As you’ve probably heard by now, we are going to be introducing Culinary Discovery Tours as part of the launch of Riviera. Before coming to Riviera to set up the new Bon Appétit Culinary Center, I spent my last few days onboard Marina in final “dress rehearsals” for the new tours. The tours were a big hit with the guests who were able to join me, and I can’t wait to implement them on the new Riviera. I thought I would share a few of our recent adventures in Sicily with you here on the blog.

I had been away from Marina for a bit for my daughter’s wedding, and it was lovely to come back onboard and see so many new and familiar faces in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. I joined Chef Noelle Barille for two cruises before heading off to prepare for the Riveria debut.

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During our recent visit to Sicily, Chef Noelle and I took a group of 24 students to Catania to visit the local fish and produce market in this enchanting city. Spring is always such an exciting time for chefs, and we immersed ourselves in the baskets of artichokes, fresh peas, bright white fennel and zucchini flowers.

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IMG_1036The main attraction of the market in Catania is the fish. As you enter this quaint market, you stand a few steps above the area where 20 or so fish merchants display the day’s freshest and finest catch. Our guests were huddled around us as we explained how to clean a cuttlefish, deep fry a whole sardine or crack the shell of a sea urchin. I’m always fascinated by the men and women who, amid the chaos and excitement of the onlookers and shoppers, manage to fabricate their fish flawlessly. Maybe having a cleaver the size of the fish helps!

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After an informative walk around the fish stalls, we moved on to the cheese and salumi merchants, where we purchased speck and coppa to taste in our class, as well as several varieties of the local sheep cheese, pecorino.

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We wandered through dozens of produce and specialty stalls. In today’s class we are making caponata so we were on the hunt for eggplant and brined capers, which we found (and enjoyed tremendously).  We also were making the local Sicilian favorite arancini alla Siciliana, so we gathered up some pecorino cheese spiced with pepperoncini and saffron, to stuff in our savory fried rice ball snacks.

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IMG_1063After collecting our items from the market, we took a short stroll to the Nonna Vincenza bakery for a demonstration and tasting of canoli. What fun we all had putting the delicious ricotta cheese mixture into the delicately fried tubes. Canoli are a specialty of Sicily, and this family has been baking canoli for generations.

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L1030960This delightful and friendly little shop also sells infused liquors, which we sampled, from sweet limoncello to spicy bay leaves to warm clove liquor. We took some samples back to Marina to try with our granitas (crushed ice with liquor poured over it – an elegant version of a snowcone!).

After stuffing our happy faces with canoli, we boarded our tour bus and headed up Mt. Etna for a stop at the quintessential family winery, Benanti. Since the 1800’s, the Benanti family has been producing wines on the slopes of Mt Etna. Etnean wines are unique given the proximity to the sea and the volcanic soil in which the vines grow.

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We were greeted by our gracious and knowledgeable host, who introduced us to a red and a white wine from the vineyard during a delicious wine and food tasting. Afterward, we were able to walk among the vineyards and enjoy the beautiful spring wildflowers growing everywhere along our path.

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We returned to the ship and, after a brief respite, gathered in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center for a class in Sicilian cuisine. The chefs and sous chefs had arranged many of the purchases from our morning at the market. Many exciting local purchases were made, so we had fun remembering what we bought, learning about the produce and specialties and preparing them in the Sicilian style of cooking.

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The menu was pistachio pasta, caponata, arancini, fresh artichokes, speck and coppa, cow and sheep cheese and savory local olives. Our fresh pasta dish used local pistachios, which when combined with olive oil and some fresh peas from the market, made the perfect “garden in a bowl” pasta dish.

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Altogether a spectacular spring day in Sicily. Great food, local dishes, friendly faces, new friends and elegant wine… What a great way to spend a spring day on Marina.