This blog originally appeared on Cuisinicity and is a guest post from Dr. Catherine Katz. She and her husband, Dr. David Katz, joined forces with Oldways for a week-long exploration of Sicily in April.
What a magniﬁcent trip this was! David and I just got back last month from Sicily where we were honored to co-host Oldways’ 2018 Sicily Culinaria Mediterranean trip! This was our ﬁrst trip with Oldways, a non-proﬁt food and nutrition organization whose mission it is to improve public health through cultural food traditions and lifestyles and simply inspire good health through heritage!
Oldways has been organizing these culinary trips all over the world (Spain, Turkey, Greece, Morocco, Italy, France…) for over 20 years—click here to see what other cultures they have explored and what their upcoming trips for this year will be. In fact, Oldways had already done a culinary trip in Sicily back in 2005 and loved it so much that Sara Baer-Sinnott, President of Oldways, decided to go back, this time with David and me as their invited guests of honor, how lucky for us! 34 guests from all over the United States and two from France (my beloved aunt, Tatie Dan Dan and a lifelong friend of ours, Michèle) joined us on this trip of a lifetime.
Sicily is a marvelous pot-pourri of Mediterranean culture rooted in Greek, Arabic, Spanish, French, and Italian heritage. No wonder I felt right at home there! I was born in Oran, in North Africa (it was a French colony at the time) and raised in Perpignan in the South of France, which means that the ﬁrst 14 years of my life were spent on either side of the Mediterranean Sea. So, for me, this was a pilgrimage to my culinary roots! I am still ﬁlled with the sights, the colors, the music, the fragrances and of course the tastes of this magical island!
We explored cathedrals, archeological sites, and historical sites guided by our beautiful, vibrant, and just fabulous Italian tour guide, Lilly, and we ate in the best trattorias and restaurants in Sicily, hand-picked by our knowledgeable and wonderful Sara Baer-Sinnott. Most notably, one of my favorite was Corona Trattoria, (just named Best Trattoria in Sicily in 2018!) where Chef Giovanni Corona prepared a special lunch for us, ﬁlled with Sicilian specialties. Mary Taylor Simeti, culinary historian and one of the greatest authorities on Sicilian food, was also there to share wonderful stories about the origins and wonders of Sicilian food.
We walked through bustling outdoor markets bursting with beautiful displays of fresh produce, spices, fresh herbs, seafood and local cheeses! At the Palermo street market, we devoted a whole morning to tasting typical “street food” from the local merchants: panelle (chickpea fritters), cazzilli (potato croquette with fresh mint), arancini (rice ball with chickpea, wild fennel, fresh orange, and pistaschio), sﬁncione (spongy pizza tomato slices sprinkled with oregano). Not to worry: I will explore all these recipes and share them with you, and in some cases, when warranted, even give them my Cuisinicity touch, in the coming weeks!
Our market tour ended at this little “hole-in-the-wall” bar, Taverna Azzura, ﬁlled with Sicilian charm and ambiance, where we toasted our day (mid-day!) with local wine, good bread, sundried tomatoes, and olives!
Another magniﬁcent market that we explored when we moved to the southern tip of the island in Syracuse later on our trip was the Ortigia farmer’s market right by the sea. Among our many exploits, we had a demo of the making of fresh Mozarella at the famous Caseﬁcio Borderi! It was fascinating to watch. I have so many wonderful little video clips that I uploaded live day by day (click here if you want to experience our trip with us that way). Just so much fun!
Earlier in the week, we went to the spectacularly beautiful Regaleali estate for a wine tasting in their gorgeous tasting room. We sampled their wonderful Grillo and Catarratto white wine and their red Nero d’Avola, a red wine native to Sicily that we sampled in its many expressions throughout the trip, and according to David (who is the real wine connoisseur in our family), theirs was excellent!
As if this wasn’t special enough, our wine tasting was followed by a cooking demo and exquisite lunch at the Anna Tasca Lanza Estate and cooking school, led by our gracious host, Fabrizia Lanza herself! Click here to visit her magniﬁcent website; it will make you dream, as will her latest cookbook, Coming Home to Sicily, which I just LOVE!
Another memory that is engraved in my heart is our day in Agrigento, on our way to the southern tip of Sicily, where we visited the valley of the Greek temples that dominate the ancient town overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, surrounded by orchards of almond, orange, lemon, and olive trees. The scent of rosemary, orange blossom ﬂowers, mimosa still ﬁlls my soul! Pictures cannot do justice to this dreamlike heavenly spot, so I decided to pick just one photo (at right) to capture the patron of all olive trees, as it is a perfect segue to one of my very favorite moments on this trip…
…our picnic lunch at Kolymbethra Garden, the valley of the temple’s hidden botanical garden, where we did an olive oil tasting of the Taibi family’s exquisite extra virgin olive oil Olio Taibi, presented by Guiseppe Taibi himself!
I have to say, it is the best olive oil I have ever tasted! It is no wonder because it just won the gold and silver medals at the world’s largest olive oil competition in New York! It is spectacular, and I am now using it in all my recipes!
Another lovely highlight on this trip was our visit to Planeta winery, where we did another wine tasting and had such a warm welcome with a simple and just delightful family-style lunch with a great big bowl of pasta: the best there is! David raved about their dry Moscato! For those of you who understand what he is talking about, here is what he had to say about it: “It opened like a ﬁne Riesling and closed with the delightful peach qualities of an Albariño, it was superb!”
One of the many highlights for me, and dare I hope for our guests as well, was my Cuisinicity cooking presentation with David’s commentary on nutrition, at Chef Maurizzo Macallè’s beautiful Sicilian Bistrot right in the heart of Ortigia! We started out by going to the open market together and picked out the best produce for all my recipes (under the watchful eye of my wonderful aunt, Tati Dan Dan, of course!).
One of the most memorable moments for me was to have my aunt, Tatie Dan Dan, join me at the cooking table! As most of you know, she has been my role model and inspiration, along with my mom, for my love of Mediterranean cooking. What better way to illustrate the “old ways” of the passing and transmission of culinary tradition from one generation to the next, then to have her right next to me for my cooking demonstration!?
It was also such an honor and privilege to be able to “share the stage” with my husband and partner in life and work, Dr. David Katz, and have him speak of the nutrition behind my recipes, and nutrition and health in general in his eloquent, engaging, and just magniﬁcent ways! We like to say: He is theory, and I am practice or as I prefer to put it: He is nutritious and I am…delicious!
So, it is that we all return to our daily lives ﬁlled with the beauty of Sicily and memories of the healthful pleasures of the Mediterranean bountiful food that have stood the test of time for generations! Oldways has accomplished its mission of inspiring us with good health through heritage, and David and I will cherish, always, having been a small part in it!