I Banchi di Ciccio, Ragusa Ibla, Sicily

October 24, 2015

There’s a new treasure in the ‘hood: I Banchi.

Its magnetic force pulls me in every single day, either for a frothy cappuccino, pasta lunch, hunk of parmigiana or half loaf of bread, take-out dinner pizza or scaccia (available by the slice), or for an evening glass of the local peppery black Nero d’Avola at a table outside. The genius behind this casual-affordable-lovable place is none other than 2-star Michelin chef Ciccio Sultano.

Ciccio Sultano of I BANCHI, copyright Jann Huizenga

Ciccio Sultano, the beating heart behind I Banchi

It’s open all day long–8:30 am-11:30 pm–shockingly long hours for Sicily! (closed Tuesday). Mornings are my favorite time to sally forth, when the duomo is the color of fresh brioche, doves flutter about, and the only thing shattering the silence are my boots on cobbles. Although I Banchi’s official opening hour is  8:30 am, their door is ajar by about 7:30 or so for coffee. Monica’s smile will brighten your day.

Monica at I BANCHI, copyright Jann HuizengaWhere else can you go in the village on an October morning with rain bursting overhead? And linger for an hour over a warm whole-wheat croissant (un cornetto integrale, per favore) while scanning the news on a no-hassle wifi connection? You’ll stumble in half asleep and wake up to the smells of baking breads, chocolate, cream, and espresso.  You’ll marvel at the stone walls honeyed with age and at the fact that these rooms were the once-upon-a-time stables of the adjacent baronial palazzo. Such a high life the cows must have lived here! Feeding from troughs hand-carved from the local black pece stone under spacious vaulted ceilings.

I BANCHI wall, copyright Jann Huizenga

Ancient horse ring still on a wall

I Banchi Ragusa, copyright Jann HuizengaA destination for regular folk and gastronomes with shallow pockets, I Banchi (the name refers to the old wooden school benches still found in some Sicilian schools) is many things at once: a cafe/wine bar/bistro/trattoria/pizzeria/bakery/salumeria/bookstore/wifi zone/hang-out place par excellence. Down to earth, welcoming, and warm.

Breakfast outside at I BANCHI, copyright Jann Huizenga

Londoners in Sicily

In nice weather sitting on the cobbled sidewalk under oleander trees is pleasant.

In charge of day-to-day operations is Chef Peppe Cannistrà, a local Ragusan. Yay, Chef! Keep up the good work.

Chef Peppe Cannistrà, copyright Jann Huizenga

Chef Peppe Cannistrà

Alfio Magnano, restaurant director, is a font of wine wisdom. And, as you know, Sicilian wines are spectacular.

Alfio, Director, I Banchi

Alfio Magnano knows Sicily’s wines.

Breakfast at I BANCHI, copyright Jann Huizenga

Breakfast at I Banchi

Breakfast at I BANCHI, copyright Jann Huizenga

Breakfast at I Banchi

When you step inside, you’re in the bakery, face-to face with mini cassata cakes, chocolate truffles, fruit-topped puff pastries, and other gems. But with my doctor’s voice in my ears, I often go for the stone-ground brown breads–breads almost impossible to find in Sicily because locals, after millenia of poverty, seem to be under the impression that soft white refined foods represent the apex of well-being. But I Banchi is nudging Sicilians back to their their healthier past, to fiber-rich ancient grains.

The breads are made from Castelvetrano flour, a stone-ground flour from Western Sicily that uses an ancient grain called tumminìa (supported by the Slow Food Presidium as it was becoming extinct).

Wheat Bread at I BANCHI, copyright Jann Huizenga

Bread from I BANCHI, copyright Jann Huizenga


This ancient Sicilian flour, once in danger of extinction, is stone-ground and protected by the Slow Food Foundation.

Giovanni, Bread Baker at I BANCHI, copyright Jann Huizenga

Giovanni, bread baker at I Banchi

Pasta Made from Ancient Sicilian Grains, Copyright Jann Huizenga

A selection of foods are available for purchase at I Banchi, including busiate produced from antique organic stone-ground grain in western Sicily by Filippo Drago. I love that Ciccio is supporting ancient grains and other old-time Sicilian products.

For more information on Filippo Drago’s work, see Elizabeth Minchelli’s blog.

For lunch I can recommend the unusual fish lasagna with broccoli puree. Fish Lasagna at I BANCHI, copyright Jann HuizengaAnd for dessert nothing could top the cannolo, served here with a dollop of almond granita.

