In Sicily, Echoes of New Orleans

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Photo by Faith Willinger

La Madia is my favorite restaurant in Sicily, located in the village of Lictata, on the southern coast. Chef-owner Pino Cuttaia works with the best fish and seafood from local waters, vegetables from his father-in-law's garden, amazing Sicilian ingredients like sheep's milk ricotta, wild fennel greens, squash tendrils, citrus fruits, pistachio nuts, and extra virgin made with native cultivars.

Every time I'd visit I was fascinated by a sign at a sandwich shop across the street, in the shape of a waitress wearing an apron with a heart-shaped pocket, proffering a tray of what looks like fast food: a hot dog, bag of fries, piece of pizza, and canned beverage. The menu on the sign included muffoletti, which I knew from the Central Grocery (where they were called muffuletta) in New Orleans. Had I found the sandwich's Sicilian origins?

I wanted to try one but ruining my appetite before a meal at La Madia was out of the question and the shop was always closed when I visited. So Pino and his wife Loredana decided to make perfect muffoletti for me and a group of food-lovers. He explained that they were round, flat whole wheat, black-pepper and anise seed rolls, used for a sandwich that was a favorite snack for kids at school. They are filled with sausage and greens, or tuna and hard-boiled eggs--not exactly like the New Orleans version, which has many more ingredients. The woman at the shop where he purchased his sandwich was always smashing more oil into the tuna in the can, which meant less tuna and more oil, and a greater profit.

Pino split open the rolls, laid out plates of grilled sausage, cooked greens, sliced spring onions, great Sicilian canned tuna, hard-boiled eggs and we all proceeded, following Pino's instructions, to assemble our muffoletti for lunch. He was so inspired by our interest that he's created a mini-muffoletto roll, now part of the ample, irresistible bread selection at La Madia. If you can't make it to "La Madia", check out Pino's cool website, in Italian, English and Sicilian dialect.

You can find them at Corso F Re. Capriata, 22 Licata (AG), telephone 0922 771443 or email info@ristorantelamadia.it. Closed sunday dinner and Tuesdays.

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Faith Willinger is a chef, author, and born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and has spent over 30 years searching for the best food from the Alps to Sicily. More

Faith Heller Willinger is a born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and was seduced by Italian regional cooking. Faith has spent more than 30 years searching for the best food and wine, as well as the world beyond the table from the Alps to Sicily. She has no regrets about mileage or calories. Faith was awarded the prestigious San Pellegrino award for outstanding work as an ambassador of Italian cooking. She lives full-time in Florence with her Tuscan husband, Massimo. Her son Max lives in Milan. She's the author of the bestselling (9th printing) guidebook Eating in Italy, the cookbook Red, White & Greens, and the narrative recipe book Adventures of an Italian Food Lover. Faith teaches in her kitchen in Florence on Wednesdays, supplied with freshly picked produce from her favorite farmers. Check out her web site at www.faithwillinger.com.

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