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Filtering by Tag: sicily

The Fig Report, Coming to Fruition....

Beth Ribblett

Today is the day, 365 days since Chiara Planeta gave me a small six inch cutting from their beautiful property in Sambuca di Sicilia.  The cutting, now a sapling, gave us a gift this week on its anniversary, a small fig.  Kerry says it's too young to bear fruit, but I can't bring myself to cut it off.

It is hard to believe it has been a year since that amazing trip, where everyone of us came away  knowing we were changed by it and we all had experienced something truly special by being in that place together at that particular time in our lives.  I am so happy to have our little fig tree as a constant reminder of all the wonderful experiences and memories from that magical journey across Sicilia.

Pistacchio Pesto, Sicilian Sunshine in a Bottle

Beth Ribblett

We've been coveting this bottle of Pesto di Pistacchio di Bronte since we returned from our trip to Sicily in October. We were leaving our home in Lingaglossa on Mount Etna and stopped in the little wine shop that we frequented during our visit. As Sicilian's take great pride in their local products, the little store was packed with honey, chocolates, pistacchios, jams, wine and other culinary delights from that part of the island.

Not wanting to open it, we hid it in our pantry waiting as close to the expiration date as we could. So one night last week we grilled some Tuscan style steaks, reluctantly but excitedly, opened the bottle and stirred up the contents. Scents of Sicilia instantly rose from the jar, bringing us right back to the eastern coast of the island where pistacchio di Bronte have an almost sacred status. Check out this site, bronte insieme, if you want more information on this most amazing place and nut. Below is a recipe from their site:

Ingredients: one bunch of basil, one bunch of parsley, 50 grams pistachios, 20 grams pine nuts, 30 grams toasted almonds, olive oil, 30 grams parmesan, salt and pepper.
In a blender, puree the pistachios, pine nuts, toasted almonds, parmesan and a handful each of parsley and basil. Add as much olive oil as needed, along with salt and pepper. Blend until it forms a smooth paste.
This pesto goes well with penne pasta, spaghetti and gnocchi.

Via del Sale, Ancient Traditions Thriving in a Modern World

Beth Ribblett

It was a stunningly beautiful morning on the west coast of Sicily as we journeyed out to the "Via del Sale" or salt road that runs between Trapani and Marsala. With the Egadi Islands to the left and the breathtaking, looming Monte Erice to the right, the shimmering salt flats dotted with the old windmills come into view. The lagoon of Stagnone has been home to the salt works of Trapani since the Phoenicians began the ancient method of hand-harvesting of sea salt as early as 1154 B.C. The shallow waterway, high temperatures and winds that aid in the evaporation make is the perfect home for the checkerboard of shimmering rectangular evaporation pools that hold the sea water during various phases of evaporation.

"Ettore e Infersa" signs along the road guide you to the historic production area started in 1922 by two passionate men of the same name. Committed to the maintaining the ancient methods of salt mining brought by the Phoenicians, their company still harvests the salt by hand and even restored the 500 year old windmill so that it can again be used to grind the salt and power the pumps that move that water from pool to pool during the various stages of evaporation.

During the months of June through, September the salt is gathered once it reaches the last pool and evaporation is complete. It is taken by wheelbarrel to areas between the pools and arranged in small heaps. Throughout the winter these heaps are protected by layers of roof tiles until the spring, when the salt preparation begins. (We were there in October so the harvesting had already taken place and the piles of salt were being readied for the winter months. Some of the photos above are mine and the ones of the harvest are from the web.) The natural harvesting process allows the salt to maintain the trace elements found in sea water like magnesium, iodine and potassium which make it more flavorful, soluble and complete.

There is a museum at the site where you can view a video of the history and the process, go to the top of one of the windmills and buy gifts. We did all of the above and our fellow guide on the trip, Elisabetta, told us that the salt made by this company was available in the states. When I got home I went to our local Italian market, NorJoes, and found the Antica Salina by Sosalt, the place we visited!

So if you are a foodie and a purist, you need to try this salt! It comes in a fino/fine grade that is a little finer than Kosher salt and a grosso/course. If you can't find it, I've added it to the Swirl and Savor store, click here for Antica Salina. Also for more information and photos go to the Sosalt website at

Desperately Seeking Chocolate

Beth Ribblett

but not just any chocolate....

