Situated in the heart of the Mediterranean, Sicily’s strategic location and natural beauty enticed travelers from all over the world to make this island their home. Sicilian cuisine has been shaped by all the cultures that have established themselves in Sicily over the past 2,000 years.
While Sicily is perhaps best known for spaghetti, desserts are also a specialty. The following are some of the region’s traditional desserts and their history.
The granita is a semi-frozen concoction of ice, sugar, and juices. In the Middle Ages, when refrigerators were unheard of, laborers called the “nevaroli” gathered ice from mountain tops in the summer months. Members of the nobility would add fruit juice, coffee, and even edible flowers to the ice to make a delicious dessert. It is said that the granita came about as a result of Arab settlers, who brought with them their love for sharbat (sherbet.)
The cannolo is probably Sicily’s most famous dessert, and one of the world’s oldest. It is of Arabic origin and has been traced to the Emirate of Sicily, a period wherein Sicily was an Islamic state.
Cannoli are deep-fried shells of pastry dough, which are traditionally filled with sweetened ricotta from sheep’s milk, unlike modern cannoli that are filled with mascarpone or vanilla-flavored frosting made with sugar and milk. Pistachios, chocolate chips, candied cherries, and other toppings are often added for variation.
Cioccolato di Modica or Modican chocolate
Chocolate was brought to Modica, Sicily in the latter part of the 16th century by Spaniard settlers. Cioccolato di Modica is said to be inspired by an ancient Aztec recipe for Xocolatl. Modern chocolatiers in Modica and elsewhere in Sicily still make it in the traditional way, cold processed and flavored with vanilla, cinnamon, or hot chili peppers. However, some modern candy makers use other flavorings, such as sea salt, citrus, and nutmeg.
Unlike Western chocolate, Modican chocolate does not contain added cocoa butter, milk, or soy lecithin; it is made from pure cocoa. The texture is crumbly and crunchy. While you can certainly eat Modican chocolate on its own, it’s also a very versatile ingredient that can be used for savory dishes, such as rabbit or hare cooked in chocolate.