Aeschylus turned into sitting on a rock, probable questioning or writing, in step with his habit. Mistaking the bald and shining head of the poet for a rock on which to break open his prey, an eagle flying overhead dropped a tortoise. According to legend, the tortoise hit the mark, instantly killing the Greek tragedian who, having returned to the south coast of Sicily in 453BC, changed into searching for refuge in the wheat-bearing land of Gela.
The poet Archestratus was also from Gela. Unlike the bald and unfortunate Aeschylus, Archestratus’ death was not tragic. In reality, quite the other. A proud glutton, Archestratus became a 4th-century BC Jay Rayner, roaming the Mediterranean eating and writing humorous didactic poems advising human beings wherein to discover the exceptional meals, substantially fish. Fragments of his poems still exist today, included into The Deipnosophists (The Sophists at Dinner), in step with writer Mary Taylor Simeti (whose novel, On Persephone’s Island, and books on Sicilian meals I particularly propose). The fragments are a blueprint for present day cookbooks, advising us, for instance, the way to cook tuna: “Slice it and roast it all rightly, sprinkling just a little salt, and buttering it with oil.”
These days, references to Gela are more likely approximately the looming presence of an oil refinery, or the dark aspect of the first rate tomatoes that develop in this segment of warm, salted coast. Guide books not handiest recommend you to drive past Gela, but to hurry up and avoid your eyes. For us, Gela is our summer time home; the now-defunct oil refinery, with its red-and-white chimney, a stripy landmark as we method my associate’s home town for a month of circle of relatives, sausages and crimson mullet cooked at the roof, bread protected with sesame seeds, days with the aid of the sea and watermelons for miles. There’s also salmoriglio, a sauce that flavours our summer and meals, and also one which interprets anywhere you can find olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and oregano.
Like such a lot of sauce recipes, you don’t actually need one for salmoriglio. However, an concept of proportions would possibly assist. Pound, weigh down or very finely chop a clove or two of garlic with a pinch of salt. Add the juice of a lemon (about 100ml), 200ml more-virgin olive oil and a generous pinch of dried oregano. You also can upload a pinch of red chilli or some chopped parsley, if you like. You could make it within the blender – in fact, it creates a cloudy sauce with actual texture – however I tend to weigh down the garlic and salt in a mortar, scrape it right into a jar with the oil, lemon and oregano, and shake madly. This additionally means that leftovers are ready to be stored inside the fridge.
You can use fresh oregano, if you desire; the fragrance of the small leaves remind you that oregano and mint are household. Dried, but, is while oregano comes into its personal, with the musty fragrance deepening. I used to discover oregano fragrance unpleasantly strong – dusty, even. I now recognise this changed into as it became forgotten in a drawer for years and years, pulled out and used unknowingly.
The flavour of oregano is pleasant delivered out via braising, stewing or in residual heat, which is why it’s miles sprinkled in or on pinnacle of stews, as opposed to fried. The excellent oregano is the sort in dry bunches: rub a stem between your hands over a sheet of kitchen towel, then preserve any left over in a jar, and the bunch in a dry place, however now not for too lengthy. Alternatively, you may use clean marjoram.
At the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School in the Sicilian countryside, they serve salmoriglio in a gravy boat to be poured on heat veggies: steamed broccoli, slices of courgette or thousands of steamed vegetables. “Pass me that boat of deliciousness,” requested my friend the remaining time we have been on the school.
In Gela, I marinate thick slices of aubergine in salmoriglio (or, as my father-in-regulation says, “salamarigghiu”), leaving them for about 20 minutes so they sop up the flavours, earlier than searing them on a ridged grill. I additionally marinate fish (swordfish or cernia) or grill entire fillets on our bandy-legged charcoal grill, then pour over the sauce at the same time as still hot off the grill. Heat is important for salmoriglio: it wakes up the flavours like an alarm – specially the garlic and oregano, with its musty, peppery fragrance, inseparable from the harshly stunning and shrubby Sicilian panorama wherein it grows, and tortoises fall.