The Palermo church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, well known as la Martorana, is a treasure trove of Byzantine mosaics.
As you go in the door, you’re greeted by a stunning mosaic of Ruggero II, King of Sicily.
His father was Jarl Rogeirr, descendant of Vikings, basically a Norman thug who enslaved Calabria in 1057 and then turned his sights to Sicily. He duly became Ruggero I, or Roger the First, in 1061. His behaviour improved from then on, probably due to the charm of Sicily. I greatly admired his statue in Naples.
There were three Kings named Ruggero and Palermo has numerous statues to prove it. Almost as many statues as Garibaldi. (I took scores of photos of the Kings to send to my cousin, another Roger, in Australia).
I was reminded of Ruggero II when Joe Malignaggi sent me this interesting link What can the medieval King Roger teach us about tolerance? We can learn a lot from Ruggero II indeed.
Rugerro II was fortunate to grow up in a very cosmopolitan atmosphere with excellent advisors such as the Emir Christodoulus of Palermo. During his reign, Palermo (the Arabs’ splendid city of Bal’harm) emerged as one of the wealthiest royal capitals of Europe.
The Arab-Norman Kingdom of Sicily became the most culturally advanced court in the Mediterranean world, a luminous centre of culture which attracted scholars, scientists, poets, artists and skilled artisans of all kinds.
Muslims, Jews, Byzantine Greeks and Latin Normans worked together to form a society that created some of the most extraordinary buildings the world has ever seen. Indeed, for one brief shining moment Arab-Norman Sicily was the most civilised place in the western world, even beyond the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, a place coarse and crude by comparison, where other Normans had set themselves up as kings.
Rugerro and his court ate well too and I’d love to get my hands on a recipe from that time but strict secrecy was employed by cooks regarding potentially lucrative formulas. Few, if any, recorded recipes survive.
A lot of traditional Sicilian dishes are termed Arab legacies, but it’s more accurate to say that they were born in Sicily and incorporate both Sicilian and Arab traditions. The Pasticcio di Pollo of the Emir of Catania is a good example, since it contains olives, capers, and other ingredients introduced prior to the Arab conquest but reflects the Arabic penchant for stuffed foods as well as the use of pistachio nuts. And that’s what I decided to try.
I didn’t make the pastry but used, instead, a packet of frozen pastry sheets.