“God has blessed Sicily," explained our tour guide Maria. "With fertile soil, with a shoreline filled with seafood.”
“I cannot tell you...It is unimaginable,” she said, reaching after words that could somehow capture her meaning. Like a priest delivering a mass, her eyes scanned the bus, catching and holding each of ours. Her pronunciation was poetic. Her dress was perfectly pressed.
“Sicily is the most interesting island of the Mediterranean, with a temperate climate, matched only to that of southern California,” Maria told us. “Getting here means getting lost in its vast landscape and fascinating cities, in the sea shining in a thousand shades of blue and the coastal houses reflecting the golden light of the sun. All of it inviting you in, to a world rich in history, art and beauty."
How was it, exactly, that I came to taste my way through this extraordinary Sicilian landscape? This is the question I’m still asking myself. It came at a time when I was looking for an answer. One minute I was asking God to send me a miracle, the next I was in a crowded, noisy back-lane café, crammed full of Sicilians, sinking my teeth into fresh buffalo mozzarella, tangy tomato, plump capers and anchovies, strongly flavoured and fresh from the sea.
Ahhh... pizza, as it should be. Crisp, chewy, tart and salty all at the same time. Washed down with a strong, fine waiter-recommended Nerello. I found heaven.
Little did I know that in the weeks ahead, this would become my daily ritual. From Catania to Palermo, Marsala to Pantelleria, street food to elegant dinners, villagers to counts, time-honoured traditions to world-class wines. Brilliant people and beautiful people. An experience of wine and food that would change my life completely.
There is something about Italians, the way they strive to make everything they produce the best in the world. They have a way of making you fall in love with everything, including yourself. They welcome you, feed you, encourage you, embrace you. Words can hardly describe my experiences in Sicily, but I choose two: Generosity and Love.
Although, pizza is not the flagship product of Sicily, it was my first experience. And it brought together the flavours and some of the finest ingredients of the island: flour, tomatoes, olives, olive oil, anchovies, capers and beautifully fragranced herbs.
Here, through my eyes and my photography, I hope I can do justice to this beautiful place.
Think of this feature as a red carpet, rolling out in front of you. This is what Sicily did for me.
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Edited by Alison Gillmor
One of my favourite memories of Sicily was being invited to a courtyard lunch at Baglio de Christo de Montebello, a winery in Agrigento, Sicily. As we arrived, we were greeted with the most delicious smells and a rustic table set with beautiful traditional Sicilian food. And the extra treat was discovering the food was being prepared right in front of us, by a neighbouring restaurant owner. Her name was Maria and her food was exceptional. It started with anchovy meatballs and fennel frittata, chickpea fritters and caponata. Then as we were seated, she delivered her homemade fava bean soup with handmade orecchiette and fennel and a main course of veal roll stuffed with egg and prosciutto in the most delicate tomato sauce. Then lovely little donut-hole pastries and her famous cannoli. This was a lunch that could make you cry, and I savoured every moment. Maria later taught me how to make orecchiette (meaning lamb's ear) pasta, which I have taught at our cooking classes many times. Never have mine turned out as delicate and beautiful as hers.