A cuisine rich in flavors
which are in a delightful balance between land and sea.
PERFUMES AND TASTES
The Wine and Flavours Routes of the Val di Mazara will take you on a sensual journey to meet flavours and aromas which suggest ancient places and images. Sicilian cuisine is well balanced between land and sea, as well as the geographic location of the territory. A rich variety of products, spices and aromas that witness how different cultures and people have crossed the island from remote places. The gastronomy of the area follows the same chromatic scale as the landscape, alternating strong and soft tones, the yellow of the wheat, the green of the vineyards and olive trees, the white of the salt and the blue of the sea.
For millennia around the Mediterranean the bread has been an element of deep sacredness and in this corner of Sicily, thanks to its special vocation to the cultivation of wheat, this phenomenon has acquired extraordinary dimensions. The territory is rich of many types of bread accompanying all meals. It is baked two or three times per day, often sprinkled with giuggiulena or tip (sesame or anise seeds) and it is consumed fresh. The so-called vastedda is a characteristic type of bread of the area. It is a loaf of bread made with durum wheat, yeast and baked in stone ovens heated with branches of olive trees and vineyards. Among the oldest scents of bread the black bread of Castelvetrano deserves the first place. The black bread of Castelvetrano is not an ordinary bread. It was born from the union of two native flours grains (“russulidda” and “Tumminia”), selected by the Greeks in Sicily and cultivated only in a limited area of Selinunte, Castelvetrano, Cave of Cusa and Campobello di Mazara. It is often served with Nocellara del Belice extra virgin olive oil (another main product of this territory) oregano, salt, tomato, anchovies and pecorino cheese, so it’s obtained the so-called pane cunsatu (dressed bread), a triumph of simplicity and goodness.
The bread is excellent with all the different local appetizers: green or black olives dressed with different ingredients (garlic, olive oil and oregano or celery, carrot and pickled vegetables), cheese cubes, sun dried tomatoes, fried vegetables (cauliflower, cardoons, artichokes), or boiled octopus salad (with carrots, celery, garlic and oil), caponata (fried eggplant, olives, celery, tomato sauce, raisins, pine nuts , vinegar), which are such rich to be considered a complete dish.
The couscous is a typical Arab dish made of flour tied in grains with water, flavoured with chopped garlic, parsley, onion, olive oil and steamed in the cuscusera (two pots stacked one atop the other forming a perfect seal). The couscous is then dressed according to local customs: in Mazara, which is an important seaport, with fish soup, crustaceans, zucchini, carrots, potatoes and cabbage; in Petrosino and Marsala with pork and cabbage, with turkey broth or with snails and vegetables. The couscous together with other local products such as citrus, sugar, cinnamon, saffron, rice, pine nuts and raisins, were introduced by the Arabs, who have the pleasure to taste dishes with strong contrasts of flavour, especially the agrodolce (sweet and sour).
An example is the symbol dish of western Sicily, the pasta with sardines, called by the locals Milanisa. The ingredients are freshly caught sardines (in the hinterland they are replaced with salted ones), wild fennel, pine nuts, raisins, almonds and saffron, in some variants substituted with tomatoes. Pasta with sardines can be seasoned fresh or as pie. The same filling is used for the sarde a beccafico (stuffed sardines) with the addition of bread crumbs, lemon and laurel, or cooked with tomato sauce.
In the Strada Val di Mazara, all fish dishes are excellent: tuna, swordfish and anchovies. The prawn, undisputed prince of the most delicious disse, is prepared in many different ways and finally the St. Peter’s Fish, whose eggs are used to prepare the busiate, a type of fresh pasta. The Mediterranean has a great fish variety: small fried blue fishes, crustaceans, St. Peter’s fish, monkfish and grouper for soups, fish (sardines, mackerel) for cooking on the grill or with sauce, sea bass in salt, bream, mullet and squid for the mixed grill. The baccala’ (salted cod) is available for frying, or the ghiotta (stew with potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, raisins and parsley) or as a pie with cauliflower, spinach, sauce, raisins, pine nuts and almonds.
