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A prince, a book and a chef: a night of Sicilian food and music

Posted by Suzanne on 22 Jul 2016


Dinner inspired by 'The Leopard' and things Sicilian 

It was close to 9pm, on a late spring evening last month, when our guests moved down flights of stairs, from the first floor of Palazzo Notar Nicchi to the cool of the cellars for an unhurried dinner at The Sicilian House long table in Polizzi Generosa, high in the Madonie Mountains.

The dinner, motivated by a love of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s classic novel, The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) and things Sicilian, was a night enjoyed: lively company, Sicilian wines, food inspired by Giuseppe Tomasi’s book, Sicilian convents, interior towns, provinces and princes and, a local chef from Polizzi.


Our guests at a table long and lit

Our guests that evening were a very relaxed and animated group of  travellers on a leisurely 3 week tour of Sicily; its history, wines and food.

They were discovering Sicily with Brisbane based Sicilian travel expert and chef Dominique Rizzo's Pure Food Wine and Cooking Tours.

We entered the cellars to the stirring music of Nino Rota’s opening sound track, ‘Il Viaggio a Donnafugata’, from Luchino Visconti’s film adaptation of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s unforgettable classic.

The table, long and lit with 19th century Sicilian candelabras, and tapered candles was set with odd, numerous pieces of faded silver cutlery, local D’Angelo pottery, mixed colourful dinner plates and tall wine glasses for 23 guests.

And Sicilian Moorhead vases were filled with wild flowers: bastone di San Giuseppe in shades of pink and velvety purple and fragrant yellow ginestra.


We were also joined by some very welcome extra guests: two Americans seeking their Sicilian roots, who were holidaying upstairs in the Garibaldi apartment and a friend staying from Sydney.


The book 'The Leopard' was inspiration

We enjoyed a few hours together dining, chatting and laughing across the table, dancing and learning a little more about Sicily through "The Leopard" and its emphasis on food, culture, history and the demise of the Sicilian aristocracy and the social change in Sicily, wrought by the Garibaldi led unification of Italy in 1860.

Told through the life of the book’s noble, yet deeply weary protagonist, Prince Fabrizio, The Prince of Salina, it is a moving novel about loss and change.

The evening was filled with music, poetry and heartfelt readings from Tomasi’s pages by Gattopardo enthusiast Emilia Maggio (see below).


Our chef worked in the cool of the cellar as a scirocco blew

That night warm temperatures had lingered outside in the fading evening light; it was not yet a Sicilian summer and a fierce Scirocco, which blows occasionally from Africa, had howled all day and the temperatures had raged.

The village had taken refuge behind shuttered doors and windows, hidden from the intensity of the victorious Scirocco.

And, Signore Santo Lipani, a passionate local chef and recipe writer, had been working from early morning slicing, dicing and creating in the cool, stone chambers of the cellar kitchen assisted by Biagio Di Stefano.

The day before, armed with a list, Signore Lipani had selected fresh fruit and vegetables from Polizzi’s open air weekly market and meat from local butchers.


 The table laden 

He created plates of antipasti of local, provincial cheeses: fresh ricotta and tuma from the shepherd Vincenzo up in the mountains behind Polizzi, an intensely fresh caponata of rockmelon and eggplant and plates of domed timballo for our first course, plus more.


The timballo, a little nod to 'The Leopard'

The timballo may not have been quite the ‘towering’, richly filled pastry macaroni pie served at the dinner at il Gattopardo’s (the prince Don Fabrizio's) provincial palace at Donnafugata, described in such blissful culinary detail in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's  book, but it was a delicious pasta al forno made with a rich and hearty meat ragu. It was a nod to il Gattopardo.

Following the lead of the prince and also wanting to celebrate the slow mountain food of Polizzi, an interior town, we chose not to serve a consommé just as the prince did at his table at Donnafugata.

The prince was ‘too experienced’ as Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa explains, to offer a consommé - so loved by the flamboyantly baroque Sicilian aristocracy in the mid-19th century; their ‘haute cuisine’ culinary needs looked after by their French trained Monsu chefs - to ‘Sicilian guests in a town in the interior’.

The second pasta created by Signore Lipani, made with local pork sausage and fresh wild mountain fennel had all the provincial aromas and flavours of Father Pirrone’s (Prince Fabrizio’s confidante) pasta for ‘festive occasions’ which is described so perfectly in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's book.


Sicilian ices

And, the lemon sorbetto, topped with the bitterness of a small amarena and a sprig of mint, was the perfect refreshment between our first and second courses; a gesture to the Sicilians never ending love of ices in the summer. Ices were favourites at The Leopard’s grand ball supper table where ‘pink ices, champagne ices and coffee ices’ featured.


Aperitivo, music and social change

That June evening our guests had arrived close to 8pm, entered the cool of the first floor of the house and were served Sicilian wines from the table in the centre of the small library by the waiter Fabio dressed simply in black and white and a Sicilian House deep grey apron.

With a selection of great tasting Sicilian wines from the wineries Sant’Anastasia, Feudo Arancio and Regaleali, plus others from across the island the wines were enjoyed as we listened to the emotive music of the local Polizzi group,  ‘Moffo and Le Libere Corde’.

Guests mingled, sitting on sofas and standing in doorways of interconnecting rooms.

Songs in Sicilian about current social change and loss; anti- mafia and African migration were sung and spoken with passion by the poet and writer Moffo Schimmenti and the young, very talented Laura Di Stefano. And, Marialena and Giuliana, on accompanying guitar, played beautifully.

And to understand the meaning of the songs, Palermitan Emilia Maggio, a gifted linguist and Gattopardo enthusiast, who had joined us for the evening to read excerpts from Tomasi’s masterpiece, translated into English.


Dancing under a green chandelier, dolci and Rosolio

The evening finished in the frescoed dining room on the first floor of the house under the glow of an over- sized chandelier and Sicilian liqueurs: Rosolio, Limoncello, Averna and Malvasia and sweet, sweet Sicilian dolci like those first made with perfection from 'ancient recipes' by the nuns in Sicilian convents were enjoyed.

The delicious Rosolio, mentioned in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's  book, and made in Santa Venerina on Sicily’s east coast, is infused with a perfumed, delicate taste of sweet pink rose petals. It was good with the Triumph of Gluttony.


A 'triumph of gluttony'

Created by Pasticceria Ferruzza, a sought after pastry shop in the next Madonie village, the Triumph of Gluttony was a domed round tower of very Sicilian ingredients including; sweet ricotta, pistacchio crème, a pastry base, chocolate and candied orange rind.

Along with the small almond biscotti, and the matchless cannoli the dessert table was a gesture to the laden supper table at the grand ball in Lampedusa’s classic.

As liqueurs were poured and slices of Triumph of Gluttony were served the stirring waltz music from Visconti’s film played. Guests danced under the chandelier.

It was near 1am when our guests departed in the cooler night air. The Scirocco had relented.






A note: Photos 5, 6, 9, 15,  17 & 18 by courtesy of Pure Food Wine and Cooking Tours

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