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 to make sure they didn’t miss out on any gastronomic goodness.
As in the rest of Italy, Sicilian food is very local and seasonal so if the market is overrun with, say, fiddlehead greens 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.
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). A paste made of almonds and sugar, then sculpted and colored to resemble other foods—often faux fruit, called frutta martorana.
Granita. Sweet shaved ice, perfect for an afternoon snack on a hot day.
Cassata. Hard to describe. A very pretty cake filled with sweetened ricotta and chocolate chips and topped with a colorful layer of marzipan.
Cannolo. Ricotta filling in a crisp fried pastry tube, this is a sweet you’re probably familiar with that hails from Sicily.
Setteveli cake. A chocolate and hazelnut seven-layer cake.
Brioche with ice cream (brioche con gelato). This is literally ice cream inside a sweet bun, like a sandwich.
Carbs to try in Sicily
Arancina or arancino (depending on where you are in Sicily). A ball of rice stuffed with ragù and peas and deep fried. These can be found all over Italy and make a great snack.
Couscous. This is used in Sicilian cooking because it was imported from northern Africa and the Middle East (along with chickpeas, raisins, and cinnamon), 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 aged ricotta on top.
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—like 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 aged and 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 tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Nothing else.
Hot peppers. (peperoncino)
Purple cauliflower. (cavolfiore).
Almonds (mandorle). Often used as a paste, so not recognizable, and in desserts.
Caponata. This is not an individual vegetable, but a dish made with eggplant, tomatoes, capers, and bell peppers.
Fish and seafood 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.
Street food to try in Sicily
Panelle. Deep-fried chickpea fritters. Don’t let the deep-fried part scare you – they are lighter than you’d think.
Arancina (see above)
Sfincione. Sicily’s take on pizza by the slice sold in thick, focaccia-like squares with various toppings. One of the most traditional is anchovies, local Ragusano cheese, and fried breadcrumbs.
Fritto misto. A paper cone of mixed, deep-fried fish and seafood that is lighter than you think.
Panino con la milza (U pani ca meusa). Found only in Palermo. Braised offal (sheep or veal spleen) topped with caciocavallo cheese and served in a bun.
Stigghiola. Another offal specialty for the bold. Sheep or goat intestine wrapped around a skewer or spring onion and grilled.
Wines to try in Sicily
Sicilian winemakers have been making headlines for the past few decades and we often include winery visits in Sicily itineraries. There are great winemakers 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
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