Hearing Sicily, the first things that come to mind are volcano, Mt. Etna, Cosa Nostra, etc. But Sicily is more than that and an unexpected virtue of this island is its food.
While still using the basic ingredients of traditional Italian food, Sicilian cuisine and its food culture have their own popularity. They owe this to the heavy influence from different cultures like Greek, Arab, French and Spanish, eventually making food one of the reasons to visit Sicily. The rich influences brought varied food items. The Spanish introduced peppers, tomatoes, cocoa, etc. Arab influence can be found in the use of clove, saffron, rice, cinnamon, and apricots. Finally, items like fish, olives, and pistachio tell a lot about the Greek impact on the multifaceted Sicilian cuisine.
So if you’d like to discover what hides beneath Sicilian gastronomy, here are some amazing Sicilian dishes that you should not miss out on a visit to Sicily.
They are deep fried rice balls coated with breadcrumbs and filled with meat and tomato sauce known as ragù, peas, and mozzarella. Arancini translated to English means ‘little oranges’. This comes from the orangish color and the round shape they get after being deep fried. The filling varies from region to region.
Frutta Martorana is a very interesting food item. It is nothing made of what it sounds -fruits- and has an equally interesting story about its coming into existence.
TAKEAWAY: These fruit-looking delicacies are not actual fruits but are made from Marzipan -a paste of almonds, sugar and egg whites. This Marzipan is then given different shapes by pressing them into molds and kept to dry for a while. Once the marzipan has taken the desired shape and is firm enough, it is painted with edible colors.
Frutta Martorana goes back to the 12th century when it was made by the nuns of La Martorana (a church in the city of Palermo) to impress the archbishops.
Caponata is an eggplant-based Sicilian dish which also has other cooked vegetables. It is then seasoned with vinegar, celery, and capers, resulting in a sweet and sour stew that is mainly a side dish. Nonetheless, caponata might also be served as an appetizer.
Spaghetti Ai Ricci
Sicily is an island and you must expect some influence of seafood on the preparations. Spaghetti ai ricci means Spaghetti with sea urchins and it is relatively an expensive dish. Reason being, it takes 15 sea urchins to make one Spaghetti ai ricci. Sea urchins are round, spiky sea animals which are cut in half (discarding the spikes) and their meat is then scooped to be used in the Spaghetti.
Pani Ca Meusa
You don’t have to go to a cafe or a restaurant to taste this Sicilian course since you would find this in the streets of Sicily. Yes, Pani ca meusa is a popular street food of Sicily and is made from calf’s lungs and spleen, which is also the translated meaning of the name. It is then stuffed in bread, like a hamburger. The dish may not seem appealing, but it is a delicious Sicilian treat.
Known as ‘the Sicilian Pizza’ in English and literally translating to ‘thick sponge,’ Sfincione is the most popular pizza in Sicily that you can’t miss. Hailing from Palermo, Sfincione has a spongy bread which is smeared with a tomato-onion-anchovies and herbs sauce and is topped with grated cheese (not mozzarella, as Sicilians use the milk of goats and sheep) and breadcrumbs. The most unusual thing about an authentic Sfincione is, it is baked in a square tray as opposed to a usual circular one.
Parmigiana Di Melanzane
The reference to the name of this dish is amazingly unexpected. The word parmiciana is a Sicilian word which cites to wooden shutters. These wooden shutters are to be seen in the houses in Sicily. So, what are the connection of these wooden shutters and the dish? The layers of the main ingredient of Parmigiana di melanzane -eggplant- have a stark resemblance to the wooden shutters.
Parmigiana di melanzane is an eggplant dish with sliced, fried and layered eggplant mixed with tomato and cheese. The origin of the dish is controversial as the historic coastal city of Naples claim it originated from Naples while Sicilians profess the dish is a true Sicilian delicacy.
Although Granita is served in almost all parts of Italy today with regional differences in the ingredients, the dessert hails from Sicily and is called Granita Siciliana. It is a semi-frozen dessert made with ice, sugar, and flavors like coffee, lemon, almonds or strawberries. Granita came from the Arabs and became popular in the Arab rule in Sicily. In fact, it has its roots in the Arab cold dessert Sherbet. Typically, Granita is served with Brioche, a French pastry.
As you can see, Sicily has a distinct culture, much different from mainland Italy and it can be seen in its food. The distinction is owed to the rich history of the island which is a blend of multiple cultures. The result are these fantastic and delicious Sicilian dishes that you should definitely taste on your next visit.
About the Author: Giovanni Benvenuto is the managing director of Benvenuto Limos, a chauffeur and private tour guide company, serving the tourists who visit Italy to discover the outstanding beauty of the country. Apart from his professional work he also loves reading, writing journals and cooking.