In the villages of the hinterland cheese plays a major role. The Vastedda del Belice is the flagship of the dairy production: a soft cheese from sheep’s milk in the form of a loaf. One of the oldest dish is zabbina, a breakfast made of hot ricotta cheese and home made bread. The ricotta, contained in fascedde (baskets) can be eaten with pasta boiled with qualeddu (wild vegetables) or with fresh broad beans, or even mixed with eggs and then fried like meatballs. The Tuma, a tender cheese, the Primo sale, a fresh matured cheese that can be seasoned with olives, chilli, pepper or sun dried tomatoes and finally the Pecorino, are all handmade cheese made with sheep milk.
The countryside of the Val di Mazara is so rich in vegetation that it allows the preparation of vegetable soups, like the “matarocco marsalese“ (a sauce made with tomato, garlic, basil water and olive oil). Other dishes from the rural tradition are macco di fave con “tagghierine” (mashed dried beans with pasta), the zucchini and tenerumi soup (summer zucchini with shoots and leaves), chickpeas soup, chicken soup with tagliatelle and finally land snails a picchi pacchi (land snails stewed in tomato sauce). While fish is the main product along the coast, in the inland part of the island the main dishes are meat, vegetables, sausages, eggs and cheese of excellent quality. The tradition is full of popular dishes such as rabbit with sauce or lardiato (oil-based sauce with garlic, rosemary and tomato sauce) and then grilled, pork sausages seasoned with fennel seeds, salt and pepper. Main dish, especially in the area of Campobello, is the grilled castrato, a lamb fattened with wild herbs. The lamb and goat are baked also with baked or fried potatoes; boiled sheep is prepared with vegetables or stew with potatoes and wild fennel. Another traditional dish is the Tiano, a pie of broccoli, qualeddu (wild vegetables), fresh sardines and wild fennel. Very popular are also the omelettes made with fresh eggs and filled with artichokes, broccoli, cheese, fresh tomato and basil or ricotta.
All these dishes can be accompanied with one of the excellent wines to choose from the many labels produced in the territory. In the Val di Mazara climatic conditions, mild temperatures, hilly lands, sea breeze and the strong sun, are ideal qualities to make the wine an excellent product. The Val di Mazara offers a wide range of grape varieties: aromatic whites such as grillo, catarratto, damaschino, inzolia and grecanico and full-bodied reds like nero d’avola and perricone/pignatello, DOC Delia Nivolelli, and Marsala ideal to be served with the rich variety of local pastry.
In addition to the traditional cannoli and cassata with ricotta cheese, often linked to religious traditions, the Sicilian pastry numbers sweet pastry fried, baked and puddings, all made with sweetened ricotta, honey, chocolate, or also fruit and nuts, with unique shapes and colours: cubbaite (nougat made with sesame seeds or almonds), almond pastry, mustazzoli (biscuits made with mulled wine and covered with sesame seeds), graffe (donuts stuffed with ricotta cheese), Tunisini (baked ricotta with chocolate). In Mazara del Vallo, the cloistered nuns of the Benedictine monastery of San Michele have prepared traditional Sicilian pastries for centuries: the delicious muccunetti (morsels stuffed with almond paste and canned pumpkin, wrapped one by one in silver paper) the Cassateddi (biscuits stuffed with dried figs, almonds, chocolate and orange peel) and the Frutta Martorana (a Sicilian version of marzipan). Then we have the typical pastry filled with ricotta and called in different ways depending on the town: ravioli in Mazara, cappidduzza in Marsala, Cassateddi in Castelvetrano. A separate chapter deserve ice cream and granite products, hundreds of delicious fruit flavours made by skilled craftsman. They are important pieces of everyday life and an essential ritual for Sicilians during the hot summer days.