This was a difficult morning for me. I am an early riser, 5 to 6am, and one of the highlights of my morning is a cup of cappuccino made with our freshly roasted espresso blend and a piece of chocolate. But today wasn't just any chocolate, it was the last piece of Cioccolato di Modica that I brought home from Sicily last month. I almost cried as the last crunchy, spicy bite hit my mouth and immediately got on line to see if I could mail order some. I don't think I can live without this chocolate!

So what makes this so different? Everything. It is like nothing I've ever tasted before, and believe me I've tasted a lot of chocolate...The town of Modica, located in the Ragusa province of southeast Sicily, is custodian of a 400 year tradition of Sicilian chocolate-making. Being part of the Spanish kingdom for so many years meant that Sicily was often one of the first recipients of the new foodstuffs being brought back from South America. Cacao was one of these and today Modica still specialises in making granulous chocolate, often flavored with chili pepper, cinnamon or vanilla, that is based on Aztec methods and recipes.

As in the Aztec tradition, Modica’s chocolate is defined by the cold, often hand-processing of cacao, which eases the cocoa butter out of the beans, just enough to make a firm paste. The cool temperature keeps the texture of the chocolate paste rough, enhanced by the added sugar crystals that remain intact. With no added cocoa butter, vegetable fats or emulsifiers, Modica’s chocolate retains all of the cacao’s intense flavor and aroma, a one-two punch to the senses.

So if you are lucky enough to find Cioccolato di Modica, what do you get? The first thing you notice is the packaging: hand-wrapped in a layer of parchment paper and then in a layer of kraft. Tied with a waxed ribbon, very old school. And the bar itself: solid as a marble slab, and yet fragile as an ancient painting, freckled with a layer of reddish blooms. The chocolate itself is bitter, with gritty crunches of sugar for punctuation; this had none of the creaminess we expect from chocolate in this country—it is brittle, it is delicate, it is ethereal. No added milk or extra cocoa butters and, of course, no preservatives or additives.

It is the essence of purity, a chocolate that remains boldly true to its original format, as defiantly traditional as the Sicilians themselves.

It will be in the shop soon, I'll let you know...

Divine Sicily, The Itinerary!

Beth Ribblett

The long awaited itinerary....along with Cynthia and Elisabeth, Kerry and I will be your guides for this incredible wine, culinary and cultural tour of Sicily!

Divine Sicily
Catania Sunday October 11--Palermo Thursday October 22

Sunday 11 October: Day 1 Arrive Catania airport and transport to Tenuta Scilio Di Valle Galfina. Located in Linguaglossa on the northeastern side of Mt. Etna, the farmhouse and cellars date back to 1815 and are surrounded by organically cultivated vineyards. This beautiful agriturismo will be our home for our first 4 days in one of the most diverse and picturesque regions of Sicily. Get settled in and relax before we have a tasting of the wines from the Scilio estate. Dinner at the Valle Galfina farmhouse.

Monday 12 October: Day 2 After breakfast we'll take an easy trip, about 20 minutes away, to the town of Randazzo. This medieval jewel has stayed untouched by the eruptions of Etna. Possibly visit a ceramic studio and stroll the narrow streets where the churches are built of blocks of lava. Light lunch and wine tasting at Tenuta delle Terre Nere Vineyards. We'll return to Valle Galfina for an afternoon cooking class. Sleep at farmhouse.

Tuesday 13 October: Day 3 Breakfast, then a day trip to the tiny town of Solicchiata, for a wine tasting/discussion with Frank Cornelissen. Frank uses local grape varietals from ancient ungrafted vines that express territorial identity. This opportunity promises to give you a completely different view of winemaking with this controversial master. For lunch, we'll go to the Agriturismo Borgo San Nicolao for a demonstration and tasting of traditional cheeses and salumi, all "fatta in casa", at the agriturismo. After lunch we’ll have an opportunity to taste another local wine at Passopisciaro vineyards. We'll have time to relax at the farmhouse for awhile before heading out to dinner either in Bronte or Taomina.

