Cooking in quarantine: A dish that tastes like my Italian home

A chef in Milan shares the simple recipe from his Sicilian childhood that he has been craving while in lockdown.

Filippo's simple ingredients for a dish to cook during quarantine [Photo Courtesy of Filippo La Mantia]
Filippo's simple ingredients for a dish to cook during quarantine [Photo Courtesy of Filippo La Mantia]

When you usually work 18 hours a day as a chef and restaurateur, changing your lifestyle is not so easy. For chefs, cooking is not a job, it is a passion. So closing my restaurant in Milan was traumatic.

I have 32 employees, and when I no longer knew how to answer their questions and concerns, I decided to send them all home. Since then, we have created a group chat where we try to encourage each other and keep each other’s spirits up. We have discussions we would never have had in the past. 

Being forced to stay at home – thankfully, in the company of my children – has changed the rhythm of my life. I have found myself thinking a lot about how things were when I was little – and about the food my mum and grandmothers cooked for me. 

The dishes from our childhood memories stay with us – accompany us – throughout our lives. Every time we are faced with problems, emergencies or calamities, our memory goes searching for them – craving these simple dishes, made with few ingredients, and prepared with love and passion. In quarantine, I have been relearning these dishes. There is one, in particular, one I had completely forgotten about, that I want to share.

It is hard, stale bread soaked in milk, fried, and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. As a child, it tasted of love and respect. It still does. 

In the 1960s, people would not throw anything away. There was respect in the cuisine of our grandmothers in Palermo. It was not a deliberate dish, but one that was made instinctively and with love.

One could not give it a monetary value. My strongest childhood memory until today is linked to the smell of milk, cinnamon, oil and bread toasting and frying.

This was home for me, this was family. And this is how you make it.

The dish from Filippo’s childhood memories in Palermo, Italy [Photo Courtesy of Filippo La Mantia]

Filippo’s Taste of Home

Ingredients

Makes four servings

120gr of stale bread

50cc (50ml) of milk

8 mint leaves

50gr of granulated sugar

4gr of ground cinnamon

Directions

1. Cut a loaf of hard, stale bread into slices about 2cm thick (a little less than an inch).

2. Soak the slices in milk and then fry them until they are toasted brown.

3. Let the slices cool down and then sprinkle them with a mix of sugar and cinnamon.

4. You can also top the slices with a few mint leaves.

5. And there you go – a dish from childhood!

Recipe courtesy of Filippo La Mantia

Source: Al Jazeera

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