Italian cuisine is generally not very ostentatious, using only a few ingredients for many of its dishes and emphasizing on simplicity when it comes to presentation. But the Italians’ characteristic insistence on using only the highest-quality ingredients makes their cooking singularly remarkable. Furthermore, Italian cuisine is also well-known for its diversity, so much so that each of its regions and provinces would usually have different versions of classic dishes that are otherwise recognized simply and generically as “Italian” (pasta and pizza lovers, take note).
Sicily, the Mediterranean’s largest Island and an autonomous region within Italy, is one of the best places in the country to experience this diversity in food. Although its gastronomic culture shares a great deal of similarities with quintessential Italian cuisine, it also embraces a lot of influences from the Spanish, Greeks, French, Germans, and Arabs.
On this list, we share with you the best dishes to taste in Sicily. It’s not at all a lengthy list, of course, but if ever you set foot on the island, this should get you started on your food adventure!
Ah, but who would make a Sicilian food list where the venerable cannoli doesn’t take the cake? Certainly, the best place to get these delicious pastry desserts is in Sicily, where they were originally invented.
Authentic cannoli siciliani consist of crispy tube-shaped shells made of fried pastry dough and a delectable ricotta cream filling. Often, the open ends of a cannoli are also garnished with chopped pistachios, candied fruits, candied orange peel, cherries, and chocolate chips.
Pasta con le sarde
No other staple food is more Italian than pasta, and nothing says “Sicilian” better than fresh seafood. That’s why pasta con le sarde — pasta with anchovies — is considered a Sicilian classic.
Aside from the fish, pasta con le sarde owes its distinctive taste to its other main ingredient, the fennel, an aromatic and flavorful herb that grows abundantly on the island. The resulting savory sauce is typically served with bucatini pasta.
Pasta con le sarde originates from the Palermo province in northern Sicily. However, other provinces, particularly on the eastern part of the island, have their own version in which tomatoes are part of the main ingredients.
Another well-loved Sicilian delicacy is the Arancini, which are essentially stuffed fried balls of risotto rice coated with bread crumbs. The arancini get their name from arancia (oranges) because of their round shape and their orange color.
Now, the thing with arancini is that like the proverbial box of chocolates, you just never know what you’re going to get. Just about every Sicilian household has its own favorite recipe for the filling – from cheese, mushrooms, and pistachio pesto to aubergine, meat and béchamel sauce. Surprise yourself by trying out arancini from different neighborhoods!
Among frozen treats, the granita siciliana is arguably the most popular one in Sicily, where it is sometimes served with brioche bread. It is similar to sorbet and is made from a mixture of water, sugar, and flavoring. Traditionally, granita is made by slowly freezing this liquid mixture and then occasionally stirring it to break the ice crystals as they form. This method results in a coarse and crumbly texture, as opposed to the smoother ones created by machines.
Granita is available in many different flavors. Fruits like lemon, oranges, strawberries, and mulberries are popular, while nuts like pistachio and almond are perennial favorites. Other varieties are flavored with coffee, mint, and jasmine.
Pasta alla norma
On top of the fresh seafood, Sicily is also known for its garden-fresh produce. Greengrocers take pride in selling only seasonal fruits and vegetables, which the locals use for their dishes.
The pasta alla norma is a classic vegetable-based Sicilian pasta dish, which originates from the province of Catania on the eastern coast of the island. Its sauce is made from eggplant and tomatoes and served with basil, grated ricotta salata cheese, and mint leaves on top of penne or macaroni pasta.
Impanata di pesce spada
The impanata di pesce spada (breaded swordfish) is probably a legacy of Sicily’s Spanish era and a descendant of the Spanish torta and pastel. But what was the Sicilians’ lasting contribution to the dish? Why the swordfish, of course! Aside from anchovies and tuna, swordfish is Sicily’s favorite fish. Seafood in general, as you already know, is quite ubiquitous in Sicilian cuisine.
Simply put, the impanata di pesce spada is a beautiful pie packed with all the goodness of Sicily — swordfish, tomatoes, green olives, capers, pine nuts, artichokes, cheese, raisins, and olive oil — all of which are baked for a truly healthy and hearty meal.
Frutta di martorana
We end this list on a sweet note with the frutta di martorana, which is a traditional marzipan confection made from sugar, honey, and almond meal shaped in the form of fruits and vegetables. They look so realistic that you might actually mistake them for actual fruits and vegetables up until you bite into them!
The nuns of the Monastero della Martorana, a convent in Palermo, Sicily, were the inventors of these fruit-shaped sweets. In the past, they decorated bare fruit trees with these confections during the Easter holidays.
Today, the convent is no longer around, but the frutta di martorana is still a popular Sicilian treat. They are traditionally placed on children’s bedside every second of November, All Soul’s Day. Parents tell the kids that loved ones from heaven visit the living and give them sweet gifts during this special day.
As mentioned, Sicilian cuisine is so diverse that a short list such as this might not do it justice. We challenge you to explore the island’s many culinary wonders and to come up with a list of your own favorite dishes to add to ours!