From chocolate to chili peppers: a journey across the best Sicilian Food
A variety of Mediterranean flavors and beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see along the Mediterranean Sea, undiscovered archaeological sites, the biggest European volcano and an impressive number of small islets – each one with its own kind of beauty. If this seems not enough to convince you to book the first flight for Italy, you may want to delve into Sicilian Food. Blessed with a climate much warmer than the mainland, Sicily, the biggest Italian region, can rely on a profusion of simple and fresh ingredients that cannot find elsewhere.
Sicilian Almonds: the undiscovered delights
In Sicily, almonds are the most prolific tree cultivated after olives, but since they are seldom exported, they are virtually unknown outside the region. Thanks to the favorable climate and the calcium-rich soil, Sicilian almonds are unparalleled in their taste and flavor. Fresh almonds—those still encased in their hard, green shells—have a very creamy and almost milky taste, quite unlike the dried almonds most Americans are used to eating.
The towns of Avola, Noto and Rosolini in the province of Siracusa, are the most famous for their almonds. Each spring, almond trees in full bloom, with their delicate pink and white blossoms, are a sight to behold—a fairyland of soft pastels that transform the landscape. The nuts are usually harvested in the summer when groups of workers beat the branches with long canes and collect the almonds on cloths spread on the ground.
Needless to say, almonds are a typical Sicilian Food used in a variety of recipes: we have already talked about Red Pesto, the Southern version of the Genoese Sauce. Needless to say, pastries are the recipes where almonds are used in a huge variety of way: there are lot of Sicilian cookies and sweets that use “pasta di mandorle” (almond paste) made with whole blanched almonds ground until they form a powder. Another favorite dish is almond-flavored granita, a kind of crushed ice served just about everywhere in Sicily, particularly refreshing during the hot summer month.
The Green Gold: Bronte Pistachio
If people call it green gold, there is a reason. A delicacy enveloped in a light, bright green hue, the Bronte Pistachio is good on its own, or when used in recipes savory and sweet. Whether fresh or dried, it is perhaps the most precious Sicilian Food, and symbolizes its town of origins, Bronte, in the Province of Catania.
Even if the nut’s origins are not in Sicily but in ancient Persia, Bronte Pistachio is really one of a kind and distinguished by unique characteristics. These differences may be due to the fact that pistachios in Bronte are cultivated in volcanic soil of Mount Etna.
The Bronte pistachio is sweet, delicate and fragrant and has a really vibrant green color. Given its singular traits, its nutritional and organolectic properties, as well as its gorgeous taste and smell, the Bronte Pistachio obtained the PDO label in 2009.
Modica Chocolate, an ancient recipe
If you have read this far, you may have understood that Sicilian Food is a paradise for sweet tooth. In case you are not 100% convinced, this paragraph will definitely persuade you. Made in a small Sicilian town, Modica chocolate is indeed one of the world’s best-kept secrets.
The chocolate in Modica is made with a very old recipe, none other than from the Aztecs. If you are wondering what the Aztecs have to do with Sicily, think about the Spanish conquistadors in South America and you will see that the same Spanish have dominated this island for a couple of centuries.
The Atzec method of processing cocoa beans involves them being ground and mixed with other spices, and then rubbed a curved stone, with a special stone rolling pin, until a consistent cocoa paste was achieved. Thus, it gains its grainy, crumbly and rough, almost raw texture, which preserves all the features of cocoa.
Italian Chili Peppers
Most people do not associate hot and spicy with Italian food, but truth be told, Italians love their hot peppers. In the very southern parts of Italy one of the most beautiful colors of summer in southern Italy is in fact the deep red of chili peppers adorning balconies and gardens.
Like other Sicilian Food, they have so many health benefits such as improving cognitive function, contributing to red blood cell formation, reducing blood pressure and preventing cardiovascular disease. Chilli peppers also act as natural pain reliever, boost immunity and maintain healthy eye.
A special Italian dish to taste the savor of chili peppers is pasta "aglio, olio e peperoncino" that is pasta with garlic, olive oil and chili peppers. The best kind of pasta are spaghetti: cook spaghetti in hot water for 10 minutes, then flavor them with garlic and "peperoncino" sautéed in extra vergin olive oil and the dish is ready to eat!
Sicilian Blood oranges and the other citrus fruit
The proximity to the active Etna volcano, a particularly fertile soil and a dry climate with strong thermal excursions, create ideal growing conditions for a plenty of citrus that cannot be found elsewhere in Italy such as Mandarins, Tangerines, Sicilian Lemons, Limette and the Sicilian Blood Orange, probably the most famous.
The main varieties of red orange that can be found in Sicily are Tarocco, Moro and Sanguinello. There are grown in the East of Sicily, in the famous plane of Catania, from Palagonia, Ramacca, Lentini and up to Paternò. Being filled with antioxidants and Vitamin C, they probably are among the healtiest fruits in the world!
When in season, “spremuta d’arancia”, freshly squeezed orange juice is served in almost every coffee bar. The golden fruit is also used in savory dishes like the “insalata di arance”, a fresh orange salad, is generally served with shaved fennel, Sicilian extra virgin olive oil, pitted green or black olives, sea salt and freshly ground pepper.