From my visit to Noto 2002
My father's grandmother was born in the town of Noto in Southeastern Sicily, so I was excited to visit that town when I traveled to Sicily in 2002. I was also excited to visit Noto, because that is where Corrado Assenza operates the Caffe Sicilia, a pastry shop founded in 1892 (about the time my forebears left Sicily for the U.S.). Assenza has been running the Caffe since 1985, when he took it over from his aunt to avoid the Caffe's closure. Though I didn't get to meet him then, I did visit the shop, where I enjoyed exceptional Sicilian pastries, gelati and confitures. I brought home some wonderful Marmellata from that trip including, Assenza's Marmellata di Cedro (citron).
Over the years, Assenza has developed a reputation as one of the foremost proponents of native Sicilian ingredients used both in traditional and creative ways. One of the trademarks of his art has been his ability to capture the aromas and essences of the Sicilian countryside in his work. This focus on the scents of Sicily, the aromas and perfumes of his homeland, was the subject of his presentation at Madrid Fusión.
Assenza and his assistants prepared two dishes each highlighting the natural produce of Sicily along with flavors and product from other parts of the world. He highlighted specific products in each dish such as the justly famous Sicilian pistachios from Bronte, ricotta, Sicilian "Rosselo" wheat, mandarin leaf syrup, almonds and apricot flowers from Sicily as well as some non-Sicilian ingredients like black Venere rice, green tea and jasmine. The dishes were called Time of a Rest and Sweet Freshness.
Preparing "Time of a Rest"
Preparing Time of a Rest
always defined Sicily as it mixes Asian ingredients with those from
Sicily as well as other parts of Italy. Fusing green tea and jasmine
essences in the forms of jellies with black venere rice,
a cross between Chinese "Forbidden" rice and an Italian variety and the
very Sicilian products of almond cream, apricot flower syrup and sedro
(citron marmelade), the dish is designed to impart an intoxicating
blend of sents that perfume Sicily.
Assenza is a master of pastry, but also a master of Sicily, incorporating as he does the products and traditions of that island in his work, while also remaining a man willing to incorporate new approaches and ingredients into that same work much as Sicily has done since the days of the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the French, the Spanish and the Italians.
Of note, I believe that the recipes and descriptions of the dishes on the Madrid Fusión website are mixed up. Assenza's Citron marmelade and other products from Caffe Sicilia can be purchased here or here.