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Sicily: At the Table-Culinary Delights and Drinks

Sicily: At the Table-Culinary Delights and Drinks

Sicilian culinary delights  reflect the lush land they are prepared in, made with rich and fresh ingredients, already praised by the god Homer. The land and sea provide the island with the basic elements needed to create balance and variety in dishes.
It was the Saracens who brought new ingredients and sugar cane, opening the doors to more variety and exotic dishes.
Many of the traditional dishes originated from recipes brought by the French chefs in Ferdinand and Maria Carolina´s reign. Later on these recipes were adapted to be affordable for the poor ...but no less delicious.
One thing is certain, food is the centre of a Sicilian’s life as for most Italians!
A Sicilian breakfast consists of a cappuccino or white coffee with an Italian croissant, while lunch starts with antipasti (see below), a first course ( generally pasta) and a second course based on meat or fish. Sweet dessert and coffee finish the meal.
Restaurants listed by the Slow Food movement began in Italy will bear a snail sign. The movement praises restaurants serving traditional Italian cuisine and favouring ethical agricultural practices.

The Italian flag

Red peppers and tomatoes, these basic ingredients can be found used in a varity of ways in a whole range of Sicilian dishes. Sicilian tomatoes are praised throughout Italy for their taste.
White garlic and caciocavallo, a kind of cow´s cheese are also very often part of a dish. Other ingredients  are ricotta and pecorino, sheep´s milk cheeses. Almonds are used in sauces, or part of the preparation of flavoured crushed ice, or almond milk prepared with sweet almond pulp and water…delicious!
Green Olive groves give an excellent and distinct type of olive oil. Basil is another staple in a Sicilian kitchen.
When the Saracens introduced pistachios to Sicily they began cultivating them on the fertile volcanic soil on the island. These bring an excellent flavour and richness to dishes, both savoury and sweet.


Bread has remained a basic for centuries …through good and bad times it has found its place at the table. For the poor it was the best way, combined with a few other cheap ingredients to fill an empty stomach. Bread dough is also used to prepare other dishes such as impanata and involtini in which meat or fish is the wrapping around a bread filling.
Pasta (Picture 3) is apparently what the Sicilians do best. It has become the most exported product of Italy. Pasta with sardines, fennel, onions, pine nuts and raisins, pasta alla Norma, combining tomatoes, aubergines and ricotta, and lasagne are among the favourite dishes It has been suggested that the origin of spaghetti alla puttanesca is Sicily (Picture 3).


Antipasti are the traditional first courses of an Italian meal which combine cured meat, olives, anchovies, cheese and marinated bell peppers. Everything is generally coated with some olive oil and enjoyed with bread.

On an island of course fish is a strong presence: sardines, tuna, mackerel and swordfish (Picture 1) are gifts to the senses.

To savour creative meat dishes go inland: mutton, beef, pork and rabbit are all popular meats for traditional and modern dishes combined with other regional ingredients.

Sagras are festivals themed on a specific kind of food and which take place all over italy with tastings and lots of foody-fun. In Sicily some of the more known are the sagra of the Almond Blossom, the International Couscous Festival and the Honey Festival.

Sweet table

Sicilian pastries are a real treat. Either freshly made from a pasticceria or by mamma, the following are some of the delights which you really cannot leave Sicily without trying:

Almond cookies (pasta di mandorle)
Pastry tubes stuffed with sweetened ricotta or candied fruit (cannoli)
Watermelon jelly (gelso di mellone)
Pies filled with minced fruit (buccellati)
Sugar dolls (prepared for the celebration of All Saints’ Day (pupe)
Eye-like Biscuits (prepared to celebrate Santa Lucia’s festival) (uchiuzzi)
Sesame coated biscuits (biscotti regina)
Cassata (ingredients: ricotta, sugar, vanilla, diced chocolate, candied fruit)
Fruti-shape almond paste biscuits (frutti della Martorana)

All cold

From the Roman epoch the Etna provided ice to make wine cold. Later on with the Arabs arrival they started to chill cream (ice-cream and cassata) and prepare flavoured crushed ice and cold creamy desserts (semifreddo).
The Arabs already were the creators of the sarbat (sweet fruit syrups chilled with iced water). From these they later created granita (by mixing crushed ice with fruit juice, coffee, almond milk and other ingredients) and the cremolata (cooled cream made of fruit syrup ). The most popular way to eat freddo and granita is in a brioche.

Bacchus´ legacy

Even though the fields of vineyards extend over 290,000 acres (larger than Bordeaux and Chile’s vineyards together), Sicily´s wine has not reached many tables around the world. Sicilian wines are characterized by light whites and heavy fruity reds.
Regaleali in Caltanissetta province is the most famed producer on Sicily. Among its champions are Nozze d’Oro and Rosso del Conte. Most restaurants list Corvo di Salaparuta (red) and Corvo Bianco(white). The most known white at tables is Rapitalà’s .
The area around the Etna produces the cataratto grapes and a wine called Rosè Ciclopi, excellent to accompany rabbit dishes.
High quality reds are Cerasuolo and Donnafugata’s, Messina’s Faro and Capo Bianco.
Terreforti (red; origin: Catania), Anapo (white), Eloro and Pachino (red; origin: Syracuse), Belicie (red and white; origin: west) and Capo Boeo (white) are well known and well-liked wines.
Table wines are about € 8, while higher quality wines range from €12 to 20.
Dessert wines such as the Marsala or the Malvasia or Pantelleria’s moscato are a deliciuos way to end a meal.
DOC wines are those produced under certain requirements. DOCG wines follow the same specifications and are controlled by official inspectors. IGT wines are produced from grapes of good regions which are not used by DOC and DOCG.
If you want to have get a greater insight into the producers and their products the guide to Italian wines by the Slow Food movement is recommended.

Lessons on culinary heritage

If you are into cooking or wine you might want to take a look at the following websites to find out about courses in Sicily.
www.cuisineinternational.com by Anna Tasca Lanza: courses, touches of history and ricotta-making are blend in the same course.
www.arblasterandclarke.com offering also a wine tour guided by an expert.
www.tastingplaces.com also embraces spectacular accommodation in a setting of bygone times, day trips and winery tour.

On the street

As already mentioned, the Sicilians love to eat and even on the go there are numerous options to choose from, fast food as we know it is certainly being resisted.
The following is just a sample of what´s on offer.

pane e panelle (chickpea fritters)
sfincione (spongy, oily pizza, covered with onions and caciocavallo cheese)
scaccie (bread dough covered with a filling and then rolled in a pancake)
stigghiola (goat intestines stuffed with onions cheese and parsley)
frittole (meat, marrow and fat soup)
impanata (meat, cheese or vegetables filling wrapped in bread dough)
arancini (fried rice balls) (Picture 2)
pani cu’la mensa schietta (ricotta in a bread roll cooked in boiling lard)
pani cu’la mensa maritata (sautéed beef spleen in a bread roll)

To help you with ordering your real Italian coffee here is a translation of the most typical varieties:

Espresso (tiny cup of very strong coffee)
Doppio espresso ( a double espresso)
Caffè americano( resembling filter coffee, more watery)
Caffè latte ( coffee with a good quantity of milk)
Caffè macchiato (an espresso with a drop of milk)
Latte macchiato (hot milk with a drop of coffee)
Cappuccino (stronger than caffè latte topped with froth)
Caffè freddo (a long glass of iced coffee)
Corretto (espresso with a drop of grappa or other strong alcoholic drink)