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One of my favourite Sicilian tours takes in the region of Eastern Sicily. This offers you the opportunity to discover the islands of the Aeolian, and the rich lands surrounding the famous Mount Etna. As well, you can journey to some of the most beautiful historical provinces of Sicily. This being Catania, Syracusa, Ragusa, including the towns of chocolate-loving Modica and the island of Ortigia. We welcome you to Catania which is, after Palermo, the lively and second largest city in Sicily. Catch a glimpse of the first leg of my Eastern Sicily tour, as we take you to with us to…Catania!

A tour of Catania

We enter into Sicily’s age-old history, rich in unique archaeological sites and monuments, with one of the more famous being the Villa Romana del Casale. We indulge in the surrounding historical towns that showcase timeless crafts such as hand-painted ceramics. Dining on regional artisan products created using proprietary and specialized techniques, and spending evenings dining with newfound friends and locals. You will experience the triumphant shouts of the Siciliani. We wander through the iconic food markets of these areas. In doing so, we enjoy a spectacular array of vibrant colours of spices, seafoods, and seasonal fruit and vegetables. You’ll be thrilled to see the local produce displayed as if they were works of art instead of mere merchandise for sale. Plus, you will relish the tempting morsels offered by locals to sample.

We welcome you to Sicily and the busy airport of Catania. Our beautiful Hotel is an elegant palace recently restored, located on the Steps by Alessi. Set like a jewel, between Via Etnea and Via Crociferi and in the heart baroque of the historical center of Catania. You will have time to relax or wander around the hotel admiring the terrace. This has sweeping views across the historic centre of Catania overlooking the roof tops of the late Sicilian Baroque style.

La Pescheria markets

We head into the historic centre of Catania for a tour on foot visiting “La Pescheria” markets. The markets has an atmosphere that has remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of years. They are noted especially for the fresh seafood where we can witness the colourful behaviour of local fishermen selling the morning’s catch. Here you will also find all sorts of wonderful fruits, vegetables, meats and deli items as locals pick up their daily shop.

Cultural landmarks

We continue our tour to Catania’s stunning Cathedral. Here the city’s patron Saint, Sant’ Agata and precious treasures are kept. We wander through the Piazza Duomo where the heart of Catania beats and the city’s symbol monument: the fountain with the Elephant stands. This monument is a lava-stone statue that dates back to the Roman era. It is mounted on a more modern structure by Vaccarini from the eighteenth century. Legend goes that this animal became the city symbol because in ancient times pigmy elephants lived in this place. Due to this they protected the city’s inhabitants by chasing away fierce animals.

We meet for lunch giving you the rest of the afternoon and evening to wander this beautiful city, do a spot of shopping or rest in the hotel. Lastly, we meet in the evening for dinner at one of the local restaurants and spend over night in Catania.

Travel with Dom

Come to Catania and Sicily with Dom! Below are upcoming tours to this amazing part of the world. Travel across the whole of Sicily or travel on shorter tours, whatever your preference.

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Sicily is buzzing with a rich and interesting history. When you travel with me on my food, wine and cooking tours to Sicily, I am also passionate about showing you the cultural highlights as well. Here is a snapshot of a couple of the very special places I love to visit in Sicily.

Piazza Armerina

The beautiful medieval town of Piazza Armerina is located south on a hill not far from the town of Enna in the heart of Sicily. Piazza Armerina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site was conquered by the Arabs in 861. The town has dark cobbled streets and Baroque monuments displayed amidst grand Norman and Gothic architecture and 17th century palazzos. It was made world famous as a destination since the discovery of the Villa Romana del Casale one of the finest examples of Roman mosaics made by African craftsmen.

Villa Romana del Casale

The Villa Romana del Casale is one of the most luxurious of its kind. It is especially noteworthy for the richness and quality of the mosaics which decorate almost every room. They are the finest mosaics anywhere in the Roman world. We lunch at one of the local restaurants in the Piazza. Here we sample this areas specialties such as almond wine, cheese and meats. Then we continue our bus tour to Caltagirone, one of the most lively Baroque towns in central Sicily.

Caltigirone

Caltagirone is known in Italy as “The city of Sicilian ceramics” due to its thousand-year-old tradition. The name itself – Caltagirone – derives from an Arabic word meaning the Castle or Fortress of the vases. Here you are free to wander through the many artisan workshops. Or do a spot of shopping or visit the Regional Museum of Ceramic. To work off lunch you may like to tackle the 142-step monumental Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte, built from 1608 in the old part of the town. The peculiarity is that each step is decorated with different hand-decorated ceramics. This is using styles and figures derived from the millennial tradition of pottery making.

Ceramics

One of the highlights of Sicily for the lovers of art and sculpture are the stunning ceramics. Ceramics are available all over Sicily. However, two of the most famous places that you will visit on Pure Food Wine and Cooing Tours of Sicily are Caltagirone in Eastern Sicily and Sant Stefano di Camastra in Western Sicily.

