Is it the food? Is it the people? Is it the culture? Is it the history? Yes it is all of these things in that wonderful interaction of the slow way of Sicilian life where little old nonas (grandmothers) sit outside their front door of the house they have lived in for 50 years; where the older men gather in the afternoon to play bocce in the town square; where the traditional ways of cooking are passed on from family to family; where the art of making cheeses and salamis is passed from one generation to the next.
So what is it about Sicilian food? In a word it’s the essence of each season. It’s the way that Sicilians select vegetables and fruit according to the time of the year, capturing the taste of Sicily, food bursting with flavour and freshness. It’s why the antipasti with seasonal capers is such a hit. It’s why the figs wrapped in prosciutto just melt in your mouth. And why the tomato sauce, made on local sun ripened tomatoes tastes so rich and looks so red.
Nowhere else I know makes pistachio paste and pistachio gelato like the Sicilians. It is that taste sensation when you savor a spoonful on your tongue, roll your eyes and close them for a moment in a sense of longing.
Arguably, one of the best ever lunches in Sicily I’ve ever had was at L’oste Scuro in Acireale on the east coast between Catania and Taormina. It started with figs wrapped in smoked salmon, lemon leaves with swordfish cakes, thin slices of octopus in lemon and virgin olive oil, bite-size swordfish sausages, zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies. For secondi, we feasted upon fragrant seafood risotto and the finest ravioli filled with seafood with a flavorsome pistachio sauce. With the sweet smooth texture of cassata came dessert wines from Masala followed by shots of the digestive, Jagermeister and excellent espresso to round off the meal.
Ah yes, now back to exploring that rich history and culture of this island with its Roman, Greek and Arabic history, where Baroque architecture interplays with Norman and Gothic architecture and where the 17th century Roman palazzo, Villa Romana del Casale, decorated throughout with amazing mosaics is listed as a World Heritage Site.