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5 May 2022

Regions of Italy: Sicily

Sicily (Sicilia), Italy

In Sicily, you’ll never have to choose between quality or quantity—this island has both. It’s the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and one of the most populous regions of Italy, but it’s also one of the most stunning—brimming with fresh flavors, mesmerizing landscapes, and iconic ingredients exported around the world. 

Did you know?

  • Sicily is surrounded by the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Ionian Sea. It’s separated from the mainland and the region of Calabria by a 1.5-mile stretch of water called the Strait of Messina. 
  • Palermo, the capital city, was selected by Forbes as the European capital of street food in 2015 and as the cultural capital of Italy in 2018.  
  • As you stroll down the street, you’ll see a wide variety of arancini, rice balls rolled with meat and cheese, and sfincione, localized pizza topped with tomato sauce, caciocavallo cheese, onions, and anchovies. With so many options, you’ll have new snacks to try at every block.
  • Over 85% of the island is hilly and mountainous. The countryside is lush and fertile, providing locals and visitors with a colorful array of grapes, nuts, citrus fruits, durum wheat (the basis for pasta), olives, vegetables, and beans, among others.  
  • Sicily stretches 9,927 square miles and is home to the tallest active volcano in Europe—Mount Etna. Plus, two other active volcanoes, Stromboli and Vulcano. Volcanoes are full of elements like magnesium and potassium that enrich the soil and are great for growing crops!   
  • Sicily is a renowned tourist destination and a popular weekend getaway for Italian mainlanders—it houses the largest opera house in Italy and countless beaches, ruins, and sights. 

The Cuisine

Surrounded by fertile soil and ocean at all angles, Sicily’s cuisine is a fusion of all things fresh and flavorful. While Sicily has a lot of similarities to mainland Italian-style cuisine, the food on this island also has ties to a variety of cultures that have inhabited its hills throughout history. Along your travels, you’ll come across foods with Greek, Spanish, French, and Arab influences. 

When sitting down for an extended meal—and we do mean extended, traditional Italian dinners can last four or more hours—common starters or “antipasti” usually include caponata: fried eggplant and other fresh veggies served with olive oil, tomato sauce, capers, and olives, as well as gatò di patate: a potato and cheese pie. 

Next in the lineup is usually a fresh bean or vegetable soup, followed by—you guessed it—pasta

Pasta plates range from the traditional pasta alla norma: penne with tomato sauce served over baked and seasoned slices of eggplant, to cannelloni, to pasta con le sarde that’s topped with sardines, to spaghetti ai ricci: spaghetti with sea urchin. Sicily is one of the oldest regions in the western world where pasta has been eaten and incorporated into local cuisine for hundreds of years. So, when in Sicily, savor every bite because these locals definitely know what they’re doing. 

The main dish, also known as secondi, is typically a variation of fish or local meat, richly prepared with fresh herbs, vegetables, and starches like rice or couscous. Swordfish, or pesce spada, is a standard fare in Sicily, so if you see it on the menu, you’re in for a treat. 

Make sure to save room for the final course…dessert! Typically served with espresso or cappuccino and a digestif like the anise-flavored Ramona Sambuca to wash it all down, prepare yourself for mountains of marzipan sweets in the form of local fruits and vegetables called frutta martorana. A few local favorite pastries include the cannoli—an Italian emblem—and pignolata, which are covered in chocolate and served with lemon-flavored syrup. 

Now all you have to do is find someone to carry you back to your hotel room!

The Recipes

Olives al Forno

Simple but oh-so-delicious, olives play a big role in Sicilian cuisine. Sicily grows some of the finest olives in the world and it’s renowned for its olive oil production. If you want to try out these authentic flavors, Pastene’s Castelvetrano and Cerignola olives are shipped right from the island! For a great starter that requires minimal effort, look no further than olives al forno. Simple and stunning, this little antipasti is a bowl of roasted Castelvetrano, Cerignola, and Kalamata olives that are tossed in a zest of lemon and orange for an explosion of salt, citrus, and sweetness in every bite. 

Sicilian Caponata

A fusion of staple Mediterranean flavors, this colorful appetizer has a texture that almost resembles relish and is meant to be served over slices of crostini. This staple Sicilian dish is an eggplant salad mixed with celery, bell peppers, tomatoes, olives, and capers that’s normally dressed in vinegar. While this is a great starter dish to wake up those taste buds for the courses to come, Caponata is also delicious as a relish to top your main dish of chicken, lamb, or salmon.


Pignolata is a dessert made with fried balls of dough that are dipped in honey and sprinkled with pine nuts—it’s usually decorated in the shape of a wreath and served on Christmas eve. This festive treat can be found around the southern Italian coast with varying names depending on the region. In Sicily, it is typically prepared as a buttery sweet treat that’s too tasty to have just one piece.

Have you been to Sicily? Did you notice the international influences on the cuisine? If so, share what you loved most, and don’t forget to show us your Sicilian creations by tagging @pasteneusa or using #MyPastene on Instagram!

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