Nebrodi: On the road again

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Nebrodi: On the road again

It was time to move again. Nicoletta and I glided out of Bronte, down across fields of pumice, the skirts of Etna, towards Randazzo, ‘City of Wine’, and then climbed the hills beyond. We headed into the Nebrodi, an area of Sicily more like upland Switzerland or parts of the Highlands. Thick woods of holm oak, cork trees, Sicilian pine, ash, beech, maples and hazel threw cool shadows across the road. Somewhere among them scampered and foraged the Suino Nero dei Nebrodi, the Black Pig of the Nebrodi that, a few years back, had provided the sweetest most penetrating, exquisite slice of cured ham I’ve ever eaten in my life. Every now and then the forest gave way to clearings in which creamy cattle munched on mountain grasses, and to villages clinging to the sides of hills

Even though it was deliciously sunny, there was the slight murmur of autumn in the air. The rose hips and crab apples as bright as Christmas lights lit up the verge.There were wild pears, blackberries, hazels and walnuts. The leaves on the maples were just, just beginning to turn, sere yellow beginning to infuse the green.

Presently I passed a farmer bent over in a rough field gathering something. Wild chicories, it turned out.
They looked like the flattened clumps of leaves you see around the base of a dandelion flower, only not shiny but slightly furry.

‘Are they good to eat?’ I asked.

‘They’re good for cows,’ he said. ‘They must be good for us.’

I didn’t challenge his logic, but asked if I could taste one.

He began trimming off the earthy root with a sharp, worn knife, bracing the plant against a gnarled thumb.

‘These are the first of the season,’ he said, ‘They’re best right now, just after a bit of rain.’

The leaves were slightly fleshy and slightly crunchy. Their bitterness was distinctive but mild.

‘How do you eat them?’

‘Raw, like a salad,’ he said,’ with oil and lemon. And cooked, boiled.’

He went back to picking and I went back to following the switchback road until it came out by the sea and the highway that led to Capo d’Orlando.

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