Sicilian cuisine: what to eat in Sicily.
Sicily is a land to be discovered also from the culinary point of view. During your holiday you cannot help trying its food and wine specialties: we will help you learn about the typical products of Sicily in order to make your stay a good excuse to make a “gastronomic tour” of the island. Sicilian cuisine is certainly one of the most popular in Italy and is very appreciated by tourists for its fresh products, such as citrus fruits. Lemons and oranges, which have become a symbol of the island, are highly sought due to their taste. Furthermore, many products have received the quality mark and the trademark of protected geographical origin, such as the red oranges of Sicily PGI, the Caciocavallo ragusano PDO, the chocolate from Modica PGI and the pistachio from Bronte PDO.
Typical Sicilian dishes marry Mediterranean cuisine, whose fresh products include mainly olives, pistachios, tomatoes, citrus fruits, almonds and prickly pears. Dishes based on vegetables, such as caponata and parmigiana, go well with the flavours of the sea: try the Sicilian specialties based on fresh fish, such as couscous or pasta con le sarde (pasta with sardines), and visit the typical fish markets of the port cities, especially those of Catania and Palermo, or the small sea ports of the Sicilian coast, in order to savour the rich taste of the long Sicilian maritime tradition.
Some aspects of the Sicilian culinary tradition are rooted in the ancient Arab civilization, from which the preparation of the famous Sicilian cassata, the granita and the arancini (the typical Sicilian dish par excellence) would derivate. It is said that after a stay in Sicily, you return home with at least a couple of kilos more. The reason is simple: this island offers a large amount of delicacies between sea and land, not to mention the Sicilian wines, such as the famous Nero d’Avola, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sirah, Nerello Mascalese and cheeses, such as ricotta, in a combination of flavours and aromas that will make your trip to Sicily “delicious”.
Typical Sicilian recipe consisting in stuffed fried rice balls
Arancini o Arancine? That is the question. There is a linguistic dilemma among Sicilian people about how to call the most typical Sicilian food. However, the arancino is a rice ball stuffed with tomato sauce, meat, carrots, peas, eggs and mozzarella cheese. You can find many variations of the classic arancino, both in shape and stuffing. The stuffing can be very simple, such as jam and mozzarella cheese, or with more ingredients, such as squid ink, aubergines and tomato sauce, mushrooms and sausage, and so on so forth.
Granita with brioche
The typical Sicilian dessert
The first thing to do once you arrive in Sicily is to have breakfast with granita and brioche. Wherever you are – to the seaside, in town, at the airport or in a shopping mall – look for a coffee bar and taste this delicious and refreshing sorbet with the typical Sicilian brioche, which is a round and fluffy pastry sometimes surmounted by a fluffy ball. The granita is a very simple creamy dessert made with water, sugar and lemon. The lemon flavour can be substituted by almonds, strawberries, mulberries, melons, chocolate or coffee.
Cannoli with ricotta cheese
Typical Sicilian desserts filled with ricotta cheese and candied fruit
Cannoli are one the most typical and famous Sicilian desserts. They consists of a fried cylindrical wafer filled with sweet ricotta cheese and decorated with candied fruit or chocolate chips. The size of cannoli can change and the filling can be with custard or chocolate cream. Fresh cannoli have always a crisp wafer and they are filled just before being served, otherwise the wafer becomes weak.
Typical Sicilian dessert with ricotta cheese and almond paste
Another famous Sicilian dessert is the cassata. It consists of sponge cake stuffed with ricotta cheese and covered by almond paste, sugar icing and candied fruit. The origin of its name would derive from the Arab quas’at, meaning “basin”, which remembers the shape of this cake. The classic cassata has many local variants having different decorations. You can find simple cassate or extremely decorated ones, which are covered with a lot of candied fruit, pistachios, chocolate and pine nuts. These ones remember the singular traits of the Sicilian baroque art.
Pane e panelle
Typical Sicilian street food consisting of bread stuffed with chickpea fritters
Pane e panelle is a typical street food especially from Palermo and Trapani. It consists of bread stuffed with chickpea fritters seasoned with some drops of lemon. Traditional bread is covered by sesame seeds, called gigiolena or giggiulena in Sicilian dialect. In addition to the chickpea fritters, the stuffing can also contain fried potato croquettes.
Biscuits made with almond paste in different shapes and colours
They are biscuits made with almond paste, but they seem real fruits, such as lemons, oranges, apples and so on and so forth. In ancient times, these biscuits were prepared for All Souls’ Day, but today you can find them throughout the year in pastry shops. The tradition of making martorana fruit would derive from a legend telling that the nuns of the Convent of the Martorana in Palermo one day decided to decorate their garden with colourful fruits made with almond paste, in order to welcome an important guest.
