Chef at cooking class Osteria Santa Domenica

Sicilian Cooking Class in Taormina

Chef at cooking class Osteria Santa Domenica

While dining at a restaurant in Taormina where my friend Tony is a waiter, I casually mention my interest in taking some Italian cooking classes. I was in luck. Unbeknownst to me, the restaurant where he works, Osteria Santa Domenica, offers a Sicilian cooking class. And as of June 2019, the restaurant has changed it’s name from Red & White Hostaria to Osteria Santa Domenica.

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Sicilian Food Staples

Sicily’s cuisine is often considered to come from, “God’s Kitchen.” It’s a very healthy cuisine based on fresh fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, artichokes, eggplant, beans, olive oils, onions, capers and more. These are often served along side the many fresh fish caught off the coastal waters, including tuna, swordfish, sea bream, sea bass, sardines and others.

Rice is also commonly used and I admit I love, “Arancini,” which are rice balls mixed with meat, peas, tomato sauce, and mozzarella, in any combination, that are breaded and then deep fried. Heavenly! Sicily is also know for their wide varieties of wines, and don’t get me started on the desserts! All I knew is I wanted to give it a try.

Sicilian Cooking Classes in Taormina

The owner, Gian Luca, is a social butterfly. He flitters by each table, introducing himself and his restaurant, which is open a bit over a year. He’s worked under numerous chefs in the past 10 years, and this is his first endeavour. Actually, the Red & White Hostaria started as a wine bar. Gian Luca is a trained sommelier, and the Hostaria originally offered a hefty menu of wines by the glass, Sicilian sausages, cheeses, olives and other nibbles. Little by little, he bought all the necessary equipment to open a full-blown kitchen. And now it’s the Osteria Santa Domenica!

Prep area in the kitchen

Prep area in the kitchen

Gian Luca was speaking to the adjacent table, when he mentions he offers Sicilian cooking classes. The patron at the table pipes up with, ‘Oh, I’d loooove to do a Sicilian cooking class.’ And I, not being shy to acknowledge I’m eavesdropping, say, ‘I would, too.’

I was very impressed with the menu as it’s organic, and you can see the kitchen from outside. While the  menu is quite substantial, they always have 3-4 specials of the day based on what is fresh. So, we arrange to meet in a few days time, and I am happy to get some of my ‘to-do’ list organized.

Osteria Santa Domenica Taormina Sicily Location

Osteria Santa Domenica Taormina Sicily

Map Data ©2019 Google

How we started the day

I arrive at 9:30 and wait for the other couple in the class. In the meantime, Gian Luca brings me a traditional Sicilian Brioche with chocolate granita – think gelato, because that’s what it is. We share some conversation over the Granita and cappuccino, and wait even more. By now it’s 10:30 and the other couple appears to have bailed. On one hand it is sad because Gian Luca spent time arranging this; on the other, I have a private cooking class. We decide to wait no longer and head to the local market in Taormina to buy ingredients.

Yet more gelato before 10a!

Yet more gelato before 10a!

Shopping at the Local Sicilian Market in Taormina

The village market in Taormina is close to the restaurant, but the trip takes a long time. Not that it takes long to get there, but because Gian Luca knows everyone! We have to stop and chit chat with everyone along the way.

Taormina is a lovely little town, very popular with tourists in high season. This means you’ll be waiting in lines, which can affect the type of experience you will have. Read my article about Things to do in Taormina Sicily to best plan your time there.

Eggplant in Taormina market

We wander the market sniffing fruit and basil, and ‘feeling-up’ eggplants. There are various cuts of meat to consider, and I learn how to pick the freshest fish. Then, we pick up some special flour for the macaroni. Gian Luca puts only three ingredients in whatever sauce he makes. Otherwise the flavors compete.

Sicilian tomatoes

Fresh tomatoes from the Taormina market – always in something on the menu

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

Prep in the Kitchen for the Sicilian Cooking Class

At the restaurant, I meet Davide, the head chef, and Claudio, the sous. Actually, it’s 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 ready to go.

kissing fish at cooking school in taormina

I now need to mimic Davide. 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 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 ‘Mt Etna’ and water spreads uncontrollably all over the table. 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. That’s done for now.

Preparing Sicilian Eggplant Parmigiana

We then 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. The head and tail come off first, then I skim the four sides making it square, leaving 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 for the Parmigiana

Frying Eggplant for the Parmigiana

Then I cut 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. Voila – Sauce is ready for the pasta. That’s what I love about Italian cooking – easy to prepare, and the fresh ingredients make all the difference.

Cutting Eggplant into cubes

Cutting Eggplant into cubes

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 soft eggplant, fresh mozzarella and parmigiano cheese. I repeat this until I get to the top, and finish it off with sauce and parmigiano. That’s ready for the oven. Easy peasy!
Eggplant Parmigiana ready for the oven

Eggplant Parmigiana ready for the oven

Preparing the Macaroni for Pasta Norma

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, I place it across the center of the pasta cube and attempt to roll it around the metal rod.
pasta rolling

Davide shows me how to roll the macaroni

Learning how to Roll Macaroni 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 laughing. 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….

Preparing the Baked 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 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 ready for the oven

Fish ready for the oven

Time to enjoy the efforts of taking a Sicilian cooking class

My time in the kitchen is done and I retire to a shady table outside in full view of what’s 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 flavourful. The eggplant has a texture of pasta when baked, and can have the same heavy feel after eating it. I need to pace myself as there’s more to come. Then another white wine arrives, an Anemos from Etna, that is paired with my Eggplant Parmigiana.

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 a typical Sicilian wine. Claudio cooks our sexy little macaronis and mixes it with the Norma sauce and tops it with scamorza cheese and fresh basil – what a delicious mix of flavors.

Pasta Norma

Pasta Norma

Grillo White Wine from Sicily
Mind you, I hadn’t finished the Brut, and now I have three glasses of wine in front of me. I’m soooo full, but the fish was to die for. The waiters prepares it table-side, then add the potatoe/tomato/olive mixture from the pan. Simply divine. I wish I could have started with that, because it was really the highlight and I want to eat it all, but there is simply no more room.
fish is baked

The fish is baked

A cooking class in Sicily well worth your time

The Sicilian cooking class in Taormina at the Osteria Santa Domenica 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. Osteria Santa Domenica is located at Via di Giovanni, 47. You won’t go away disappointed nor hungry!
But if you are looking for other tasty cooking classes in and around Taormina, there are a few. Check these out below.

And be sure to spend a few days in Catania while you seeing the highlights of north-east Sicily. It’s definitely a must-see, and I’ve mapped out the best things to see and do while you are in Catania.

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