Sicily 2019: The Mediterranean Diet & Beyond Culinary and Cultural Tour October 11-18, 2019

Sicilian codfish with black olives, cappers and tomato

As the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, the land of Sicily is unlike any other, and not just when it comes to its architecture, history, culture, and landscape, but also for its amazing and diverse cuisine. Explore Sicily and Sicilian cuisine with WorldRD registered-dietitian, Layne Lieberman and The International Kitchen on a professional educational journey into the Mediterranean diet and beyond.

Approved for 31-CEUs from CDR-The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 

Your 7-night itinerary will start in the ancient town of Siracusa, include visits to Catania, the towering Mount Etna, to the baroque towns of the interior, and finally to Palermo.

Along the way you will explore Sicilian food and culture: its pastas, seafoods, olives, wine, desserts, and more. There will be two hands-on cooking classes featuring Sicilian cuisine — partake in the olive harvest, visit an organic winery on Mount Etna, make local cheeses on a dairy farm, delve into Modica chocolate-making, tour food markets of Palermo and so much more! October 11-18, 2019, for a minimum of ten people

Hosted by Layne Lieberman, RD, MS, CDN, LDN, author of the award winning book Beyond The Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets Of The Super-Healthy

Guides, Experts and Chefs are from Sicily

Tour Operator: The International Kitchen

Pricing

7-night Program
$3550 USD per person based on double occupancy (we can match you with a roommate with similar sleep habits)

  • Add $585 USD for single occupancy (use of a double room by 1 person)

Based on a minimum of 10 participants.

Accommodation Information

Your accommodations will be at centrally located 4-star hotels in Siracusa and Palermo. Please see hotels below. (In the event a hotel becomes unavailable we will propose a comparable 4-star alternative.)

In Siracusa we stay at the 4-star Henry’s House on Ortigia island. Looking out of the Mediterranean, the boutique hotel is situated in a 19th-century rowhouse and boasts individually designed rooms with local antiques and artwork, WiFi, flat screen TVs, minibars, etc. Many rooms have balconies or sea views.

In Palermo we stay at the charming 4-star Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa in the city center. The ensuite rooms also have minibar, safe, LCD TV, phone, and air conditioning. The hotel has a restaurant, bar, spa, and interior courtyard.

 

Itinerary & Trip Details (7 nights)

DAY ONE 

Arrival at the Catania airport. Group transfer to your 4-star hotel in Siracusa, in the heart of Ortigia, the small island that houses Siracusa’s historical city center.

Check in with time to relax.

Welcome dinner this evening – your first taste of Sicilian cuisine! You will get an introduction to the products, flavors, and customs of this incredible island with your guide for the week, Paolo Gallo, who has over 20 years of experience organizing cultural and food tours to Sicily. (Expert & Guide: Paolo Gallo)

Educational Outcomes and Objectives (2 hours): An introduction to the products, flavors, and customs of this incredible island!

Attendees will:

a) Learn why Sicily is the heart of the Mediterranean diet with the freshest local and seasonal food (0.5 hour)

b) Understand what the fall harvest means to Sicilians- including the olive and grape harvests, roasted chestnuts (caldaroste) sold in street kiosks and more (0.5 hour)

c) Learn about the specialties such as caponata (a type of sweet and sour relish made with aubergines, celery, olives and tomatoes) and peperonata (sweet and sour peppers) (0.5 hour)

d)  Understand why Sicilian food is unique due to its mixed cultural influences from the Italians, Greeks, Spanish, French and Arabs that have inhabited the island over almost three thousand years (0.5 hour)

DAY TWO

Catania

After breakfast, depart for Catania. Head for the amazing fish market (“A Piscaria”), one of Catania’s most indelible spots. Chef Loredana, a local cooking instructor, will teach you about Sicilian ingredients. Explore the market, learning about local fish varieties, but also about other seasonal fruits and vegetables. Then head to the cooking school for your cooking class featuring authentic Sicilian cuisine based on the ingredients you chose. Lunch to follow, in which you will discuss the ingredients used, the dishes made, and possible other variations.

