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An introduction to the food and wine of Sicily

FOOD AND WINE IN SICILY

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Sicily’s complex history has left its mark in architecture, landscapes, culture, and customs. But nowhere is it more evident than in the food.

Greeks brought grapes and olives and introduced the incumbent population to wine making.

Romans introduced fava beans, chick peas, lentils and some forms of pasta and devoted huge areas of previously forested land to grain production.

Arabs brought almonds, aniseed, apricots, artichokes, cinnamon, oranges, pistachio, pomegranates, saffron, sesame, spinach, sugarcane, water melon and rice.

They introduced many tastes that are now considered typically Sicilian, including the sweet and sour combinations of raisins and pine-nuts with vegetables and fish that form the basis of several common dishes.

They also started a long Sicilian love affair with sweets, including ice-cream and granita (made with snow from Mount Etna and other mountains), marzipan and candied fruits. Arabs also introduced the most advanced farming and irrigation techniques and distilled grape must to create grappa.

Normans and Swabians brought some of their northern European innovations including rotisserie and fish-curing techniques. The French who followed them brought a legacy of chefs for the aristocracy, known as Monsú.

One telling characteristic is that you will rarely eat anything that has not been produced within a few miles of where you are sitting.

Apart from putting the final touches to sweet specialities such as the cassata, the Spanish brought many vital ingredients of today’s Sicilian diet. The New World provided chilli and sweet peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and maize and all of these were incorporated into existing recipes so that they would now be unimaginable without them.

Today, you will eat very well all over Sicily. One telling characteristic is that you will rarely eat anything that has not been produced within a few miles of where you are sitting. The freshest fish on the coast, the tastiest meats and cheeses in the interior, and a huge range of vegetables, fruits and funghi, all with a richness of flavour that you just don’t find at your supermarket back home.

Whether you prefer the traditional fare of the simplest local trattoria, or the more sophisticated and elaborate dishes on offer in Michelin-starred restaurants all over the island, such is the pride that Sicilians take in their cooking that you will rarely, if ever, be disappointed.

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