“These are caper bushes. Lizards poop the caper seeds inside the stones, and a year later we have capers” exclaimed Maurizio while we toured his property in the cooler hills just outside Modica. The previous day he showed us his pepper garden where he grows some nasty stuff including Jalapeño, Ghost, Carolina Ripper, and Habaneros. The garden overlooks the beautiful country side, sitting in front of Maurzio’s sister pottery studio, where seasonal students stay for a week to learn the craft. Add olive trees, tomatoes and a whole lot more to his backyard arsenal. For a New Yorker like me, the entire scene and three day stay is surreal.
An hour prior I was smashing those lizard dropping capers and mixing it with parsley, garlic and bread crumbs. Then we dipped thin slices of pork loin into that and rolled them around Ragusa cheese sticks, cigar style. That was our meat course. Under Maurizio and his adorable mom’s (who laughed at all my jokes even though she didnt understand a word) supervision we cooked all sorts of traditional area specialties. We baked bread. We made eggplant ravioli (who knew it was a thing) served with fresh tomato sauce. We baked Focaccia Tomasini rolls, a local traditional snack filled with ricotta, onions, and fresh sausage. Everything obviously delicious when YOU make it, especially those amazing Tomasini rolls pictured here twice. Most of the stuff I havent even heard of before that day. There’s not a whole lot in common between NYC Sicilian and Sicilian Sicilian turns out.
By the end of the night I was counting my blessings that we don’t need to drive anywhere, and I can just roll myself with some help from the lizards to bad. When Maurizio ran out of wine and homemade alcohol, he started emptying his dad’s which was a few houses down. Maurizio will discuss anything and everything with you with great interest. He used to cook at Ciccio Sultano’s famed Doumo (Arguably Sicily’s best), but preferred to waiter at another Sicily legend, Cafe Sicilia. He loved interacting with people and it certainly shows. His love for food and his unconditional love for Crocs is very evident. When we exchanged gifts, we gave him a bottle of wine, and he gave us a gift that made me teary eyed all the way to Aragona, 5 jalapeno peppers.
The setting overlooking Modica and its Duomo made leaving that terrace very difficult each morning. Each breakfast featured a new item that Maurizio or mama cooked. Usually some nutty pastry, bread or cookie of sorts. That same Duomo was watching us the entire time while we cooked in the sprawling open kitchen. Only the next day while finally sober, going to the mesmerizing Modica for the first time, I realize that that is a different church, not the famous cathedral. Either way, the whole stay at Modicarte with the ex-chef and mama felt very genuine, filled with moments we will never forget. Next time I bring crocs.