Europe Travel  --  Food & Drink

Tasting Sicily – Surprising and Delicious

Unique Culture & Cuisine

Location: Sicily, Italy

Sorprendente! What a surprise Sicily was. I was lucky enough to spend three weeks in Sicily, the island just off the toe of Italy’s boot, during the month of February 2024. It was an interesting time of year to visit – very few tourists and many restaurants closed for the winter. But, as we always do, we found lots to do and spent time Tasting Sicily – Surprising and Delicious.

Olives – A Staple Food Everyday

This beautiful island is really something special. I could easily spend several months here and still not get enough of it. You probably know I love to talk about, write about and EAT local cuisines. So today let me explore with you the cuisine and culture of Sicily in the first of a two part series on Sicily. I think I can tempt your taste buds and entice you to visit this delicious island, the largest in the Mediterranean. Here we go!

Culturally Diverse

I loved this place, its people and its food. Every local we had the chance to talk with referred to themselves as Sicilian, not Italian. There is a very strong sense of cultural identity here, and the people embrace their unique history. You see it in the agriculture, architecture, art, history and most definitely in the food.

This beautiful platter of traditional Sicilian foods we enjoyed in Palermo


From the day we arrived we felt the difference between Sicily and Italy. Sicily felt more like Malta to us than like Italy. It felt a bit like Morocco. It also felt like Cyprus and Greece. Memories of Tunisia came to mind as well as Spain. The language is Italian, but the dialect is different. The people look a little Arabic. It’s a melting pot of thousands of years of the island changing hands.

Wikipedia says;

The history of Sicily has been influenced by numerous ethnic groups. It has seen Sicily controlled by powers, including Phoenician and CarthaginianGreekRomanVandal and OstrogothByzantineArabNormanAragoneseSpanishAustriansBritish, but also experiencing important periods of independence, as under the indigenous SicaniansElymiansSicels, the greek-siceliotes.

We came to Sicily expecting Roman history and Italian food but found so very much more. And thanks to this incredibly diverse cultural history, Sicily is singular in its identity. Although part of Italy today, it remains, Sicily.

Cefalu port

Embracing Locally Grown

Every gastronomic experience we enjoyed was touted as seasonally produced, and locally sourced. Sicily produces an astonishing array of foodstuff. Local cooks and restaurants alike choose the island-grown always…and often just do without if it can’t be sourced from Sicily. Seasonal favorites like cherries or sardines figure heavily in dishes produced at particular times of the year. The locally produced list is long, and I can’t even begin to mention all the ingredients that are grown and originate on the island. But here are just some of the most delicious island produced foods we reaped;

From the Fields

Citrus – everywhere we looked, including in our own front yard of our Airbnb, there was citrus weighing down the branches of every tree. Winter is harvest time and the oranges and lemons are colorful, juicy and abundant.

Lemons in the grove next to our Airbnb in Western Sicily

Pistachio – first introduced by the Arabs, today Pistachios are considered like “gold” to several local economies, especially the city of Bronte in the province of Catania where much of this lovely nut is cultivated.

Pistachio is part of both savory and sweet dishes throughout the island

Artichoke – Also introduced to the island by the Arabs, we enjoyed artichokes in several dishes, which were everywhere freshly harvested in February.

Artichokes were in season during our late winter visit

Eggplant – another popular winter vegetable finds it’s way into so many delicious dishes. It’s one of my favorite vegetables, under-utilized back home in the USA but definitely loved in Sicily.

Delicious Grilled Eggplant with Zuchinni and Peppers

Capers – the small island of Salina, one of Sicily’s tiny islands, is where most of the delicious capers come from. A perfect briny compliment to so many dishes.

Wild Fennel – I was intrigued on our hikes and walks the abundance wild fennel growing fast and furious in February. This delicious vegetable shows up in many Sicilian dishes and as a garnish too.

Wild Fennel

Almonds – available year around, but the spring pink blooms are a harbinger of the late summer nut.

Wheat – the Romans brought wheat to the island, and in most homes locally-produced flour similar to semolina is used to make fresh pasta and bread. The bread here is truly amazing. Though dried pasta is available in the grocery store like in the USA, home cooks still make the pasta on Sunday. The Trapani area near where we were staying is famous for the egg less Busiati pasta, a curly long pasta made fresh with local flour, oil and water.

Fresh ground wheat made into fine flour was what we used to make the busiati

Couscous – surprising to us, we found couscous a favorite dish available in many restaurants and in grocery stores. The Arabs brought this dish to the island, along with a mix of raisins, pine nuts and spices that have become part of the Sicilian diet.