Caciocavallo ragusano cheese
The caciocavallo (cosacavaddu) ragusano PDO is a kind of cheese from Ragusa and it is made with cow milk. Its typical shape is a parallelepiped, resembling a step of a staircase. Depending on its aging, it can be grated over a delicious plate of pasta with pork tomato sauce.
Ravioli with ricotta
Ravioli filled with ricotta cheese are traditionally seasoned with tomato sauce or, in some areas of the island, with pork tomato sauce. It is a very tasty sauce cooked with tomato paste and pieces of pork meat that release their flavour making this sauce very delicious. Sicilian ravioli are round shaped and filled with ricotta cheese that sometimes is flavoured with marjoram. In some areas, they use to sweeten the filling of ricotta cheese creating a contrast with the tomato sauce. Another alternative is to make fried sweet ricotta ravioli covered with sugar like fritters.
Pane di pasta dura
Pane di pasta dura (literally hard bread dough) is a kind of homemade bread with a very ancient tradition, which has been passed on by Sicilian grandmothers and mothers throughout the years until nowadays. The inside of this bread is not soft but very compact and the external crust is very fragrant. Usually it is cooked is a wood oven and it is still fresh after even one week. This is the reason why in the past it was very easy to save it for more time, avoiding making bread every day. The secret of the recipe is the so-called “lavatina”, which is the yeast base, usually prepared the evening before making bread.
Chocolate from Modica
This unique chocolate, which a PGI product, is now very famous in Sicily and it has become one of the most important Sicilian products in Italy. The granular and very sweet cocoa paste is processed following an Aztec recipe, which is jealously safeguarded by the most ancient pastry shops in Modica. During the making of the chocolate bars, some spices are added: vanilla, cinnamon, chili pepper, orange, lemon, ginger, etc.
Pani câ meusa
Typical street food from Palermo
In addition to pane e panelle, in Palermo we find another typical street food, the pani câ meusa, meaning bread with beef spleen. Bread covered with sesame seeds is stuffed with pieces of beef spleen, which are first boiled and then fried in lard. You will eat the best pani câ meusa in the streets of Palermo, especially in the local markets of Vucciria and Ballarò, where you will see the so-called meusari, who are peddlers selling this kind of street food.
Typical Sicilian vegetarian dish
The caponata is a tasty vegetarian dish with aubergines, potatoes and fried slices of peppers. The plate is seasoned with a sweet and sour sauce made with tomato, olives, capers, celery and onion. This traditional plate changes in the different areas of the island, where you can find more ingredients, such as almonds in the area of Palermo, Agrigento and Trapani.
Pasta alla Norma
Primo piatto tipico a base di salsa di pomodoro, melanzane fritte e ricotta salta
Pasta alla norma is a first course with maccheroni seasoned with tomato sauce and fried aubergines chunks. It is possible to add a topping of grated salted ricotta. The origins of this plate are in Catania, but it is now spread in the whole island and has become one of the most famous Sicilian specialties in Italy and in the world.
Pasta with sardines
It is a Sicilian first course with sardines, wild fennel and pine nuts.
Pasta con le sarde is a very tasty pasta with fresh sardines, wild fennel and pine nuts. It is usually prepared with a long kind of pasta, such as spaghetti or bucatini, and then covered with bread crumbs. Since fresh sardines are usually found from March to September, this plate is considered seasonal. A culinary legend tells its origin: an Arabian cook, who served the general of the area of Syracuse, having to feed the troops in conditions of scarcity, appealed to his genius and invented a dish with what the sea and the earth could offer him in that moment.
The almond paste, also called pasta reale, is a kind of dough made with almonds, sugar and albumen. It is used to prepare different typical pastries of the Sicilian tradition, such as Christmas and Easter biscuits, which are called paste di mandorla. The almond paste is also used to make the Sicilian cassata and the Martorana fruit, once prepared for All Souls’ Day.
Pistachio from Bronte
Varietà di pistacchio originaria di Bronte, alle pendici dell’Etna
From the slopes of Mount Etna comes one of the most famous and delicious Sicilian products: the pistachio from Bronte (PDO). This Sicilian “green gold” is very used to prepare salty and sweet dishes, such as cakes, comfits, ice cream, nougat and granita. A very appreciated product is the pistachio pesto, used to season a dish of pasta or you can just taste it spread on a slice of bread.