what is it like?

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 Writing and cooking – June 15th – 20th 2015 – Sicily

Ask anyone who has ever sat in the courtyard at Case Vecchie at dusk with a drink in one hand and a hot panella in the other, what Case Vecchie is like, and you could well be met with silence. Ask them about the valley that arches behind the house, that first crush of wild fennel, chamomile and mint underfoot, the feel of ancient twisted vines warm from the sun, or how Filippo stirs the vat of brilliant white ricotta. Ask them too about the table at the far end of the cobbled courtyard, and the food eaten at it. In fact ask them, demand even, that they tell you more about Sicilian food: fresh ricotta, sharp pecorino, dishes scented with mint and wild fennel, Fabrizia and Giovanna’s orange marmalade, artichokes, anchovies, lemons, capers, il timballo, freshly fried panelle, the majestic cassata. Now watch the stirring of memories and wait until – eventually –  the words and descriptions tumble out.

I’d encountered the silence, and then the words, many times over the years, from friends, from cooks and writers I admired. Everyone – it seemed to my envious ears –  had visited a cooking school in a valley in Sicily. So great and deep was the praise, that I wondered if it really could be so extraordinary, so beautiful, so enchanting. Then last year, I was to discover it was just as the silences and words had promised, and more. It is not simply another cooking school, but a place of edible education, a home to many, a farm that smells as it should, so of earth, sweat and damn hard labour, a historic winery, a place where Sicilian traditions are protected with fierce pride, it is both elegant and as comfortable as slippers, it is quite simply wonderful.

I can’t think of anywhere better to hold a food writing and food blogging workshop with my friend and fellow food writer Luisa Weiss ,and the inimitable owner of the school Fabrizia Lanza. For five days, immersed in life at Casa Vecchie, we will immerse ourselves in the language of food. There will be discussions, readings, lessons, advice and time to write. We will be cooking with Fabrizia and Giovanna, exploring, visiting Filippo the man who makes ricotta, and Agrigento’s ancient “Valley of the Temples” where we will write and picnic under the blossoming citrus groves. We are going to eat and drink and make merry until late each night. Of course there is no pressure to get up too early – this is a holiday after all –  but you will I promise, so you can see the sunrise over the valley and then take your coffee or tea into the garden, a haze of beauty, before you have breakfast.

I am now – in Rome on a Saturday morning in Feb – thinking about breakfast at the large square table at the end of the kitchen, the lip staining mulberry jam, the freshly made bread, yogurt and cake. I am thinking about flying to Palermo in June, meeting you all and taking our first hot gulps of Sicilian air before we drive, through breathtaking sicilian country side, to the school. I am imagining how you will feel when you first see Case Vecchie crested on the hill, when you walk through the blue gates into the cobbled courtyard, when you take the first sip of wine and taste of panelle at dusk, when you first bend down to smell the tangle of wild fennel and mint. It is going to be a good week.

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 The Language of Food.

Before the course, participants will receive six pieces of writing that we will be discussing, each one highlighting a various aspect of food writing. Three pieces have Sicilian roots—Gabrielle Hamilton’s piece about coming to Sicily to learn about wine, an excerpt from On Persephone’s Island by Mary Taylor – Simeti, and a selection by Simonetta Agnello Hornby—while the final three writers (MK Fisher, Molly Wizenberg, and Laurie Colwin) have their roots in other places.

The itinerary

Day 1: Monday, June 15
Arrive in late afternoon or early evening, for  a welcome dinner and introductory discussion over Sicilian aperitifs at Case Vecchie.

Day 2: Tuesday, June 16
Morning writing lesson followed by lunch at Case Vecchie

In the afternoon we will visit local shepherd and cheesemaker Filippo Privitera, where we will watch traditional ricotta production and sample both freshly produced cheeses and the family’s aged cheeses.

Cook together for dinner at Case Vecchie. • Post-dinner gathering and reading.

Day 3: Wednesday, June 17
A morning trip to Agrigento’s ancient “Valley of the Temples” where we will write and picnic under the blossoming citrus groves.

Afternoon writing lesson and free time for writing, resting, or exploring around Case Vecchie, followed by cooking lesson and dinner.

Day 4: Thursday, June 18
Morning writing lesson and communal lunch at Case Vecchie.

Afternoon free time for resting, writing, and exploring the vineyards.

Evening visit to the Case Grandi winery for a tasting workshop, where we will sample a variety of Tasca d’Almerita wines and learn a little about the language of wine. Dinner at Case Grandi.

Day 5: Friday, June 19
Morning writing lesson and communal lunch at Case Vecchie.

That afternoon, we’ll drive to the beautiful hillside village of Polizzi Generosa, with a chance to write in the scenic piazza, sample the local specialties, and visit one of the most ancient pottery producers in the area, before returning through the twilight hills for a farewell dinner at Case Vecchie, followed by a chance to share our work and reflect on the week.

