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Sicilian Potato Salad and Cooking With The Duchess in Palermo

  • May 17, 2023

On my recent trip to Sicily, I had the good fortune to cook with literary nobility. Let me explain. The above recipe from the cooking session appears at the end, so if you’re here just for the food, skip to the bottom of this post. But then you’d miss learning about a slice of Sicilian history.

One of my all-time favorite books is “The Leopard” by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. I first read it in Italian (“Il Gatttopardo”) more than 30 years ago, and have read it in English twice since. It’s a masterpiece of literature and considered one of the 100 greatest books ever written, chronicling the decline of Sicily’s aristocracy, and the rise of the middle class during the unification of Italy in 1861, known as “Risorgimento.” Initially rejected by publishers, it was published in 1958, a year after the author’s death, and went on to become an international success, selling more than 3 million copies, in more than 30 languages. The book was also adapted into an opulent (and excellent) movie in 1963, starring Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale.

Tomasi di Lampedusa, who was himself a prince, modeled the main character (Don Fabrizio, Prince of Salina) after his great grandather, Don Giulio Fabrizio Tomasi, another prince of Lampedusa.

The book’s main character was modeled after the author’s great grandfather, who was an amateur star-gazer, as is the protagonist in the book.

In the book, the prince dotes on his nephew and “adopted” son, Tancredi, while in real life, the author, who had no heirs, really did adopt his distant cousin, Gioacchino (Giò) Lanza Tamasi, who was already part of a different Italian aristocratic family.

Sadly, as I was writing this blog post, I learned that Giò died last week in his Palermo home – Palazzo Lanza Tamasi on via Butera, the palace that was once home to Lampedusa after his original home on via Lampedusa was bombed during World War II.

Palazzo Lanza Tamasi

A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting next to Giò during a luncheon in the 17th century palazzo, following a wonderful day of shopping and cooking with his wife Nicoletta, the duchess. Although duke and duchess, they were extremely down-to-earth and use their first names in introductions.

It almost seems trivial to write about our deliciously fun day of cooking last month after learning of Giò’s death this week, but the classes are vital in maintaining the palazzo, since upkeep on Palermo palaces doesn’t come cheap. There are a number of apartments in the palace that Nicoletta rents out to visitors also. If you’re planning a trip to Palermo, do yourself a favor and check out her website: Butera 28.

We began the day with a short trip to one of the city’s markets — Capo — to buy provisions for the lunch, then Nicoletta directed us in the preparation for the various courses. The menu was printed for everyone, headlined by the family crest:

We strolled through their ample patio overlooking the sea, to harvest herbs and lemons for the meal:

 We all took a hand in chopping, squeezing, peeling, stirring or whatever needed to be done — from the youngest —

to the oldest (my husband and I, without a doubt)

Through it all, the energetic Nicoletta directed us with humor but also the conviction of a drill sergeant — “No, that’s still not chopped finely enough….” or “You missed some of the flesh, keep scraping the eggplant….”

She cooked right alongside us, with a knowledgeable and sure hand in whatever task was needed. The kitchen was equipped with a fabulous batterie du cuisine:

And plentiful local ingredients, including capers from Pantelleria, which were used in the recipe at the end of this post.

When our preparations were complete, we sat down to a multi-course lunch in a gorgeous dining room overlooking the sea.

During lunch, it was a privilege to sit next to Giò. He was an accomplished music critic, author, professor, director of several theater and opera companies during his lifetime, and one-time director of the Italian Cultural Center in New York, just to name a few of his numerous achievements. He was keeper of the flame for his adopted uncle’s literary heritage, and with his death, it also feels like the last living legend of “Il Gattopardo” has also gone.

Nicoletta gave us a tour of the palazzo after lunch, starting with the vast library:

There were several sitting rooms, including this one with yellow upholstered furniture, precious tapestries, art work, and Venetian chandeliers.

Another room in the palace:

With a photograph of Giò and Nicoletta earlier in their 40-year marriage:

In addition to paintings with historic, religious or mythical subjects, family ancestors were also captured for posterity:

Including a couple of sketches of family members by Picasso:

But for me, the highlight of the tour through the palace was seeing the original manuscript of “Il Gattopardo” written in Lampedusa’s own handwriting.

It’s sad to think he didn’t live long enough to see the success and popularity of his masterpiece.

Here is a photo of the author with more of his handwritten manuscript:

The members of the cooking class had come from the U.S., France and Germany and were a happy, easy-going group of travelers.

While there were several courses, I’m posting the recipe for just one here — a potato salad that would be perfect for that picnic you might be thinking about now that the weather has warmed. I came back from Sicily armed with the salted capers from Pantelleria that Nicoletta uses in this recipe. I also brought back sea salt from nearby Trapani, where salt has been harvested for decades. If you aren’t planning a trip to Sicily, you can buy both online from The photo below is the dish we prepared that day, using the famed red onions from Tropea, impossible to find in the U.S. In the absence of those, supermarket red onions will stand in just fine.

We were too late to rent an apartment at Palazzo Lanza Tamasi. However, we rented a modern apartment in Lampedusa’s original palazzo that was bombed on Via Lampedusa, very centrally located in a quiet street.

The entrance includes a wall with writings from Lampedusa:

There are several apartments for rent. If you’re interested, send me an email and I will send you the rental info:

Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).

