Amazing journeys dedicated to discerning food lovers.
Sicilian cooking is unique, blending extravagant Arab and northern techniques with simple ingredients, mainly the catch of the sea and the pick of the garden.
There are few places more than Sicily where talking of cookery means making a journey within a journey. Here we find a cuisine with a rich and tasty variety of products which displays a fantastic balance between land and sea, and a gastronomic tradition which is quintessentially Mediterranean. However, Sicilian cuisine is not a single entity, since differences originating from a variety of cultural influences have been mixed with the differences between the food of the coast and that of the interior. Sicilian cookery is thus like an artists palette, juxtaposing strong colours and pastel shades, in a play of highly evocative echoes and references.
"It is impossible to understand Italy without seeing Sicily: the key to everything is to be found in Sicily". Thus wrote Goethe in Palermo on 13th April 1787 on the occasion of his first trip to Italy, in the search for the roots of western culture. The largest island in the Mediterranean is a wonderful place, whose natural beauty is fused with the artistic heritage of the many people that have settled there. They have all left their mark on the region's food, and it is for this reason that Sicilian cuisine is today considered one of Italy’s richest and most appreciated. First to arrive were the Greeks, who founded Siracusa, Catania and Gela and introduced into these areas the characteristic foods of their homelands: olives, salted ricotta and above all barbecued lamb. The Romans introduced maccu, broad bean puree flavoured with aromatic herbs, excellent with pasta or simply spread on bread; stuffed cuttlefish; baked onions; pasta served with beaten eggs, parsley and cheese ("riquagghiu"). After the Romans came the Arabs, bringing rice, sugar, spices and almonds. A dish clearly derived from the Arab tradition, also in its
name is cuscusu, a fish soup served with couscous, typical of Trapani. The dish originates from the north-African couscous, but differs from it in its use of fish. The Arabs are also responsible for the islands two most famous sweets, cassata siciliana (a sponge and ricotta cake topped with fondant icing and candied fruit) and sorbetto. The Normans, meanwhile, taught the Sicilians how to prepare stockfish. The period of French domination saw the introduction of rollo (a stuffed veal roll), while the Spanish brought the so called pan di Spagna (" bread of Spain", a sweet sponge cake), along with chocolate, tomatoes, and above all aubergines. The Spanish influence is also behind many dishes with contrasting flavours, such as pasta with sardines and raisins, and orange salad seasoned with chilli.
Caponata is a perfect example of how the Spanish tradition combined with the Sicilian taste for sumptuousness. This hearty salad is based on vegetables, and contains aubergines, celery, capers, olives and sweet and sour tomato sauce. The original recipe also included octopus, scampi and a small lobster.
In restaurants and agriturismos you can naturally find foods that are common to Sicilian and Italian cuisine in general, such as pasta prepared in a variety of ways. But even here, you will find traditional and unique flavours. Siracusa is famous for its spaghetti with anchovies, and in Trapani pasta is served with lobster. Apart from fish, many pasta dishes are based on vegetables and cheese, such as spaghetti with courgettes, or pasta with ricotta and semolina. Catania's speciality is pasta alla Norma, with aubergines and tomatoes, named in honour of the Catanian composer Vincenzo Bellini after one of his famous operas.
The series of towns lining the interminable Sicilian coast offer fish and other seafood of astounding quality. Throughout Sicily, fish either fresh (tuna, marlin, mascolini, hake and smooth dogfish) or preserved (stockfish) is cooked in various excellent ways. Fresh tuna is prepared “al ragù”, sprinkled with garlic, field balm and salt, browned in oil and finished with white wine; a sauce made with onion, tomato, garlic and chillisis then added to the whole dish, ovenr cooked (in layers seasoned with oil, salt, oregano, breadcrumbs, onion slices and tomatoes), or in roulades (stuffed with breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, egg and pecorino cheese, fried and then served in a tomato and onion sauce.
Marlin, cut into large slices, is cooked in a frying pan, together with tomatoes, potatoes, olives and capers. The Messina recipe is more elaborate: the timbale of Marlin is prepared with a tomato sauce enriched with ionions, capers, celery and olives and is covered being closed with a layer of fried zucchini or artichokes. Then the timbale is baked in the oven. The Messina-style stock fish is prepared in the same way, starting with the fish dredged in flour and fried, finished off in a frying pan with tomatoes, raisins, capers, olives and potatoes.
In Trapani tuna is prepared in a huge variety of ways: fresh, conserved in oil, or salted and dried ("noseddu"). Messina, meanwhile, is famous for swordfish, and a local speciality is impanata, which consists of a sweet pastry case filed with swordfish and then baked. All along the coast, sardines are fished in large quantities, and served with currants, pine nuts and anchovies.
