The secret heart of Sicily hides in plain sight

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Fabio began restoring his grandfather’s abandoned fields in 2004 – hacking away blackberries, grafting native crops onto damaged tree stumps and re-roofing derelict buildings to create an oasis of regenerative agriculture Three Farm Island is today. After a tour of the estate, his partner Annarella serves visitors tasty farm-to-table lunches: platters of grilled radicchio and roasted zucchini flowers, peppers slow-cooked in garlic and breadcrumbs, cookies with wild rosemary and white pepper around the sweetness of an almond liqueur digestif to balance.

And with every dish there is an insight into the idiosyncratic culture of Sicily. There are no eggs in the pasta here, I was told over a plate of spaghetti with lemon zest and ricotta. Salsa Agrodolce, a vinegar-chili condiment drizzled over Annarella’s roasted eggplant, evokes Arabic-influenced tastes for savory, sweet-and-sour flavors, while you can thank Spanish settlers for the candied citrus peels that adorn Sicilians’ ricotta . filled dessert covered with marzipan, cassatina.

And what about wine? Well, few have done more to revitalize the reputation of native grapes than Arianna Occhipinti. Despite being one of the oldest wine-growing regions in the world (home to Julius Caesar’s favorite plonk, rumor has it), she caused quite a stir when she established her biodynamic vineyard in 2008, planting only native grapes. Many growers imported varieties from abroad; The homegrown stuff, she explained, was considered “raw and unrefined.” Today, that misconception is dispelled by their pure, mineral white wines such as SP68 – a blend of the legendary but obscure Albanello and Zibibbo – and the velvety red fruit Siccagno, made from 100 percent Nero d’Avola.

Like Corrado with his almonds or Fabio’s bitter oranges, Occhipinti is not only concerned with creating something delicious, but also with giving “a true expression of the terroir of my homeland”. This is exemplified in their Vino di Contrada, a trio of wines planting the same Frappato vines in different plots of land, with results ranging from silky and fruity to austere and peppery.

Baroque beauties

The architecture of the Val di Noto is as unique as its food and drink. Eight Unesco-listed cities are scattered across the landscape like pearls, the creamy Iblean stone of their palazzi and domed churches whipped into frothy carvings of prancing horses, gargoyles and cherubs as if made of gelato rather than stone. “This region was completely destroyed by the 1693 earthquake,” local guide Maltide Russo told me, “so our people started from scratch and rebuilt everything in the style of the time. That’s why this area looks different to the rest of Sicily, where you can still see this mix of classical and medieval buildings.”

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