Blog Guest Katia Amore from LoveSicily
We are very proud and happy to have Katia Amore from LoveSicily as blog guest today. She was born and grew up in Modica (southeastern Sicily), spending countless hours in the kitchen with her grandmother, mother and aunts. After living in the UK for ten years, she decided to move back to Sicily and open a cookery school. Many of the recipes she prepares at the are directly taken from notebooks Katia’s grandmother kept. Kudos for Katia! Here is her unfiltered interview.
1- You told me that you lived in England for ten years before moving back to Sicily? Can you share with us a little bit of your life then?
I lived in the UK for about 10 years. I first moved to there to study for an MA and then a PhD in Ethnic studies which led to my work as a researcher in the field of immigration and asylum. I loved my work and had a great time in England, which was also the place where I met my husband. My interest for food and my old dream of having a cooking school never left me though. While living there, I loved following the work of British chefs, like Rick Stein, who helped me discover great local producers and never missed a farmer’s market in my area. I used to quarrel with some British friends as, against all stereotypes, I argued with them about the great food you can have in the UK if you just care about it. They seemed to prefer my Italian dinners though. I was quite popular with friends and colleagues especially for my Sicilian dinners and never managed to travel light when I was coming back from Sicily, trying to satisfy their requests for Modica’s chocolate, almond biscuits, cheese, Sicilian wine, etc.
2- Why did you return to Sicily?
My husband and I decided to get married in Sicily, so we took a month off and moved there to organise our wedding. It was April of 2003, Sicily was in bloom, sunny, green, with a smell of wild flowers everywhere, we were hooked! As we went back, we kept thinking about a way to move there and achieve that great work-life balance we dreamt of. We wrote down a list of pros and cons regarding life in the UK and Sicily, the first one had various plusses regarding career and job opportunities, the second one won when it came to family and lifestyle.
3- How did the idea of LoveSicily start?
We thought we had to move and try to make it in Sicily, as we both wanted to avoid a life of “what if?”. We decided to make my dream come true and start a cooking school in Modica. The name popped immediately in my head, my surname “Amore” means “love” in English, so that was it, lovesicily.com was created. We wanted to restore my grandparents’ old house in the centre of Modica and use it as a cookery school and a holiday house. While we worked on the restoration project, I started running cookery holidays using other farm houses and hotels as our base, then in 2008 my school was finally ready and the whole dream came to life. I still work on some research projects during the winter months, but never looked back.
4- Can you tell us a little more about LoveSicily and your customized cookery vacations?
Our aim was that of creating a tour where learning about Sicilian food could be fun, inspiring and relaxing. This is how we designed our week-long cookery holidays which are available on set-dates or on a tailor-made basis for groups who propose their chosen dates.
The itinerary of the week includes visits to nearby towns, local producers and the seaside with relaxed, hands-on courses in the kitchen.
Enjoying Sicilian food and each other company in the kitchen, is the main aim of the lessons, which are open to people of all levels of cooking ability. In the class, I propose a combination of classic Sicilian recipes, my family’s specialties and some of my own creations based on research of classic or historical recipes and my love for local quality ingredients. The itinerary of the tour and the menu of the cooking lessons, vary according to the season. However, we never miss a visit to our favourite wine and extra virgin olive oil producers, the oldest chocolate factory in Modica and Ortigia’s market.
5- How do you see Sicily in the Italian tourist map?
Sicily is [on the map].
6- Your area at the Southeastern point of Sicily has seen an incredible surge in attention and foreign tourism, what do you think it is doing right?
Firstly it is doing little for tourists, which is a good thing from my point of view. What I mean is that people in this area are getting on with their lives regardless of tourism, which means that visitors can find an authentic atmosphere in our cities and towns and are welcomed like friends, thus avoiding what has happened to certain areas in the South of Spain which are currently being deserted by tourists as they do not feel like Spain any longer. Few weeks ago, an article on the Times claimed that “British tourists avoid Spain because it’s ‘no longer foreign enough’”. The combination of beautiful nature, Baroque architecture and great weather is doing most of the job.
Secondly, the late development in the tourism industry in the area, spared us the big characterless hotels on the beach that have ruined many coastal areas in the Mediterranean, leading to a much nicer network of charming B&Bs, holiday houses and hotels that visitors really love. They become part of the experience in Sicily rather than just a place for the night. Finally, food! Starting with the great quality of ingredients and extraordinary products, a rich culinary tradition and the wish to keep experimenting with food. The area also offer amazing Michelin starred restaurants and a variety of fantastic trattorie, osterie, rosticcerie, dolcerie and pasticcerie.
7- How do you think your activity has contributed in improving the image of the island abroad?
I hope it has done so in two different ways, through our website, especially my blog, and thanks to the experience we offer to our clients who can than go back home and talk to their friends about “the Sicily” they discovered. In both activities, we are very much directed by passion and instinct, promoting only what gets our enthusiasm going. We wanted to avoid representing a stereotypical version of the island both in the blog and in the culinary tours, so our efforts are always going in the direction of promoting Sicily’s history and traditions as well as contemporary development and innovation in various fields, as I always say let us not forget to talk about “history and tradition in the making”. This is also true of my cooking classes.
8- What else do you think needs to be done to promote tourism to the island?
I think that the first priority should be simply that of improving roads, keeping cities and the countryside clean and promote those events which are already popular, like the Greek Plays in Siracusa or religious Easter traditions, to make them even more of a stable fixture in the yearly calendar of activity of the Island. This said, there should be much more interaction between people in Sicily and the many “Sicilies” abroad. I think that many communities of Sicilian immigrants or people of Sicilian descent abroad are already doing a great job to promote the island, but certainly a more coordinated approach and a stronger collaboration with those who are in Sicily could really be crucial. The island does the rest, as it offers great material, nature, art, tradition, music, handicraft, food, fashion………..so much to work with.
9- What is your favorite Sicilian recipe?
This question is too difficult for me. How can I choose one? At least two: a meat based one and a fish one. A typical winter dish that I love is “ravioli co sugu”, which are ravioli stuffed with our local cow ricotta and marjory leaves, then served with a sauce (“sugu”) prepared in a terracotta pot using various cuts of pork meat (including fat cuts and sausage) and “strattu” (a special thick home-made tomato paste dried in the sun during summer). One of my favourite summer recipes is “Tunnina Ca Cipuddata”, Tuna with Onions. It is prepared with fresh ventresca di tonno (the belly of the tuna) which is cooked in extra virgin olive oil with onion until it becomes crispy golden on both sides, completely against the modern fashion of eating mainly rare tuna fillet.
10- Anything else you would like to add?
Pasta alla Norma, Polipo al Nero d’Avola, Pollo al cioccolato, Caponata, Cunigghiu a stimpirata, Cucciddatu, Cassate, Mpanatigghi, Cannoli, Granita di caffè, Pasta ‘ncaciata, Timballo di Ziti, …………..and many other favourite recipes;)!
For more information about Katia Amore and her cookery school, visit LoveSicily.com