Tag Archives: Sicily Travel

10 MUST-TRY DISHES WHEN YOU ARE IN SICILY

Time and time again I get asked about what I recommend as must-try dishes when in in Sicily.

You may be familiar with the websites for Great British Chefs (leading source of professional chef recipes in the UK) and their second sister website – Great Italian Chefs – dedicated to celebrating the wonderful food culture, traditions and innovations of Italy’s greatest chefs.

As their website informs us:

The Italians themselves are fiercely passionate about their culinary heritage, and with good reason – a large number of the world’s best dishes come from the cities, fields and shores of this deeply cultural, historic country.

AND

Today, Sicily is one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations, and it’s the food that keeps people coming back year after year.

From Great Italian Chefs comes 10 must-try dishes when you’re in Sicily (29 September 2017).

Palermo cathedral_0095

There are really 11 dishes listed altogether as it is assumed that you already know about Arancini.

The Sicilian specialties are:

  1. Fritella
  2. Caponata
  3. Raw red prawns
  4. Busiate al pesto trapanese
  5. Pasta con le sarde
  6. Pasta alla norma
  7. Cous cous di pesce
  8. Fritto misto
  9. Involtini di pesce spada
  10. Cannoli

AND

  1. Arancini

You will find almost all of the recipes for these dishes in my blog and I have added links and some photos to the recipes in this post below. Some of the photos are from my first book Sicilian Seafood Cooking. I cooked the food, the food stylist was Fiona Rigg, Graeme Gillies was the food photographer.

Although I have no recipes on my blog for Fritto misto, Raw red prawns and Involtini di pesce spada, I have explained each of these these Sicilian specialties and where appropriate I  have links to similar recipes on my blog.

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Fritto misto

Many of you may be familiar with Fritto misto (a mixed dish of mixed fried things: fritto = fried, misto = mixed) and know that it can apply to vegetables, fish or meat. These are cut into manageable size, are dusted in flour, deep fried and served plainly with just cut lemon.

The Fritto misto I knew as a child was what we ordered in restaurants and was the one that originated from Turin (Piedmont) and Milan (Lombardy). It was a mixture of meats and offal and I particularly liked the brains. Fritto misto was originally peasant food, the family slaughtered an animal for eating (usually veal) and the organs such as sweetbreads, kidneys, brains and bits of meat became the Fritto misto –  it was a way to eat the whole animal and it was eaten as close to the slaughter and fresh as possible. Rather than having been dipped in flour the various morsels were crumbed. Seasonal crumbed vegetables were also often included –  mostly eggplant and zucchini in the warm months, cauliflower and artichokes in the cooler season.

If we wanted to eat a fish variety of Fritto misto we would order a Fritto Misto di Mare/or Di Pesce (from the sea or of fish).

Sicily is an island and Sicilians eat a lot of fish and the Fritto misto you eat in Sicily is the fish variety – fresh fish is fundamental. In the Sicilian Fritto misto you will also find Nunnata (neonata (Italian) – neonate),

Sicilians are very fond of Nunnata – the Sicilian term used to call the minute newborn fish of different species including fish, octopi and crabs; each is almost transparent and so soft that they are eaten whole.

For Sicilians Nunnata is a delicacy but these very small fish are an important link in the marine biological food chain, and that wild and indiscriminate fishing endangers the survival of some fish species.

Many Sicilian fishers and vendors justify selling juvenile fish on the grounds that they are ‘bycatch’ (taken while fishing for other species). They argue that the fish are already dead or injured, so there is no point in throwing them back. It seems that for Sicilians, ‘sustainability’ means that all fish are fair game as long as they can catch their quota. However, it is important to acknowledge that the traditional fishing for juveniles is an important activity for small-scale fishers. It only takes place for 60 consecutive days during the winter and therefore has a high socio-economic impact at local level. When in Sicily I refuse to eat this and I only encountered one restaurant in Sciacca that refused to present it to patrons who specifically asked for it.

