There’s something special about Sicily. Whether it’s the rich and diverse history that makes it a little bit quirky, I don’t know, but one thing is for certain; I have to go again.
What’s most mesmerising about this not -so -small Island (you really do need to hire a car to get around) is the magnificent Mount Etna. Without sounding too cheesy this volcano really is awesome, and this is an appropriate description to use when you look at the true meaning of the word ‘extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring awe’. Mount Etna is always smoking away reminding you that it’s certainly not extinct! But it isn’t frightening, it’s beautiful.
It’s because of this active volcano that the soil surrounding it is so rich in nutrients like magnesium, phosphorous and sulphur making it the perfect environment for growing certain crops, especially citrus fruits, cactus pears and wine grapes. This area has been a pull for adventurous winemakers for centuries, those who love the wild and beautiful terrain of Etna’s lofty heights but can stand the potential risk of destruction from lava flow! This gives the wine a bit of an edge!
Take a trip up to the cliff-top village of Castelmola (the cover image) where there is a little bar selling traditional almond wine, produced by the Turrisi family. The wine is delicious; it has a sweet and aromatic taste with a hint of lemon (picture below). The bar itself has unique décor…be warned! This is a trip worth doing for just for the breath taking views alone. You get a bird’s eye view of the stylish and beautiful town of Taormina and you can eat at Gallo Cedrone where you can try mama’s meatballs or lasagna! This is a small, authentic, family run restaurant, it’s not fancy but the food is the real deal, tasty and affordable. And of course there is a perfect view of Mount Etna.
On the whole I would say that Sicilian food is mainly Italian food, however, it’s infused with Greek, Arab and Spanish influence. The Greeks brought over olive trees, artichokes and figs whereas the Arab influence is the aubergine, capers, pistachios, cinnamon, marzipan and the lemons. Oh the lemons! I have never seen such huge citrus fruit than in Sicily. And the general scent of lemon in the air is so good. Whenever I smell a lemon again I will be taken straight back to my Sicilian memories. The Spanish input is the raisins, pine nuts and tomatoes. My favourite pizza of the trip, seen in the picture below, was topped with tomatoes, raisins, tuna, olives, red onion and pistachio – a true example of all the cultures coming together. I have to mention pizza Norma – another favourite, basically pizza with aubergine – another must-try.
Some of the Sicilian traditions really made me smile, like having granita and brioche for breakfast or even better when I saw a brioche filled with ice cream! Granita is a Sicilian alternative for ice cream, a blend of ice and sugar with different flavours; lemon, peach, strawberry or coffee. This treat dates back to the Arab empire of Sicily, when sugar cane was brought over to sweeten confectionery, instead of honey that was being used at the time. The famous cannoli dessert also dates back to the middle ages during the Arab rule, these ‘sigar etta’ meaning ‘long skinny tubes’ are traditionally filled with ricotta. You can have a small cannolo (singular) the size or your little finger or a large one the length of your hand.
Walking around the pretty streets of Taormina, and even when passing through Catania, I got to experience local people selling their homemade, freshly picked or locally sourced produce. I enjoyed going to the small fruit and veg trucks which I found along most streets. The smell of the basil and parsley was so rich and costs next to nothing, it was here that I would get most of the ingredients for dinner. The fruit seller gave a local kid a banana and peach which he immediately tucked into whilst running off up the street to play with his friends. Despite the crowds of tourists, the locals still had a community feel, which gave the villages more charm.
The local ‘fast food’ option is Arancini, a rice ball often filled with meat, mozzarella and peas, popular with both tourists and locals. Coming either in a ball or cone shape, these date back to the 10th century during the Arab rule. The great thing with these is that you can make them with leftover risotto – if there is ever such a thing!
So, why is this blog called Anchovies don’t bite? Well, it comes from a small video I watched where the Italian chef praised the importance of these little fishes as a key part in classic Italian dishes, but joked that the British people were too afraid to use them ‘they don’t bite!’. Chopped and stirred into sauces, they add a subtle salty, umami taste but without an overpowering fishiness. Anchovies are sold in every local deli in Sicily so we used them as part of the base for our homemade Sicilian dinner for two – enjoyed on the balcony with the view of the old beauty Mount Etna.
2 garlic cloves
1 red chili
Handful of parsley
Optional – meat or fish of choice
- On a heated pan melt the butter, add the anchovies and garlic. After a minute add the chili.
- Put the fresh pasta onto boil.
- Add chopped tomatoes and cook till slightly soft.
- Spoon the cooked pasta into the pan with the sauce mix. Add a ladle of the pasta water.
- Add a handful of chopped fresh parsley. (optional – Add a small amount of butter for silkiness)
- Serve with some fresh basil and grated parmesan.
- Team with grilled fish or add chicken strips to the pan when cooking (see both in pictures below).
Written By Lilia Malcolm, July 2017