Return to Siracusa, free time this evening and dinner on your own. (Experts & Guide: Paolo Gallo, Cooking School Teacher Loredana Balsamello)

Educational Outcomes and Objectives (5 hours): Learn about local seafood and seasonal fruits and vegetables as you shop the local markets of Catania. Plan and  prepare a meal based on availability under the direction of a Sicilian cooking instructor.

Attendees will:

a) Explore the food markets (2 hours)

b) Participate in a cooking class featuring seasonal products from the local market under the direction of a local cooking school instructor (2 hours)

c) Lunch and learn about the use of local seafood and produce in the typical Sicilian diet (1 hour)

DAY THREE

Olive Harvest

After breakfast enjoy a 90-minute walking tour of Ortigia, Siracusa’s old historical center. Ortigia is a small, ancient island, and you will learn about its 2700 years of history and legends! 

In the late morning, depart for Palazzaolo Arcreide, a Sicilian village that has been inhabited since ancient times.

Enjoy an authentic and traditional Sicilian lunch in a beloved local restaurant, learning about the ancient culinary customs of this part of Sicily. 

Next, stop at a DOP organic olive oil estate to learn about this important product of Sicilian agriculture and cuisine. You will visit the orchard and learn about the types of olives, the harvest, and the pressing. You will learn the criteria by which Sicilian olive oil is judged and labeled as “extra virgin,” and about the characteristics that would lead to an oil being rejected as defective. You will of course taste the oil – and can buy some to take home! And added bonus: your visit might coincide with part of the olive harvest. 

Return to Siracusa, dinner on your own. (Experts & Guide: Paolo Gallo, Experts from Tenuta Cavasecca DOP Organic Olive Grove)

Educational Outcomes and Objectives (3 hours): Learn about olive oil production and ancient culinary customs in this part of Sicily

Attendees will:

a) Learn about the ancient culinary customs in this part of Sicily (1 hour)

b) Experience the olive harvest at an ancient olive orchard and learn how to become a connoisseur of olive oil- similar to wine (2 hours)

  • See how the olives are harvested and pressed

  • Learn about the types of olives, ancient and new varieties
  • Learn what tools are used to taste and decipher the quality and freshness of cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil

DAY FOUR 

Mount Etna

After breakfast depart for a full day to Mount Etna and Taormina. First you will explore the famous volcano and enjoy a visit at a winery to learn how the volcanic soil influences the vineyards and wines of the area. Paolo, a wine connoisseur, and the experts at Barone di Villagrande will teach you about grape varieties and about what makes each so unique. Enjoy an organic wine tasting and a light lunch at the winery. 

Next, head to Taormina, a jewel of eastern Sicily, to see the beautiful promenade and many sites, including the ancient Greco-Roman theater, which is still in use today. Your tour will explore the history, food and culture of this ancient city. 

Return to Siracusa, dinner on your own. (Experts & Guide: Paolo Gallo, winemaker of Barone di Villagrande winery since 1727)

Educational Outcomes and Objectives (5 hours): Learn about the agricultural area of Mount Etna and why the soils are rich in nutrients. Develop an understanding of the wine/grape industry in the area and why Etna wines are considered some of the best in Italy (especially for the price)!  Tour the most beautiful ancient city of Taormina and learn about its food specialties. 

Attendees will:

a) Delve into the agricultural and wine industries of the most fertile land of Italy (3 hours)

  • understand why the land is rich in nutrients
  • learn about the varietal and indigenous grapes
  • learn about the wine making of the region
  • taste and experience the different indigenous wines
  • learn about organic wine-making

b) Explore Taormina and its food culture as we tour through this “jewel of Sicily” (2 hours)

DAY FIVE 

Macaroni

After breakfast depart for Modica, a wonderful baroque town. First enjoy a cooking class with a local woman, Katia Amore, who has been running a small cooking school for many years. Learn more about the traditional cuisine of Sicily using seasonal ingredients and authentic Sicilian practices. Lunch to follow. 

Next, enjoy a tour of Modica, a baroque jewel. The city has a fascinating history: founded in ancient times, ruled by the Arabs, the Normans, and then extremely powerful feudal lords. For centuries it was home to a large Jewish population before their persecution in the late 15th century. After a late 17th-century earthquake destroyed part of the town it was rebuilt in Baroque style, resulting in its unique look. Today it remains a rooted in the agricultural production of the Val di Noto, including olives, legumes, and grains. 

