La Cucina siciliana



We had often read about the delights of Sicilian cooking and our trip there last month confirmed it for us.  Naturally, panini sandwiches and pizza are widely available and we tried them a few times.  Previous trips to Italy had introduced us to gelato, that luscious Italian ice cream, and we did our best to get a cone every day we were in Palermo!  All kinds of flavors from creamy pistachio and hazelnut to fruity sorbets are found on just about every street of the city.  After paying the prices in Paris, we thought the cost of all of our meals and snacks was quite reasonable, too.  Many treats are indigenous to Sicily and we took advantage to try as many as we could.

You can well imagine that fish is big in island cuisine.  Walking through the many outdoor markets, we saw all kinds of squid, octopus, mussels, and, interestingly, fish displayed with their tails tied up with string; we figured it was to indicate the freshness of the fish appearing to jump out of the water onto the display.  Some of the best dishes we tried had seafood at their base.  For lunch one day, my husband tried an octopus salad which was very good.  A little restaurant called Trattoria al Cancelletto—that we went to twice because we liked it so much—had several appealing offerings.  Mussel soup, which didn’t have much liquid in it, was an appetizer piled high with mussels covered in a tasty tomato broth.  Their grilled fish was simple, but fresh and flavorful.  Our second night there we had pasta with shrimp and arugula, a dish that I’ve tied to recreate back here.  Again, it was simply prepared with just olive oil and shallots.  At a fancier place one night we tried the salt cod with goat cheese appetizer, even though the waitress seemed to want to talk us out of it.  Glad we didn’t listen to her; it was just great.  On the negative side, I wasn’t too crazy about my main dish there, another regional dish: pasta with sardines.

There's a wide variety of specialties in Sicily.  As we found in Corsica, dried salted meats are popular.  I had a huge appetizer of bresaola with shaved parmesan.  The waitress explained that it is like prosciutto only made with beef instead of ham.  Very good.  Another interesting dish we tried for lunch is called arancini.  Not terribly appealing to look at, they are big rice balls that came with either cheese or meat in the place we tried itPane con milza is, believe it or not, a spleen sandwich whicheven harder to believemy husband tried!  To mixed reviews...   It’s the specialty of Antica Focacceria di San Francesco, a restaurant which has been in operation for 174 years, despite threats by the Mafia of overtaking it.
 All in all, our culinary experiences in Sicily were terrific, adding to a wonderful, if short, vacation there.

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