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Fritto misto di mare or Fritto misto di pesce

For the recipe of mixed fried fish, select a variety of fish: squid and prawns, sardines/anchovies, some fleshy white fish, whitebait too. Carefully clean the prawns leaving the head attached and removing the internal alimentary canal; clean the squid and cut into rings or strips and gut the sardines /anchovies and leave the head attached if you can.

Wipe the fish dry and dip the fish a little at a time into the flour and salt, sieve or shake to remove the excess flour and fry in very hot oil until golden and crispy. I use extra virgin oil for everything. Place on paper to drain and serve hot with lemon wedges and perhaps some more salt.

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Raw red prawns 

Gambero Rosso, (Aristaeomorpha foliacea) is a Sicilian red prawn. These prawns are blood-red  and are generally wild caught in the Mediterranean.

All very fresh seafood can be eaten raw and is loved by Sicilians, usually served with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Most times the seafood is marinaded in these even if it is for a short time – the lemon juice “cooks” the fish.

See posts:

SARDINE, CRUDE E CONDITE (Sardines – raw and marinaded)

PESCE CRUDO, raw fish dishes in Sicily

GREAT BRITISH CHEFS, GREAT ITALIAN CHEFS, Feature articles by Marisa Raniolo Wilkins

Sicilian 132 Antipasto Dble Page Spread.tif.p

Involtini di pesce spada

I like to eat sustainable fish and although pesce spada (swordfish) is very popular in Sicily it is overfished.

Swordfish display in LxRm5

There are local variations for the stuffing for Involtini di pesce spada but the most common is made from a combination of dry breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, grated pecorino and sometimes capers.

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I have these recipes that are involtini (rolled fillets and stuffed).

SARDE A BECCAFICO (Sardines stuffed with currants, pine nuts, sugar and nutmeg)

MY FAMILY FEAST SBS ONE, my recipes have been selected

INVOLTINI DI PESCE (Rolled fish: Fish fillets rolled around a herb stuffing)

BRACIOLINI or INVOLTINI DI PESCE – Small fish braciole stuffed with herbs, cooking demonstration at the Adelaide Showground Farmers Market

Sicilian 103 Braciulittini Small braciole stuffed w herbs.tif.p

RECIPES ON MY BLOG FOR THE FOLLOWING:

  • Fritella ( Frittedda/ Fritedda in Sicilian)

Frittedda

Jewels of Sicily

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  • Caponata

SICILIAN CAPONATA DI MELANZANE as made in Palermo (Eggplant caponata and Eggplant caponata with chocolate)

CAPONATA SICILIANA (CATANESE – Caponata as made in Catania

CAPONATA of Potatoes (General information and recipe for Caponata di patate)

Sicilian 061 Caponata Catanese.tif.p

  • Busiate al pesto trapanese

Pesto trapanese (from Tapani in Western Sicily) is also called Matarocco. Busiate is the type of pasta traditionally made by coiling a strip of pasta cut diagonally around a thin rod (like a knitting needle).

MATARROCCU, a Sicilian pesto

Sicilian 303 Pesto made w Tomatoes Basil Pinenuts.tif.p copy

  • Pasta con le sarde

PASTA CON LE SARDE (Pasta with sardines, from Palermo, made with fennel, pine nuts and currants)

PASTA CON SARDE – the baked version, Palermo, Sicily

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  • Pasta alla norma

PASTA ALLA NORMA (Pasta with tomatoes, and eggplants)

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  • Arancini

ARANCINI, Rice Balls at Caffé di Lido

ARANCINI (where else… but in Hong Kong!)

GREAT BRITISH CHEFS, GREAT ITALIAN CHEFS, Feature articles by Marisa Raniolo Wilkins

Arancini by Emanuel[3]

  • Cous cous di pesce
  • Cannoli

I am saddened and distressed to say that recipes for Cous Cous di pesce and Cannoli have disappeared from my blog and I can only assume that because I have transferred my blog several times to new sites these posts have been lost in the process. I will add these recipes at a later date.

