Sicilian Cooking Class in Taormina

While dining at a restaurant in Taormina where my friend Tony is a waiter, I casually mention my itinerary over the next week, and that I want to take a Sicilian cooking class. I was in luck. Unbeknownst to me, the restaurant where he works, Red & White Hostaria, does just that. I was very impressed with the menu when I dined there as it’s organic, and their kitchen is visible from outside. While they have a good variety of items on the menu, they always have 3-4 dishes that are not on the menu based on what is fresh each day.

Take a Sicilian Cooking Class in Taormina

The owner, Gian Luca, is a social butterfly. He stops by each and every table, introduces himself, and says the restaurant only opened a year ago. He worked under the guidance of other chefs and restaurant owners over the past 10 years and this is his first endeavor. Actually, it started out as a wine bar; thus the name Red & White Hostaria. As a trained sommelier, he originally served a hefty menu of wines by the glass along with Sicilian sausages, cheeses, olives and other nibbles. Little by little, he was able to buy all the necessary equipment to open a full-blown kitchen.
Take a Cooking Class in Taormina
Prep area in the kitchen

While speaking to the table next to mine, he mentions he does cooking classes. The woman immediately pipes up saying, ‘Oh, I’d love to do a Sicilian cooking class.’ And I, not being shy to acknowledge I am eavesdropping say, ‘I would, too.’ So within five minutes we arrange a class in a few days time and I am happy I am getting some of my to-do list organized.

I arrive Tuesday at 9:30 and wait for the other couple to arrive. In the meantime, Gian Luca wanders off and comes back with a traditional Sicilian Brioche with chocolate granita – think gelato, because that is what it is. So we chow that down along with a cappuccino and wait even more. It is now 10:30 and the other couple still have not arrived. On one hand that is sad because Gian Luca spent time to arrange this, and on the other I have a private cooking class. Off to the market we go to buy our ingredients.

Granita al cioccolato
Yet more gelato before 10a!

Shopping at the Local Sicilian Market

The village market in Taormina is within walking distance, but the trip can take a long time. Not that it takes long to get there, but because Gian Luca talks to everyone! He knows everyone in town, so we have to stop and have a quick chit chat with folks.
You might want to read my other article about Taormina. This lovely little town can get overrun with tourists if you come in high season which can really affect the type of experience you will have. Read my article about Taormina. How to get there and when to visit.
The owner of Red & White Hostaria, Gian Luca – talks to everyone!!
We wander around the market sniffing fruit and basil, and analyze which eggplants to take. There are various cuts of meat to consider, and I learn how to tell which is the freshest fish. Then, we pick up some special flour for making the macaroni. Gian Luca’s puts only three ingredients in whatever sauce he makes. Otherwise the flavors compete.
Tomatoes Taormina market
Fresh tomatoes from the Taormina market – always in something on the menu

He creates the menu of the day with whatever is available at the market. Even he doesn’t know what he’ll make until he arrives. A fruit vendor hands me a juicy peach, which I gobble up, and the florist wraps up a rose for me to take with. It now appears everyone knows me, too! With five shopping bags we head back to the restaurant.

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Mind you, I ate breakfast at the hotel, the brioche with gelato, plus now a peach. I’m already full!

Getting Down to Business

At the restaurant, I meet Davide, the head chef, and Claudio, the sous. Actually, it is great the other couple didn’t show because the kitchen is quite small. When I arrive, I find a personalized apron with my name, the name of the restaurant, and a proper chef’s hat. I’m set to go.
In the kitchen at Red & White Hostaria
I have a personalised apron and hat! Real professional! 
I now need to mimic everything Davide does. So we start by pouring a cup of flour onto the prep area, add a bit of salt, create a hole in the center and pour about 1/4 cup of warm water along with a couple of twirls of olive oil. Then we start to fold it all together. I struggle with my mini version of Mt Etna and the water spreads all over the table like an eruption. Never mind. I get the hang of it. I get the pasta into a firm, not-dry, not-sticky ball, and cover it with plastic wrap. For now that is done.