Local production of functional pottery in Sicily started as early as the 2nd century BC, thanks to the abundance of clay in the area. There are many different styles and techniques that you will find throughout Sicily. This is thanks to the influences of the Romans, then the Greeks, the Arabs, the Spanish and the Normans. Each providing new elements of creativity to the local ceramic production, making it one of the most distinctive in Italy.

Sant Stefano de Camastra is a town that pays homage to ceramics with coloured painted panels in the squares, tiles on the floors of the stores, house street numbers, street signs and even in furniture. The features and difference between the two towns ceramic styles are evident in the colours, shapes, forms and patterns.

Caltagirone is definitely worth visiting as it is full of beautiful buildings, baroque churches and protected by the UNESCO World heritage program. This little town part of the Eastern Sicily tour is one of the most lively Baroque towns in central Sicily. It is as described “The city of Sicilian ceramics” due to its thousand-year-old tradition. The name itself derives from an Arabic word meaning the Castle or Fortress of the vases.

Ceramics in Architecture

Caltagirone ceramics have been used for centuries to decorate parks and churches, streets and squares. This you can see throughout the small picturesque town. A sight that you must experience and challenge yourself to walk to the top of, is the 142 step monumental Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte. Each step is decorated with different hand-decorated ceramics.  using styles and figures derived from the millennial tradition of pottery making.

The highlight of these ceramics is the Maiolica, typically a head with Moorish features painted in different colours. It displays symbols and stories from history also inclusing fruits, flowers and vines.

A story says that around 1100 AD, when Sicily was ruled by the Moors, a beautiful girl was living in seclusion and spent her days cultivating flowers on her balcony. One day a young Moor passing by saw her, decided he had to have her and entered the house so to declare his love. The young girl, surprised by such a gesture, reciprocated him. However, just when she got to know him he had to return to where he came from, to his wife and children! She waited for the night to come and as he fell asleep she cut off his head. She used it as a vase for her flowers and put it on her balcony displaying it to everyone. This way his love was forever hers. Since then, flowers grew lush in the vase and the neighbours, envious, built vases shaped like a Moor’s head.

Join Dom in Italy and Sicily

Dominique regularly tours to Italy and in particular to Sicily, and she would love to share her amazing food, wine and cooking tours with you. View her upcoming tours.

“Age is something that doesn’t matter unless you are cheese”

Who doesn’t love cheese? Sicilians do cheese so well, and I love to incorporate cheese as part of my Sicilian food tours! On my September 2013 tour of Eastern Sicily, I with the assistance of our wonderful chef Massimo, showcased a great selection of local Sicilian cheeses. We enjoyed these with a selection of Sicilian wines. The thrill for me was seeing everyone’s expression when we arrived and were confronted with a table full of cheese. We were like mice in a cheese shop! I have listed the cheeses we enjoyed and a little bit of information on each so if you come across them in your travels, you will know what you are eating. Buon appetito!

rszPecorino-Siciliano-and-Piacentinu-Ennese-1Pecorino

The name “Pecorino” from the Latin “pecus” meaning sheep. Back to the sheep’s milk it is definitely one of the oldest cheeses dating back to Sumerian Mesopotamia where a pastor randomly invented the technique of production. The taste is crisp and grainy with a very spicy flavour . Pecorino is a term used to define one of the older styles of cheeses made from unpasteurized sheep’s milk. It is a protected origin, DOP, made everywhere in Sicily but using different styles of cheese making. In the area of Mt Etna, they make the cheese in a flatter style of wheel with raw sheep milk and leaving it to mature for about 2 years, becoming firm and granular with age. Farmers love to have their sheep grazing on the wild mountain herbs as they impart a particular kind of flavour.

Pecorino is one of most widely used, sharper cheeses used in Sicily and has aromas of fresh, floral and spicy or fruity and spicy, especially if mature. It usually will have a strong smell of sheep’s milk and hay and because of the hard texture and sharp & salty flavour.  Commonly, Pecorino is flavoured with black pepper, chili or basil although some more unique flavourings include, pistachio, saffron, capers and orange. Pecorino is an excellent cheese grated over pasta dishes, salads and mixing with other cheeses to create a sharp flavour in gratin dishes and stuffings.

Piacentinu Ennese

Piacentinu Ennese is a very important cheese from the year of around 1090. This is also a sheep’s milk cheese, exclusively produced in the Enna Province in Sicily. Legend says that King Roger was looking for ingredients to cure depression for his wife. Some local cheese makers said that saffron was good for depression and made this cheese for the queen. Its name takes origins from the dialect word “piacenti” that means” cheese that is liked.” This is a full fat, raw or heat treated sheep’s milk cheese usually aged for 60 days.

