Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sicilian Cooking - A Melange Of Influences

Sicily is not like other Italian provinces. this island , closer to Africa, than to Europe, has been influenced by a cornucopia of different cultures. there were the Arabs, the Spaniards, the North Africans, the Greeks the Germans and then the Italians themselves. All left a part of their cuisine which was reinterpreted by the natives to create a unique culinary tradition.

Thanks to its' location in the sunny Mediterranean, Sicily has had a wealth of tropical fruit for millennia. The Arabs first brought over oranges between the 9th and 11th Centuries. The most famous are the blood oranges that have a deep red pulp. There are also varieties of lemons and limes also from the Arab invasions. These come in variants where the taste may be sweeter or more bitter or shapes such as the bell shaped lemons. The Sicilians love citrus so much that In fact, of their lunch treats, arancia, are fried rice balls shaped to look like oranges.

While the Arabs brought succulent citrus to the Sicilian island, the Greeks gave it their love of olives, fresh veggies, broad beans and fish. This is evident on the easternmost shores, namely in Catania where early sailors and settlers lived. The Italian influence is much seen in the Sicilian passion for eggplant and peppers, either made with sauce or stuffed. Dishes also include tuna , bream and cuttlefish from local waters. Some are served with couscous, a nod to the connection with Algeria and Libya.

Sicilian desserts are amazing They have cannoli, fried pastry tubes filled with ricotta cream and chocolate chips but there is also frutta martorano, marzipan sweets molded and dyed to look like the real fruit slices and wedges. Another dessert specialty is cassata sicliliana, a layered dessert consisting of cream and marzipan on a base of liqueur soaked sponge cake. Granita is another well known dessert, commonly eaten for breakfast in the summer. It's a coarser version of Italian ice and usually has the added ingredient of cream. It can also be made without it for a more low cal version (popular in Manhattan).

Sicilian cuisine truly reflects its' history. It has taken from the Arabs, Greeks, North Africans and Italians. It adds its' own spin and makes the dishes and cuisine its' own. It truly is a culinary wonder.

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