It’s early morning at the top of Mercado del Capo in Palermo and the stalls are already piled high with this morning’s catch glistening with seawater, a playful light casting myriad rainbows across the benches. Mountains of lemons piled into baskets, purple garlic, bunches of wild mountain fennel , briny sea salt, spicy red chillies, sacks of artichokes their trimmings tossed to the floor. Dark purple aubergines and red peppers peppers so shiny it’s as if they’ve been polished by hand. Such a bounty for an early spring day, a feast for the senses. And then it starts, the chaos, the crowds, the calling and the tangle of humanity as you squeeze your way to your favourite stall, to your favourite vendor. The one with sparking eyes and entitled stance. He may, if you’re very lucky, choose to serve you, a pale faced stranger trying to act like a local. This just one of the simple seasonal dishes that came to mind during our daily walks along the narrow streets and alleys of the Albergheria and Capo districts.
250g Mafalda Corta Pasta di Gragnano
1 anchovy fillet, finely chopped (optional)
1 clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped
2 tbsp Sicilian extra-virgin olive oil
A generous pinch of red hot chilli flakes
A handful of sliced pistachios, lightly toasted
2-3 handfuls of wild rocket or wild mountain fennel
1 Sicilian lemon, zested and juiced
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground mixed peppercorns
Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated, as much as you fancy
How I make it
Place a large pan of water over high heat. Salt generously and cook the pasta according to your taste, the Sicilians prefer theirs super al dente, as if it actually needs another minute or even two in the pan.
In the meantime, place a frying pan over a medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the garlic, salt and pepper and stir around for a minute or two before adding the chopped anchovy (if using), chilli and half the pistachios. Remove from the heat and stir in half the lemon zest, all of the juice and half the cheese. Loosen with a ladleful of the pasta cooking water.
When it’s ready, drain the pasta and add it directly to the frying pan. Add the rocket and stir to combine.
Tumble into a lovely dish and sprinkle over the remaining lemon zest, pistachios and cheese.
At this time of year in Sicily, it’s possible to forage for or to buy wild mountain fennel so, if you have access to some, do use that in place of the wild rocket.