I’ve always had a love affair with Italy. I will never forget my first trip to the Amalfi Coast 22 years ago when I fell in love with everything Italian. I also fell in love with my husband, Michael!!! Since then, I’ve been to Italy many times, but it’s never enough. I am always looking for an excuse to go back.
I found an excuse this summer. Michael and I went to Tuscany for a week, and it wasn’t nearly enough time.
So when my sister-in-law, Cynthia Conigliaro, invited us to go to Sicily in August, we jumped at the chance. I had visions of Greek and Roman ruins, quaint hilltop villages, and sparkling turquoise waters. Plus, I couldn’t wait to experience the Sicilian food.
As luck would have it, Cynthia grew up visiting Sicily every Summer– her grandmother was Sicilian and many of her relatives and friends still live there. For me, it’s so much more interesting to discover a country through the eyes of a native. To make the trip even juicier, Cynthia was giving Michael’s brother a surprise birthday party and also invited his entire family.
Before meeting up with the family, Michael and I did a little exploring on our own. First stop, Taormina, an eastern coastal town teeming with Ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine history.
Today, the town is known as the Capri of Sicily. It’s full of designer shopping, 5-star hotels, and plenty of beach clubs. Our first day, we cruised the streets before lunch, and discovered one of Sicily’s most famous trademarks— martorana fruit! These little fruits are sculpted out of almond marzipan. Every pasticceria is absolutely filled with the gorgeous creations. I could hardly tell they weren’t the real thing! These pastries aren’t just tasty treats, they’re also a part of Sicilian tradition.
Our first dinner was a lovely Restaurant Al Saraceno. It happened to be the night of the Supermoon, so the evening felt especially romantic with that huge moon reflecting on the water. I ordered pasta with sea urchin.
It was delicious but unfortunately, I soon found out that sea urchin was out of season, so my dreams of eating sea urchin every day were crushed! Nonetheless, we enjoyed our pasta, sardines, and Sicilian wine looking out at the moon that night. Magical!
After three days in Taormina, we realized that most restaurant menus were more or less the same. But that didn’t bother us! The freshness and love in every single dish makes the food spectacular, simple
What stands out about Sicilian cuisine is the locality of all their ingredients. From the fresh seafood to the hazelnuts, pistachios, lemons, oranges and tomatoes, everything is sourced from the region. The Sicilians are so proud of their food and their cuisine!
One night in Taormina, we visited Osteria Nero D’Avola. It had so many good reviews I knew it would be a wonderful experience—and it was! We sat outside surrounded by beautiful trees. Sicilian cuisine isn’t just about local foods, it’s also very much about pairing the foods with local wines. That night we drank a wine from the Mt. Etna Region, an area we’d visited earlier that day! Coincidentally we saw plenty of vineyards during the excursion.
The meal we enjoyed was simple yet divine. An orange and avocado salad may sound unremarkable, but oh no. This salad was made with the sweetest oranges and perfectly ripe avocados, drizzled with local olive oil and flaky sea salt. For my entrée I ordered a complex and rich swordfish stew—I’m sure the fish had been caught just that day.
I was so happy when the chef and owner of the restaurant came out to our table to say hello. Turi Siligato is a self-taught chef who is full of passion for what he does. Luckily, he spoke perfect English (my Italian is not so good!) and told us he’d be shopping at the market tomorrow morning for the restaurant’s menu. Of course, I asked if I could tag along!
I might have looked a bit stunned when he said he’d pick me up at 6am, but I wanted to go badly enough to make the wake up call worth it. He arrived the next morning promptly with his truck and dog and off we went! A 45-minute drive later, we were at a wholeseale market.
He showed me what produce he was choosing and why— mostly organic products at their peak. As he picked up the most beautiful squash blossoms I’d ever seen, I wished so badly that I could cook with him!
Unfortunately, I was off to Siracusa later that day, for one of the best meals ever! Stay tuned for part 2 of my Sicilian adventure for the rest of the story!