Sicilian cuisine, a culinary journey through the centuries

Cucina-siciliana-pomodori-basilico

Sicilian cuisine, with its explosion of aromas and colors, is the result of a millennia-long interweaving of cultures, dominations and trade that have made the island a veritable culinary melting pot in the heart of the Mediterranean. From this year at Casa Farlisa you can request the service of Private Chef , for a special occasion or for your entire stay and book a Sicilian cooking class, with dishes of your interest or suggested by our selected Chefs. This will be organized in the spaces of the villa.

The ancient origins of Sicilian cuisine

The Sicilian culinary adventure began with the ancient Greeks, the first to introduce sophisticated agricultural techniques to the island. It was they who brought the olive tree and the vine, planting the seeds of what would become one of the world’s most renowned wine and olive oil traditions. It is said that Dionysus , god of wine, personally taught the islanders the art of viticulture, a myth that underscores the ancient and deep connection between Sicily and wine.
With the arrival of the Romans, Sicily became the granary of Rome, exporting huge quantities of grain to the capital of the Empire. The abundant Sicilian harvests not only fed the Roman population but also helped stabilize Rome’s power in the Mediterranean.

The era of Arab influence

Arab influence in Sicily between 827 and 1091 introduced radical agricultural innovations and exotic ingredients that would permanently enrich local cuisine. The Arabs brought sugarcane, rice and saffron, as well as irrigation techniques that transformed the arid Sicilian lands into lush gardens. A fascinating anecdote concerns the introduction of cassata, the iconic Sicilian pastry dessert, which draws its origins from the Arabic word qas’at, meaning “bowl,” referring to the round container used to shape the cake. However, cassata as we know it today is the result of centuries of culinary evolution. Originally, during the Arab period in Sicily (9th-11th centuries), cassata was a simple dessert made of ricotta cheese, sugar and almond milk. Its transformation into an elaborate layered cake is the result of the influence of successive Norman and Spanish dominations.

The Norman and Spanish heritage

The Normans and the Spanish left their mark on Sicilian cuisine not only through conquest and domination but also through the introduction of new foods. The Spanish, in particular, enriched the Sicilian food scene with New World products such as tomatoes, chocolate and corn. It is said that it was the Spanish nobility in Palermo who organized sumptuous banquets where these exotic ingredients were presented, arousing curiosity and wonder among the Sicilians.
Returning for example to Sicilian cassata, which we told you about earlier, a curious anecdote concerns the “decoration” of cassata, which with its bright colors is reminiscent of stained glass windows in churches. It is said that it was Sicilian monks in monasteries who perfected the cassata recipe by adding sponge cake and decorating it with candied fruit and sugar icing to celebrate Easter. The decision to decorate the surface with candied fruit of various colors was intended to reflect the joy and rebirth associated with the holiday, but also to mimic the art of stained glass, which was widespread at that time in the island’s Norman churches.

A mosaic of flavors: Sicilian cuisine today

Modern Sicilian cuisine is a vivid reflection of this complex and layered history. From caponata to pasta alla Norma, each dish tells a story of cross-cultural encounters, adaptation, and culinary creativity. Arancini, for example, are a perfect example of how a simple ingredient like rice can be transformed into a masterpiece of taste and inventiveness, a dish that hides within it the history of Arab rule and subsequent European influences.
Legend has it that cannoli, one of Sicily’s most beloved sweets, were originally prepared by concubines in Arab harems to celebrate holidays. These sweets, later adopted and adapted by Christian monasteries in Norman times, became a symbol of Sicilian pastry making, loved and known all over the world.
The history of Sicilian cuisine is a fascinating journey through centuries of conquest, exchange and innovation. Each dish tells a unique story, a mosaic of influences that come together in unforgettable culinary creations. Thus, exploring Sicilian cuisine means immersing oneself in a rich and varied cultural heritage that continues to evolve and surprise palates around the world.

