Authors: nytimes Diners Journal
I had planned to spend a week at the end of the summer on an island off the Sicilian coast. Sunny skies and blue waters were to be followed by a night or two in Palermo and a few days in the countryside visiting Fabrizia Lanza, director of the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school, where the main activity is picking and cooking vegetables from the garden for every meal.
Alas, my summer whizzed by, and the vacation became an impossible mission. To console myself, I began to cook.
With farmers’ market produce at its peak, I can approximate some remembered dishes from previous visits, and Fabrizia’s cookbook “Coming Home to Sicily” fills in the blanks by giving actual recipes to follow. There is an unusual pesto sauce from nearby Trapani, made with basil, coarsely chopped almonds and ripe tomato. There are a zesty eggplant caponata and savory baked eggplant involtini. Not so easy for a city cook to reproduce is a beautiful dish of artichokes roasted on glowing hot embers, but I am going to try.
The book is arranged by season, so the reader gets a sense of a working Sicilian farm kitchen throughout the year, beginning with the first shoots of wild fennel in the spring, and all the attendant seasonal projects and rituals.
Of course, there are fish dishes, and meat dishes, too, most imbued with the scent of herbs and garlic. But they have a definite southern sensibility, strikingly different from northern Italian cooking. I found myself drawn to a simple stovetop lamb stew called spezzatino di agnello, seasoned with only a pinch of saffron and a splash of wine, then showered with lots of chopped mint. Fabrizia cuts lamb shoulder into cubes to make this, but since my butcher had beautiful thick-cut shoulder chops, I decided to make mine with those.
Once assembled, this fragrant stew takes only about an hour to cook. It has a bright-flavored lightness that makes it ideal for these still rather balmy September evenings. I served it with plain boiled potatoes — nothing more was needed.
While I will remember the summer of 2013 as the one I didn’t spend in Sicily, the meals I’ve been cooking lately have had a distinctly Sicilian accent. This year, it seems the vacation is happening right in my own kitchen.