The Food and Cuisine of Sicily (Sicilia)
Visitors have long known to expect delightful food when visiting Sicily. Sicilian cooking is strongly influenced by their Greek neighbors. The impact the Greeks left included flatbreads that would later develop into the well loved focaccia loaves. Sfincioni are thick focacce topped with tomato and cheese. Greeks also taught the Sicilians to use snow from the moutain tops for iced desserts flavored with local fruits and honey.
Other influences on the widely varied Sicilian cuisine came from the Arabs during the Middle ages. Arabs brought sugar and taught the Sicilians to make extravagant dessert dishes with it. Today, a popular fried dough called crispeddi is enjoyed sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, though a savory version may also be served with anchovy and wild fennel to flavor the pastry. They also began what would turn into a dynasty of pasta makers.
The Arabs also taught the Sicilians to fish for deep water fish such as tuna and swordfish and used these delicacies in cùscusu. It uses a variety of fish, prepared with herbs and tomatoes and served over a bed of hand rolled balls of semolina wheat called couscous. Other times, swordfish is cooked with pine nuts, raisins, olives, herbs and tomatoes. Grilled swordfish is also popular stuffed with cheese and vegetables.
Modern Sicilian cuisine is widely varied due to the many centuries of outside influences. Today, the diet is comprised of grains and vegetables, seafood, meats and dairy and plenty of fresh produce and olive oil.
As with most of Italy, Sicilian cuisine often offers pasta. Most of the pasta is made from semolina wheat and can take many forms. Zite al pomodoro e tonno is made from short pasta tubes and served with a fresh tomato and tuna sauce. The dumplings called gnocculli semolino gnocchi are topped with a creamy ricotta and meat sauce. The author of La Norma, an Italian opera, so fond of pasta con la Norma spaghetti that it was named after him. This luscious dish is topped by a tomato and eggplant sauce. The most famous food of all Sicilian recipes is pasta con le sarde, generally topped with sauce of fresh sardines and anchovies and sometimes seasoned with a selection of nuts, herbs, raisins and onions.
Other kinds of starchy food are sometimes eaten. Arancini di riso are fried balls of cooked rice with a filling made of chopped meat, tomatoes, cheese & peas. These tasty hand held snacks are called “little oranges” because the tomato colors the rice a light orange.
Sicily’s moderate climate and the rich volcanic soil grow flavorful, beautiful produce. Of course, the tomatoes are enjoyed in Sicilian cooking, as are eggplants and peppers. In melanzane alla siciliana, eggplant slices are deep fried, then topped with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce and baked. Carciofi ripieni is a dish of baked artichokes stuffed with cheese, sardines and sausages. Other vegetable dishes are served cold. Caponata, a luscious stew of eggplant, tomatoes, capers, olives and onions, is served as a salad or appetizer. Pepperonata stews bell peppers and tomatoes with onion and olives.
Sicilian recipes are famous for both their olive oil and capers. These ingredients complement the fresh sea foods that are featured in many Sicilian recipes.. Fresh tuna and swordfish are marinated and served stewed, roasted or grilled as steaks.
Sicilians enjoy meat in many forms. Pork, lamb and kid are the preferred meats, but rabbit, poultry and veal are also eaten. This is the region that lays claim to inventing meatballs, known as polpetti or polpettoni, but they are generally eaten without pasta. Polpetti are made from ground beef with grated cheese, beaten egg and breadcrumbs as a binder, then fried and served as a main course with tomato sauce. Large slices of beef or veal are pounded flat then stuffed with chopped ham and sausage, using eggs and grated pecorino as binder. These farsumagru are rolled up and braised in herb scented wine.
Blood oranges, known as arancia rossi di Sicilia, are prized around the world. This region’s citrus, stone fruits, figs and table grapes are also famous for their lush juicy sweetness and flavor. Many of these fruits are dried and used along with nuts in the desserts that Sicilian cooking is famous for. The elaborate cassata is a sponge cake that is layered with a maraschino flavored ricotta frosting and candied fruits and nuts. Orange peels are candied and cannoli flavors sweetened ricotta with the candied fruits, then stuffs the smooth mixture into fried pastry tubes. Other desserts highlight the creamy, fresh ricotta cheese made with local dairy. Fravioli di Carnevale is a deep fried ravioli that is filled with cinnamon kissed, sweetened ricotta cheese.
Nuts play a large part in Sicilian desserts as well. Almonds are ground and sweetened to make marzipan and pasta reale in Sicilian recipes. Locally grown pistachio nuts are often enjoyed in ice cream. Pignolata don’t contain nuts in the ingredients, but the name gives an affectionate nod to pine nuts because of the shape of the pastry. These fried balls of dough are placed in a pile and held together by liqueur flavored caramelized sugar and sometimes chocolate.
Monte Etna PDO, Monti Iblei PDO, Val di Mazara PDO, Valdemone PDO, Valle del Belice PDO, Valli Trapanesi PDO
Bottarga, Sea Salt
Pecorino Siciliano PDO, Ragusano PDO
Arancia Rossa di Sicilia PGI, Ficodindia dell’Etna PDO, Uva da Tavola di Canicatti PGI, Uva da Tavola di Mazzarrone PGI