On Friday, January 20th, 2023, Veronica Di Grigoli took members of the National Capital Lawyers Auxiliary on a virtual journey called “Escape to Sicily.” Little did they know it should really have been called, “A Taste of Sicily.”
In an ingenious presentation, Di Grigoli guided the audience through 13 separate invasions of Sicily by highlighting the food and recipes they left behind.
Starting with the cave paintings of the Sikeloi, the original tribe that gave Sicily it’s name, Di Grigoli explained the biblical “manna from heaven” is believed to be manna from the Fraxinus Ornus tree that can only be found in a few spots on earth, one of them being, Sicily.
She went on to discuss the vineyards in Marsala planted by the Phoenicians , the salt mines they established in Trapani, the fig trees, lentils, and couscous brought from that period.
The Greeks brought cheese, yogurt, octopus and squid. Romans brought various fish, wild boar, and vegetables, including carrots of every color of the rainbow except orange.
The North Africans overwhelming improved the diet with: citrus trees, pistachios, apricots, melons, rice, saffron and other new crops, spices, and cooking styles. They invented cooling dessert sorbets, Cassata Siciliana (a type of sugary cheese cake), and brewed Ethiopian coffee.
Because everyone needs entertainment with their after-dinner coffee, the Moors of Egypt also brought their card games. Sicilian playing cards originated in Egypt, where they are still used today.
All generations of Sicilian families are ardent card players and start learning to play along with learning their numbers. Di Grigoli has written a book on the art and history of the playing cards, along with another pocket version that details how to play the games for beginners. Her book on cards is available in English and in Italian and is well-written. It’s an excellent reference for card players looking for something new, as well as family fun.
Di Grigoli went on to talk about the influences of the Normans, who added uniquely Sicilian breeds of pork, beef and chicken. The Germans brought cooking and medicinal herbs and meat hygiene to the island. The Spaniards conquered the region and along with the inquisition introduced prickly pears, vanilla, potatoes, and both tomatoes and Aztec chocolate from America. Modica, a city in Sicily, specializes in this Aztec chocolate to this day. Tomatoes were unknown in Italy until the mid-1500’s when Spanish conquistadors planted seeds in Sicily. Interestingly, Sicilian pizza actually predates pizza in Naples.
The audience was delighted. Many of those attending gave high praise also for Di Grigoli’s books, “The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife,” and “The Godmother.” Her humor and breadth of knowledge intertwined to provide a long history of Sicily in a very “tasteful” way.
**Links are provided to American Amazon, for other places to buy the book internationally, please go to Di Grigoli’s website: SicilianGodmother.com for more information.