(They made me a cake!)
I am a lucky chef. I have traveled the globe training cooks in the US Navy. Next to my kids, my work in the Navy has been my greatest achievement. I have met so many amazing people, seen amazing places (Join the Navy-See the World!), and finally understood the beauty of service.
On one trip, I got to visit southern Sicily, and stayed at the Naval Air Station Sigonella. I worked with the native Sicilian kitchen staff at the base Galley, helped them improve Navy food, taught some American techniques, and tried to help American service men and women appreciate the local Sicilian cuisine.
The cooks and bakers were all older Sicilian men … not a girl in sight. They were super sweet, and so knowledgeable – but they needed help communicating with their American Navy bosses. This is ironic, because I do not speak Italian, and very few of them spoke English. I do, however, speak kitchen, cook, and baker, which are international languages.
The cooks totally embraced me – it was the most welcoming post of my career, and I reaped the benefits. Despite our training sessions, which included me showing them (embarrassingly) how to make macaroni and cheese and meatloaf the way Americans like it – I was, in the off hours, given a sacks of local cheese, family label olive oil, specialty pastry, family recipes, and a special cooking lesson on the best cookie ever, which I will share with you lucky peeps now.
Of course his name is Sal. Doesn’t he look like a Sal?!?!
The Sigonella Lunch Crew Sicily=Gelato
This recipe was made almonds (mandorla in Italian), but I was told it is frequently made with pistachio, too. I know you can purchase almond flour, but it is not as good as fresh ground.
On Memorial Day, in addition to our defenders, I like to remember the support staff. They are the one’s I know the best. I can never forget that Food Service is vital. Food boosts morale, and is, therefore, vital to successful defense. I believe this with my whole heart. We need to improve it. Call your representative.
Happy Memorial Day to everyone, especially all my CS’s !!! Miss you!
1 pound almonds, ground to a fine flour
1 pound powdered sugar
Grated zest of large, really good lemon
1 tablespoon Amaretto (or vanilla)
2 tablespoons honey
4 egg whites, whipped stiff
**OK … Not the best picture I ever took, but fer sher the best cookie ever!
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Here is another excerpt from my Navy trip to Sicily. Those folks really know ho to host a visitor! I ate an obscene amount of good food, and saw some amazingly cool shit. My suitcase stank from all the foods I smuggled back home, but some I could not transport. One was the Cassata, a crazy sweet ricotta cake, covered with sugar and candied fruits. The other was espresso granita, which was served every day for breakfast in a small glass with a dollop of almond flavored cream. Heaven!
I am well versed in granita, and have posted recipes for it here on a number of occasions. But this one was different. The way I was taught to make granita involves creating ice crystals in the liquid (coffee, wine, juice, etc.) by whisking the liquid every 10 minutes or so as it freezes to prevent a block of ice from forming. But in Sicily the ice crystals were much finer. It was almost the consistency of a slushy. After straining my brain to figure this out, it dawned on me that it was probably extruded form a slushy machine – just like those horrible blue things my kids drink at the movies. OK, well, it was still good. The next component was the almond cream, which is made from thickened almond milk. While it will probably turn out that I was given the Sicilian equivalent of Cool Whip, I have nevertheless decided to try and recreate my own version of this luscious treat.
6 cups espresso, cooled
1 cup simple syrup, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup chopped raw almonds
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
(Best meal of the day! Granita Breakfast!)