Sicily, Italy’s most southern region, is the ancient land of the Sicels. The Phoenicians and the Greeks were the first foreigners to arrive and colonize the island. They introduced the concepts civilization and culture and left their tracks by constructing incredible temples, like the ones in Agrigento, and theaters in cities like Taormina and Siracusa. Sicily then became a Roman province.
At the fall of the Empire, the island came under the control of the Byzantines until it was conquered by the Arabs. Thanks to the agricultural, scientific, commercial and artistic skill of the Arab people, Sicily enjoyed a period of great prosperity.
The region experienced further growth under Norman-Swabian rule. The Normans built numerous monuments like the cathedrals in Palermo and Monreale. Things took a turn for the worst when Charles of Anjou took over the island and local discontent led to the Sicilian Vespers.
After the Angevins were removed from power, the Kingdom of Argon, led by Peter III, the son-in-law of the last Swabian king, took control of the island. After various successions, Sicily was taken by the Bourbons and merged with Naples to become the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. After the arrival of Garibaldi in 1860, Sicily became part of the Kingdom of Italy.
The Sicilian landscape and climate vary dramatically across the island, from the gorges of Alcantara, to the mountains to the volcanic islands. The Sicilian Apennines are located in the northeastern part of the island and are comprised of the Peloritani, Nebrodi and Madonie mountain ranges.
Other major landmarks include the Central Plateau, known for its sulfurous fumaroles, the Erei Mountains and the Iblei Mountains in southeastern Sicily. The DOP Sicilian olive oil comes from the Iblei area, as well as the valleys near Trapani and Val Demone.
Sicily is also home to one of Europe’s most active volcanoes, Mount Etna. There is a dramatic contrast between the black area near the summit and the fertile slopes where grapes, almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, cactus fruit and pistachios, including the famous Bronte variety. The rest of Sicily’s produce is grown on thin, alluvial plains and along the coast.
The region of Sicily also includes the surrounding islands. The Aegadian archipelago is located off the northwestern Sicilian coast, while the Aeolian Islands are to the northeast. The Pelagie Islands and the solitary island of Pantelleria are found to the south of Sicily, and are known for their great grapes, like Zibibbo, and legendary capers.
Sicilian cuisine is a melting pot of all the different cultures that have occupied the island. Sicilian cuscus, is identical to its Middle Eastern cousin cuscus, however you are much more likely to find it served with a rich fish stock in Sicily. Rice is used to make arancini, or stuffed, fried rice balls, that are also of Arab origin. Wheat is a major crop in Sicily and has been used in pasta production since the 11th century.
Swordfish and tuna are caught off the coast and used in many regional recipes that include tomatoes, olives, capers from Pantelleria, lemons and other citrus. The local tuna is also preserved as bottarga, or dried fish roe, or salame di tonno, a cooked tuna sausage.
Ricotta is a main ingredient in the regional desserts and is often paired with almonds, pistachios, fruit and honey. Stuffed Cannoli and Cassata are the two primary examples. Sicilian marzipan, sorbets and gelato are all produced with local ingredients.
Sicilian wines are known to be strong and syrupy, like Marsala, Malvasia and Moscato from Pantelleria.
Some raditional recipes of Sicily
This is a specialty of the city of Palermo, but is popular throughout Sicily. This ‘focaccia’ is an age-old accompaniment to various dishes. In some cases it can be served with cheese or salami.
Pasta alla Norma
Pasta alla Norma is one of the most famous Sicilian recipes in the world. It really embodies the flavors of the island.
This delicious Sicilian recipe plays up to the fullest the tenderness and delicate flavor of the swordfish, also known as the king of the sea.
Sicilian Style Cannoli
This recipe for a crispy wafer filled with sweet cream is a full of flavor and embodies the essence of Sicily.