Given Sicily's geographic situation, not too far from the coast of North Africa, one imagines a barren land but nothing could be further from the truth. Its hinterland, in the time of the ancient Romans, was known as its 'bread basket'.
Sicily is abundant in produce and, having been invaded by Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish and French, its varied cuisine reflects this.
The use of apricots, sugar, citrus, sweet melons, rice, saffron, raisins, nutmeg, clove, pepper, pine nuts, cinnamon (along with fried preparations) is a sign of Arab influences from the Arab domination of Sicily in the 10th and 11th centuries.
Later, the Spanish introduced numerous items from the New World, including cocoa, maize, peppers, turkey, and tomatoes. In Catania, on the east coast, initially settled by Greek colonists, fish, olives, broad beans, pistachio and fresh vegetables are preferred instead. Much of the island's cuisine encourages the use of fresh vegetables such as eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes, and fish such as tuna, sea bream, sea bass, cuttlefish, and swordfish. In Trapani in the extreme western corner of the island, North African influences are clear in the use of couscous.
Nowadays indigenous grape varieties are being rediscovered and some fine wines are being produced. Talented young chefs are creating innovative, modern interpretations of traditional dishes.
We should like to highlight the lesser known area of Ibla and its towns of Modica and Ragusa. This area is the heart of Sicilian Baroque and we would make our base in Modica Alta, the 'noble' part of the town. Both Modica and Ragusa are surrounded by stunning scenery.
From Michelin chef Accursio in Modica, to Giovanni in Ortigia and Corrado in Noto, who produces some exquisite ice-creams and 'granite', this is but the beginning of the adventure.
There are fine wines to taste both in this area and on the slopes of Mount Etna and wonderful places to visit such as the Caves of Ispica, the Roman mosaics of Villa Casale and Dionysus' Ear at Siracusa.
Not only tastings and visits but cookery demonstrations and classes can also be arranged.