April 7, 2014

Spring Escapes

This year, my culinary tours began early. I have always dreamed of attending the St Joseph Day celebrations in Sicily since I read about them in an article by Carol Field. They are held in the tiny villages or Salemi, Gibellina and Poggioreale as well as in many other towns.

I organized a tour for Sicilian-American chef, Jasper Mirabile from Kansas City and his group of friends and clients from the restaurant. We had a blast. Jasper still has family in the town of Gibellina and we met up and toured the alters together.

It was amazing how much work went into preparing these, food and wine is cooked for the alter, food is prepared to be shared with those visiting. The breads baked for the decorations take time and skill.

Next year, I want to go back before the celebration and watch as they prepare!

We were lucky to be invited to the home of one of the woman in Poggioreale that is still doing the special bread work which looks like it was made with fabric. She also now makes pieces in glazed clay, which last forever. I bought  a small holy water font like the one in the center of the foto, she also sold me a knife for the decorations. In Italy, knives can never be given as a gift, so I paid 20 cents. Now I need to practice. I already have one of the tools to decorate the Cuccidati which are made at christmas. These decorations are the same sort of dough and fig filling.

Being in Italy for a festival is really special. I highly recommend planning your trip around a festival. Most begin in the afternoon, ending in dinners and or fireworks.

For San Giuseppe, St Joseph, there were several special dishes. One is pasta with a savory breadcrumb sauce, usually with sardines and wild fennel greens. Another dish which we sampled often were the sweets! Sfinci are a fried sweet dough, topped with ricotta, in other areas they are zeppole. We tried several and of course cannoli.

After my first group, I travelled coast to coast with friends, showing them "my sicily" which is of course all food and wine based. One place not to miss is Modica and the oldest chocolate shop, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto. We were greated by my friend Pierpaolo Ruta, the owner.

I must say, they have the BEST CANNOLI!!! They have so many wonderful things to buy in their shop. Leave room in your luggage. I especially ADORE the 'mpanatigghi, sort of a empanada. Many of the original products where brought by the Spanish from the new world and Modica still makes chocolate in the style of Oaxaca, Mexico, with the large crunchy sugar crystals. The 'mpanatigghi are meat and chocolate pastries and are not to be missed! Also the marzipan "olives" in olive oil.

I truly promote culture through cooking and think the best way to understand a country is to sit at the table with locals and try new things.

I am heading back to Sicily in May and that group is already filled, but have space in November when the new oil is out!

greek ruins in sicily?

fish cuscus- Sicilian?

Come and explore the secrets of Sicily with me.

am working on some new recipes I picked up this trip and will share them soon!


  1. Yey, thank you dear Judy for PROMOTING our Sicily. This is how it's done, and you're doing it wonderfully, beautifully. The more top brains and sensitivities we are, at work on sharing and spreading the good word, the better. People, I tell you, consider joining a Sicilian group led by Judy, do. I do recommend it, as a long-time contributor to Judy's Sicilian food and wine, cultural tours, both as a local resident (read "source") and as an olive oil producer on a farm (oil tours, cooking classes) where you can also enjoy a live dairy making event with shepherd Vincenzo (ricotta, tuma, pecorino primo sale made and tasted on the spot and as the products appear in front of your eyes and nostrils). If you join Judy in November you'll also get to view the harvest and pressing of olives throughout most of the island (we produce earlier than most, in October through mid-November) and taste freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil from some of the best producers in the world. 'Nough said. Don't miss out on Judy's take on Sicily!

  2. I love the lace look of that dough! So lovingly made and such intricate details! It looks like a fantastic trip.

    Food is one thing that can always bond people together even if you don't speak the same language! :-)