Traditions should be celebrated! How extensively Sicilians do that we could see at the 150 jubilee of Averna*. Within only three days, so many impressions rained down on us, flavours and smells, we are still overwhelmed. The hosts did everything imaginable to wrap Sicilian culture, hospitality, the love to their long-cherished traditions and pride of their a thousand years old home into an exciting program. Thus, we could experience the origin of Amaro Siciliano in a very special way. 

When we arrived in Palermo, the colourful, lively city, surrounded by mountains and the sea, fascinated us immediately. The air is scented lightly with lemon and Palermo’s inhabitants spread incredibly much vitality with their energy. This first impression lingered like a red thread during our time on the biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea. We started with harvesting lemons, which appealed to all our senses. Harvesting the untreated fruits with view of the sea and enjoying fresh lemonade and granite afterwards sharpened our senses for the Festa Siciliana. Set in the impressive atmosphere of Villa San Marco of the 17th century, regional dishes were served and traditional dances and music were presented. The love of the Sicilians towards their guests and the appreciation of good, authentic cuisine were pervasive at the festival. Handmade pasta, fresh, still warm ricotta, and pistachio pesto were our favourites that night.

Even though the first of three days started for us in the early morning hours and we stayed awake even a bit longer, our excitement for the next day wouldn’t let us sleep too long. Beside the festival, a fascinating program was waiting for us. Chef Filippo La Mantia showed us the streets of Palermo, small cafés, the famous Ballarò Market, and the best local products. It was like a carrousel ride: fast, colourfull, loud, and with a tickle in the stomach which got stronger during the ride with an icon of Italian culture, the Ape.

 

In this small, versatile vehicle we were chauffeured through bumpy alleys. It was driven by a sprited,  elderly Italian woman, who roared greetings and curses alike. You never quite knew without speaking Italian. It was wonderful!

Meo Fusciuni, an olfactory virtuoso and master of creating perfumes, guided us through the divinely beautiful, neoclassic botanic garden of Palermo and treated our noses with his essences and scents of herbs and flowers. And when we thought it could not get any better, we arrived at the almost imaginary location for the festival: the ruins of the city’s once biggest cathedral. Beautifully decorated, the majestic Chiesa di Santa Maria dello Spasimo was the perfect location for the big Festa. You don’t experience it that often to sit on a long table in such old masonry, see the birds fly high above and to get served dinner by Filippo La Mantia!

The flavour of the Amaro Averna with its bittersweet taste of lemons, bitter oranges, pomegranate and herbs was omnipresent. The bitter liquor is drank after a special ritual. Filled in bellied glasses, the Amaro is served on ice with fresh citrus fruits and herbs, and rolled so the flavours can unfold to their full extent. You can do this individually, just as you like.

Of course, we also got a glimpse on how the Averna is produced. 1868, Monks of the Abbey Santo Spirito gave this secret recipe as a special present and token of gratitude for the commitment to the local community to Salvatore Averna. All ingredients like essential oils of lemon and bitter orange zest, pomegranate, herbs and roots, are carefully selected, weighed, ground, blended and mixed with alcohol.  After a long period of infusion, the liquid is mixed with water to get the right alcohol concentration. After filtering, sugar, alcohol and water are added. The scent alone lets us travel back to the lemon plantation and the hustle and bustle of Palermo…

Who would have ever thought that we cook in a real restaurant one day? We definitely didn’t! When Alan Micks, head chef of the Michelberger Hotel’s restaurant, approached us for a mutual event we were pretty surprised, confused, unsure, but most of all honored. Were it not for Jonathan, a longtime friend and sous-chef since two years in that restaurant, and Zoe, who’s wedding we photographed as Paul liebt Paula last year and who plans events for the restaurant, we probably would not have gotten into this experience so fast and accepted the offer. To be surrounded by so many great people, it could only be great.

We followed Alan’s and his team’s actions in the kitchen for quite some time now, and we discovered similarities to our preferences. Similar thoughts, combinations of flavors or unusual ingredients which we discovered for ourselves. All just fit well together and you can only improve yourselves by trying something new. Together we decided to host a relaxed Sunday Lunch for which we created a menu of different components. The food should be served on dishes and plates, so everyone could help themselves how they pleased. On the menu we had: beetroot  hummus which you already know from our blog, glazed carrots with dukkah and naan from the tandori oven. To our favorite potatoes with polenta crust we served a salad of fennel, apples and radicchio, and black salsify with white beans. The recipe for this you find, in a different version with asparagus, in our app. As dessert, we served our crumble cheese cake, but matching the season with apples. For this version, you don’t need as much sugar in the filling and don’t need starch at all.

The day before our Lunch, we arrived with a small suitcase at the Michelberger, having our own knives with us and some sleeping clothes, as we were allowed to spend the night at the hotel. In the evening, we chowed straight through the dinner menu and enjoyed a extensive breakfast.

All in all, the event was incredibly easy going for us. We did not have to take of everything ourselves, for a change. Jonathan got the best ingredients for our recipes. The Michelberger cooks with high quality, organic and seasonal products anyway. Jonathan coordinated everything and gave us a great look behind the scenes of a professional kitchen. Zoe took care of the management. The flowery decoration was arranged by “Blumenmädchen” Claudia without us having to worry about it. Even the menu cards came out the way we would have done it. It is a great feeling to know you work with people who think similar as you do, when you can rely on them that everything turns out well, even if you don’t take over control.

