Marilena Cammarata is from Marsala, Italy down in the western part of Sicily. Before moving to Germany she had her own pasta shop. She can cook anything but I’ve never seen her use a recipe. She uses her senses and feels everything with her hands working doughs for pizzas and pastas by hand and even mixing her cous cous with bare hands feeling when it had soaked up enough water.
Mariella Cascio is from Trapani, a small down just down the street from Marsala on the coast of Sicily. She is one of those amazing women who can do anything. She’s traveled all over the world singing. She paints. She cooks. She’s now a Wilton cake baker creating edible sculptures so beautiful, you’d swear they were plastic.
These two Sicilians held a cooking class today at Mariella’s house. The house was packed with Italian ladies eager to learn the tricks for this special Sicilian dish. Cous cous is rare in Italy, but Sicily has its own cuisine and cous cous is a big part of it.
We stood crowded in the doorway of Mariella’s tiny German kitchen watching Marilena expertly handle the grain. She began with cous cous, but not the kind that I can find in my stores. She brings hers back from Sicily. It’s unprocessed and takes longer to cook than the one I find in my American stores or even the German stores.
In a large turkey pan, Marilena slowly mixed bottled water into the grain with her hands adding a little at a time until it was absorbed and the couscous was soft and stuck together a little. Then she added a drizzle of olive oil and a bit of salt, pepper, and curry.
She spent at least 10 minutes working that cous cous. Slow food at its best. All the couscous was put into a large terracotta pot with holes in the bottom so that it could be steamed, another Sicilian treasure.
While Marilena was working with the cous cous, Mariella and Graziella chopped eggplant, onions, leeks, potatoes, tomatoes, and carrots and put them in a large pot. They added water, and uncooked cubed steak, and cooked it slowly over low heat.
The cous cous was set over a pot of steaming water on the stove while the vegetable mixture cooked.
This is when the job was nearly done and they started making coffee.
I don’t speak Italian and few women spoke English, but we smiled, and, as Italians do, talked with our hands.
They offered me a coffee tentatively worried that I may not like it. It’s Italian coffee. Espresso. (What’s not to like?)
Rosella speaks the most English, so she began.
“Would you like some coffee?”
“It’s Italian coffee.”
“I like Italian coffee.”
“It’s very strong – not like American coffee.”
“I know, I was just in Italy. I like strong coffee.”
“Do you need sugar???” And I smile at the shocked looks on their faces as I happily sip my Italian espresso without sugar and then agreed to a second one.
As the vegetables and meat cooked, they put just a little of it into the water that boiled under the couscous so that the steam would carry these flavors into the grain and infuse it that way as well.
We sat for over an hour now sipping coffee and sharing cake while the cous cous and vegetables cooked separately. They asked about apple pie and pumpkin pie, so I may end up teaching them a few American things.
When the cous cous was ready, they put it into a large pan. The vegetables and meat are put on top with just a little bit of the broth. It sits for 5 minutes before serving.
It sounds so simple, but this was amazing- unlike any couscous dish I’ve ever had and so full of flavor. For this alone, I’d fly to Sicily.