samedi 15 juin 2013

Do you need a reason to visit Sicily?

French people like to visit Italy. They also like to eat.

I've had quite a few conversations with French people that go like this:

French person: I went to Italy during the month of August and it was wonderful!

Me: Oh yeah, where did you go?

FP: I rented out a gîte (house in the countryside) in Tuscany. We rented a car and took a few trips around the countryside and also saw Florence and Siena.

Me: So tell me what you liked in particular.

FP: Well, the Italians are so gregarious and sociable. I have a few Italian friends that showed me around a bit.

Inevitably the conversation turns to food...

FP: We ate really well and enjoyed the classic dishes as well as trying the regional specialities. But I have to say, the desserts were terrible!

Me: Really? Why?

FP: They were so dry and tasteless. Our friend's mother made a cake and it was horrible. Everything else she made was delicious, though! The Italians just don't know how to make desserts. They really need some pointers from us. How can a country that prides itself on its great cuisine have such bad desserts?

Well... if this doesn't blow you away, I don't know what will.

I'm here to say that, on the contrary, there are some very good desserts in Italy besides tiramisù and panna cotta (which are ubiquitous in Italian restaurants throughout France).

Sometimes all you have to do it get away and go south...

To Sicily!

(I'm not saying that there are no good desserts in the north because there are, of course!)

Of course the following desserts are found all over Italy as well, but anytime I have tried them outside of Sicily, they haven't tasted as good (I'm not a snob, I promise!).

Sicilian cookies. Author of photo: Den Nation.
There are 2 types of cookies here: those that contain almond paste (some also contain pistachio) and those that are made from nuts and eggs. The first type just melts in your mouth. I like the nut cookies as well, but they are a bit too hard.

Pistacchio di Bronte bars. Author of photo: Den Nation.

The round balls were filled with cream and peaches if I remember correctly. They were good, but the real star of the show are the pistachio bars made from Pistacchio di Bronte. The area around Etna, Europe's largest active volcano, is very fertile and this is where some of Italy's best pistachios are grown. They also produce Pistacchio di Bronte pesto - you'll never forget your first time eating this stuff!

A Sicilian croissant. Author of photo: Den Nation.
Before visiting Sicily, my French husband thought that there could be no croissant on earth that could be as good as the French croissant. Well, really he thought that no croissant outside of France could measure up. Until he went to Sicily! Before I took him to Sicily, I always talked (raved) about how good these croissants are. He would just feign interest in what I was saying, nodding his head up and down saying, "Huh, huh."

This particular croissant is not like the French croissant. It is filled with crema pasticera. Crema pasticera is kind of like custard, but the taste is really so different that you can't compare. Again, I've tried croissants in other parts of Italy, but they just don't compare to these ones. The cream is just that good. So good, that I've convinced my Frenchie that this "foreign" croissant is worthy of his attention. Ha!

Cannoli. Author of photo: Den Nation.

Growing up in Canada, cannoli were a treat for special occasions. I absolutely loved eating these as a child and thought that nothing could ever top these.

Until I tried them in Sicily.

Close-up shot of cannoli. Author of photo: Den Nation.

The taste was much more pronounced - it's all in the cheese I'm afraid. The texture is different, it's more paste-like and the cheese, dare I say, tastes more "animal" and milky and is less sweet than the cheese in the ones I ate in Canada.

I tried one in Canada a few years ago after having lived in Europe a few years. I was so shocked, I couldn't believe that I once thought they were the best cannoli on earth.

I did eat one in London (England), however, that came pretty close to the real thing.

This is only scratching the surface. There is also granita, which I think deserves its own post.

I think I need to go back to Sicily...

18 commentaires:

  1. My mouth is watering ... is 9am too early for dessert?

    I'm actually not a huge fan of French or Italian desserts - both countries put too much emphasis on cream for my liking - but those pistachio bars look deliciious!

    In all the trips I've made to Italy, I've never managed to get to Sicily, but you've given me another reason to keep it high on my list!

    1. Yes, you should go to Sicily! The thing is, there are actually very few foreign tourists down there. Maybe it's because foreigners think that the Mafia is everywhere, but most of the tourists are Italian. Everyone goes to Spain instead. (Not that I'm complaining; I'm relieved.)

      There is everything in Sicily - great food, beautiful coastline and clear water, mountains, skiing in the winter, history, architecture, and few people speak English so it would be a great opportunity for you to practice your Italian. You should definitely go!

