Under a Modican heaven

Fri, 12/10/2010 - 09:26

The weather in Sicily can be capricious at this time of year and never was it more so than in the past week: on Friday Modica’s Chocobarocco Festival opened to rain clouds and consequent doubts about its success but we needn’t have worried. For the past few days we have been basking in 25° C - a temperature which would be declared a heatwave in Britain – and people all over the rest of Italy have been gaping at their television screens in disbelief as Sicilians have headed for the beaches.

Thus it was that I decided there was no better way to celebrate the Immacolata holiday on Wednesday than to take a stroll under the cloudless skies of Modica Bassa and make the most of the combination of sun and chocolate: Everyone in Modica, it seemed, had had the same idea but the atmosphere was relaxed as young and old strolled along the Corso, greeting acquaintances and non-acquaintances alike, wishing them “auguri” and agreeing that it was a lovely day.

The aroma of freshly made chocolate reminded me of long-ago school visits to the Fry’s Chocolate Factory near Bristol, UK and for some moments I was overwhelmed by a sense of nostalgia. But, with all due respect to Mr Fry, I do not think he ever came across chocolate like this! There it was, masses of it, piled high on the stalls. At the Chocotecca you could pick and mix all kinds of chocolate drops: white, dark, milk chocolate and chocolate coffee beans. At other stalls you could taste and buy chocolate cakes, chocolate pastries, chocolate-based spreads, chocolate liqueurs and even try out chocolate cosmetics.

Among the edible delights on offer there were, of course, “impannatighi”, the pasty-shaped pastries containing beef as well as chocolate although you would never know that they contained beef from the taste. Their name is a corruption of Spanish “empanada”. In Visconti’s film of Tomasi di Lampedusa’s “The Leopard” there is a scene in which the Prince and his courtiers prepare for the journey to Donnafugata and I’ve always worried about the comfort of the ladies, travelling in their layers of Victorian dress in the Sicilian summer heat – until, that is, Katia Amore told me that “impannatighi” may have been used to sustain travellers on their journeys. I’ve felt so much better about the comfort of those aristocratic ladies since I’ve been able to imagine that they at least had “impannatighi”!

In the courtyard of the Town Hall artists were working on chocolate sculptures and from outside the daring could embark upon a “chocolate tour” of the city on the back of a Vespa. You could also take the tour in a vintage Fiat and people waved happily from the little train that was offering panoramic tours of beautiful Modica.

There were exhibitions about the history of chocolate and how it came to Modica, cookery demonstrations, chocolate-related art exhibitions and more, as well as the inevitable beauty contest, “Miss Cioccolatino di Modica”, which had taken place on Saturday.

But a Modican festival requires three other components to make it complete: the Bersaglieri, whose band ran down the Corso to tumultuous applause at 12 pm precisely; fireworks, of which there were plenty at midnight; and cannoli: When you want to find some wonderful food item in Sicily, I have one tip - follow the crowd. So when I saw a flock of Modicani gathered around one particular stall, I knew there had to be cannoli and these, made by the good folk of Bar Elena in Piana degli Albanesi [Palermo] were oozing with ricotta and pistachio cream fillings. They were just irresistible and I didn’t even try. “Please don’t ask us to cut a cannolo in half”, pleaded a notice. I spent the rest of the day wondering why anyone would wish to do so.