A visit to Sicily is surely on the wish list of anybody with a passion for good food. Lying at the tip of Italy’s boot, Sicily’s history is littered with invasions and occupations, which has created a cuisine that includes incredible flavours and influences from far and wide. Coupled with the unusual soil provided by the volcanic landscape of the island, there can be little doubt that the food of Sicily is some of the best in the world. Probably the strongest influence beyond that of Italy comes from North Africa, and many dishes that you’ll find here feature spices and ingredients more familiar to Moroccan palate’s: cinnamon, raisins, oranges. These are combined with the more traditional Italian staples such as chillies, garlic, lemons and capers. At heart Sicilian cooking is that of Cucina Povera, the food of the peasants. But don’t let that put you off, what this means is that the finest ingredients are treated with respect to bring out their amazing flavours. The only way to really understand what the food of this great island is all about is to visit, while the best way to experience the island would be by staying in an authentic villa in Sicily, perhaps overlooking the lemon groves or with Mount Etna in the distance, maybe with a swimming pool and an outside terrace to admire the views and to immerse yourself in one of the world’s finest food cultures.
Below you will find a list of the 10 secrets of Sicily’s cuisine:
01. Arancini: Beautiful deep fried rice balls, often filled with a vegetarian filling of peas and local cheese or a meat ragu. The perfect snack.
02. Pasta con le sarde: A simple pasta dish of bucatini (a type of hollow spaghetti) in a sauce made with sardines, fennel, pine nuts and raisins. A taste explosion. There is a version of this dish for when the peasants had even less to eat than usual and had to omit the main ingredient, referred to as pasta con le sarde a mare, translated as “pasta with the sardines at sea”!
03. Pasta alla Norma: a pasta dish of aubergines, tomatoes and ricotta, named for one of Puccini’s operas.
04. Sfincione: a pizza with a much thicker base than you will often see in Italy. A great street food.
05. Caponata: a glorious mixture of aubergine, tomatoes, pine nuts, raisins, capers and vinegar cooked slowly to create a deep rich vegetarian accompaniment that tastes good with virtually anything.
06. Frocia ai carciofi: a thick Sicilian omelette packed with vegetables such as artichoke, local cheese and breadcrumbs. Best eaten at room temperature.
07. Involtini alla Siciliana: these little rolls of swordfish packed with herbs, breadcrumbs, pine nuts and raisins are the perfect starter to any meal.
08. Panelle: a simple fried chickpea fritter, served in the streets of Palermo and crying out for a squeeze of lemon.
09. Cassata: a ricotta cheesecake. Sweet but not too sweet.
10. Cannoli: the classic Sicilian dessert of crisp pastry packed with sweet cream and sugar.
Have you ever tried Sicilian cuisine before?
I’d love to hear what you thought of it – let me know in the comments below!
*Written in collaboration with M.D.