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I strategically select holiday destinations around food markets, pastry shops, restaurants and vineyard visits. In Sicily, I could blissfully survive on a diet of arancini (rice balls), pasta alla norma (pasta with tomatoes, fried eggplant, ricotta salata cheese, and basil) and cannoli but there’s much more to discover. Here are 7 not to miss dishes when in Sicily.
- Pane e panelle – No sooner do I land in Palermo, do I make my way to a market cart frying up panelle (chickpea fritters). The main ingredient in panelle is chickpea flour mixed with water, chopped parsley, salt and pepper. Although panelle are sometimes served as a starter, I eat mine in a sesame studded bun topped with potato croquettes at Piazza Kalsa. Trust me, you’ll love it.
- Caponata – What’s not to love about caponata? The bittersweet fried eggplant cooked with capers, celery, olives and tomatoes is served as an appetizer or side dish. Endless variations exist with some caponata including raisins, potatoes and pine nuts and others with peppers and carrots.
- Sfincione – Sfincione is found mostly in Palermo in food markets and bread shops. Thick spongy dough is topped with tomatoes, sauteed onions, a dusting of grated caciocavallo cheese and anchovies. It’s the perfect savory snack anytime of day.
- Pasta con le sarde – Fresh sardines are found in many Sicilian dishes. A poor man’s fish, sardines are packed with Omega3 and bring back many childhood food memories for me. Sardines are at their freshest in springtime. It’s also the time when wild fennel flourishes in vineyards, gardens and roadsides around Sicily. What better time to savor pasta con le sarde (sardines, toasted pine nuts, raisins, and wild fennel tops tossed with pasta)?
- Couscous alla Trapanese – While Sicily is known for its bounty of seafood-based pastas, Trapani is famous for couscous alla trapanese, a seafood-couscous plate with an obvious Arab touch. The dish is celebrated in September at the annual couscous festival at the seaside town of San Vito lo Capo. Recipes vary though most are made with snapper, sea bass or cod and shrimp or mussels. It is simply delicious.
- Cassata – Sugar lovers will love cassata. The decadent Sicilian dessert is a frosted sponge cake filled with a sweetened ricotta and chocolate mixture that is surround by marzipan and topped with candied fruit. Although it is served traditionally around Easter when sheep produce the most milk and temperatures are comfortable, cassata is found year round.
- Granita with brioche – During the summer months granita is eaten with a brioche. Ice flakes and sugar are mixed with fruit, coffee or nuts. Lemon, almond, pistachio and coffee are classic flavors. On a steamy morning order a coffee granita, tear off a piece of doughy brioche, dunk and repeat. Don’t knock it until you try it.