Back from my holidays from the beautiful island of Sicily and well, what a place and what a Wild Food heaven. If you want to visit a country that truly uses Wild Food in all of its forms (and has never forgotten) visit Sicily!
Sicily has a rich and complex history of oppression and invasion. With every conquering army came new cultures, foods and cooking techniques. With the Greeks and Romans came the cultivation of the grapes, with the Arabs Citrus fruits. In more recent times money and social class also had a lot of influence on Sicilian dishes whilst the rich gorged on delicate pastries and complicated dishes dreamed up by imported or French trained chefs the poor still led a peasant and usually vegetarian diet based on what they could afford or forage.
In the North East of the country where I was staying the landscape is dominated by Mount Etna, a still very active volcano. Although most would think that a volcano is a destructive force it is a huge positive force of creation. The rich soils that lay on its slopes are incredibly fertile and so rich that they directly affect the flavour of everything that is grown upon them. A lady who lived on the farm we stayed at on the first part of our trip simply described this flavour as ‘the taste’ and she was so right. All foods grown on or near the slopes of Etna, wild or cultivated are extraordinarily rich in flavour and just downright delicious!
The Wild Food plants of Sicily are hugely varied and there are plants that thrive on the slopes of Mount Etna, in the heart of the country as well as on the coast that also exist here in the UK. There are many many great Wild foods that are readily used by Sicilians. Even when relaxing by the pool I saw an older man teaching his 30 something daughter to pick the best Wild Greens on the hills nearby, a scene that I presume has played out many times there before. I’ll take you through some of Wild Foods that I found although I do not pretend to have grasped anywhere near a full understanding.
Wild Grapes and Vines
One of the best dishes that I ate in Sicily was a Courgette and Penny Bun or Zucchini and Porcini Tagliatelli, but another foraged treat which again is nationally famous is meatballs grilled in foraged Lemon leaves – a dish that I am hoping to replicate with Lime leaves here! Of course the Tagliatelli was home made and the vegetables were grown and foraged on the slopes of this generous volcanoe, but this was the dish that was simply explained to me as ‘the taste’ of Etna.. You must go!
Wild Thyme and other herbs, Wild Thistles and other Wild Greens litter the mountainsides. Wild fruits such as figs, Wild Olives and escaped fruits such as Banana’s all grow vigorously where ever they find enough soil to plant roots. The hills and mountains hide treats such as the nearly wild Nebrodian Black Pig and the seas, especially the Aeolian Sea that I spent so much time swimming in hides fish species such as Swordfish, Tuna, Sardines and Anchovy and other edibles even though its aquamarine waters are so clear they look like they could hide nothing!
If you are lucky enough to be close or have a good view of the sea in the evening keep your eyes out for the small fishing boats hunting fish and Octopus with bright lights at night. The fishermen hunt their wild prey by looking through bottomless dustbins and hunting with very long fishing spears, spearing the startled Octopus and fish including fish such as the Scorpion fish, when they are dazzled by the lights.
Or you could even try more exotic flavours such as the Sea Anemone, although an acquired taste I found it delicious cooked with pasta. Or something more close to home such as a Nettle risotto, treats I am sure that you would agree if found on menu's in the UK, common place in Sicily!
Sicily, especially the North East is a magical place and one where the Wild Food enthusiast can forage and experiment themselves or if you would prefer to be on holiday and relax, Wild Food is so embedded within local tradition you will easily find someone else to do the foraging and cooking for you!
I can‘t wait to go back and there and enjoy this stunning country and its fantastic food again. I am unashamed to say, I love Sicily!! … I hope that you get the opportunity to go as well!!
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