Italy has 20 distinct regions, each with their own distinguishing cuisine and cultural traditions. In this new series, we’ll explore the regions individually and talk about the foods that they are known for.
We picked Sicily to start with because of our focus on Italian Coastal cuisine –– and as the largest of the Italian islands, Sicily is as coastal as it gets! It’s not all seafood in Sicily, though. The great climate and rich culinary traditions make Sicilian exports a coveted treat around the world.
Sicily is home to the most vineyards of any region in Italy, so their splendid wines must top our list. The region is particularly famous for its Marsala, a wine that comes from the city of the same name on the island’s western coast. For the export market, Marsala is generally fortified. (Think of sherry or port.) In the late 1700s, the trader John Woodhouse began exporting Marsala, and a fortification process was necessary to keep the characteristics of the wine in place over the long sea voyage back to England. Today, Sicilians often drink their Marsala unfortified, but the popularity of the fortified export has remained high for over 200 years, and is what Americans have become familiar with.
Plenty of Sicily’s indigenous grapes are receiving renewed attention, with the Nero d’Avola among the most popular. Among our favorites on our wine list is the Nero d’Avola “Noto” Feudo Maccari, 2014. If you want to try Sicilian wines but don’t know where to begin, consider using a service like Wine Deal Advisor, which will guide you towards the wines from a region that are the best values and steer you clear of those not worth the price.
Have you ever had a prickly pear? The prickly-pear cactus dots the landscape of Sicily, and, as the travel blog Anita’s Italy puts it, “If you hear food vendors at a Sicilian market shouting bastardi… don’t be offended. They’re just hawking their wares.” The bastardi are the bigger, more succulent variety of prickly pear (as compared to the diminutive agostani), and they abound in the eastern part of the region. The fruit has a light citrus smell and tastes a bit like a the standard-issue pear you’re likely more familiar with.
Blood oranges (which are also great in a fancy cocktail) abound in Sicily as well. They are lovely on their own or as part of almost any salad or dish, including il Giallo’s unique use of this intensely flavored fruit in the popular appetizer, Shrimp Scampi. They blend particularly well with many different fruits and vegetables, including avocado, as in this side dish from Cookie + Kate. Rounding out their fruit selection are the table grapes of Canicattì, a delicious reminder that grapes aren’t just for drinking.
For both the table and to make into oil, the olives of Nocellara del Belice can’t be beat. This cultivator from Sicily’s southwestern area produces the renowned “Valle del Belìce” extra-virgin olive oil. The mildly flavored, bright green table olives from the region are marketed as Castelvetrano olives in the United States, and can be found at well-stocked grocers throughout Atlanta.
Pecorino is perhaps the most famous cheese from the region.There are six different types of Pecorino produced in Italy, with the Pecorino Siciliano being the Sicilian variety. This semi-hard cheese is made from sheep’s milk, and it’s been made in the region since ancient times. Often nutty in flavor, a sprinkle of this cheese is the preferred way to finish the preparation of the majority of pasta dishes in much of Italy. (In most of the United States, the less expensive Parmesan Reggiano is used as a stand-in.)
The other notable cheese is Ragusano, which can only be made in the provinces of Siracusa and Ragusano in Sicily. (It has Italian Protected Designation of Origin, or “PDO” for short, which means that immitations made elsewhere must be labeled as such.) This cheese has been made in Italy since at least the 1500s, and is one of the oldest types of cheese produced in Sicily. Because it must be made from whole milk produced by only grass-or-hay-fed Modicana cows, a cheese forgery of this variety would be particularly tricky to pull off. We recommend looking for the PDO label (on anything tasty imported from Italy, really), and accepting no substitutions on this cheese.
Sicily even has its own signature sausage, the salsiccia alla pizzaiola, made with pork, spices, tomatoes, parsley, and sometimes cheese or pine nuts. Round out your meat board with Sant’Angelo Salame, the recipe for which dates back to the 11th century.
These types of sausages are heavily prevalent on Charcuterie Board throughout Italy, with this being one of the most popular dishes available during the Antipasti Course.
In keeping up with Italian tradition, our giallo asse meat and cheese board features of variety of Italian made sausages and cheeses. Join us in the dining room seven nights a week for dinner, and let us bring some of the signature tastes of Sicily to you.