Sicily's varied climate produces crops that are intrinsically flavorful, particularly those grown in the rich soil fertilized by Mount Etna's eruptions. Due to the quality and natural flavor of Sicilian-grown vegetables, the local cuisine is usually simple so as not to overpower the taste buds with a combination of too many strong flavors.
Sicilian cooking generally centers around rich red tomatoes, lentils, meatballs, plenty of fish, olive oil, capers, tuna couscous dishes, and sweet pastries. Flavorful Sicilian cheeses are also used in many dishes. Ricotta is a local favorite for quite a few recipes. Marsala wine is also used in many dishes to enhance the flavor of the ingredients and a glass of Sicilian wine makes a terrific accompaniment to many Sicilian dishes.
One of the most popular Sicilian dishes is the caponata. This is a traditional antipasto with ingredients that can include aubergines, tomatoes, celery, olives, and capers. The evolution of the dish allows for some variation, and thus, some caponatas include artichokes or chocolate.
To start, try the peperonata—bell peppers stewed with onions, tomatoes, and olives and served cold. Agghiotta di pesce spada is a dish combining swordfish with tomatoes, pine nuts, raisins, olives, and herbs. In arancini di riso, rice is combined with cheese, peas, chopped meat, and tomatoes and fried in the form of meatballs. The braccioli di pesce spada is a wonderful offering of grilled swordfish fillets that are carefully stuffed with cheese and vegetables. For baked artichokes stuffed with sausage, sardines, and cheese, try the carciofi ripieni. Aubergine fried and baked with mozzarella and tomato sauce is a hot favorite known as Melanzane alla siciliana.
What Italian menu would be complete without pasta, though? For spaghetti with aubergines and tomato sauce, the pasta con la norma is a terrific choice. The zite al pomodoro e tonno is a flavorful concoction of short pasta tubes with tomato and tuna sauce.
And for the sweet tooth, fried sweet ravioli stuffed with ricotta and cinnamon (or fravioli di Carnevale) makes a great end to any meal. The pignolata, which is a serving of sweet fried dumplings that are sometimes coated with chocolate, shaped in a mound or cone and held together by caramelized sugar and liqueur, is also a wonderful treat. Or if you prefer simplicity, scorzette di arance candite is a simple version of candied orange peels.
When visiting Sicily, one cannot miss the chance to experience authentic Sicilian cuisine at a Sicilian family-run restaurant or tavern. The pursuit of authentic fare often leads one to follow the locals as the best restaurants are often the least advertised.
Finish off a grand meal with a sumptuous cassata for dessert and a hot cup of silky espresso, the way only an Italian can make it.