Five of the most emblematic recipes of Sicilian cuisine

You certainly cannot reduce the vastness of Sicilian cuisine to just 5 recipes, but just to give you a taste here is a brief selection, with related recipes, of five of the most popular dishes.
Caponata is a side dish made with eggplant, celery, olives and capers in a sweet-and-sour sauce enriched with tomato. This dish reflects Arab influence in its combination of sweet and savory, and represents the abundance and variety of the regional garden.
The arancino, a breaded and fried ball of rice, is perhaps the most beloved street food in Sicily, which boasts a truly remarkable street food tradition. With a heart of meat sauce, mozzarella, or other toppings, including fish, they are a perfect example of how simple ingredients can be transformed into delicious dishes.
Pasta alla norma, celebrates the flavors of the region with ingredients such as fried eggplant, fresh tomato, basil and ricotta salata. The name is a tribute to the famous opera by Sicilian composer Vincenzo Bellini , “ Norma “. Also in southern Italy, in Apulia, a variation of it is widespread, but one that does not involve frying the eggplant.
Cannolo is an iconic Sicilian pastry dessert, consisting of a crispy wafer filled with sweet ricotta cheese, often enriched with chocolate chips or candied fruit. Originating in the carnival, today it is consumed year-round.
The Sicilian Cassata, a dessert that stands out for its colorful appearance and layered composition, expertly combining the sweetness of sweetened ricotta, the intensity of chocolate, the scent of candied citrus fruit, and the softness of a liqueur-soaked sponge, all enclosed by an almond paste and sugar frosting covering.
Now let’s take a detailed look at how to prepare these five delicious recipes.

Sicilian caponata

Below, you will find the traditional recipe with a variation that includes peppers, which is very typical in areas of Ragusa.

caponata-sicilian
Sicilian caponata, Freepik image

Ingredients for 4 persons:

  • Eggplant: 500g, diced;
  • Celery: 300g, cut into pieces;
  • White onion: 1 large, sliced;
  • Green olives: 100g, pitted;
  • Salted capers: 20g, desalted;
  • Tomato puree: 200g;
  • White wine vinegar: 50ml;
  • Sugar: 30g;
  • Extra virgin olive oil: for frying;
  • Salt and pepper: to taste.
Variant with peppers:
  • Red or yellow peppers: 300g, well cleaned and cut into strips;

Preparation:

  1. Frying eggplant: Start by preparing the eggplant. Cut them into cubes, place them in a colander, sprinkle with salt and let them sit for about an hour to remove the bitterness. Next, rinse and dry them.
    That done, you can proceed by frying the diced eggplant in plenty of hot oil until golden brown and crispy. Once ready, transfer them to paper towels to remove excess oil.
  2. Boil the celery: Bring a pot of water to a boil and blanché the celery for about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  3. Sauté onion (and peppers): In a large skillet, heat a drizzle of oil and sauté the sliced onion until transparent. If you are preparing the variant with peppers, add them at this time and sauté them together with the onion until they soften.
  4. Add celery, olives and capers: Add boiled celery, pitted olives and desalted capers to the pan. Let it season for a few minutes.
  5. Pour in the tomato puree: Incorporate the tomato puree and mix well. Let cook for about 10 minutes, until the sauce has reduced slightly.
  6. Season with vinegar and sugar: Add the vinegar and sugar, mix well and let cook for another 5 minutes. This step is essential to achieve the characteristic sweet-and-sour flavor of caponata.
  7. Add the eggplant: Finally, incorporate the fried eggplant into the vegetable mixture and stir gently so as not to break it up. Taste and, if necessary, adjust the salt and pepper.
  8. Allow to rest: Caponata is best enjoyed once cooled, ideally after resting a few hours or even the following day, when the flavors have had a chance to meld perfectly.

Serve Sicilian caponata as an appetizer, side dish or main course, accompanied by crusty bread or as a topping for a cold pasta. The variation with peppers adds a sweet contrast that further enriches this dish, making it even more colorful and inviting.

The preparation time for Sicilian caponata is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Arancini

This dish beloved by locals and tourists alike is the undisputed king of Sicilian street food. Extremely popular for its rich taste and easy consumption, however, it requires very careful and thorough preparation to achieve the perfect crispy exterior and a soft and flavorful heart. Here is a detailed guide to prepare about 12 arancini.

Arancino-siciliano
Sicilian Arancini, Freepik image

Ingredients:

For rice:
  • Risotto rice (such as Arborio): 500g;
  • Vegetable broth: 1.2 liters (about);
  • Saffron: 1 sachet;
  • Butter: 50g;
  • Grated Parmesan cheese: 50g;
  • Salt: q.b.
For the ragout:
  • Ground meat (mixed beef and pork): 300g;
  • Small onion: 1, finely chopped;
  • Tomato puree: 200g;
  • Peas (fresh or frozen): 100g;
  • Red wine: 100ml;
  • Extra virgin olive oil: q.b.
  • Salt and pepper: to taste.
Other ingredients:
  • Cubed caciocavallo (or mozzarella) cheese: 150g;
  • Eggs: 3, beaten;
  • Breadcrumbs: to taste.
  • Olive oil: q.b.