Piacentinu Ennese has a beautiful mild flavour with amazing flavours, its bright yellow distinctive colouring uses both the raw milk of red-faced ewes and local picked saffron. The saffron gives the cheese a rich, golden colour with aromatic flavours, slightly sweet and a compact paste that is lightly holed. The saffron has to be picked at a certain time when the flower is not complete. The farmers wake before sun rise to pick between two to three thousand saffron flowers!

rszLuna-Piena-2Luna Piena

Luna Piena – this cheese is so local that it was really difficult finding information on it. It is covered in a light mould with a soft mild flavour made in the area of Ragusa in the mountains about 900mt above sea level on the Eastern Coast of Sicily.

rszTuma-Persa-3Tuma Persa

Tuma Persa is a very old style of cheese with its recipe having been almost lost for 100 years until it was rediscovered again by cheese maker Salvatore Passalaqua. He found the old artisanal recipe in a house just outside of Palermo. Now Salvatore is the sole producer of Tuma Persa or “Lost Cheese,” producing it in Castranova di Sicilia near Palermo in Sicily. Tuma Persa is extremely flavourful, but not salty. Made from raw cow’s milk, it has an earthy taste with a sharp finish. The rind is coated with crushed peppercorn, which further adds to its complex flavor. Tuma Persa is best enjoyed by itself or with Sicilian Caponnata. And it’s wonderful paired with indigenous Sicilian wines such as Nero d’Avola, Syrah, Malvasia from Lipari and Passito from Pantelleria.

Ragusano Dop tipical sicilian

Ragusano is a stringy‐textured cheese, produced with raw whole cow’s milk, coming from cows that forage in the aromatic pastures of the Iblei Mountains that lie between Siracusa and Ragusa. The Ragusano Dop is one of the oldest cheeses produced in Sicily. They are evidence of the presence of Ragusano DOP in Sicily history starting as early as 1500, The cheese is still homemade by little family dairies included in the farm where the cows are reared and its production is limited to seasons when the Ibleo pastures are very lush. This is protected by DOP made in one region with one type of cow and can only be made in this area.

The flavour of Ragusano Dop is aromatic, slightly spicy with a very pleasant taste. It tends to be aromatic and sweet when the cheese is young and becomes more and more pungent by the extension of the period of maturation. The production of Ragusano DOP follows an ancient tradition. The milk of one or more milking’s is left to clot, promoting the development of the natural microflora. The curd is then reduced into small pieces using the “iaruozzu”, a wooden pole that ends with a disk. The Ragusa-caciocavallo cheese ferments for 24 hours before the cheese is placed in hot water then stretched, calling it -pasta filata. It is then matured for 1 ½ years hung in two balls over what can be described like a saddle.

rszFiore-Sicano-5Fiore Sicano

Fiore Sicano is a flat round cheese with a greyish native mould produced between the regions of Palermo and Agrigento in the Sicani mountains. The birth of the Fiore Sicano cheese is accompanied by a very unique legend. It is a wonderful story of a cheese maker who failed to work the milk properly. Starting with something like a “tuma” fresh stretched cheese, he formed it into a round. Not wanting to throw it away he left it to mature, the story says, near fruits. The cheese maker noticed that the cheese was producing a mould. Thinking that the Tuma had gone bad he decided to throw it away. At this point he noticed the white soft cheese that came out of the centre. The natural moulds that characterize the native flower Sicano give the cheese a slightly acidic taste. Although, the delicate aroma of cream and milk gives it a sweet after taste which softens the initial acidity.

Fiore Sicano is still produced according to ancient tradition, with typical wooden tools. Cow’s milk from two milkings is left to coagulate for about an hour in a wood casks called “chiscuni.” The curd is broken twice: the first using a light technique, the second with force, until the granules are reduced to the size of a grain of rice. Then the curd is separated from the whey and is collected in forms. After twenty-four hours, the cheese is immersed in brine. Seasoning is added at the last stage of the production process and can last for sixty days or twenty months. This cheese like many of the others matches extremely well to the wines of the Sicilian land, and wines such as Grecanico and Nerello Mascalese.

“Formaggio Ubriaco” (drunk cheese) di nero d’Avola

This is a sharp cow milk cheese aged for 6 months on its own. Then aged for an extra 5 months in wine barrels with the Sicilian Nero d’Avola a deeply coloured, full-bodied, distinctly tannic wine. Nero d’Avola essentially is an indigenous grape variety to the region of Sicily, where it has been cultivated for centuries. The name is thought to be a contraction of two words (“Calea” and “Aulisi”). In the Sicilian dialect, it means “grape from Avola” (Avola being the name of a Sicilian town). This is also a stretch curd cheese sometimes also aged with the other Sicilian grape, Zibbibo . The creamy richness of the cheese marries well with the distinct flavour and aroma of the wine. This varies according to the preferences of the cheese maker. This cheese is enjoyed when served with potatoes, partnered with polenta and or mushrooms.

