Friday, 18 July 2014

Sicily: Its Fabulous Food & Wine

If you follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, you'll be aware that I spent a week in the stunning south Italian island of Sicily around the beginning of July. Excuse the probably excessive bragging. I couldn't help myself. Well, without a doubt, an amazing week was had. In no particular order here are my top ten recommendations for delicious food and wine in Sicily...

  • Granita - this has to be tasted in the depths of Sicily's summer heat to be truly appreciated. My husband received a description of this slushy, icy, soft sorbet-esque Sicilian speciality and said it wouldn't be for him. He subsequently tasted it, loved it and devoured many the granita al limone on a hot afternoon by the Med.
    Lemon granitas

  • Canolli - these are delightful cylindrical pastries containing sweetened ricotta - which is used regularly in Sicilian desserts.
    Canolli with Almond Gelato on the side in Duomo Restaurant

  • Gelato - how could you ever go anywhere in Italy, particularly in the summer, without enjoying a gelato...(or ten)?! But what is their unusual twist on the gelato in a cup or cone, is that it is often sandwiched inside a brioche bun in Sicily! It is certainly tasty, it works, but for me, the cup is still king. There is also wine flavoured ice-cream to be found in Sicily, believe it or not. I was quite tempted to try, but on that particular day I was (unusually for me) just too full.
    My gelato on the left - Pistachio and Nutella

    Gelato in a brioche bun!

    Fancy some wine ice-cream?

  • Cheese (formaggio) - in the province of Ragusa, Ragusano cheese is typical and beloved. It is quite a hard cheese and is really delicious, made from whole cow's milk in this very specific region of southeast Sicily. I bought some beautiful fresh Mozzarella while we were there and made Caprese salad for lunch a couple of times. It is so delectable and creamy. You will note the Gorgonzola too, as I simply can't pass blue cheese.
    Buffalo Mozzarella in Caprese Salad and Italian Gorgonzola
  • Pizza. Enough said really. What's not to love?! We tried Bresaola with fresh rocket and Parmesan shavings sprinkled on top and also a simple tomato and cheese pizza topped with prosciutto. Delicious.
    Bresaola pizza with rocket and Parmesan

  • Pasta - the variety of brands, both fresh and dried in the supermarkets is just amazing and then the range of shapes and varieties is mesmerising. I tried a lovely unknown name pasta shape with Sicilian pesto, which combines tomatoes, nuts and ricotta cheese, and it was fabulous. My favourite restaurant pasta experience was at a really lovely trattoria right on the stunning blue flag Marina di Ragusa beach. It was a spinach lasagnetta with basil pesto and "blue fish" - these appeared to be little sardines to me, regardless, it was truly fabulous and very moreish.
    My favourite lasagnetta pasta dish

  • Arancini - Arancini balls are what we might more commonly refer to as risotto balls and they take their name from the Italian word for little oranges due to the resemblance in appearance. In Sicily, they come in every flavour, shape and form imaginable - there's even a Nutella one for dessert! They are real Sicilian street food, they're tasty and super filling. I tried the Norma, which is a typical sauce, composed mainly of aubergine and cheese, such as Ricotta, Pecorino or Parmesan. I also had a little bite of the seafood, which was yummy too.
    Arancini - the Norma and Seafood
    Enjoying the Norma Arancine

  • Nuts - nuts are widely grown in Sicily and are used in many dishes - another favourite Sicilian pesto is made with pistachios as its base. I have my own jar, carefully transported home as part of my foodie haul, which I look forward to trying. Almonds are also much loved in Sicily. My favourite granita is the almond version from the fabulous gelato café Il Caffe delle Rose in Marina di Ragusa.
    My special Sicilian Pistachio Pesto hiding among the goodies

  • Sparkling white wine - during our stay we enjoyed Sicily's version of Prosseco twice. It is just gorgeous and definitely gives any of the big shots of bubbly a run for their money. We were particularly taken by a fabulous fizz from the Palermo region we tasted while dining at Duomo, an exceptional two Michelin star restaurant in Ragusa Ibla. This special place will deserve a blog post all of its own, in its own time.
    Bubbly from Palermo

  • Nero d'Avola (or the "black grape of Avola" in Sicily) - You may know by now that I am a red wine enthusiast and I was won over by this Sicilian grape during our stay. At prices as low as €9.00 for a decent bottle in a lovely restaurant, you begin to think really how overly expensive things are in Ireland. The Planeta winery, which operates at various locations throughout the island has some fantastic Nero d'Avola wines, which we thoroughly enjoyed as the perfect complement to some fabulous food during our stay in Sicily.
    Two different bottles of Nero d'Avola red wine

Prior to the week spent in Sicily, I did some investigating and planning as many of us like to do to feel somewhat au fait with a new destination before arriving there. The wonders of Twitter helped greatly, as did Tripadvisor and its forums with endless tips and advice. I also came across a Sicilian's blog, based solely on the cuisine of her beautiful island home and it was there I discovered about the gelato brioche combo. 

I look forward to sharing my Michelin star dining experience from the stunning Baroque town of Ragusa with you in the near future...

Left - Duomo Restaurant; Right - Ragusa's main piazza

If you have been to Sicily and want to reminisce or add some further tips and ideas, please do so in the comments. And please, feel free to share what you do to prepare in advance of a holiday to ensure you get to taste and experience all the hidden treasures.

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