Sunday Scampagnata

Scampagnata loosely translates as picnic. The “campagna” in scampagnata means country and a day in the country, especially in Sicily, always includes food.  On this lazy summer afternoon along with friends Patterson and her daughter Eleanor who were visiting from Woodstock, New York, we set out on a Sunday scampagnata.

We met our friends Massimiliano, Veronica and their son Christian in Randazzo and headed up to the Nebrodi Mountains. Massimiliano co-founded Agora in Randazzo; a wonderful, laid back restaurant serving the best in locally sourced, traditional Sicilian cuisine. But when he wants to relax and enjoy a great meal Massimiliano’s philosophy is that there’s nothing better than collecting fresh, simple ingredients, cooking over a fire and eating in the countryside with friends. The best days, he says, are “when you feel like there is no time”.

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As we climbed up toward the town of Santa Domenica Valeria we stopped to take in a view of the medieval village of Randazzo and it’s massive backdrop of cloud capped Mount Etna. We passed several picnic areas packed with families enjoying their Sunday ritual, so we continued along the windy road until the crowds thinned out. We found a beautiful spot high on the mountain, unloaded the cars and climbed over a small wooden ladder into a clearing near the woods.

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Veronica started the fire using charcoal made from grapevine trimmings; traditional for barbecuing  around Etna. Picked fresh from Veronica’s father’s garden, Massimiliano served tomatoes marinated in olive oil, basil and capers. We snacked on chunks of pecorino cheese and pancetta and opened a bottle of Palmento, one of our favorite natural wines made by our friends at Vino di Anna in Solichiatta. The lamb ribs and salsiccia (a local specialty of handmade sausage with fresh tomato and provolone) began to sizzle on the grill.

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As the feeling of “no time” settled in around us, Eleanor and I heard bells and noticed a herd of cows grazing in the valley below and then a herd of goats along the trail across from of us. We watched as they slowly climbed to the very top of the mountain.

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For dessert we ate sweet grilled corn on the cob and fresh figs. We rested under the shade of three tall pine trees and Veronica found a pine nut for the kids to open and taste. This started Eleanor and Christian on a serious pine nut search. They quickly gathered enough to make a good batch of pesto, but it was more fun to crack the shells open with a rock and eat them right away.

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Before packing up we took in the view as a flock of sheep arrived in the field, along with several sheep dogs and bouncing lambs.

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Most of us (even right now) spend a good part of our days working, communicating and entertaining ourselves on electronic devices. A scampagnata is a great way to remember how little we really need to have a great experience. The simplest food, a fire, a beautiful view, fresh air, good conversation, a place to rest – it’s always those raw ingredients of life that deliver the most direct feeling of satisfaction and connection. Sicily’s Nebrodi mountains are a very special place to have a timeless day like this, but the world is full of great locations for a scampagnata. All you have to do is keep it simple.