Savoring Sicily

My friend Fabrizia Lanza, the director of the Anna Tasca Lanza Sicilian Cooking Courses, will be here February 13th, and I’m throwing a reception with her at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, where we’ll taste some Sicilian wine and foccaccia, talk about Sicilian cuisine (Fabrizia is one of the world’s experts on the topic), and introduce people to the Savoring Sicily workshop Fabrizia and I are teaching in Sicily in June.

I’m excited to be teaching with Fabrizia in Regaleali, her family’s wine estate about an hour outside of Palermo, because the place and the people in it represent what authentic Sicilian cooking–and lifestyle–are all about.

Three years ago, my Italian friend Giovanna and I drove to Regaleali after visiting the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, and picnicking in its heirloom gardens. Another Italian friend, who is a food expert, insisted that I meet Fabrizia and take a course at her school, and I couldn’t wait. We stopped in a bar in a small town to ask directions and finally found our way on roads that wound through grape and wheat fields to a set of stone houses, impeccably kept, painted with blue trim: Le Case Vecchie at Regaleali.

Case Vecchie

Le Case Vecchie, and Regaleali, are the kind of places you dream about when you think about an ideal of Italy–a place that is historic, where people grow their own grapes and olives, make their own cheese and wine, and tend a garden filled with heirloom vegetables. At this time of year, May, the iris were in full bloom, and the vast rolling fields of grapes were green.

Fabrizia welcomed us warmly, and introduced us to her parents, Anna Tasca Lanza and her father, the Count Lanza. Anna, who, sadly, died last year, introduced Sicilian country cuisine to the United States through her cookbooks and her classes, as well as her cooking school. I am so happy, and feel so honored, that I had the opportunity to meet this incredible woman, and to share some meals with her at her table. Fabrizia’s father is a consummate storyteller, which made the meals all the richer. It was a pleasure to sit outside with the family under a shady tree, having a glass of Regaleali white wine before commencing dinner.

Anna Tasca Lanza and Giovanna debone sardines

Giovanna and I stayed for two days. Every meal, including those we helped prepare during a cooking class, was memorable, but simple. The cuisine is what makes places like Chez Panisse famous, though the Sicilians have been doing it for centuries: high quality ingredients, simply prepared. One morning Anna and Giovanna deboned what seemed like hundreds of sardines to make my favorite dish, paste con le sarde, which has fennel, and always tastes like the sea breeze over the country landscape.

Pasta con le sarde

For lunch one day, Fabrizia made a cassata, which is a very sweet ricotta cake, once eaten only at Easter. “Sicilians have terrible sweet teeth,” Fabrizia told me. This is due to the influence of the Arabs on the island (who also brought pasta here in 1154).

Sicilian cassata

Fabrizia took us on a tour of the Regaleali estate, showing us the winery, the dining room where the Queen of England ate when she was here, and the place where they make cheese. There isn’t much in the world I love more than pecorino cheese, after pasta con le sarde.

Making cheese at Regaleali

After a morning walk around the vineyards, Fabrizia gave us a cooking lesson. Fabrizia, who has a background in art history, approaches cooking not only through her palate, stomach, and knife, but through her considerable intellect. She has made documentary films about some of Sicily’s food rituals, such as baking incredible varieties of bread before the feast of San Giuseppe. She not only knows the technique of how to cook traditional Sicilian dishes, but she knows the history and culture from which those dishes were derived. It was such a pleasure to be with her in her kitchen. Now, Fabrizia has taken over as the director of the cooking school, and is dedicated to preserving Sicilian foodways, as well as ancient varieties of Sicilian fruits and vegetables in her lovely garden.

Fabrizia Lanza, director of the Anna Tasca Lanza Sicilian Cooking Courses

Fabrizia and I have become friends; I even cooked a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for her in San Francisco. I was delighted to visit her in Palermo last year, even though it was a sad time for her, because she took the time to take me on a tour of Palermo’s incredible food markets. There, people sell gorgeous vegetables, fruits, and fish in stalls–perhaps one person sells only eggs, another only snails. Fabrizia knows the history of all the dishes in the market, and is eager to try bites of anything that looks good, including the spleen sandwiches. (You can read about our time in Palermo in Afar magazine.)

Palermo market
Palermo market

I’m so excited to be doing a writing and cooking course with Fabrizia. The course is about food writing, and writing from the senses. It’s for published writers or novices. The setting and meals at Regaleali will liven your senses and inspire your writing. The cooking classes will teach  you about traditional Sicilian recipes, and will offer plenty of material to write about in the afternoons. The setting is gorgeous, and the workshop will be limited to ten people, so sign up soon! The workshop will be from June 12-18, when everything is blooming in the Sicilian countryside, and there are plenty of berries and vegetables in season. the workshop includes all meals, wine, lodging, and a trip with a private guide to the Valley of the Temples. More information is here.

You can also register through Fabrizia’s website, or email