Jody Adams, the chef of Rialto in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Trade in Boston explored Sicily by bike. “The scenery is beautiful, lots of old pasture land and rolling hills,” she says. “But you realize that this is not the wealthy part of Italy. And you get the sense that there is still a mafia presence here.” In addition to cycling, Adams explored the markets, restaurants, and even fit in some cooking classes. Here, she shares her highlights.
“You must take time to just wander the streets of this old city. For lunch, try a traditional spleen sandwich. You walk into a sandwich shop and there is a huge vat of spleen and round sandwich rolls. They have a really funky taste. Pick one up at a stall in the Ballarò, the city’s historical market. The market sells everything—cheese, meat, fish. I watched a man bring in a huge tuna and butcher it right there, start to finish. And you’ll see so many vegetables. They had five different kinds of artichokes alone.”
“I took cooking classes at Casa Vecchie. The name means “the old house” and the classes, taught by Fabrizia Lanza (who was featured in AFAR, Jan/Feb 2011), are full of history lessons. We learned old Sicilian recipes that were passed down from aristocratic families. She might teach how to make ravioli stuffed with ricotta and mint or caponata. Being there felt like being in someone’s home. The old stone family estate has a couple of rooms for guests to stay.”
“The fish market on this island is a must. Fishermen bring in beautiful fish like mackerel and baby tuna and lay it out on display. Chef Donna Teresa, known as “Mamma” gave us cooking lessons at her fish restaurant, La Nassa (Via G Franza Town Centre, 39-90/981-1319). We prepared 12 dishes, including grilled mussels, swordfish involtini with raisins and pine nuts, and grilled fish with salmorigano and tomato-saffron vinaigrette. I wanted to use basil with the clams and she said, ‘No, it must be parsley.’ She was very suspicious and critical. Our hard work became dinner that evening.”
“After a long ride high up in the hills we cycled down to the incredibly blue water and into this fishing village. The old beige and white stucco buildings with their arches and domes are spectacular. Da Alfredo (Piazza Marina Garibaldi, Lingua, 39-90/984-3075) is a waterfront bar famous for its granita. The family has made it for two generations and it’s made right in front of the customers. The slushy, sweet ice comes in flavors like strawberry and fig depending on the season.
Salina is known for its beautiful, big, briny capers. You can find buckets of them in any market. The island is also known for its Malvasia, a white wine that tastes similar to Muscat.”
“Get here early in the morning and take a tour of the Greek Amphitheater. It’s way up on a hill and is a wonderful expression of how Greece influenced this area. We stayed at the Grand Hotel Timeo (59 Via Teatro Greco, 39-90/59 9-8039) and I didn’t want to leave. Being there felt like you were in the time of Gatsby. It is just so elegant and you could imagine people sitting out on the huge balconies drinking cocktails all day. The hotel is on a hill and you can look down at all of the little houses.”
“Bar Vitelli was featured in The Godfather. It was the place where Michael Corleone asked Apollonia’s father to meet his daughter. This was definitely the hardest bike ride we did. To arrive at the bar you have to go up a steep hill and it was just brutal. But then you reach this old, funky Sicilian bar with the matron sitting outside. Inside it was small and dark and you almost felt as if you were in the Godfather. They sell lemon granita here as well as lots of booze.
“It was so windy when we arrived in Ragusa that we couldn’t ride our bikes so we went to the old town, Ibla, and wandered around the old stone village. There’s a big square and a big central church with lots of little bakeries and cafes around the perimeter. We stayed at Ermo della Giubiliana (C.da Giubiliana, 39-93/266-9119), an old convent with maybe around 30 rooms. My room really did feel like a nun had lived in it. For our final traditional Italian dinner, we went to Il Duomo, a Michelin-starred restaurant run by chef Ciccio Sultano. We feasted on course after course. Chef Sultano uses classic Sicilian ingredients like almonds, ricotta, and tuna in unusual ways. Our menu: tomato sorbet with a smooth basil olive oil, dolphin fish encrusted with pistachios, spaghetti with sea urchin and asparagus, cod wrapped in lard on a bed of rough heirloom polenta.”