Maria Carnevale is not only the co-director of Solemar Sicilia's language school, but also an expert on Sicilian cuisine. Her Sicilian cooking course is one of the most sought after programs by students of the school. Here she presents some of her many recipes.
Sicilian cuisine makes use of a truly wide variety of ingredients. One reason is that thanks to the climate, many different fruits and vegetables grow in Sicily. Another reason is that many different groups over the centuries have brought their own unique recipes to the island.
On top of all that is the fact that because of its location, Sicily's palate has been influenced by the spices used in North Africa and the Near East. Sicilian cuisine is in an important sense an international cuisine. You might say that its delicious food is a direct benefit, however unintended, from the many invasions.
Dear friends of Sicily, we invite you to join the Facebook Group "Trip-Tipp Sicily". Find answers to all your questions and discover exclusive tips for your trip to Sicily from those who have already made the journey and those who already know the island from the inside out:
Sicilian cuisine is a product of the island's turbulent history. Greek colonists introduced olives and wine to Sicily, Romans conquerors introduced wheat, and the Spanish a variety of different vegetables. But it was the Arabs perhaps who had the most lasting influence on Sicilian cuisine, bringing with them two mainstays of today's Sicilian culinary experience: citrus and sweets. They also left behind their magnificent spices.
Artichokes, eggplant, cauliflower, beans, fennel, tomatoes, and zucchini all play major roles in Sicilian cuisine. Thanks to the favorable climate, various varieties are available all year round.
In the best sense, vegetables in Sicily are fresh, plentiful, and cheap. And as a result, Sicilian cooking is about understanding and preparing vegetables.
Some Sicilian vegetable varieties differ from those in more northern countries. Cauliflower in Sicily can be green or purple. Courgettes are available in lengths of up to one meter. Aubergines can be slightly sweet, and are distinguished from others around the world by their purple-white color and round shape. When it comes to tomatoes, only very ripe ones are used in Sicilian cooking. The solid, still greenish tomatoes are set aside for salads.
Goethe described Sicily as "the land where the lemon trees blossom". And it's true: lemons are found in such abundance they are usually bought and sold by the kilo.
Lemon juice plays an important role in cooking artichokes. For details, see the recipe Sicilian Artichoke Pizza.
Lemon juice is also the main ingredient in two characteristically Sicilian treats - Granita, an ice-cold lemon dessert, and Limoncello, a sweet lemon liqueur.
Today salt is taken for granted as the most everyday of spices. After all, these days it costs almost nothing. But in the distant past, long before industrial salt production, it was a very different story - thus the name "white gold". In Sicily in those days, the most famous place to find salt was the sea near Trapani.
Of course, extracting salt from the sea is much too expensive in today's world of mass production. Trapani's sea salt is thus something of a delicacy, a special ingredient in Sicilian cuisine.
Because of the pressures of the bottom line, Sicily's salt is taken today from the mountains. One of the most famous salt mines in Sicily is located near Agrigento. Here artists have carved out a bona fide cathedral from inside a massive salt cavern. It's used among other things for worship services and for concerts.
Sicilians like to cook with wild basil, fennel, bay leaves, oregano, and wild capers. However, it's best not to simply try and gather these in the wild. Some can be easily confused with other things.
There isn't any real danger of being harmed, but you might still regret it if you're not careful. With capers, for example, these are often pickled and must be rinsed before used in cooking - and at that, they are only added at the end of the cooking process.
When it comes to cooking with olive oil, one probably doesn't have to say much. Over the years, it has made its way into the recipes of northern countries, though it's often replaced with sunflower and other types of oil.
In Sicily, though, olive oil is much cheaper and is available in great abundance. This is thanks in part to the many different varieties of olives.
Italian noodles are made from hard wheat. Sicily happens to be the ideal place to grow hard wheat.
No surprise, then, that historically, Sicily was the granary of the ancient Romans, and that today, you can buy pasta noodles by the truckload in any Sicilian supermarket.
Nevertheless, it's very important to note that when it comes to Sicilian cooking, fresh pasta noodles are often called for. These are sold 'homemade' at many Sicilian small markets.
1000 km of coastline is the reason why there are so many recipes using fish in Sicilian cuisine. But now the overfishing of the Mediterranean has reached disastrous proportions.
On the list of 'approved' fish on the WWF's sustainable seafood list, there's not a single wild fish of the Mediterranean sea. This has led the author of these lines to give up fish altogether.
Even today innards are very popular in Sicilian recipes. The famous Restaurant Antica Focacceria San Francesco in Palermo, for example, serves up bread baked with spleen and lungs and bills it as 'fortifying' for young people 'down on their luck'.
The reason why there is this openness to organ meats is that historically, poverty has been a cold, hard fact for many centuries in Sicily. This is also why meat and dairy products haven't assumed a place in Sicilian cuisine that they might have in the cuisines of other countries.
What is widespread - and delicious - are sweets of all kinds, which play an important role in Sicilian cuisine. In every town there are a variety of bars (cafes), and each one with anything to offer has its own selection of ice cream, delicious sweet pastries, and of course, cannoli. Cannoli are deep-fried pastry shells that are rolled up and filled with among other things, ricotta and chocolate chips.
But take care! A common mistake made by visitors to Sicily is to enter a bar and ask for a 'cannoli'. In Italian, the word 'cannoli' is plural. If you want just one, ask for 'un cannolo'. Chances are, you'll want more than one.
Cuina Tips shows you how to enjoy Sicilian cooking even when you're not on our sunny island. But it's true that the food is twice as delicious when you are are on holiday, enjoying it on the terrace of your holiday apartment - overlooking, of course, the beautiful Gulf of Palermo.
In general, apartments in Italy can be pretty basic. Why waste time decorating them when people spend all their time at the beach or asleep? Well, there's some truth to this, but only for the typical Italian summer holiday.
For northern Europeans, however, Sicily out of season is very interesting. And especially in winter, these guests will stay longer. For them, a holiday apartment is more than just a place to sleep.
Here are a few examples of winter holiday apartments with a little bit "more":
Emigration from Sicily has been a reality for many generations.
But what happens to the houses left behind? Oftentimes... nothing!
To change that, they are now sold for a knockdown or even symbolic price ("Houses for a Euro"!). If you enjoyed your stay so much you can't bear to leave, Property in Sicily will be happy to help you with your dream purchase.
Are you looking for holiday lettings in Sicily but can't see the wood for the trees? We're not surprised, because the range of choices competing online is pretty confusing.
Sicilian fashion? Dolce & Gabbana?
Sure! But fashion designed and manufactured in Sicily is the real insider tip.