Italian cuisine in North America is perceived as northern and southern Italian, but in reality it is completely different.
Italian cuisines are regional, and there are many. One common ingredient is pasta, but from then on, regional characteristics start to play significant roles. In
the south, tubular pastas to which tomato sauce clings better are popular, whereas north of Rome they change shape and become flat. Here, cream and meat sauces predominate since they adhere better to flat pasta. Most of the Italian immigrants who arrived in Canada around the turn of the 19th to the 20th century and after WW II, originate in southern provinces of Calabria, Basilicata, Apulia, and some from Abruzzo on the Adriatic Coast.
Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Spaniards and Normans have, for centuries ruled Sicily today part of Italy. The culture is an amalgam of many components from different parts of the Mediterranean basin.
Sicily is the biggest island in this huge sea that has fed millions, and allowed a lively maritime commerce to prosper from the shores of Lebanon to Spain and Portugal.
There are actually three types of Sicilian cuisine – street food (cooked and ready to eat) that still exists.
Popular cuisine was the food of poor people trying to adapt recipes used in rich households with ingredients affordable to them.
French chefs who were brought over to Sicily in the 18th century to cook for nobility prepared the third cuisine termed baroque. Expensive and rare ingredients as sea perch, capons, sole, quail and rabbit were used.
Vegetables, legumes, pastas, bread and sometimes fish constituted the diet of the poor.
Sicilian cuisine, like most Italian cuisines, makes extensive use if regional produce. Olives are pitted, stuffed, breaded and fried, tomatoes dried for use in cold winter months, red peppers grilled and marinated for preservation. Hard cheese is pan-fried, rice balls stuffed and caponata is an excellent vegetable stew along the lines of ratatouille. In fact, French chefs working for the nobility created it.
Bread, like in most Mediterranean diets, plays a large role in Sicilian cuisine. There are innumerable shapes and forms of bread, not to speak of flavours and textures.
Bread, cheese, olive oil and wine were often consumed for lunch and even dinner by millions. Today, there are still people favoring such combinations from time to time.
Sicilian pizza is thick-crust, and relies more on the dough than toppings, but no less delicious than its Neapolitan counterpart on the mainland.
For most people Italian cheese comes from the north, but Sicily’s many cheeses are delicious. Caciaocavallo, Sicilian pecorino, and riccotta have been produced and eagerly consumed for centuries.
Sicilian cooks are fond of vegetable and legume soups, and marinates a variety of fish or cephalopods from the surrounding sea.
Sea salt has been an important source for Sicily for centuries, and continues to be. The taste of sea salt is incomparably better than rock salt. Ingenious Sicilians have used salt to preserve fish and cheese for centuries, and still do despite the wide use of refrigeration.
Here cooks use raisin, pine nuts, tomatoes and olive oil to produce sweet and sour sauces for preserved fish. This dish called caponata has many versions. Arabs influenced Sicilian cuisine’s desserts more than anything else.
Cannoli, casata, pigulata, ricotta half-moons, ice creams, granita, and almond paste, are only a few of the delicacies they introduced and which ingenious Sicilian cooks adapted and refined over centuries.
Those who think Sicilians shun meat, fish, and poultry, should not ignore scalopine al Marsala, roast lamb with rosemary, sweet and sour rabbit, just to name a few.
Any meal in Sicily without wine is unthinkable, and the island produces a wide range. Production outstrips local demand and much of the surplus is exported to mainland for blending. Recently, a lot of capital has been invested in modern wineries that produce excellent, flavourful, vibrant wines that can compete with any in the world.
Regaleali, varietal wines from the winery Planeta, Tasca d’Almerita, Donnafugata, Rallo are delightful and moderately priced.
Sicilian cuisine is versatile, ingenious, easy to duplicate, but time consuming, and above all, delicious.
Just visit an Italian grocery store, buy authentic Sicilian products and use the recipes of the book titled Sicily by Janine Saine who fell in love with the island, its people, and their beloved cuisine.