Best of Sicily – Cucina Paradiso

It’s difficult to know where to begin when describing the delicious discoveries we encountered during our recent adventures through Sicily. My mom, dad, and sister lived on this glorious island many years before I was born so you can imagine my excitement setting foot on food paradise for the first time. My parents raised us eating mostly Sicilian-inspired food so naturally I am happy to pay tribute to the cuisine that inspired my passion for food. While there are just too many culinary specialties of Sicily to list, here are ten of my favorite places.

1. Piazza Archimede (Siracusa)

The real Sicily is here: in the unique spirit of southern towns like Ragusa, Modica, and Siracusa. Our long-time Sicilian friend Roberto and his family graciously guided us around these spectacular cities. Siracusa (or Syracuse) was especially intriguing because it was once home to the ancient Greeks, including Archimedes. The city is enchanted with ancient Greek remains – temples, theaters, columns, and arches (just to name a few). The historical highlight of Siracusa is Ortigia – the island’s heart. Ortigia is home to the famous Piazza del Duomo and located there in the center is the great Temple of Apollo built in 7th Century BC.  As we explored the town surrounding the turquoise sea, we developed an appetite for something sweet. We stopped at a local bar, Gran Caffe del Duomo in the piazza and enjoyed the most delicious cafe and cassata – a traditional Sicilian delicacy.

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Cassata is a layered dessert made with sponge cake, sweetened ricotta cheese, sweet liquor, candied fruits, and bits of chocolate. Cassata derives from Arabic influences (especially pistachios) and is undeniably the most popular dessert in Sicily. It was exceptional, including the view we had of the Temple of Apollo in front of us.

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Pistachio and candied fruit decoration

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Caffe Italiano (espresso)

2. La Pescheria (Catania)

Catania’s famous fish market, La Pescheria, buzzes with activity all day (except Sundays of course) and is located near the famous Piazza Duomo in the town center. The most intriguing part of this open air market  is undoubtedly the atmosphere – full of rowdy merchants insisting you admire their fresh colorful catch of the day. I love this market; maybe it’s because my dad used to gawk at the fresh fish here every Saturday morning or maybe because it’s so hard to get my hands on fresh seafood where I live. Immediately, I discovered how my father received most of his culinary inspiration. There was something oddly familiar about being there amidst the hustle and bustle. It’s truly a joy for the senses.

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Pesce Spada (fresh swordfish)

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Osteria Anti Marina is a restaurant located right in the middle of the fish market and boasts the very freshest seafood. Naturally, Roberto insisted we eat here for lunch. Roberto immediately ordered a couple bottles of “Vino bianco d’Etna che buona ma non costoso.”  Translation: Local wine of Mount Etna that’s delicious but not too expensive. We accompanied the wine with a classic Sicilian antipasti plate filled with fresh frutti di mare (squid, octopus, tuna, sardines, and shrimp), rustic bread, seafood pasta, and refreshing lemon ices.

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Frutti di Mare (fresh seafood appetizer)

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Fried Sardines

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Spaghetti alle Vongole (clam spaghetti) in all its exquisite simplicity. The list of ingredients is uncomplicated but the manner in which they are manipulated is magnificent here. (I will attempt to recreate this masterpiece in my upcoming blog post).

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My mom had a hankering for Spaghetti con Ricci (sea urchin sauce). The delicate and slightly sweet taste of this pasta was such a delicious departure from typical “Italian” food that we are accustomed to.

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Lemon Ice

3. Bar Condorelli (Belpasso)

Since 1993, Bar Condorelli has been crafting world renown pastries, cakes, and granita. Granita in Sicily is different from any typical granita anywhere else. It’s thick and smooth, almost like sorbet.  And if you think that sounds fantastic on its own, the preferred way to eat it is sandwiched between a sweet buttery briocheDid I mention that this is typical breakfast for Sicilians? If you’re visiting Mount Etna, definitely join the locals for breakfast at Bar Condorelli – you’ll be in for a treat.

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Cakes decorated with fragolini (baby strawberries)

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Manderla (almond) Granita is the local favorite with fresh baked  brioche.

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This is how I was instructed to eat it!

4. Granduca (Taormina)

Taormina is an exquisite ancient seaside city situated on the East coast of the island. The perfect weather, stunning panoramas, lush flowers, endless citrus groves, and backdrop views of Mount Etna are just a few reasons why Taormina is admired by all who visit. We also were so overwhelmed with all the restaurants in Taormina  – how does one simply decide? Well after much wandering and deliberation, we chose to indulge in pizza at the famous Granduca, highly recommended by the locals because of the incredible view.  Not only was the vista breathtaking, the pizza was out of this world phenomenal. The service is friendly and fantastic as well.

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The pizzeria is situated in a wide garden flourishing with colorful geraniums, palm trees and bougainvillea. The vibrant colors of the flowers complement the spectacular view of the turquoise sea.

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Pizza with salami piccante (spicy), prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, arugula, basil, and Parmesan shavings.

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Pizza with fresh mozzarella, basil, cured veal, and Parmesan cheese.

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The remains.

5. Bar Vitelli from The Godfather (Savoca)

The village of Savoca is situated on a gorgeous secluded hillside setting facing the sea. *”Since Corleone, Sicily, was too developed even in the early 70’s to be used for filming, the Sicilian towns of Savoca and Forza d’Agro outside of Taormina were used to film instead.”  This is where you’ll find Bar Vitelli and the church, Chiesa di Santa Lucia, where Michael married Apollonia. If you’re a fan the films, then you’ll immediately recognize Bar Vitelli, the focal point of the town.

