Exploring Anna Lanza Cooking School and Tasca D’Almerita

I woke up early in my room at the Tasca D’Almerita Winery. I could hear the workers coming in for the day and it was a good feeling to know I was no longer totally alone in this vast place.

After a little work and a quick shower, my ride to go back to the Anna Lanza Cooking School came to get me for breakfast.

I joined my friend Tracy, who had stayed at the school’s villa, for a breakfast that was as wonderful as I had been told it would be. There was homemade marmalade, created from the fruit in the garden; just baked sweet breads; freshly hatched scrambled eggs; and even homemade yogurt, which I enjoyed with a delectable fig tart.

Ragaleali is a picturesque Sicilian town up on a mountain and the area I was in consisted of acres and acres of land that included the winery and the cooking school.  After breakfast, we walked around for awhile before our tour of the vineyards and winery.  I relaxed in the courtyard too, talking with Jim, one of the cooking school guests. He showed me pictures of some of the things he made during the week he was there, including ricotta gnocchi, the fig tart and yogurt, and some very special sardines.

Beyond the garden are the vineyards and there are 1,200 acres that include 50 different varieties of grapes at Tasca D’Almerita. The most famous are grillo and moscato, but this was also the place that produced the first chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon in Sicily.

The large, modern equipment at the winery helps produce over three million bottles a year.  They are using a natural filtration system and love to try new barrels to experiment with taste (Sicilian chestnut barrels are currently holding some perricone, a red varietal).

After the tour, we did some tasting. My favorite was the Sallier de la Tour Le Bianche, actually made at the Pernice Estate in Monreale. It contains three grapes that are among my favorites – viognier, semillion and sauvignon blanc – for a crispy and mineral-filled blend with lots of lemon, as well as tropical pineapple and kiwi.

We headed back to the cooking school for our final meal in Ragaleali and head chef, owner, and amazing cook Fabrizia Lanza made it a fantastic one. The pasta with ricotta was amazing, with the freshly produced cheese and round circles of macaroni. We also had a delicious sausage and potatoes dish, along with just picked broccoli.

For dessert we had a Moorish Head Cake, filled with light ricotta cream, as well as sesame cookies that reminded me of the way my aunt Mary used to make them.

There wasn’t much time to linger as we had a flight to make from Palermo airport. We barely made it on time to hop the airport boss to the small propeller plane to Pantelleria. The flight was a short half hour, which was good because the plane was rather hot.

We could see the beautiful turquoise water as we landed in this spot, just 20 miles from the African republic of Tanzania. Mimma of Donnafugata Wines, our host for the next few days, was waiting for us along with our Yellow Fiat Panda. Fortunately, Tracy knew how to drive a stick shift because that was our only option and I had only attempted it once when I was a teenager.

Mimma escorted us to our cute little stone house on the property of the Donnafugata winery and vineyards, just down the road from the Mediterranean Sea. After we showered and changed, she took us to La Nicchia, a beautiful restaurant on the other side of the island. It was quite a unique place, with what looked like a simple pizzeria in the front and an elegant dining room in the back, with no ceiling and trees growing among the tables!

We started with the Donnafugata Lighea, a semi-sweet blend of zibibbo (Moscato d'Alessandria). We got to know each other as we nibbled on warm focaccia and an outrageous caponata. For an appetizer, I had Ravioli with Ricotta and Mint, and island specialty, and then a beef filet for a main course. Mimma and Tracy feasted on Gambaroni, the largest crayfish I had ever seen

For dessert, we had a flaky and light cannoli and a glass of 2009 Ben Rye, also made from zibibbo, but sweetened from the addition of dried moscato grapes to the taste of apricot, fig and date.

We were exhausted by the time we got back to the house and did not expect the night and day ahead of us. 


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