I've just returned from the ICA Culinary Learning Journey, The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies produced by ICA's capo di tutti capi, Frank Puleo and assisted by Pat Christofolo, his consigliere. The Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of Sicily were the largest of the Italian states before Italian unification. In 1861, they were annexed by the Kingdom of Sardinia, which changed its name to the Kingdom of Italy.
With thirty of my ICA compadres I traveled to the Amalfi coast of mainland Italy and to the western coastal region of Sicily. We dined in the most luxurious hotels, rustic beachside tratorrias, and gorgeous wineries. We feasted on the freshest fish, including Italy's famous white sardines, and delicious clouds of cheese-filled raviolis topped with San Marzano tomatoes. We also experienced some real memorable culinary moments with, pa' ca meusa (veal spleen sandwiches), Lesso di mascella di vitello in salsa verde (veal snout and hooves in green sauce), and Insalatina di nervetti con arance e cipolle "nerve endings" (cerebral cortex) with oranges and onions. YUM!
And we did more than eat! We spent several hours with the world renown Master Pastry Chef Salvatore De Riso and observed as he demonstrated preparing many of his unique pasticceria offerings such as Babà al Limoncello and Cannolo Siciliano, well as the largest wedding cake I'd ever seen. We toured the ancient Greek temple at Selinunte, visited Erice, a medieval mountaintop fortresses overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, boat hopped to get into the Blue Grotto at Capri, and had a Sicilian Mafia lesson on the way to visit the famous cathedral at Monreale, In Sicily, we took the Via del Sale (the Salt Road) to the Ettore and Infersa Saltworks where we observed the process of reclaiming salt from the sea. We had a hands on cooking lesson at Cantina Siciliana in Trapani, where chef/owner Pino Maggiore taught us the fine art of cooking authentic cuscus, (cous cous), a far cry from its American counterpart. Our visit to the Dispensa Winery, home to the Planeta brand wines, yielded a very elaborate and formal wine tasting with owner Alessio Planeta, and afterwards, we dined at his restaurant, La Foresteria, which had a caterers dream herb garden that left all of us "green" with envy.
Our trip would not have been complete without a visit to Mars el'Allah, literally "Port of Allah (God)," or as we know it, Marsala, Sicily, the place where the world's most famous cooking wine is made. And what we tasted at Cantine Florio taught us that Marsala is no cooking wine, but the most delicious digestif and something you would never waste on chicken or veal!
In savoring the different culinary and sightseeing experiences from our journey, I believe I can sum it up with a description of the finest of Marsala wines - "The landscape and foods were filled with bright colors, old gold with topaz highlights and aromas intense and airy, extremely fine, with slight hints of vanilla, burnt honey and toasted hazelnuts. The desserts, being endless, were smooth with hints of liquorice and almonds blended in a delicate and harmonious note of vanilla." Grazie, Capo Gruppo, Puleo and Capitano di Aiuto, Pat Christofolo! Cin! Cin!