Words by Pat Eggleton

I began reading the loveSicily blog soon after arriving here but it was not until 2009 that I realised that the loveSicily Cookery School was right on my doorstep in Modica! I contacted Katia Amore and attended one of her Sicilian cookery courses myself. This week I interviewed Katia for Italy Magazine.

Katia, are you a trained chef?
No, I learnt to cook from my family, in particular my mother and grandmother. My grandmother lived with her two unmarried sisters: they looked after the house and she was in charge of the kitchen.

You’ve written movingly about finding your grandmother’s recipe books. What overall message did you derive from them?
My grandmother’s recipe books are a mixture of Sicilian recipes and recipes from other parts of Italy. This was unusual for the time, because my family were not rich people who travelled. In that period ordinary people usually cooked only Sicilian dishes and, of course, there were no TV chefs! But my grandmother bought some of the first cookery books that were published and she learnt about the cookery of other regions of Italy from relatives who had migrated to them. When they came back to Sicily on holiday, she would ask them what they cooked and how. With her cookery books, I also found some single pages from calendars and diaries written by nuns.

When did you start your cookery school?
In 2004. We had an agriturismo which we rented out and then we moved to a restored family house in Modica Bassa in 2008. We offer two or three cookery courses in spring and the same in autumn. We include hands-on cookery lessons, culinary tours and visits to food producers’ premises. We also offer tailor-made courses for groups who would like some cookery lessons to form part of their visit to Sicily.

Do you think traditional Sicilian cookery will survive or is it in danger?
I think it will survive but in a different way: Many of the recipes are ones that people definitely won’t want to give up eating but they are time-consuming to prepare. This is difficult for working people. I think that more Sicilian takeaways will open and people will buy traditional food from these, just as now they buy pastries from a pastry shop rather than preparing them at home as they used to.

What are the principles of Sicilian cuisine?
There are two traditions, the aristocratic “monsù” cookery and the cuisine of the people, which uses top quality, simple ingredients and simple recipes. “Monsù” cookery used complex recipes influenced by French cookery. The basic ingredients of Sicilian cookery are: extra-virgin olive oil; semolina flour; cheese; vegetables.

What are the typical dishes of Modica?
Ah, Modica is a world in itself in Sicilian cuisine: here you can find dishes that are not cooked even in the next town, such as 'mpanatigghi pastries, which contain beef and chocolate.

I want to ask you about Modican chocolate: What does its use add to a dish?
Well, when chocolate arrived in Modica in the eighteenth century it was considered a food, not a sweet. Therefore it was used in savoury dishes. We are losing this tradition but I am trying to preserve it. Chocolate enriches sweet and sour dishes which are characteristic of the whole of Sicily and gives you a thick, interesting sauce. Cocoa has preserving qualities , like salt, so it is possible that some recipes were created with chocolate as an ingredient in order to preserve the dish. Again, impannatighi are an example. People could take these pastries on a long coach journey and they would keep for twenty days.

Where do you find inspiration for the recipes you create yourself?
I’m always inspired if I find a new ingredient. Sometimes a producer will introduce me to an ingredient I hadn’t thought of using before. I also study the history of food and like looking at old recipes. I try to create something new from an old recipe.

And who are the lucky people who get to try your new recipes?
My family and friends. They have the local palate so they are tough judges! If they like something,
I know I have a winner.

Finally, do you have a favourite recipe for Italy Magazine readers?
We are in the Sicilian orange season so here is a recipe for the candied orange peel that Sicilians make at this time of year.

Katia, happy cooking and thank you for talking to Italy Magazine.