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  Corkscrew Issue 38, February 2006   
Sicilian Cooking and WineSicilian Cooking and Wine  Contents 
Issue 37, January 2006 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 39, March 2006

Sicilian Cooking and Wine

Journey in one of the most fascinating cooking of Italy, result of a story which has its roots in past ages. Delicious recipes, matched with unique wines, representing the charm of a land, rich in contrasts and colors

 Sicilian Cooking, among regional ones of Italy, certainly is one of the most rich IN tastes and aromas, heritage of many dominions, which took over one after another in the island. Sicilian enogastronomical tradition is in fact different in every area and is subjected to the influences of the populations, which, in past times, lived in the island. In Palermo - for example - the enogastronomical traditions are strongly linked to its history and to its past, therefore influenced by the splendor of ancient courts, around which revolved the life of the city. Dishes were rendered more elaborated in order to make a simple cuisine richer, having in the creativity of the chefs its main characteristic, which worked for viceroys and emirs. In recent times, dishes were reinvented by monsù, French chefs which worked for Bourbons, which were soon hired by local nobles. Dishes with richness in tastes, colors and smells become to emerge: caponata di melanzane (hors d'oeuvre with eggplants), frittedda (a kind of omelette) with artichokes, broad beans and peas, pasta with broccoli arriminati, timballo di anelletti (a kind of pasta shaped in little rings, especially sold in Sicily), rolls of sardines in beccafico and stuffed with sultanas, pine kernels and bread crumbs - here called muddìca - which is also the base ingredient of all the stuffing used for the dishes of Sicilian cooking.

 

Sicilian Fish Cooking

 Especially in coast areas, meat is not very used in Sicilian cooking. Make an exception to this the mountain areas and the inner villages, where mutton, meat of sheep and kid are usually eaten - especially during Easter period - and cold cuts in the Nebrodi area, in the province of Enna. In coast areas, fish has always been the main food in cooking and among the fish species, tuna fish is the most important one, frequently called “the poor's meat”. In the Egadi islands - where Favignana has become famous for “mattanza” (the final phase in tuna fish catching, in which tunas are harpooned) which takes place every year - tuna fish is vertically quartered, the way they use to do with calves, and it is then displayed in fishmonger's shops where it is being hanged upside down. In the province of Trapani, food customs are especially linked to fishing: spaghetti seasoned with tuna fish botargo - grated tuna fish eggs - are delicious. Even some vegetable dishes and caponata di melanzane are served as side dish for fish or for luteum - that is the semen of male tuna fish, made of a gelatinous mass which is boiled, served cubed like a salad or fried.


A classic of Sicilian cooking: caponata
A classic of Sicilian cooking: caponata

 In shops selling fried food - especially in Palermo - little fried fishes, sarde a pastetta (pilchards in batter) or fried squids represent the usual snack during the day. The stands of polipari - octopus sellers - and those of sea fruits sellers represent an obligatory stop for the ones who would like to taste boiled octopus served in pieces or sea fruits, sea urchin, oysters and mussels, eaten raw, optionally with lemon juice, according to popular traditions. People from Palermo know this very well, as they usually go to Mondello, a place some kilometers away from Palermo, to taste all these delicious dishes, including sea urchins, of course during the times fishing is permitted. Pasta with the pulp of sea urchins or sepia is simply delicious. In Sicilian inland, fish is almost unknown, except for anchovies and salted sardines, an ancient bread companion, according to peasant's traditions. Makes an exception to this, la pasta con le sarde a mare (pasta with sardines left in the sea), where the sardines are actually in the sea, that is are completely absent from the recipe, which is made with fennels, anchovies, pine kernels, raisin and tomato sauce.

 Cous cous is also a food to be mentioned, of obvious Arab origin, which, as opposed to the one made in the Maghreb countries, is not prepared with meat but with fish only. In Sicilian tradition, cous cous is hand made by following a specific ritual: it is being kneaded, with slow circular movements, with a hand, while with the other the dough it is sprinkled with a mixture of water and salt. This operation, called incocciatura (literally to unite, putting together), is done in an earthenware bowl - mafaradda - therefore obtaining small pasta lumps - that is cous cous - which is subsequently steamed in a particular pot with holes in the bottom, called couscoussiera. At the end of cooking, cous cous is poured in a stock made of a rich sea fish soup, then it is served well puffed and grained, accompanied to the fishes used for the soup.

