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Chef Jasper Mirabile is celebrating Sicily on the big screen and in the kitchen

Chef Jasper Mirabile's Timballo di Anelletti. Timballo is a popular dish in Sicily.
Chef Jasper Mirabile's Timballo di Anelletti. Timballo is a popular dish in Sicily. From Jasper J. Mirabile

I’m thinking Sicily right now. Of course it has to do with all the wonderful food and my family heritage but also about independent filmmaker Mark Spano, writer, producer, and director of "Sicily: Land of Love and Strife."

He will be in Kansas City this week for the U.S. premiere of his feature-length documentary at the Screenland Armour Theatre.

The event is co-sponsored by my friends from the Kansas City chapters of the American Sons of Columbus and UNICO, the largest Italian-American nonprofit service organization in the United States.

I caught up with Mark Spano on the phone recently and had a wonderful conversation on Sicily and the movie. Mark tells me that little has been produced about the cultural or historic relevance of Sicily.

Spano, himself a Sicilian by heritage (he holds dual citizenship), began working on his film five years ago.

Many do not realize that Sicily is most invaded place on earth, the three-sided island that rivals Greece and Egypt as a primary source for Western ideas. Yet fewer places on the planet compare to Sicily as a place of wonder and intrigue.

Except for crime, Sicily has gone unexplored, Spano continued. The island’s association with the Mafia, so deeply entrenched in popular consciousness, has obscured more rounded and accurate depictions of its history and culture. Until now.

Spano believes his film will begin to change the public’s perception of Sicily and Sicilian people. For a Sicilian-American like me, the film is a loving tribute to my land of origin.

This beautiful film paints a fresh portrait of my grandparents’ ancestral home. Mark takes us on a journey of spectacular beauty, epic human struggle, depth and diversity of culture, philosophic insights and historic sites.

For me, the film evokes wonderful memories of the many trips I’ve made to my family’s homeland, especially to the city of Gibellina where my grandfather Leonardo Mirabile was born and where I still have relatives.

I’m so honored to be the emcee at the Kansas City premiere of "Sicily: Land of Love and Strife" and to help showcase this remarkable region of Italy. How can anyone not want to be involved in something about their family’s ancestors and history?

The documentary’s appeal was evident recently when the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (N.C.) announced a continuing education course the filmmaker is teaching there in March in the Osher Lifelong Learning Center.

The course is based largely on “Sicily: Land of Love and Strife.” Almost immediately, it sold out, necessitating a move to another venue on campus to accommodate the maximum number of students.

Christopher Bram, the author of the novel "Gods and Monsters," observes, “ ‘Sicily: Land of Love and Strife’ is a terrific documentary, beautifully photographed and highly informative. Like a great travel book full of wonders. You never know what will appear next: volcanoes, Greek ruins, olives, "The Leopard," pasta and pastry … It’s a profound look at life.”

If you cannot make it to Sicily this summer then I hope you enjoy the movie and my special Sicilian recipe that I have created.

Tickets for the premiere are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. To order advance tickets, go to bit.ly/SicilyPremiereKC. The Screenland Armour Theatre is located at 408 Armour Road in North Kansas City (816-994-7380).

As I have said, I have created a special recipe to celebrate the movie event and my Sicilian heritage. This timballo is very popular in Sicily but believe it or not I didn’t have this in my many trips until I was much older.

I enjoyed the timballo at the famous author and Sicilian royalty countess Anna Tasca’s farmhouse and could not wait to return to Kansas and prepare it at home for my family. I enjoyed it again 15 years later with my friend Judy Francini. When it was brought to the table, she yelled out, “Oh my God, SpaghettiOs”.

The dish is very easy to prepare and I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy sharing with you. Thank you, Mark, for making this movie, bringing Sicily to the attention of Americans and others around the world. Boun Appetito!

Chef Jasper Mirabile's Timballo di Anelletti

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup minced onion

6 minced garlic cloves

28 ounces San Marzano tomatoes

Salt and sugar to taste

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/2 pound bulk Italian sausage

1 pound Anelletti pasta

1/2 pound cubed provolone

1 cup grated Romano cheese, plus more for serving

1 cup green peas

1 stick butter

2 cups breadcrumbs

Place olive oil in a sauté pan and heat on a stove to medium. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Remove from stove and add garlic. Stir for a few minutes. Add tomatoes and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt, sugar and red pepper. In a separate sauté pan add sausage and crumble. Place on medium heat and sauté until fully cooked. Combine sausage in tomato sauce. Boil 2 quarts of water and add pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain. Mix meat sauce with cooked pasta, provolone, Romano and peas. Melt butter and place in a deep 9-inch round cake pan. Spread 3/4 of the breadcrumbs evenly on the sides and bottom. Add pasta to cake pan. Press down with a plate. Add remaining breadcrumbs. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place Timballo in oven and bake 30 minutes. Remove and cool 25 minutes. Place a platter on top and turn upside down. Serve warm with a dusting of Romano.

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 64-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.

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