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Friday, August 6, 2010

Two perfect things for this summer: A dream place to visit and a delicious recipe to make!!

Cari amici,
One of the 10 Temples of the Valley
The Valley of the Temples
It’s summer time and one of the places I visited a few summers ago and that stole my heart, captured my fantasy and filled my soul with so many wonderful memories is for sure Agrigento and the Valle Dei Templi. 

The Valle dei Templi, Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, Sicily, is one of the most important archeological sites in the world and a Unesco world heritage site since 1998 and if you are, like me, a romantic soul, you will fall in love with this place. It is one of the most outstanding examples of Greater Greece art and architecture, and is one of the main attractions of Sicily as well as a national monument of Italy. The famous Valle dei Templi ,covers a huge area, much of which is still unexcavated today comprises a large sacred area on the south side of the ancient city where seven monumental Greek temples in the Doric style were constructed during the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. Now excavated and partially restored, they constitute some of the largest and best-preserved ancient Greek buildings outside of Greece itself. The term "valley" is a misnomer, the site being located on a ridge outside the town of Agrigento. The temples are actually built on a ridge south of the higher hill where the beautiful city of Agrigento stands.
Temple of Juno
Remains of the Temples of "Castor and Pollux"
Temple of Concord.
There are no words to describe the beauty of the Valley of the Temples. From East to West, walking along the so-called Via Sacra, while admiring the Temple of Hera (Juno), Concordia, Heracles (Hercules) I couldn’t stop thinking about the beauty of the side and wondering about the past, the days when this beautiful valley and their temples where in use. While admiring the beauty of the Temple of Hera, the Temple of Concordia, the Temple of Heracles, the Temple of Zeus 
and the Sanctuary of Chthonian Deities (Temple of Castor and Pollux) and while discovering the secrets behind their construction, I was so captivated about the history of this place. There is like a magic enchanting vibe around. The valley is for sure one of the places I would love to go back and visit again. Overlooking the Valley was a surreal experience. The warm air that caresses you and the beautiful warm colors of the Valley all around, and the sunset on the Valley …beautiful!! It felt like I was back in time, no sound of cars, TV, radio, phone…just the sound of the nature!! Funny thing is that we all were feeling the same and everybody around was kind of quiet while visiting the Valley!!
Tempio di Eracle at night
Tempio della Concordia at night
At night some of the Temples are illuminated and even thought I haven't done it yet, I know that you can go on special VIP tours at night on the Valley. Friends of my family did this tour and they loved it!

It was like walking into a dream location: peaceful and so surreal. A magical place.
The Theatre
The Temple of Juno and the beautiful sky
Street in the old town
A Quiet street of Agrigento

Remain of the old city

It looks so peaceful now but this area has been the theatre of so many war and invasions. The capital city Agrigento, or Akragas as it was called in Greek, was  one of the leading cities of Magna Graecia during the golden age of Ancient Greece. Agrigento was founded on a plateau overlooking the sea, with two nearby rivers, the Hypsas and the Akragas. Akragas grew rapidly, becoming one of the richest and most famous of the Greek colonies of Magna Graecia. The city was disputed between the Romans and the Carthaginians during the First and the Second Punic War when both Rome and Carthage fought to control it. The Romans eventually captured Akragas and renamed it Agrigentum, although it remained a largely Greek-speaking community for centuries thereafter. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the city passed into the hands of the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy and then the Byzantine Empire. During this period the inhabitants of Agrigentum largely abandoned the lower parts of the city and moved to the former acropolis, at the top of the hill probably to avoid the destructive coastal raids of the Saracens and Berbers. They pronounced its name as Kerkent in Arabic, and that was thus Sicilianized as "Girgenti". It retained this name until 1927, when Benito Mussolini’s government reintroduced an Italianized version of the Latin name.
Church of Santa Maria dei Greci
Agrigento is a major tourist centre due to its extraordinarily rich archaeological legacy. I loved to walk in Agrigento, Much of present-day Agrigento is modern but it still retains a number of medieval and Baroque buildings. I particularly loved the fourteenth century cathedral and the thirteenth century Church of Santa Maria dei Greci ("Our Lady of the Greeks"), again standing on the site of an ancient Greek temple. The town also has a great archaeological museum displaying finds from the ancient city. The different influnces from Arabic, to Greek, to Roman to Byzantine can be seen in the so many beautiful building all around the city. It was also kind of spooky to me at time. Some of the streets where so quiet, with no people around and you could hear in the distance the sounds of the cars and the people. A very suggestive place…and very hot!! I spent all my much in bottles of water!!
Agrigento also serves as an agricultural centre for the surrounding region. Sulphur and potash have been mined locally since Roman times and are exported from the nearby harbour of Porto Empedocle. I don’t know if you are familiar in the USA but there is a very famous TV series called Inspector Montalbano based on the popular novels by Andrea Camilleri, famous Italian writer and native of Porto Empedocle. A funny fact is that in 2003, the town changed its official denomination to Porto Empedocle Vigata, adding Vigata indeed to its name, who is the fictional town name where the popular novels by Andrea Camilleri are based. This TV serie is very popular in Italy and as you can imagine the Italian tourists love to go and visit the set of it, which is indeed Porto Empedocle Vigata.