Couscous with Fish is a Sicilian Favorite

From the Sea

Squid and Octopus – stuffed squid and several octopus dishes enticed us during our visit. There are so many seafood dishes available in restaurants as well as fish mongers sharing the daily catch, you can never go wrong with fresh seafood from the waters that surround Sicily.

Octopus with Potato is a local favorite

Tuna – I’ve eaten a lot of fresh tuna in my life but two memorable restaurant dishes with fresh caught tuna in early March were unbelievable.

Simply prepared fresh tuna was one of the best I have ever eaten at a Cefalu restaurant

Sardines – early spring is the peak of the sardines, and we ate them multiple times including in the famous Sicilian dish pasta con le sarde.

Pasta con le Sarde might be Sicily’s most famous dish

Salt – for centuries the west coast of Sicily has been home to salt harvesting. Similar to many places around the world we have visited, delicious salt from the sea is a staple for Sicily and also an export

Salt Flats near Marsala

Say Cheese

Cheese – there are many locally produced cheeses, my favorite from the island was the abundant and creamy ricotta. But there is more than one ricotta produced on the island, as well as several hard cheeses. You can’t go wrong with any of them. Learn more about Sicilian Cheese here.

Cannolo made with fresh Sicilian Ricotta. This one was orange flavored.

And the Best of All…

Olive Oil – Sicily is dotted with miles and miles of olive trees…many older than most humans. First introduced to the island by the Greeks, families produce their own years-worth supply of olive oil each fall, and larger productions of the ubiquitous liquid goes to market. You can’t cook or eat Sicilian without this golden ingredient.

Wine – did I save the best for last? Wine of course is part of every meal and the grape varieties were crisp and delicious. The Romans brought the grapes to the island, and today vineyards produce about 160 million gallons of wine each year. Some popular new-to-me varietals included Nero de Avola, Grillo and Cattarratto.

Grillo was one of our favorite Sicilian variatals

Tasting Sicily – Surprising and Delicious

One of the best things we did during our three weeks was enjoy a wonderful cooking class with Liliana at the historic farm known as Baglio Florio. Liliana’s organic farm ingredients from Adamobio helped guide us through the amazing local dishes that take their flavors from the island. During our class all the ingredients we used and ate were locally grown and produced – including the amazing wine. If you are coming to Sicily, cooking with Liliana is an absolute must. In addition to cooking classes you can take wine tours with lunch or have events at the beautiful historic farm. Check out her website and her Instagram page.

Cooking class at historic Baglio Florio


One dish that will remind any Sicilian of their childhood is caponata. Served cold or room temperature it is an absolute favorite. Both a summer and winter dish, we ate caponata as part of an aperitivo before we even knew what a local specialty it was. Liliana introduced us to it in our cooking class. Caponata is usually made with eggplant (aubergine) but the recipe can be very flexible to available ingredients. In fact since Liliana only uses ingredients from her farm, on this day we replaced the eggplant with apples. This dish is simple and easily made in advance for perfect entertaining. And absolutely delicious. Try this recipe.

Caponata, usually made with eggplant, is a favorite for Sicilians

Stuffed Sun dried Tomatoes

This delicious appetizer also showed up on aperitivo trays. Sun dried tomatoes are a favorite snack plain as well. Usually dried in the summer and stored, the tomatoes can be soaked in water for a few hours to rehydrate and used multiple ways for a powerful flavor punch. Here we made a filling of bread crumbs, garlic, orange rind, mint, water. The filling was placed between two similarly sized halves of tomato then very quickly fried in olive oil. Served at room temperature, I absolutely loved this.

Busiate Trapani (Almond Pesto)

Our visit to Sicily was spent entirely in the western region where this regional dish is a favorite. Trapani is a port town as well as a region, and almonds are a favored local nut. This dish can also be made with pistachios, another Sicilian favorite. Busiate was a new to me pasta, the shape important to the dish. We made the pasta by hand, using a wooden skewer to roll each piece into it’s distinctive shape. The shape holds the pesto sauce perfectly. I will definitely make this locally significant dish again. Try this recipe.

Handmade Busiate Pasta
Almond Pesto was delicious and easy too


Sicilian’s love the ricotta and this dessert uses the best of local ingredients. This delicious dessert is a favorite of mine because it is not too sweet. The lovely dough can be prepared easily and the filling is made from the delicious local ricotta, a hint of sugar and usually tiny chocolate chips. We fried these in a mixture of vegetable oil and olive oil. Served at room temperature they were the perfect complement to our meal with Liliana. Try this recipe.

