Sicilian variations to Italian cooking |

Sicilian variations to Italian cooking

Aside from revenge, Sicilians are famous for pasta. Pasta is served many different ways, often with fish, and invariably flavored with olive oil and tomatoes. Although Naples is the pasta center of Italy, the Sicilian reference to “maccaruni” dates back to 1250.

Legend has it that William the Hermit was first served pasta stuffed with cheese by Sicilian noblemen. This dish – “cannelloni” – still exists. History also states that pasta con melanzane (eggplant) was named for Vincenzo Bellini, the composer of “Norma,” born in Catania, Sicily in 1801. This dish is often called, “Pasta alla Norma.”

Sicilian cooking creates many challenges that differ from mainland Italian cuisine. Fish is a big influence, as well as tomatoes, olive oil, fresh vegetables and herbs. Butter is seldom used and whatever cows are available are used for milk to be drunk and cheese to be made for seasoning the pasta. Meat and rice are rare in Sicilian cooking. Traditional Sicilian cheeses are Incanestrato, a salty cheese; Piacentino, made with pepper; and Caciocavallo.

The warm climate of Sicily is great for growing grapes; however, the lack of ambition from farmers has not allowed Sicily to live up to its full potential. The province of Palermo produces Corvo wines that are available in any fine wine shop and by far are the most interesting of Sicilian wines. The Negromaro (bitter-black) and the Piedirosso (red-mountain) red wines are from Corvo’s Casa Vinicolo Ducadi Salaparuta Vineyards. Sicilian red wines have herby-tobacco characteristics, and marry well with most Sicilian dishes that contain tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil.

Etna, Sicily’s active volcano and a neighbor of Catania, makes white wines called Val di Lupo. The volcanic soils of Etna are extremely fertile. The white wines of Sicily are not as popular as the reds. Messina’s Capo Bianco, (the boss of all whites) is great with Sicilian fish dishes. Sicilian white wines share similar flavors that are mineral, light citrus and for the most part bland, which actually complement food better. Marsala and muscatel wines are sweeter styles of Sicilian wines.

So we have pasta, eggplants, olive oil, tomatoes, basil, cheese and wine. Eggplants are easy to grow – maybe not in Tahoe, but easy to grow elsewhere. Here is a Sicilian dish with all the ingredients.

Spaghetti con le Melanzane

5 aubergine eggplants

1Ú2 cup olive oil

2 cloves of chopped garlic

2 pounds of roma tomatoes

3 sprigs of basil

1 pound of spaghetti

1Ú2 cup grated Caciocavallo cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and cut eggplants into strips, sprinkle with salt and rinse in colander and let drain for one half hour, this removes the acid in the eggplants, pat dry.

Brown eggplants on both sides in olive oil, remove eggplants, drain on paper towel. Peel and chop tomatoes. Place tomatoes in olive oil and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add basil, salt, and pepper. Boil salted water for spaghetti; cook al dente (to the tooth). Drain spaghetti and add eggplants, tomato sauce, and grated cheese.

This is a versatile wine dish, either a Sicilian red or white wine will be great.

– Peter Arcuri is the Tahoe Daily Tribune’s food and wine writer.

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