The scenery on the way to Licata was uninspiring, fields of plastic greenhouses and a huge refinery outside Gela, which has to be the ugliest city in Sicily. But there was an archeological museum, a worthwhile detour. We strolled through rooms without any tourists and learned about Gela, an important Greek colony founded around 688 B.C. The museum ends with objects from the medieval ages. It's been downhill for Gela ever since then.
In Licata, Pino Cuttaia, chef-owner of La Madia, my favorite restaurant in Sicily, met us at his restaurant, which was closed. He'd been in Rome, cooking dinner along with the other Gambero Rosso guide "three fork" restaurants (their highest award) at the Citta del Gusto. He took us around town. The archeological museum, housed in a 16th century cloister, was closed, under restoration. Next time. Pino had heard about a collection of books that were being catalogued, made a few phone calls, and we went to the middle school De Pasquali (Pino reminisced about his school days there, asked what happened to the fig tree in the courtyard). The Fondo Antico della Biblioteca Luigi Vitali has almost 6,000 Latin and Italian manuscripts and books dating from the 15th century to 1830, once the property of local convents and monasteries. They'd been stored in black plastic garbage bags for years and had to be fumigated before any cataloging could begin. It's a slow process. We donned plastic gloves to examine some books--wormholes wound through the pages. "Were there any texts of gastronomic interest?" I asked. They'll let me know. Clearly my visit was considered important--it got written up in the local newspaper--same page as a piece about a fisherman catching a giant squid.
Page-turning made me hungry, in time for lunch at Pino's favorite trattoria, Donna Rosa. We were celebrating his third fork (and rumored second Michelin star) and were joined by his wife Loredana, their kids and surprise guests Arianna Occhipinti and her wine rep from Enna. Our lunch, of classic Sicilian dishes was perfectly prepared by chef-owner Giacomo Cicatello--sardines, swordfish and cuttlefish in many forms, linguine with local crab, all delicious. Pino brought torrone from Pasticceria Greco Polito Calogero for dessert-I saved mine for later.
We checked into the Hotel Al Faro, where my afternoon project was re-reading (and re-loving) "The Leopard", in preparation for our visit to nearby Palma di Montechiaro. And wishing I had a DVD of the movie by Visconti, which is also pretty fantastic. Author Giuseppe Tomasi was the Duke of Palma and fictionalized his feudal territory as Donnafugata. Tomasi's adopted heir Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi is the brother-in-law of a friend, and, as Duke of Palma, can get into the cloistered convent (not open to the public) whenever he wants. He made an appointment for us.
We had a few appetizers for dinner--not really hungry but wanted to see our friends from the Trattoria Logico, a few steps from the hotel.
We began the next day with a tour of Tomasi-related sites and were wild about the palace of Saint Duke Giulio Tomasi, the author's illustrious ancestor. Back at the Sicilian Baroque Chiesa Madre, a tiny abbess gave us a tour of the church--spectacular wooden ceilings and silver tabernacle, and its treasures-paintings, reliquaries, ex-votos, and a panel that slid back to reveal a painting of Madonna with child. We even got to check out the kitchen where the nuns were preparing their special almond cookies and marzipan fruit, sold through a double-grated window. I purchased a sampling and we headed for our next adventure.
Note: A "gattopardo" isn't a leopard; it's a serval, a leopard-like cat once native to Sicily. But I understand why they didn't call the book "The Serval".
Next stops on the Grand Tour: Bogus resort, super granita, real agriturismo, extra virgin pressing at my favorite frantoio, winery inn, fantastic fish restaurants, a fish market and the most moving statue I've ever seen.
Trattoria Donna Rosa: Via Accursio 46, Licata 92027
Pasticceria Greco Polito Calogero: Corso Umberto 85, Licata 92027
Trattoria Logico: Via Brigadiere D'Acquisto 5, Licata 92027
-December 2009 link to the article published in The Atlantic Magazine