Sicilian food: rustic and delicious dishes

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Any lover of food will appreciate the unique cuisine of the stunning Italian region of Sicily. The ingredient-driven local dishes are a result of a varied and fascinating history and a fruitful environment that has produced deliciously rustic, simple fare using the wealth of incredible produce available in the area.


Cuisine shaped by the ages


As a result of centuries of invasion and domination from countless other foreign powers, Sicily’s history is both complex and fascinating, which is reflected in each of the local dishes. Each meal is influenced by the techniques and ingredients of the myriad of cultures that have passed through the region.

The region’s love affair with fine wine and oils was launched by the Greeks, who introduced grapes and olives and the ancient Romans brought lentils, chick peas, fava beans and all number of grains. The Arab invasion meant many exotic types of spices, sugar, rice and fruits came to the Sicily, creating sweet dishes, such as ice cream and granita, candied fruits and marzipan. Sicilians learned many cooking techniques for fish and meat from the French and the Normans, whilst the Spaniards brought tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and maize, forming the basis of many of Sicilian’s greatest dishes.


Sicilian seasonality

Sicilian menus are focused closely on the ingredients that are available at different times of year, so seasonality is key to the region’s dishes. Luckily, each season brings with it a wealth of delicious local produce and fresh fish is fruitful from the region’s azure coastlines. Even bread can be seasonal!
Try the gelsi ice cream in summer when the mulberries that flavour it are ripe and in season. In spring, locals enjoy a tiny baby fish called neonata (a local delicacy), as well as mint, artichokes, cherries and apricots.

Fish is a firm favourite on the long stretches of coastline, whilst plenty of wild boar, sausages, cheese and mushrooms are produced nearer the mountain ranges in the center of the island. Sicily also produces a wide range of wine of all colours and types, as well as up to 10% of Italy’s olive oil.


Must-try Sicilian dishes and where to try them


British born Huw Beaugie and his Sicilian wife Rosella have lived in Sicily for over 12 years and the pair run luxury Sicily villas company, Think Sicily. Here are his expert recommendations on some of the region’s unmissable dishes and top dining spots…


“There are so many outstanding Sicilian dishes that it’s hard to choose favourites! However, delicious fritella is a great starter for any meal: with peas, fava beans, artichoke hearts, onions, olive oil and vinegar – it’s a tasty and fresh spring dish.


“I’m also a big fan of Pasta alla Norma, which is Catania’s signature dish of tomato sauce, golden fried chunks of aubergine, basil and a good grating of salted ricotta cheese.


“Visitors really shouldn’t leave Sicily without trying the local fish, however, of which there is an abundance of choice. I would highly recommend the fish cous-cous – a specialty of the west of Sicily and Trapani and San Vito lo Capo in particular. The cous-cous is served in a tangy sauce with a mix of fish and seafood, which varies from recipe to recipe.


“And for dessert my favourite is delicious cassata – a sponge cake filled with sweetened ricotta cheese, covered with coloured marzipan and topped with candied fruit… absolutely delicious!


There is an enormous range of excellent restaurants and eateries throughout Sicily. Here are a few of my favourites:


  • Duomo in Ragusa – this two Michelin-starred restaurant offers exceptional local food and service with complex but worthwhile tasting menus. This is an expensive option but great for a celebratory meal or fine dining experience.


  • La Pineta, on the beach below Marinella di Selinunte in south-west Sicily. In the spring and summer you can eat delicious fish dishes with your toes in the sand. Try the pasta with lobster and the grilled king prawns from Mazara del Vallo. You might typically spend between £20-£30 per person excluding wine.


  • For some good hearty mountain food – excellent mushrooms, meats and cheeses – I always enjoy Trattoria da Salvo in Petralia Soprana in the Madonie Mountains (£15-£20pp), and Antica Filanda, in Rocca di Caprileone in the foothills of the Nebrodi Mountains above Capo d’Orlando (£20-£30pp).


For more information on the food and drink of Sicily, see Think Sicily’s guide to local food and drink, or their The Truth About Pasta infographic for some fun and interesting facts about this famous Italian food.


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