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From panelle to pistachio pesto: a taste of Sicilian food

Cookbook author Ursula Ferrigno shares her insider tips to the Italian island’s fascinating food culture.

By Ursula Ferrigno
Published 11 Oct 2019, 06:00 BST
The town of Cefalu, in northern Sicily.
The town of Cefalu, in northern Sicily, with its stunning baroque architecture.
Photograph by Getty Images

The more I write about Sicily, the more I’ve grown to appreciate the history, the natural beauty, the mystery of the mountains and the stunning baroque architecture, as well as the diverse cornucopia of food the island has to offer. Due to Sicily’s position in the Mediterranean, it’s been invaded by many other cultures over the centuries, all of which have left their stamp on the cuisine and culture. Arab, French, Norman, Greek and Spanish influences are speckled through the array of delicious dishes, often humble in origin but served in smart — and plentiful — ways.

Four flavours to try in Sicily

Panelle: These chickpea flour fritters are traditionally served in a sesame-seed-coated bun, with a squeeze of lemon. Friggitorie (fry shops) all over the city of Palermo sell this wonderful street food.

Pistachio pesto: Sicily is the only place in Italy where pistachios are grown, and they’re particularly popular around the city of Bronte. Pistachio pesto is wonderful on pasta, bruschette, risotto and much more.

Couscous alla trapanese: Named for Trapani, a city and province in western Sicily, this seafood-spiked couscous dish is a true sign of Africa’s influence on the island’s cooking.

Lemons: Sicily’s climate is perfect for lemons: sunny, warm days followed by cool nights coupled with the rich volcanic soil around Mount Etna. The result is the tart but sweet lemons that add freshness and balance to dishes. 

Pistachio pesto is wonderful on pasta, bruschette, risotto and much more.
Photograph by David Munns, Ryland Peters & Small

Three top restaurants in Palermo

Gagini Social Restaurant
Try the red mullet with broccoli, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and cuttlefish juice. 

Bisso Bistrot 
This place in the old Libreria Dante, a bookshop by the Quattro Canti, serves top-notch pasta at very reasonable prices. 

Buatta Cucina Popolana 
Go for the anelletti (a pasta bake), roasted mackerel and traditional Sicilian cake. 

Ursula Ferrigno is the author of Cucina Siciliana, RRP: £16.99 (Ryland Peters & Small)

Published in the November 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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