The history of Sicilian food

Sicily became part of the Italian Republic in 1860. Up until that point Sicily had, for the previous 3000 years, been under the occupation of one foreign power after another. The Phoenicians were the first to arrive, c. 1000 BC and they were followed by the Greeks, Romans, Goths, Byzantines, Moors, Normans, Swabians, French and Spaniards. The majority of these occupations lasted at least 200 years. Therefore, the occupying powers had the time to introduce to Sicily agricultural systems and produce native to their homelands. As a result Sicilian cuisine is the most interesting of all the Italian regions, since each new invasion added another layer to an increasingly rich culinary tradition.

Feasting is still an incredibly important part of Sicilian life. None of life's milestones, birth, baptism, first communion, marriage, is considered properly marked without a substantial feast, accompanied by plenty of Italian wine, although much of this is also a matter of keeping up appearances. In the North they explain this as "Il culto della famiglia e del mangiare".

However, although there is, and always has been, incredible wealth in Sicily, the majority of this wealth is, and was, concentrated within the hands of a very small section of society. Much of the peasantry lived in great poverty, and the extremes of lifestyles led by feudal landlords/nobility and the serfs/peasants are reflected in the cuisine which is both simple and elaborate; exotic and even sumptuous at the same time as being humble. Much of the cuisine can be termed "la cucina povera", deriving as it does from peasant cooking being based on making the most of what is available, using the basic produce of the land.

Luckily, Sicily's produce is wonderfully abundant. The powerful sun and rich volcanic soil, combined with an irrigation system introduced by the Arabs, means that a wonderful variety of crops can be grown, all with a pure, intense flavour. Much of the main valley stretching west from Catania is now intensively farmed and Sicilian markets display an incredible wealth of produce. Since very little fruit or vegetables are imported the markets also display only what is in season and can be grown locally and therefore Sicilian cuisine and Sicilian recipes change noticeably from season to season. Sicily is also home to more than 1/3 of Italy's organic farms. There are 7000 organic farm estates in Sicily, making up the widest organic cultivation area in Italy. Sicilian organic wine is particulary successful in its production. All local produce can be found in the town and village shops supplying those who are experiencing Sicily in self catering accommodation. Many of the agriturismo on Sicily run their kitchens off the produce from their own farms. Sicilian food is always very fresh!