Sicily may be part of Italy, but so much of its history, culture, and cuisine are entirely unique from the rest of the country. Treat yourself with a visit to Sicily and your taste buds will be thanking you for the Mediterranean-Adriatic flavor combination found nowhere else in the world.
Translating literally to “little orange,” arancine are a culinary win all around. They’re none too complicated, simply rice balls coated in breadcrumbs and fried, sometimes with a little butter or bolognese thrown into the mix. Heat one of these babies up and bada bing bada boom, you’ve got yourself a delicious snack that will have you keep coming back for more.
It’s no surprise that arancine, one of Sicily’s most famous dishes, essentially pays homage to the delectable sweet fruit found all over the island. Naturally-growing oranges aren’t hard to come by in places of similar latitude, but there’s something special about these almost-royal treats. The farming of oranges, along with lemons, helped earn the area around Palermo the nickname “Conca d’Oro” (golden seashell) because of high levels of citrus export. Head to the source for the freshest and best.
Of course Sicily has its own type of olive—this is Italy, after all. However, these meaty, delicious green olives are rich in both flavor and history, having hailed from the island since before the Greeks arrived in the 8th century B.C.E. Lore has it that these ancient Greeks even preferred the Sicilian olives over their own, likely due to the fertile, volcanic soil in which they continue to be grown.
This dish is the Sicilian answer to ratatouille, with possible Spanish origins. It’s a slow-cooked mixture of eggplants, tomatoes, olives, onions, pine nuts, and extra-virgin olive oil. Though it once stood alone as an entree, it’s more commonly eaten as a side dish these days, and at cold or room temperature to boot. It accompanies fish dishes extremely well, and bold chefs even add octopus or shrimp directly into the mix.
Pasta con le Sarde
Sicily is an island, so it’s almost impossible not to run into top-notch seafood dishes. This Sicilian specialty takes the basics out of this world. Finely chopped anchovies and sardines may not seem like your thing, but when they’re done well by the people most equipped to bring out the best in them, you’ll be changing your tune. At the very least you can enjoy the addition of wild fennel, which grows naturally all over the island.
Spaghetti alla Siracusana
This dish includes some bias from the author, who is marrying a man whose family hails specifically from Siracusa, but even without a personal connection this dish brings back all the nostalgia of the old country. This classic spaghetti recipe includes garlic-sauteed anchovies from the nearby sea without overwhelming the food with a fishy flavor. Toasted bread crumbs give it texture, and the eater gives it a thumbs up.
Gelato is a must-have everywhere in Italy, but in Sicily it’s extra special. Fruit syrups infused with the unmelted snow from Mt. Etna, Sicily’s ever-active volcano, formed the basis of sorbet. Once cream was added, it became the gelato we all know and love. Even in the ancient city of Ortigia, gelato is not hard to come by.
“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” The character Peter Clemenza in The Godfather speaks like a true Sicilian, and for good reason. These fried pastry tubes stuffed with ricotta, candied orange peel, then decorated with pistachio and chocolate sprinkles are a legacy. Decadent and filling, they are the dessert version of pasta, and are always the most delicious when cooked like only Nona knows how.
Continuing on with the dessert options, sfingi is fun to both say and eat. Essentially a light donut hole, this Sicilian favorite is typically enjoyed during the Carnevale festivities as well as on the Day of San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s), which is March 19th. Eating these fried beauties is enough reason to celebrate, in our opinion.
It’s pretty obvious that Sicilians have a sweet tooth. Add granita to the list of must-try desserts, because it is another Sicilian legend. It’s a semi-frozen dessert similar to sorbet, but is icier in texture because it’s not churned. Typically it’s infused with refreshing citrus or mint flavors. Like most everything in Italy, it can be served with coffee.