What comes from Sicily? Most people have the answer on the tip of their tongues: the mafia and Mount Etna volcano. Both are pretty dangerous, so if it’s on the tip of your tongue, you better spit it out! But seriously, no other place in Italy has so many ruins because no other place had that many invaders throughout the ages: Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs – you name it, and you’ll find that at some time or another, they traipsed through the biggest Mediterranean island and left their mark on the island’s rich history. Sicily has something for everyone. If you are an opera lover, like me, Palermo boasts the largest opera house in Europe. If you can spend hours admiring old buildings, Baroque churches in Noto and Modica are world-famous. And if you are a foodie, that’s where both caponata and cannoli come from, among other scrumptious culinary offerings.
However, due to one of the best movies of all times (that’s my opinion – feel free to disagree!), the entire world got the idea that Sicilia’s most important contribution to civilization is mafia. Marlon Brando’s lovable Don Vito Corleone is a strong defender of universal values: respect, friendship, justice. Of his sons, only Michael, the youngest, an attorney and a product of American education, deserves to take over a sprawling criminal empire because he resembles his father the most.
As you listen to Henry Mancini’s haunting music, notice how Al Pacino’s Michael initiates courting of lovely Apollonia. Yes, Beautiful People, Sicily is also famous for its beautiful girls who are, to quote Michael’s bodyguard, “more dangerous than shotguns.” Stricken by thunderbolt of love at first site, the young American demonstrates uncanny resemblance to the old Don’s manner of addressing people, while proffering appropriate respect to Apollonia’s family.
In a different part of the world, there is another mountainous place renown for its traditional values, its beautiful women and proud men, and its unique cuisine.
This is Georgia (a country, not a state), and its songs and dances are justly considered “the eighth’s wonder of the world.” I don’t know of any other people whose folk songs are polyphonic. If you do, Beautiful People, please let me know in comments! Not only are their songs both harmonic and polyphonic, but there are as many voices blending, as there are men sitting at the table.
As you see, this is not a professional a capella ensemble, but simply family and friends drinking the famous Georgian wine, eating delicious Georgian food, and expressing their joy of life through a spontaneous song.
Besides the similarities in national character, there is very little in common between the two cultures, other than the marked presence of green vegetables on their tables. It appears that, in addition to mafia, one more well known thing originated from Sicily, Swiss Chard. Contrary to its name, it not Swiss at all; it was botanist Karl Koch who named it, and he was not even Swiss himself – he was German. Don’t blame the Chard for this confusion!
Swiss Chard comes in different colors: ruby red, white, yellow, rainbow, and green, but it tastes the same, almost like spinach, but nuttier, with dense, crunchy ribs. As I found a beautiful bunch of ruby red chard in my favorite farm store, I decided to bring the two cultures together by flavoring Sicilian vegetable the Georgian way. Here is an offer you can’t refuse!
First I diced a small white onion and thinly sliced four large garlic cloves. As I sautéed them together in olive oil, I separated the ruby red ribs, or stalks, and chopped them into small pieces. Once my onion softened and garlic became pink, I added chopped stalks, followed by chopped mushrooms and pre-cooked chick peas. I stirred this mess, covered it, and let it cook for a few minutes, until chard stalk pieces softened. Meanwhile, I roughly tore the chard leaves into smaller pieces and added them. This was the time to make it Georgian. Traditional Georgian flavoring includes lots of garlic and fresh cilantro, walnuts, wine, and lemon juice. Garlic was already there, so all I had to do was to add the rest of the stuff, season with salt and pepper, and stir for a couple of minutes, until the chard leaves wilted. I am sure that even Don Corleone would have approved of this dish!
- 1 bunch of Swiss Chard, any color
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 small white onion
- 4 – 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1/2 pint white mushrooms, sliced
- 1 1/2 cup pre-cooked chick peas or 1 can, drained
- 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
- 1 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped, stems included
- 1/4 cup sweet red wine
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Separate chard stalks from leaves. Slice stalks into bite size pieces. Tear leaves by hand into roughly 1 inch size pieces.
- Preheat Dutch oven or deep frying pan to medium.
- Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil, until soft and pink. Add stalk pieces, mushrooms, chick peas. Mix, cover, sauté for 5 – 7 minutes, until stalk pieces soften.
- Add torn leaves. Add the rest of ingredients. Mix well. Keep stirring until leaves wilt.
- Serve immediately, garnished with fresh cilantro.
About the guest author:
Dolly Aizenman is the brainchild behind Kool Kosher Kitchen (Which her blog and her book are named after).
This charismatic Russian blogger is fond of cooking and writing.
She has a BA in Art and Music Education, MA in English, MS in Education and Ed.D. in Educational Leadership.