Italy is synonymous for good food, and you’ll hardly find better food than in Sicily. The large island at the bottom of Italy’s boot is rich in both climate and culture, making it a capital of Italian cuisine. Its rich volcanic soil and proximity to the warm, fertile Mediterranean makes Sicily one of the top producers of sweet wine, fresh seafood, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, like lemons and tomatoes. Sicilians have taken advantage of their surroundings to create some of Italy’s most delicious traditional recipes. Also, because of Sicily’s strategic position in the Mediterranean, and its long history as both a cultural melting pot and colonial stronghold, the island has many Spanish, French, and Arabic influences that make its food some of the most unique not just in Italy but also the world. So if you’re planning a trip to Sicily soon, here are the top ten dishes you should try while you’re there.
Cannoli are undeniably Sicily’s most famous traditional food product. They are found in bakeries all across the Italian mainland, and the dessert section of menus in Italian restaurants all over the world. Cannolis are also a staple of Italian-American cuisine, thanks to the millions of Sicilian families who immigrated to the US over a hundred years ago and brought this recipe from the homeland with them, highlighting the importance of cannolis to Sicily’s culture and legacy. Every cannoli is made of a sweet, thick ricotta cream filling inside a tube shell made of fried pastry dough. But like most traditional Italian foods, cannolis can vary ever so slightly depending on where you are on the island, and who is making them. Cannoli can be made with chocolate chips, a sprinkling of pistachios or ground almond nuts, a wedge of orange, or cherries. In Sicily, cannoli can be enjoyed with a cup of coffee for breakfast, as a midday snack, or as dessert after a big plate of seafood pasta. It would not be a trip to Sicily if you did not eat a cannoli (or two!).
Granita con Brioche
A glass of granita with a brioche on the side is another traditional and delicious Sicilian treat you can’t miss during your stay on the island. Little known by tourists but loved by the locals, granita is a cold, sweet drink made of thin flakes of ice churned together with anything from fresh fruit like lemons and orange, nuts like almond or pistachio, or coffee. It is then sweetened with sugar, and can be served with a pastry roll (brioche) stuffed with a flavored filling, like chocolate or hazelnut. Granita is best enjoyed during the hot and balmy Sicilian summer, especially in the area around Catania or Syracuse. Granita can be served with a brioche for breakfast, or enjoyed by dunking chunks of the brioche into the granita for a midday energy buzz.
A staple in every Sicilian bakery window, the cassata is a sweet and colorful sponge cake with a ricotta cream filling and pieces of chocolate. It is decadently frosted, covered with marzipan, and topped with candied fruits like cherries. It is a traditional dessert for Easter, and is usually served around the springtime. This is when sheep milk, which is used to bake the cake and make the frosting, is in large quantities. You will not find it easily during summer time since the weather gets too hot for the fresh ricotta.
Lastly, you can’t leave Sicily without having tasted pistachios. This is more a topping or an ingredient than an actual meal or treat, but pistachios are one of the freshest, sweetest, and most abundant food products in Sicily. As previously mentioned, they can be enjoyed on cannoli or in granita, but also as a flavor of gelato, baked into cookies and other pastries, or mixed into more savory dishes to add a touch of sweetness. And there is also the savory version that is always a healthy snack!