An insight into Sicilian Cuisine
Sicily: if you still tend to connect this island with the many old mafia movies produced, you will forget all about this hard to get rid of reputation, once you savor the foods this island has to offer. Having been raised in Sicily for a good part of my childhood, I must say that there are not many countries that may equal the uniqueness of this island's cuisine.
With mild winter seasons and plenty of sunshine throughout the year, Sicily is a prime producer of citrus fruits. You may find fields and fields of orange trees throughout the island and the fruits colorfully displayed at many open air markets. The smell of orange blossoms (called "zagara") is overwhelming once bloomed and a special strong perfume is produced.
When it comes to cuisine, Sicily has had a variety of influences due to its invasions of Greeks Romans, Normans, Angevins, Hapsburgs and Bourbons. However, the most relevant of all appears to be the Arab culture. Such influence in visible in particular in Sicilian Desserts. Because of the warm climate often causing desserts to spoil and because the Arabs imported the sugar cane from North Africa, sugar was heavily used in the island.
The Arabs also taught the islanders how to effectively irrigate the arid soils and effectively farm. They introduced different fruits and vegetables such as eggplant, raisins and lemons. Cous-cous, rice and several spices such as saffron, nutmeg clove and pine nuts followed. There is also belief that the Arabs also invented and introduced pasta.
The Sicilian cuisine is light, simple but extremely tasty. Extra virgin olive oil is used while butter is rarely used.
Should you visit Sicily one day, you may not want to miss the following foods and dishes:
Should you visit an open market, do not miss out Sicilian olives. Fact is, if you love olives you will love the variety Sicily offers. You may find them prepared in different ways. The best is to try them all.
Remember how the Arabs introduced eggplants? Well, caponata is a special salad made with eggplants, olives, capers and celery in a thick and tangy, sweet and sour sauce.
These are sold in some specialty stores or outdoor kiosks. They consist of fritters made from chick pea flour. They are typically served as fillings for sandwiches.
Arancine which translated mean "small oranges" are rice balls made of rice, peas, and stuffed with ground meat. There is also a variant, where the rice balls are stuffed with butter and chunks of ham. These may be found as well in some outdoor kiosks or in some bars.
Imagine fried mashed potatoes made with cheese, parsley and eggs. They are then made into finger sized shapes, dipped in egg and bread crumbs and fried.
Because Sicily is an island, it offers a lot of treasures from the sea. Do not miss large tuna steaks freshly caught from the sea and served in restaurants with mint leaves and almonds.
You may see a large swordfish displayed in almost every store selling fish. The meat is red and once sliced it resembles a steak. This is very tasty cut of fish that is often served grilled.
A dessert perfectly depicting the use of sugar to prevent spoilage, is the Sicilian Cassata. A Cassata consists of a sponge cake covered with marzipan enclosing a ricotta cream. The thick layers of green marzipan are decorated with candied fruits and icing and their purpose is mainly to protect the delicate ricotta filling from the sun rays.
These delicacies are even notorious abroad lately. They consist of tube like crusts filled with ricotta mixed with chocolate chips and candied orange peel and cherries.
-Frutta di Martorana
These are artistic pieces of art that you may be reluctant to eat. Frutta di Martorana consists of almond paste shaped like fruits. They are colorfully displayed in many pastry shops.
Sicily has to offer one of the most creamiest ice creams ever. There are various flaovrs to appreciate: pistachio, hazelnut, cream, chocolate, cassata, cherry, and much, much more. You may get ice cream in a cone, cup or in sandwich called 'brioshe".
Foods not for the Faint of Heart
In some cases, you may see in some areas some outdoor vendors grilling meat. The smell of such meat may be simply mouth watering. The products sold though may not be much appetible to foreign visitors. "Stigghiole" are the intestines of lamb, smoked over the grill. They are typically washed in water and salt, grilled with parsley and served with salt and lemon.
-Pan Ca' Meusa
This is a sandwich composed of bread and 'meusa' which basically consists of the fried spleen of a cow. In some cases, the sandwich also encloses a slice of fragrant Sicilian lemon and some local cheese. Obviously such food is not recommended for those with high cholesterol or heart conditions.
It is not uncommon to find vendors selling slices from the body of a pig. Typically, the pig is roasted and then the pig is displayed in a store and sliced in front of the customer. The slices may distress those faint of heart, but in reality they are quite tasty when served with bread and a mix of oil and lemon.
If you are not into stinky cheeses, stay away from caciocavallo. I have known some of my relatives that have exported some chunks from Italy back to the States and their whole clothes were smelling bad for weeks. This is a very salty cheese, with a very robust flavor not many foreigners may be able to appreciate.
As seen when it comes to culinary travel, Sicily has a lot to offer. Do not miss seeing the many touristic attractions and savoring the best foods this island has to offer. Make sure you visit Sicily on your next Italian tour, as Goete put it" To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily, is not to have seen Italy at all."