Appreciating the beauty of Sicily

  • Article by: BETH DOOLEY , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 31, 2012 - 2:55 PM

Once an art historian, Fabrizia Lanza has returned to her country to run the cooking school started by her mother.

Fabizia Lanza is a former art historian and museum curator.

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"Coming Home to Sicily" by Fabrizia Lanza is a warm introduction to the sun-bleached and ancient estate that her mother, Anna, transformed into Case Vecchie, an esteemed cooking school.

Her book offers a rich collection of surprisingly simple, traditional recipes, dappled with stories of the rugged, elegant place, its people, and Fabrizia's own journey from art historian and museum curator to cooking school director.

Laced with photos, it captures the gnarled grapevines, windswept hills of wild fennel and oregano, the vibrant markets and sturdy farmers who work this land. In intimate, poetic prose, Lanza evokes the Sicilian countryside, bristling with color and wildness and life.

I chatted with Lanza by phone as she was preparing for her visit to Broder's Pasta Bar on Nov. 18, where she'll be signing books and talking about her life at Case Vecchie and her family's winery, Tasca d'Almerita.

Q How would you define Sicilian cuisine today?

A Sicily is a separate continent, from a culinary point of view. Its diverse topography -- mountains, beaches, flat plains, salt flats and Mount Etna volcano -- is reflected in our cooking. Near the coast, you'll find plenty of seafood; in the mountains, look for lamb and wild fennel.

Our estate is in the middle of the island, which was a poor region, so the diet is built on legumes such as fava beans and lentils, wild greens, sheep's milk ricotta and pecorino, all of the foods that are so naturally delicious and well suited to the way we want to cook and dine today.

Q How has your earlier career as an art historian and museum curator informed your current work?

A I've always been attracted to beauty and see it in all aspects of life; it's not limited to paintings and sculpture. I see it in the way a cake is garnished, or in the graceful movements of planting and harvesting.

When I'm traveling through Sicily, I recognize patterns of history, tradition, color and flavor everywhere: the similarities between 18th-century stucco in Palermo's churches and the intricately shaped cookies known as nacatuli; the way the island's embroidery designs are echoed in its pastries.

In our most favorite dishes, I can see the overlapping of history and culinary tradition and appreciate the cultural complexity of our cuisine.

Q What changes did you experience when you returned home after 20 years away?

A Our wine has improved tremendously. We've moved beyond the heavy reds we've been known for and are producing far more variety. In general, our food and wine have become lighter and more balanced.

Q When is the best time to visit Sicily?

A The late fall, the olive harvest, or the spring, but our seasons are different and wonderful in their own way.

This seasonal cookbook begins with winter, the coldest months that draw everyone into the kitchen. With the harvest in and chores completed, it's a great time to cook.

Beth Dooley is the author of "The Northern Heartland Kitchen."

  • MEET THE AUTHOR

    "Coming Home to Sicily: Seasonal Harvests and Cooking From Case Vecchie," by Fabrizia Lanza with Kate Winslow (Sperling Epicure, $30, 311 pages).

    Nov. 18: Noon to 2 p.m., book signing and tasting, Broders' Pasta Bar, 5000 Penn Av. S., Mpls., broders.com.

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