Goats cheese from Agrigento

These goats cheeses are from the Province of Agrigento and are made from a specific breed of goat with the milk being similar to that of human milk – good for people who diabetic, or with an allergy to cows milk and also very good for children.

rszCaprino-Della-Razza-Girentana-a-crosta-Fiorita-7Caprino Della Razza Girentana a crosta Fiorita

The origins of this cheese dates back to the eleventh century BC. This Sicilian goat cheese is unique in their kind, produced between the Nebrodi and the Madonie regions in Sicily. The milk is obtained from goats and Maltese Girgentana that feed exclusively on wild herbs and plants, which are present in inaccessible areas and thus difficult to reach. This diet gives the cheese its unique taste. The fatty acids and aging of the cheese give the cheese its characteristic odour and sharp flavour , sour initially and later herbaceous pleasing to the palate.

rszRubbia-8Rubbia

These are a softer, velvety and creamier style of cheese with an edible rind. White and clean in flavour with a delicious simple style. This is an elegant version of the traditional soft cheese from the valleys of Brescia. Made from cow’s milk and aged for about 30 days, it has the typical shape almost like a taleggio and with the ripening tends to completely “cremificare”.

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Calricciosi

Calricciosi are soft balls of goats cheese coated in a variety of either spices, herbs or seeds. A delicate flavour with those gorgeous hues of a fresh goats chevre here in the images are three different types of coatings. Peppe verde – rolled in green peppercorn; Semi di Papavero – rolled in poppy seed and Pistachio e erba cipollina – rolled with green chives and pistachio.

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Infogliato Ficu

Infogliato Ficu is a delicious soft goats cheese. It is infused with the flavour of fig as it is wrapped and left in fresh fig leaves.

Experience the wonders of Sicilian food with Dominque Rizzo

Let me take you on a culinary adventure to “God’s Kitchen” the amazing Sicily! See when I’m going next – I’d love to see you there!

 

 

 

 

 

Sicily’s menus are as contrasting as its seasons. They are reflective of its vast and rocky coast lines, its abundant seas and fertile lands. A trip to Eastern Sicily would not be complete without a tour to the exotic and tranquil Aeolian Islands. These jewels showcase another complexity in the riches that Sicily has to offer. Chiefly, volcanic soils and rich rugged lands. This supplies a bounty of seafoods, wild herbs, capers, tomatoes, fennel and wines. On top of this, a lifestyle that only island life can bring. Learn all about the magic of the Aeolian Islands and the stunning Salina, as we get a snapshot of my last tour to Sicily.

As we arrived by hydrofoil stopping at Lipari, Vulcana and then onto to beautiful Salina we all felt a sense of relaxation. The turquoise waters, green mountains of Salina and quaint stone houses sat proudly to greet us.

image-(2)Salina accomodation

Entering our accommodation here on the island was a spiritual experience. We were all in awe as we felt embraced by the warmth and protection of our new dwellings. Signum resort is one of two resorts on the island although I would have to say that Signum offered more than 5 star accommodation. It offered a place with something incredibly special. A dream, an eye for detail, patience and an understanding of harmonising nature with the land. This is a place where you can truly unwind, transporting you to tranquility. I was blessed with a room which opened onto a small court yard shaded by lemon trees bursting with fruit and a beautiful wrought iron ceramic tiled table and chairs.

image-(1)The sitting room on the lower level just beside by room housed a selection of interesting books. The topics ranged from art to food, novels, geography and other interests from all over the world available to read at your leisure. The styling of Signum is stunning. They have thought of everything in every corner, every aspect of this divine sanctuary. Every where you look there is a piece of furniture, a picture, painting something that has been waiting patiently in a store, auction or some lost corner of a shop until the right moment when it was placed with care, with meaning and mission into the resort.

image-(5)Spa indulgence

The spa area, a resemblance of ancient Greek baths is amazing. Salted mineral pools, warm thermal spas, sauna, all set in stone and surrounded by eclectic pieces of furniture. White lounges and lemon trees taking this place to another dimension of style and relaxation. The ladies and I on tour could not help but indulge in the beauty treatments again in harmony with the natural surroundings. They were designed using only natural ingredients local to the island. Malvasia wine and grapes, capers, oils, wild herbs, salt, lemons and spices.

I loved my caper salt scrub – a blend of capers native to the island and seen growing everywhere. Followed then with a cooling caper gel, painted on my body which was then wrapped up in a thin film of plastic. I was left to relax for 20 minutes where the detoxifying aspects of the capers were left to do their thing. My last indulge was the caper oil massage, a gentle massage using oil of caper, almond and olive. I did smell a little like a salad but my skin felt amazing.

image-(10)Food

Our four days in this piece of paradise lingered on. We journeyed into Santa Marina the main port of Salina and did a spot of shopping and indulged in the local food and wines. In particular the Malvasia a dessert wine of sweet dried grapes indigenous to the Aeolian islands. Some of us hired Italian cinque cento cars and toured the island dining on local specialties. This included rabbit braised with almonds, pistachios and malvasia, fried fish with sweet and sour onions, pastas flavoured with caper pesto and sundried tomatoes and almonds.

Capers and the caper berries are prevalent in most of the dishes popping up on antipasto plates, in pastas, sauces for fish and meats and on the Pane Cunzata (meaning condited or dressed). The cunzata come almost like a toasted focaccia about the size of a dinner plate. They top them with a variety of ingredients such as ripe red cherry tomatoes, chunks of milky mozzarella, tuna, capers, olives, marinated eggplant, sun dried tomatoes and grated salted ricotta. These are a belly filler and I recommend sharing them amongst 2-3 people.

