The Last Tastes of Sicily


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. With a stopover in Sciacca, she now heads to Palermo.

We began the day at the Cusa quarries in Campobello di Mazara, the source of Selinunte's stonework. A beautiful new museum, totally empty of tourists, answered the question "just how did they manage to quarry those huge columns and get them to Selinunte?" There's also the Museum of Farm Work--tools, furnishing, pottery, a terrific Sicilian cart. But most impressive were the quarries, huge drums of stone, some half-carved in the stone, others strewn in grass fields amid olive and carob trees, looking like the stoneworkers had just taken a break.

The village of Gibellina was totally destroyed in the 1968 Belice earthquake, relocated as Gibellina Nuova nearby, with installations by famous contemporary Italian artists. Alberto Burri covered the ruins of the old village with cement, with gaps where the streets once were. We wandered his cement maze, a moving experience. Unfortunately, it's falling into disrepair, with weeds and cracks in the cement. Or is this part of the artistic process?

Nicoletta is a marvelous cook, gives cooking lessons, takes her students shopping for groceries, and caters fancy dinners in the family palace.

We visited Mary Taylor Simeti and her husband Tonino at their organic farm outside Palermo. I adore Mary's books. "On Persephone's Island", "Pomp and Sustenance" (the new edition unexcitingly re-titled as "Sicilian Food"), "Bitter Almonds", and "Travels with a Medieval Queen". Tonino is an agricultural economist, and retired university professor. I'm a fan of his white wine, Catarratto, and tasted just released Nero d'Avola. We shared our Castelvetrano pane nero with Mary and Tonino, they served Ragusano cheese, and I bought more wine, to be sent home. Mary showed me the family's B&B, two quirky apartments with unspoiled views.

Palermo was our final destination on the Grand Tour and Vito skillfully navigated the city's chaotic traffic to our accommodation: Nicoletta Polo Lanza's apartments in her husband's historic palace, Butera 28, my very favorite place to stay. I've slept in a lot of Palermo hotels and B&Bs and had settled on the Hotel Plaza Opera for location and style, but once I stayed at via Butera 28, I was hooked. I adore the untouristy neighborhood and having an economical apartment with living room and kitchen. Nicoletta is a marvelous cook, gives cooking lessons, takes her students shopping for groceries, and caters fancy dinners in the family palace. She shared her recipe for gelo di agrumi, a simple refreshing citrus gelatin dessert with me as well.


Photo by Faith Willinger

Once settled, we walked down the street to the Museo Internazionale della Marionetta to complete our Sicilian marionette education. We admired the sophisticated and international collection, with marionettes from Asia as well as Sicily, and even got to see a show in their theater and meet the puparo (manipulator, puppeteer). Nearby, Palazzo Abatellis was closed, under restoration (but has now reopened). We strolled around the corner and had an aperitivo at Kursaal Kalhesa, a huge stone room housing a bookshop, travel agency, caffe'-enoteca with interesting cocktails and wine selection, outdoor garden, restaurant with innovative Sicilian-styled or international dishes, and live jazz.

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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

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