Wednesday 14 October: Day 4 Our last day in the DOC Dell'Etna will take us south to the town of Viagrande for a wine tasting and lunch at Azienda Agricola Benanti. Those who are interested may take an excursion to actually explore Mt. Etna after lunch or you may just want to have a relaxing afternoon back at the farmhouse. You choose! Dinner out or at Valle
Galfina before hitting the sack.

Thursday 15 October: Day 5 After breakfast, we say farewell to our hosts at Valle Galfina and make our way to the southeastern part of the island. Our first stop will be one of the most fascinating towns in Sicily, Ragusa Ibla, a UNESCO Heritage city. Essentially Baroque, the town, on first sight is a jumble of houses, churches, and civic palazzi, piled on top of each other, clinging to a steep gorge. It is simply breathtaking. After a sampling of the delicious Gelato for which this town is famous, we will travel to Locanda COS located near Vittoria. We will have a splendid lunch at the Locanda and a tasting of their biodynamic wines including 2 of their superb DOCG Cersuolo di Vittoria. We will then travel south, all the way to the coast to Palma di Montechiaro, where we'll be staying at the agriturismo Mandranova. Get settled, relax, and have dinner there at the farm.

Friday 16 October: Day 6 Breakfast, then we'll tour the Mandranova estate, and pick olives if you'd like, tour the olive mill, and a very special treat---taste freshly pressed olive oil. Guiseppe and Silvia di Vincenzo, the proprietors of Mandranova, produce fine mono-cultivar olive oil and other artisanal products from their farm. We'll then take a day trip to Butera for a wine tasting and lunch at Feudo Principi di Butera. Returning to Mandranova, we will join Silvia for a cooking class featuring Sicilian home cooking. We'll sup on what we've made in the cooking class and then off to bed.

Saturday 17 October: Day 7 Today we will take a drive in the beautiful Sicilian countryside to the town of Grotte for wine tasting at Morgante. On the way back, we can stop at the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento and have a picnic lunch if the weather cooperates with us. The Valley of the Temples is one of the most important archeological sites in the world, founded as a Greek colony in the 6th century BC. The afternoon will be spent relaxing at Mandranova or if the weather is nice, a walk on the beach at nearby Marina di Palma.

Sunday 18 October: Day 8 We'll have breakfast and then leave Mandranova heading west to
Sambuca di Sicilia to visit Planeta vineyards. The vineyard "Ulmo" is part of the original Planeta home; the 17th century farmhouse stands between an Arab castle, the Arancio Lake and a mountain range. Traveling north we'll drive through the countryside covered in vineyards and olive groves to the agriturismo Baglio Fontana located in Buseto Palizzolo. The Baglio produces olive oil, honey, wine, and organic fruits and vegetables. There is also a spa on the premises for those wanting a little pampering using the Baglio's almonds, honey and local sea salt in their treatments. After a day of traveling, we'll settle in and have dinner at the farmhouse with some of the local wines of the region.

Monday 19 October: Day 9 After breakfast, we’ll take a short drive to the hill town of Erice,
known throughout Sicily for its almond pastries and gorgeous views of the Egadi Islands. We’ll explore this ancient town at our leisure before going to some of the local wineries and tasting the Erice DOC wines. We will chose from nearby wineries such as Casa Vinicola Fazio, Barone di Serramarrocco, and Firriato near the town of Trapani. This part of Sicily is closer to Tunisia than to the mainland of Italy so the cuisine deeply reflects the Arab influence. This evening we’ll dine at a taverna enjoying one of the local specialties of the area, il cuscusu---couscous flavored with fresh rock fish stock and seafood.

Tuesday 20 October: Day 10 We’ll have breakfast at the farmhouse, then decide if anyone would like to drive into Palermo to do some city sight seeing and shopping….possibly stopping in the lovely seaside village of Scopello on our way back. If you prefer, you may choose to have a quiet day relaxing at the agriturismo indulging in a spa treatment or maybe a cooking class, or just sitting by the pool reading a book. Tonight we’ll have a special dinner out at a nearby trattoria.