Preparation:

1. Cooking rice:
  • Bring the vegetable broth to a boil and dissolve the saffron in it.
  • Cook the rice in the broth, following the cooking time indicated on the package, until it is al dente.
  • Turn off the heat, add the butter and Parmesan, stir, and let the rice cool on a surface (ideally an oiled plate) to speed up the process.
2. Prepare the meat sauce:
  • In a frying pan, sauté chopped onion in extra virgin olive oil.
  • Add ground meat, season with salt and pepper, and cook until golden brown.
  • Deglaze with red wine and let it evaporate.
  • Add the tomato puree and peas, cover and simmer for about 1 hour, until a thick ragout is obtained. Allow to cool.
3. Form the arancini:
  • Take a portion of rice and flatten it on your hand.
  • In the center, place some of the meat sauce and a cube of caciocavallo cheese.
  • Close the rice around the filling, forming a sphere or conical shape, making sure the filling is completely wrapped.
4. Breading:
  • Dip each arancino first in beaten eggs and then in breadcrumbs, making sure they are well coated.
5. Frying:
  • In a deep frying pan or deep fryer, heat plenty of olive oil for healthier frying than using other types of oil.
  • Fry the arancini a little at a time until they are golden brown and crispy.
  • Drain them on paper towels to remove excess oil.

Serve the arancini hot, letting the heart of meat sauce and stringy cheese win over those who taste them. This recipe, which requires time and dedication, is perfect for special occasions or to immerse yourself in Sicilian culinary tradition.

The preparation time for the arancini is about 2 hours.

Pasta alla norma

Pasta alla Norma is celebrated for its simplicity and harmony of Mediterranean flavors. This dish combines the sweetness of fried eggplant with the acidity of tomato, all enhanced by the saltiness of salted ricotta and the fragrance of fresh basil. Here is a detailed guide to prepare Pasta alla Norma for 4 people.

Ingredients:

  • Pasta (rigatoni or spaghetti): 400g;
  • Eggplant: 500g, cut into cubes or regular slices;
  • Tomato puree: 500g;
  • Garlic: 2 cloves, peeled;
  • Salted ricotta cheese: 100g, grated;
  • Fresh basil: one bunch;
  • Extra virgin olive oil, both for seasoning and frying: q.b.
  • Salt and pepper: to taste.
Pasta-alla-Norma
Pasta alla Norma, Freepik image

Preparation:

1. Prepare the eggplant:
  • Cut the eggplant into cubes or slices, then place them in a colander, sprinkle with salt and let them sit for about 1 hour. This process will help remove the bitterness.
  • Rinse the eggplants under running water and dry them very carefully with kitchen paper.
2. Fry the eggplant:
  • Heat plenty of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan and fry the well-dried eggplant until golden brown and crisp.
  • Drain them and transfer to paper towels to remove excess oil.
3. Prepare the tomato sauce:
  • In a frying pan, heat a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and lightly fry the garlic cloves.
  • Add tomato puree, salt, and pepper. Let cook over medium-low heat for about 15-20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.
  • At the end of the cooking time, add hand-chopped basil leaves to preserve the aroma.
4. Cook the pasta:
  • While you cook the tomato, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package until it is al dente.
  • Drain the pasta, saving some of the cooking water.
5. Assemble the dish:
  • Transfer the pasta to the pan with the tomato sauce and add the fried eggplant.
  • If necessary, add a little pasta cooking water to bind everything together.
  • Stir gently to let the pasta flavor with the sauce.
6. Serve:
  • Serve the pasta piping hot, sprinkled generously with grated ricotta salata and decorated with a few leaves of fresh basil.

Pasta alla Norma is a dish that encapsulates the essence of Sicilian cuisine, where each ingredient plays a key role in creating a perfect balance of flavors. The key to excellent results lies in the quality of the ingredients, so always choose fresh, seasonal produce.

The preparation time for pasta alla Norma is about 1 hour and 30 minutes..

Sicilian cannoli

Sicilian cannoli are one of the most representative and beloved desserts of Sicilian cuisine. Making cannoli from scratch takes time and patience, but the result is a real treat. Here is a detailed guide to making about 15 cannoli.

Ingredients:

For waffles:
  • 00 flour: 250g;
  • Sugar: 30g;
  • Butter: 30g;
  • Wine Marsala : 80ml;
  • Cocoa powder: 1 teaspoon;
  • Cinnamon powder: 1/2 teaspoon;
  • Egg: 1 (for brushing);
  • Frying oil: q.b.
Cannoli-Sicilian
Sicilian cannoli, from the pastry makers in Basile of Scicli
Stuffing:
  • Sheep ricotta cheese: 500g, sifted;
  • Powdered sugar: 150g;
  • Chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate: 50g;
  • Candied fruit (orange or citron): 30g, chopped (optional);
  • Vanillin or vanilla extract: 1 sachet or 1 teaspoon;
  • To prepare them as we would serve them to you at Casa Farlisa, add lemon zest.
To garnish:
  • Chopped pistachios: to taste.
  • Candied orange or lemon peels: to taste.

