If You are What You Eat, What Does That Say About Sicily’s Milza?

Earlier this week I wrote a guest post for Mangia Monday, a weekly column over at Wanderlust Women Travel. The site’s owner, Lisa Fantino was interested in how Sicilians are taking a bite out of crime and it reminded her of some of her favorite culinary memories as a child.

Welcome, Lisa.

“You are what you eat, takes on new meaning with Sicilian comfort food!”

Some people eat to live and others live to eat…………….as someone with Sicilian blood coursing through her veins, I can tell you that Italians clearly live to eat. They have a love affair with food that begins the moment they cut their first molar to and doesn’t end even when old age has taken their teeth. All of this comes with good reason – because Italian food is fantastico. OK, I may be biased here but isn’t all comfort food the food we’ve eaten since birth? Well, for me that meant voosteddi on special occasions.

“Holy cannoli what is a voosteddi,” you must be saying. I had no idea but I knew it was a treat. My Papa Cicio would venture to New York’s Little Italy weekly and on some of those return trips home I would be lucky enough to get voosteddi. It was like a special snack because the whole experience was made special.

It would start with a call from Papa to Nana saying he was on his way home……..she in turn would find me and tell me voosteddi were on the way. I would wait with tummy growling, anxious for Papa to walk through that door carrying a brown bag loaded with greasy sandwiches from the heavens.

It was a ritual. Papa, Zio Vincenzo and I would gather around the kitchen table sucking down these divine bits of culinary pleasure, often joined by my cousin if he happened to be around, as Italian sons usually show up when it’s time to eat! The paper thin slices of what looked like beef were layered on the softest bread with just a dollop of ricotta and maybe some grated cheese. That was it. They went down so smoothly and I knew they had to be special because even Nana didn’t dare make these in her kitchen and she cooked EVERYTHING…..even capozzelli (Lamb’s head right down to the eyeballs)

No one would tell me where these voostedi came from – it was top secret and reportedly happened down a back alley at a door which required a special knock. I kid you not. You can’t make this stuff up and maybe you just have to be Sicilian to appreciate it.

When I was about 18 or 19, maybe even 20, I dared to ask Papa what was in a voosteddi, just in case I wanted to make one. He wouldn’t tell me. “You like it, then mangia,” he would say, twisting his knuckle into the side of his cheek with a smile on his face. That was the Sicilian hand gesture, and everything has one, that meant delizioso.

Well, I happened to be the straight chick to my Zio and cousin’s twisted sense of humor. My Zio figured he would tell me straight, “It’s bull’s balls.”

“Ew, that’s disgusting. It is not.”

“You asked and then you don’t like the answer, so just eat it, you’ve been eating it all these years.”

So I begin dissecting the sandwich, peeking between the slices of bread as if I would know what a bull’s testicle would look like when it was cooked. My cousin agrees with Zio and I do not trust this Goombah Johnny routine. Something smells like bull, if you pardon the pun.

I now finish the voosteddi, not knowing if I should waft down another or be sick to my stomach on one of the delicacies which has sustained me since I could chew.

OK, Nana would never, ever lie to me, not me. I was her #1.

“Nana, what’s in a voosteddi?”

“Bull’s balls,” she says without skipping a beat!

Nooooooooo – help me. This is the Italian kid’s versions of sliders and they were destroying me.

It wasn’t until years later, long after Papa Cicio and Nana were gone that I researched voosteddi only to learn that the mystery meat is really a cow’s spleen. Sounds kind of disgusting but oh so yummy and oh how I long for those days in Nana’s kitchen again!

NOTE: Cherrye has referred to these Sicilian treats as milza. I have seen them spelled vastedda. It’s all about dialect in Italy and with DNA from Palermo and Corleone, is anyone gonna mess with me on pronunciation?

Photos: Papero Giallo and Eating in Translation via Flickr.

7 Responses
  1. saretta

    Well, it certainly sounds disgusting, but if you say it was good, it must be good…try it, you’ll like it! 🙂

    Yea, that is Lisa saying it is good-I am far too picky of a meat eater to try spleen! lol

  2. An interesting story, especially how we like eating something until we know what it is. That said I won’t be trying it next time I’m in Calabria, but enjoy those of you who do.

    Ha, you are like me, huh? Power of suggestion, I suppose!

  3. Lovely article! I can identify with many statements here, but I’ve never had voosteddi. Sounds delicious! And I’m laughing about the capozzelli… glad to know I’m not the only one who had to witness that. Blech!

    Double blech!

  4. Cathy Raymond

    Thank you so much for the article on Voosteddis.
    I had been looking forever for the mention of it in any site, cookbook or word of mouth.
    I was pronouncing it wrong, we heard it as pasteddi. Now I realize why we could never find it. My grandmother used to make them but the buns weren’t browned. She Americanized it by putting cooked ground beef in them but the rest is the same.
    This Saturday we are getting together (8 sisters) to make them for ourselves with the help of an aunt. Wish us luck.
    Cathy Raymond

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