My other island favorite snack or treat is a delicious granita eaten with or without a soft fresh brioche. Lingua is a coastal village right on the water. Here, you can find traditional fresh almond and pistachio granitas as well as an array of refreshing fruit flavours. Granita is almost like a slushy, a smooth icy drink you eat with a spoon which is very popular in bars all over Sicily and the islands.

image-(11)Local food traditions

The foods of Sicily are a journey within themselves. One can trace the hands of time through the recipes and flavours that grace the trattorias, cantinas, osterias and local street foods. Seafood of all types is a popular selection through towns along the coast. It is evident that using seasonal local produce is as natural as the life style its self.

Moving towards the inlands you notice a change in the style of eating traditions and also the availability of produce. Here they have retained centuries old recipes for hand made sausages and salamis. As well as meats, wild greens and seasonal fruits. Their dolce, gelati, sweets and pastries are laced with historical trade, exotic spices, nuts, fruits, wild honeys using recipes handed down through the ages.

The simple cooking techniques used by the Sicilians clearly displays the simplicity of the people and the excellence of the produce. Abundance on the dining table is a way of them wanting to embrace you into their culture. As often as I come to Sicily I am constantly reminded of the quality of the foods, the honesty in the cooking and the pride these people have for a life that is for living la bella vita.

Join Dominique on a journey to this unforgettable place

Sicily really is a delicious and rewarding experience. My food, wine and cooking tours dive deep into food, culture and local custom. My aim is to give you a truly memorable holiday. See when I’m off to Sicily next and come join me!

 

rsz-holy-communion-processionFrom the coastal town of Taormina and for lovers of very good wines you cannot pass Mt Etna and surrounding towns. This is an area I love to visit on my tours to Sicily. The town of Randazzo is historically, one of the most important towns that rest in the foothills of fuming Etna.

Built entirely of lava stone, Randazzo is home to some of Sicily’s best wines using unique grape varieties such as Narello Mascalese. You can also enjoy hand crafted small goods. These are crafted using wild black pigs from the Nebrodi Mountains. As well as traditional cheeses using sheeps milk scented with wild herbs, chestnuts and hazelnuts. The rugged lava terrain and seasonal weather bring to this area of Sicily a very fertile and productive food bowl.

rsz-with-some-of-the-local-gentryRandazzo

The town Randazzo has been destroyed by war and earthquake although never by Etna’s eruption. It therefore offers an amazing medieval atmosphere with a stunning history. Randazzo was divided into three quarters each governed by their own rulers, the Latinos, Greeks and Byzantines, this rich mix gives Randazzo its unique and beautiful architecture and some of the original and beautiful church facades, archways and art works in the whole of Sicily.

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Pictures: Lava and pumice stone chiesa; with some of the local gentry; holy communion procession

Wild Food

We share the experiences of salami making, pasta making and enjoying pasticceria from timeless recipes. Randazzo may be a small town that you would normally pass by, but its riches in food and history is definitely something worth visiting. The foods of the mountains are a recognizable change. We leave behind fresh seafoods and make way for fennel-studded flavorsome Sicilian sausages, salami and cheeses. As well, open air dried tomatoes, wild fennel greens, olives, grilled pork, grilled vegetables, rabbit braised with olives, tomatoes and capers. In addition to veal and lemon, ragu sauces, mushrooms and heavier hand made pastas made with semolina flour giving the real al dente bite. One of our memorable meals was a simple roast chicken and potatoes as simple as it sounds it was delicious, the chicken had the most amazing flavour, dusted with oregano, and scented with lemon.

rsz-pasticceria-from-Bar-Arturorsz-Salumi-from-MarcelleriaPictures : Pasticceria from Bar Arturo; Salami from Marcelleria Beviaqua

Pesto using pistachios or almonds is also another favorite. The pistachios from Bronte in Sicily lay claim to the sauce’s delicious flavour and deep green colour. This is really a town where you will never go hungry. One of our favourite morning breaks was to stop for a cannoli and coffee. We opted to start a voting system on the best cannoli. The creamy smooth ricotta cannoli filling and cinnamon dusted delicate handmade shell from Randazzo took winning stage.

Accomodation

Our accommodation in Randazzo was a 200 year old farmhouse. It had stunning gardens, stone walls and walkways. We wandered, exploring all the delightful nooks and marveled at the antiques scattered throughout the garden. I loved the wealth of antiques studded throughout the rooms, dining areas and courtyards, the place told a story through time.

Mt Etna

rsz-fresh-broad-bean-canapesAnother highlight was the walking tour to Mt Etna and the ice grotto. Here ice was kept throughout the summer and carried down to the town to be made into granita. Mt Etna with all its majesty is a serene interwoven landscape of lava paths and some of the most interesting natural flora and fauna. Its quite a hike along the narrow paths. For those wanting the full experience you can always take a four wheel drive to the top .Picture: Fresh broad bean canapes

Discover Sicily and its Wild Food

Come along with Dominque Rizzo on a tour of Sicily like no other. Find out when she’s going next.

