I had come to Scicli on the trail of Montalbano.
This was a trail I’d followed from the Piazza Duomo and the Trattoria La Rusticana, (Calogero’s) in Ragusa Ibla, along to Castello di Donnafugata, (the home of Mafia Boss Balduccio Sinagra) down to Punta Secca (Marinella) and to the beach at Sampiere where I walked along the ‘Mannara’.
I knew the police station in ‘Vigata’ was really the Scicli Town Hall but I wasn’t prepared for the impact of the beautifully conserved baroque street of Via Mormino Penna. A beautiful, harmonious street full of swirls of wrought-iron balconies and glorious stonework. Certainly the equal of any in Ragusa or Modica.
Scicli is another town in Sicily where I felt right at home. If I believed in such fancies as genetic memory or, heaven forbid, reincarnation, then I have walked these cobbled streets before.
Scicli’s old town centre, centro storico, is part of the World Heritage Site of the Val di Noto and it’s full of generous, warm-hearted people who went out of their way to make a stranger feel welcome.
La Madonna dei Milici
I wasn’t prepared for the baroque splendour and I wasn’t prepared for a militant Madonna either. Scicli can boast a warrrior virgin as Patron Saint, the Madonna of the Militia.
It was back in 1091 that Emir Belcane and his troops disembarked onto the plain of Donnalucata near Scicli and a savage battle naturally followed. Roger de Hauteville, later King Roger of Sicily, defeated the Emir’s troops and that was the end of them! The Saracen occupation was replaced with a Norman occupation.
Luckily for Roger he was assisted by the Virgin Mary, sword in hand, who appeared on a prancing white horse somewhat in the manner of Joan of Arc, and a celebration is held in Scicli every year to commemorate the victory.
And now, the Turkish Heads
No, it’s not bloodthirsty as you may think. They’re not what they seem! Molto spesso non sono come sembrano!
Teste di Turco, Turkish Heads, are huge cream puffs filled with sweet ricotta. Ever since the crusades the Europeans have enjoyed eating Turks’ or Saracens’ heads in one form or another and the teste di turco are a kind of ideological trophy.
Recipe Notes :
ALWAYS measure ingredients by weight, not by volume
First lightly beat each egg so that you can stop adding it immediately when you reach the right consistency – a dough with a glossy sheen
If you don’t use ricotta, fill with vanilla custard or thick cream
- 226 g water
- 113 g unsalted butter, cubed and at room temp.
- 130 g plain flour, sifted
- 4 large eggs
- generous pinch of salt
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Place salt, water and butter in a saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
- When the water is just starting to boil (butter should be melted at this point), add the flour in one go (do this with the saucepan away from the stove/heat) and vigorously mix the flour in so that it absorbs all of the water (use a wooden spoon or spatula to do this).
- When the flour has absorbed the water and it's forming a dough, return the pan to the stove (medium heat).
- Cook the dough for 2-5 minutes while you move it around in the pan until you get a dough that pulls away from the sides of the pan, forms oil droplets on the surface and when you stick a spoon in the dough, it stays upright.
- Transfer the dough to a bowl. With a whisk (or hand held mixer), mix the dough while adding the lightly beaten eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
- Prepare a baking tray with baking paper and mist the surface with water by lightly sprinkling water with your hands
- Using 2 teaspoons, place smallish blobs on to the baking sheet
- Bake in preheated oven for 30 - 40 minutes in the center of the oven, or until the choux pastry shells puff up and are golden brown on top. Don't open the oven door at least till you have reached the 25 minute mark.
- Remove from the oven, and prick each shell with a toothpick and let it cool completely.
- When cooled, fill with soft, sweet ricotta, and serve immediately.
You may also like to read
The Famous Feud in Sciacca
The Remarkable Reign of Roger II
Ragusa, a tale of Two Cities