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ON THE SPOTLIGHT

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Eat & Drink | Sicily

Slow Food in Sicily Words by Wendell Steavenson

People tell me they sleep well at Casa Vecchie, they breathe well, they eat fabulously, they are surrounded by beauty. People's faces change when they come here. I see people light up.

The vines stripe upwards behind the old stone courtyard of the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School in rural upland Sicily. In Spring the view is dotted with the pale pink ruffles of almond blossom and wild fennel grows along the verges. In winter the roads are muddy, oranges light up the trees like Christmas baubles, the time of marmalade. In Autumn it is the turn of candy-sweet, oozing persimmon, pomegranates, mulberries, walnuts, apples and pears, foraged mushrooms. In summer zucchini and aubergines grow fat and August's tomato glut yields to making estratto, a richly oiled tomato paste dried in the sun over several days. Here it is not difficult to understand the connection between land and produce and season, when it is growing all around and most deliciously, on the table too.

Anna Tasca Lanza was a Marchesa from a Sicilian noble family who rediscovered the local and simple and seasonal. When she founded her cooking school in the 80s, modern Italian food was all about smoked salmon pasta and she was ahead of her time. Alice Waters was an early supporter, as she established herself as a leading light of a new approach to cooking, away from the frills and formalities of restaurants and sauced French cuisine. When she died, her daughter Fabrizia came home after more than twenty years working and raising a family in Northern Italy, and took over running the school. 'For me having visitors has been a tool to reread this place. When people come here they see the soul of this place, a place loved and beloved for at least five generations, and love piles up.' 

 

Fabrizia's grandfather planted vines on the estate and her cousin now runs the Tasca winery which has vineyards all over Sicily. The estate produces its own olive oil and honey, flour from its wheat is ground into flour in a local mill. There are eggs and chickens from the coop, lamb from the sheep herd, yoghurt made fresh every day, marmalades and jams of every imaginable fruit — apricot, sour cherry, clementine, pomello, fig. I have never eat so well as I have as at Casa Vecchie. Pasta with young fava beans, fried artichokes, baked ricotta cake, salads that are bitter and sweet and crunchy and sting with wild mustards. The flavors are clear and clean and the conversations with those that Fabrizia gathers around her table—oenologists, chefs like David Tanis, writers and film makers, academics from the US or the US or Palermo University — are inspirational and always thought provoking. Fabrizia has added yoga and Pilates weeks and workshops for drawing and writing and food styling, baking bread with Sicilian ancient grains, understanding the geography of pasta and making olive oil.

 

Casa Vecchie is a home and a way of life. The Cooking School teaches you more than how to make good food, it teaches the traditions and terroir that sustain us all. Says Fabrizia, 'people tell me they sleep well at Casa Vecchie, they breathe well, they eat fabulously, they are surrounded by beauty. People's faces change when they come here. I see people light up.'

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