The region offers the best sweets in the whole of Italy. Amongst the most important are the cannoli, (with a creamy filling made of sweet ricotta, candied fruit and chocolate), cassata, (made with sponge cake, ricotta mixed with sugar, chocolate, vanilla, candied fruit and maraschino).
There are also Martorana fruits (fruit-shaped almond paste).
Ice-creams, sorbets and cassata- ice cream are other sweet specialties that were born in Sicily and from there have spread to the rest of Italy. And to name another of the many Sicilian delights we now enjoy is the sorbet, of Arabian origin, originally the juice of citrus or other fruits was chilled by means of snow kept in suitable underground tanks.
First the Greeks, and then the Arabs and Normans, praised the strong Sicilian wine. The islands king of wines is without doubt the sweet and unmistakable Marsala, created by the Englishman John Woodhouse. He had the idea of strengthening the Marsalas local white wine cooked grape must, grape syrup and distilled alcohol. The result was an excellent dessert wine which also went well with ice-creams. Other wines worth trying include Alcamo, Moscato di Pantelleria, Malvasia from the Aeolian Islands and Etna, which comes in white, red and rosé versions. One of the various wine trails in Sicily, the "Etna wine trail" is dedicated to this wine, the first in Sicily to obtain DOC status.
For almost 400 years the most important festival in Palermo and Sicily has been that of Santa Rosalia, the "festino" as the people of Palermo call this festival dedicated to the city’s patron hermit saint The festival takes place in mid-July and involves great religious celebrations (starting with an impressive procession), shows and naturally endless occasions so taste the specialities of Sicilian cuisine.
The Procession of the Mysteries
Sicily boasts a host of tourist and cultural attractions. Starting with Greek temples, it is possible to move on through the centuries to examples of Moorish architecture (the Palazzo della Zisa in Palermo and the extraordinary cloisters in Monreale) and the great monasteries: in Palermo those of Martorana and Santa Caterina, Vergini, San Vito, Badia del Cancelliere and Osiglione. There are also the monasteries of Santa Chiara in Noto, Santa Caterina in Sciacca and Santo Spirito in Agrigento.
Tuscany: it has an ancient and skilled cuisine made up of tasty ingredients that are never excessively elaborate.
Splendid cities of art, at the heart of the Italian Renaissance. Rolling green hills and mountains. Fine sandy beaches and excellent tourist facilities. A great gastronomic tradition, a rich array of typical products, representing the raw materials of a cuisine with echoes of the past and rural influences, today rediscovered in the search for high quality, unadulterated foods.
Last but not least, the wines: Tuscany is home to some of the best wines in the world, which are a marvellous accompaniment to a cuisine which it is well worth getting to discover.
Bite into a slice of Tuscan bread drenched in olive oil and you will have captured in a mouthful the essence of this regions cookery, since bread and oil reflect its sober tradition, simple but extraordinarily unique.
Food and Wine
Tuscan bread is even mentioned in the lines of the Divina Commedia, where Dante Alighieri highlights its essential quality when he complains in exile about how salty he finds "il pane altrui" ("other peoples bread"), Tuscan bread, with its hard crust and compact crumb, is in fact made without the addition of salt, making it the ideal foil for intense flavours, such as that of oil from the Lucca hills, one of Italys finest. Tuscany is a marvellous world, loved by anyone who is an expert on art or simply an enthusiast. The cookery of Tuscany may be simple, but has an important strength: the raw materials are all of the highest quality. A perfect example can be found in one of the regions hallmark dishes, bistecca alla fiorentina (Florentine steak), which to be "original" must be taken from the highly prized Chianina breed of cattle, bred in Val di Chiana, on the border with Umbria. Like bread and oil, it has become a symbol of Tuscan cookery. It consists of a whole loin, cut thick, which should not weigh over 700 grams and should be grilled with the absolute minimum of interference: it should not be turned over frequently, nor should it be forked, because it would lose its tasty juices. Once cooked, it can be seasoned with salt and served with oil, pepper and lemon wedges.
The whole gastronomic tradition of inland Tuscany is influenced by country life. There are sausages, salami and hams (such as typical prosciutto with its intense and penetrating flavour); antipasti such as panzanella, a salad of dried bread softened in water and served with tomato, onion, basil and vinegar; and unusual first courses, such as pappa col pomodoro, based on tomatoes cooked with oil, garlic, basil and pepper. Then there are vegetable soups cooked for hours, adding a drizzle of oil just before being served, such as the famous ribollita fiorentina. There are of course also pulses, and in particular beans, which are cooked “all’uccelletto”, according to a traditional Florentine recipe, or “al fiasco”, using a technique widespread in the province of Pisa., where the beans are placed in a flask with water, oil, rosemary and other herbs and then cooked in hot embers.
