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The Foods Of Sicily - A Culinary Journey

The cuisine of Sicily is uniquely different from any other Italian region, strongly influenced by it's many conquerors. From the Greeks, to the Romans, the Arabs, the Normans, the French and the Spanish, each conqueror and wayfarer have strongly left their influence on the foods of Sicily. Not only have these foreign civilizations converged on Sicily throughout it's history with conquest in mind, but they usually brought with them new ingredients, customs and food traditions that remained long after they had left. Blend these foreign techniques with simple peasant ingredients, including the fresh catch of the sea, and pick of the garden, and Sicilian cuisine was born.

The basic ingredients used most commonly in Sicilian cuisine are those similar to other southern Italian regions, including olive oil, pasta, seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, including of course the beloved tomato. The philosophy of Sicilian cooking can be found throughout Italy, where one cooks with what has on hand, or what can be found fresh at the market or in the garden, rather than starting with a recipe first, and then looking for the needed ingredients.

The range of dishes found in the cuisine of Sicily is extensive, making it quite difficult to categorize it easily. A favorite Sicilian appetizer might be the traditional Caponata , which is a hearty, full bodied mixture of eggplant and other mediterranean ingredients that is delicious served with crusty bread. Another favorite eggplant appetizer is Eggplant "Sandwiches" , which consists of breaded slices of eggplant sandwiched a slice of cheese in between, which is then fried a golden brown. Arancini , or "small oranges", consist of fried rice balls stuffed with meat and cheese, and are another Sicilian delicacy which are served as an antipasto.

A first course in Sicily may be a simple Pasta con le Sarde, or Pasta with Sardines , considered by many to be the national dish, or Pasta with Cauliflower . A vibrant, tasty tomato based pasta made with fried eggplant which is topped with ricotta salata cheese is also commonly served, called Pasta alla Norma .

Soups may include beans, lentils, rice, fresh vegetables and many combinations of these ingredients. A Rice Timbale , or a baked casserole of rice, meats, eggs and cheese is another commonly served first course. Couscous, introduced to the Sicilians by the Arabs, can also be found on many Sicilian tables.

Meat is not as popular as seafood, since Sicily is an island and has an abundance of fresh catch available. Veal however is enjoyed, such as in the recipe for Veal Marsala . Beef, when used, is commonly ground and used for meatballs or meatloaf, which are served after the pasta, as a second course. The seafood available is extensive, but swordfish and tuna are very popular. Grilled Swordfish with Orange Sauce , might be something you would find, combining both the popular fish with citrus fruit which is found across the island. Tuna With White Beans would be a recipe that typifies Sicilian cooking at it's best. Sardines are prevalent, and are used as an appetizer, first course, or even a main course. Baccala, or dried salted cod, is another seafood specialty found in Sicily.

There is a vast selection of fresh vegetables and fruit available in Sicily, producing a stupendous range of dishes put together for flavor, as well as for appearance and aroma. Sicilians have perfected the art of food presentation, where even the most simple dish becomes a work of art. Favorite vegetables consist of fennel, such as in the recipe for Baked Fennel , fava beans, which might be served as Fave con Pecorino , onions, cauliflower, and artichokes which can be found prepared in a myriad of ways.

Sicily exceeds all other Italian regions in it's choices of sweets, fruits and ice creams. Marzipan, or sweetened almond paste is shaped into many forms and artistically colored. Cannoli , are tubular crusts filled with sweetened ricotta. The filling is flavored with candies fruits and nuts or chocolate. A Cassata , is a rich cake filled with a similar filling to the cannoli. Granita and ice creams or every imaginable flavor can be found at shops on every corner.

It's impossible to describe Sicilian cuisine properly in a few short paragraphs, although hopefully I have given you an overview of this magnificent region's foods.

Buon Appetito!
By Deborah Mele 2002