In the meantime here are some photos:

Cannoli close up

Sicilian 395.IIQ.p

Great Italian Chefs link to 10 must-try dishes when you’re in Sicily (29 September 2017).

PALERMO -18 Secrets of Sicily Revealed by Top Travel Bloggers

 

Cefalu harbour & La Rocca

In the last 10 years Sicily has become a very popular destination and many friends, acquaintances and readers of my book (Sicilian Seafood Cooking) and my blog (All Things Sicilian and More), who plan to travel to Sicily, ask me for advice:

What should we do … where should we go … what must we eat … how do we get from point A to B?

Ragusa-steps-to-Ibla_ (1)

Recently, I was contacted by a member of the marketing Team at GoEuro, a travel search engine that combines and compares rail, bus and air travel in one site. GoEuro was preparing a blog feature about Sicily, with tips from well-travelled bloggers and had found my site. They asked if I’d be interested in sharing some of my recommendations within the region.

This is what I wrote and  was published:

Marisa Raniolo Wilkins

“Sicily is the pearl of this century for its qualities and its beauty, for the uniqueness of its towns and its people […] because it brings together the best aspects of every other country.”

This was written almost a thousand years ago by an Arabian geographer, Muhammed Al-Idrisi, in his book of “pleasant journeys into faraway lands” for the Norman King of Sicily, Roger II.

As Al-Idrisi discovered, Sicily may be small, but it has the best of everything and although I may visit some places again and again, I always manage to discover something new. And this is what brings me back to Sicily again and again. I grew up in the far north of Italy in Trieste but each summer as a child, I would travel to Sicily for our summer holidays – both of my parents have relatives in Sicily. For me Sicily was an exotic place of sunshine, colour and warmth, the outdoors and the sea. Wherever I go in Europe, I always visit Sicily as well.

On my latest trip I concentrated on Southeastern Sicily and went to little towns and villages that I had not been to before as well as familiar places where I’m always interested to see what’s changed and what has stayed the same.

Next time I visit I plan to spend more time in the city that is the essence of Sicily – Palermo.  While Al-Adrisi called Sicily a “pearl” Roberto Alajmo, a journalist and blogger born and raised in Palermo compared his home town to an onion, una cipolla – its multiple layers have to be peeled to be appreciated.

Once you start peeling back the layers of Palermo what you find is a city where history meets infamy and splendor encounters squalor, antiquities stand beside modernity. All of it evidence of a fantastic overlay of cultures from Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, French and Spanish. This cultural fusion shows up in the food and drink, the art and architecture, the palaces, the temples and churches and the entire Sicilian way of life.

Last time I visited Palermo was five years ago, but each time I go I’m always happy to revisit the historic quarter with its Arabo-Norman monuments. Among my favourites are the Palazzo dei Normanni and its Cappella Palatina with their dazzling Byzantine mosaics and frescoes. There’s also King Roger II’s La Martorana, where the spectacular mosaic of Christ the Pantocrator overlooks Olivio Sozzi’s baroque Glory of the Virgin Mary, painted six centuries later. I enjoy admiring the simple, geometric shapes of the Norman palaces, La Cuba and La Zisa, built entirely by Arabic craftsmen and the distinctive Arabo-Norman red domes on San Cataldo and San Giovanni degli Ermiti.

On my not-to-miss list is the Cattedrale which is another masterpiece of overlaid period styles, begun by the Normans in the 12th Century, with 15th Century Catalan Gothic porch, capped off with a neo-classical 18th Century neo-classical dome. The timeline continues inside with tombs of Norman and Swabian kings and queens: Roger II and his daughter, Costanza d’Altavilla and their son Frederick II and his wife of Costanza of Aragon. You can admire her imperial gold crown in the cathedral’s treasury.

