Those who know about the
history of Italy
know that Sicily was an early Phoenician colony and in the trade route of the Mycenaeans
from Greece. The largest island in the
Mediterranean Sea, at various times Sicily was ruled by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Goths, Spaniards, French, Arabs,
and Normans, plus a few others; and because of its varied past rulers, the food of Sicily is different than that of mainland
In 2006, Joan Peterson,
award-winning author of the Eat Smart series – a collection of culinary/travel guides – visited Sicily and decided to write a guide about its food. Eat Smart
books provide an overview of a country or region’s food history, a menu guide of popular dishes, useful phrases, a food
guide of common terms used in cooking, and authentic local recipes. Joan collaborated with journalist, author, and teacher
Marcella Croce, a Sicilian native. Marcella wrote about the local foods of Sicily, the menu guide, and the list of Italian
phrases, written phonetically, that are useful for ordering in a restaurant or making purchases from a market.
In the first chapter of
Eat Smart in Sicily, Joan provides a history of Sicily’s cuisine, giving an account of what the early tribes and other nationalities
contributed. She explains how the Greeks were responsible for much of Sicily’s early
agricultural growth and why the Romans were more concerned with harvesting the wheat, and details the Arab contribution of
dried pasta, skewered and stuffed foods, and sweets to Sicily’s
The chapter on local foods is
quite extensive, with a detailed overview of the prominent regional foods, and a description of the foods of the provinces,
grouped by geographic area—western, central, eastern, and southeastern Sicily.
The chapter titled "Tastes of Sicily" offers a variety of regional recipes, from antipasti to dolci, contributed by restaurant
chefs, cookbook authors, and cooking instructors. The recipes are demonstrated for Joan, tasted on location, and then cooked
and tested in her kitchen. Recipes in Eat Smart in Sicily
include Tortini ai Porcini (Porcini Mushroom Tarts), Linguine all’Aragosta (Linguine with Lobster),
Maiale all’Arancia (Orange-Flavored Pork), Foglie Fritte di Carciofi (Fried Artichoke Leaves), Froscia
(No-Crust Sicilian Ricotta Pie), and Genovesi (Genoa Cakes).
Mostly hills and mountains,
Sicily was the first region in Italy to
produce commercial pasta, is one of the largest exporters of salt, a principal exporter of olives and extra virgin olive oil,
a primary contributor of oranges to Italy,
and a major producer of organic foods. Mount Etna provides the fertile soil for the flavorful
pistachios from Bronte and a bounty of exquisite vegetables and fruits. Eggplant is the main ingredient for one of Sicily’s
most popular vegetable dishes, caponata; eggplant and tomato are the foundation for Pasta alla Norma, said to be
named to honor Vincenzo Bellini’s 1821 opera, "Norma;" and vegetables, along with meat and cheese, are the filling for
arancini, the fried rice balls that take their name from the oranges they resemble. Several varieties of blood oranges—the
sweetest and most intensely colored, known as Arancia Rossa di Sicilia—are cultivated throughout the eastern
third of the island.
The "Menu Guide" is "an
extensive compilation of Sicilian menu entrees in Italian." In this chapter, the dish is listed in the Italian or Sicilian
dialect and a brief explanation of the ingredients and/or cooking technique is offered. The "Foods & Flavors Guide,"
as a companion to the "Menu Guide," is a list of Italian terms for kitchen utensils, cooking techniques, and the ingredients
used to make the dishes. Rounding out the book are helpful phrases for navigating a market or ordering at a restaurant, resources,
and tips for shopping in the markets.
Throughout Sicily, frutta di martorana, marzipan fruit, is a specialty.
The art of crafting marzipan into fruit began at a monastery in Martorana in Palermo.
The nuns, wanting to impress visiting clergy, crafted marzipan into fruit to decorate the trees that were bare. Gelato, derived
from the Latin word, gelare, meaning to freeze, and granita originated in Sicily;
it’s said that the snow from Mt. Etna
was flavored and served to the wealthy. From Sicily comes cannoli and cassata – the
delectable sponge cake filled with sweetened ricotta, candied fruit, and chocolate; and flavored with Marsala,
the sweet wine from the town of the same name, which is also the base for the very popular Vitello alla Marsala, Veal Marsala.
A great resource
for anyone interested in Sicily, Eat Smart in Sicily received the
National Best Books 2008 Award for Travel Guides and was awarded 2008 Food Book of the Year by Planeta.com. This year it received
the U.S. Review of Books: The Eric Hoffer Award 2009 First Runner-Up (Reference Category) and was a Finalist in the Travel/Travel
Guide Category for the 2009 Indie Book Awards. For those visiting Sicily, Eat Smart
in Sicily is a handy reference tool to take along, and for those not currently
planning a trip to Sicily, it provides a preview of the culinary treats Sicily has to offer.