Sicilian Cooking Preparations

Then we prepare the eggplant for the parmigiana, and whip up a traditional Sicilian sauce called ‘Norma,’ which is also the name of a famous Bellini opera. First up, I cut the eggplant – Head and tail off first then I skim the skin off but only around four times, like a square. I leave some of the purple skin on. For the Parmigiana, I cut 1/4″ slices and Claudio quickly puts these into a boiling bath of semolina and olive oils to soften up.
frying eggplant
Frying eggplant
Then I cut the eggplant for the Norma sauce into large cubes. These go into an already hot skillet of olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, and it sautés. Once soft, I add some fresh tomato sauce that Davide made earlier in the morning. Voila – Sauce is ready for the pasta. That’s what I love about Italian cooking – it doesn’t take long to prepare and the fresh ingredients make all the difference.
Sicilian Cooking Class
Cutting Eggplant into cubes

Preparing Eggplant Parmigiana

Eggplant, while not my favourite, is often used in Sicilian cooking. For the parmigiana, I start with a small foil container and put a bit of sauce on the bottom, then a few pieces of the now soft eggplant, then fresh mozzarella and parmigiano cheese. I repeat this until I get to the top and I finish off with only sauce and parmigiano. That’s ready for the oven. Easy peasy!
Eggplant Parmigiana
Eggplant Parmigiana ready for the oven
I go back to the ball of pasta. I put it back on the prep table and roll it out with my hands – like a long snake. Once that’s done, I cut the pasta into 1-inch pieces. And here comes the fun part. Using a metal rod from an umbrella, yes, umbrella, I place it across the center of the pasta cube and attempt to roll it around the metal rod. This makes the long macaroni and it’s easier said than done!
Rolling macaroni Cooking Class in Taormina
Davide shows me how to roll the macaroni

Rolling pasta takes finesse

I use one hand to roll it. And as Davide says chuckling, ‘Think of it like you are using the same pressure to touch a woman.’ I glance over at him, not being able to resist the sexual innuendo. I pick up my stick with the pasta and place it between my palms using a motion like I was furiously trying to warm my hands. I said, ‘Like this?’ He immediate bends over laughing. From that point, we are good and this kitchen experience is getting even funner. Until I got to the fish….
taking a cooking class in Taormina
Scaling the fish. Not an easy feat!

Preparing the fish

What I learn at the market is that the redder the gills, the fresher the fish. And they don’t clean themselves, so I don some plastic gloves and scale the fish with a old-style scraper. You go at an angle, not completely against the grain until you feel it’s smooth. So front and back done, I now need to cut him open and pull out his guts, the gills and scrap all the gunk near the spine. Not the easiest, but a great learning experience.
Best fish has rosy gills
Best fish has rosy gills
The fish goes into the baking pan with his top fin facing the top of the pan. I add slices of already cooked potatoes, Pachino tomatoes, green olives, red onion, basil and a couple cloves of garlic. I add a ladle of that fresh, tasty tomato sauce, a cup of white wine and two cups of water. Then I cover it in foil and put it into the oven for 20-30 minutes. Voila!
Fish Cooking Class in Taormina
Fish ready for baking

Time to enjoy the efforts of taking a cooking class in Taormina

My time in the kitchen is done and I can retire to a shady table outside in full view of what is going on in the kitchen. I start off with a Brut sparkling wine while waiting for the Parmigiana to bake. My little masterpiece arrives and it is really tasty. The eggplant has a texture of pasta when baked, and can have the same heavy feel after eating it. I need to pace myself so I don’t finish it all. Then another white wine arrives, an Anemos from Etna, that is paired with my Eggplant Parmigiana.
Contadi Castaldi Brut
Starting out with a Brut

If I ate maybe a quarter, I was doing well… Then another glass of wine came out to go with the Pasta Norma macaroni. A Grillo, which is typical Sicilian. Claudio cooks our sexy little macaronis and mixes it with the Norma sauce and tops it with scamorza and fresh basil – what an interesting mix of flavors.

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Macaroni with eggplant and scamorza cheese shavings Red & White Hostaria Taormina

taking a cooking class in Taormina
Mind you, I hadn’t even finished the Brut, so now I have three glasses of wine in front of me. I’m soooo full, but the fish was to die for. One of the waiters prepares it table-side, then adds the potatoe/tomato/olive mixture that is in the pan. It is simply divine. I wish I could have started with that, because it is really the highlight and I want to eat it all, but there is simply no more room.
Oven baked fish Cooking Class in Taormina
Oven baked fish
The Sicilian cooking class in Taormina at the Red & White Hosteria is a super experience and the staff are top notch. If you are in the area, stop by and speak to Gian Luca. It’s a super local Sicilian culinary experience that you’ll never forget. Red & White Hostaria is located at Via di Giovanni, 47. You won’t go away disappointed nor hungry!
And be sure to spend a few days in Catania while you are traveling through this part of Sicily. It’s definitely a must-see, and I’ve mapped out the best things to see and do while you are in Catania.


Life On The Mediterranean

US expat living the life on the Mediterranean in the South of France. I regularly travel to Spain, Italy, Greece and other super locations around the Med. Former Hyatt Corp Marketing Manager and hotel photoshoot art director.

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