Just back from a seven day driving tour of Sicily. We broke a couple chowhounding rules due to running out of time. For example, ate no street food in Palermo, and only had one meal in Trapani, which I know are both key things recommended on this board. Oh, well – next trip!
We were supposed to be on holiday in Japan and with the very last minute change in destination, were woefully underprepared. We just sort of arrived, got in the rental car and started calling accommodation from stuff I’d printed out from Trip Advisor. So food also was very last minute, but the best thing I did was buy Osterie D’Italia, Slow Food’s guide to traditional eating in Italy by province, and scoured the Sicily section while driving along for nearby stops. It even has a map with little snails marking the relevant towns. Every meal we had out of the guide was wonderful, some verging on superb. I really recommend picking up a copy even if you do not speak Italian – this isn’t rocket science, all you need to be able to make out is the days any given place open, and stick the address in your GPS (seriously, if you are driving in Italy, get a GPS, it is SO less stressful than mapreading).
We ate at:
Brucoli (on the East Coast, between Taormina and Siracusa)
One of my favourite meals of the trip.
No frills seafood eatery right on the water, with both indoor and outdoor seating. The spaghetti ai ricci (raw sea urchins – never tried this before!) was superb, and the fennel and blood orange salad with which we finished the meal was a brilliant ending. Also recommend the whole grilled fish. If you’re driving from Taormina to Siracusa, stop here for lunch. Seriously.
Via Gagliano Castelferrato, Enna
There’s a major highway crossing the island; this is a good halfway point for lunch, even if you’re not planning to tour Enna.
Another no-frills, cosy place, full of locals having Saturday lunch. Ditalini con favette e piselli was actually a brothy soup with pasta, fava beans and peas. Wonderful meaty flavour, I’ve not seen fresh fava beans braised in their skins (I’ve always peeled them), but these were both meaty and tender. We wanted to also get the lasagne, but unfortunately they were out, so we got a tagliatelle with prosciutoo and mushrooms in a tomato sauce which was also wonderful.
Via Emerico Amari, 64
We were a bit fooded out by the end of the trip, and this place was a perfect respite. It’s a food emporium/deli/gelateria/wine shop/restaurant. For lunch, we picked various things from the deli counter, which they heated up for us and we ate at the deli tables. We came back for a supper, when they put tables and chairs in the wine section, and had lati di Palermo con gamberi rossi e bottarga (a shoelace-shaped local pasta with prawns and preserved tuna roe), and a pizza from their pizza oven with radicchio, mushrooms, prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella and arugula. Between lunch and supper we tried their hazelnut, pistachio and dark chocolate gelati, which were all very good. Good location for food stuffs to take home.
La Gazza Ladra
Via Cavour, 8
I recommend booking for this place, otherwise there’s a half-hour wait. Very cosy and casual little hole in the wall with a small daily menu. Definitely get the antipasto platter, either small or large, which when we were there consisted of grilled eggplant and zucchini, a wedge of frittata, caponata, marinated raw pumpkin (very interesting texture!), olives and broccoli vinaigrette. It’s also lovely seeing the owner methodically selecting titbits out of various mismatched dishes on the counter for the antipasti; clearly a labour of love. We had spaghetti with a mixed herb and pistachio pesto to share, followed by biancomangiare (blancmange) di mandorle for dessert. They also offered carob jelly, which sounded interesting!
Piazza Crispi, 3
A bit in the middle of nowhere, this town, but well placed for us as we meandered from Piazza Armerina (mosaics) through to Agrigento (Valley of the Temples). This was the only modern style restaurant we ate at the whole trip. But despite the vaguely anonymous, modern décor, the waiter recited the menu to us (it sort of felt like, “This is what we can rustle up in the kitchen for you today!”) and a couple of motherly looking women were bustling around in the kitchen. We had the antipasto platter again (ricotta, caponata, grilled eggplant, deepfried cauliflower, olives, pecorino, pickled mushrooms) and some of the freshest buffalo mozzarella I’ve had in ages. We had a broccoli pasta, which was massive, and a baked whole fish with mixed salad. Interestingly, they did not take the meat off the fish for you as most Italian places seem to. The chocolate and hazelnut mousse torte we had for dessert is one of the best I’ve had, and probably the most deceptively simple, sophisticated dessert I’ve had in Italy. Good coffee.
Via Giudecca, 32
Trapani was dead on Easter Monday, but this place was pumping. Very cosy, a bit old fashioned. We had a really special cuscus con brood di pesce (the traditional Trapanese dish of couscous with fish broth), which came with chunks of different types of fish on the couscous. My husband’s favourite dish of the trip. Pasta palermitana (sardines, fennel, pine nuts, sultanas) was quite muddy and fishier than I was expecting, but I think that was the result of my incorrect expectations (Chez Panisse typically having a lighter hand with the classics than the classicists do!).
Two worthy meals not in the Slow Food guide were had as part of our accommodations.
Pensione Tranchina, Scopello
This is a charming, tiny town right by the Zingharo Nature Reserve, and this a charming guesthouse. Supper, for EUR20, consisted of an antipasto starter, casarecce (a local type of pasta) with swordfish in a tomato sauce, and then baked red prawns with garlic and a green salad. Dessert was strawberries, marinated in lemon juice and sugar.
Breakfast here, included in the price of the room, was one of my favourites: fresh fruit, raw fava beans to be dipped in local olive oil and sea salt, warm home made bread, pecorino and caciocavallo cheeses, freshly squeezed blood orange juice, home made jam (peach and apple on day one, apricot on day two) and home made pastries (orange crostata on day one, pear, grappa and honey muffins on day two), and of course, coffee.
Just outside Agrigento
A lovely agriturismo with wonderful hosts, who for EUR20 made us a home cooked meal in the evening. It was: a range of antipasti (carrot and pea frittata, spinach sformato, sheep’s cheese ricotta, ham croquettes, farm olives, caponata, cheese foccacia), casarecce with pistachio pesto and tomatoes, grilled sausage and lamb cutlets, cos salad (this, strangely enough, was amazing!). Dessert was chocolate dipped gelato from a local pastry shop, and liqueurs. Seriously lovely meal.
Breakfast here consisted of sweetened ricotta with cocoa, fruit, cheese and ham, cornetti, pistachio panettone and preserves, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee. Mmm.
Via Giudecca,32, Trapani, Sicily , IT
La Rustica di Messina Carmela
via Gagliano Castel Ferrato 1, Enna, Sicilia 94100, IT
La Gazza Ladra
Via Cavour,8, Siracusa, Sicilia 96100, IT
Brucoli,Via Liberta,63, Augusta Siracusa, Sicilia 96011, IT
Piazza Crispi, 5, San Cataldo di Caltanissetta, Sicily 93017, IT