Cannolo at I BANCHI, copyright Jann HuizengaThe approach at I Banchi is in keeping with the spirit of this ancient little village founded by the Greeks and rebuilt by exuberant Sicilians in the 1700s. No flashy Milan-style decor, no garish signage (instead it uses small stencils on its traditional shutters), unlike some other establishments that have popped up here recently. Sometimes I moan that World Heritage designation leads to ruination and nothing but magnet shops, but having I Banchi in the neighborhood gives me hope.

Buon appetito!


PS: When you go, have a peek into the adjacent courtyard where a scene from Divorce Italian Style was filmed. The wine cellar’s amazing too.




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Festival Crowd, Part 2

June 6, 2015

I was happy to spot this beauty with the scarlet scarf. I had only ever seen them tied about men’s thick necks.

“So a woman can belong to San Giorgio’s Association?”  This is the group that parades the saint around the village.

“I’m the secretary,” she says.

“So you’re allowed to carry the saint?”

“Oh, no,” she smiles, then shrugs, as if to say “not in my lifetime.”

Sicilian Woman at Feast of San Giorgio, Copyright Jann Huizenga

Her cameo shows San Giorgio slaying the dragon.

And to continue my previous post showing festa-goers:

Sicilian in beret, copyright Jann Huizenga

What is it about a man in a beret??

Italian Style Man, copyright Jann Huizenga

He absolutely has what his T-shirt trumpets.

Sicilian couple, copyright Jann Huizenga

Love her pizzazz. She should have dressed him in a green tie.

Sicilian couple, copyright Jann Huizenga

Angelina still on the phone. Brad’s eye wandering.

Sicilian couple, copyright Jann Huizenga

Hmm. Let’s see. Who is San Giorgio and where is he to be found?

Father and daughter, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Papa, can’t you stop these damn explosions?

Balloon vendor, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

She dresses to match her balloons.

Police, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Almost as good as a beret.

Alla prossima, amici.



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Festival Crowd, Sicily: Part 1

June 1, 2015

We just concluded our festa honoring the town’s patron, San Giorgio, who pranced around on his horse for 3 days amid much fanfare–rocket booms day and night, fireworks, tears, hollering, confetti, mobs, twinkle lights, tubas, drum beats. Tourists thought we were under attack and pigeons had heart attacks. As my Sicilian neighbor said, “It’s all a little exaggerated.”

I’ve written about the festival itself here, so now I’ll show you some shots from the crowd.

 San Giorgio Festa in Ragusa, Sicily, Copyright Jann Huizenga

“I used to carry San Giorgio on my shoulders, but now I’m too old,” he said

Balloon vendor, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Balloon vendor: she made kids smile.

Sicilian couple, copyright Jann Huizenga

She has him and she wants to talk to someone else?

Band members, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

These poor guys deserved a break; they trudged up and down hills following San Giorgio for three days.

Padre & Figlio, copyright Jann Huizenga

Padre & figlio.

Padre & Figlio, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Padre & figlio.

Sicilian Festival, copyright Jann Huizenga

All waited with bated breath for San Giorgio’s final exit and stroll.

Watching a Festival, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

They had the absolute best view in the house.


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Mid-May Peaches, and Other Thoughts

May 15, 2014

Eeek! It’s already mid-May. I don’t know where the days go. It’s hard, changing careers at this stage of my life–tackling photography, translation, and writing after so many years of teaching. Figuring out how to afford a life in a new country. I’m slooooooooow, everything takes hours–and then more–to seep into my thick head. So with apologies: I have only enough time today to post peaches. (Compliments of my local market.)

Each juicy peach is filled with the perfume of Sicily. And with love, for you. Thank you for visiting my blog.

Sicilian peaches, copyright Jann Huizenga

Sicilian Peaches, copyright Jann Huizenga

PS I’ve been posting on Facebook everyday. I’d love you to visit me there!


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Burano, Amore Mio

January 5, 2014

Happy New Year my friends!

On a normal New Year’s Eve, after a hot cup of tea, we’re snoring by 10pm under a layer of duvets and quilts. But not this year.

This year we pushed and shoved our way into Piazza San Marco in Venice as the moon and the stars spun above.  While the countdown proceeded––merry-makers in glittery masks shook bottles of bubbly Prosecco. At the stroke of Midnight, the crowd howled, sparklers flashed, and the fizzy stuff boiled up into the night, showering us with a icy spray.

The next day we rode the ferry to the quiet fishing village of Burano, a  perfect antidote to the chaos and glamour of Venice.

Burano in winter, copyright Jann Huizenga

Burano in Winter, copyright Jann Huizenga

Burano in winter, copyright Jann Huizenga

Do it yourself to Burano:

If you go to Venice, don’t pay for an expensive tour to Burano. Just walk to Fondamente Nove and hop on a vaporetto (Line 12). They leave every half hour and the trip takes about 40 minutes. My best advice: Go early!!! By 11 am, the tour boats have arrived.


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