THE ARABS. ZIBIBBO SPAGHETTI SORBET AND CASSATA
The Arabs arrived in Sicily in approximately 827 A.D. landing on the Southwestern coast, and founded a city that they called Marsala, from the Arabic ”Mars-Allah”, meaning “Port of God”, and with them, they brought a vine called Zibibbo from the Arabic (zabīb (زبيب) meaning raisins. The Arabs were not drinkers, by any means, seeing as their Islamic religion prohibited them from consuming wine or other alcohol. However, they did much to the benefit of Sicily, bringing many goods and other riches.
Skilled philosophers, mathematicians, and engineers, the Arabs constructed many buildings and mosques of notable beauty, as well as canals for irrigation and the plantation and cultivation of many new plants, including: pistachio, carob, asparagus, eggplant, saffron, cinnamon, clove, citrus fruits, silk, and sugar cane.
Their dietary laws also had a strong influence on the Sicilian population’s way of eating, inventing dishes and introducing delicacies that, even today, are present on Sicilian tables all over the world.
Arabs immediately appreciated the versatility of durum wheat seeds, introducing Couscous, and with the same talent, began producing “maccheroni”, or the first pasta. The first spaghetti, produced in Itryia, now Trabia, near Palermo, in the year 900 A.D. where now It is possible to visit “The Museum of Pasta”. Contrary to common belief, this “invention” of pasta as we know it in the western world was introduced long before Marco Polo’s arrival in Venice at the end of the 13th century from Cathay (China).
The Pasta con le sarde, “the quintessential dish that embodies this unique land“, strictly prepared with “maccarruna“, and/or “bucatini”pasta, have different variations along the island but the main component must be: pine nuts, and pine nuts, ingredients omnipresent in Sicilian cuisine, and optimal against intoxication, wild fennel, resins and saffron, and of course fresh sardines. Remember in Sicily is a seasonable dish, so the best period to enjoy it is between March and September! .This mouthwatering dish has been attributed to the general Euphemius, the commander of the Byzantine fleet of Sicily converted to Muslim, to celebrate his arrival in Siracusa, 950 circa, together with the Fatimid general, Jawhar as-Siquilli (“the Sicilian”), founder of the city of Cairo, Egypt.
The union of fresh sheep’s milk ricotta, which had already been produced for centuries by local farmers, and sugar, packed into a copper pot that the Arabs referred to as Quas’at was the origin of the dessert called “cassata al forno” known today as Cassata Siciliana. A jubilation of colors and sweetness, with a fantastical garnish of candied fruit, the cassata, a cake layered with sweetened ricotta and chocolate, and topped with sugar icing and marzipan, is surely an icon of Sicilian cuisine. (see also The invention of a tradition Roberto Alajmo, writer, journalist, philanthropist offers some insight into the invention of the Cassata as we know it today)
And thanks also to the Arabs of Sicily we have had the “sorbet”, from the Arabic “sherbeth”, consisting of ice from Mount Etna, sugar,and fruit essences. Ice cream came many years later thanks to another Sicilian, exactly Francesco Procopio Cutò.