Trapani on the west coast of Sicily.
An ancient town, about 3000 years old, the town sticks out into the sea , and curves along a bay shaped like a scythe. The legend is that the scythe was dropped by Ceres, goddess of the harvests, while she was looking for her daughter Prosperina kidnapped by Pluto.
The light on the waters edge has a brilliance and clarity that reflects all the of colours of the sea. This was our third trip to Sicily, and I found Trapani to be a wonderful surprise.
A little bit of history.
Trapani has always been the warehouse of the Mediterranean searoutes, even as long ago as the Phoenicians.After the Romans destroyed the Carthaginian fleet, the town went into long slow decline. It was the Arabs who changed this founding, an Islamic city there, still evident in the old centre with its meandering alleyways and hidden courtyards.The Arabs of course brought their cookery and introduced many ingredients, sugar cane, almonds, pistachios, saffron and other spices. Citrus fruit , prickly pear or cactus pear, flowers in cooking such as jasmine and roses. You can still find granita’s flavoured with Jasmin.
With all the introduction of these new ingredients, in less than a century of Arab conquest Sicily was known as the Garden of the southern Mediterranean.
A thousand years later in Trapani the Arab influence in cooking is still strong. Couscous or cuscussu as it is called is famous in Trapani and this western corner of Sicily. In September there is a Couscous Festival, with couscous competitions from all the countries that share the diversity of this dish.In most north African countries it is made with lamb and beef. But in Trapani it is made with seafood.
A painting inspired by Trapani’s balconies and windows.
I thought I might try the Trapani couscous. But I found it very long and time consuming so I have “re invented” it in my own style, inspired by the couscous of Trapani.
My version of Trapani Couscous.
Serves 2 generously
500gs mussels, 500gs clams , 4 large raw prawns, peeled, 50gs of unsalted butter.
1 medium onion, chopped finely, 100mls dry white wine, 1 tablespoon of roughly chopped flat leaf parsley. 4 Medium tomatoes, peeled and diced.
Wash the clams and mussels in plenty of cold water changing the water several times. Discard any that are open.. Take a large lidded pan that is big enough to take all the shellfish.Add mussels,clams and prawns ,butter, onion, white wine and half the parsley. Cook on high heat.Turn the mussels and clams over every now and then as they start to open, Keep the lid on the pan, when they are open throw in the diced tomatoes to heat through.When they are all open and the prawns are done remove from the heat.
The grain in this couscous is Fregola, a yellow wheat couscous dried in the sun, which comes from Sicily’s neighbour Sardinia. Why? Because I had wanted to try it for a long time and thought this would work.You can of course use regular couscous.
Cook the Fregola in plenty of boiling water for 8 minutes until al dente. Drain and cool on a plate. As it cools toss with a little olive oil to keep grains seperate.
Spoon the stock from the mussels and clams over the couscous (fregola) and add the shellfish and prawns, sprinkle with parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.