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The island of Sicily is world renowned for its elaborate and colourful sweet pastries. Cannoli are one of the most well known outside of the island. Do you know the sign of a really great cannoli place? Look for stacks of freshly fried EMPTY cases that are only filled to order. The traditional filing is lightly sweetened ricotta cream. The variations are endless, studded with chocolate or candied fruit, dusted with pistachios or with the ends dipped in chocolate. You can even bring some home, with a kit like this one from the Pasticceria Giovanni D’Ambra in Lipari.
Granita in Sicily is ice shaved so finely that it has an almost creamy quality. Alfredo in Piazza Marina Garibaldi on the island of Salina is the best address for this frozen treat. You can grab a table with a sea view and order a tall glass dish with two icy seasonal flavours. Try gelsi (mulberry) and pistachio together for a salty sweet taste experience. Do not forget to order a fresh brioche on the side to scoop up every last cold drop before it melts.
These small green berries, which are actually the buds of the Capparis spinosa flower, grow all over the dry scrubby terrain in southern Italy. Some of the finest come from the island of Salina. Picked fresh and pickled in brine they add a sharp note to many of the sweet flavours that characterise Sicilian cuisine. At the restaurant in the Capopfaro Resort, chef Ludovico De Vivo cooks simple ingredients in a refined style. Think sprinkles of capers in locally-grown salads from the estate’s garden or green leaves which are rolled with freshly caught chunks of bonito.
It can be really, really hot in the summer months in Sicily. That does not have to mean you must forgo your chocolate habit though. The Baroque town of Modica has it’s own particular kind of chocolate. With ancient roots that stretch back to the Aztecs and brought to Sicily by Spanish conquerers a few centuries ago this chocolate has a grainy quality and won’t melt in a heatwave. All kinds of flavours are added to these sweet bars including cinnamon, citrus or pistachio. Bonajuto, operating since 1759, is the oldest factory in Sicily. You can tour the factory, book a tasting and shop for Modica style chocolate souvenirs.
The Sicilian city of Bronte is known for its pistachios. Grown on large bushes that dot the countryside close to Mount Etna this variety is longer and more slender than the pistachios you buy in bulk from Trader Joes. The violet and emerald nuts are harvested in early autumn and used in almost every kind of Sicilian cuisine. Try pistachio granita or pistachio milk for a cool breakfast. Pistachios are often made into pesto or roughly chopped for pasta sauces and are the main ingredient for many Sicilian pastries. The constant long lines for the pistachio gelato at Bistro del Porto in the seaside town of Riposto, are a testament to its quality.
Hailing from Palermo, sfincione is thick crust pizza which are topped with tangy tomato sauce and onions, slowly sautéed in olive oil. Optional toppings include melted cheese and, or, anchovies. You can find one of these delicious slabs during a visit to one of Palermo’s food markets like Ballarò or il Capo. While this is a traditional street food, you can have your slice sitting down at La Sfincioneria or Antico Caffè Spinnato – both local purveyors.