Vinegartart is on vacation, but continuing to plug you in to their food world. – Read on.
Dining in Sicily is not for those who like an early night. Trattorias and restaurants typically open at 8:00 pm. If you arrive at 8:00 pm you will be dining alone. Arrive at 9:00 and you will be eating at 10:30. Food is prepared as Sicilian food has always been prepared – traditionally. If you follow the traditional Sicilian way of eating, you will start with antipasti, followed by soup or pasta, followed by fish or meat, followed by salad and winding it all up with dolci (dessert)(see previous post). If this strikes you as a lot of food, you would not be alone in your thinking. Night after night we watched petite Sicilian men and women chow back four and five courses and marveled at their ability. We found that after the antipasti and pasta we were hard pressed to enjoy dessert. Obviously, years of training has given them the advantage. After several false starts, we found that the portions were just too large for us and decided that two antipasti dishes were enough for four of us if we had any intention of getting past the soup or pasta course. It was a challenge, gentle reader, but one I was prepared to take on for you. So, with desserts behind us, here we go with a look at some of the mains.
Antipasti before every meal is a relatively new idea in Sicily. The word literally means “before the pasta”. Antipasti has always been prepared for weddings or special events but as for eating antipasti every day before a meal this is a modern intervention. Restaurants all have some antipasti but I doubt if Sicilians are eating antipasti at home every day. Sicily is home to caponata typically a dish made with eggplant, peppers, capers but not always. We tried tuna caponata and, of course, variations on the traditional versions. It was generally delicious. Sicily is covered with olive trees but we rarely saw olives on the antipasti menu. If olives were served as part of an antipasti course, there would be one olive for each of us. Bread and breadsticks are always part of the antipasti course.
Mixed house antipasto
Tuna caponata …and another version..
Pasta or Soup
The absolute best soup and generally my favourite meal anywhere in Sicily has been a Minestrone de Giorno at a restaurant in Enna. Minestrone simply means “big soup”. The basis for minestrone is a good broth – homemade preferably – to which has been added whatever is seasonal. This minestrone was simply potatoes, spinach and green cauliflower in a flavourful broth with pasta.
The pasta dishes in Sicily have been uneven. Sometimes very good and at other times simply not very well executed. Very few of the pasta dishes were made with fresh pasta and often the pasta was overcooked. I should clarify that I prefer my pasta be a little more “al dente”. In Catania, I enjoyed Squid Ink pasta, although in a serving that was waaay too much! A famous Sicilian dish is Pasta Norma, and there are many regional variations. Pasta Norma is pasta with eggplant. Sometimes the eggplant was great walloping eggplant “steaks”, and at other times it was chunks or almost sauce-like. It was however, usually quite flavourful.
Squid ink pasta Fusilli alla “Gangitana”
Pasta Norma Fresh ricotta filled ravioli
Sicily is all about fish. There are fish markets in every city or town and there is incredible variety. There used to be a thriving fishing industry in Sicily but the factory fish boats rule the waves today although tiny individual fish boats still dot the sea scape. The fishers do not work on Sundays so Monday is not a good day to go to the fish markets or eat fish in general. Catania has, by far, the best fish market and market in general in Sicily.
Sword fish is on every menu either served grilled or in couscous or pasta. Small amounts of it are also served in the antipasti course. In the fish market can be seen the glorious swordfish, just caught, being filleted; the head with its long sharp beak, displayed prominently. Tuna and sword fishing are traditional fisheries for Sicilian fishers. The sheer volume of fish makes one wonder about the sustainability of the Mediterranean fishery.
Catania fish market.
Shell Fish with Couscous Grilled Swordfish
Polipo alla Brace (grilled Octopus) Deep Fried Calamari, Sardines
Two attempts at ordering risotto did not garner the kind of risotto I am familiar with. The first was Risotto con Funghi. The flavour was okay but the rice was long grain not arborio rice. The second attempt was Risotto Rustico. Once again, the rice was long grain, mushy in texture with no al dente bite and lacking the creaminess essential to risotto. On top of the risotto was a mountain of ricotta cheese. Serves me right for ordering risotto in Sicily I suppose, given that arborio rice comes from the Po Valley, in Northern Italy.
Risotto con Funghi Risotto Rustico covered in Ricotta
With a bit of a tear in our eye we left Sicily. We talked on the plane about what we ate, saw, and the people we encountered along the way. We decided that we were lucky to have been able to visit, but even luckier to live where we have the food choices that we do. For certain we’d go back to dig deeper into the food of Sicily. If you get the opportunity – take it.
Next week – Amsterdam – a melting pot of world food flavours. Join us there!