THE ARABS. ZIBIBBO SPAGHETTI AND CASSATA

THE ARABS. ZIBIBBO SPAGHETTI SORBET AND CASSATA

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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.

977px-Arabo-NormanArchitectureSkilled 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, silkand 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.

Nomenclatura by Vanvakys copy x webArabs 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).

Pistacchio di Bronte by Vanvakys copyThe 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.

Pasta fish and Pistacchio smallThe 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)

 gelatteria siciliana.itAnd 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.  

 

 

THE BEAUTIFULLY SWEET ILLUSION OF THE “MARTORANA FRUIT” OR “MARZIPAN” AND PROCOPIO

Martorana PalermoIt was during the XVI century that one of the most famous almond desserts  in the world was born, and it is credited to the nuns of the Church of Santa  Maria dell’Ammiraglio, also known as “La Martorana”. It is said that the  bishop requested the sisters prepare a table rich with beautiful and sweet  fruits to welcome a visiting king to Palermo. However, being that it was  January, the nuns had little chance of finding the types of fruit his eminence  requested.

 

Martorana Palermo by night  1 copyOnly a miracle, or something like it, would appease the whims of  nobility! The resourceful ladies of the convent came up with a fantastical  solution: they made a dough of sugar and almond flour, and worked it into  mandarin, fig, apricot, and other shapes, adding color and details so realistic,  they looked like beautiful pieces of actual fruit! And so frutta di martorana,  as it is known in Sicily, or “marzipan”, as it is known in the rest of the  world, was born.

mix of sicily traditional dessert on dishDuring the period of Viceroys, the people of Sicily drank Spanish and French wines, like their rulers. However, there was always a place of honor reserved on each table for refreshing non-alcoholic beverages, such as almond milk with “snow” and ice creams, or gelati. And it was, indeed, a Sicilian chef by the name of Procopio dei Coltelli.

 

Sign-procope editedProcopio worked first as a fisherman like his father Onofrio. His grandfather Francesco, becoming part of Procopio’s name, was also a fisherman who built il gelatiere (ice cream makers) part-time, when he was not fishing.Francesco eventually left his invention to Procopio as an inheritance. Procopio tinkered with his grandfather’s “ice cream” machine making various improvements. Procopio eventually felt that he had developed a machine that would produce gelato on a large scale andd decided to promote the new product. He became a talent young chef and  left Palermo in 1686, went to Paris and  gave to the world the recipe of his ice cream, and the machine grandpa gave him,  to produce it every day and in a great quantity.

 

 

 Francesco-Procopio-dei-ColtelliProcopio had a special royal license from King Louis XIV and became “le Procope” . Till  today it’s possible to visit his ” “Cafe’ Procope“ the oldest extant cafe in Paris, the first literary cafe’ and most of all the first  restaurant with a great variety of  ice cream. For over 200 years the cafe-restaurant attracted notables in the world of arts, politics, and literature. 

 

gelateria by VRC small Now , Sicily is the right place to celebrate this “yummy”food”: don’t you think? The splendid city of Cefalu every year, in September, organizes the “Sherbeth Festival“, the festival of artisan ice cream. See also  Events page on Siciliana.it

 

 

 

 

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