The first floor of Katia’s family villa, 78 steps up the side of a mountain, had a huge dining table that seated about 12 people, a kitchen fit for an elite chef, a veranda, and the bedroom that I’d be sleeping in. After the welcome hug, Katia showed me to my room. I set my stuff down and got ready for my first cooking lesson.
Just a quick confession: I wasn’t really there to learn to cook Sicilian food. I was there to eat Sicilian food (and drink plenty of wine).
(Note: This is Part 2 of Art’s adventure in Italy. Feel free to continue reading but if you want to see how this story began read Starting the Year off with a Better Story first.)
I found everyone on the veranda with a bottle of wine, which would be a common theme throughout my time at the house. I introduced myself to my housemates, three Australian women all in their mid-50s. One of the women handed me a glass and told me to catch up. She instantly became my favorite.
Soon Katia called us into the kitchen and showed us around. We briefly met her assistant, and then we were ready to start our first meal. I like to say that I’m good with names and faces, but I just can’t seem to remember Katia’s assistant’s name. Just know she was amazing and sweet. Not quite patient, but she did her best to tolerate my I-have-no-clue-what-I’m-doing cooking style so I loved her.
Katia explained a little about Sicilian cooking. She mentioned what themes showed up a lot in Sicilian, like fish. We would learn more later that week when we visited the market. We cooked family style with everyone working on a small part of a larger dish. I was in charge of chopping vegetables. I’d like to believe Katia gave me this challenging task because she saw something special in me, but I think I was just the soberest of the housemates so the only one who could be trusted with a knife.
After about 30 minutes of cooking, Katia had us head back to the veranda while she finished up. I like to imagine dinner was mostly done and she was only doing some last-minute plating, but it’s more likely that, to her, having us in the kitchen felt the same as having toddlers help with dinner.
When dinner was ready, we ate on the veranda with the sun setting over the mountain and casting shadows on the houses built into the hillside. Dinner was three courses with more Sicilian wine, and we finished with limoncello. I don’t remember much about the meal besides the wine, but I do remember dessert.
Mazaresi, a pistachio cupcake, is the dessert I imagine is in Sicilian heaven. While I wouldn’t normally think to bake or eat a cake made of pistachios, this stuff was amazing. And, as a bonus, this dessert included singing “Tanti augurs a te”, candles, and making a birthday wish (so how could I not love it?).
We settled into conversation and questions to get to know each other. My housemates told me about their lives in Australia and why they were here. One woman was single and spent her free time seeing the world, another lived a quiet, child-free life in the Australian countryside, and the last woman shared advice on how to get divorced in Australia (awkward but honest). All of them had done culinary vacations before and found it was the best way to get amazing food while on vacation (exactly what I had hoped).
I told them about life in my 20s. I told them this was my first solo trip abroad, first culinary vacations, and the first day of my 30s. They promised to hold me accountable to my theme of choosing a better story, within in reason. was apparently different than they expected an American to be and they very much liked me. I like to say I changed some hearts and minds that night.
Dinners would become my favorite part of Sicily and, no matter how tired I was, I made sure I was at every one that week. Dinners were a big deal, not just at Katia’s family villa, but also throughout Sicily. It was a time for family, old friends, new friends, rich food, and delicious wine. At the time, I didn’t realize my nights would be filled with people who would embrace me into their community. It was only my first day and I was in love with this place. I wanted to find a way to stay forever.
Love Sicily’s Recipe for Mazaresi
200 gr pistachios (with no peel)
180 gr sugar
50 gr potato flour
Extra potato flour for the ramekins (if you use silicone this is not required)
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grind the pistachios, sugar, and a pinch of salt into a fine powder. Separate the egg yolks from the whites.eat the egg yolks and add them to the pistachios and sugar mixture. Whip the egg whites and fold into the pistachio mixture. Then slowly add the potato flour. Line the ramekins with butter and flour. Pour the mixture into the ramekins (about half full) and place in the oven for 20 minutes.