An explosion of tastes, colours and aromas
Few people know that, until the Middle Ages, Sicilian chefs were the most sought-after at all the European courts: they enjoyed a well-deserved reputation which saw them as authentic custodians of exclusive and delicious recipes.
Even today, a visit to the Taormina Etna District offers the opportunity to taste an ancient culinary tradition, deeply rooted in Classical Greece. The territory of Catania owes its simple and genuine dishes, linked with land and sea and famous all over the world, to the ancient Greeks: for entrées, spaghetti with cuttlefish ink, stuffed “scacciata”, pasta "ncasciata" , pasta “carrettiera” and pasta with aubergines and Pecorino cheese, later christened "alla Norma" in honour of the composer from Catania, Vincenzo Bellini.
Moving on to main courses, we have mascolini (little white fish from the anchovy family) and sardines served "a beccafico", just two of the specialities that you can enjoy in one of the typical little “trattorias” in the Catania area. On the Messina slope on the other hand, the maritime epicentre of the Mediterranean and historical crossroads of culture and food from every part of the world, you can discover an exclusive but unusual and particularly original gastronomic tradition.
Over the centuries, the dishes of Arabian and Norman tradition which have enhanced the Sicilian gastronomic tradition were introduced through the Strait of Messina. The Normans were responsible for the introduction of stockfish and dried cod, used to make the delicious "stocco alla messinese" (or served "alla ghiotta"), and of swordfish, which has been caught in the Strait for thousands of years, and fried "scabbacchieddi" a typical, inexpensive dish eaten by fishermen. The famous rice “arancini” and “piacintinu”, a cheese made in baskets, sometimes coated with saffron, have Arabian influences.
The traditional breeding of sheep and goats is linked with a renowned production of cheeses, Pecorino with or without pepper, fresh, salted and baked Ricotta, Tuma and Caciocavallo, with its traditional pear shape. Vegetable specialities, such as aubergine “caponata”, cauliflower "a vastedda" and olives, bear witness to a flourishing and generous nature in the shade of the great volcano.
On the slopes of Etna, flourishing grapes become excellent wines: ruby-coloured Etna reds, with their intense aroma and full-bodied flavour, equalled in value by the golden white wines and rosé versions, with their intense aroma and dry flavour, perfect when served with the classic local dishes. The whole area offers a winemaking panorama characterised by ancient traditions: from the intense and elegant aromas of Myle I.G.T., made among the hills of Taormina and Castelmola, to Mamertino di Taormina, a valuable amber coloured nectar with an intense aroma and sweet taste which, with its 16 % volume, represents an excellent dessert wine or after-dinner wine.
The area’s delicious desserts really do deserve a chapter all of their own. An authentic joy for the palate, shapes and varieties bear witness to the Arabian influence and that of Baroque Spain: from “cassatine” to “pignolate”, which grace tables during religious festivities, to the famous “cannoli”, “mostaccioli” and “collure messinesi”, delicious little rings of bread dough enriched with chocolate drops onto which a boiled egg is lain before baking.
And to accompany the dessert table, a scented variety of dessert liqueurs, including Marsala, the inebriating “Mandarinetto” and pistachio, cinnamon and mandarin flavoured “Rosolio”. All the majesty of the great volcano is encompassed in “Fuoco dell’Etna”, a potent flame red coloured elixir which is sure to create a surprising explosion on the palate.
There are numerous trattorias and inns throughout the territory, where you can enjoy a delicious traditional meal, accompanied by prized local wines, experiencing the delights of the vocation for hospitality and the typical welcome offered by the area.
An aspect never to undervalue is an excellent price-quality ratio.