Food & Travel / Words & Photos
A stroll through Ragusa Ibla will shave hours from the time you need to get to know people.
We’ve just had dinner at Pizza Nove. Suffice to say, Ristorante Caravanserraglio retains its Sicilian pizza crown.
We head up to Ragusa Ibla for a walk, stopping off for a completely unnecessary gelato at Gelati DiVini and Francesco orders cups of jasmine and olive oil. (The olive farmer pleases the ladies in our group with edible flowers and does a bit of marketing at the same time - genius!)
More importantly, how do you turn jasmine - still blooming across the countryside in the Sicilian fall - into gelato? And how do you do it so it doesn’t taste like cheap perfume? This is the place to find out.
We head back into the side streets, staring at the stars between the buildings. Smiling. Present.
PS - That fuzzy looking thing in the photo of Lex? That’s the gelato - she made us go back the next day. And the blissed-out grin? That’s the gelato, too.
Spurred by a comment from Sofia, I’ve pushed a new Sicilian pizza post up in the schedule!
I wish they made pizza in the daytime here.
Just driving these roads - the Ragusa province’s white, round-topped stone walls and the olive and carob trees behind them - are enough to know this is stunning countryside.
Good luck finding Frigintini - I went pizza hunting with my pal Francesco who grew up one town away and we had to turn around two or three times before finding the town and restaurant, Le Magnolie. I realize the place is in such a small town that to survive, it’s gotta consistently pull people in from the neighboring towns.
Inside, there’s nothing to indicate how they do that other than the ever growing herd of locals wearing those peculiar clothes that make their way down here, often leaving grown women dressing like 16 year olds for lack of options. Welcome to southern Sicily’s Cougar Town.
Nevertheless, the menu is dressed to impress. They’re serving coral colored mushrooms pulled from carob trees and on this day there’s a whole prix fixe menu based around the fungi. We’re here for the pizza, as it’s rumored to give Ristorante - Pizzeria Caravanserraglio (a.k.a. Pizza Nove) and Modica’s Il Contea (Pizza Otto) a run for their money.
F. and I split an order of the mushrooms, stew-like and wonderful, but the real star is the dense bread next to it. Drizzled with a bit of olive oil and downed with a sip of local beer, there’s a wonderful flavor of almonds that fills my mouth.
“I’ll be that’s from the oven,” says F., “They’ll use almond branches to fire it.”
I plow into the combination like there’s no tomorrow.
Pizza arrives - one proscuitto and rocket and one margherita - and we go quiet, shift gears and tuck in.
The proscuitto alone is worth the trip. Generously layered on and contrasted with the in-season rocket’s fiery snap, the combination is divine. This is destination pie.
“Let me tell you what you’re thinking,” says F.
I look up, remembering he’s there and nod.
“Otto punto cinque.”
Eight point five, indeed.
Lexy will be the only woman in the room when we sit down for lunch, but I’ll wait to tell her that until after we’re through the front door.
There’s no reason to know there’s a restaurant there and no name on the outside of the building - just a misleading circular sign that says ‘BAR.’ Cucina Casalinga Benevantano (“Beneventano’s home cooking”) - is a name used mostly to have something for the phone book and the business cards.
Inside, you might get a curious glance or two if you’re not a regular, but you’re welcome just the same. The sign on the wall opposite the TV no one watches tells you all you need to know - starters, pasta and meats all within the five to ten euro range.
There are about twenty items, from chickpea or fava bean soup, ricotta ravioli with ragu, perfect lamb stew and, aside from the addition of tripe one or two days a week, the menu never changes. This is daily food made for the local crowd and a primer on homestyle Sicilian cuisine.
Maybe all the men in here just miss their moms.
Cucina Casalinga Benevantano - MAP
Via Nazionale Modica-Ispica, 155/a
+39 0932 771250
Closed on Sunday.
Upon Lexy’s arrival, I looked to convert her as quickly as possible. Either that, or I just didn’t want to eat cannoli alone.
Pierpaolo Ruta, who owns and runs Modica’s venerable Antica Dolceria Bonajuto came out to say hello and had some very good news in the form of a question.
“How did you know to arrive when the cannoli shells are still warm?”
My knees buckled a bit and I put two fingers in the air as the form of an across-the-room order.
The shells were, indeed, still warm.
In a form of full disclosure, I know Pierpaolo, who put the cannoli in our hands so I’ll leave any sort of review to Lexy…
… A few nights after visiting Bonajuto, we drove toward Ragusa, the highway crossing a towering bridge with a jaw-dropping view of Modica with its homes and churches clinging to the valley wall. I expected a gasp from Lexy and a nostalgic cry of the city’s name.
Instead, three syllables, the cry of a convert: “Ca-noooo-liiiii!”