The Basics Of Sicilian Cuisine
Sicilian cooking is perhaps the most exotic among Italian cuisine, and the reason for this is due to the historical uniqueness of the diverse cultures that have resided in Sicily over the centuries. Because Sicily is a beautiful region abundant in resources, many have tried to conquer or colonize it. As a result, Sicily has been conquered by Greeks, Romans and the Arabs. Think of it as the Balkans of Italy. These cultures have merged to form the diverse Sicilian culture which exists today.
Sicilian cooking attributes its staggering diversity to a wide variety of factors. First, Sicily has an extremely varied climate. There are subtropical areas where all forms of succulent fruits thrive. Sicily is known to have every kind of citrus fruit. Its proximity to the volcano Mt. Etna also contributes to Sicily's abundance of the freshest vegetables because of the highly fertile soil which resulted from the lava spewed during the volcano's eruptions. Sicily is also an island so it is an area well known for their fresh fish, especially their tuna. As a result of this proliferation of natural resources, Sicilian cooking is abundant and fresh. Sicilians prepare their food simply. As much as possible, they don't want to overpower the taste and freshness of the ingredients, so they rarely slather their food with thick and complicated sauces.
Sicilian cooking is also very exotic because of the foreign influences. Each colonizer has brought with them new methods of cooking or planting crops. It is common knowledge though that the Arabs have influenced Sicilian cooking the most. Sicilian cooking almost always included eggplants, oranges and lemons, and this is clearly an Arab influence. They brought these crops into the region and took advantage of the fertile soil to grow these vegetables and fruits. Arabs are also attributed to the presence of lamb and goat meat in Sicilian cooking. Although fish is still the more commonly used ingredient in meals, lamb and goat meat are also used quite often in Sicilian food. Aside from this, Arabs have also contributed to the Sicilian's love for herbs, spices and dried fruits. These add the exotic flavors that characterize the richness of Sicilian cooking.
All these contributions have been great additions to Italian cooking in general, but the Arabs have introduced the sweetest recipe of all to Sicilian cuisine: desserts; from the sweetest cookies and cakes, and of course, the well-loved sherbet which developed into the Gelato ice cream. Most desserts were created using cheese from goat's milk. They were sweet confections that catered to the Sicilian's sweet tooth. Sherbet, or Sorbetto, was introduced by mixing ice and fruit syrup diluted in water. Everybody loved this cool dessert, and marveled at the diversity of Sicilian cooking. The sherbet developed into Gelato, or ice cream, which was a mixture of milk, flavored with chocolate, vanilla and ground nuts. Until now, ice cream is one of the most popular desserts in the world.
It seems that Sicilian cooking is a testament to the Italian's passion for food. Whether it's a simple meal, or an abundant dessert, it doesn't matter, because when it comes to Sicilian cooking, what matters is that you savor each bite.