Palermo also has a fountain to rival the best of Rome. La Fontana Pretoria was once prudishly called the “fountain of shame” because of the multiple nude statues. Judge for yourself! The baroque also makes a grand stand in the four elegant palazzo facades of the Quattra Canti, framing the intersection of Palermo’s two main boulevards.

I know I’m at the heart of the onion that is Palermo when I enter the labyrinth of laneways in the city’s sprawling markets – especially La Vucciria and Ballarò – with their clustered stalls that remind me of an Arabic souk. I like to listen to the clamour of the traders’ shouted Sicilian dialect. Sheltered from the sun under red canvas awnings you find the fish stalls. In his book, Midnight in Sicily Peter Robb described how the diffused red light of the market “enhanced the translucent red of the big fishes’ flesh and the silver glitter of the smaller ones’ skins”.

Wandering the old quarters of Palermo, you’ll pick up the aroma of traditional street-food fried in large vats such as panelle (chickpea flour fritters), cazzilli (potato croquettes) or meusa (spleen) which are typical dishes of the friggeria. And if I want to eat these treats in doors I go to classic restaurants like L’Antica Foccaceria San Francesco which has been cooking the same thing for decades.

I find it interesting to see how traditional cuisine has developed and one of my favourite things to do in Palermo (or anywhere I go in Sicily) is to find restaurants that re-invent traditional dishes and present them with contemporary twists.  And if I want to contrast the old-style dishes with contemporary versions there are still typical trattorie like La Casa del Brodo that have classic Palermo dishes like sarde a beccafico, caponata, pasta con la sarde.

I’m also seriously interested in discovering the ever increasing new hip bars that serve glasses of Sicilian wine varieties like grillo and nero d’avola and boutique beers matched with interesting snacks that reflect modern Sicilian cuisine.

When the time comes to escape the close-quarter hustle of the city, you can catch a bus to the north-west side of Palermo to admire the Liberty-style residences of the capital’s once-wealthy merchants. Stay on board to travel to the picturesque seaside town of Mondello, where you can dine out on the waterfront, drink in the view, scoop up a granita or gelato, eat a cannolo or a slice of cassata. It is definitely a place to eat fish and enjoy a drink or two.  Back in town you can always book a ticket to the opera or ballet at the Teatro Massimo.

Palermo’s gardens are another escape. I love to wander in the greenery of the Villa Giulia or the Piazza Marina with its massive fig trees, which are spectacular. The modern art galleries are another diversion. There’s the GAM (La Galleria d’Arte Moderna), Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea, Nuvole Incontri d’Arte and Palazzo Riso which I was told about on my last visit to Palermo, when I saw an exhibition of works by Francesco Simeti.

Palazzo Riso is a baroque neo-classical edifice built in the 1780s. It was Mussolini’s temporary headquarters in World War II and bombed by the Americans in a failed attempt to kill the Italian dictator (who had left town only days before the air-raid). For years the Palazzo stood in ruins and when it was finally restored during the late-1990s, the restorers preserved some of the damage as evidence of its history.

Although I have seen Guttoso’s painting of the Vucciria Market hanging in the Palazzo Chiaramonte Steri, I have yet to see the basement where thousands of prisoners accused of heresy through the Holy Inquisition were imprisoned. These prison walls are covered in prisoners’ simple etchings, which were plastered over in the 19th Century.

I take great pleasure in returning to a place as rich and varied as Sicily and why revisiting a city as layered as Palermo is top of my European travel wish list. It may not have the reputation of Rome (the eternal city) or Florence (la serenissima) but it has depth and diversity.

St-Christina-Cathedral-Palermo (1)

My blog had already been mentioned by two other tourism companies – Sicily Local Expert Award and Sicily Tourism, but these two companies provided a general list of Sicilian blogs. Whether  they keep this information on their site remains to be seen.

Temple-ruins-Selinunte