Preparation:

1. Prepare the waffle batter:
  • In a bowl, mix the flour with the sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and butter until a sandy mixture is obtained.
  • Add the Marsala a little at a time, working the dough until it becomes smooth and homogeneous.
  • Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
2. Roll out and cut the dough:
  • Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 2mm thick.
  • Use a round pastry cutter or glass to cut out circles about 10-12cm in diameter.
3. Form the waffles:
  • Gently wrap each dough circle around a metal tube (cannoli shape), overlapping the edges slightly and sealing them with a little beaten egg to prevent them from opening during frying.
4. Fry the waffles:
  • Heat plenty of oil in a deep frying pan and fry the waffles wrapped on the tubes until golden brown and crispy, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Drain them and let them cool on paper towels before gently removing the metal tubes.
5. Prepare the filling:
  • In a bowl, mix the sifted ricotta cheese with the powdered sugar and vanillin with the lemon zest until smooth.
  • Gently incorporate the chocolate chips.
6. Stuffing the cannoli:
  • Fill a piping bag with the ricotta filling and stuff the cannoli wafers.
  • It is important to stuff the cannoli just before serving to keep the wafer crisp.
7. Garnish:
  • Garnish the ends with chopped pistachios and candied citrus on the sides.

Serve Sicilian cannoli as an end-of-meal dessert or to celebrate special occasions. This dessert is a real journey into the flavors and traditions of Sicily, capable of winning you over at the first taste.

The preparation time for the cannoli is about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Sicilian Cassata

Sicilian cassata is a rich and colorful traditional dessert that combines different flavors and textures, from the fluffy sponge cake to the rich ricotta filling to the almond paste and sugar frosting covering. Here is how to prepare a Sicilian cassata for about 8-10 people.

Ingredients:

Sponge cake:
  • Eggs: 4;
  • Sugar: 120g;
  • 00 flour: 120g;
  • Grated lemon peel: of 1 lemon;
For the filling:
  • Sheep ricotta cheese: 500g, sifted;
  • Sugar: 200g;
  • Chocolate chips: 100g;
  • Candied fruit (orange, citron): 100g, chopped;
  • Vanillin or vanilla extract: 1 teaspoon;
To wet the sponge cake:
  • Orange liqueur or alkermes : 50ml;
  • Water: 50ml;
  • Sugar: 30g;
Cover and decoration:
  • Almond paste (marzipan): 300g;
  • Powdered sugar: as much as needed to work the marzipan;
  • White sugar icing: 200g;
  • Candied fruit for decoration: to taste.

Preparation:

1. Prepare the sponge cake:
  • Beat the eggs with the sugar until frothy and light.
  • Gently add the sifted flour and lemon zest, stirring from the bottom up so as not to disassemble the mixture.
  • Pour into a buttered and floured mold, bake in a preheated oven at 180°C (350°F) for about 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool.
2. Prepare the filling:
  • In a bowl, mix the sifted ricotta cheese with the sugar until smooth.
  • Add the chocolate chips, candied fruit and vanillin, stirring gently.
3. Wet the sponge cake:
  • Prepare a syrup by mixing the liqueur, water and sugar. Use it to wet the sponge cake.
4. Assemble the cassata:
  • Line a hinged mold with plastic wrap.
  • Roll out the marzipan on a surface dusted with powdered sugar until it is about 3-4 mm thick. Line the bottom and sides of the mold with marzipan.
  • Cut the sponge cake into slices and use them to create a layer at the bottom of the mold, wetting them with the prepared syrup.
  • Pour half of the ricotta filling over the layer of sponge cake, add another layer of wet sponge cake, and cover with the remaining filling.
  • Close the cassata with a final layer of sponge cake. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
5. Decorate the cassata:
  • Remove the hinged mold by placing the cassata on a serving platter.
  • Prepare the sugar glaze following the instructions on the package or a basic recipe, then pour it over the cold cassata to cover it completely.
  • Decorate with candied fruit to taste.

Serve Sicilian cassata as a conclusion to a holiday meal or on special occasions. This dessert, with its rich combination of textures and flavors, is a feast for the senses and a tribute to the Sicilian pastry tradition.

The preparation time for Sicilian cassata is about 2 hours.

These recipes represent only a small part of Sicily’s incredible culinary richness, inviting further exploration of the traditions and flavors of this magnificent island.
Sicilian cuisine is a heritage of flavors, stories and traditions that reflects the soul of an island crossroads of civilizations. Each dish tells a story of cultural encounters and fusions, making each taste a journey through the centuries. Experiencing these recipes means not only enjoying delicious dishes but also getting closer to the very essence of Sicily, an island where history blends with gastronomy to create an unparalleled culinary experience.

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