I consider myself a fortunate person. I get to run one of America’s finest Italian restaurants, I have a loving family and many friends, I get to travel a lot and do a lot of research and I get to experience first-hand what some people only dream of.
This past March, I traveled to Sicily with a group of friends and visited everything from the salt flats of Marsala to a cooking class where I was able to refresh my knowledge of Sicilian cuisine.
I also visited a very good friend who produces what I feel is some of the finest olive oil in the world. I and 11 of my friends were the guest of Gabriella and Valeria Becchina at Olio Verde in Castelvetrano.
Olio Verde was founded by Gianfranco Becchina who was born and raised in Castelvetrano, a small agricultural city in southwestern Sicily in the province of Trapani near the extensive ruins of the ancient Greek colony of Selinunte.
He made a name for himself as a collector and international dealer of ancient art in Switzerland. In 1989, fueled by the idea of producing olive oil the way he knew it should and could taste, he launched Olio Verde.
Olio Verde is produced at Tenuta Pignatelli in the heart of the Valle del Belice where the Nocellara del Belice olive, native to that part of Sicily, is grown and enjoyed both as an excellent table olive and also pressed into a deep green and aromatic extra virgin olive oil with piquant qualities.
Gianfranco Becchina’s re-visitation of a traditional and local growing and pressing style has resulted in a truly “green oil,” an authentic extra virgin olive oil, made with rigorous production methods that ensure the freshest, highest quality above and beyond the common meaning and grade requisites of extra virgin.
Our adventure began early in the morning when we were taken on a tour to view some of the 4,000 olive oil trees on the ranch. I was quite surprised at how many lemon and orange trees they were also growing and even artichokes throughout the grounds.
We were then given a brief history of the Becchina family and taken into the small artisan factory where the olive oil is produced.
We tasted Olio Verde and then were given samples of other olive oils. Such a shame what some people consider olive oil. Yes, I have now become an olive oil
aficionado and an expert. I know the difference. Just one taste, anybody could really tell a difference.
Our group was then led into the family home and into the kitchen area where we were able to experience the traditional Sicilian cuisine by the Becchina family.
Everyone donned an apron and begin a quick lesson for the famous Pasta al Pesto Verde Della Casa. We mixed fresh parsley and basil along with garlic, pine nuts, almonds and sea salt and drizzled in the beautiful Olio Verde.
We finished with a little bit of Peccorino Romano cheese and some cherry tomatoes to make one of the simplest and finest tasting pesto I have ever experienced. I could not wait for the pasta to begin boiling but we still had to prepare the main course and
One of my favorite memories as a child was watching my mother and grandmother prepare Braciolini. The Becchina Family makes almost the exact recipe which
includes thin slices of lean beef that were pounded very thin and filled with a mixture of breadcrumbs, Romano cheese, hard boiled eggs, pine nuts, raisins, parsley and
garlic cloves along with some sea salt and olive oil.
We rolled the little rolls up very tightly and sautéed them in some olive oil and then added this to a pot of Sugo. Oh how I wanted to dip some Pane Nero into the pot of simmering sauce.
Next on our cooking class agenda was the famous Torta all’Olio d’Oliva e Limone. This is one cake I have been wanting to learn how to prepare.
A very simple olive oil cake prepared with lemon zest. I really enjoyed the idea of adding a whole orange to the mixture and the addition of chocolate bits. This was going to be one delicious cake, no doubt.
Cooking class ended and we were all escorted out to a large table on the veranda where we sampled olives from the ranch, fresh cheese, roasted peppers, along with vino locale and some crusty Pane Nero from a local bakery. Relaxing and sipping wine on olive oil ranch, it doesn’t get any better my friends.
The table was set for dinner and the first course of pasta was served. Unbelievable, absolutely delicious. I will admit to you right now, I did have a second helping while everybody else was waiting for the second course.
The Bracioline was served and believe me when I tell you, it tasted just like my mothers and grandmothers. I closed my eyes and memories of the past came before me. I did not want to even finish my dinner at this point. I just wanted to savor and enjoy it.
It was time for dessert and the olive oil cake was taken out of the oven and brought to the table. Wow, that’s all I can tell you. Wow! So delicious. The flavor of Olio Verde and orange was outstanding.
We finished with some homemade liqueur and made a toast to our host. We all agreed it may have been one of our best days in Sicily. I mean seriously, how does it get
any better than this?
Our group was taken to a small little artisan shop on the farm where we all purchased olive oil that we could bring back to the states.
We were escorted to our bus and said our goodbyes to the Becchina family. It was a long bus ride back to our hotel but one that will always be part of my memory. Life is good … La dolce vita!
Jasper’s Notes: Did you know can book on-site visits to Tenuta Pignatelli?
Whether you are just stopping by on your way across Sicily, or looking for activities for you and your family and friends, whether you are traveling with children, elderly people or pets or wish to stay in a centrally located gorgeous and homey place, the Becchinas offer all that and more, at their olive farm, Tenuta Pignatelli, which also houses the Olio Verde frantoio (oil mill).
For stays, visits of the olive factory, the farm, tastings, our Oil Tour, meals, cooking classes, please contactValeria Becchina
For information about touring experiences, also see the Visitors page on theOlio Verde blog
.Becchina’s Pasta al Pesto Verde Della Casa 4 cups basil 1 cup parsley 4 garlic cloves 3/4 cup pinenuts 1 cup almonds 1/2 cup Peccorino Romano 8 cherry tomatoes pinch sea salt 1 cup Olio Verde
Blend basil and pine nuts together with almonds and salt. Add parsley and continue to blend. Add tomatoes and cheese. Drizzle in olive oil until sauce becomes creamy. Add a few ice cubes to keep basil from blackening.
Cook your favorite pasta according to package directions. Strain pasta from water and add sauce. Toss and serve immediately.Torta all’Olio d’Oliva e Limone 3 cups flour 3 eggs 1-1/4 tsp baking powder 1-1/2 cup sugar 1/2 cup Olio Verde Olive Oil 1 cup milk 1 lemon zest 1/2 cup dark chocolate bits
Blend flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest and olive oil. Add eggs, and milk. Sprinkle in chocolate bits. Grease a 12 inch cake pan. Preheat oven to 320 degrees. Bake 45 minutes. Serve with powdered sugar once cake has cooled.
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.