Sunday, September 30, 2007

Top 10 Sicily: Sicilian Dishes

I love the little book Top 10 Sicily. I bought it soon after arriving here and still refer to it when I need a quick reference to find something. I also love the idea of "top ten" and even use it in my teaching. I have a Powerpoint for AVID students: "The Top Ten Ways to Succeed in AVID." And I just briefed my new principal with a presentation entitled "The Ten Most Important Things to Know about AVID." I was recently inspired by Letterman's "Top Ten Campaign Promises" for Hillary Clinton.

Anyway, back to Sicily . . . and the book. I'm withholding my opinion of their overall Top 10 things to see in Sicily until I visit the Aeolian Islands, the only thing I've yet to see on their main list. But I have eaten a lot of new dishes here (probably too many), so I have my opinion on this topic.

According to the book, the Top 10 Sicilian Dishes are as follows:
  1. Bread (No way, all Italian bread is pretty bad, nothing like American-Italian bread. Notice I'm not eating it in photo above.)

  2. Pasta (Yes, but some are spectacular here)

  3. Risotto (Yes, but except for seafood risotto, it's better up north.)

  4. Fish and Seafood (Once again, which ones? They say tuna . . . )

  5. Meat (They say especially lamb, pork, and sausage/salsiccia--the last one I agree with.)

  6. Caponata (Yes! This is a great antipasta or side dish of eggplant, tomato, and other ingredients that vary from place to place--it's sweet and yummy.)

  7. Arancini (Deep fried rice balls, a kind of Sicilian "fast food" that is overrated, in my opinion.)

  8. Panelle (Never even heard of it, and neither have my friends!)

  9. Gelato (Yes, but more specifically granite!)

  10. Cassata and Cannoli (two sweets that are spectacular. I would not lump them together.)

MY TOP 10 DISHES would be . . .

  1. Swordfish (Without a doubt, the best and freshest in the world. They display the head and sword in the markets so you know what you are buying--see right.)

  2. Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia (Squid ink sauce on spaghetti. It looks and sounds terrible but is absolutely delicious!! See photo HERE.)

  3. Granite (I have written several blog postings on this one. Go HERE.)

  4. Pistachio sauce (For pasta or for scallopine, this is so, so delicious. The nuts are grown on Mt. Etna.)

  5. Blood Oranges (The best in the world come from here, grown on my doorstep. Once you've had them, you'll never eat another orange without wishing you had one.)

  6. Sweet and Sour Rabbit Stew (I grew up eating rabbit, so I like it. This is domestically raised rabbit and it's fantastic. Sicilin winter comfort food, at least on Etna. I will always order it when it's on the menu. And no bb's to spit out!)

  7. Salsiccia [sal-SEE-chee-uh] (The handmade Sicilian sausage that is grilled. You can actually go to the butchershop and have it made to your specifications--cheese? fennel? spicy pepper? You name it.)
  8. Cassata (This Sicilian "wedding cake" is so sweet and so heavy, they sell it by weight! It's loaded with riccota cheese.)
  9. Bruschetta (Okay, the bread is a LOT better when you put this tomato stuff on top! Every restaurant has their own recipe for it and it's usually served with no charge as a little appetizer.)

  10. Grilled vegetables (You cannot not love vegetables that are fresh, brushed with olive oil, then grilled on a wood fire. They are not mixed, but served side-by-side--peppers, zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, even radicchio! You can get this as a side dish in any restaurant that I know. Spinach, made to your specifications, is a close second.)

So, this is only MY opinion. I know for a fact that all of my friends have a different list. Hopefully they will share some of those on COMMENTS.


At September 30, 2007 8:31 PM, Blogger Sharon said...

Love this topic. I shall have to think about my top 10 best&worst. I have tried Panelle. It is a chickpea snack. A square of chickpea flour mixed with water and parsley and FRIED. I think the taste is the oil. My friend loves it. I may try to make it in the oven someday. Over rated like the rice ball that so many love.

At September 30, 2007 8:34 PM, Blogger Steve said...

The problem with any list of ten is that there is a list of ten more, or ten different. There is probably another problem, indeed ten of them.

Anyway, here is my list.

Canolli with fresh sweetened ricotta. Invented by the wonderous folks in Piano de Albenese.

Fresh (goat) ricotta, on spaghetti, on spaghetti with tomato sauce, on macedonia (fresh fruit salad) or all by itself, but make sure it is fresh.

Pasta (Orechetti or Fusilli) with melanzane (eggplant), fried, or filetted, with of course olive oil and garlic.

Pane Cunzatta - fresh (wonderful Sicilian) bread hot from the oven with oil, anchovies, tomatoes, a bit a parmesan cheese if you want, and oh my....

Milsa sandwiches (Milsa is boiled sheep spleen, with a bit of salt. I can not believe how good it is.)

Sun dried tomatoes, by themselves, in salads, or in pasta dishes.

Ribera oranges - if you eat a Ribera orange, you will never go back to the blood oranges.

Castelvetrano red garlic - more flavor and longer lasting than other varieties.

Calamaretti Fritti - tiny little squid, lightly breaded in (wonderful Sicilian) bread crumbs, deep fried whole to perfection.

Fresh anchovies in oil, also known as alice. (a lee che)

Other than that, a great list!!

At September 30, 2007 8:46 PM, Blogger Maryellen said...

Boiled sheep spleen? Steve, have you been in the sun too long?? What does it taste like??

At September 30, 2007 11:48 PM, Blogger Jacque LeBlanc said...