These delicious dishes are best enjoyed in the regions exceptional “agriturismo”. The landscape of Tuscany is famous, with the Maremma, land of the “butteri”, the green hills of Chianti, and its cities of art. Here, the specialities of traditional cookery bring the flavours of the past to the present. In Siena, the city of the Palio, the traditional Christmas speciality is the delicious panforte, a cake made with almonds, flour, hazelnuts, cocoa, cinnamon, spices and candied peel. From the Apuan Alps, in the north of the region, comes lardo di Colonnata (cured belly pork), which was once eaten by marble quarry workers as an accompaniment to bread, and has now become a delicacy much sought after by connoisseurs. The cuisine of the coast is completely different.
The most famous dish is cacciucco, a fish soup from livorno, which includes whichever fish takes the cooks fancy, ranging from shellfish and crustaceans, eels and flying squid, to mantis shrimp, moray eel, mullet, cod, lobster, octopus and cuttlefish. The result is a fantastic spicy dish, a sort of hot red soup with tasty ingredients poured on top of a slice of toasted country bread, seasoned with garlic and fried tomatoes and red hot chilli peppers. Tuscany also boasts an excellent mixed dish of fried seafood, based on red mullet and the so-called "cieche" ("blind"), newly born elvers which owe their name to the fact they cannot yet see, and which are therefore easily caught.
Tuscan dairy produce, as well as the famous
“pecorino” cheese includes “raviggiolo” a fresh cheese made with sheep’s or goat’s milk (sometimes mixed with cow’s milk), which takes on the characteristic form of the small baskets in which the curd is deposited. Sheep’s milk is used to make “marzolino”, a particular type of “caciotta” cheese- prepared in March-which requires little ripening.
Tuscany is a wine lovers paradise, as is evident in the presence of no fewer than 14 wine trails. Any brief summary is bound to mention one of the most famous wines in the world, the ruby coloured, dry Chianti, with its intense aroma. Chianti is produced in much of the region, and the highest quality Chianti Classico bears the Gallo Nero ("black rooster') trademark.
Nor should we forget dry red Montepulciano, or Srunello di Montalcino, the strong velvety, full-bodied red produced in the hills around Siena. Fine white wines include the elegant dry Vernaccia di San Gimignano, and Galestro, which is excellent with fish.
Festivals and Country Fairs
The festa del Calderone (Cauldron festival) of Altopascio, in the province of Lucca, combines religious elements with gastronomic curiosities.
Altopascio was in around the year 1000, an important stopover point on the road to Rome. Some monks from Lucca decided to found the order of the Hospitalers and provided a building in which pilgrims could rest and take refreshment. The "cauldron" was the large pan in which the friars cooked soup for the pilgrims. The festival is mentioned by Boccaccio in the Decamerone, and on the day dedicated to San Jacopo, 25th July, evokes a medieval atmosphere with good wine and huge plates of pasta.
The Chianti district lies between the provinces of Florence and Siena. It is characteristic for its succession of picturesque towns, vineyards and rolling hills, cloaked in a unique medieval atmosphere. The towns are renowned for the production of the most famous of Italian wines: Radda in Chianti, a town still surrounded by ancient fortifications, Gaiale in Chianti and Greve in Chianti, all medieval, with castles, abbeys and ancient churches.
Florence- Piazza della Signora
Veneto: its cuisine speaks of the many years of rule by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and of the rural mountain resources.
A vast land filled with atmosphere with an ever-changing landscape, ranging from lagoons and coastal areas to wide plains and soft rolling hills, right up to high mountains. Veneto’s cuisine is dominated by four elements: polenta, rice, beans and salt cod, all of them imported. The success of Venice and its past power are also expressed in its cookery by the use of spices, which the Venetians did not only trade in, but adopted in their cooking.
Venice – The Doge’s Palace
A mixture of history, art and tradition in a setting without equal, whose mere memory evokes yearning. Venice is a jewel known by the whole world, with the Rialto, San Marco, the Grand Canal... And then there is the Venice of the "calli" and "campielli" (the local names for the streets and squares of this urban universe unique in the world), with its shops and restaurants. Venetian food means above all the fish of the north Adriatic. This is of exceptional quality, and thanks to local creativity, is used in a wide and often surprising variety of dishes. The spider-crab, for example, becomes a delicious antipasto: it is thrown into boiling water and, once cooked, is served with olive oil, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. A dish which demonstrates the oriental influence of local cooking is sarde in carpione ("in saor"), which consists of braised sardines marinated in a sauce of onions, sultanas, candied peel, pine nuts and vinegar, in a characteristic marriage of sweet and savoury flavours. Frittura veneziana (mixed fried fish) is another internationally famous dish, as is baccala mantecato, in which salt cod is made into a soft mousse with a surprising flavour.
