We had high hopes for our dinner the first evening after we’d arrived, when we saw the chef/owner out in the field, picking wild fennel fronds. But none were in evidence on our pastas, and the rest of the meal was forgettable. (Except for the bill.)
After that disappointing first night dinner (because the island has high turnover, restaurants can vary and change, from day-to-day – you might have a great meal one day, and return the next, to find it mediocre, or crummy – which we learned was true), we found ourselves at the aforementionedAltamarea.
We started with some fried zucchini and cheese, and an outstanding Caponata di pescespada, a dish which captured all of Sicily, and Pantelleria, and my dreams, in one bowl. Chunks of fried eggplant, celery, capers, green olives, and cubes of swordfish in a tomato sauce, was just the right balance of sweet and acid.
I’m generally not a fan of mushy bowls of vegetables cooked together. But like a good version of ratatouille, when everything is combined, yet each ingredient maintains its integrity in the bowl, well…life is good.
Although I don’t eat tuna, due to sustainability issues, since the tuna was local and line-caught, I didn’t feel guilty ordering it. One of my friends said it was the best piece of tuna he’d ever had.
The island is known for pasta with Pesto di Pantelleria, a mixture of tomatoes, herbs, and garlic (although I’ve seen recipes with almonds added, too), topped with toasted breadcrumbs, which are used more liberally on pasta here, than grated cheese. I use them at home, too, keeping a jar of seasoned breadcrumbs on hand to scatter over pasta, which provides a nice textural contrast. Try it!
Because we had such a good meal, few days later we returned, and we started with Tartare di tonno, with more of that delicious Sicilian olive oil spooned over the top.