If there is one thing that most of all characterizes the spirit and personality of this island, it can only be the food and its traditions!
The Sicilian cuisine is that form of art that has developed in Sicily since ancient times and it is closely linked to the historical, religious, and cultural events that have taken place in its territory over the course of the millennia. Its main feature was definitively the capacity to absorb traces and contributions deriving from the past dominations that followed. That process defined a very specific style that has then been perfected and enriched according to the inhabitants’ habits over the centuries.
We can undoubtedly affirm that Sicilian cuisine is a question of identity for the island inhabitants. It is often considered, given its complexity, as the most colorful, scenic, and rich in specialties of the entire Italian panorama. It is also a source of pride for its people and an unmissable attraction for the millions of tourists who visit the island every year.
Furthermore, several typical recipes of the island are recognized nationally, but they even enjoy world fame. To name just a few, we have arancine (or arancini), Sicilian cannoli, cassata Iris, granita, la caponata, pasta with sardines, and many others.
Moreover, thanks to the mild climate and the great fertility of its territory, Sicily is a land of excellences also for what concerns the production of spices and aromatic herbs (such as oregano, rosemary, sage, and mint), citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons, dried fruit such as almonds or pistachio, or olive trees, from which some of the finest extra virgin olive oils in the world are produced.
Some writings state that the fame of Sicilian cuisine began to spread in ancient times, even since the times of the Greeks, where it is said that Sicilian cooks from the powerful Syracuse, were requested to provide their services, also thanks to the relationships due to the trade routes, in Athens, Sparta, and Corinth.
In addition, Sicily gave birth to some of the most important chefs of the time including Miteco Siculo (among other things, he was the author of the first cookery book in history), Labdaco of Syracuse, and Archestrato da Gela, who is also to be considered the father of culinary critics, author of the poem Gastronomy, in which he talks about drinks and foods encountered during his long travels.
A feature that distinguishes Sicily is the constant scent that can be breathed in the open areas, in fact, there is a huge amount of aromatic herbs in which the presence is favored by the typical mild Mediterranean climate. The most characteristics are bay leaf, basil, wild fennel, nepeta, mint, sage, thyme, rosemary, and caper. In addition, saffron is very present in the area and it was brought to the island by the Arabs.
Another specialty that distinguishes the Sicilian territory is the production of cheese. This very ancient food was already produced in archaic times and has always been highly appreciated by the population. On the island, there are different varieties of cheeses produced with both cow’s and sheep’s milk, and many of them are products with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) including:
- Sicilian Caciocavallo: it is one of the oldest varieties and is widespread throughout the island after being introduced in the Bourbon time during the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
- Sicilian goat cheese: also widespread throughout the island, it boasts legendary origins, as it seems to have also been known to the great Greek poet Homer.
- Sicilian Pecorino: produced with sheep’s milk, is the most widespread and consumed on the island.
- The Pecorino Rosso: this type of pecorino is also widespread in Tuscany and Sardinia, but it seems that the Sicilian one is unique in its kind as it is aged with tomato juice.
The most common cheeses in the eastern area are the Ragusano, the Caciocavallo Ibleo, the Provola dei Nebrodi, while in the western area we have the Provola dei Monti Sicani, the Provola delle Madonie and the Vastedda della Valle del Belice.
Another typical product made from milk is obviously ricotta. Traditionally made with sheep’s milk, which is widely used both in the confectionery and in the culinary sector. In fact, many of the most iconic dishes on the island are based on ricotta, such as Sicilian cannoli or cassata.
Olive trees and extra virgin olive oil
Among the most identifying products of the Mediterranean area, there is undoubtedly the olive tree! Known since ancient times, it is thought that the olive tree was brought to Sicily by the Greeks, where the plant found its ideal environment to spread. During those times the olive tree was considered a sacred tree, therefore anyone who uprooted one was even punished with exile. The cultivation of olive trees and oil extraction is a millenary tradition, and the extra virgin olive oil produced is widely used in any recipe and any dish.
The varieties present are: Biancolilla, which is also the most widespread variety, Cerasuola, Giarraffa, Moresca, Nocellara Etnea and Nocellara del Belice, Tonda Iblea, Nasitana, Verdese, Santagatese and Ogliarola Messinese.
The extra virgin olive oils of protected origin (DOP) are, therefore: the oil of Mount Etna, the oil of the Iblei Mountains, the oil of Mazara del Vallo, the oil of the Val Demone, the oil of the Valle del Belice, and the oil from the Trapani valleys.