A taste of Sicily - the secrets behind the cuisine
Italy & Sicily specialist, Sunvil Discovery, unlocks Sicilian gastronomy with a range of cooking courses and a wine trail based in a selection of family-run agriturismos.
Do you remember that scene in The Godfather where Clemenza teaches Michael how to make meatballs and spaghetti sauce? How about his sage advice: “leave the gun; take the cannoli”? New in 2012, Sunvil Discovery offers a range of cooking courses and foodie experiences to introduce guests to the real Sicily – without fear of crossing “the family”. Sicily is a cultural experience where to eat is to live – allow Sunvil to help unlock the secrets behind the cuisine and take a trip through 2,500 years of Sicilian history.
A nation with a fascinating history of trade, commerce and occupation, each of the half-dozen cultures which have played a part in Sicilian history can still be tasted in its cuisine. The Ancient Greeks introduced olives, honey and wine; the Romans used the island to grow wheat for the Empire, developing Sicily’s reputation as a place of fine bread – excellent for dipping in olive oil. The Romans are also reported to have produced some of the earliest ice cream from the snow atop Mount Etna – although the classic garlic sorbet flavour is best forgotten.
Then the Byzantine Greeks established monasteries which produced mature, piquant cheeses – many of which are still made today; the Arabs introduced Sicily to sugarcane, citrus fruits, almonds, stuffed vegetables and couscous; Norman cuisine focused mainly on dried fish and short-crust pastry; and, during the 400 years of Spanish rule, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, squashes and chocolate were integrated, along with the ubiquitous prickly pear. Last, but not least, in the early 19th century the British ordered the production of a strong fortified wine which would travel well without losing its flavour. The town of Marsala produces the eponymous wine to this day.
Foodies who like good, honest nosh served on an ancient wooden table should stay in a traditional family-run agriturismo which produces wholesome organic wares, including olive oil, cheese, cured meats and full-bodied Sicilian wine. Cooking courses can be one-day affairs in the middle of a seven-night itinerary where guests learn to make a handful of traditional dishes, or an intensive course spread over several days to discover authentic Sicilian cuisine. Shadowing a chef, helping to harvest grapes, olives, oranges and lemons, while observing and picking up useful tips, is also possible.
Here are some of Sicily’s culinary highlights:
Azienda Trinità: Dining in the gardens of paradise – from £759 pp
At the unassuming Azienda Trinità, Salvatore and Marina Bonajuto lead authentic Sicilian cooking courses – where selecting fresh fruit and vegetables from their extensive garden is integral to the culinary process – offering a deep insight into Sicily’s national character. Make old family recipes such as caponata (aubergines with olives and peppers), jasmine sorbet and soufflé-like sformati. Guests stay in the main house or in one of the little cottages dotted around the gorgeous gardens. Seven nights’ B&B in July cost from £759 pp (two sharing) including flights (Gatwick) and car hire. Single cooking lessons cost from £67 pp; five-day courses from £244 pp (two sharing), including ingredients and lunch (with wine) each day.
Terraliva: Divinely inspired gastronomy – from £850 pp
Named after a local legend where the cherubim descended from the heavens in search of a place to produce the finest olive oil for paradise, Terraliva – meaning ‘olive territory’ – evokes a sense of Sicily through the ages. An 18th century house made of dark lava stone, adorned with oak and velvet, it is the producer of numerous preserves, wine and award-winning DOP olive oil. Enjoy a complementary cooking course and learn how to make a variety of dishes including authentic Sicilian arancini – deep-fried rice balls traditionally stuffed with a ragu. Seven nights’ B&B in July cost from £850 pp (two sharing), including flights (Gatwick) and car hire.
La Foresteria: wine matching and the theory behind the cuisine – from £975 pp
This elegant wine estate lies on a vine-covered hillside with views stretching as far as the west-coast Blue Flag beaches of Menfi. Under the supervision of award-winning chef, Angelo Pumilia, a one-day cooking course incorporates both history and theory into a practical lesson before finishing with a traditional banquet and expertly selected wines to accompany the dishes prepared. In the evening, observe Angelo preparing dinner (no charge is made) and pick up top tips and techniques. Other activities include touring the winery, participating in the grape and olive harvests, hiking through hectares of vines or just chilling out by the stylish sun terrace and swimming pool. Seven nights’ B&B at La Foresteria in July cost from £975 pp (two sharing) including flights (Gatwick) and car hire. A single cooking lesson costs from £133 pp (minimum two persons), including ingredients and lunch with wine.
New: Sicilian Wine Trail – a self-drive trip, staying at four different wine estates
Introduced to Sicily by the Ancient Greeks in 735 BC, wine has always been an important part of Sicilian culture. Showcasing the diversity and ingenuity of wine-making in this sophisticated, but often overlooked, region, follow Sunvil’s new Sicily Wine Trail and be transported back through the centuries. Eight nights in July cost from £859 pp (two sharing) including flights (Gatwick), two nights’ B&B at each wine estate and car hire.
- Azienda Agricola Cos (Ragusa) – home of the award-winning Cerasuolo di Vittoria (DOCG1), Cos produces wines using a technique revived from Ancient Greek and Roman traditions, where ceramic amphorae were sunk into the earth to keep the wine cool during fermentation.
- Foresteria (Trapani) – a picturesque, family-run winery located in Sambuca di Sicilia in the Valle del Belice on Sicily’s west coast. Participate in the grape harvest and wine making itself.
- Gigliotto (Enna) – home to the Nero d’Avola – a native Sicilian grape – Gigliotto is an attractive fortified farmhouse surrounded by acres under vines. The winery has a modern visitors’ centre where guests can view the entire process, from grape-picking to bottle-corking.
- Murgo (Catania) – located on the slopes of Mount Etna, the rich lava terrain gives a unique character to the wine and spumante (sparkling wine) produced in this region. Stay at the nearby Tenuta San Michele, Santa Venerina, which produces its own award-winning wines, plus spumante (sparkling wine) and brandy.
For more information about Sunvil’s Italy & Sicily, visit sunvil.co.uk.