Yesterday after an entire day of travel I arrived at Catania airport, and was picked up via a shuttle arranged by the school with several of the other students. We were driven through much of the Sicilian countryside, as it takes a few hours to reach the school which is located in Vallelunga. The estate is called Regaleali. It’s a tongue twist of a word, one of
many Italian words I am attempting to pronounce properly. When we arrived we were greeted by much of the staff who have been anxiously awaiting our arrival for several months now and then driven to our houses. I was shocked by the size of the property, the photos of Regaleali simply do not do it justice. The estate is expansive and stretches as far as the eye can see in every direction. Grapevines, gardens, and wheat fields cover the hills which right now are very green in winter. Grapevines during this time of year are bare however. Brassicas are in season, and citrus is abundant. Next we were introduced to our homes for the next few months.My house is settled next to Casa Grandi which is the main house, and when Fabrizia(one of my teachers, and the owner) was younger was her grandparents house and has since been converted to the estates winery. Her family has owned the estate for seven generations now.
After setting in, we were picked up by Salvatore our shuttle driver and his son Giuseppe who is five years old came along for the ride. Salvatore or “Salvo” has proved to be quite the character. He is full of life and playful. we have now had several car rides with Salvo, and each time he speaks to us in speedy Italian which for most of us is a guessing game since English is our primary language. These rides have also proved to be very bumpy considering the roads have been damaged over the years, and perhaps a little of that wild Italian driving has something to do with it as well.
When we arrived at Case Vecchie the kitchen was warm and inviting and we were greeted by a lovely family style table and a glass of the estates sparkling white wine. We enjoyed light appetizers of crostini with caper spread, and one with salsa pronta. Both of these items are made here on site and jarred to store for the rest of the year for use after the season is over. Salsa Pronta is what Sicilians use as a basic tomato sauce. It’s full of flavor and richness and has a lovely sweetness to it. Dinner started with a lentil soup with vegetables from the gardens including swiss chard and carrots. The main was a roasted chicken and potato stew, it was incredible. Simple but incredible, which is really a theme here in Sicily I am learning. The chickens are raised for eggs and for eating, better I don’t make friends with any of them for fear one would end up on my plate at some point. We enjoyed one of the house red wines called Tascante, with dinner. I was told many times not to be shy about having more wine, I knew I would love it here! A simple salad of fennel and lettuces from the gardens rounded out the savory end in typical Italian fashion being last. The vinaigrette had a distinct floral taste which I couldn’t place initially, but found out this morning came from the pink peppercorn trees after tasting one in our horticulture lesson. The finale was what is called “sfinge,” it’s a light pastry thats fried with a crisp outer shell and soft eggy center. This was topped with honey made from the bees here on the estate and candied citrus peel. The honey has quite a distinct taste, it’s produced by the black bees which I had never even heard of until recently when studying for this course. I’ll be meeting these elusive black bees soon enough. After dessert it was time to sleep off the jet lag and get ready for our first real day of the course. The first day here for me was unreal, I kept thinking in my head, “I’m here, I really made it.” I still don’t think the shock has worn off entirely yet. I am so thrilled and grateful.