Another famous product of Modica: chocolate! Head to a 150-year old family-run chocolate factory for a visit of the laboratory and a tasting of this well-known local product, which is purportedly produced using an ancient Aztec recipe. 

Return to Siracusa, dinner on your own. (Experts & Guide: Paolo Gallo, Chef Katia Amore, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto 6th generation, producing chocolate for over 150 years)

Educational Outcomes and Objectives (5 hours): Partake in an authentic Sicilian cooking class at a renowned cooking school. Tour and learn about the agricultural area of Val di Noto. Understand the ancient art of chocolate making in Modica.

Attendees will:

a) Learn more about Sicilian cuisine-which and why ingredients are used in this area of Italy (3 hours)

  • Prepare a meal with a renowned Sicilian cooking teacher
  • Understand each season and its special ingredients
  • Learn about which pasta shapes are unique to Sicily

b) Understand and visit the agricultural area of Val di Noto, known for olives, beans and grains (1 hour)

c) Learn about the history of chocolate making in Sicily and how it differs from anywhere else in the world. Taste and view chocolate-making in a 150-year old 6th generation Sicilian chocolate factory (1 hour)

DAY SIX 

Sicilian cannoli made with ricotta cheese

Breakfast and check out. Depart for Piazza Armerina, where you will visit of the superb Roman villa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The villa’s mosaics are among the most beautiful surviving from ancient days, and it is one of Sicily’s most important cultural sites. 

Continue to Enna, where you will visit with an organic cheese farmer at the Caseificio Raja. Learn about the cheese production of Sicily, its types of dairy, and in particular how Sicilian cheese is made in the interior regions and enjoy a tasting of fresh and aged cheeses. A lunch will follow in which you will taste other local products, many of them grown on or near the farm. 

Next – we are off to Palermo!

Check in to the Hotel Piazza Borsa in Palermo’s city center, then head to dinner at a local restaurant, where you will get an introduction to Palermitano cuisine and learn how it differs from the gastronomy of the east. (Experts & Guide: Paolo Gallo, Caseificio Raja cheesemaker and farmer)

Educational Outcomes and Objectives (5 hours): View the most complex collection of Roman mosaics in the world built in the early 4th century AD. Understand the grand lifestyle of rich Romans. Learn the process of cheesemaking from the cow to the table. Discover Palermitano cuisine and how it differs from the east. 

Attendees will:

a) Tour the UNESCO World Heritage site of Piazza Armerina, which includes a Roman house dating to the 4th and 5th centuries A.D (1 hour) 

  • Understand the lifestyle and home layout of the rich Romans of the 4th century when Sicily was not only the granary of Rome, but a favorite place to live for wealthy Romans.

b) Meet with a dairy farmer and cheesemaker in Enna (3 hours)

  • Learn about local dairy cows and milk production for organic cheesemaking
  • Understand the different variety of cheeses and how they are made
  • View the cheesemaking process 
  • Taste fresh and aged cheeses of the region 
  • Taste other specialties from the farm, a truly farm to table experience 

c) Learn how Palermitano cuisine differs from the eastern cuisine of Sicily, and goes beyond Palermo’s famous street food (1 hour)

DAY SEVEN

Sicilian arancini

Breakfast, then it is time for a full day of exploring Palermo, one of the most vibrant cities of Sicily. Start with an in-depth walking tour of the city center and learn about Palermo’s rich history, culture, and gastronomy, including its origins as a Phoenician city, its thousand years as part of Rome, its tenure as capital of the Holy Roman Empire – just to touch on a few moments of its storied past. 

Your lunch will be based on typical Sicilian street food during a street food tour: try the famed arancini, sfincioni and more. Stop also at a famous bakery for a tasting of Sicilian pastries and desserts. 

In the afternoon, continue your tour of Palermo, including nearby Monreale, which is located on the side of Monte Caputo and which benefits from the agriculture in the fertile valley below, where orange, almond, and olive trees grow. Visit also its most famous site – the ancient Norman-Byzantine Cathedral. 

