Cannoli

Sicilian Cuisine On A Platter

Sharmila Chand

When you have characteristic geography, eventful history, successive governing rules, a wonderful sea and a rich fertile land, what do you get? An amazing cuisine called as ‘Sicilian Cuisine’ bursting with diverse flavours.

From cannoli to arancini, Sicilian food is world-famous. The island enjoys a culinary tradition that draws its inspiration from the ancient Greeks, Arabs and Normans, as well as Spain, Greece, North Africa and the Middle East. On top of this, it’s own rich produce including olives, oranges, lemons, eggplants, tomatoes, pistachios, almonds, grapes, and more—and of course, the seafood right off the coast. As a result, Sicilian food is fresh, varied, and absolutely delicious!

Do you know who is the queen of the summer table in Sicily? It is Aubergine, eggplant or, Melanzana, as they call it in Italy. Yes the Sicilian summer is not complete without these versatile veggies which are the prime ingredients for preparing at least ten different dishes, if not more. As we love our wafers, Sicilians swear by “Polpette di Melanzane” i.e. aubergine/eggplants fritters. Their preparation is pretty simple as they mix boiled aubergines/eggplants, breadcrumb, grated local cheese and egg. They enjoy snacking on them either plain fried or with tomato sauce.

Talking about pizzas, the traditional pizza from Palermo is called “Sfincione” – the traditional name for Sicilian pizza. It is said to have been derived from the Latin spongia, which means sponge, or from the Arab sfang, meaning a sweet soft fritter.

 Chef Luigi FerraroTraditionally it is made of a very soft dough mixed with  ingredients like: tomato sauce, onions, anchovies, the typical caciocavallo cheese and breadcrumbs. Some people also like to add sliced artichokes.  “The secret of the making of sfincione,” tells Chef Luigi Ferraro, Italian Chef at Sorrento, Shangri-La’s – Eros Hotel, New Delhi “is the softness of the dough, and having balanced proportion of all the ingredients.”

Chef Luigi also tells me, “Do not ever miss to taste these when you visit that part of the world. When you walk on the streets of Palermo, you will see a small vehicle selling portions of sfincione with a loud recorded voice saying : how good is this kind of pizza. And believe me, it is delicious!”

Hail Pasta!  

You cannot complete a Sicilian meal without having “Pasta alla Norma” which is originally from Catania city in Sicily and is dedicated to the famous opera lirica ‘La Norma’ composed in 1831 by Vincenzo Bellini, a musician from Catania.

It is said that the name of the dish was given by a playwright Nino Martoglio from Catania. He liked the pasta as much as the opera lirica and exclaimed: This is a Norma! (meaning as good as the Norma…). Some believe that Vincenzo Bellini used to go to a restaurant and always ordered a particular pasta, so the owner finally named it after his opera as a tribute to Bellini.

“Anelletti al forno” is another Sicilian pasta which is baked. This is small ring shaped and goes with the most classic Sicilian ragout made of minced meat, tomato sauce, onions and pieces of vegetables like carrots and peas.

How can we miss another most famous Sicilian dish – “Pasta ch’ i sardi”? It has two main ingredients: sardines and wild fennel. Again chef comes up with an interesting byte, : “In Sicily we learn that the period for fishing and eating sardines is during the months that have a “R letter” ie In Italian are February, March, April, September, October, November, December.”

Desserts

Coming to desserts, The Cassata is the most traditional dessert made in Sicily together with the famous cannoli. “Cassata al forno”, is a popular Sicilian baked pie filled with a delicious cream made of ricotta cheese and chocolate chips.

There are two different kinds of Cassata : the classic one is the Sicilian Cassata (Cassata Siciliana) and the baked cassata (Cassata al forno). 

Cassata Siciliana is famous for its cover of icing and colored candied fruits and it is made of green marzipan on the sides. Cassata Forno is just a baked pie without the frills.

Biancomangiare

It is interesting to know that there is one popular pudding in Sicilian cuisine which uses all white ingredients. It is called “Biancomangiare”, (literally white food) comes from the French expression ‘bland manger’, and constitutes milk, cornstarch and sugar.

Chef Luigi Ferraro, Italian Chef at Sorrento, Shangri-La’s – Eros Hotel, New Delhi gives us must-try dishes from Sicilican cuisine along with two recipes to recreate Italian delicacies in the comfort of your home. Click here.

Arancini: Considered as Southern cousin of Rome’s cheese filled Suppli, Arancini is a popular street food. Bite into one of these fried rice balls, and enjoy anything from meat ragu to mozzarella to peas hidden within.

Pani ca meusa: A specialty of Palermo, it literally means, “bread with spleen” as it’s sesame-flavored bread, stuffed with chopped spleens and lungs of veal.

Pane e pannelle: Again a favorite street food of Palermo, Panelle are chickpea fritters that are served between bread, like a sandwich.

Sfincione: Looks like a pizza. The dough is spongy and the topping includes onions, caciocavallo cheese, bread crumbs, and olive oil!

Caponata: Like many Sicilian dishes, this one is based on eggplant. Eggplants are chopped and fried, and then seasoned with sweet balsamic vinegar, capers. Some like to add pine nuts and raisins. You get sweet-and-sour “salad” that’s a wonderful accompaniment to the meal as a contorno.

Parmigiana di melanzane: Again eggplant! Known commonly as “eggplant parmesan”,  here eggplant is sliced, fried, and layered with cheese and tomato.

Spaghetti ai ricci: Seafood is a major speciality in Sicily—even sea urchins! This dish can be really expensive, as it takes about 15 sea urchins for one portion of pasta!

Pasta con le sarde: Sardines are very popular in Sicily, more so as a topping for pasta. One common variety is bucatini with sardines, fennel, saffron, pine nuts, and raisins.

Involtini siciliani: These “Sicilian rolls” are made up of veal, with onions, tomatoes, raisins and pine nuts.

Polpo bollito: Fish in Sicily is so fresh, it’s rarely served with sauces or even much seasoning. This is a classic example: It’s simply boiled octopus.

Frutta martorana: Known as “marzipan,” world over, but in Sicily, the almond paste is molded into little incredibly real looking fruits—hence fruits of Martora, or frutta martorana.