I recently created a Sicily itinerary for a couple who wanted a gastronomic theme. Experiencing the food and wine in Sicily was the goal, so their trip included a cooking class, markets, and winery visits, and I put together a food checklist for them which I’ve included below.
As in the rest of Italy, Sicilian food is very local and seasonal so if the market is overrun with, say, fiddleheads and they’re not on this list, order them anyway. If you saw a sheep farm up the road and lamb is on the menu but not on this list, order it anyway.
Food and wine in Sicily: a check list
Sweets to try in Sicily
Sicily is known for its sweets so don’t skip this category, even if it’s just taking one bite.
Marzipan (marzapane or frutta martorana). Essentially made of almonds and sugar, then sculpted and colored – often into fruit.
Granita. Sweet shaved ice, perfect for an afternoon snack on a hot day.
Cassata. Hard to describe. A very pretty cake.
Cannolo. Ricotta-filled, pastry-wrapped sweet (photo above) you’re probably familiar with, born in Sicily.
Setteveli cake. Seven layer cake. Mouth-watering photo of setteveli cake by Ms. Adventures in Italy.
Brioche with ice cream (brioche con gelato). This is literally ice cream inside a sweet bun, like a sandwich. Photo of gelato con brioche.
Carbs to try in Sicily
Arancina bomba. A ball of rice stuffed with meat and deep fried. These can be found all over Italy and make a great snack.
Cous-cous. This is used in Sicilian cooking because it came in as an influence from the south (along with chickpeas, raisins and cinnamon among others), but you won’t find it used as much in the rest of Italy.
Pasta “alla Norma”. Made with eggplant and tomatoes and a little basil, with grated ricotta on top. Photo of pasta alla Norma.
Cheeses to try in Sicily
Caciocavallo. This cheese is eaten around Italy but is from Sicily.
Ricotta. You probably don’t want to eat spoonfuls of straight ricotta (though feel free), but look for it in desserts, such as the famous cannoli, and sauces. It’s also found in different textures than you may be used to. Before I’d been to Sicily, I didn’t realize that ricotta could be grated.
Fruits and vegetables to try in Sicily
First and foremost, look at what’s fresh at the market, and order that. Otherwise, look out for:
Olives. One of my favorite Sicilian salads is made of oranges, olives, and onions, olive oil, salt and pepper. Nothing else.
Hot peppers. (peperoncino)
Purple cauliflower (cavalfiore). Photo above.
Almonds (mandorle). Often used as a paste, so not recognizable, and in desserts.
Caponata. This is not an individual vegetable, but a recipe made with eggplant, tomatoes, capers, and bell peppers.
Panelle. Deep fried chickpea fritters. Don’t let the deep fried part scare you – they are lighter than you’d think.
Fish to try in Sicily
Fresh anchovies (alici). If you’ve only ever eaten anchovies from a tin, like you get on pizza, then you won’t even recognize these. They actually look like little (warning: whole) fish, and are not salty.
Swordfish (pesce spada)
Clams (vongole). A good one with pasta.
Don’t be scared to try a “fritto misto” or mixed fried fish. Fried doesn’t equal heavy.
Wines to try in Sicily
Sicilian wine makers are currently having a resurgence and Italy Beyond the Obvious includes visits to wineries more and more often in Sicily itineraries. There are great wine makers in and around Mount Etna and also down in the Baroque South near Ragusa.
Look out for these locally produced Sicilian wines:
Nero D’Avola (red)
Pinot Bianco (white)
Moscato (dessert wine)
and of course, the famous Marsala
And, a Palermo Specialty: Panino con la Milza
This could be under the heading “offal” which is the culinary term for internal organs. But I’m only including 1 item in the “offal” list, and you may end up taking a photo rather than actually eating it. In dialect it’s U Pani ca Meusa. You may only see it in Palermo and it’s considered to be typical street food. Which internal organs, you’d like to know? Spleen and lung of the sheep, to be precise. But it’s covered in cheese (caciocavallo and ricotta, of course) and served in a bun. Photo of panino con la milza.
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