Gondolas in Venice
But the Venetians do not only eat fish. Among the dishes which have made their cookery famous are recipes such as fegato alla veneziana, probably Venice's best known speciality, which you can find practically anywhere in the world. The dish consists of slices of calf's liver cooked with oil, onions, butter and parsley, and is something that any visitor to Venice should try. Another famous dish is risi e bisi (rice with peas), which was the traditional first course of the Doge of Venice's lunch on the feast day of St Mark. Veneto cooking in general is based on rice and polenta. Rice, grown mainly in the province of Verona, is prepared in dozens of different ways and each local community tries to give a touch of originality to their recipes.
Food and Wine- Verona
It is said that in Veneto there exist forty different dishes based on rice, which is combined with a wide range of other ingredients: meat, fish, and above all vegetables such as courgettes, cabbage, asparagus, peas and cauliflower, produced in the region's highly fertile land. Polenta, meanwhile, is used by the Veneto inhabitants like bread. Particularly well-known is Vicenza's polenta e osei, polenta served with small gamebirds sauteed over a low heat, flavoured with fatty bacon, sage and olive oil.
Birds, in fact, and above all poultry, are the basis of most of the meat dishes. Mention must be made of the gallina padovana, a widebreasted breed of chicken known the world over, and which features in many regional dishes, such as Vicenza's paeta al malgaragna, in which the chicken is covered with pork fat, cooked on the spit and basted with pomegranate juice.
Today, the lagoon landscape consists of vast expanses of water near the sea. Instead, it is a variegated maze of canals and shoals, portions of the bottom protruding from the surface of the water and covered by vegetation that, depending on the season, changes colour from green to red and silver. This more or less deep and salty water contains an infinite variety of fish molluscs, and crustaceans, that since ancient times have been the main target of intense and extremely specialised fishing activities.
In the first half of our century , the “mistiereti”, lagoon fisherman, used 28 different systems of nets and just as many tools and instruments. Due to market needs, the best fish were sold in Venice , while the lower quality was destined for domestic consumption: so, starting from “poor” raw materials, and blending with the countryside cuisine, the lagoon gastronomy developed a very peculiar style with respect to the rest of the region, combining the various flavours from the sea with the most different garden scents.
Well-known among the numerous sweetmeats from Veneto are the baicoli (thin Venetian biscuits), the bigarani, from Bassano in a squashed ring shape , the bussolai, round or ‘S’ shaped, typical of Burano, Vicenza, Treviso, Basano and Chioggia and zaleti, made with equal parts of yellow and white flour, butter sugar, currants and pine nuts. A typical Christmas cake is the Pandoro of Verona, high, soft, light and covered with icing sugar.
Verona is also famous for Nadlalin, a star shaped sweet bread and offella ( rich, leavened sweet bread with butter and sprinkled in powdered sugar) originally from Bovolone; in the area around Cadore, a specialty is the Nadale Lasagne, a sweet lasagna prepared with poppy seeds and walnuts. During the period of Venice Carnival, a typical sweet is the golosessi, kebabs made of dried fruit, figs, apricots and nuts covered in caramel. Specialities of Carnival are also the fritole, pancakes made with pine nuts and raisins and galani, small, sweet fried layers of pastry.
For All Saints’ Day, in Venice they prepare fave (broad beans), in Verona trandoti, and in Treviso the ossi da morto, biscuits flavoured with cinnamon and candied fruit.
Wines and Liqueurs
Veneto is a land of ancient winemaking traditions, and boasts Italy's largest production of DOC wines. There are in fact 17 DOC production areas with marvellous whites, reds and sparkling wines.
The major wine-producing areas are around Verona, home to wines such as Valpolicella, Recioto, Bardolino and Soave, and the area around Treviso, with its Prosecco, the best examples of which are the sparkling wines of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. One of the places where vines have been grown since ancient times is Colli Berici, south of Vicenza. The barrier formed by the high land allows the district to have a particularly mild climate, and it is here that we find one of the region's 12 wine trails, the "Colli Berici DOC wine trail", which starts in Vicenza and heads south-east between splendid villas, wineries and picturesque towns. A fantastic event for wine lovers is Vinitaly, the show held in Verona in April, which attracts around 4000 exhibitors from all over the world. The Veneto region is also renowned for its particular expertise in distillation and liqueur production. Alongside the extraordinary grappas, the most famous from Bassano, there is a vast array of liqueurs flavoured with fragrant Alpine herbs.
Festivals and Country Fairs
One of the oldest popular gastronomic festivals of Veneto takes place on 8th September in Rubbio di Conco, a small town in the province of Vicenza. The festival celebrates the locally grown white celery, which has been appreciated since Roman times. On the occasion of the sagra del sedano bianco (Festival of white celery), visitors can have the chance to try traditional local dishes.
Autumn is the ideal season to travel from a food festival to another and discover the secrets of Paduan cuisine, which is characterized by simple recipes benefiting from the great abundance and variety of the seasonal, fresh local offerings.
During the months of September and October a host of feasts and festivals celebrate the Paduan products and cuisine.