The Sicilian desserts

A symphony of almond flavours, spices and monastery secrets

Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, French… They’ve all passed through Sicily in ancient times (I can’t blame them: it’s such a beautiful island and so well placed in the Mediterranean sea! Who wouldn’t want to go there?) and they all left a trace in the local arts, eyes and features; in the whole cultural heritage, we could say, and specifically in FOOD.

ROMANS had successfully turned much of the island’s territory into a grain reserve, GREEKS first and NORMANS then appreciated the local production of almonds, honey, game and fish. But it’s the ARAB culture which left the most important impression on Sicilian gastronomy: they increased the tuna fishing (actually, they were the first ones to build tuna traps); they took the durum wheat bran and turned it not only into bread and cornmeal mush, but also in the famous cuscus; they planted citrus trees and created rice fields.

And then they introduced saffron, sugar cane, cinnamon, spreading their peculiar taste for flavours, from the bittersweet to the very sweet ones. They led to a fundamental increase in raw materials and a flourishing of techniques for food cultivation and preservation which would have been essential for the French and Spanish royal chefs in the centuries to come. Thanks to them, Sicilian cuisine became the kaleidoscopic masterpiece we know today.

"Sicilian cuisine became the kaleidoscopic masterpiece we know today"

The Sicilian desserts

The Sicilian desserts

Italian Food

Layers of flavours, contrasts and harmonies, always a little more than what you would expect. A “simple” sardines plate here involves the addition of raisins and pine nuts; the pasta timbale – elsewhere made with leftovers – overwhelms you here with an endless list of ingredients.

While a supplì is good for a little break in Rome, in Palermo you need half an hour to eat an enormously full, fried and sublime arancina, which is big enough for a whole meal! And while you politely have a snack with a simple biscuit (one, huh, no more!) in Milan, in Sicily you get a symphony of almond flavours, spices and… monastery secrets.

And so, let’s move to the DESSERTS: sorbets, almonds nougats and cassata are Moor creations, but it’s during the baroque age that they turned into the sweet and fresh, creamy and fragrant triumph still coming out of many pastry makers shops, of a few cloistered convents and expert women’s hands.

Here’s a little “taste” for you: enjoy this video starring Miss Clara from Favignana, immortalized by Don Pasta in 2016 for a Corriere della Sera project. She briefly explains how to make cannoli. The real one, of course.

"The Sicilian desserts: a symphony of almond flavours, spices and monastery secrets"

Italian Food

I have a great fortune: I got lots of SICILIAN FRIENDS. Beautiful and capable people that often express their warmness donating me superb desserts.

And these precious gifts are made even more special by the fact that they travel from Palermo to Sassari, sometimes in a pretty adventurous way: like a cannoli tray put on the first morning flight or a baked cassata shipped with the same cautions possibly reserved to the Monna Lisa.

Anyway, let’s be honest: Sicilian cuisine is made special not only by the island’s history, but also by the fantasy, generosity, taste of beauty and love for tradition of this region’s wonderful people.

Cristiana Grassi aka Orata Spensierata