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Sicilian Potato Salad
  • 2 pounds (1kg) of potatoes
  • 1 pound (1⁄2 kg) of tomatoes, optional
  • 1⁄4 cup of salt preserved capers
  • 1 tablespoon of dried oregano
  • 1 medium red onion
  • Good red wine vinegar
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Small new potatoes and Roma or San Marzano tomatoes would be ideal for this recipe.
  1. Steam the potatoes until done, peel and cut them in large chunks.
  2. Put them in a bowl, let them cool.
  3. If using, cut also the tomatoes in bite-size pieces, seed them and add them to the potatoes.
  4. Thoroughly but delicately rinse the capers and gently pat them dry.
  5. Thinly sliced the onion in rings.
  6. Add the capers and the onion rings to the bowl.
  7. Sprinkle the oregano and the pepper.
  8. In a little jug, mix the oil and the vinegar (1/3 of vinegar and ⅔ of oil).
  9. Dress the salad with this mixture just before serving, otherwise the potatoes absorb all the oil and become soggy.
  10. Serves 6-8.




Marea and Lincoln Center Restaurants

  • October 21, 2013

It’s that time of year in New York when restaurants around Lincoln Center fill with people patronizing the arts – from opera to ballet and other cultural events. The “hip” restaurants may be below 14th street,  (according to some) but that doesn’t mean the Upper West Side around Lincoln Center is barren of good restaurants either. Marea is a perfect example. The name means “tide” in Italian, and that’s a clue that it’s a seafood restaurant – a very good seafood restaurant – and one of my favorites in Manhattan, along with Esca and Le Bernardin. The menu does post an offering or two for meat lovers, but the star is the seafood, guided by Chef Michael White.

White is executive chef and co-owner of the Altamarea Group, a collection of restaurants that includes Osteria Morini in New York’s Soho neighborhood and another one of the same name in Bernardsville, New Jersey. White’s reach extends further into New Jersey with Due Mari in New Brunswick and as far away as Hong Kong with his restaurant Al Molo.
Marea, which is located on Central Park South, is at the former site of San Domenico. White, in fact, cut his culinary teeth at the original San Domenico in Imola, Italy, in the Emilia Romagna region.
Dinner at Marea does not come cheap, but it’s worth a splurge every once in a while when the food is this good.
We sat down and were immediately presented with an amuse bouche to take the edge off our appetites:
bits of smoked salmon atop herbed rice crackers smeared with crème fraiche and a radish slice.
Crudo (raw seafood), served in a variety of ways, features prominently as a starter, as do a selection of oysters and caviar. But we skipped ahead to the antipasti, including these:
grilled octopus with smoked potatoes, pickled red onions, radish and chilies.
warm mediterranean red prawn, porcini, sunchoke, prawn sugo:
slow poached egg, cuttlefish, pine nuts, with a smoky swath of olive paste swished across the plate.
We moved on to the pasta, which is a specialty here – all homemade,  of course. They were all toothsome to the bite – and delicious. Here are a couple of examples, and I’m sorry to say I forgot some of the ingredients in this dish, but it was packed with flavor – linguini with lobster and cabbage (yes, cabbage – who’d have thunk?) and a crunchy topping:
Tagliolini with manila clams, calamari and peperoncini:
Main courses were equally well prepared and inventive: scallops with potato puree, fried chickpea, brussel sprouts, golden raisins and pickled mustard
a moist and thick piece of halibut in a broth with clams, peppers and celery.
The first time I ate here we ordered dessert. I can’t tell you the specifics but there was chocolate and coffee and ice cream too and it was divine. See for yourself. The presentation also was beautiful.
But even if you skip dessert, they’ll bring some mignardises to the table to satiate your sweet tooth. In this case, it was biscotti and small cream puffs flecked with gold leaf.
On another occasion, it was these little bites:
There are plenty of other restaurants besides Marea in the Lincoln Center area, too. Here are a few where I’ve eaten over the years.

Cafe Fiorello – On Broadway, right across the street from Lincoln Center and my old standby. I love everything on the menu, except the pizzas, which are huge flatbreads that could serve two people. They seem very popular, but I’m partial to Neapolitan style pizza. If you find a spot at the bar, you can make your dinner from the vast antipasti on display and can scoot in and out in a half hour. Warning: very noisy when full.
La Boite En Bois – charming French restaurant on 68th St. near Columbus Ave. Always delicious, with pre-theatre pre-fixe at very reasonable prices and not usually noisy either.
Boulud Sud – Also across the street from Lincoln Center on Broadway – near Fiorello. Pricey, but delicious and elegant food. Right in front of the restaurant is Bar Boulud, a less expensive bistro and wine bar.
Lincoln – Fine dining with contemporary Italian food – and quiet – in a location that couldn’t be more convenient – right on the Lincoln Center campus. pricey.

Picholine – The food is delicious, the decor is lovely but the service was a little too “precious” the night we were there, with waiters hovering over us so closely we felt conspicuous. Not the feeling you want when you’re paying a lot of money for dinner.

The Leopard – At the former site of “Cafe Des Artistes” – 1 West 67th St.) and even better than the old restaurant. Wonderful Italian food in a beautiful setting (they kept the old murals thankfully). Also pricey.
  • P.J.Clarke’s – Low cost alternative with great burgers. West 63rd – just a hop and skip from L.C.
So tell me, what are some of your favorite spots that I missed here in the Lincoln Center area? Let us know in the comment section of the blog.