A GoSicily cooking class offers new skills, appreciation for simple eating
For the last 10 years, Annalisa Pompeo has been pursuing her dream. She is the founder of GoSicily, a company offlering cooking classes and food tours in Favara, Sicily. After a successful career as an accountant, she decided to quit the number-crunching and follow her passion for local cuisine and culture. She also wanted to be a role model for the younger generation. “One of the reasons I started GoSicily was to inspire my children.” It was important that her daughter (Chiara) and son (Marco) learn from her e·orts. “I wanted to show them that if you work hard every day, you can achieve your goals.” Her cooking classes follow her grandmother’s recipes. She’s strict about keeping everything farm-to-table and respecting the seasons. “That way we can get the best out of our ingredients. Today we have access to anything at any time, which results in tasteless and unnatural food,” she notes. Pompeo’s classes cover various themes including: street food, menus inspired by famous writers like Pirandello, Christmas cookies, pasta, vegetarian and vegan menus. Her aim in the kitchen is to be smart and have fun. “I teach my students to enjoy cooking and not be kitchen slaves. We learn how to keep tools clean,” she explains.
Part of the experience includes visits to artisanal producers of olive oil, flour and cheese. They also frequent the farmers’ market at Piazza Cavour in Favara. “This is way they understand the entire production cycle.” Her goal is to showcase a healthy and organic lifestyle and teach students to enjoy themselves while making delectable dishes. In her vintage, post-modern kitchen, she displays all the ingredients on a central island to recreate the atmosphere of her grandmother’s kitchen. “When you come into my kitchen you’ll see my yellow cabinets, my couch and my chairs that came straight from my maternal Nonna Mela.”
The kitchen accommodates 15, and each class includes three dishes made from scratch. “Everyone is involved in the creation process.” There’s fresh pasta with sauce, a secondo which could be meat, fish or vegetables, and a dolce, or sweet dessert. One of her typical dishes is pasta alla Norma, a marinara sauce, fried eggplant, ricotta salata and fresh basil. Another is sarde a beccafico, stuffled fresh sardines with pine nuts, raisins, breadcrumbs, orange and lemon zest and juice, and extra virgin olive oil. The dolce is often a torrone de mandorla, or almond nougat. Depending on the season, her menu could also include: cavatelli with zucchini, mint, and almond pesto, falsomagro involtino, meat stuffled with hard-boiled eggs, mortadella, cheese, breadcrumbs, and parsley, cooked in tomato sauce with potatoes. “My Sicilian
version of tiramisù, I call ‘ricotta-mi-su.’ It’s made with ricotta cream from sheep’s milk and digestive cookies.” Pairing the ¢nished dishes with wine is an important aspect of her classes. “I am studying to become a sommelier. My region is rich in wineries and grapes. We are known for the Nero d’Avola, a black grape, and Grillo, a white grape.”
Are the techniques and recipes easy to recreate once her students return home? “When I design a menu, I want them to be able to make it in their home country. At the same time, I like to introduce them to something unique from Sicily. For instance, sheep’s milk ricotta may only be available here, but I suggest they replace it with cow milk ricotta. It will not taste the same, but they can say they had the best in Sicily.” Some of the most common feedback she receives is about the simplicity of her recipes. “They’ll say, ‘How is it possible that we made such delicious pasta dishes with just some semolina flour and tomato sauce?’ Unfortunately, many people have lost the real
flavour of food.” Her answer is to use ripe, in-season tomatoes when they are sweet and to avoid overdressing the food. “Simply put, I tell them less is more.”
Pompeo believes she is offering the best souvenir anyone could take home from Sicily. “They return with newly acquired skills in the kitchen.” That’s a gift most loved ones can appreciate.