Ragusa Ibla, Sicily: Baroque City with an Ancient Heart, Part 4 of 4

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Ragusa Ibla’s panorama is a treasure trove for architects and visitors seeking fine examples of Baroque architecture and Medieval street plan

On the morning we planned to go to Ragusa, a hard rain beat against the windows of our Ortigia hotel. We ached all over from the prior day’s walk through Villa Romana del Casale, a late Roman Empire UNESCO World Site. It was temping to stay perched on the tall chairs place beside the wide windows of our hotel to watch fishermen haul in fresh catch, nosh on Sicilian Breakfast ‘Cookies,’ and sip cappuccino until the waiters swept us out with the crumbs. Although little was written about Ragusa in our guidebooks, it’s history as a cave town for the Sicels (2000-1000 BC ancient Sicilians) piqued our curiosity. We charged up the cameras, packed rain gear into our backpacks and waited for the Renault, il “beeg Sha-neek-wa,” in the hotel lobby. As we navigated “S” turns on the steep climb to the hill town, our jaws dropped when we finally arrived at the city, that tenuously hugged a limestone hill between two deep valleys. “What is this place?” we said in disbelief at the sight of Baroque on top of Baroque, tossed across the edge of the rocky precipice like a jumble of miniature houses in a diorama.

Origin of Ragusa Ibla

Ragusa’s origin can be traced back to the 2nd millennium BC, where Sicels established several settlements. The ancient tribe who populated the 1000 ft. hill came in contact with the nearby Greek colonies and developed the town thanks to the nearby port of Camerina. After a short Carthaginian rule, the Romans and the Byzantines, who fortified the city, built a large castle, and formed an administration for Ragusa. In 848 AD, Ragusa was occupied by the Arabs  and remained under their rule until the 11th century, when the Normans conquered it.

Devastation by Earthquake and Rebuilding

In 1693, a major earthquake that killed 5,000of the 10,000 inhabitants, devastated the architecture, too. Following the catastrophe, public opinion was divided on where to rebuild. A compromise was struck. The population divided itself into two new settlements: an upper city called Ragusa Superiore and Ragusa Ibla on the ancient site. The merchant class rebuilt Upper Ragusa and today it is a bustling modern city. The aristocracy refused to leave their devastated homes in the valley and recreated a Baroque city, based on a medieval street plan. The two towns remained separate until 1926.

Steep stairs, narrow streets and alleyways reveal Ragusa’s medieval city planning

SEE VIDEO AND GALLERY BELOW RECIPE FOR MORE PHOTOS OF RAGUSA

Sicilian-Stuffed Pork Chops with White Wine Caper Sauce

YIELD: 2 large portions

PREP TIME: 20 minutes

COOK TIME

1 hour 10 minutes

TOTAL TIME: 1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 pork rib chops (1 1/2-inch thick, about 10-12 ounces each)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup frozen chopped spinach, kale, or chard

4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon pine nuts, or other nuts, lightly toasted

1 tablespoon raisins, chopped figs, or prune plums

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon bread crumbs

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 tablespoons butter, divided

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed

Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Serve over pasta, risotto, polenta, couscous, or potatoes

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut a pocket in the chop about 3-4 inches long and almost as far as the bone. Season inside and outside with salt and black pepper.

Thaw spinach in a glass bowl in the microwave but do not squeeze the water from it—used to bind stuffing to chop. Let cool.

Saute 2 cloves minced garlic, pine nuts, raisins, cheese, breadcrumbs and crushed red pepper flakes. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

Stuff even amounts of the filling into the pocket of the pork chop. Secure with toothpicks.

Heat olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat in an oven-safe skillet, sauté pan or Dutch oven. Brown the chops 2-3 minutes per side or until nicely browned. Transfer to a plate.

Add the wine to pan, bring to a boil and scrape up any browned bits. Add chicken broth and sliced garlic and bring back to a simmer. Place chops back in the pan, cover securely and bake 1 hour in oven, or until chops are tender, turning once.

Stir in remaining butter and capers. Serve chops over hot cooked orzo pasta and drizzle with pan sauce.

MAKE-AHEAD: Stuff the pork chops up to the point of browning and braising one day ahead.

FREEZER-FRIENDLY: Double the amount of sauce/braising liquid and cook the pork chops per the recipe. Cool thoroughly then place in an airtight container. Freeze up to three months. Thaw in the refrigerator and thoroughly heat through to 165 degrees in the center of the filling.

Adapted from The All New Good Housekeeping Cookbook published in 2001.

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