This evening, time for your farewell dinner with a Palemerito food experience, wrapping up your education on Sicilian gastronomy. (Expert & Guide: Paolo Gallo)

Educational Outcomes and Objectives (6 hours): In-depth understanding of Palermo’s outdoor fresh food markets brimming with fresh seafood, fruits, vegetables and more. Explore the street foods, although often fried and not always healthy, worth trying!  End the tour with a gastronomic Palermitano dinner as we reflect on what we can bring back to our practices at home. 

Attendees will:

a) Learn about the culture of Palermo, the capital of the Italian island of Sicily (3 hours)

  • See why Palermo is a cultural melting pot since Phoenicians and Greeks fought over it in the 5th and 6th centuries BC.
  • Explore the city by foot visiting the central street markets and the Vucciria, near the port.
  • Understand the importance of the location on Sicily’s northwestern coast at the head of the Bay of Palermo, facing east. 

b) Learn about and taste the most famous street food and pastries of southern Italy (1 hour) 

c) Visit Monreale located on the slope of Monte Caputo, overlooking the very fertile valley called “La Conca d’oro” (the Golden Shell), a production area of orange, olive and almond trees; and backed by mountains. Mount Pellegrino rises to a height of 1,988 feet (606 m) north of the city. (1 hour)

  • Learn about the large quantities and types of produce which are exported. 

d) Wrap up and enjoy a final Palermitano dinner as we reflect on the weeks’ activities and discuss how we can utilize these experiences back at home. (1 hour) 

DAY EIGHT

After breakfast, group transfer to the Palermo airport. (Or we can arrange additional nights in Palermo for those wanting to stay on.)

What’s Included (7-Night Trip)

Accommodations

Seven nights in 4-star hotels

Food & Beverages

  • Daily breakfast
  • 6 lunches
  • 3 dinners
  • Wine with included meals

Classes & Instructors

Two hands-on cooking classes featuring Sicilian cuisine.

Excursions

  • Visit of Catania market with chef
  • Walking tour of Ortigia (Siracusa)
  • Olive oil estate visit
  • Full-day visit to Mount Etna and Taormina
  • Guided tour in Taormina
  • Winery visit and tasting
  • Chocolate workshop and tasting
  • Guided visit of Piazza Armerina
  • Cheese producer visit
  • Guided walking tour of Palermo

Transfer Details

  • One group arrival transfer from Catania airport to Siracusa hotel
  • One group departure transfer from Palermo hotel to Palermo airport

Additional transfers can be arranged on request. Please inquire for rates. 

Miscellaneous

  • Transfer from Siracusa to Palermo
  • Educational credits (credits pending)

Not Included

  • Meals not specified in itinerary
  • Gratuities
  • Personal expenses

Register here: The International Kitchen

Email Peg Kern: [email protected]

Email Layne Lieberman: [email protected]

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About Sicily: Inside Sicily-Kitchen and Diet Secrets by Layne Lieberman, RD

(This blog first appeared on Huffington Post) 

Tomato sauce simmering in a Sicilian kitchen

Sicily is intriguing as it conjures up notions of the Mafioso culture so famously exaggerated in American movies. As I flew into Catania from Milano, I had images of crazy drivers with musical accents wearing wife-beaters (sleeveless underwear) in the heat of the summer.

Yet the reality of Sicily is very different than these stereotypes. Religious festivals, street fairs, rolling food carts and encounters with herds of goats and sheep are common daily occurrences as are teeny bikinis and speedos on the island’s beaches. Sicilians use their hands, head, and shoulders for gestures. And they deeply cherish grandma’s (nonna’s) hand-made macaroni hoping their wives will continue the tradition.

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and is known as the land of fertility because of its agricultural richness and productive fisheries. Its multi-cultural influences include the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Saracens, Spaniards, French and Normans, which add to the island’s beauty, food culture, and architecture. During the time of the Greeks, olives and grapes were the most important food crops. Later, Sicily became the wheat granary of the Roman Empire. Today, Sicily is the garden of Europe with specialty fruits and vegetables including blood oranges, tangerines, chestnuts, lemons, artichokes, tomatoes, table grapes, wild fennel, stick-long zucchini, eggplant, wild asparagus, fava beans, pistachios and the list goes on.

