A tradition continues at Fattoria Mose’ …

31 May, 2011

Like many other Sicilian families of their class, every year, in May, the Agnello family would pack up and travel to their country estate – and there they would remain for the summer months. It was a short journey from the family palace in Agrigento to the large airy farm house at Mose’, but a major excursion. At Mose’, the family entered into a completely different way of life.

For those who made the journey many years ago, the Mose’ of today is obviously greatly changed. The farm, which still produces olives, almonds, pistachios and wheat, as well as fruit and vegetables, is greatly reduced in size, and the house and surrounding buildings have been extensively restored and opened to guests. Nevertheless, thanks largely to Chiara who now manages the farm and Agriturismo business, it is still possible to feel something of the rhythm of a past way of life. Something of those magical summers that linger on in the family’s memory can now be shared by anyone who visits.

Farm buildings - now flats

Chiara’s sister, Simonetta, in a recently published book*, describes how preparations for the transfer to Mose’ would start well before summer with the setting aside of things that were necessary for the re-opening of the house – bleaches, candles and floor wax, sacks of dried beans, and packs of sugar, pasta and rice – and the washing, ironing and packing of the sheets, table cloths and towels that had been returned from Mose’ in the autumn. She also talks about how, on its arrival at Mose’, the family would be welcomed by those who lived and worked on the Estate – some families had been working there for generations. The relationship between these people and the Agnellos was warm and informal , obviously one of great respect and affection on both sides. The whole way of life at Mose’ was different from life in the palace in Agrigento. Whereas in Agrigento, breakfast would be nothing more than a quick cup of coffee and a pastry or piece of bread, at Mose’ it was more like a proper meal. And, at Mose’, there was no thought of buying food every time you went out – you ate what was there. When Simonetta, who missed having fish, would ask her father to buy some, the answer would always be the same: “In the country we eat what is produced – like the peasants do”.

All of which goes some way towards explaining how it is that Chiara is able to run Mose’ in the way that she does.

I recently joined an informal cooking lesson that Chiara had agreed to give to a group of friends who were staying at Mose’. I arrived at lunchtime to find everyone, including Chiara and her very gracious and much loved mother Elena, already sitting down around the large kitchen table enjoying a simple, yet varied and delicious lunch. After lunch, we were taken to see the recently restored family chapel, with its typically Sicilian ceramic tiled floor, and then I had a chance to do what I love doing best here – to stroll out through the garden in front of the house and straight onto a rough, dusty country track that leads down through the olive and almond trees,  and, for me, to memories of a past life in the country.

One of the many old olive trees

Some of the olive trees from which the Estate’s excellent olive oil is made, are apparently 500 years old; and legend has it that from the hollow trunk of one of these trees, in a field that is now called the Holy Field, the Virgin Mary once appeared to a group of farm labourers who had been working nearby.

In the late afternoon, we met in the large kitchen upstairs, for our informal cooking lesson: fresh tagliatelli with a sauce of tomato and fried aubergine; swordfish; aubergine cutlets, made with the white fleshed, rounded and paler coloured aubergine that are called Tunisian aubergines here; and a light, eggless cake made with fresh fruit.

Preparing aubergine cutlets

First, we prepared the tagliatelli, the tomato sauce, the aubergine cutlets and fresh fruit cake, then enjoyed some spare time before meeting again for the final preparation and a drink before dinner . Chiara told us that the aubergine cutlets, which can be eaten either hot or cold, are one of the most popular dishes. And now that I’ve tried them, I can quite see why. My notes on the preparation of this dish are reproduced below.

Pasta sauce - tomato and fried aubergine

For dinner that night, we were again seated round the large kitchen table – and again, the food was, without exception, delicious. But this time there was, in addition, that relaxed and easy conviviality that always seems to follow the shared preparation of  food.

     *        *        *

Somehow, despite all the changes, the essentials of life at Mose’ seem to have remained intact. The charm of the place has nothing whatever to do with decorative effect – elegant furnishings, flourishing window boxes or contrived display. It has to do with the maintenance of a real connection with the country. And for that, or so it seems to me, it is Chiara, with both Mose’ and the country in her blood, who is largely responsible.



Notes on making aubergine cutlets

For these cutlets, it is necessary to use the Tunisian aubergines, rounded, light purple in colour and with white flesh (see picture).

First, wash the aubergines and, with a sharp knife, remove the stalk. Then peel the aubergine in sections, from top to bottom, giving it a striped appearance. When we asked Chiara why that was done, she laughed and said she has no idea, just that “That’s the way it’s always been done!”. Then, cut horizontally into slices almost 1cm thick – and place in a a colander with some salt.

Drain and dry.  Cut each slice in half and coat first with flour, then with beaten egg, then dried breadcrumbs, and put aside until you are ready. Then fry in very hot oil and sprinkle with salt while still hot.

The cutlets are good eaten either hot or cold. According to Chiara, they are a real favourite, and people often find it difficult to identify the base ingredient.  They often think they are eating white meat, or perhaps mushroom, rather than aubergine.  

*  Simonetta Agnello Hornby, Un filo d’olio

Fattoria Mose’s website can be found at: www.fattoriamose.com

6 Responses to “A tradition continues at Fattoria Mose’ …”

  1. Sally F Says:

    Yum – I can’t wait for our planned trip to see Chiara … or an answer to my email to you about it!

  2. jan Says:

    Oh why can’t I use the ordinary not the Tunisian egg plant (I’m going to try – we don’t have a choice!). It sounds delicious. Your evocative story of life in the country and how it has been embraced by Chiara at Mose made me want to hop on a plane and stay there!

    • kateludlow Says:

      Mmm – I know there’s a reason. I can’t quite remember what it is, but think it’s that the other type of aubergine will go soggy, whereas this one remains firm! Of course if you weren’t flitting off to places that to me sound so exotic – Doha, Cappadocia and Istanbul – maybe you could visit Fattoria Mose’ and ask Chiara!

  3. Cate Says:

    I want to go there! It sounds idyllic. Oh and I’m really hungry now having just read your post.

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