Cooking with the Duchess in Palermo

Duchess Nicoletta Polo Lanza held a group of cooking enthusiasts, aged 15 to 75, spellbound in the kitchen of the historic palazzo where Giuseppe Lanza di Tomasi wrote, The Leopard, one of Italy’s most important novels. (Read post: Living Legends of the Leopard) Her enthusiasm for food and cooking was matched by a remarkable capacity to organize the group. With the quiet calm of an orchestra conductor, she kept a dozen people chopping, stirring, mixing and assembling five different dishes.

In the photo above, she showing us the exact procedure to use for peeling off the lemon zest that would later be placed on the bottom layer of the Roasted Bell Pepper, Caper and Black Olive Salad.
salad layer peppers

Before starting in the kitchen, we met at 8:30 am to shop in one of the old Palermo markets. Nicoletta explained that she has long cultivated exclusive relationships with her vendors beginning with the fruit and vegetables…
fruit at market
Then, the seller of spices and condiments like these capers from the island of Pantelleria…
And, of course, the fish monger, who had saved the last tuna of the season for Nicoletta.
market tuna
Back at the palazzo, we stopped on a lower level to help Nicoletta pick fresh herbs from the garden.
Duchess picking herbsThen, we all went up to Nicoletta’s immaculately organized kitchen.
copper pots

She magically organized all the ingredients we had bought while we had a quick espresso. Then, the real work began. Here she instructed the group on how to make a pesto sauce with pistachios for the pasta dish.
Pesto Video

Then, explained how to sear the tuna and make it flavorful without overcooking it.
at stove
She showed the group how to assemble the traditional almond and pistachio cake…
pouring out of pot
With the nuts that had been carefully peeled and prepared.
almond cake making
And explained the derivation of the name “Monsù” of the family olive oil.
Oil Video

Just before lunch, she asked me to open the wine.
me opening wine
Then, we sat down to enjoy the meal at this perfectly set table.
dining rm table set

After lunch with Gioacchino and Nicoletta, we toured the formal rooms, this one complete with nineteenth century clothing displays.
Lvg rm w:costumes

Their neo-classical villa in Via Butera, 28, is built into the ramparts of the old city of Palermo.
windows neo classic

It overlooks the port and the sea, hardly giving a hint of the chaotic rhythms of the city below.view from dr

The place seemed suspended outside of space and time with large rooms filled with elegant antiques and books…
better sitting room
lush gardens …
garden bench
and quiet, sunny patios.

It was fascinating to learn more about the history of the palazzo and the story of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. (Read more: Living Legends of the Leopard) One of the highlights was seeing the original manuscript written in the palazzo.
manuscript clear

To find out more about Nicoletta’s cooking classes or to stay in one of the apartments in the Villa Butera, 28, write Eleanor at

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