Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Foodie destination: A taste of Sicily

Italy is my number 1 favourite food country ever and the island Sicily was ranked very high on the list ‘places I want to visit’. Last September it was finally time and we took a cheap Ryanair flight to Trapani and spent a week on the western side of the island.

After landing we picked up our Fiat 500 rental car and first headed to Erice, a little medieval city excellent for tourists to wander around for a bit. Because we were starving after a 2 ½ hour flight, driving around to find a working ATM and finally reached Erice around 14.30 in the afternoon we went straight into to first restaurant we ran in to because restaurants in Sicily are only open from 12.00 – 15.00 for lunch and then close again until around 20.00 for dinner.  But even though we didn’t have time to find a decent place for lunch the typical pasta from Sicily we took,  Spaghetti con le sarde,  was really good.   It maybe not so well known as other Italian pasta dishes  but this one is with sardines, fennel, pine nuts and sultana’s and to me the perfect match of North African and Italian flavours.

Four kinds couscous at Thaam restaurant, San Vito lo Capo

One of my ‘must-try-while-in-Sicily things’ was eating couscous in San Vito lo Capo. Unfortunately we were 2 weeks too early so we missed out on the yearly Couscousfest. But we were not disappointed by the couscous we tasted at the restaurant Tha’am. where we could try a dish with 4 different kinds; lamb, fish, vegetables and wild fennel! I have never tasted such delicate and fluffy couscous that was so tasteful. Also the plate of starters we ordered was an amazing array of different flavours with northern African influences. 

Sicily has some very unique flavours and ingredients typical for the island and uncommon in other parts of Italy. There’s the high quality pistachios ‘Pistacchio di Bronte’ first brought to Sicily in the 9th century by Arab conquerors and nowadays called ‘the green gold’; they use it not only in sweet pastries or ice cream but also make pesto di pasticchio with it and serve that on pasta with shrimps.
A heavenly combination which we tried at restaurant Del Monsu in Castellammare del Golfo with big shrimps and again in Osteria Il Gallo el’Innamorata in Marsala with little shrimps.

Busiate pasta with pistacchio pesto and shrimps at Del Monsu restaurant

Then there is the really famous ricotta cheese in a salted version for  in the pasta al la Norma, ricotta salata, and the sweet and creamy version which is used as a filling in the fried pasty called cannoli. A cannolo is the most traditional Sicilian dessert and can be really heavy so make sure you’re either very hungry or order a little one.

Unfortunately we visited Palermo on a Sunday so we missed out on the great food markets, but this city is famous for it’s street food and although a lot of restaurants and shops close on Sunday we were full when we got back on the train.
A typical snack is arancini, balls made of risotto rice with a filling in it, they are as big as an orange (arancine in Italian) and fried. We went to the Bar Touring which is supposed to sell one of the best arancini in Palermo  and were shocked about the size of the balls; instead of my planned 3 different flavours to try we couldn’t share more than 1 because they were so big (and greasy!!!).

Arancine 'burro' with prosciutto and mozzarella at Bar Touring in Palermo
But the best tip I can give any foodie who is about to visit Sicily is to have lunch or dinner at Osteria Il Gallo e l’Innamorata in Marsala.   Our guidebook described it as a slow food temple, I would call it food heaven! Never before I have tasted such high quality Italian products in one meal.  We couldn’t choose between the fish or meat/cheese antipasti so we took both. That was great but already so much that there was no room left for dessert. But after the second dish I couldn’t care less; I’m still dreaming about the most amazing pasta ever. Spaghetti Trapanese (a combination of tomatoes, basil and almonds) topped with  bottarga di tonno (a delicacy of cured tuna roe)! 

Antipasti misto at Osteria Il Gallo e l'Innamorata in Marsala city

Most amazing spaghetti Trapanese with bottarga at Osteria Il Gallo e l'Innamorata in Marsala city

Here is my version of another typical Sicilian dish: Caponata Siciliana. This recipe is a combination of two recipes and the way I have made it a lot. At first I thought it was not completely authentic because I use courgette in it, but now I realize that there is not one authentic recipe or combination of ingredients. In Sicily every family and restaurant had it’s own recipe and they probably also use what’s in season or in their budget ;).

Caponata Siciliana

I love to serve it at room temperature as a part of an antipasti dish (for about 6- 8 persons) or as a side dish with meat or fish ( for 4 persons)

  • 1 aubergine (eggplant)
  • 1 courgette
  • 1 onion, peeled and sliced in half rings
  • 1 tablespoon salted capers, rinsed well
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or white or red wine vinegar)
  • 2 tablespoons honey or sugar
  • good quality olive oil (preferably from Sicily)
  • 400 gram peeled tomatoes or tomato passata
  • a few olives, pitted
  • 25 gram pine nuts
  • a few basil leaves
  • salt
1. Heat some oil in a frying pan and let the onions soften in about 10 minutes on low heat. 

2. Meanwhile, cut the eggplant into cubes, sprinkle generously with salt and leave for 20 minutes in a colander.

3. Cut the zucchini into cubes and fry in a little oil in a second frying pan brown and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

4. Now turn the heat under the onions a little higher. Bake a minute on high heat and then add the honey and vinegar. Bake for a minute and add the peeled tomatoes with juice, olives, capers, and diced zucchini and then turn the heat down a little.

5. Rinse the eggplant cubes thoroughly under running water, pat dry and fry brown in a little oil over high heat. Heat everything through and season to taste with salt and pepper.


  1. Het water loopt me in de mond...

  2. Leuk, jammer dat ik dit stukje niet voor de vakantie heb gelezen!
    Ik heb ook arancini gegeten in een restaurant als snack, ze waren gelukkig niet zo groot zoals je ze meestal ziet,deze waren zo groot als een bitterbal. Erg lekker en daardoor kon ik verschillende soorten proeven.
    groeten, Caroline


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