If you have been following our adventures around Sicily, you may have noticed that as well as the fabulous scenery, incredible architecture, we were rather taken with the Sicilian food.
You know how delicious food is when it’s made with love, well that’s Sicilian food. Yes, it’s clearly Italian – there’s plenty of pasta, seafood, olive oils, cheeses and wines, but it’s just a little bit different to that found on mainland Italy. And there’s a reason for that.
Throughout Sicily’s long history, the island has been conquered by many nations – from the Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, to Normans and Spanish, until it officially joined the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. All these different cultures have left their mark on the island, and this is what makes Sicilian food so unique.
Pasta alla Norma
Our first stop in Sicily was Catania on Sicily’s east coast. We had been told that you couldn’t visit Catania without trying its signature dish – Pasta alla Norma. So we did, and on more than one occasion too. Made with fresh local tomatoes, eggplants, basil, garlic, and ricotta cheese, it was truly delicious.
The dish Pasta alla Norma is named after the nineteenth-century opera Norma written by Vincenzo Bellini, a famous composer from Catania.
Pasta con le Sarde- Pasta with sardines
If Pasta alla Norma is too vegetarian for you, there’s a great fishy alternative – Pasta con le Sarde. Somehow, the thought of sardines with pasta sounded a bit odd at first. We had been spoilt in the past for fresh sardines when we lived in Portugal, served lightly grilled with a fresh salad.
But this is Sicilian style. Fresh sardines, salty anchovies, wild fennel and a dash of North African influence with its addition of raisins, saffron and pine nuts. It’s usually served with a pasta I hadn’t heard of before – bucatini. Bucatini is a bit like spaghetti but with a hole running through it. The name comes from the Italian word ‘buco’ meaning hole.
Sicilian Lemon Leaf Meatballs
Wondering around the sleepy town of Linguaglossa looking for somewhere to eat, we came across this cute looking restaurant Boccaperte on one of the side streets. The menu looked very inviting, and the reviews online were good, so in we went.
We had the house speciality, the Sicilian Lemon Leaf meatballs and they were so good. Delicious veal meatballs wrapped in lemon leaves and grilled.
You’ve probably seen this dish on menus, but did you know it originated in Sicily? There are numerous local variants of this dish, but as a general rule, it always contains eggplants, raisins, pine nuts, and plenty of vinegar. It is usually served as an antipasto.
The eggplant is fried and turned into a yummy stew along with celery, tomatoes and onion and flavoured with fresh capers, pine nuts, olives and raisins. It’s the sweetened vinegar that gives it a lovely tang. We enjoyed a delicious caponata in Ragusa.
The traditional Sicilian pizza is often rectangular and thick-crusted, but also can be round, similar to the Neapolitan pizza. It is usually topped with tomatoes, onions, anchovies, herbs and strong cheese.
A popular pizza found in Sicily is a fried calzone stuffed full with cheese and anchovies.
Snacks and Desserts
I have to say I liked these more than Jonathan did, but he must be crazy. How can you not love a ball of creamy risotto rice stuffed with ragù or cheeses that’s been breaded and deep-fried? You’ll see arancini on display everywhere in Sicily, piled high in shop windows of the local bakeries, pastry shops, snack shops to name but a few. Usually served, wrapped in a napkin, they make a great snack to go as you explore the island.
After our hike on Mount Etna, we stopped off at the Gastronomia Aurora in Linguaglossa for some delicious arancini. This place is in the Guinness Book of Records for making the world’s largest arancini!
Prefer your snacks a little sweeter? You have to try the cannoli – deliciously naughty deep-fried pastry tubes filled with creamy ricotta.
It was on a rainy afternoon during our trip to Taormina that we discovered the Laboratorio Pasticceria Roberto; a lovely old fashioned bakery tucked away in one of the back streets. While eagerly waiting for our afternoon cannoli, the friendly baker handed me some cake samples to try. Let’s just say; they tasted a lot better once I removed my face mask. Yes, in my excitement, I attempted to stuff them in my mouth, totally forgetting much to the staff’s amusement, that I was wearing a mask.
Brioche con Gelato – Ice Cream in a Brioche Bun
A popular snack in Sicily and often eaten at breakfast is the Brioche con Gelato. It’s basically a sweet bun stuffed with your favourite ice creams. It was nice, well it’s Italian ice cream, of course, it’s nice, just not so sure about the bun bit.
Sicilian granita, a semi-frozen Sicilian dessert is a fab treat, particularly on a hot summer day. This refreshing dessert dates back to the Middle Ages. Snow from Sicily’s mountains was collected and stored and then transported to the coastal areas during the warmer months.
The snow was then grated and mixed with lemon juices or fruit syrups to make refreshing ice creams and sorbets. It’s a little bit more of a modern operation these days though.
Our favourite granitas were at the Bam Bam Bar in Taormina. I had lemon and Jonathan had pistachio da Bronte. We noticed many locals ate theirs served with brioche rolls. What is this Sicilian obsession for brioche?
We sampled a glass of almond wine at the Bar Turrisi in Castelmola, a small hilltop town that overlooks Taormina. It was one of those drinks, you think mmm this is rather nice, buy a bottle and then let sit in your drink cabinet at home forever. Having brought drinks back in the past from our travels, we have learned that for some reason they never taste so good at home in the real world, so we no longer do this.
However, this interesting mix of dry white wine, almonds, herbs, and citrus essences was very tempting, and I’m not even that keen on almonds.
Not a wine connoisseur by any means but I do enjoy a nice glass of wine. Purely for research, we drank a lot of wine on our travels. The wines grown on Mount Etna were rather good. There are a few wineries you can visit around the volcano, but despite travelling slowly through Eastern Sicily, we still didn’t have enough time to see any.
Another great place for wine were the wineries in the Noto region in southern Italy. We had an enjoyable wine tasting during our stay at Kapuhala, an Agriturismo resort that’s located in this wine region. Have to say, the red wines made from the nero d’avelo grape were terrific and low in sulfates!
We hope you enjoyed our list of some of our favourite Sicilian foods and drinks that we came across on our trip to eastern Sicily. We are looking forward to returning to experience more of Sicily’s incredible food culture.
Have you been to Sicily? What was your favourite dish?