Sicilian-style summer requirements for eating and drinking? “Fresh fruits and vegetables, good cheese and a lot of wine,” says Megan Huylo, a New York and Hamptons-based private chef who cooks “real food for real people.”
Known for her vegan, plant-forward and health-supportive approach to clients’ menus, Huylo understands most people want diversity on the plate — along with the occasional sweet treat to leave you comforted and satisfied. And on a recent trek to Sicily, that edible ethos resonated with her ever more deeply.
Huylo attended a two month workshop in Sicily at Anna Tasca Lanza, the iconic food and cultural center outside of Palermo. “In Italy, food is such a central part of their lives. They constantly talk about food and where they got everything, and it’s communal, solely having a meal to get together and visit. The quality of the food, the dedication to craft and tradition of production, farming practices, and winemaking — they are so passionate about it, and that’s something that resonates with me as a chef.”
And it’s all about balance, Huylo says.
“We all want to eat healthy, but at the same time, we want things to be delicious. That requires a balance and moderation of choices that might quote-unquote be ‘bad’ for us,” she says. So when the bulk of your diet is fruits, veg, whole grains and lean proteins, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional sweet treat in your diet.
Having worked a few seasons at organic farms (Bhumi and Amber Waves, both in Amagansett), the chef knows a few things about plant and fruit-based meal planning, hauling and harvesting during the day and having on site-farm-to-table client dinners by night.
“That time was a joy and an invaluable learning tool in my culinary approach,” says Huylo, “and it’s why I like to travel and do something different every year that’s a learning experience. It gets me out of my comfort zone and inspires me.”
Even though her time in Sicily was full of hours-long, multi-course meals, that went from light bites or a cheese board, to a pasta course followed by a protein like fish for the secondi piatti, with wine and conversations throughout, there was always room for a fresh and vibrant dessert. The one that really stuck with her: strawberry crostata, which of course celebrates the fruit we look forward to arriving soon at farm stands out east.
“This is a very traditional Sicilian dessert and often it’s made with all-purpose flour, butter, eggs and sugar. Substituting with spelt flour, reducing the amount of butter and using whole eggs as opposed to all egg yolks is a satisfying option,” she says.
Our sweet local strawberries are a seasonal accent to the dish. Huylo’s recipe also calls for low-sugar natural fruit preserves. “I love Josephine’s Feast Preserves, which sources all the products from the South Fork.”
Need another reason to feel good about trying this recipe for yourself, or perhaps making it for mom for Mother’s Day? Skipping the bleached, all-purpose flour. “Spelt is a whole grain so you’re getting all these essential vitamins and nutrients that are minimally processed and have a very similar texture to all-purpose flour.” Huylo says you can usually substitute it out cup for cup and there’s virtually no difference in the cooking time.
With the help of pie dish or tart pan, Huylo says it’s a dough that comes together easily. Simply form it into a disc and roll it out a bit, lay it out on top of the tin, and press it in. Cut off the excess dough and keep for decorative garnish.
To complete your Sicilian dining experience? “In Sicily, this would be paired with amaro, which complements the lovely, nutty sort of flavor in the pastry, especially with fruit.” Mangia il dolce!
For more info on Megan’s per-diem personal chef sessions, short-term private chef engagements, intimate events, cooking instruction and consulting services in New York and the Hamptons, click here.
Megan Huylo’s Strawberry Crostata
- 3 1/2 cups spelt flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- dash sea salt
- 1/2 cup butter, plus 3 tbsp
- 3 eggs, plus 1 yolk
- 3 cups strawberry preserves
- fresh strawberries, for garnish