Chef Massimo Bruno and songstress Daniela Nardi have teamed up to recreate an incredible expression of Italian culture with their Salone di Cultura series of events. The salon is an Italian invention that dates back to the 16th century. It is a gathering, under the roof of an inspiring host, held to amuse, refine taste and increase knowledge of its participants through conversation, creating an important place for the exchange of ideas. The dynamic duo of Bruno and Nardi through the introduction of their cultural interventions have created a fabulous exposition of Italianita’, showcasing to its patrons some of the greatest elements of Italian culture; elements such as literature, music and of course food and wine.
Each salone combines aspects of Italian culture with the authentic cooking of Pugliese chef Massimo Bruno. The spotlight shone on the southern region of Sicily recently where internationally renowned journalist and author Antonio Nicaso formulated a definition of the mafia, shedding light on the concept and dispelling myths. This enlightening discussion was matched by the soulful stylings of Daniela Nardi performing a selection of songs from “Il Canto della Malavita” and the Sicilian menu of Chef Bruno inspired by the street food of Palermo.
Sicilian cuisine is uniquely influenced by Spanish, Greek and Arab cultures (each of which established themselves on the island over the course of the last two thousand years). Classic dishes from this region are characterized by elements from the earth, the sea, the trees and the vines and Chef Bruno did a wonderful job of showcasing some of Sicily’s finest with arancini piccanti, sfincione, arancia e finocchio and fresh-made cannoli.
Arancini, which are fried breaded balls of rice, are one of the most common street foods. While several variations exist, real arancini come in one of two forms “a carne” which finds a ragu’ of tomato, meat and peas stuffed inside, and “a burro” with a stuffing consisting of mozzarella, butter and ham. For his Sicilian menu, Massimo Bruno offered a spicy version of the golden orange rice balls.
Another standard from the menu of street fare, sfincione. While it bears some resemblance to its Neapolitan cousin, the pizza, it differs in that it is taller and softer. Unlike pizza, this soft leavened bread, is typically rectangular in shape and topped with tomato, onions, caciocavallo cheese and anchovies. It is a wonderfully greased and flavorful bread with a crispy crust.
To counter balance the richness of the arancini and sfincione, a refreshing and slightly tart blood orange and fennel salad, another dish very representative of the region. The slightly more bitter, but less acidic blood orange originated in Sicily and can be used in a myriad of ways; juices, cocktails, sauces, granitas, marmalades and salads. The oranges are beautifully complimented by fragrant fennel which is plentiful in this southern region.
And of course, a Sicilian inspired menu could not be complete without the signature sweet, cannoli. Translated to little tube, the name stems from the Latin “canna” meaning reed. This staple consists of tube-shaped shell of fried pastry dough, filled with a ricotta cream that is flavored with vanilla or orange water and a small amount of cinnamon. The open ends of the tube are then dotted with chopped pistachios, semi-sweet chocolate pieces and candied citrus peel.
These sensational samples from the south were paired with noted wines from the region, the reds Nero D’Avola, and Syrah and white Grillo whose qualities were highlighted by a seasoned sommelier.
The Salone di Cultura was an authentic experience in many ways and I look forward to partaking in several more. Buon Appetito!
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