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It’s still a functioning establishment that isn’t too crowded by tourists. In fact, we sat at the same table where Michael, Calo, and Fabrizio enjoyed an aperativo.  “In Sicily, women are more dangerous than shotguns.”

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It’s here where Michael asked the padrone for Apollonia’s hand in marriage.

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Naturally we had to re-enact the scene while enjoying the famous granita di limone. How could you not?

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6. Bocciola (Castelmola)

While we were visiting Taormina, we decided to drive up to the charming hillside town of Castelmola for lunch. We accidentally dead-ended into a very narrow alleyway and were gratefully rescued by a local Sicilian named Carlo. He graciously backed out our car for us (Sicilians are the most talented drivers) and suggested we eat at his restaurant Bocciola. Why of course! Carlo guided us inside and we were immediately in awe of the elegant design. How could this modern and chic place exist somewhere so ancient?

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Apparently the restaurant design was inspired by the beauty of women. Not only was the atmosphere lovely, the wine, food, and even music was customized for us by our new friend Carlo.

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Pane (bread) with local olive oil from Mount Etna

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Salad with locally grown vegetables

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Linguine con Ragu

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Linguine with seared sardines, garlic, lemon, and fresh dill

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Lemon angel cake filled with mascarpone cream and strawberries

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Carlo’s classic Cinquecento

7. Villa Britannia Cooking School (Taormina)

Even though my sister and I were raised by parents who love to cook, we decided to embark on an afternoon of  true Sicilian cooking instruction. Why not? We signed up for a 4-course Sicilian class at Villa Britannia. Our instructor, Carmelo (known as the Boss), is a world famous chef in Taormina.  Immediately I was sold. There is always something new to learn.

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The menu!

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Many of the ingredients we used came directly from his garden in the yard. All the produce was also hand selected by him, depending on what was currently in season.

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Fresh shrimp

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My sister learning how to make fresh pasta

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Gamberi rosso (red shrimp)

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Boiled shrimp seasoned with salt, lemon, carrots, and celery

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Prepping fresh ingredients

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Sicilian blood oranges used to make the aperativo (cocktail)

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Carmello “The Boss” preparing our cocktails

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Where we dined

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Fresh shrimp salad with a lemon vinaigrette 

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Fresh pasta with homemade tomato sauce, melanzane (eggplant), and meatballs

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Fresh seared Tuna  alla’ Siciliana with a sweet onion glaze and fresh green beans

8. Trattoria il Barcaiolo (Taormina)

Located just steps from the famous Mazzarò beach in Taormina is Trattoria il Barcaiolo. Some fellow travelers we met along our journey suggested we eat here because the seafood, especially the clams, are out of this world. They were right and so was the view (fisherman boats and blue sea). One of my favorite Sicilian dishes is Spaghetti alle Vongole, mostly because my dad has been making it since I can remember. We indulged in a feast of wine, bread, salad, pasta and fresh shrimp from the very sea in front of us.

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Antipasti Siciliani (grilled zucchini, prosciutto salami, olives, cheese, and eggplant)

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Insalata Caprese (salad with fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella)

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Spaghetti alle Vongole (clam spaghetti)

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Gamberi Rosso alla Griglia (grilled red shrimp with blood oranges)

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Diving into the crystal clear sea

9. La Taverna del Pescatore (Avola)

Along the main road to Siracusa lies the small ancient town of Avola overlooking the sea. The panoramic view of Southern Sicily is breathtaking. The region is surrounded by citrus groves and grape vineyards. Roberto guided to La Taverna del Pescatore for a typical Sicilian seafood lunch.

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This charming seafront restaurant hosts a variety of mouthwatering fresh seafood dishes. It was truly a fine introduction to an authentic, unspoiled corner of the island.

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View from the restaurant

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Risotto with fresh mussels and spicy tomato sauce

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Fresh clam spaghetti with homemade pistachio pesto

10. Trattoria Tumminello (Catania)

For our last meal in Sicily, Roberto and his family graciously surprised us with a traditional family style Sicilian dinner at their local restaurant, Trattoria Tumminello. We were completely spoiled at dinner with local wine, antipasti, shrimp, friend calamari, sardines, bread, fruit, limoncello, and of course great company. We couldn’t have asked for a more special farewell dinner that this. It was traditional, delicious, loud, and most importantly, with friends we consider as close as family. IMG_6161

 Captivated by the surprise!

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 My mom and sister feasting on shrimp

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 Francesco and Didi loving their local spot

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 Fresh fried calamari

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 Fruit is typically served after dinner in Italy as a digestivo

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Layered vanilla strawberry cake with sweetened mascarpone pastry cream

As I have said before – Here’s to a Mediterranean journey…to gracious Italian friends…to perfect cappuccini, espresso, vino, and limoncello…to purposely breaking all the rules…to charming blood orange and lemon groves…to magnificent volcanic views…to pink bougainvillea spilling over houses…to a beautiful language…to homemade pasta, pizza, and bread…to countless gelati and granita…to blue seas filled with frutti di mare…to ancient architecture combined with modern fashion…to fast cars and crazy drivers…to uncontrollable laughter with family and friends…to perfect silence when eating because the food is so delicious…to different cultures but shared values…to a small world of its own…to Sicily, la dolce vita…Cin Cin!

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Reference

*http://www.thegodfathertrilogy.com/gf1/gf1scene_sicily.html

2 responses to “Best of Sicily – Cucina Paradiso

  1. Hello, what do you call the sicilian pastry you had with the lemon granita in bar vitelli, the round one with a hole in the middle?

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    • Hi, they served amaretto biscotti (cookies) with the lemon granita. It was a delicious combination. I highly recommend visiting Savoca – it is beautiful! We arrived mid-morning right after the tour buses left and had the bar to ourselves….

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