Sicilian Cooking Plus is a collection of recipes for lovers of Sicilian cooking, traditions and
In this limited selection of classic and popular recipes, we will try to pass on the flavor of Sicily and its
people as well stories and myths linked to Sicilian cooking. We will outline a brief history of Sicily and
illuminate aspects of this island unknown to some.
Trinacria, that beautiful triangle-shaped island now called Sicily, lies in the center of the
Because of its strategic position, the climate, the richness of the land and the beauty of its landscape, this
island was disputed and occupied by many conquerors.
THE FIRST POPULATIONS
(4,000 B.C. - 1,100 B.C.)
In the Paleolithic era, western Sicily became home to the Sicani (1,400 B.C.), a people coming
from the Iberian Peninsula and eastern Sicily to the Siculi (1,100 B.C.), a population coming from the Italian
The myths tell stories of gods and goddesses inhabiting the island and of the Elymians (1,300 B.C.) a people coming
from what is today Turkey, who in the Bronze Age occupied western Sicily, chased the Sicani into the mountains,
founded Segesta and instituted the cult of Venus, the goddess of love. The Elymians introduced to Sicily new edible
plants, among them the chick-pea.
(1,100 B.C. - 800 B.C.)
The Phoenicians occupied the western costal area of Sicily, and founded Palermo, Solunto and Mozia.
They established textile manufactures, increased ceramic production to high levels of quality
and quantity and grew and exported wheat, useing the island as a center for the expansion of their trade. They
developed the alphabet, which was adapted by the Greeks, modified by the Romans and used today in all western
(800 B.C. - 700 B.C.)
Next, the Carthaginians dominated part of the island for its strategic position in support of
their military aims to conquer the known world, using the large supply of trees to build ships and abundance of
wheat to feed their army. They built trading posts accross the island but spent all their energy defending
(700 B.C. - 500 B.C.)
The Greeks colonized Sicily for its lush land and mild climate; they promoted agriculture,
introducing the olive tree, cultivating artichokes and cardoons and increasing the production of wheat. They
developed the production of wine and established farms for rearing cattle and sheep to increase the manufacture
of cheese. They founded cities in the eastern and southern parts of Sicily, among them Naxos, Catania, Syracuse,
Selinunte, Gela, Lentini and Agrigento and built roads, infrastructures, housings and temples, some still
Their colonization from 735 BC to 264 BC was one the most splendid periods of Sicily’s history. Schools of art and
science were instituted.
Poetry and comedy flourished with Theocritus, Stesicoro and Epicarmo.
Feace, the architect who built many infrastructures including the gigantic temple of Zeus, was the pride of
Excellence flourishedin all fields. In law, notable figures were Diocle from Syracuse and Caronda from Catania; in
philosophy, Empedocles from Agrigento, Gorgia from Lentini and Evemero from Messina; in medicine, Acrone from
Agrigento and, Erodico from Lentini, Sicily can also be proud of a giant in the field of science, mathematics and
physics, Archimedes of Syracuse.
Archimedes established the value of “pi “, the number, written as a Greek letter for the ratio of the
circumference of a circle to its diameter; he perceived the laws of calculus and discovered laws of physics; he
invented the lever, the pulley, the burning mirror, the catapult, many war devices, and the hydraulic screw, a
sort of pump to raise water, used presently in Trapani and Egypt.
We must credit Archestratus from Gela, for writing the first book about the art and pleasure of good eating and
The Greek called Sicily Megale’ Hellas (later, the Romans called it Magna Grecia), meaning Great Greece, and
this is the reason that all the great, important Sicilians living during this period are portrayed as Greeks.
(400 B.C. - 500 A.C.)
Rome dominated Sicily until the fourth century AC.
The Romans made Sicily a province of the Empire. They built aqueducts, theaters and many
beautiful villas, but they imposed heavy fiscal burdens on the population and monopolized the commerce
of wheat that provided for the Roman people and to feed their soldiers. Sicily was known as the granary of
Now, Sicilian wheat is exported all over the world for seedling and mostly Canadian wheat imported for local
The Roman aristocracies celebrated their feasts with provisions, fruits, vegetables, games, honey and wines
from Sicily and used expert Sicilian cooks to prepare their banquets.
Indeed, Sicilian cooking influenced the Roman culinary style; the Romans copied Sicilian dishes and cooking
techniques, making them their own.
(525 A.C. - 827 A.C.)
The Byzantines settled in Sicily from 525 AC to 827 AC and they were not well accepted
by the population. They imposed heavy taxes, necessary to support the army fighting the Muslims. The
Byzantines transformed many Greek temples into Christian churches, collected funds to build cathedrals and
monasteries, imposed the Christian religion on the population and established the military draft.
