I love Sicily for many reasons – the warm salty sea, the rolling hills, the medieval towns and baroque churches, the tradition and ceremony and history, my balcony. But, I think my favorite thing here is the food. Food has always been a great love of mine, and typically if I say somewhere has great food, I am referring to what I have eaten in a restaurant. Here, it is far more than that. The best part of the food is the freshness and quality of the ingredients that can be bought at a local market or farm, or even the grocery store. Some of the best food I’ve had here is food I’ve made. It’s not that I’m a fantastic cook, but with awesome, fresh ingredients, good food comes naturally.
My mom spent the past three weeks here, and one of the highlights of our trip was the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school. The school is located on the Tasca family estate in the western part of the island near the small town of Vallelunga. The estate, Regaleali, is primarily the family’s winery, but the daughter Fabrizia runs the cooking school started by her mother in the ’80s. Fabrizia shares her passion for food, cooking, Sicily, and the slow-food movement. Almost everything that is eaten and prepared at the school is grown or produced on the property – cheese, meat, yogurt, vegetables, herbs, fruit, eggs, bread, wine, olive oil, jams. I would highly, highly recommend the school to anyone. Sicilian food focuses more on quality ingredients than fancy techniques, so no level of cooking expertise is needed. I couldn’t imagine a more warm, welcoming, and beautiful setting to learn about food. The school has many different courses and options, ranging from one to five days. We chose the 1.5 day class, with an overnight stay. More information about the school is on their website here: http://annatascalanza.com/
Our drive to the school took us through Sicily’s interior, through rolling hills, rugged rocks, and winding roads. As we crested over the last hill and dropped down into the valley toward Regaleali, everything we could see was green. We later learned that all that green was theirs. They have 1200 acres of vineyards, orchards, and gardens. We pulled up to Case Vecchie – a large set of buildings of beautiful stone and blue trim – and were met by two English-speaking girls, which was quite a surprise and treat. They showed us to our home for the night, a little house perched on the top of one of those rolling mountains. “Princepessa”, is one of the aunt’s homes that is used as a guest house, and is unbelievably charming. It overlooks the vineyards and the orchards, we couldn’t have asked for a better home for the night.
After a rest, we made our way back down to the school for our first lesson and dinner. In the kitchen, we were greeted by Fabrizia and the four other guests at the school. They came from Germany, Sweden, and Japan, and were all signed up for the four day class. We were instantly jealous and regretted our decision to stay only the one night. With Fabrizia leading the way, we prepared dinner. She told stories about Sicily, her family, food, the traditions. We all worked together prepping sardines, making dough, peeling grapes. The menu that night was Citrus Marinated Sardines on toasted bread, Fava Bean Soup, and Spatola fish stuffed with a breadcrumb mixture. Dessert was a wonderful Grape Crostata, and everything was served with wines from the estate.
Breakfast was served in the morning – preserves, bread, fruit, yogurt, cheese, and a wonderful almond and olive oil cake. Everything, including the cheese and yogurt, was made there.
In the afternoon, Fabrizia gave us a tour of her garden. What I picture when I say “garden” doesn’t quite do it justice – she grows enough produce to fuel the cooking school and the property year-round. She walked us through all the herbs, trees, fruits, and vegetables. She grows dozens of varieties of herbs, tomatoes, lettuce, squash, everything. I was most fascinated by the tomatoes we used for that afternoon’s gazpacho soup – they are a hearty thick-skinned tomato that she grows directly on the ground (not staked like we normally do) and without water. They can get enough water from the ground and moisture from the air on the cool nights to survive, and the result is thick pulp and a concentrated tomato flavor.
We picked the produce for our afternoon’s meal – entirely vegetarian and entirely from her garden – and headed back to the kitchen for preparation. We made gazpacho soup and wonderful salads – a potato and green bean salad, tomato and peach and basil salad, a green salad, tomato and oregano and, my favorite, a watermelon, pecorino cheese, and mint salad. Dessert was fig sorbet.
After lunch, my mom and I had to head home, but the food and atmosphere was so wonderful that we easily could have stayed for the week. I very much recommend her cookbook, Coming Home to Sicily. Many of the recipes we made are in the book, and it is full of authentic, delicious Sicilian recipes. Available at Amazon here.