Ricotta stuffed Casatelle

So much fun spending these hours at Baglio Florio and we loved all of these delicious and authentic dishes. Liliana kindly invited us to return for dinner or a wine tour but unfortunately we could not make that happen in the days before we left. You must visit Liliana and eat with her when in Sicily. You can’t possibly feel more a part of the local culture than this.

Thank you Liliana

Simple and Loved

Just a couple more dishes I want to mention because these simple peasant foods have continued to be part of the daily staple of Sicilians for generations. You will find these as take and go items just about everywhere you go. Fresh, filling and inexpensive, Sicilians love these daily and delicious lunch fare.

Pane Cunzato

This amazing sandwich is a go to for Sicilians. The ingredients usually are cheese, tomato and anchovy but the most important ingredient is the incredible bread. It is made fresh daily and consumed in great quantities. Try this recipe.

Pane Cunzato


Another great food of Sicily is Arancini. Available all over Italy and Sicily, I have eaten arancini in many places around the world, but in Sicily I had some of the best. Made Traditionally with tomato and mozzarella, there are many other flavors as well. Often in Sicily the arancini is shaped like a pointy hat, and is a take and go meal. Learn more here.



Wow this dish knocked my socks off. A traditional food of Palermo, we had a delicious version from a bakery in Scopello. A cross between pizza and bruschetta, it is, once again, all about the bread. Makes a perfect light lunch or snack. You must try it when in Sicily. Learn more here.

Sfincione on the right

Consider Sicily

Have you considered visiting Sicily? If not you should. There are many, many reasons to visit but the food, culture and people are hands down the best reasons. You will fall in love with all three. As a visitor you will be embraced by the locals who share their love for their island and it’s unique history through food. Go book a ticket today. Sicily is waiting to feed you.

So delicious

Next week I’ll share with you some of the special feelings I have about this beautiful island. I can’t sing its praises enough. Come back for more next week. Meanwhile…I’m going to go have a glass of Sicilian wine. Molto bene.

See last week’s post Adora la Puglia – I love Puglia, Italy’s “Segreta”.

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  • Reply Sonia

    Looks like a wonderful trip, and that you made the most of the local foods. We were recently in Sicily and enjoyed many of these. We had a fig tree in our front yard of our rental near Scopello, and enjoyed these each morning. I ate more swordfish than I had in the past because it was so fresh from the sea.

    March 16, 2024 at 4:50 am
    • Reply Laureen

      Wonderful. Such a special place.

      March 16, 2024 at 10:09 am
  • Reply Teja

    I didn’t think lemons grew that big. They look bigger than your hand in the photo!

    March 16, 2024 at 6:35 am
    • Reply Laureen

      Like a football! LOL

      March 16, 2024 at 10:09 am
  • Reply tia

    mouthwatering article! I am convinced Italy has the best cuisine in the entire world!

    March 16, 2024 at 7:14 am
  • Reply Linda (LD Holland)

    We have to agree that travelling around Sicily we found a lot of delicious food. Although I must admit I never got a taste for pistachios other than as salted nuts. But seafood we grabbed whenever we found it fresh. Did you learn to eat your arancini upside down like an ice cream cone? We sure had no problem eating well!

    March 16, 2024 at 7:41 am
    • Reply Laureen

      I did not do that but the arancini I had was outstanding. I hope to go back again someday!

      March 16, 2024 at 10:10 am
  • Reply Jasmina

    This looks like a wonderful trip. I’m a big fan of Italian food, but I’ve never been to Sicily, so I’m very interested to see what the food is like there. I’ve heard that Italian food varies a lot from region to region.

    March 16, 2024 at 8:39 am
    • Reply Laureen

      It sure does. all of it amazing!

      March 16, 2024 at 10:11 am
  • Reply Cait

    Yes, here for all the tasty bites!

    March 16, 2024 at 10:07 am
  • Reply Anne Betts

    Every stunning photograph was mouth-watering. You’ve done Sicily’s culinary landscape proud. Your post certainly inspires me to add Sicily to my travel list. Thank you.

    March 17, 2024 at 4:39 am
  • Reply Pam

    I had to loosen my pants just by reading this article. It all looks decadently delicious. I love trying new foods when I travel because it really connects us with where we are – especially the cous cous and fish! They all look amazing.

    March 17, 2024 at 6:44 am
    • Reply Laureen

      thanks. I gained five pounds. 🙂

      March 17, 2024 at 10:44 am
  • Reply Amy Tull

    Not fair sharing these delicious foods when we’re far away from Sicily! 😉

    We had a similar feeling about Sicily when we visited. The people were so warm and welcoming!

    March 17, 2024 at 6:57 am
    • Reply Laureen

      I agree. Loved everyone we met.

      March 17, 2024 at 10:43 am

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