Catania: street food with sea views
The Sicilians take great pride in their traditional cuisine, so you can still sample dishes prepared according to mediaeval recipes, such as Sicilian spaghetti. It was here, at the foot of Mount Etna, that pasta and tomatoes first became inseparable. Interestingly, the characteristic strands of spaghetti are not an Italian invention –- they probably arrived with the Arabs in around the 8th century.
If there’s one thing that the Sicilians love more than food, it’s good fun, and that means eating together and the heated discussions that go with it. To imagine Catania, think of street stalls filled with the aroma of grilled and fried seafood. Add to this red and white chequered tablecloth-covered tables in small restaurants and happy groups of food lovers in illuminated squares. There are also plenty of stalls selling fresh vegetables, fruit and fish.
Pasta in Catania: everything you could ever dream of
Although plenty of legends surround street food in Sicily, there are also many elegant places to dine. Catania has a wide range of pubs and cafes serving traditional Sicilian dishes. Look out for the family-run De Fiore for homemade pasta and Fratelli Vittorio next to the fish market, for access to fresh seafood.
The choice of pasta in Sicily can be dizzying, so we have a few suggestions to help you narrow down your choices. Start with the classic pasta alla norma – this is pasta (usually rigatoni or spaghetti) with tomatoes, fried eggplant and ricotta. This dish comes from Catania and its name refers to the main character in Bellini’s opera, Norma.
For something more original, try pasta con le sarde – pasta with sardines. This dish is still seasoned in the same way as the Arab inhabitants of Sicily did, with wild fennel, pine nuts, raisins, toasted almonds and saffron.
Still not satisfied? A reliably good option when in Sicily is always pasta with fresh seafood, which you can find in almost any restaurant. Try spaghetti al nero di sepia, a particularly aromatic pasta coloured with squid or cuttlefish ink.
Naples: tomatoes from Vesuvius
It is here, in the heart of Campania, that the second Italian dish that we all know and love was born. Pizza Napoletana, with its characteristic thin centre and fluffy edges, transforms ordinary dough and tomatoes into a real treat. Once you try it, you’ll quickly understand why this simple recipe has won the hearts of people all over the world.
The hallmark of great Neapolitan pizza is a liquid centre, high-quality cheese and the fact that the pie is served whole, ready to be sliced on the plate. The moist consistency of the dough may surprise you, as it is very different from the pizza served in other countries – and even from other regions of Italy. However, its unique style allows you to fully appreciate the flavours of its ingredients: tomatoes, mozzarella and olive oil.
Speaking of tomatoes, that’s where the secret of this dish’s flavour lies. The basis of Neapolitan pizza sauce is the San Marzano variety of tomato, which grows in the fertile volcanic soil below Mount Vesuvius. You can taste its distinct flavour best in two classic combinations that are served in every local pizzeria: pizza margherita (tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil) and pizza marinara (tomatoes, olive oil, oregano, garlic).
Pizza in Naples: classic or fried
In historic pizzerias such as Da Michele and Sorbillo, you can watch pizza chefs knead the dough to an exact precision of just three millimetres thick. They then add the sauce and other ingredients and bake the pizza in traditional wood-fired ovens. At a temperature of almost 500°C, it takes less than two minutes for it to become slightly crispy. Fortunately, the chefs allow it to cool before it reaches your table.
But Naples has another trick up its sleeve. If you prefer crispier dough, try a pizza fried at a temperature of around 175°C. This local speciality was born out of necessity when Italy faced a wood shortage in the 20th century. The pizza fritta also differs from the traditional Neapolitan pizza in that it is stuffed – most often with ricotta, mozzarella or salami, accompanied, of course, by San Marzano tomatoes.
You may think that you have seen all kinds of pizza and that Naples couldn’t possibly surprise you. If that’s the case then we recommend a visit to Del Presidente – here you will find up to 40 different varieties! This includes some sweet options, such as Nutella – arguably blasphemy in traditional Italian foodie circles!