In Sicily, citrus groves burst with lemons and oranges, hand-painted plates hold fresh ingredients at every meal and the Mediterranean Sea sparkles. This warmth that surrounds you takes another form, too—the welcoming people. Discover this for yourself during a very special dining experience in the Sicilian countryside on our Food & Wine: Southern Italy & Sicily tour.
You step onto the grounds of a sprawling, rustic estate called Azienda Casabianca. The Contessa Giovanna Modica Notarbartolo, who calls it home, greets you and your fellow travelers. She takes you through her historic villa, offering you a glass of wine and helping you settle in before heading back to the kitchen to check in on preparations for the evening. Tonight she intends to treat you like family, showing her love through a home-cooked meal with course after course of traditional specialties. She mingles at each table as the dishes are served, smiling warmly and making conversation through a mix of simple phrases and gestures that transcend language. Full of local color and flavor, an evening like this is unforgettable.
A culinary chat with the Contessa
The Contessa was kind enough to share some of her culinary expertise with us. When it comes to seasonal Sicilian dishes to serve, she explains that freshness is the most important thing. “We do not use frozen food, rather we choose seasonal products. According to this, during the winter months we offer more caloric and spicy food; in summer we eat light food,” she says.
The approach taken in her kitchen is one that focuses on using what is available locally. “Typical ingredients are those cultivated on the farmland,” she offers. “We use olive oil—rarely butter and never margarine—with vegetables such as eggplant, asparagus and pepper, plus tomatoes and zucchini in summer and yellow pumpkin in winter.” Familiar seasonings like salt and pepper are often added, as well as aromatics like mint, sage, bay leaves, garlic, basil, parsley, rosemary and oregano.
After enjoying a tour of the grounds of the Contessa’s rustic estate, travelers can expect to try a range of mouthwatering dishes. Everything is cooked right on the premises and served family-style. Here are a few favorites you might find on the table:
Pasta with mint: “To make this, you first fry the zucchini with olive oil,” she says. “Then, mix and blend them in order to get a cream. At the end, you add the mint.”
Linguine with lemon: To create the sauce for this dish, you must use only the yellow skin of the lemon, the juice of the lemon and fresh cream.
Rice with mushrooms: The Contessa’s version uses a special type of mushroom that Sicilians call “the mushroom for the poor.” It’s combined with pieces of fried eggplant and béchamel to make a memorable mixture of flavors.
With a beautiful countryside setting, the experience of dining at the Contessa’s estate is an unmistakable highlight of a trip to Sicily. Travelers can feel her warmth and kindness as she offers a taste of the local culture. The Contessa enjoys being a hostess as much as travelers love dining at her estate, too. “Welcoming your groups makes me feel alive and happy!” she exclaims.
Have you ever shared meal with a local while traveling? Share your culinary moment of discovery with us in the comments below or with #goaheadtours on social media.