Foodie trip to Sicily
Italian food is great; Sicilian cuisine is even better, so why not enjoy a delicious foodie trip to Sicily!
Sicily, because of its strategic position, was invaded and conquered by the Romans, Greeks, Spanish, Normans and Arabs. Each invading power left their mark on the island’s cuisine.
Food grown in the soils of Sicily seems to take on an intensity of flavours that few places can match. This is particularly noticeable in citrus fruits such as lemons and blood oranges, garlic and onions and of course the ubiquitous pomadoro or tomato.
It is perhaps the intensity of the flavours that has encouraged Sicilians to cook simply and let the flavours do their job. Tomatoes, basil, a little olive oil and spaghetti never tasted so good as when I ate the simple honest cuisine at Fontes Episcopi in Aragona or a little trattoria I discovered in Corleone.
Sicilians are particularly good at producing the most wonderful pastries. Whether it is for breakfast or mid-morning or the afternoon they are a delight to the taste buds. Arab invaders introduced almonds, pistachio and sugar to the island which were then combined with the ingredients the Sicilians were already using.
For something really indulgent try the torta setteveli a decadent seven-layered chocolate and hazelnut confection.
Granita is a Sicilian/Arab invention. Ice from Etna’s slopes was combined with fruit and perhaps a little sugar to us the flavoured ice shavings known as granite. Mostly it is fruit flavours but the coffee granite, served with lashings of cream is among my favourites on a hot sunny afternoon.
This brings us nicely to gelato. The Sicilians claim they invented gelato by the simple expedient of substituting the fruit syrups used in granita with eggs, milk and cream. Other places in Italy also lay claim to inventing it but there is no definitive evidence to support anyone’s claim. However, Sicilians do make the best gelato in Italy.
Fish from three seas
Sicily is an island at the junction of three seas so fish features prominently in Sicilian cuisine. My own favourites are tuna, sardines and anchovies. They feature in many pasta dishes. Pasta with sardines and pine nuts (pasta con le sarde) comes top of my list.
Deep fried balls or pyramids of rice, ragu, peas and melted cheese are a favourite snack in Sicily and can be seen in shops and restaurants or as street food. These are delicious hand-held snacks full of goodness and taste.
Sicilian style pizza
In Sicily, rather than the flat thin base we commonly associate with pizza, the same topping is served on a base more like bread or focaccia. Using the fresh flavours of garlic, tomato, oregano, onion and shavings of parmesan or pecorino as the starting point they will add the likes of anchovies or cold meats.
To round off this foodie experience to Sicily I want to mention three individual ingredients that the island produces with a taste distinctly Sicilian.
Firstly the blood oranges grown on the fertile slopes of the active volcano, Mount Etna. Nowhere else does the intensity of the flavour come even close.
Secondly there are the pistachios, particularly those grown on the slopes of Mount Etna. Not only are they more flavoursome than elsewhere but they have an intense green colour.
Thirdly there is ricotta di pecora (sheep’s milk ricotta). Its milky taste with a subtle tang and creamy texture make it a favourite filling in many Sicilian sweets. A favourite on the island is cannoli filled with ricotta.