As the road from Palermo to Case Vecchie reaches the edge of the estate, it winds and dips down through fields of vines, green leaves with edges just starting to turn rusty at the end of a long summer. In September it was grape harvesting season and for 40 days, scores of workers in caps and shirts dotted the landscape, working long hours to collect bunches of sweet ripe fruit: white grapes burnt to cinnamon and plump red grapes turned a deep purple. The grapes were collected by hand by workers in pairs: chopped deftly with red-handled secateurs then dropped into buckets at their feet. They worked quickly; from a distance they looked like ants, stopping only briefly before making their way to the next bunches of grapes down the row of vines.
It was a joy to spend a whole week at the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School, which sits in the heart of the Tenuta Regaleali (Regaleali Estate). The week that I spent there in September had been some 18 months in planning with Fabrizia Lanza, the owner of the school with scores of emails during that time to arrange the finer details. The 6-day September seasonal workshop was attended by a group of joyous enthusiastic people, mainly from the USA: Judy, Eileen, Donna, Anthony, Patricia, Tony, Tina, Nathan, Eric, Jenny and Joanne. We picked almonds to make biscotti, harvested grapes to make a grape schiacciata, visited the fish markets in Catania, then watched Mike prepare a whole fish “in crosta di sale“, made cavatelli pasta, and being in Sicily, ate this “alla Norma“; made gnocchi; visited the Regaleali Estate and watched the first pressing of ruby-coloured grapes.
One of the beautiful things about Case Vecchie is watching the surrounding land change colour and contour through the cycle of the year. Being there in different seasons allows you to better connect with the land and the way it changes from winter through to summer and immerse yourself in a new experience every time. In 2015 I visited in March, at the end of winter when spring was starting to sprout its green and fragrant buds; then in September 2016, as the summer heat was starting to fade, when the last of the plump tomatoes were being gathered and made into lunchtime platters and sweet figs hung from low branches in the front garden, ripe for picking and eating. Then there will be this year, in the first week of November, when it will be late autumn, and the olive trees on the property will be bursting with fruit, ready to be pressed into oil, just before the land prepares to fall into a deep winter slumber.
I am one of the fortunate ones; Fabrizia has given me a second opportunity to run a workshop in this magical place, from 1st to 6th November 2017. Those who have been there before understand; to be a part of life at Case Vecchie is a unique experience, one that you don’t easily forget. It feels quite a bit like a charming 19th century home, with family mementoes on the walls, embroidered linen on the beds and shared bathrooms. You might spy Giovanna’s washing in the corner or spot a couple of cats, or a rooster as you cross the courtyard to the kitchen/cooking school, where meals are held. Meals are plentiful, traditional and made fresh by staff onsite using local and seasonal ingredients (unless we are cooking it ourselves during a cooking lesson). Tenuta Regaleali wine accompanies lunch and dinner. It feels like being part of a large Sicilian family, one that loves to eat exceptional traditional foods, cook together and have long chats over wine.
The Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School is located about 2 hours drive from Palermo. The easiest way to get there is by train from Palermo – then to arrange for the staff at the school to collect you from the local train station. To read more about my workshop at the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School, click here for the full 2017 calendar of workshops and here for details on my workshop.