Alicos is our producer of the tasty Salsa pronta di Pomodoro (bottled in the cute stubby bottle with an eye-catching red and white label), artichokes in extra virgin olive oil and chilli paste with a punch. It is a small artisanal operation run by father and son, Gaetano and Claudio Palermo. Unlike other products of this type, they only make the Salsa pronta di Pomodoro from May to September from locally grown Datterino and Cherry tomatoes which are cooked for about 20 minutes, then sieved and mixed with basil and extra virgin olive oil from Castelvetrano.

This appealing blend can be used as a pasta sauce, pizza topping or anywhere you need a tomato ingredient that is not whole. Our children also use it as a tomato sauce (very natural, no thickeners).

They took us to see one of their tomato suppliers and we tried a few varieties of the sweet little tomatoes they grow, which at that point were sweet enough to sell as fresh tomatoes to the local and European market, but not yet high enough in natural brix for the Palermo family product. Sicilian tomatoes sweeten naturally as they receive a lot of natural sunlight and warmth.

We also popped by a local pasticceria for coffee where the pressure was on to experience the excellent local pastries and gelato in which Sicilians also excel.

Not the prettiest part of the country, the road out of town was full of potholes, lined with weeks of uncollected rubbish, the odd dead animal and driving is pretty much a case of 'he with the most nerve wins', as people just pull out from everywhere.

And they say Kiwi drivers don't give way!

In contrast there were some stunning views on the way to Sciacca to see our Talatta anchovy man, a third generation family operation.

Rolling hills, interesting looking mountains, wind farms, solar panels and greenhouses galore. Wider roads too.

As we entered the factory a stylish, attractive Italian-looking young woman came down the stairs to welcome us, opened her mouth and out came perfect English with an Australian accent. What a pleasant surprise!

It turned out that when Guiseppe flew by to see us on the way in New Zealand last year, ostensibly on his way to a trade show in Australia, he was really on a quest to persuade Annamarie, after years of a long distance relationship, to come back to Sciacca with him. The Australian market has been good to him in a number of ways!

He was with some American clients who had an auditor with them to inspect his immaculate plant, so while he was tied up with them hopefully ticking all the boxes, we chatted about how much she was enjoying cooking out of the 'Soul Cookbook' Judith Tabron had kindly given Guiseppe when he enjoyed a meal there, the Italian family's bemused reaction to the curries she enjoyed cooking, and the local puzzlement at her enjoyment of vegemite (nutella is more their style). It was a very Antipodean conversation!

After joining the others to look at the processing and packing, we were invited back to Giuseppe's parents' place where his very elegant mother had spent at least the morning cooking lots of her favourite dishes for us all.

Such interesting food - sardines done various ways, small fish fritters, fava beans, eggplant, stuffed rolled red peppers, her version of lasagne and of course, the pick of the Talatta anchovies which are aged for two years in salt, then filleted and vacuum packed in kilo lots. You open a packet, take your choice of the large fillets and dress them yourself with oil and lemon. Apparently once opened they last for along time under oil. We will find out more about them.

The feast finished with some of his mother's excellent home made Limoncello and an array of those wicked Sicilian pastries they make so well.



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