The cuisine of Sicily has been influenced heavily by other cultures such as the Greeks, the Arabs and the Spanish, who introduced many items from all over the world thus making the cuisine of Sicily what it is today. The Arabs introduced spices from the East and also cane sugar and the use of raisins and nuts in sweet and sour dishes. The island’s dishes use fresh ingredients cooked quite simply so as not to overpower any of the flavours, they have just the right balance in their use of herbs and spices to enhance a meal. Being an island there is an ample supply of seafood which includes sardines ,swordfish, squid, sea bream, sea bass, snapper. tuna, anchovies and cuttlefish, and in the lakes and streams there are fresh-water trout . The western part of the island is devoted to growing grapes for wine-making and has a long tradition for wine production. On the high plains conditions are perfect for the growing of wheat and the south of the island is filled with almond trees, which are magnificent at ‘Blossom time’. In the north, the hills are home to the chestnut and walnut trees, and there are oranges and lemons growing all over the island, so we can see that there is a wealth of wonderful ingredients which are all locally grown to provide the delicious dishes from Sicily. Eggplant, peppers and tomatoes are the main vegetables of Sicily and are used in most dishes,a signature dish of Sicily is “caponata” using eggplant.
The traditional sheep and goat herding is still carried on and they provide cheeses as well as meat. There are plenty of cows as well and deer roam freely, giving a source of good venison, and of course there are pigs for the sausages and hearty dishes. Sicilians are reported to have invented the meatball or polpette which are eaten with tomato sauce as a main course. North African influences show in the western corner of the island where there are a variety of couscous based dishes. A delicious speciality of Sicily is the “arancini”, balls of rice filled with tomato and meat sauce or cheese, breaded and deep fried, these can be found all over the island and are fantastically moreish. Many of Sicily‘s meat dishes are prepared from either lamb or goat, but “vitello alla marsala” (veal marsala) is one of the better known dishes. Pasta is equally as popular as rice in Sicily and they use all shapes from spaghetti to maccheroni, one beloved dish is pasta con le sarde ( pasta with sardines and fennel).
Grapes and olives are grown all over the island and other crops include fava beans, lentils, almonds, apricots, pomegranates, water melon and pistachio nuts. Sicilian cuisine often uses raisins and pine nuts with fish and vegetable dishes. There are a wonderful selection of cheeses available in Sicily such as Pecorino Siciliano, which is also known as tumazzu and can also be flavoured with peppercorns, Ragusano, a cow’s milk cheese, is mellow but can be used for grating when aged, and Caciocavello Ricotta is widely used in sweet dishes but can also be salted and dried. Sicily‘s fertile soil provides some of the world’s best olives and the olive oil produced from the is highly sought after.
The Sicilians love their sweets and desserts, and they will have different ones to celebrate every occasion from birthdays to weddings and saint’s feast days, one of the most famous, and loved, is “cassata” made with ricotta, marzipan and citrus fruits moulded into beautiful and decorated cakes,”Cannoli” tubes of pastry filled with sweet, creamy ricotta make your mouth water at the thought of them, the wide range of biscotti, which often contain almonds, are hard biscuits ideal for dunking into espresso or sweet marsala wine, zuppa inglese, a liqueur soaked cake filled with custard. Marzipan is also a favourite and one can see all shapes filling the shelves in the bakeries,the favourite ones are shaped into fruits.The range of flavours of “gelato” are mind blowing, fruits of every description, nuts, rum and even jasmine, the hard part is where to start! Ice creams are served in tubs, wafers and even in sweet buns which are wonderful. Granita is made from crushed ice and flavoured with lemons or strawberries, it is the perfect way to cool down in the hot sunshine.It is said that ice cream has been around in Sicily since Roman times, when snow and ice would be collected from the hills and brought quickly down to be flavoured with crushed fruits and served to the wealthier citizens.
To accompany these great foods one needs a good wine and in Sicily, with its long-rooted tradition of wine-making, this is not hard to find, the Shiraz-type red wine is excellent and is made from the local Nero d’Avola grape. Sicily is famous for it’s Marsala wine which is a sweet, fortified wine taken with desserts or used to dunk biscotti. Limoncello, made from lemons, is a favourite after dinner drink as is the famous Amaretto, a liqueur made from almonds. Other liqueurs are made from oranges, prickly pears, strawberries and cinnamon. One must not forget to give a mention to Grappa, a strong alcoholic drink which is said to calm the stomach after a large meal, a good excuse to partake of a glass!
- Cerasuolo di Vittoria (Rosso as normale and Classico), produced in the provinces of Caltanissetta, Catania and Ragusa
- Alcamo produced in the provinces of Palermo and Trapani
Contea di Sclafani produced in the provinces of Agrigento, Caltanissetta and Palermo
Contessa Entellina produced in the province of Palermo
Delia Nivolelli Nero d’Avola produced in the province of Trapani
Eloro produced in the provinces of Ragusa and Siracusa
Erice produced in the province of Trapani
Etna produced in the province of Catania
Faro produced in the province of Messina
Malvasia delle Lipari produced in the province of Messina
Mamertino di Milazzo produced in the province of Messina
Marsala produced in the province of Trapani
Menfi produced in the provinces of Agrigento and Trapani
Monreale produced in the province of Palermo
Noto produced in the province of Agrigento
Moscato di Pantelleria produced in the province of Trapani
Moscato di Siracusa produced in the province of Siracusa
Riesi produced in the province of Caltanissetta
Salaparuta produced within the communal territory of Salaparuta in the province of Trapani
Sambuca di Sicilia produced in the province of Agrigento
Santa Margherita di Belice produced in the province of Agrigento
Sciacca produced in the province of Agrigento
Siracusa produced in the province of Siracusa
Vittoria produced in the provinces of Caltanisetta, Catania and Ragusa