The two major cities are Palermo on the west coast and Catania on the east coast. There are smaller cities and villages inland and along the coast, each unique in their own way. I chose to stay at the Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo, located in front of a Greek theatre, situated in the village of Taormina. Taormina is a jewel of a town, perched on a cliff overlooking the Ionian Sea between Messina and Catania and close to Mount Etna and its surrounding vineyards, orchards, beekeepers and wild chestnut trees.

Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano, is visible high above the eastern coast of Catania and continues to enrich the island’s soil with black ash from its ongoing eruptions (although short-term impacts can be negative to livestock). This soil offers optimal conditions to grow Sicily’s mouth-watering produce responsible for the robust flavors of traditional Sicilian cuisine. In the spring you can ski the mountain and swim at the beach on the same day. Mount Etna’s beginnings are seen on the “Cyclops Riviera” where the mythical stories of the Greek Odysseus (known as Ulysses in Roman mythology) battling the fierce one-eyed monster Cyclops and the six-headed sea monster Scylla, bring you back in time to the epic journey in Mediterranean history.

Wild chestnut trees surround the base of Mount Etna and Sicilians forage and share chestnuts during the fall harvest season. Chestnuts are rich in minerals like potassium, magnesium and calcium and vitamin C. Although historically, chestnuts were viewed as peasant food, today they are a delicacy. On the lower slopes of Mount Etna, is the Hundred Horse Chestnut Tree (Castagno dei Cento Cavalli), known to be the oldest tree in Sicily and perhaps the oldest in Europe.

Besides the beauty of the landscape, it’s the passion of the people–proud to be both Sicilian and Italian–that make this island so special. The Sicilians are generous and communicative, connected to their land, sea, arts and history–and most importantly to each other. Sacred is not only homemade semolina macaroni and nonna’s recipes, but the sharing of a meal followed by a good cup of coffee.

As discussed in my book Beyond The Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets Of The Super-Healthy, Italians begin a meal with a starter (primo), which in Sicily is almost always pasta. The main course (secondo) is fish with salad. Seafood is plentiful and very local! Swordfish (pesce spada) line-caught from the Strait of Messina is always on the menu and often you will see a small truck pull up to a restaurant to deliver a whole fish that is still fighting!

Swordfish
Fresh swordfish in the kitchen of a Taormina restaurant

The red shrimp, also from the Strait of Messina, are sweet and eaten raw. Sardines, red mullet and calamari are staples. As you go inland and up into the mountains, meats like donkey, beef, horse, lamb, goat, rabbit and chicken are popular. A typical meal ends with fruit or dessert (dolce) and coffee. Local wine and Prosecco, Italy’s famed (lower-calorie) sparkling wine are prized in Sicily. Don’t leave without trying the local wine Nero d’Avola!

RedShrimp
Red shrimp served raw at a seaside restaurant in Capomulini

One of the highlights of my visit to Mount Etna was a lunch fit for a King at elegant Ristorante Veneziano, a second-generation family-run restaurant located in the medieval town of Randazzo. We were served local specialties–foraged porcinis were featured in many of the dishes–with pasta, in soup and carpaccio-style with arugula. For the meat eaters at the table there was black pig from Nebrodi, minced donkey meat and braised chicken. Other dishes included local sheep and cow cheese, wild asparagus (sparacogne), battered zucchini flowers, sundried tomatoes in EVOO, couscous with breadcrumbs, caponata and a fresh loaf of Italian bread. The cost of the meal was 90 euros for four persons and the hospitality and service were five-star!

PorciniCarpaccio
Wild porcini mushrooms, carpaccio-style at Ristorante Veneziano in Randazzo

In Sicily one could easily explore traditional Sicilian cuisine and it’s modernization because modern Sicilian cooking does not diverge much from its roots. Local ingredients are always used and it’s taboo to tamper with recipes that are passed down from one generation to the next. The early Arab settlers spiced up the cuisine with citrus and sweets. Their legacy is cassata, one of the world’s first cheesecakes filled with ricotta cream and adorned with almond paste and candied fruit. Marzipan (marzipane), a paste of almonds–made from Sicily’s almond crops–sugar and egg whites are shaped into peaches, oranges and prickly pears. Fresh bread is made daily with semolina flour, and usually topped with sesame seeds.