I second Steve's yum for calamari fritti and pomodori secchi.

And I also second Maryellen's votes for fresh Sicilian vegetables on the grill, caponata and squid squirt pasta. And Rob's agrees that swordfish here rates!

I agree with thumbs down on the chewy bread and crust that doubles as a weapon. I think the French do bread and cheese better.

I've not seen lamb in restaurants. But we do enjoy it from the grocery and stew it in Nero d'Avola and rosemary for our own creation.

I haven't tried rabbit as I used to have them as pets so I haven't been able to make that mental leap yet.

I'm not a sweets fan so I'm always impressed when I find something I do like such as almond and pistacchio granite or those tender, melt in your mouth, lemony and almond genovese creations from Erice.

I'm also wild about the Sicilian approach to octopus.

Quite frankly, just give us 5 plump Sicilian artichokes and 5 luscious tomatoes and that's our top 10 right there...

After a year and half here, we've finally turned the corner where we shop more in the markets, the roadside trucks and our local grocery than we do at the Commissary and we love it!

At October 01, 2007 2:31 AM, Anonymous Shana said...

Interesting that you mention Bruschetta. I actually enjoyed tomatoes while eating bruschetta in Sicily. Amazing, huh? I wish I had some right now...

At October 01, 2007 10:53 AM, Blogger Alison said...

What about those pressed sandwiches they serve at reststops on the highway? I love those. Also that really thick pudding-like hot chocolate. Mmmm...

At October 01, 2007 12:31 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Two things, well, maybe three. First of all, Milsa tastes just like boiled sheep spleen, and there is no other way to describe it.

Second, I did not add sangue dolci because it is a Molisana dish, that is from Molise. It is delicious on pasta and on bread. The only problem, and I can not get my head around this, is that it is made of boiled orange juice, chocolate, and fresh pigs blood.

The third, and I think most important comment, comes sort of from an experience I had at a nice trattoria in Taormina. I asked the owner/waiter/cook what he liked best, and he said 'My mother's pasta al forno.' When I told him that was what I wanted, he told me I would have to go to Catania to get it, because she lived there.

Any Sicilian cooking made by someone you love, and someone who loves you, is the best there is. I say that as I am about to make pasta with the beans, garlic, and pepperoncini, and wait until later to have the thin fried slices of eggplant all of which was made by Ignatzia Marchese Ficalora. Paolo's wife is the best. Truly the best.

At October 01, 2007 7:04 PM, Blogger Kendra said...

Argh...I don't think I could narrow, or categorize for that matter, my favorites. I love everything that you've mentioned (even the bread)...uh, except for the spleen and fried chickpea thing. It wouldn't be right if I didn't mention zuppa di cozze (with fresh bread for dipping)...maybe prosciutto e melone/ananas...or even simply fresh pressed olive oil on hot fresh bread with a sprinkling of sea salt and pepperoncino...and naturally PIZZA con mozzerella, pomodoro, olio, cippoli, pepperoncini, and salame picante.

At October 08, 2007 8:00 PM, Anonymous Betsy said...

Hi there, I live with my family at the foot of Etna -- and love figs and prosciutto, melon and prosciutto, and then pizza and prosciutto. We have been eating whatever is in season. Eggplant made 10 ways, baked ricotta, and now the purple broccoli - when we buy anything fresh, it always comes with a recipe...and the olives...oh my...

At October 08, 2007 11:34 PM, Anonymous joan grewe said...

I had the "ink suid" pasta dish the first time I visited Italy in the late 90's (you know, last century). I had ordered it on a dre, and I loved it! Just get over the color and enjoy!!!

As for the vegetables, I insist that Maryellen send me an olice oil fix every few monthsso I can recreate the taste over my winter fire in Virginia. Joan

At November 08, 2007 11:15 PM, Blogger Rita Monaco said...

I grew up Sicily ( I have been living in Vancouver, Canada for the last 40 yeras)and go back every year to visit my mother and brothers.
My top favorite sicilian dish is Pasta con Sarde the way they make it in Palermo: bucatini, fresh sarde, wild fennel, raisins, pine nuts, anchovies and saffron. To die for.
Arancini are very good if you make them at home.
I don't like swordfish ( too dry) nor tuna ( I prefer it raw japanese style).
Sicilian bread is great if you know where to buy it,it has to be the one baked in a old fashioned wood burning oven...not easy to find.
Love the sausage, the thin one with fennel. I have learned to make it at home in Vancouver.
The bread with milza has to be eaten in Palermo becase that where it's good. It's a bun with fried beef spleen with ricotta and fresh grated caciocavallo.
I love boiled octopus ( the kind street vendors make, boiled in sea water....
raw sea urchins,
small, veeery small cuttlefish floured and fried,
pasta al forno
pizza the way they make it in Trapani
fried eggplants in a bun

love the food in Sicily!

At November 27, 2007 5:57 PM, Anonymous Damon said...

I lived in Sicilia north of Augusta right on the water for two and a half years. I got there in 1980. I hope to go back soon.

I couldn't help but to respond to this topic.

Maryellen your top 5 would be mine too. But somewhere on the list I would have added pasta Carbonara. And lets not forget the pizza!

My neighbor would fire up her outdoor pizza oven with olivetree wood and make spinach pizza (among others) that was light and almost like pastry, just fantastic.

In my favourite restaurant they would serve cozze' (spelling?) pronounced "khots-say". the black shelled little mussels with yellowish orange meat, we would sop up our plates with chunks of bread baked next door. It seemed the bigger and odder looking the loaf the better it was.


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