It is no secret that Sicily does indeed have tasty secrets and a recent trip there unveiled some of them. As I walked along centuries old cobble stone streets, among ancient buildings and meandered through markets, I easily found the rewards of pizza, granita, Marsala, cannoli, “pasta con le sarde” and the delights of “Frutta di Martorana”.
Authentic Sicilian pizza is called “sfincione,” meaning thick sponge. Baked in a rectangular pan, cut into squares and eaten on almost every street corner, you can watch it come hot out of street-side pizza ovens.
An integral part of a Sicilian breakfast is granita along with a fresh brioche roll. A trip to Mount Etna exposed the caves (“neviere”) that were used in the past to preserve the high mountain snow from the summer heat. This icy treat is a gift from Sicily’s Arab domination. The fresh lemon flavour is divine, refreshing on a hot day, but the coffee granita is the favoured Sicilian match to the brioche.
The famous Sicilian Marsala wine has a robust alcohol content of about twenty percent. Often used as a cooking wine in the past, Marsala today takes its place as a dessert and aperitif wine. It hails from the sunny southern region and the ancient city of Marsala, the name derived from the Arabic “Marsa Allah” or “Port of God.” Marsala is also home to Sicily’s ancient salt pans and migratory birds.
Absolutely addictive are the cannoli – perfectly deep fried pasty tubes, filled with a creamy, spiced, semi-sweet ricotta. A very enticing match with a street side espresso. Originating in Palermo, they are a treat of “Carnevale” and historically were made to be a fertility symbol of the festivities.
Nothing is more Sicilian than “pasta con le sarde,” where fresh pasta is combined with Sicilian sardines and fresh fennel. Local street markets offer up a ready supply of the fish and the combination of flavours is ever so tantalizing. The island is incredibly fertile and every square mile grows luscious crops of olives, oranges, eggplants, almonds, lemons, pistachios and grapes.
Almond paste confections, “Frutta di Martorana,” creatively made into small, colourful, life-like fruits and vegetables, make stunning pasty shop window displays and compel one to stop, taste and then taste again the exquisite sweet marzipan treats.
From Palermo to Marsala, Messina to Catania, along with all of the Sicilian countryside and towns-in-between, Sicily is choc-a-bloc full of these delectable secrets.
Peggy Wright, CTC, CITM, CATS is ‘The Travel Agent Next Door.’