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A guide to seasonality in the food in Sicily

FOOD AND WINE IN SICILY

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One thing is without doubt: an essential ingredient of any successful holiday is good food and wine. Restaurants, vineyards, gelaterie and cafés are as important as beaches, cathedrals and archaeological sites. Sampling the local food, living the gastronomic life of the natives, and sipping on glass of chilled wine made just round the corner are the essence of la bella vita. The following notes are just intended to push you in the right direction. Be adventurous, try things you’ve never heard of, and accept recommendations from restaurant owners.

Food in Sicily is local: bananas and pineapples are usually the only imported fruit. You’ll find the freshest fish and seafood in coastal towns (certainly in the major fishing ports of Sciacca, Mazara del Vallo, Trapani, Castellammare del Golfo, Porticello, Aci Trezza, Marzamemi and Pozzallo, to mention but a few). Fishmonger's stalls groan under the weight of swordfish (pescespada), tuna (tonno), sea bass (spigola), gold bream (orata), squid (calamari), octopus (polpo), prawns (gamberi), scabbard fish (spatula), clams (vongole), mussels (cozze), sardines (sarde) and anchovies (acciughe)

Sicily's mountain ranges are famous for their cheeses (formaggi), salami, sausages (salsiccia) and mushrooms (funghi), while all across the island tomatoes (pomodori), aubergines (melanzane), courgettes (zucchini), olives (olivi), capers (capperi), garlic (aglio), onions (cipolle), peas (piselli ), broad beans (fave), chick peas (ceci) aromatic herbs, and many other varieties of vegetable and legumes, are produced and incorporated into the island's myriad specialities. They have a special sun-kissed, flavour and perfume that never ceases to amaze!

Fruit too arrives in a procession of abundance throughout the year: oranges (arance), lemons (limoni), strawberries (fragole), cherries (ciliegie), peaches (pesche), mulberries (gelsi), melons (meloni), watermelons (angurie), figs (fichi), grapes (uva) and prickly pears (fichi d'India) are but a few. Many of these are incorporated into a bewildering number of ice-cream (gelati)and crushed ice drinks (grantite) especially during the spring and summer. You must try Sicily's unique way of eating ice-cream: in a freshly baked brioche!

Food in Sicily is seasonal: Sicilians wait with no little anticipation for their favourite vegetable or fruit to arrive in the markets. There is a palpable sense of excitement when the first cherries arrive, for example, and the same is true for the beginning of the tuna season in the spring. We recommend you spend a little time in the local markets, see what’s in season and concentrate on that. Below you'll find a little summary of the main seasonal fruits and vegetables.

A few things “not to be missed” for each season

Winter - oranges (arance), mandarins (manderini), lemons (limoni), grapes (uva), cauliflowers (broccoli), aubergines (melanzane), chard (bietola), chicory (radicchio), walnuts (noci) and much more besides fill the markets. Arancine (rice balls filled with meat or ham and mozzarella) or the many kinds of panini (sandwiches) make a perfect snack or a quick lunch. Cassata and cannoli (made with ricotta cheese) and marzipan sweets (paste di martorana) are well presented in all self-respecting confectioners (pasticcerie). Restaurants often offer delicious semifreddo di mandorle o pistacchi (almond or pistachio parfait smothered in hot chocolate sauce.).

Spring - medlars (nespole - a little orange fruit originally from Japan) and strawberries (fragole) are followed, towards the end of May by apricots (albicocche), cherries (ciliegie) and tiny, sweet pears (perine). The countryside is full of wild fennel (finocchio selvatico), asparagus (asparagi) and artichokes (carciofi). The spring is arguably the best time to try the pasta con le sarde (pasta with fresh sardines, wild fennel, and pine nuts), tuna (tonno) and swordfish (pesce spada).

Summer - different varieties of prunes (susine), peaches (pesche), cantaloupe (delicious with ham as an appetiser or served cold, with fresh mint and red wine or port as dessert), figs (fichi) and watermelon (anguria). Try a gelo di melone (watermelon jelly with chocolate and jasmine) or a granita (a crushed ice drink - our favourites are flavoured with mulberry (gelsi), coffee (caffé) and almonds (mandorle). Grapes begin arriving at the end of August and fish and seafood abound. If you get a chance, you should try a refreshing cool or tepid soup made with the tender leaves of the long courgette (tenerumi).

Autumn - it’s time for the olive and grape harvests. Prickly pears (fichi d’india) and roasted chestnuts (caldaroste) are sold in little kiosks in many towns. Specialties such as caponata (a type of sweet and sour relish made with aubergines, celery, olives and tomatoes) and peperonata (sweet and sour peppers) are well worth trying.

A restaurant guide to Sicily >>
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