If the current BBC TV series ‘Sicily Unpacked’ is anything to go by then our fascination with the beauty of Sicilian food and culture continues to grow. The show features Giorgio Locatelli, widely considered to be one of the best Italian chefs working in the UK, inspiring his travel companion, Andrew Graham-Dixon with some of the best food that Sicily has to offer. Locatelli’s passion for Sicilian food is clear:
“I love Sicilian food because it’s very different from food in other Italian regions because of its insularity and the dominations over the territory: North African flavours blend together with tastes belonging to a plethora of different cultures combined with fresh ingredients. Sicily has not yet been touched by food globalisation – it survives on its own produce and is an example of man turning all the land’s flavours to his favour.”
One of the most crucial aspects of Sicilian cuisine is the quality and freshness of its ingredients, their food is simple yet delicious and packed with flavour. Sicily follows the seasons very closely making it virtually impossible to find non-seasonal produce available in the markets. The vast majority of ingredients are produced in Sicily itself and are wonderfully fresh, fragrant and, most importantly, irresistibly tasty. If you’re planning a holiday to Sicily then these are some of the delights on offer that you won’t want to miss. Buon appetito!
Fish & Seafood
Fish and seafood in Sicily is so fresh that it almost leaps from the plate! The sheer array of seafood on offer makes the mind boggle; sword-fish is incredibly popular here and is seen as the most attractive ‘trophy’ for local fishermen. However you’ll also find an abundance of octopus and squid, tuna and cuttlefish, shrimp and anchovy. Spring is the best time to try the exciting ‘pasta con le sarde’ (pasta with fresh sardines, wild fennel and pine nuts), the succulent tuna (tonno) and the meaty swordfish (pesce spada).
Believe it or not couscous, introduced to Sicily from northern Africa, has been eaten here for generations and the classic ‘couscous alla trapanese’ is a fish and seafood couscous famous in Trapani. It’s usually served with either shrimp or mussels and topped with either snapper or sea bass – a great dish to enjoy all year round.
Don’t miss: Catania’s Pescheria market. It has a vast array of stands featuring the latest catch from the Mediterranean. You’ll be dazzled by the displays of squid, mussels and anchovies amongst others as well as the sheer energy of the haggling between the sellers and their customers.
Once again freshness is of the essence in Sicily and the fruit on offer on this beautiful island is alive with colour and intense flavour. The winter markets are filled with many varieties of oranges, mandarins and grapes. As winter gives way to spring, medlars (little orange fruit originally from Japan) and luscious strawberries are abundant whilst towards the end of May apricots, cherries and tiny, sweet pears are the order of the day. If you’re travelling here in summer then you’ll want to try the refreshing cantaloupe melon either served with ham as an appetiser or with fresh mint and red wine or port as a dessert. Perfect for those long, hot summer days!
Don’t miss: IV Sagra Arancia Rossa di Sicilia IGP – Sicily’s blood oranges are beyond compare and are duly celebrated at this special event from 16th-18th March 2012 in Centuripe. Oranges are not the only fruit on display here though – there are plenty of other local dishes to enjoy.
One of the most Sicilian of all dishes is caponata, a zesty summer dish that’s ideal on a hot day. There are now many variations of this classic dish but the Sicilian version will contain plenty of fresh aubergines, celery, tomatoes and onions, spiced with capers and olives. Truly delicious! Spring sees the Sicilian countryside burst into life with the liquorice-like scent of wild fennel (finocchio selvatico) as well as an abundance of asparagus (asparagi) and artichokes (carciofi). If you get the chance then try a fresh artichoke ‘fritella’, a deep green dish of simple cooked green vegetables that lets the flavours speak for themselves in true Sicilian fashion.
You might also want to try fava beans, another classic Sicilian dish incorporated creatively into plenty of recipes. Try them in one of their simplest forms, maccu soup, containing little more than crushed fava beans and olive oil seasoned with a touch of onion, salt and pepper.
Don’t miss: The Artichoke Festival in Cerda, a two-day event celebrated every April. You’ll have the opportunity to sample traditional artichoke dishes such as artichokes stuffed with raisins, herbs, breadcrumbs and parmigiano cheese.
Desserts & Sweets
Those with a sweet tooth will certainly not be disappointed in Sicily. For starters you will find a large variety of mouth-watering ice creams all year round, the fruity ones are understandably more popular in the summer but the true Sicilian way to serve is in a freshly baked brioche! If you ask any Sicilian what their favourite dessert is though the chances are that they’ll say cassata or cannoli. These classic desserts are both made with lightly sweetened ricotta cheese. The cassata combines this with sponge cake and green and white marzipan whilst cannoli incorporates light as a feather fried pastry shells filled with ricotta. Both can be found in the local ‘pasticcerie’ and are an extremely delicious way to end a meal.
According to legend, Dionysus was the God who brought pleasure to mankind, and wine to Sicily. Legend aside, it is certain that wine has been made in Sicily for millennia. Some of Italy’s finest wines are produced here such as the Etna Rosso born on the rich, fertile volcanic slopes of Mount Etna. For a great white wine to go perfectly with fresh fish then you can’t go wrong with the Bianco D’Alcamo which can be found all over Sicily, but can only be produced in the rich area between Alcamo and Trapani. For a dessert wine you simply must try Marsala, one of the island’s most famous products first produced here in 1773 by the Englishman John Woodhouse. Though it has a reputation as a sweet wine there are also some excellent dry aperitif varieties.
Don’t miss: One of the many guided wine-tasting tours that will help you learn the secrets of Sicilian wine production, experiment with local grape varieties and develop your palette.
Sicilian olive oil is legendary for both its quality and variety producing about 10% of all of Italy’s olive oil and with 6 DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) olive oil producing areas, more than any other region of Italy. The olive harvest in Sicily takes place between the middle of September and the end of November, depending on the altitude at which the olives are grown. Most important producers harvest the olives by hand and there are now a growing number of organic oils being produced on the island. If you are staying in a family villa perhaps the best, and most satisfying, way of sampling some of the oils is hosting your own ‘degustazione’. Simply drizzle some oil on a thin slice of fresh white bread, add a tiny pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper and what is ostensibly a ‘tasting’ will become a memorable meal! Think Sicily has a selection of villas which produce their own olive oil and can even set up a personal tasting session for you.Don’t miss: If you are visiting Sicily during the olive harvest, be sure to head for an oil mill to sample (and buy) some freshly pressed, deliciously fruity and aromatic olive oil!
If that’s tantalised your taste buds then you may want to visit Think Sicily’s guide to food and wine festivals in Sicily to help plan your trip around some of the fantastic festivals on offer!
About The Author: This article was submitted by Think Sicily – The essential source of luxury villas in Sicily, including beautiful aristocratic homes, family villas with pools, and romantic boltholes for two with stunning views over the sea. Think Sicily look after over 90 exclusive villas, many of which come with their own cooks and cleaners, and they pride themselves on being experts at matching clients to the right properties. They have just been voted the world’s Best Villa Company at Condé Nast Traveller Readers’ Travel Awards.