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Ricordi di Sicilia

08 September 2017


I AM not long back from a blissful fortnight in Sicily, celebrating my mother’s milestone birthday this year with a family holiday. We were there for Ferragosto (the Assumption), and feasting comes naturally in Sicily. The produce is remarkable, and they put it to good use. Lemon chicken with butter and sage pasta builds on a standard dish, but with lemon and poultry.


2 chicken breasts
450g (1 lb) pasta, like tagliatelle
60g (2 oz) unsalted butter
handful of sage leaves
1 large lemon
black pepper


Put a large pan of salted water on to boil. When it simmers, add the chicken breasts and let them cook for five minutes or so until fully poached. Remove and set aside. Add the pasta to the same water and simmer until firm to the bite.

Reserve a cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Quickly dry the pan and return it to the heat. Throw in the butter, and, once it is melted, add the sage leaves. Stir them for 30 seconds to fry for a while, then return the pasta to the pan, with the cup of water. Chop the cooled chicken into chunks and add this in, then grate the zest of a lemon straight into the pan before juicing it and adding, too (without the pips). With a final twist of black pepper, stir and serve, with Parmesan cheese on the side.

North African flavours are lively, and I confess that I first tasted this particular combination in a Sicilian ice cream. So it is recast here as Saffron, almond and lemon custard tart.


60g (2 oz) unsalted butter
120g (4 oz) flour
pinch of salt

190ml (6 fl. oz) full milk
190ml (6 fl. oz) single cream
Pinch of saffron
4 eggs (2 whole, 2 yolks)
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
60g (2 oz) sugar
1 lemon
60g (2 oz) ground almonds


Make a shortcrust pastry by pulsing the flour and salt in a food processor, then add the butter in chunks and whizz to fine breadcrumbs. With the motor running, add two tablespoons of cold water, and continue until it comes together in a ball. Remove, roll in flour, wrap in clingfilm, and chill for at least an hour. Once firm, roll out to a £1-coin thickness and line a tart tin. Return to the fridge to chill.

Bring the milk, cream, and saffron to scalding point. Set aside while you beat together the 2 eggs, 2 yolks, vanilla essence, and sugar. Slowly pour in the milk-cream mixture, whisking to combine. Grate in the lemon zest, and stir in the juice. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6 and blind-bake the pastry for 15 minutes. Return to the oven for a further 5 minutes, and crisp the base, then reduce the heat to 160°C/325°F/Gas 3. Scatter the ground almonds over the pastry base and pour in the custard mix. Bake it for 40 minutes until set, with a tiny wobble. Serve warm.

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