November 13, 2011 Menfi and Marsala

John: This morning we get up to sunshine and the smell of herbs from our patio. Our plan for today is to explore Marsala at the westernmost tip of Sicily, have some lunch, and return for a 5pm cooking class. We are expecting to cook veal falso magro (a giant veal roll-up stuffed with vegetables, cheese and hard-boiled egg), a zucchini and mint contorno, and a cassata (a really sweet Sicilian dessert torta). All sounds like a good plan.

Breakfast is somewhat sparse. ‘Nuff said.

Mary: I am starting to pine for my simple breakfast of toast with peanut butter and a cup of tea accompanied by puzzles. Sitting in my comfy corner with my feet up on the ottoman is what I crave.

Clark and Lewis are dining al fresco today

John: The drive to Marsala takes a bit over an hour. Any disagreements with Jack the GPS are minimal this time. He proposes no magic shortcuts; we have plotted the route on Google Maps beforehand. We make good time along a windy SP road, then a very good SS road, and finally the A29 Autostrada towards Marsala (which we will take north to Palermo at the end of our Sicilian stay).

After a bit the A29 ends abruptly and it becomes once again our old friend the SS115. Straight as an arrow, things get pretty ugly-looking as we travel through Marsala’s suburbs and into the city.

RANT: for all their wonderful design talent in the areas of cars, fashion, small appliances, and interior furnishings, the Italians display inexplicable indifference to their urban architecture and exterior design. To put it mildly, it’s really cruddy and tends to be unmaintained. We just don’t get it.

As we get into downtown Marsala, we drive along the waterfront, which appears much nicer and better-maintained. Mary spots a sign to Mozia (Jack is no help at this point), which is one of the sites we want to visit. We locate the archaeological museum there, park the car (after a questionable U-turn maneuver) and buy our tickets. Whew!

Marsala, home of Marsala wine (we didn't have any)

The museum is in two parts, The first contains artifacts from the local excavations spanning prehistory (through 7th century BC), Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman and Medieval (6th C. BC through 13th C. AD). Our guidebook has told us that most of what the world knows today about the Phoenicians comes from 1) the Bible and 2) the excavations at Mozia (or Motya) and Lilybaeum). We are jazzed. Unfortunately, virtually all the explanations are only in Italian. Nonetheless, the trip through time is fascinating, and the artifacts well-presented. We are partularly taken by ceramic pieces that have the maker’s name embossed in them, the earliest examples we have seen of “brand names”.

There is no photography allowed. However, at Lewis’ insistence, we sneak a photo of a ceramic duck from the 3rd C. BC. (Clark is mortified.)

Mary: Me, the ultimate rule follower, took a picture when there were no photos allowed

The second part of the museum houses a fragment of a Carthaginian ship sunk in 241 BC in the naval battle that ended one of the Punic Wars. It was discovered in the early 1970s and recovered, preserved and reconstructed in ways similar to the Viking ships in Roskilde and the Vasa is Stockholm. And, best of all, the extensive narrative is presented in both Italian and (drum roll…) English!

We are also fascinated by the large number of amphoras on display, with explanations of their places of manufacture, determined based on seemingly minute differences in shape, size and handle construction. Archaeology is not a profession for those seeking instant gratification.

Mary: Perhaps “fascinated” by the hundreds of amphorae is a little strong.

Mary: After getting out of Marsala with a modest amount of difficulty, we head back toward Menfi to have lunch at Da Vittorio in Portopalo. At Da Vittorio we have our now usual lunch of pasta with clams and a salad. Sunday is family day at restaurants in Italy. We have come not as Italians and not as a large family ergo we are seated at a small table next to the restrooms. But lunch is fine although not quite as good as at Il Pescatore. Then we hit the beach.

Since we have promised Clark and Lewis a little playtime every day. We let them hop and flutter around the beach, catch some rays, and dip their little webbed feet in the Mediterranean Sea.

Clark and Lewis soaking up the rays

We return to the hotel to get ready for our cooking class. We are informed that our cooking class is cancelled. Rats! They have made everything we were supposed to make this evening, this morning. The only thing left are some desserts. I am not interested in making desserts. We are annoyed.

We are only three at dinner – John, me and Katie, the English lady. Katie has helped make all the food for dinner tonight at this morning’s cooking class. She is quite frank with what she finds terrible.

The first thing (and the best thing) of the evening is smoked swordfish with zucchini. As often happens, when something looks good, we eat it and forget to take a picture. Next is arancini, one stuffed with spinach and cheese and one stuffed with meat and vegetables. It is heavy.


This is followed by a a primo of pasta and eggplant pie. The good bits are the eggplant and the crispy part of the angelhair pasta. No one eats much of it.

Pasta pie with eggplant

Moving on to the main course, we are served veal falso magro. This is a kind of veal meatloaf stuffed with a whole hard boiled egg, vegetables, and cheese. I like my meatloaf a lot better.

Veal falso magro served with a vegetable puree and zucchini

For dessert we are served a dessert called cassata. It’s a ricotta cake/pie with a bunch of marzipan and candied fruit. The ricotta filling is good. The rest is unbelievably sweet.


We order some espresso and grappa afterward. The grappa is pretty tasty. It does not take your breath away like some grappas do. Unfortunately, while our backs are turned, Clark takes a few sips with the expected results.

Oh, Clark, will you ever learn? Grappa is not for frogs!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *