I see the light around the corner. I am optimistic. Visitors are here. And I’m packing for Sicily, my love.
I was asked last week which Sicily cooking experiences I love the most. Casa Mia spent years dreaming, researching, and creating them.
Cooking lessons in Sicily end with a delicious home cooked meal. Sitting at a table, breaking bread, being present, and reveling in the moment. The food, conversation and laughter nourish much more than our appetites. The dream becomes real. The experience becomes a memory. The memory stays with us forever. I love every one of our cooking lessons for different reasons. Here goes…
Let me introduce you to three cooking experiences in Sicily
We started to offer this experience in 2015. It holds a special place in my heart. I visit Ortigia often with loved ones. It’s a place where I catch up with old friends and make new ones.
With the island of Ortigia as the stage, a gorgeous chef introduces us to the seaside-street market. We chit chat with vendors, some break into song which may be cliché, but for me it’s dreamy. A seasonal menu is created while we shop; for those who prefer a set menu ahead of time, we have you covered. We walk back with our chef, and she opens her home and kitchen to us. Panelle are fried and devoured with a chilled beverage. In her intimate kitchen, we talk about local dishes and modern twists as we roll out pasta to be dressed in a squid ink sauce. While the pasta rests, we season and stuff spatola (scabbard fish) with wild fennel, raisins, and breadcrumbs. Into the oven it goes and we make cannoli shells. Fry, set aside and pipe with sweetened ricotta minutes before eating them. There is wine, deeply satisfying food, and conversation. It feels like we have known each other for years.
My favorite dish of the day: involtini di spatola (scabbard fish rolls with orange slices).
Catania is a city I came to love for her raw beauty and her authenticity. She’s not trying to impress anyone. She doesn’t need to. Give her a chance and she, her food, history, and people will win you over.
Our chef meets us at the Duomo. Contrasts of black and white edifices point to lava stone and nearby Mount Etna. Ten steps forward and to the left is the “pescheria”, one of the largest and most colorful fish markets in Sicily. Zig-zag through the narrow alleys. The singsongy banter hypnotizes me along with artichokes that grill on larger than life barbecues. We stop for a spread of cheese and salami with a glass of wine before entering the rooftop kitchen.
And here begins my love affair with bastaddu affucatu (a Sicilian purple cauliflower recipe).
Speaking of love affairs, we also hand roll busiate, the one pasta shape I would eat every day for the rest of my life. It is a difficult pasta to make by hand. Our lovely chef shows me over and over again until I form my very own busiate. I burst out with glee.
At the end of the lesson, our chef gives us a book of recipes with a little bit of history and folk tales, which is right up my alley.
My favorite dish of the day: bastaddu affucatu with a view, winter sunshine (see below) and laughter with friends.
Marsala is often breezed through by Sicily visitors. It’s quaint, subdued, and welcoming. We arrive, park and meet our professional chef at the street market to peruse fruit and vegetables shops and fish vendors. Back to a simple restaurant.
We knock back a caffé and roll up our sleeves. We chop eggplant, red onion, celery, vegetables. We make iconic caponata. The recipe for this cooked eggplant salad changes from home to home and I’m happy to eat every version.
We are in the town or Marsala, famous for its long history of fortified winemaking. We taste more than one marsala – picking up savory, umami sensations and sweetness – it’s delicious with sweet and sour caponata. They are great friends.
The food is heartfelt, the chef and his family give us insight into a new Sicily that is evolving and changing. Classic dishes with a modern touch, served in a sun-drenched piazza under umbrellas. We snap pictures and laugh and linger over gorgeous plates of food. I could stay here forever.
My favorite dish of the day: Every dish made during this lesson made my heart sing; from pane cunzato with tomatoes, oregano, basil, and anchovies to caponata, and my beloved busiate: twisty, crunchy pasta served with fresh anchovies, wild fennel, raisins and almonds served in hand painted ceramic bowls. Sharing this experience and food with a friend who radiates sunshine made it that much more delicious.