  2. Come to think of it, I am not a huge fan of Italian desserts. Too much cream. I don't mind them but I don't crave them... my French brain tells me Italy is famous for good pasta/pizza/coffee, not pastries! I guess I'm still French! Now, go tell French people about Nutella and they may change their mind...

    1. What do you mean about Nutella? French people don't like Nutella?

      There are so many aspects of the Italian cuisine that non-Italians don't know about! All we see abroad is pasta and pizza and ice cream, but there is so much more than that!

    2. No, French LOVE Nutella, but I think it's originally from Italy, no?

    3. Yes, Nutella is Italian. I think you may be right that Italians eat more Nutella than French people. French adults still eat a lot of Nutella, though, especially in the winter when there are a lot of crêpe parties.

  3. Oh my - I have never seen anything like the cannoli. Looks delicious! I loved gelato in Rome! X

    1. It's really rare to find cannoli in Northern Europe. You can find them in Canada, though. You could probably find them in Hamilton if you go into Italian specialty shops. Although nothing could be like the real thing. I hope you visit Italy again soon, so you can have some of that gelato!

  4. I'm not a fan of cannoli, but those pistachio bars make me want to book a day trip to Sicily right now! I've got a severe sweet tooth, and rarely ever turn down trying a new kind of dessert. And I must agree with Holly on the deliciousness that is Italian gelato!

    1. Yes, the bars really were that good. And yes, I try (and like) almost anything I see.

      Yep, nothing can top Italian ice cream. Take that, Frenchies! (I'm just joking)

  5. I'm reading this post while hungry and it's torture! Those pistachio bars look incredible! I'm not too big a fan of Sicilian cookies though, but I've never actually been to Sicily so maybe that would change my mind. But what is really killing me are the cannoli! I absolutely love cannoli and it's a good thing that it is so hard to find good cannoli because I would probably weigh 200kg. I remember when I was a kid my grandfather used to make incredible cannoli from scratch. I wish I had had the opportunity to learn his recipe...

    1. I can't get enough of cannoli. Whenever I go to Sicily they are the number one thing on my list to eat.

      Yes, they definitely don't help the waistline. Sometimes I am glad that I am so poor (I'm not really poor, but you get the idea) so that I can't go out and buy everything I want to eat. Because good quality costs a lot. And my tactic for keeping my weight down is to buy less but buy better quality.

      I wish I could make cannoli from scratch. My family has never done that, I wonder why we don't have this tradition. Was your grandfather from the south?

    2. My maternal grandparents were both born in the US but all of their parents came to the US from Italy. However, they all met and got married once in the US so they came from different parts of Italy - near Milan, Lazio and Sicily. I unfortunately don't know what towns they were from and I would have to check with my great uncle to find out more because he's the one who has really kept track of the family history and done some investigation. It's kind of a shame really that that family history and heritage is all but lost!

      And trust me, if I could make cannoli from scratch I would literally weigh 200 kilos, I wouldn't be able to stop myself! I try to use the same tactic as you for keeping my weight down and it's easy to stay away from a lot of junk food in France because it all costs more than in the US!

    3. Yes, you should learn more about your family tree. Does your father's side also have Italian origins? I learned that my great-grandfather spent 10 years living and working in the United States and that my grandmother didn't see him during that time. After 10 years in the US he went back to Sicily. I can't imagine that, having your father come back after 10 years and not knowing him, just seeing a stranger in front of you.

  6. i think it's super interesting how we as travellers generalise about whole nations "their desserts aren't good" "Americans have terrible food"

    When of course some desserts are bad anywhere and some a delicious anywhere - it really depends on the experience of the taster, right?

    These pictures made me drool though.

    1. I try to cover my tracks by saying "some French people think..." or "a lot of Danes..." because I want to try and avoid generalising, but I do want to share my experiences.

      There are some great desserts in Tuscany as well. I'm glad you liked the pictures - they make me drool as well.

  7. Are those FP the same who didn't like danish desserts too? lol Your post makes me want to visit Sicily one day and those pistacchio bars look delicious. I have never seen them before.

    1. What bugs me about some French people is that they preconceived ideas about foreign desserts. They automatically think that just because it's foreign, then there is too much sugar in it and it's too sweet. I swear, the amount of times I have heard, "This is too sweet, it's not like our desserts." No, it's not, that's why it's foreign. And most of the time, it's not TOO sweet it's that of course it has sugar in it, it's a dessert! For them foreign dessert = too sweet. It's automatic. It bugs me to no end.