 

Each Province Has Its Recipes

 In the province of Messina - important area of Byzantine, Saracenic and Norman eras - have been introduced two characteristic elements which will become traditional in cooking: rice, with which arancine are made (little rice balls stuffed with meat or ham and butter) - and by the way, never say arancini in Sicily! - as well as stockfish or piscistoccu, cooked à ghiotta, with capers, olives, tomato, onion, celery, potatoes, chili pepper, oil, salt or served raw in salad. In the cities of Catania, Syracuse and Ragusa, the way of cooking takes its origin from classical ancient times. The influences of Arab, Spanish and French people did not reach this part of the island, which remained linked to Greek sobriety and to peasant's traditions. The typical flat breads from Ragusa u pastizu, scacciate from Catania or scacce from Modica - city in the province of Ragusa and also famous for chocolate - were originally made as flat shaped breads, and with time they were then stuffed with vegetables and cheese.


 

 Enna, at the center of the cult of Ceres, goddess of the harvest, and Demeter, goddess of fertility, together with Agrigento and Caltanissetta are the cities in which peasant's traditions are stronger. Here, the relationship between man and nature is felt more, therefore creating some customs, according to a ritual of pagan origin and which was passed on till today. In Sicilian inland - where there is a large consumption of legumes and vegetables - one of the most famous soups is called maccu, a puree of dried broad beans, seasoned in different ways according to the traditions of each area: wild fennel in the province of Enna, yellow pumpkin in the area of Palermo, lentils in Petralia Sottana (a city near Palermo). When maccu gets cold, its consistency is similar to that of polenta, which is then sliced and making the peasant's lunch, as well as a hot broad beans soup makes the meal for breakfast. As for milk, being more abundant the one of sheep and notoriously containing more fat, it is usually transformed in ricotta, primosale, tuma and caciocavallo cheese.

 Among the cultivations introduced by Arabs, are mentioned eggplants, which since those times occupy an important place in Sicilian tables, as well as in the famous timballo, and in other tasty dishes. Peaches, apricots, delicate vegetables such as asparagus and artichokes, fragrant jasmines, spices like ginger, clove, cinnamon, saffron and then rice and carob, are all part of the Sicilian cooking. Scapece - from Spanish escabeche -is a sort of carpione of Aragonese origin, in which vegetables or fishes are first fried or grilled, then steeped in a vinegar marinade, and 'mpanata, a custard pie stuffed with vegetables, fishes or meat, similar to Spanish empanada. In the course of dominions, customs and traditions of different cultures, left evident signs in Sicilian gastronomy, which has always been receptive for new things. When Spanish introduced tomato in Europe, Sicilians were the first ones to cultivate for nutritional purposes, followed by the people of Campania region.

 A recent regional fashion, which then become famous in all Italy and in the rest of the world, is the cultivation of small tomatoes from Pachino (village in the province of Syracuse), main ingredient in most of the typical Sicilian recipes as well as in many Mediterranean recipes. Arabs introduced the cultivation of citrus fruits: oranges, tangerines, sweet lemons or lumie, citrons and bergamot, from which are being extracted essences with an intense aroma. Other Arab delicacies include: pistachios - famous are the ones from Bronte (in the province of Catania) - almonds, especially those from Avola (in the province of Syracuse). Other important cultivations are: prickly pears, olives, from which are produced exceptional oils, especially in the province of Trapani, from Nocellara del Belice variety. The cultivations in the island also includes grapes, such as Grillo, Catarratto, Inzolia, Damaschino, Nero d'Avola, Nerello mascalese and Nerello cappuccio.