Typical "Carretto Siciliano"
A quiet vendor of water in the Valley

From my personal experience I can say that Agrigento and the surrounding areas looked to me like a save place to visit. People were nice and friendly, at the restaurants the service was great and the food super delicious. The city was nice, pretty clean and quiet. However, Agrigento is considered one of the poorest towns in Italy on a per capita income basis and has a long-standing problem with organized crime, particularly involving the Mafia and the smuggling of illegal drugs. But as I said I didn’t see it…now I really sound like a Sicilian!! (LOL)
I saw a lively nightlife and pub scene and I ate very savoring Greek and Sicilian cuisine at the many great local restaurants, so many wonderful places to chill out and relaxing after a day of sightseeing, Atenea Street and Viale della Vittoria, situated in the nearby city of San Leone 2km from the center of Agrigento, this is where the majority of the bars and pubs geared by the young locals and the tourists. The Oceanomare is probably the nicest pub and restaurant in the area . I love it there. The restaurants on Atenea Street are more casual, whereas the pubs and restaurants on the Viale della Vittoria are more fashionable and upper class. I enjoy the night scene a lot!!
View from the Hotel to the Valle Dei Templi
Agrigento is widely known for its wide array of Greek and Sicilian cuisine. Some I visit and I loved where for sure Baglio Sicilia Antica, where I tasted the best in Sicilian cuisine, La Borghesiana, who I’ve been told is one of the better Italian and Mediterranean restaurants for pasta and pizza, Leon d’Oro, where you can taste an amazing mixture of Italian, Mediterranean, and Sicilian cuisine. For the best Mediterranean cuisine with a little Greek in the mix my favorite was Akropolis Restaurant.
The "colazione" table
Dinner table at Hotel with view on the Valley

You can find many great little Hotels in Agrigento. I stayed at The Colleverde Park Hotel. I loved it. It ‘s located on a top of the mountain overlooking the Valle dei Templi. I was lucky to have a room overlooking the valley of the temples and the ocean beyond!! A dream place too!! Loved it!!
One of the surrounding "spiagge"

The beautiful blue water of the sea
Another beautiful view of the beach

And to mention for sure are also the beautiful beaches all around with the transparent clean cold water. Beautiful!!

I really hope to go back one day soon to visit the Valle dei Templi! I loved it!!
And since it’s summer and as you know “pomodori“ are my favorite, here is a yummy recipe that I like to make with it, a light savory cake spot on especially on a hot summer day :

Cherry Tomato and Feta Cheese Tart with Fresh Thyme

Pate Brisee (Tart Dough), here is how you can make it, my mom does it…I buy it ready!!Ups…

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, cold, cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons ice-cold water
Cut the butter into small cubes and put in the freezer for 10 minutes.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour and salt and pulse to combine.
Add butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
With machine running, add ice water through feed tube in a slow, steady stream, just until dough holds together without being wet or sticky.
Test by squeezing a small amount of dough together; if it is still too crumbly, add a bit more water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Turn out dough onto a parchment paper, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
The dough can be frozen for up to 1 month; thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.

Tomato and Feta Cheese Tart
Pate Brisee, chilled in the refrigerator for at least an hour
1 1/4 cups feta cheese
35-40 cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Few sprigs of fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven at 450 F.
Butter and line a 9-inch tart pan with the dough.
Crumble the feta cheese and lay on the bottom. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
Arrange the cherry tomatoes on top.
Decrease your oven temperature to 425 F.
Drizzle 1 tbsp of the olive oil on top and bake for 35-40 minutes until the edges of the tart dough are slightly browned.
Take the tart out of the oven, sprinkle the fresh thyme sprigs and continue baking for 10 more minutes.
Take the tart out of the oven, drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil on top and let stand at room temperature until serving.

The feta cheese became crispy after nearly an hour of baking and cherry tomatoes
developed a very delicious sweet taste. I always add the fresh thyme at the last 10
minutes of baking, so it’s not burned.

Buon appetito and stay tuned for my Music Blog dedicated to Pino Donaggio and my Italian Life Style Blog to see pictures and read about the Sergio Franchi Memorial Concert, a wonderful event that I will be part of, this coming Saturday August 7th in Stonington CT!!
And you know me by now…on the blog a new recipe will be there waiting for you as well!!

Love always,

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