The food of Italy’s southern island enjoys a fine reputation, and not without reason. Here is a guide to five classic Sicilian dishes.
Sicily’s cuisine bears many resemblances to its people: it is distinct in taste, and full of character and personality. It is also extremely varied and contains traces of numerous foreign cultures: a reflection of its eventful history over the past two millennia, during which its governance has changed hands more than once. The Greeks brought grapes and olives; the Romans introduced fava beans and certain types of pasta; the Arabs presented almonds, cinnamons and pistachio. It is a cultural melting pot.
The Sicilian geography is also favourable towards food. The intense Mediterranean sun leaves a strong flavour – making certain Sicilian dishes impossible to replicate in Italy. Along the coastlines, fishermen reel up one aquatic delicacy after the other. With such resources, food is kept local, and your order is likely to originate only a few miles away from your restaurant table. Alongside the seafood, the island has an unmistaken appetite for everything sweet, with its ice cream particularly renowned.
You may rarely find Arancinis on restaurant menus, but wander the streets or ask for some snacks in a bar, and you are likely to find them. They are croquettes inspired by Arabic influences: their inner core is formed of rice, while saffron covers the outside. Inside, the filling can be anything from cheese to prosciutto, meat sauce, peas or vegetables. After being prepared, they are cooked and deep-friend until crisp.
There is literally an ocean of seafood for Sicily to choose from, and among its favourite dishes is pesce spada – better known as swordfish. Due to their size, the pieces of fish are often sold as steaks; the same way they are commonly served in restaurants. (Typically with tomatoes or salsa, and garlic and olive oil.) However, swordfish is also served as stuffed rolls (Involtini di pesce spada), in pies (Impanata di pesce spada) and in tomato sauce (Pesce spada alla ghiotta).
This is a traditional vegetable stew. Like so many Sicilian dishes, it is based on aubergines. These are chopped up and fried, and supplemented by onions, olives and capers among other ingredients. Olive oil and sweet balsamic vinegar are added, creating a sweet-and-sour taste. The dish is a popular starter, but also works as a main course.
Pasta con le sarde
Being in Italy, there are, of course, numerous pasta dishes that are recommendable in Sicily. Among the most famous is Pasta con le sarde – which means ‘pasta with sardines’. It has an unmistakable Arab influence, with sultanas, nuts and saffron common ingredients. It is also the trademark dish of Palermo, the Sicilian capital.
Then for the desert. Alongside seafood, Sicily has a craving for everything sweet. Of this the most classic example is Cannoli: a tube of fried and crispy dough, filled with sweet ricotta cheese. The toppings often take the form of fruit, such as lemons and citron. Some chefs also decorate it with pistachios and chocolate chips.
Photos: Lorenzo_graph, Isantilli, marco mayer, Samot [all via Shutterstock.com].