 

Ricotta you could almost say is Sicily’s mascot cheese. You can find it in so many different dishes, desserts and applications and comes in a variety or degrees of fresh, cooked and dried. Take a look at how ricotta is made, and how it is best enjoyed in Sicily. If you like cheese, you will certainly enjoy it when you join me on my Sicilian Tours.

rsz-fresh-ricotta-in-the-boileFirst production

Sicilian ricotta is produced fresh from the whey left from making pecorino cheese. With the addition of a small amount of fresh milk, the new liquid is reboiled and thus the word ricotta. This first production is eaten fresh and I mean fresh straight from the boiler. It is still warm with its whey ladled into tubs or containers. It must be eaten within the day as breakfast or a morning sosta (break or snack). The addition of sugar, honey or a drizzle of virgin olive oil is often appreciated for those who find the fresh flavour a little too much.

rsz-draining-the-ricottaDrained form

The next form of fresh ricotta comes drained in wicker cane or plastic baskets. This allows the whey to drain out but not completely, still leaving the ricotta very soft. It is almost like a panna cotta or delicate jelly. At this stage the ricotta can still be eaten warm drizzled with olive oil, chili and a squeeze of lemon. Or, with scented honey and scattered with crushed pistachio nuts or almonds. This style of ricotta stays soft like this even when chilled. This is because it still has some of the liquid within the cheese.

Left to drain completely in the baskets the ricotta becomes slightly firmer to the ricotta that we are familiar with purchased from our local deli. This ricotta is used whipped with sugar to fill the loved cannoli, the Sicilian cassata and cornetti con ricotta. Or in savoury dishes such as ricotta and spinach pasta, tarts, pies, pizzas, stirred through hot pasta and for most cooking purposes.

rszbaked-ricotta-interra-cottaBaked ricotta

Baked ricotta is also very popular served as part of an antipasto and produced in quite a few different ways. The ricotta is baked in an oven of 400c in old terra-cotta bowls. These are often kept for years, giving the ricotta a blackened surface, unique flavour and heavy crust which is not eaten. The firmer textured consistency is delicious with a very slight smoked flavour.

The other baked ricotta is slightly firmer after being slowly baked for 3 days. This is baked at a low temperature of about 70c. This produces a rich flavour and golden almost toasted colour to the cheese. There is a slightly more smokey flavour to this baked cheese and it is commonly eaten fresh. Ricotta salata is ricotta which has been salted and then left to age or dry out. This produces a drier cheese. It is often grated or shaved and served with pasta, commonly pasta Norma with eggplant and tomato sauce.

Join Dom in Italy and Sicily

If this sounds like your ideal food experience, come join me to Italy! Find out my latest tour.

 

 

My travels through Sicily thus far have expanded for over almost 30 years. From a little girl with gold sleeper earrings and curls I remember the joy, excitement and love I had for this island, my Sicilian family, and the abundance that it produces. My father’s homeland has now become my hearts resting place and a dream come true. Sicily the island, showcases explosions of culture that draw from its rich history of influence, conquests, aristocratic rulings, religion, wars, prosperity and ruin, volcanic eruptions, and a coming together of centuries of art, architecture and food.

rszTheShalaiShoplogoThere is nothing that this bewildering island does not offer the inquisitive traveller. To this day I am still mesmerised by the sheer greatness of historical influence that Sicily has embraced. It is in these open arms of Sicily that you will want to lose yourself. Travelling is different for everyone, my tours really are about exploring what is the real Sicily. Ssmall intimate groups for singles, couples and people of all ages with flexible schedules. Historic and cultural tours, dining and food experiences that you will savour for the rest of your life. My unique bespoke tours are a way that you can sit back, relax and enjoy travelling with the personalised attention of myself and my guide. From my past experiences with travel groups, my hosted tours offer more than a guided tour.

What’s special about our tours

People who have joined me in Sicily love the personalised attention. They love allowing the tour to take them on this journey. My Pure Food Wine and Cooking Tours take the struggle out of having to worry about looking for traditional and iconic restaurants and lead you to discovering local producers. Many people travel alone, although the thought of dining alone night after night and wandering the streets alone can be daunting. My tours allow you to have space on your own but also enjoy wonderful conversation, company and experiences with a like minded group of people. We take the guesswork out of selecting stylish accommodation which reflects the traditions of each region . Day tours are organized, the bus is booked and all you have to do is turn up and enjoy the ride.

With my hosted tours, I accompany you throughout the whole tour. I share with you all the experiences, the laughs and all that our fantastic itineraries have to offer. It is easy to travel but not so easy to immerse yourself into the real culture of the locals discovering what lies behind the postcards. My Pure Food Wine and Cooking Tours are something very different. They change lives, change attitudes and bring cultures and people together.

To read and see more from my recent tour of East Sicily and the Aeolian Islands click here to read – Characters, Catania and the Markets.

To see where and when I’m going to Sicily next, have a look below!

