cup olive oil
sea salt 
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
pinch dried chile flakes
1/2 lemon
2 tablespoon simmering water

Place the garlic slices in a mortar and pound into a rough paste. Add a pinch of salt and pound until smooth. Add the oregano, olive oil, black pepper, and dried chili flakes, pounding lightly. Cover and store at room temperature. Just before serving, add the simmering water, squeeze in the lemon juice, and whisk. Spoon over crostini.

Preparing the Sardines:
Pat the sardines dry. Season with salt and pepper, and a light dusting of flour. Shake off any excess flour. Heat ~ 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over medium heat, until the oil is very hot and smoking. Add the sardines to the pan, cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side until golden brown. Remove from the pan and place on paper towels to drain. De-bone the sardines.

Assembling the Crostini:
Toast the bread (used a miche bread from a local bakery). Spoon some of the rosemary white beans onto the bread. Place two fillets of sardine on the bread. Top with a few ramps (sauteed quickly in olive oil, salt, and pepper).

Drizzle with salmoriglio.

Can't wait to try the local cuisine and bring back lots of new ideas to try at home. Will be certain to save some room in my suitcase for a few culinary finds (such as bottarga) and, of course, a few bottles of Sicilian wine and olive oil.

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