Sicilian Food, Wine and Cooking
If you are looking for fine Italian wine and food, consider the Sicily region of southern Italy.
Sicily is an island in the Mediterranean Sea located off the southwest tip of Italy. Sicily was first inhabited about ten thousand years ago. Agriculture and animal raising date back well over four thousand years. Its rulers have included the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Germans, and Spaniards, among others. This mountainous region is prone to volcanoes and earthquakes; in 1908 an earthquake and subsequent tidal wave killed eighty thousand people in the coastal city of Messina. Sicily's population is about five million, with an additional ten million people of Sicilian descent around the world.
Agricultural products include wheat, barley, corn, olives, citrus fruit, almonds, and, of course, grapes. Tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers are prominent in local cuisine. Sicily is Italy's second region for organic food. Many think that the Arabs introduced pasta to Sicily, which subsequently introduced it to the rest of Italy. Cattle, mules, donkeys, and sheep are raised. Sicily claims to have invented meatballs, The seas surrounding Sicily are bountiful, favorites include sardines, tuna, and swordfish. Sicily is famous for desserts, including frozen treats made with snow from Mount Etna.
Sicilian heavy industry includes petro-chemicals, chemicals, mining, and electronics. Tourism is a major factor in the Sicilian economy. Did you know that the Valle dei Templi in Agrigento on the Mediterranean Sea has some of the finest Greek ruins on earth?
Palermo, arguably the world's most conquered city, is Sicily's capital with a population of a little under seven hundred thousand. It is a definite tourist destination, with its numerous historical churches, museums, theaters, and Italy's largest botanical garden. Another urban tourist destination is Syracuse, dating back to Ancient Greece. The Greek writer Cicero described it as The greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all. Both earthquakes and World War II caused heavy damage, but many of the most interesting sites have been reconstructed.
Sicily devotes about a third of a million acres to grapevines, it ranks first among the 20 Italian regions. Its total annual wine production is about 213 million gallons, also giving it first place If Sicily were an independent country, it would rank seventh in the world for wine production. About 54% of its wine production is red or rosé (only a bit of rosé), leaving 46% for white. The region produces 19 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. Only a little more than 2% of Sicilian wine carries the DOC designation. Sicily is home to over three dozen major and secondary grape varieties, with more white than red varieties.
Widely grown international white grape varieties include Malvasia and to a lesser extent, Chardonnay. The best-known strictly Italian white varieties are Catarratto, Grecanico, Inzolia, and Grillo. The first three of these varieties are blended in the wine reviewed below.
Widely grown international red grape varieties include Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. The best-known strictly Italian red varieties are Nero d'Avola, Frappato, and Nerello Mascalese.
Sicily - Food and Wines - Wines
Contrasts are not the least of those things in which Sicily abounds. So perhaps it is not surprising that this ancient island boasts one of Italy's most modern wine industries of that a region noted chiefly in the past for strong and often sweet amber Marsala and Moscato has rapicly switched the emphasis toward lighter, dryer wines - whites and reds.
Sicily, the largest Mediterranean island, has more vineyards for wine than any other region. Production in recent years has reached awesome levels - frequently the greatest in volume among the regions. The westernmost province of Trapani alone turns out more wine than the entire regions of Tuscany or Piedmont or such wine nations as Hungary, Austria or Chile. But the proportion of DOC wine in Sicily's total is a mere 2.5 per cent and a major share of that is Marsala, which with some 22 million litres a year ranks among Italy's top ten DOCs in volume.
Marsala, which was devised by English merchant traders nearly two centuries ago, has remained Sicily's proudest wine despite decades of degradation when it was flavoured with various syrups and sweeteners. Recently it has enjoyed a comeback with connoisseurs, who favour the dry Marsala Vergine and Superiore Riserva with their warmly complex flavours that rank them with the finest fortified wines of Europe.
The only other DOC wine made in significant quantity in Sicily (about 2.5 million litres a year) is the pale white, bone dry Bianco d'Alcamo. Moscato di Pantelleria, from the remote isle off the coast of Tunisia, is among the richest and most esteemed of Italian sweet wines in the Naturale and Passito Extra versions. Malvasia delle Lipari, from the volcanic Aeolian isles,is a dessert wine as exquisite as it is rare.
The dry white and red wines of Etna, whose vines are draped over the lower slopes of the volcano, can show notable class, as can the pale red but potent Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Production of the others DOCs - the dry, red Faro and the sweet Moscatos of Noto and Siracusa - has been virtually nonexistent in recent times.
By contrast, a number of unclassivied vini da tavola are thriving. Increasingly prominent are the pale, faintly scented, delicately fruity whites which derive largely from native grapes such as Inzolia, Catarratto, Grecanico and Verdello. Such outsiders as Sauvignon and Chardonnay have also proved promising. Certain reds have achieved prominence, too, mainly those from such admired native varieties as Nero d'Avola (or Calabrese) and Nerello Mascalese and Perricone (or Pignatello).