Wednesday 21 October: Day 11 For our last day on the island, we’ll take an exciting day trip-
--a drive down the coast to visit the ancient salt flats first started by the Phoenicians and still operating today as it did thousands of years ago. Then on to the city of Marsala which takes its name from the Arabic Mars-al-Allah, meaning the harbor of God. The Marsala wine that you’ll taste today is nothing like the wine you cook with back home. We’ll also visit and have a light lunch and wine tasting at Donnafugata vineyard in their lovely “Sala della Botti” at their cantine in Marsala. Afterward we’ll travel back through the countryside to the agriturismo to have an extraordinary farewell dinner.

Thursday 22 October: Morning transfer to Palermo airport. Arrivederci to Sicilia!

For reservation, payment information and a copy of the itinerary click here:
PDFWine and Culinary Tour Registration

For more details on Cynthia and her travels, go to
The Farmhouse Table

Intro to Divine Sicily: A Culinary, Wine and Cultural Tour

Beth Ribblett

It was one of those moments where we happened to be at the right place at the right time and meet the right person. Kerry and I were speakers on a panel last year at the Women Chef's and Restaurateurs national conference where we discussed alternative careers for women in wine. There was a woman in the front row that asked a lot of great questions and stayed to speak with us after the presentation. It was one of those crazy instant connections that you make when in the first 5 minutes you feel as if you've known the person forever. We started talking and arranged to meet at the shop the next day. We discovered that we shared a passion for wine, food and travel and that our new friend had organized several culinary tours to Sicily and was looking to add a wine component to her trips. Were we interested in working with her?!? Well as you can imagine the response was a resounding YES and we've all been working on this since last July.

Our responsibility has been to determine what we feel were the top wineries to visit. We're talking quality here, top notch, Gambero Rosso awarding winning, highly touted, best of the best, cream of the crop, get the idea. And I can tell you that delving into the Sicilian wine world is unlike anything else in Italy. Active volcanoes, little known indigenous varietals, wacky winemakers and cultural influences that change dramatically from one end of the island to the other, Sicily is one exciting place for wine!

But through our relationships with importers, producers and of course a little guidance from our favorite Italian wine guy, Antonio Molesini, we have put together an incredible itinerary that takes you from the profound wines of Frank Cornelissen in Mount Etna, the extreme purity of COS in the southeast to the traditional powerhouses of Donnafugata and Planeta in the west. I get goosebumps when I read the itinerary!

Our other hosts, Cynthia Nicholson and her partner in crime, Elisabeth Zoria have organized several culinary and cultural tours of Sicily and know the ins and outs of the island from one end to the other. They'll take us from visiting a cheese and salumi producing family in the east to the beautifully Baroque city of Ragusa, picnicing at the Valley of the Temples on the shores of the Mediterranean, tasting freshly pressed olive oil at the Mandranova and farmhouse cooking classes featuring the foods of the region.

Wherever in the world she travels, Cynthia Nicholson loves seeking out individual food artisans, farmers, chefs, - people who care about food, how it was made or raised and the story behind it. She admires the history and tradition of peasant food-dishes and ingredients that have been prepared the same way for centuries. The food that springs directly from regional cultures and cuisine. She grew up on the Gulf coast of Alabama in a coastal farming region and was raised in a tradition of fresh, seasonal cooking. Her love of food has taken her on many adventures including cooking on yachts in the Caribbean and Mediterranean, serving as Food Editor of Country Living and Real Simple magazines, and teaching cooking classes around the country.

Elizabeth Zoria grew up in an apricot orchard in Northern California. The daughter of a fruit farmer in a family of Sicilian heritage, where life seemed to happen around the kitchen table. She fell in love with Sicily sixteen years ago when she visited family in Palermo and was excited that life happened around the table there too. After years of owning a bar in the Mission District of San Francisco, she realized it was time to follow her dream. While searching for a new place to call home, Elizabeth met Cynthia in a cooking class in a farmhouse in the Madonie Mountains. Today, she enjoys life in the sweet Sicilian seaside town of San Gregorio, where her days are filled with cooking, laughing, and life around the kitchen table.

Keep an eye out for my next post where I'll release the full itinerary and details of the trip!