The town of Modica is famous for authentic chocolate making using only cocoa beans (and sometimes local carob beans) and sugar–no emulsifiers, artificial flavors or additives. First the cocoa beans are toasted and ground with a stone called a metate. The ground beans are warmed and sugar is added. The mix never goes above 40 degrees centigrade (or 104 degrees Fahrenheit) so the sugar doesn’t melt and remains granular. The chocolate is then transferred into shaped molds and left to set. This ancient method of cold-worked chocolate preserves more nutrients and flavor than modern chocolate-making methods. The method dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries, which gives us more reason to eat chocolate the way it was meant to be eaten–dark–and to stop tampering with old ways!

Here are more of the foods you must try In Sicily:

ARANCINI are balls of creamy risotto rice traditionally filled with tomato sauce, or meat, cheese, peas or a combination of these. Arancini are coated with breadcrumbs and deep-fried. They are in the shape of a cone or an orange. Arancia means little orange in Italian.

CannoloAranchino

PISTACCHIO DI BRONTE referred to as green gold or pistachios grown in the town of Bronte, located at the western foot of Mount Etna were brought by the Arab conquerors in the 9th century. Sicilians use pistachios in many recipes including gelato, granita, pastries and pesto. Don’t leave Sicily without trying pasta made with pistachio pesto.

CANNOLI is the plural of cannolo, the crispy shell pastry stuffed with ricotta cream and sometimes mixed with chocolate pieces, which is the iconic Sicilian pastry said to have originated from Palermo. It undoubtedly crumbles into a big mess when you take a bite of it.

GRANITA E BRIOCHE is the standard Sicilian breakfast made with Italy’s standard breakfast roll called a brioche, sandwiched with granita, a semi-frozen dessert made with almond milk (latte de mandola), coffee or fruit and sugar. There is nowhere else in the world that makes a granita like Sicily.

brioche wGranita

PASTA ALLA NORMA consists of chunks of eggplant tossed with a basic tomato sauce and pasta, then garnished with grated ricotta salata.

CAPONATA is the Italian version of French ratatouille–a mixture of eggplants, onions, tomato, olives, pine nuts, and extra-virgin olive oil. It can be served cold or at room temperature. It may have originated from Spain.

SPAGHETTI ALLO SCOGLIO is spaghetti made with a variety of crustaceans and shellfish depending upon what’s available from the fishmonger. It’s served during festive occasions. Don’t miss the small, sweet and ridged Veraci clams from Trapani.

PastaWSeafood
Pasta with seafood at Il Porticciolo restaurant in Capomulini

Sicilian trivia:

  • Sicilians talk loud but don’t think they are fighting.
  • Sicilians trust body language more than words.
  • Sicilians are “macho” and will not allow a girl go home unescorted.
  • Every fall there is a harvest celebration similar to America’s Thanksgiving.
  • The Mafia is alive and well but it’s only a tiny part of the population.
  • Unlike in other parts of Italy, Sicilians do double up on carbs–breadcrumbs on top of pasta or couscous–are traditional fare.
  • San Pellegrino’s Aranciata and Limonata beverages are made from the citrus fruits grown in Sicily.
  • Tavolo calda (warm snack) is a popular afternoon tradition throughout Sicily.
  • Sicilians believe that donkey milk is the healthiest milk for babies (second to mother’s milk).
  • Sfingi or Zeppole are fried dough balls sometimes stuffed with ricotta cream and found at most street fairs in Sicily, traditionally prepared for the feast of San Guiseppe (St. Joseph).
  • Mint is as popular as basil and oregano in Sicilian cooking.
  • Couscous is a popular Sicilian dish originating from North Africa.

For recipes and no-gimmick diet advice based on the food culture from the three healthiest countries in Europe (including Italy) read my book: Beyond The Mediterranean Diet, European Secrets Of The Super-Healthy.

laynevineyardmtetna
Layne at a Vineyard on the north side of Mount Etna, Sicily