Dishes to Die For – Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking Sicily

Rolling Sicilian Hillsides

I spent a week at the famed Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School in Sicily this summer. Fabrizia Lanza continues the rich heritage of her mother’s garden to table instruction in a venerable stone farmhouse amid rolling hills of wheat, ancient olive trees and rows and rows of manicured grape vines.

Cooking with David Tanis

David Tanis, a friend and more importantly, chef at Chez Panisse for 25 years, cookbook author and a weekly NY Times columnist was teaching in Fabrizia’s kitchen, who could resist?

I love David’s Summer Pasta recipe – have prepared it several times!

All about food in Sicily!

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and thus a combination of its size, the classes and the July heat – I didn’t explore much of the island – a reason to return. We were driven two hours south east from Palermo to Case Vecchie, the Tasca 200-year-old family property, consisting of 1300 acres of vineyards in the verdant hills near the village of Vallelunga Pratameno, blink and you miss it.

The grainy industrial outskirts of Palermo quickly changed to golden rolling hills of wheat, as far as you could see, the neatly rolled bales dotted the hillsides. After an hour or so, the terrain gradually shifted to a deep green, just as the hills had been dotted with haystacks, now rows and rows of tended grape vines consumed the entire horizon. The Sicilians use every inch of land for rich crops or grazing, similar to their cooking customs, nothing goes to waste.

Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School

Fresh Peaches

The setting is divine – cooking with fresh vegetables from Fabrizia’s garden every day with supplemental explorations to the local Fish Market in Catania or the local sheep herder for daily freshly churned cheese. Life is lived and food is prepared as it has been for centuries, traditional recipes with farm to table ingredients. Sublime.

A few scrumptious recipes from my class.

Look for Fabrizia’s cookbook – Coming Home To Sicily: Seasonal Harvests and Cooking from Case Vecchie

Eggplant Caponata

Serves 8 to 10

1 kilo (2.2 pounds) eggplants, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
Oil, for frying
1 large onion, sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) tomato sauce, plus more if necessary
1 bunch celery, tough outer ribs discarded, strings removed and coarsely sliced, then poached
3/4 to 1 cup (170 grams) green olives, pitted and cut into thirds
1/4 cup (40 grams) capers, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon (15 grams) sugar, plus more to taste
1/4 cup (60 ml) wine vinegar
Hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved, for garnish
Chopped parsley for garnish

Heat 1 inch of oil in a large sauté pan. Fry the eggplant pieces, a batch at a time, until browned. Drain well on paper towels. Season with salt.

Sauté the onion in the olive oil for about 5 minutes, until just golden. Add the celery, olives, capers, tomato sauce, sugar, vinegar, and salt to taste. Gently stir in the eggplant, being careful not to break it up. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, and then transfer to a large bowl or platter and cool.

Pile the caponata in a pyramid and surround it with hard-boiled eggs, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve cold or at room temperature. (This is even better if made a day before.)

Eggplant Caponata

Peach cobbler Serves 10

For the dough:
500 g AP flour
200 g butter, at cool room temperature
200 g sugar
Pinch of salt
4 egg yolks
1 whole egg

For the filling:
1 jar of Lemon Jam from Pantelleria
2 jars of White Peaches from Leonforte, chopped
80 gr of Green Pistachio
Brown sugar
Butter, cut into pieces

Garden Gathering

Garden Gathering with David Tanis – Selecting natures bounty for lunch

Combine all dough ingredients in a mixer and mix together quickly until dough just comes together. Do not overwork. If necessary, add a drop of milk. If mixing by hand, pile the flour and make a well in the center. Add sugar, salt, yolks and egg into the well and mix in, little by little. Once it is all incorporated, make another well and add the butter in small pieces. Incorporate quickly.
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter and flour a 10-inch spring form pan. On a floured work surface, roll out the dough ¼ inch thick. Place in pan, then cut so sides are 1-inch high (you can also pat the dough into the pan). Cover bottom of dough with tarocco lemon marmalade and add the peaches. Sprinkle with pistachios, brown sugar and butter. Bake for about 30 minutes until pastry is deep golden. Serve it cold.

Cooking with Fabrizia Lanza in the Kitchen

Travel Magic!

What is it about the magic of travel, meeting new people, learning a few vital words of the local language, exploring diverse cultures, and tasting indigenous meals and wine? Separated from our daily routines and customs, a sense of liberation from the familiar patterns which define us. Despite my sometimes-intense travel schedule, I relish the Journey and after I return, the sweet memories and experiences begin to crystallize. I always ask my clients to learn at least 20 words of a local language, to show respect and deepen their cultural experience, learn at least please and thank you.

Gwen Books

Yes, I did make friends with the Oregano grower and purchased a large bag of his spices!

My recent cooking class with NY Times writer David Tanis at the Anna Tasca Lanza School in Sicily added many new Italian food words to my limited vocabulary. We especially clung to acciuga, properly pronounced, it sounds like a sneeze, it means anchovy; it became a favorite word every day along with puma, passaporta, gelo di Mellone, lampo (lightening), va bene, quasi tutto and of course, the greetings which change depending on the hour of the day – it was challenging to remember when Buon Giorno should change to Buena Serra and later to Buena Notte. We enthusiastically murmured Ciao and remembered it should be Arrivederci, so we said both!

No, we didn’t crash the wedding. It just looks like we made friends with the bride!

Taking the wrong train back to Milano from Lake Como due to a ticket dispenser saying get on the next traina resulted in enjoying the countryside at a slow pace and a station stop every few minutes with locals hopping on and off – it added 30 minutes to our trip sans air conditioning; but we knew we had our passaporta’s, thus if we ended up in another country, we would be va bene! Even the smirk of the conductor when I asked Dove sede 55 & 56, was worth the mistake – he looked at us like we were Lucy & Ethel – you are on the wronga traina, its nota my faulta! He didn’t fine us for having incorrect tickets and eventually asked if we could make change for 20 Euro, of coursa, va bene, we replied. We made another new acquaintance, viewed the regional countryside, explored a modern Milano train station. The slight inconvenience has added priceless laughter in describing the goof to friends and family, an experience to treasure. When I saw the graffiti, I hoped the luxury coach we took to Lake Como might be further back on the train!

Dove sede 55 & 56? Uh Oh.

Dove sede 55 & 56? Uh Oh.

The interactions, the getting lost (in my case, this was often)…I discovered that my friend was just as gps challenged as I, after her trust me declarations resulted in an extra distance from our destination, further lost, I took my phone out with us, goggle maps does work, even in a village of winding cobblestone streets. We made every attempt to decipher an Italian dinner menu our first night in Milano. Lack of language actually endeared us to many and our genuine attempts at practicing our developing vocabulary created new friends-  with our guide, our movie actor room ambassador, in restaurants, taxi cabs, and olive oil farms. We received a note from our handsome movie actor Ambassador: Gwendolyn, where are you today? I miss your American vibe! Raffaello.

Even our guide eventually adapted my phrase endlessly uttered to me by an Italian man in Milano many years ago, Pay Attencione – which was a caution that I was going to be run over – however, he repeated it so often, it began to sound like an order…on narrow streets with Italian drivers, it’s an important phrase.

Making an effort at embracing life, traveling despite the world chaos, choosing exploration rather than fear, this is important at home and out in the enormous glorious world.