In Sicily, Seduced by Art and Turbot

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Photo by Faith Willinger


Last month, Faith Willinger began documenting her Grand Tour through Sicily with a description of her time in Catania. She continued her journey in Sortino, traveled to Buccheri, Noto, Frigintini, Modica, and Scicli, visited Vittoria and Scoglitti, and made news in Licata.

The Enchanted Castle was a place we just had to visit in Sciacca. It's not really a castle and not really enchanted, but the work of outsider artist Filippo Bentivenga. We wandered the cobblestone paths winding through the hillside, admiring heads sculpted of stone and carved into olive trees in a series of terraced arrangements. We decided to skip lunch and head for Bar Roma in Sciacca's port, where Aurelio Licata makes his exquisite lemon granita. Clearly I'm not the only person who's made the pilgrimage--he's even got a Facebook fan club called "I love Zio Aurelio."

I had an appointment to visit the recently opened Verdura Resort outside Sciacca--chef Fulvio Pierangelini (his once top-rated restaurant Gambero Rosso is closed) is consulting for the restaurant and the website looked pretty exciting. There were no signs--even our super-navigator Vito had to call three times to get directions. When we finally located the gate and were approved for entry, we drove down a dirt road to the main building passing rows of staff housing and golf carts transporting people in uniform. Suzanne commented that it looked like a James Bond movie.

It got worse. Once in the lobby, the only sign that we were in Sicily was an occasional decorative amphora, or ceramic vase. It seemed like someone had sent a golf resort to Sicily on a magic carpet. I looked at the restaurant, asked for a wine list and menu, and was refused. They expressed disappointment that I didn't write for a golf magazine. We left, anxious to get to our next destination.

I never fail to have spaghetti with sea urchin sauce and Suzanne never passes up a plate with vongole, or clams. And who could resist Vittorio's turbot? Not me.

I've always been wild about Selinunte, the site of some of the most beautiful Greek temples in Sicily. There are lots of inexpensive places to stay in the area, terrific restaurants, and amazing in-between meal activities. Pierluigi Crescimano, Tenuta Rocchetta's extraordinary Sicilian extra virgin olive oil producer, booked rooms for us at Agriturismo Carbona since the Hotel Eracle where I usually stay was closed. We met Pierluigi, his sister Marilena and wife Antonella, and his daughters Gaia and Delia at their country home next to the frantoio (olive oil mill).

Marilena is a wonderful cook and she made dinner. We began with just-pressed extra virgin olive oil, cultivars Nocellara del Belice, Cerasuolo, Biancolilla, and the area's justly famous bread, pane nero di Castelvetrano, made with local tumminia wheat. Marilena made short pasta with cherry tomatoes, pistachios and basil, roasted fish, and a salad. She served a tray of assorted Sicilian pastries that Antonella brought from Palermo.

Later, we checked into our agriturismo and were pleased: the rooms neat, comfortable, and inexpensive. The surrounding farm's main product is beef (of course they also make extra virgin olive oil) and their restaurant menu features meat in all courses but dessert. We toured the vegetable garden the next morning after a modest breakfast: we skipped all the cookies and pastries and focused on homemade preserves and pane nero, or black bread.

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Photo by Faith Willinger

I've visited Tenuta Rocchetta during the olive harvest ever since I met Pierluigi and tasted his extra virgins. Sergio Rizzo is his master frantoiano, who picks olives and runs the presses like a maestro. It's always a thrill to see the almost phosphorescent green oil streaming from a stainless steel pipe. Pierluigi has also made an amusing, instructive poster about olive oil tasting called "child's play" with his daughter Gaia. I ordered some of Tenuta Rocchetta's extra virgin for home use.

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Faith Willinger is a chef, author, and born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and has spent over 30 years searching for the best food from the Alps to Sicily. More

Faith Heller Willinger is a born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and was seduced by Italian regional cooking. Faith has spent more than 30 years searching for the best food and wine, as well as the world beyond the table from the Alps to Sicily. She has no regrets about mileage or calories. Faith was awarded the prestigious San Pellegrino award for outstanding work as an ambassador of Italian cooking. She lives full-time in Florence with her Tuscan husband, Massimo. Her son Max lives in Milan. She's the author of the bestselling (9th printing) guidebook Eating in Italy, the cookbook Red, White & Greens, and the narrative recipe book Adventures of an Italian Food Lover. Faith teaches in her kitchen in Florence on Wednesdays, supplied with freshly picked produce from her favorite farmers. Check out her web site at www.faithwillinger.com.

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