Because so many people took part in this afternoon, we finally had more time to sit with our guests to talk and enjoy the whole thing without stress. Actually, this is the best part which often comes up short. Watching the guests while they eat; asking them afterwards what they liked; hearing that usually they don’t like fennel, but enjoyed it in this salad; answering curious questions about ingredients; talking about everything and anything…

For 4 Servings

Preheat the oven to 200°C (aircirculation). Halve the carrots. Mix honey, seabuckthorn juice, sunflower oil and salt to a dressing. Spread the carrots on the baking rack and mix with the dressing. Bake them for 20-25 minutes on the middle rack and turn them once in a while. For the dukkah, roughly chop the almonds and hazelnuts and roast in a pan without oil. Roughly pound the cumin and coriander seeds. Give them into the hot pan together with the other spices, mix and let it cool down. Sprinkle the carrots with seabuckthorn juice once again and add the spice blend as you wish.

For 5 servings

Cut the stems from the fennel and finely slice the fennel. Afterwards, roast in a pan with a bit of olive oil and salt. Core the apple and thinly slice it. Pluck the radicchio in bite size pieces. Roast the walnuts in a pan without oil and roughly chop them. Mix maple syrup, red wine vinegar, mustard, walnut oil and sea salt to a dressing. Mix all ingredients to a salad.

For 4 servings

Preheat the oven to 200°C (air circulation). Peel the potatoes, halve if necessary, and cook them for 10 minutes in saltwater. Drain the water and shake the potatoes in the closed pot so the polenta will stick better. Add olive oil and salt and mix with the potatoes. Roll in the polenta afterwards. Bake the potatoes for 15 minutes, turn, sprinkle again with oil and bake for another 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, split the onions. Pluck the sage from the stems and roughly chop the leaves. Fry the onions and sage until they are crisp. Eventually, add the pine nuts and season with salt. Sprinkle the potatoes with coarse sea salt before serving.

While searching for a house in the countryside we always imagined to transform an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. How we have to excavate the soul of our house from beneath layers of musty wallpapers and PVC covered floors. On the one hand, this thought of a little treasure hunt was beautiful. On the other hand, it was an incredibly great feeling to set foot into our settler’s house the first time and already sensing all the hidden treasures. Without speculation.

By the way, we already showed you the house last autumn. We just never dared to dream to ever call it our own one day. Back then, we just marvelled at and enjoyed it, always looking forward to renting it soon again as a holiday residence from Knut and Christina from Gutshaus Rensow. Meeting them did not only enrich our life interpersonally, did not only inspire us to create new dishes and to new stories, but in the end gave us a new direction in life. Out of the blue, Knut and Christina asked us if we could imagine living in the old settler’s house. Despite the excitement about the house there was a spark of doubt. Dreaming of a home of your own is great, but having the dream within our grasp is something completely different. Still, after a short hesitation we knew we would never have this chance again. Just think about the location! Embedded in fields, just a few meters from Gutshaus Rensow in which we spent so many great days last year,

with all the people we grew fond of and who changed our perspective on so many things.

With their love for old houses and their thoughts about it Knut and Christina gave us a new perspective on the patina of old things. We always appreciated used stuff and its imprints which tell so many stories. Slowly we begin to realize why. Knut and Christina brought us closer to the term of Wabi. In Japanese, it stands for the elementary simple and unadulterated and for the inherent beauty of unpretentious things. Along these lines we want to continue in the settler’s house what those two already started – to emphasize the character and basic structures which are already there. Clay, masonry, worn floor boards, spalling layers of colour. All of it becomes some sort of abstract art on which time left its marks. We want to support this by using organic materials like plant-based dyed natural linens and lime paint.

For us it is important to develop a sense for the right selection of materials and colours fist, living in the house and observe it. The variations of light and shadows alone contribute a lot to our decisions. With light and shadows not only colours or rooms have their appeal, but also specifically placed objects unfold their beauty in the shadows’ patterns. It will take time to find these objects. We like searching for these treasures, though.

We already decided for the colours on which light and shadow will dance. The lime colours from Bauwerk Colour* appealed to us, they are manufactured in harmony with nature. Especially we love the warm hues which convey the impression of clay, loam and earth on the walls. They fit the house and atmosphere perfectly. It is always great to discover companies which do not only convince us with their products but also with their philosophy. The lime colours are made from clay, minerals and natural pigment. They neither contain biocides or other toxic additives, nor are chemicals blown into the environment during the fabrication process, which is powered by 100% eco-power.

Even if we already chose our favourite colours, we want to proceed cautiously and take our time with the decisions. The house has a mind of its own and does not buckle. We are the ones led on by the house. For example, we wanted to play with the wooden panels concerning the colour which were painted in a soft gray. However, when we noticed the wallpaper behind them which accumulated moisture which made the surface porous we briefly were at loss. There was no way we keep such prone spots. To remove all the panels was never planned at all, though. Our colour plans were thrown over as well as our schedule. Such unexpected incidents may be annoying first, but we want to see them more as gifts. Beneath the panels, wallpaper and stalling surface we found the masonry with clay and bricks.

With that we got entirely new, natural structures and colours you can only find but not make. To reveal the whole masonry also means to show the history. Well, our house’s history is not hundreds of years old but still, the bricks and clay – raw, bare, solid materials – were put together 70 years ago.

Settler’s houses are basic, usually freestanding houses with small living space but a large property. They were especially built after the First World War and partly given to unemployed people or refuges for self-supply. Often, stables or extra houses belonged to the houses, which were, due to shortage of material, built of recycled materials. Bigger buildings like barns were teared down to build more small houses. The front of our house, which was originally used as a stable, you find timbers which are over 300 years old and found new usage there in the late 1940s. Every day, we discover a bit more of this history. When we walk over the cold, uneven bricks barefooted, then over warm, greyed wood. When we look out of the window it feels like a painting which will change over the years. When the flames in the oven cast their shadows on the walls. All those small things tell us something about those who built this house and lived in it. To observe these simple things is incredibly inspiring and in some way also soothing. They let us feel what da Vinci meant when he said simplicity is the highest level of accomplishment.

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