Taste Buds: Sicilian 'alchemy' in the kitchen

By Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Sep 29 2011 12:54 PM | Updated as of Sep 29 2011 10:58 PM

Antonino Quartana's fettuccine with shrimps and crabs. Photo by Caroline J. Howard, ANC

MANILA, Philippines - Alchemy is often referred to as the process of turning natural substances into something precious.

But for Sicilian artist Antonino Quartana, it is the basis of culinary and artistic expression.

"When you cook or when you're painting, you need to see similar ingredients. When you're painting you use colors, shapes, perspectives. When you cook you use flour, vegetables. You mix colors and come up with something that will give you emotion," Quartana said on "Taste Buds," the food segment of "[email protected]"

An artist before a gourmand, Quartana was five when he first picked up a paintbrush. His passion for food started in Palermo, Sicily as a seven-year-old child, inspired by a family that liked to cook.

"My first love is painting. With cooking, I find some connection. I love the smell of painting and also of the food -- basil, sauce, the fish when it's very fresh. When I cook, I'm happy," he said.

His love for cooking grew naturally alongside his art as he exhibited his works in some of Palermo's most noted restaurants. Quartana's latest works of art have also been displayed at the lobby of the Philippine Senate.

"I'm an artist-chef because cooking is also art. It's a creation, not like a machine. When you cook for a lot of people, it's difficult. When you cook for some friends at home, you enjoy it and you can cook very well," he said.

Sans any formal culinary training, Quartana presents his own alchemy of culinary and visual artistry via home-based cooking lessons for small groups on Sicilian and Italian haute cuisine.

Painting, cooking like a journey

Quartana likens the experience of painting or cooking to a journey or a process of discovery whether on the palette or on the plate.

"What I really love about art is when something appears. When you're painting, you don't know if something you create turns out well. Much like cooking, sometimes it turns out better maybe because the fish is better, or you feel more energy," he said.

"When I'm painting, there's a general idea of what I have to do. When I start painting, it's like a trip. When I want to create some new recipe, I start with some ingredients. I start with an idea and during the travel I can find different suggestions."

Inspired by nature

Taking inspiration from everything around him,some of Quartana's latest artworks were inspired by the beauty and majesty of volcanoes, including the Mayon Volcano in Albay province.

"When I went to Legaspi (in Albay), I was very impressed with the Mayon Volcano. I come from Sicily. There is Mount Etna, one of the biggest volcanoes in the world, then there's Mayon. It's like a perfect cone. The shape and color are fantastic. You just feel the energy. I put the ash and use it with the painting," he said.

Quartana said that in Italy, the vegetables that grow near the volcano are different and are more flavorful. Such ingredients, he said, have inspired him to create new dishes, such as Italian foccacia with kamote tops, flour, onions, chili and olive oil.

For "Taste Buds," Quartana prepared two dishes: a Filipino-inspired Italian appetizer-salad made of fried pumpkin and a vinegar-based dressing with olives, mint and marjoram; and a slightly spicy tomato-based seafood fettuccine with salted capers, garlic, white wine and parsley.

The symphony of flavors from the agghiata comes from the spice from the marjoram and the garlic against sour notes from the vinegar and the cool sensation from the mint leaves.

As for the fettuccine, the familiar flavors of the tomato sauce, garlic and onion are heightened by the salted capers, chopped parsley and white wine, making it a more complex seafood dish.


  • 800 grams of pumpkin, sliced
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons of vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 20 to 25 olives
  • marjoram
  • mint leaves
  • olive oil
  1. Fry the pumpkin in oil. Dry on a paper towel. Set aside.
  2. In a bowl, mix vinegar, sugar and add chopped garlic, olive oil, marjoram and olives. Heat in a pan.
  3. Pour the mixture over the fried pumpkin.
  4. Leave in the fridge to marinate. Serve.


  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 spring onions
  • 1 chili pepper
  • salted capers
  • chopped parsley
  • 800 grams of shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • half a glass of white wine
  • 1 kilo of crabs
  • tomato sauce
  • tomato extract
  • salt
  • fettuccine
  • extra virgin olive oil
  1. In a pan over low flame, saute garlic, onion, chili, capers and parsley. Add shrimp, then white wine.
  2. Remove the shrimp then toss in crabs. Add more white wine, tomato sauce, tomato extract, and salt to taste. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes.
  3. Once the sauce is cooked. put shrimps back in and cook for a minute.
  4. Toss in with pasta cooked al dente.
  5. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

For authentic Sicilian cooking lessons with Antonino Quartana, call (632) 403-3755 or e-mail [email protected]

"Taste Buds," a weekly food segment of "[email protected]," airs on Tuesdays between 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. It features chefs and talented foodies as well as their food ventures, house specialties and new items.