Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern: Sicily. Yep, the food is bizarre

Andrew Zimmern seemed positively giddy in last Tuesday’s episode of Bizarre Foods as he ate his way around Sicily’s bonanza of animal innards eats. First stop was Palermo, the capital where butcher shops display all sorts of animal parts, just like they’ve done for centuries. At Mercato Ballero, a bustling outdoor marketplace, Zimmern got busy eating with gusto.

“The cow stomachs are so fresh, you can hear them moo,” he exclaimed as he picked at a plate of intestines and stomach, naming each part to clarify which was what. “They all taste different. A little bit chewy. A little melting. If you like eating the inside of a cow, then this is for you.”

One stall sells fritole, a fritter made from the innards the other vendors don’t sell. If you’ve ever needed a clue about where Zimmern acquired his taste bud preferences, this was it.

“Fritole takes the idea of leftovers to a different level,” he said, followed by a description of eating roasted fat and skin as a boy. Zimmern would dip into the drippings off of whatever meat was being cooked.

The spleen sandwich, another Sicilian specialty, and one that has been served up since the 1800s, was right up Zimmern’s unusual food group alley.

Zimmern had his spleen with a sprinkle of cheese and pronounced the dish, “rank and foul. I love it. It tastes like mud. There’s a lot of gristle in there. This stuff is not for the faint of heart.”

Hmm. I think I’m one of the faint of heart. The more Zimmern ate in Sicily, the more I wondered what I’d be able to eat if I ever headed there.

Then came a stop at one of the best restaurants, Trattoria Ferro Di Cavallo where Zimmern ate something I would enjoy–sardines formed into meatballs. He commented on the raisins as part of the concoction. As he said, these sardines are not the same flavor as the ones found in a can drenched in oil. Canned sardines on saltine crackers remind me of my childhood.

Another dish, the capenata, a relish made of chunks of eggplant and peppers was pronounced fantastic. I would eat that too and like it. But, like a roller coaster ride that gives few reprieves from the steep drops and crazy turns, after Zimmern downed the capenata, he turned and headed for another restaurant Osteria D’Vespry for a gourmet version of the inside of a cow’s mouth. Yep, that’s right. You can eat cheeks.

The dish was delicate and gorgeous, but the description “quivering nerves and tendons” and the “fatty deep and rich with a hint of the barnyard floor,” didn’t sell me on it.

Leaving animal innards, Zimmern headed to Cerda for the Artichoke Festival. Now, we’re talking. This section hit a high mark for showing me how to cook something familiar with in a new way. Fresh artichoke can be roasted over coals, for example.

At the Trattoria Nasca, Zimmern discovered fried artichokes, roasted artichokes, artichoke fritata, and cold artichokes with dill.

Artichoke is also made into ice-cream in this artichoke loving town. The gelato is served up in a bun, handy for a hot climate. Zimmern pointed out that as the ice cream melts it soaks into the bun. That’s clever.

But, one can’t stay with normal food for too long on Bizarre Foods so Zimmern headed to a village on the volcano Mount Etna for a cooking class at Eleonara’s House. In the kitchen of this centuries old house, rabbit was cooked with pine nuts, fennel, carrots, dark chocolate and vinegar. That wasn’t so unusual, sounded delicious even, but when it was done, Zimmern called dibs on the head. He enticed Eleonara to try the rabbit cheek, something she had yet to eat in all her years of preparing rabbit. She pronounced it delicious. I sort of wanted to puke.

The cinnamon pudding from a recipe passed down from the Middle Ages perked me up, though, and gave me the idea once more that if I ever make it to Sicily I won’t starve.

At the fishing village of Marzanemi, Zimmern was up 4 a.m. to head out with the fisherman pointing out just how much work is involved with hauling in nets and what is caught. Afterward, at a fish processing plant, Zimmern was taken through tuna processing. Tuna in a can at a grocery store looks tame for sure.

What about tuna eggs, tuna sperm and tuna testicles? In Zimmern country, those cook up into delicacy dishes. The sperm is considered an aphrodisiac. Ya’ think?

What made this segment the most enjoyable was how the family Zimmern visited gather everything they eat from the sea and from their gardens. One dish I would probably go for is the sea snails grilled with a little olive oil and lemon juice. I’m also quite fond of cuttlefish, but eating it cooked in its ink? Not so much. Give me a pasta dish with just the tomato sauce and herbs, that’s another story.

One of the details I appreciate about Zimmern’s visits with folks is how much he enjoys their company. He gave the fisherman, Captain Corrado Barrone, the man who hosted him, his Swiss army knife, a present that was greatly appreciated.

Tonight Zimmern heads to Goa. I’m hoping he spends a bit more time on the culture and sights and lays a bit low on the bizarre food. I had a hard time keeping up with him in Sicily. I think he must have had a hard time keeping up with himself. His blog has yet to be updated from the Phuket episode two weeks ago.

(Photos (except for the spleen sandwich) are from the Bizarre Foods Web site.)

**This post would have been earlier, but no electricity due to wind storms creates mayhem in a blogger’s life.