They alsointroduced the Byzantine mosaics and founded schools to train in this art.
Very little is left of the artistic and beautiful mosaics, apart from the discipline that the Normans emulated and
heightened to the magnificence of, for instance, the Cristo Pantocreatore in
Monreale, Palermo and Cefalu’.
(847 A.C. - 1060 A.C.)
The Arabs inhabited Sicily for about 200 years, and during their reign, Sicily achieved a stage
of welfare, prosperity and order.
The island was divided into districts, with a kaid (master or leader) in charge of
In the beginning the Arabs tried converting the Christians to Islam, but after a short period of difficulties, they
established the gezia, a tax of a meager amount, which provided protection and freedom of
religion. The behavior of the occupants was accommodating and benevolent.
The Arabs introduced to the western world their numerals, the decimal system, a new account structure of
debits and credits, and the checks. Being traders, they established centers all over the island, and built new
cities, fortifying and beautifying the existing towns. They changed many Christian churches into mosques; they
built gorgeous palaces, and flourishing gardens with luxuriant plants and fruit-bearing trees.
In Sicily, they began the cultivation of lemons, dates, sugar cane, eggplants, peaches, apricots, melons,
pistachios, bergamot, and many herbs and spices, and most importantly, they improved the utilization of the
island's water-basin resources, realizing a modern system of irrigation, beneficial to agriculture. The new
irrigation system made it possible to grow rice, which was exported to Europe, where this new staple food was
By means of loans and tax concessions, the Arab rulers divided large estates into small
farms so that peasants and farm workers could became landowners and thereby take better care of the
farms and increasing the agricultural production. They planted a great deal of mulberry trees for the
cultivation of silk worms and for the bark needed in paper production. Paper was a new product replacing papyrus
and it was traded extensively.
There was growth in all fields of business and it required trade schools to teach silk making, jeweler’s craft,
papermaking, masons and artists to build their villas and mosques. Factories were founded to manufacture the
silk, refine the sugar cane, make products in gold and silver and produce paper.
The expert Sicilian cooks devised different cooking techniques using the new products, and new dishes with
unique tastes were created.
During the Arabs’ control the first pasta factory was built in Trabia near Palermo, and couscous became popular in
(1060 A.C. - 1198 A.C.)
The Normans settledin Sicily, from 1060 to 1198 and among their many changes, they made
Christianity the official religion of the land.
A new form of government was instituted with a monarchy having defined authority, and new laws were enacted to
grant equality and freedom of religion to the different ethnic groups living in Sicily: this resulted in
a form of government many centuries ahead of its time.
The Normans recognazed the diverse ethnic backgrounds of their subjects, and merged the
ideas, the science, art and architecture of the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Arabs; Saracens scholars were
employed to create some masterpieces like the Palatine Chapel in Palermo, the Cathedral in Palermo,
Cefalu’, Messina, Catania, Monreale and decorations in churches and buildings all over Sicily.
The Normans brought from the north the “stockfish” that became popular for its taste and because it is easy to
(1198 A.C. - 1250 A.C.)
In 1194, Henry the VI emperor of Germany became king of Sicily though marriage, and his son
Frederick II ruled from 1198 to1250. He was called stupor mundi, wonder of the world,for
his talent as a statesman, governor and legislator, as well for his knowledge of science, philosophy, fine arts
and languages. He patronized Islamic, Jewish and Christian scientists, poets and artists. In the court
of Frederick II the Italian language was born and poems and essays were written in the new
Frederick II organized the Sixth Crusade and conquered Jerusalem in 1228.
He built castles and fortifications in strategic locations at the Sicilian coast line.
He founded the University of Naples, the first state-funded university.
(1250 A.C. – 1860
During the next 500 years, the French, Spaniards, Savoia, Austrians, and again the Spanish
occupied and attempted to conquer Sicily.
In 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi defeated the Borbonic ruler (a dynastic family from
the Spanish peninsula), which resulted in Sicily entering the new Kingdom of Italy the following
Of those who invaded Sicily, some were apparently good rulers and some
bad. However, all imposed taxes, exploited the people and imposed their
will and way of life. Sicilians worked all the time to adapt and transform those experiences to their advantage by
enriching their customs, the cultural patrimony of Sicily and the art of cooking and good
Many of the invaders fell in love with the land, the climate and the island’s
people and became Sicilian forever!
In modern history, Sicily is part of Italy, with an independent,
self-ruling, regional government.