Sicily’s Mythical, Magical Taormina
Corso Umberto I is the pedestrian via that winds its way through the center of Taormina. Spilling with cafés, food shops, wine bars and artisan workshops, it is bustling today. Even though this seaside town overlooks the Gulf of Naxos, it’s a steamy 32°C (89°F) today and without a sea breeze in the sky.
My husband Rino and I arrived early this morning from Calabria, taking the old road from Scalea and onto Castrovillari, Cozenza, Lamezia Terme, Vibo Valentia and San Giovanni. It was a three-day journey with two overnights along the way, but he’s a former racecar driver and knows these roads by heart. At San Giovanni, we put the car on the ferry, cross the strait of Messina, and arrive in no time.
From Messina, it’s another 40 minutes to Taormina – a 51-kilometer drive on the Via A18. We approach the ancient city set on Mount Tauro overlooking the Ionian Sea and are welcomed by ancient walls where no cars are allowed. Like all places in Sicily, it has a rich and interesting past with invaders, dukes and noblemen who came and left their mark. First there were the Arabs, Normans, Angevins and then Aragons, to name a few. But it is its natural beauty and stunning aerial position that has made Taormina a must-stop on every person’s travel map.
Gastronome Renato Giani called this intensely sugared dish one of “the two unshakable rocks of Sicilian desserts” with the other being cannoli. It is traditionally served at Easter feasts, and as an old proverb says, “No one can be without cassata on Easter.”
1 large sponge cake, thinly sliced
¼ cup Marsala
1 - ½ cups Ricotta cheese
2/3 cups Caster Sugar (fine sugar)
4 drops Vanilla extract
2 oz candied fruit, finely chopped
2 oz candied Orange peel, chopped
2 oz semisweet chocolate, grated
3 cups Confectioners’ Sugar
4 drops Green Food Coloring
3 tablespoon Water
½ cup Whole Glacé Fruits
Line the sides and bottom of an 8-inch mold with aluminum foil, then line it with sponge cake slices, reserving some to cover the top. Sprinkle with half the Marsala.
In a blender, combine the ricotta, caster sugar and vanilla and blend on low. Add the candied fruit, candied peel, and the chocolate and mix until well - blended.
Add this mixture to the mold, cover with the remaining slices of sponge cake, and sprinkle with the remaining Marsala. Cover the mold with aluminum foil, press down on the molded ingredients, and refrigerate for 3 hours.
In a double boiler, melt the confectioners’ sugar and add the food coloring and water. Stir well with a wooden spoon and take care that it does not brown. Unmold the cassata and cover with the icing and the glace fruits. Slice thinly and serve.