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Sicily’s history is as intricate as the cobble stone via’s that you see in the tiny crumbling towns perched on the mountainous hill side. Due to this, Eastern Sicily and particularly places like Catania, have something special to offer.Very different from the Western side of Sicily, East Sicily is commonly known as the Arabic side to Sicily. It is an amazing food and cultural experience that I love to share on my tours to Sicily.

History

The Greeks settled Siracusa in Eastern Sicily in 735 BC. So Eastern Sicily encompasses all the riches that the Greeks bestowed upon this land. It made way for Sicily to become history rich in tradition, culture and architecture. Siracusa’s popularity and prosperity from the colonization of the Greeks made Sicily one of the most abundant and sought after lands.

For the next thousand years, Sicily’s list of conquests influenced upon the island the riches that we now see today. Chiefly in produce, architecture and culture. Romans, north African Arabs, Byzantines, Saracens, Normans, Swabian, French, Spanish, Bourbons, and the French all have left their mark on Eastern Sicily. It appears a battered land until 1861, when Sicily is finally liberated from the Spanish ruling and unified with Italy. The Eastern Coast of Sicily holds some of the largest and most splendid displays of Greek, Spanish and Byzantine architecture. We can see this evidence in ruins, Duomos, churches, monuments and gardens spanning from 734 BC and dating back to the 17th century.

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Catania

The Shalai Pure Food and Wine Cooking Tour Eastern Sicily lands you in Catania, the second largest city in Palermo. Famous for its La Pescheria fish markets spanning from the kasbar style markets hundreds of years ago. 5imageThese are an amazing display of Arab influence and outdoor markets, although unlike the prominent and popular markets in Palermo which represent the true Arab open air kasbar markets, these Catania markets are a fantastic example of tradition and a lively way to start the day.

Catania Fish Markets

The famous fish markets hold stage to cries of local fishermen and sellers. With all the wonderful produce that will grace the tables of local restaurants and family tables that day. Fresh and seasonal is the only way the Sicilians eat and shop for food. The local rustic stalls set upon ruins and cobble stoned streets showcase a range of fish, meats and fresh produce in its glorious raw and real state!

This is truly the land of slow food. You can be guaranteed that you will know what you are buying and where it is coming from. You will be amazed at the availability of specialty stands. Ones that took our interest were the Singora selling only veal tripe, liver, spleen, heart, lungs, “all the good stuff” he says to us. We marvel at the open table with the fresh meat displayed. A 1950’s electric type of fly swatter keeping the meat free from harm.

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Other specialty stands consist of Sea urchin commonly known as ricci. This is eaten fresh like caviar or tossed at the last minute into hot pasta making a delightful creamy sauce. Sepia full of that deliciously black squid ink often sold in small plastic cups. This is ready for making Pasta al Nero di Seppia, totani a type of squid and calamari all glistening under the throws of fresh water.

The assortment of seafood is wonderful. Mussels, clams and pippis squirt you as you walk past. Fish still jumping as the seller scoops them into their paper wound cones ready to take home. The crowds of locals standing around the tuna and swordfish stands. All clambering to take home the very best and every part of the fish.

Selse di Limone

10imageAnother historic aspect of Catania to explore is probably something that we greatly appreciated after our long large lunches and that is the Selse di Limone. This is a very refreshing drink made at the local Kiosks studded around the city. The Kiosko as they are called is a point of reference for a meeting place. While enjoying the refreshing soda, freshly squeezed lemon and salt drink. Ideal as a digestive promoting belching and relieving some of the discomfort from over eating. We found this is very easy to do. On a hot day, locals will crowd around the kiosks enjoying an array of flavoured drinks. Although, the original lemon, soda and salt is one of the best and from what we saw a real art form in the making.

8image-(1)Slow food

The Catanian menu is varied and full of the life that runs through the veins of the city. Marinated fresh prawns eaten raw, sweet and delicious fresh from the sea. Or octopus salad, or sardines stuffed and fried. Catanians also make baccala meat balls and dried baccala. This is soaked for 3 days to soften, its flesh becoming tender. Then they marinate chopped cubes in lemon, olive oil and parsley.

Other delights include fresh mussels cooked with white wine, garlic and parsley. Or pasta with swordfish, eggplant and mint. Not to mention the glorious whitebait fritters garnished with ricci and the simply grilled fresh fish.

We also enjoyed an amazing dinner of slow food. The menu consisted of local, artisan products that have been registered with the Slow Food band. This being unique to specified areas and passing a strict criteria maintaining the quality and integrity of the products. This included Nebrodi black pork braised in local red wine. As well as carob bread, pasta with capers, anchovies, cherry tomatoes and scattered with toasted crumbs, veal baked stuffed with beans, char grilled olives, artichoke fritters and more.

11imagePasta alla Norma

Catania is a beautiful city with its lava stone buildings. It also has a famous garden dedicated to Vincenzo Bellini world renowned for his opera ” la Norma. ” This is now a well known and iconic Catania pasta dish. Pasta alla Norma you will find all over Catania. Legend says that the pasta was designed as such. Its rich tomato sauce represents the lava of the Mt Etna which shadows the city Catania. The fried eggplant and pasta symbolize the Etna mountain. In addition, the salted grated ricotta garnishing the top showcases the snow capped tips of the mountain.