 

A Journey of Delicious Foods

 Dairy products are made with sheep and goat milks, frequently mixed together: primosale, a very young pecorino cheese, with a delicate taste and basically sweet, sometimes acid, is one of the most famous ones. The province of Ragusa, rich in pastures, is famous for the production of mozzarella cheese and especially for caciocavallo Ragusano, here known as u scalùni - literally meaning step - because of its parallelepiped shape. Bread, made in different shapes and with different mixtures, is frequently stuffed with tasty ingredients: black olives, sausage for the famous mignolata, sesame seeds for mafalda, a bread of Arab origin. An important thing to mention is a sort of pizza, which is not however a pizza, called u sfinciùni typical in Palermo. The base is like pizza dough, but the condiment is made of tomato sauce, minced onions, anchovies, primosale cheese, oregano and a little of bread crumbs - or muddìca - to be sprinkled over the condiment, before putting sfincione in the oven. Sfincione, following a tradition of the past, is still sold along the roads and in popular markets of Vucciria, Ballarò and Capo. Even today, funny men go along the streets of Palermo with a trolley, in which it is well displayed sfincione, shouting out the superb qualities of this specialty.

 As for Palermo, it is to be mentioned the products of rotisseries, such as arancine, calzoni, panelle (squares of fried chickpeas puree), crocchè and cazzilli, potato's croquette with parsley, fried by the “mythic” figure of panellaro (the seller of panelle). Another thing to be mentioned is u paninu ca meusa (sandwich with spleen). This is the favorite snack of many people in Palermo, especially in the center of the city: the hot spleen is used to stuff the so called pagnottella with sesame (a bun which is also used for panelle), with boiled lard and caciocavallo cheese, cut in flakes, which then melts. Other typical foods to taste in Palermo include guastedda, a sandwich stuffed with ricotta cheese, boiled lard and caciocavallo cut in flakes. In the markets and in popular quarters, especially in Palermo, it is possible to find very special food. Among the many, it is mentioned stigghiòle, a serpentine of wether's entrails, lamb, kid or calf, wrapped in long and green onions, babbaluci - or snails - especially eaten on July 15th in occasion of “Festino di Santa Rosalia” (the festivities for Rosalia Saint, patron of Palermo) and any sort of entrails and tripes.

 Sicilian cooking is also famous for its rich pastry, famous all over the world. Cassata, cannoli, water ices and the many almond sweets, are just some of the many examples to mention. A richness of delicacies, which would deserve a whole report.

 

The Island of Wine

 The gastronomical richness of Sicily has a good ally in the rich selection of wines which the island can offer to the lovers of the beverage of Bacchus. White and red wines, as well as excellent fortified and sweet wines, everything seems to be perfectly made to satisfy any enogastronomical match with Sicilian cooking. Thanks to a countless recipes of fish - especially in the coast areas - many of the Sicilian red wines can be matched with this kind of cooking, frequently destined to white wines. The rich preparations with tuna fish - in particular when grilled or made with peas ragout - can be well matched to Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Nerello Mascalese and Frappato. These wines can also be matched with the rich preparations of cous cous, which can also be matched with full bodied white wines. Moreover, the rich dishes of pasta with fish, in which are used aromatic herbs and dried fruits, can be matched with red wines or with white wines having a good body, such as the ones produced with Grillo grapes. The presence of dried fruits - in Sicily used in many recipes, not only with fish - suggests the pairing with wines with a full body, with a good alcohol volume in order to balance the succulence and the unctuous taste of these ingredients.

 The rich cuisine “along the road” - typical in Palermo - capable of offering simple snacks as well as robust preparations - can be matched with wine. Panelle, cazzilli, crocchè and everything else the fantasy of rotisserie can create, can be matched with the typical aromatic and crisp wines of the western part of Sicily, like Alcamo and the wines produced with Catarratto and Inzolia grapes. More “robust” preparations like u paninu ca meusa and stigghiòle, can be matched very well with wines produced with the queen of Sicilian grapes: Nero d'Avola. The wines produced with Nero d'Avola grape can be used in the matching with meat, typical in the inland areas of Sicily, as well as with the generous and robust aged cheeses. Truly different considerations should be done for those dishes in which vinegar is used, such as preparations in scapece and the extraordinary and tasty caponata. In these cases, the matching with wine is pretty difficult and not advisable: the presence of vinegar generally makes wine - especially the white ones - flat and watery. In case a wine is necessary to be matched to caponata, it is advisable choosing a very smooth red wine with a good body.

 




 Events  Share this article   Share on Google+   Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 38, February 2006   
Sicilian Cooking and WineSicilian Cooking and Wine  Contents 
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