Day 6: Saturday, June 20
• Departure after breakfast.

But we hope the conversation from our special writing community will continue through online discussion and continued feedback loops!

The cost

All-inclusive: 2,500 euros per person for single-occupancy, 2,300 euros per person for double occupancy.

Now of course it is in my interests to convince you to come, and I know it is a big commitment (that said rates of exchange are in our favour and flights too) but it is going to be ace I promise. The details are on The Anna Tanza Lanza web site, you can read my post about Sicily, also Melissa’s and Bea’s with her stunning pictures. If you would like to e-mail to ask me anything about the week, pls do.

And because I don’t want to write a post without a recipe, here is one from Fabrizia’s book, for lemon knot biscuits, which are just delicious – R

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Lemon knot biscuits with lemon glaze – Taralli

  • 2 cups / 250 g all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup 100 g granulated sugar
  • 100 g lard or butter, diced
  • 1 heaped teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 unwaxed lemons
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 125 ml lukewarm milk
  • 1.5 cups /200 g icing sugar

Sift the flour into a large bowl.  Add the diced lard or butter and using your fingertips rub it into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the granulated sugar, cream of tartar, zest of both lemons and salt. In a small bowl beat together the egg and the lukewarm milk and then add them, bit by bit, to the flour mixture until the mixture comes together into a soft dough. Knead the dough vigorously until it is soft and smoothish but just a little bit tacky (but not sticky).

Preheat the oven to 350° /180F. Prepare two baking trays lined with baking parchment.

Working on a lightly floured board, pull away lumps of dough and roll them into 1/2 inch thick rope and then cut into 5 inch lengths . Shape each length into a looped knot and transfer to the baking tray. Bake the biscuits until they are golden brown which will take about 20 mins,

Make a glaze by adding lemon juice slowly to the icing sugar until you have a consistency thick enough to coat but not clot. Dip the top of each biscuit in the glaze and then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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29 Comments

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29 responses to “what is it like?

  1. Nadia

    Hi Rachel, is the cost in euros?

  2. Marianne

    That’s what it says: “All-inclusive: 2,500 euros.”

  3. It sounds wonderful. But on the whole, I don’t write about food. I just cook and eat it, inspired very often by the likes of you. Have an inspirational few days.

  4. This sounds very lovely. Is it a dream? Xxx

  5. It sounds so very, very lovely. Enjoy the week when it comes around. x

  6. Am I the only person who gasps at the idea of paying €2,500 for a five-day event – no matter how heavenly??

    • rachel

      No, I am sure you are not, and I totally understand. It doesn’t seem quite so outrageous when you consider the place, the ordinary costs of going to the school and the three teachers you will be with. But I understand and appreciate your comment, as I am sure do others.

    • Ale

      You are not! Unfortunately there is a lot of us who could never afford it!🙂

  7. Virginia Warren

    Your Sicilian adventure sounds lovely. I will dream of being able to write beautifully about food and enjoy following your travels, words, and recipes.

  8. I hope you & Luisa will share plenty of landscape and food photos so the rest of us can live vicariously! Sounds like bliss.

  9. gingermike@verizon.net

    I don’t mean to be dense but when you say all inclusive, that does not include airfare, correct?

  10. I remember your post from last year…your words make it sound magical. Those that join you will have a memorable time, I’m sure.

    • rachel

      i think we will too and thank you for all being so patient as I go on and on about it all. I will bring back some lovely recipes for you all

  11. Giulia

    Rachel, this sounds so beautiful, a dream, a real chance to learn in an enchanting atmosphere surrounded by interesting people and having some of the most amazing food in the world! I so would love to learn from you and Luisa. Congratulations!

    • rachel

      Hi G, that is so kind and makes me smile as I think we could learn rather a lot from you too. Hope we get to meet one day x

      • Giulia

        I think that when Emiko will finally live in this part of the world we’ll have a chance to meet!😉

  12. Nadia

    It does sound gorgeous (thanks for confirming the currency). I haven’t got annual leave to spare at the moment, so I hope it’s a huge success and that you can do it again!

  13. Such enchanting words to describe an equally enchanting place. What an experience!!

  14. Rachel: I live and write in Northern China and had tentatively planned a trip to India in June, but this sounds really interesting. Is the price in US dollars or Euros? Jay in Tianjin, China

  15. Melanie

    Hi Rachel, the course at Case Vecchie sounds amazing and like a fantastic combination of learning, seeing & tasting along with meeting like-minded people! Do you think it will run again next year? (So i can start saving now!) And congratulations on your new book, looking forward to seeing it. Melanie

  16. Pingback: 4 tales and 5 things | rachel eats

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