The most admired brands in Sicilian tables wines - Corvo-Duca di Salaparuta and Regaleali - do not qualify under any DOC. Yet Corvo's consistent quality in dry whites and reds from grapes selected throughout the island has made them prizewinners at home and abroad. Regaleali from the Tasca d'Almerita family estate high in the island's central hills, has been producing white, rose' and reds that have won international acclaim.
The Region of Sicily distinguishes wines of consistent quality - whether DOC or not - with a Q, which appears on labels as a seal of approval.
Sicilian wine has not enjoyed universal success, however. In an era of dwindling consumption world-wide, much of the island's production is either shipped away as blending wine or designated for distillation into industrial alcohol.
The region's wine production - four-fifths of which is centred in cooperatives - has been gradually reduced as new emphasis has been given to premium quality. New methods of viticulture in the sunny, temperate hills are helping to realise wines of real character and individuality. Sicily has taken the lead in winemaking in the modern south as producers seem increasingly determined to live up to the promise that was so well known to the ancient Greeks.
Sicily - Wine Regions
Regional capital: Palermo. Provinces: Agrigento, Caltanisetta, Catania, Enna, Messina, Palermo, Ragusa, Siracusa, Trapani
Sicily is Italy's largest region (25,708 square kilometres) and ranks fourth in population (5,084,000).
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Vineyards cover 164,500 hectares (First) of which registered DOC plots total 21,000 hectares (Fifth).
Annual wine production of 11,000,000 hectolitres (Second to Apulia) includes 1.5 per cent or 277,000 hectolitre DOC (Eleventh), of which more than 95 per cent is white.
Alcamo Or Bianco D'alcamo
Cerasuolo Di Vittoria
Malvasia Delle Lipari
Moscato Di Pantelleria Naturale
Moscato Di Siracusa
OTHER WINES OF NOTE
Menfi Rosso Nerello Siciliano
Regaleali Rosso del Conte
W-Dr Bianca di Valguarnera
Corvo Colomba Platino
Corvo Prima Goccia
Donnafugata Vigna di Gabri Libecchio
Regaleali Nozze d'Oro
Terre di Ginestra
Conti d'Almerita Brut
Inzolia di Samperi
Stravecchio Siciliano, Vecchio Samperi,
Villa Fontane Sollicchiato Bianco
Sicily is rightly famed for its food and drink, and the island's cuisine reflects the different cultural influences which have shaped Sicily over the centuries.
Sicily's rich desserts and pastries are famed far and wide. Cannoli, sweet tubes of ricotta, can be found all over Italy but those in Sicily are the original and the best. Arab influences show in the popular brightly-coloured sweets made of marzipan, and in the sinfully rich cassata, which comes in both ice cream and cake varieties, made from ricotta with bits of candied fruit and chocolate. Ice cream, gelato is another speciality, to be enjoyed during a leisurely evening passeggiata.
Sicily's home-grown products make for a rich and varied spread, ranging from bright oranges and lemons to tasty cheeses like pecorino. Seafood is another staple of the diet, particularly around the coastal towns. Pasta with sardines (con le sarde) is local favourite. Around Catania you will find pasta or pizza alla Norma (named after Catania boy Bellini's opera), with tomato, ricotta and aubergine. Couscous, eaten particularly in the west of the island, is another example of Sicily's mixed food heritage.
One of the treats of a hot day is a good granita. This refreshing slush of fruit and ice comes served with both a spoon and a straw, and is a delicious way to cool down in the sunshine. The most zingy flavours are fresh local lemons or the Sicilian oranges which can also be enjoyed as a freshly-squeezed juice (a spremuta).
Sicily's most renowned wine is Marsala, a dessert wine, but there are several good reds and whites from different parts of the island, including Etna, where grapes are grown on the fertile slopes of the volcano. Restaurants invariably offer a house wine, white or red, which is generally cheap, local and of reasonable quality. A speciality of the eastern coast is vino alla mandorla, made with almonds.
As well as all the local culinary specialities, you'll also find all the normal Italian foods like pizza and pasta in every variety. Cheap and tasty hot snacks can be bought from a tavola calda, rosticceria or a bar, where they'll heat sandwiches for you. You can stock up on picnic food at supermarkets or general stores, where they may make up rolls for you. Desserts sometimes seem like an afterthought in Italian restaurants; you can usually find a more inspiring (and economical) choice at one of the islands many pastry shops (pasticcerie).
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.
Cucina Siciliana: Authentic Recipes and Culinary Secrets from Sicily
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Sicilian cannoli recipe
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Sicilian Cassata recipe
Polpette of Nunnata
Sardinians a beccafico
Pasta with Sardinians
Pasta alla Norm