Swimming with the fishes
When I was in Sicily as a young teenager I was staying at a small family run resort by the Ionian Sea near the town of Riposto with my brother and Aunt and Uncle. One afternoon, when everyone was taking a siesta, I borrowed a diving mask and snorkel from the resort owner’s son. I headed out into the ocean and was totally enjoying the underwater sights of the coral and sea life. I came upon two scuba divers that were hunting for octopus so I followed them from above and watched as they went looking for their prize.
I’m not sure what made me stop and take my head out of the water, but when I did, I was really far from land. And as the water drained from my ears I heard a faint sound of what sounded like my Aunt Angie calling my name. There on the shore, I saw someone waiving a white handkerchief as if they were stranded on a deserted island and trying to catch the attenion of a passing ship. It was my Aunt Angie, mortified that I was so far out at sea, and trying to get my attention. I was really far from the shore. If I had to guess I was at least a half mile out. I was always a strong swimmer and didn’t think much of it, but I knew I was going to catch hell when I got back to the shore.
The last thing my Aunt Angie wanted to do was explain to my mother that I was lost at sea. She was responsible for me and my brother and this was just too much for her to bare. When I got back on dry land I think my Aunt needed a cold towel to calm her nerves. I told her that I was following some scuba divers and lost track of where I was. I’m surprised she didn’t chain me to the bed for the rest of the day. She was ready to have the Riposto Coast Guard dispatched to go searching for me, if they had one.
Oh well, what good is being young if you can’t get into a little trouble. As everyone went back to sleep I took the diving mask and snorkel back to the young boy who was kind enough to make me borrow them. As I walked through the dining area of the resort, I smelled something amazing coming from the kitchen. After a one mile swim I was really hungry! I peeked into the kitchen and saw the owner of the resort making something on the stove. I held up the snorkel and mask to let him know I brought them back. And motioned that whatever he was making smelled awfully good.
He was frying some cheese to make himself a little snack. He motioned for me to come in and I saw him place the golden pan fried cheese on a plate. He sprinkled it with some oregano and black pepper and went back over to the frying pan and added some vinegar and sugar. He poured the mixture over the cheese then broke off a piece of Italian bread and with his fork cut off a piece of the cheese and placed it on top of the bread and handed it to me. He enjoyed watching my face as I bit into that tasty morsel. I’ll never forget how good that tasted.
If there was ever a dish that you had a craving for this will soon become one of them, once you taste it.
Oh, later that evening we were all walking by a seaside pier not far from where we were staying. At one end of the pier were these two young fellows standing by a bucket that was filled with water. As we got closer one of the young gentleman started negotiating something with my Uncle Benny. I saw him looking in the bucket and motioning something with his hands. My Aunt Angie started laughing. As my uncle walked away from the men they were following him, begging him to take what was in the bucket. I asked my Aunt Angie what was all that about. It seems that the young gentlemen were trying to sell my Uncle Benny a live octopus. I wonder if it were the two scuba divers that I had been following that day.
- ¼ cup of olive oil
- 4 cloves of garlic (crushed)
- 4 slices of Caciocavallo, about ¾ lb
- ½ teaspoon of oregano
- black pepper to taste
- 4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
- ½ tablespoon of sugar
In a no stick skillet heat the oil on a medium-high heat till very hot. You will just start to see the oil smoking. Add the garlic, the slices of cheese and turn the heat to low.
Cook covered for about 1 minute, turn the cheese over and cook covered for an additional 1 minute, or until golden in color.
Remove the pan from the fire, add the oregano and pepper, and transfer the fried cheese to a serving dish.
Add the vinegar and sugar into the hot oil, cook for about 1-2 minutes.
Cover the cheese with this sauce, use the garlic as garnish and serve immediately with fresh Italian bread.