The flavors of Sicily are as vivid as the colors of Sicily; the fiery reds of the shades of tomato or the peperocini, the hot red pepper that the Sicilians prefer to black peppercorns. Memories of the Arabs still live on in the air smelling of golden sultanas, and pine nuts, actually a seed harvested from the large cones. The yellows are the bright saffron brought from Ancient Greece, the unique lemons, and precious honey an ancient Roman sweetener. The colors and fragrances of Italy overwhelm the senses yet the Italians are masters at culinary simplicity.
Each wave of conquest by the Romans has shaped the Italian table The culinary traditions of Italy began with the Etruscan, and was later developed by the Greeks and Saracens or the non Arab Muslims who settled in the South and Sicily, they treasured rice, the citrus fruits and used dried fruit such as figs and dates to stuff pastries and they brought the aubergine to Italy. Both history climate and geography has shaped the region, Northern Italy so close to the Austria Hungarian empire has completely different tastes than the South.
Whether North or south all Italians love pasta, sometimes served with a simple home made cheese and fresh tomato sauce served with fresh herbs, basil or wild marjoram or oregano. In Piedmont the pasta sauces are richer creamier and loaded with butter and cheese. Sicily is renowned for its olive groves, citrus trees and vineyards. Sicily has been ravages by unemployment, foreign rule, corruption, immense feudal estates, piracy and the casa nostra. The Greeks came with their olives, ricotta, wine and honey. Its land was later colonized by the Romans who needed the vast tracts of land for wheat, grains and pulses. The monasteries developed tangy biscuits and also sharp cheeses.
Ancient Rome gave western civilizations the fundamentals of sophisticated elegant cuisine, that would take centuries to be known as fine dining. The Roman empire brought new products and recipes back to Rome.
Mediterranean peoples including the Etruscan’s already knew the skills of milling, they made flour to produce fresh bread. They crushed olives to extract the precious olive oil the liquid gold of ancient Italy, they used the grapes to make wine and vinegar and transformed the creamy full fat milk into fresh cheeses.
Olive oil is fundamental to the southern cooking but, curiously enough, came from four hundred years of Aragon rule in Sicily, the Spanish conquistadors brought tomatoes, potatoes and peppers and chocolate. The pomodoro found a promised land alongside the eggplant or aubergine, the melanzane that distinguishes the “parmigiana” classics of the Sicily.
Sicilian food is a tutti frutti all of its own, in fact it should be totally overwhelmed, but it is vigorous and robust the staple tastes of the Mediterranean, the tomatoes, pasta, fish, fruit, bread and oil fired by peppers, basil, almonds and pistachios, pine nuts, vinegar and golden raisins. Even some of the names of the dishes are over the top in Sicily, as Pasta ‘cchi sardi a ‘mmari, which translates as pasta served with fish still in the sea. More prosaically they have lasagna cacati, a broad wavy pasta with minced meat often served at the New Year.
Whatever your choice of area there is a recipe that is sublime and even the most jaded palate will appreciate Sicilian recipes.
About the Author
Sebastiano comes from Sicily where he worked for 10 years as Medical Representative in pharmaceuticals. He is now living in London where he import fine food from his beloved island. He is the Author of 101 Sicilian Recipes, History, Legends and Food from Sicily. [http://www.101sicilianrecipes.com]