The city centre of Catania is a buzz with shoppers, tourists. It is grandiose with its stunning baroque churches, wide open piazzas and al fresco dining. The centre statue represents the Elephant an emblem and motif of Catania that is recognized through out the island.

See Dom’s next tour to Italy and Sicily

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Perched on a hill top like many hidden treasures is the town of Caltagirone, the town of ceramics

rsz3image-(1)A place which always takes our breath away when we tour to East Sicily, is Caltagirone. The soil here was perfect for making the original terracotta pots used by the Greeks. The original designs were usually yellows and browns with geometric patterns. Influences from the Arabs and such brought the art of firing. Pottery also became highly decorated with the introduction of colours such as blues and yellows. Designs became more intricate.

They are often studded with the iconic ceramic pine cones that feature in many ceramic shops throughout Sicily. The road leading into Caltagirione is lined with vases and glorious coloured cones. They remind you that this is the town of the vases. While browsing the many stores, you will notice that the ceramics come in many designs. With traditional and artisan patterns, some historically original and others unique to each artist. You can often find artists hand painting the ceramics as you enter in the stores.

The ceramic stairs

A major interest to this tiny town is its wonderful staircase studded with decorated tiles. Colourful hand painted tiles line aach of the 142 stairs. They entice you to journey to the top where the views of the town are magnificent. During the festival of the Madonna, the locals will line the stairs beautifully with tubs of flowers precisely placed. They form a floral design when you view the staircase from the bottom or top. In the evening they line the stairs with candles. This makes for an amazing photo and unique visiting experience.

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The ceramics are a sight to behold in Caltagirone. They are a fantastic experience you can enjoy on some of my Sicilian Tours – both the East Sicily and Charming Sicily tours.

Find out all about Dom’s travels to Italy and Sicily, and her next tour dates.

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Further down the East coast from Catania are the towns of Siracusa and the ancient Island of Ortigia. They are considered the cradle of Greek civilisation and one of the most important cities in the Western world. Their magnificent baroque architecture and Greek influence mean these beautiful towns are steeped in history. They house the most impressive and largest Greek Theatre and right in the heart of Ortigia is the Temple of Apollo.

Villa Romana del Casale

rszMosaics-at-the-Villa-Romana-de-CasaleA must see is the Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina south of the little town of Enna. The villa is one of the most impressive and luxurious displays of Roman architecture. With its dark cobbled streets, Baroque monuments of Norman and Gothic architecture and mosaics made by African craftsmen. It depicts life in detail showcasing the wealth, lifestyle and customs over the centuries.

Food in Siracusa

Siracusa gave us some wonderful food memories. We enjoyed the olive oil tastings, and a unique and traditional way of eating ricotta called Ricotta in Cavagna. Which is fresh ricotta set into cane moulds. I couldn’t help but to eat mine drizzled with lashings of the delicious extra virgin olive oil from Moresia and Verdese olives. This is a rare olive produced only in small quantities in and around the Ispica region.

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Cooking class

We were fortunate to be able to share a wonderful cooking class with locals making fresh bread from semolina flour. We also made pasta al nero diseppia, pepperonata – peppers cooked down with onions in a sweet and sour sauce. In addition to calamari stuffed with caponata, eggplant fritters and a selection of salads. All made with produce purchased that morning from the bustling markets in Siracusa. What a wonderful experience for my tour group. Being able to wander the markets with my guidance – bargaining, buying and tasting our way through the fresh produce.

rsz-3Siracusacooking-classSalad menu

Our salad menu consisted of zucchini carpaccio salad with fresh brined capers and salted ricotta. We also tried a pear, fennel, rocket and radish salad with orange dressing. Plus a green bean and fresh broad bean salad with olives and lemon. Slightly unusual to the Sicilians was our water melon and sweet onion salad.

rsz4Siracusacooking-classMuch to the interest of our Sicilian hosts these salads were somewhat a little strange due to the combination of ingredients. The Signora not too keen on our aldente green beans (Sicilians cook their vegetables especially green beans, broccoli and the like until you can squash them in your fingers). Now, I am a huge fan of the Sicilian over cooked vegetables as I love their soft texture and how they just melt in your mouth. More than often they are always dressed with a delicious olive oil, garlic and lemon juice and seasoned well which makes all the difference to the flavour.

I did notice that our gracious, generous and passionate host “Signora” had sneakily spat out the mouthful of beans into a napkin. With a bit of a look said to the rest of the family… “troppo crudo” too raw! So you can’t win them all but I admired that she gave them a try and enjoyed the others. She did however devour our prosciutto and melon, obviously a favorite.

Signora and their wonderful baked bread made with grano de semola. Once baked it is covered with a blanket and almost left to sweat for about 15 minutes. This improves the crust and the shelf life. Eaten warm it was divine with olive oil, salt, oregano and chili flakes.

Would you love a food and cooking experience in Sicily like this?

Find out when Dom is next traveling to Italy and Sicily.