“Italian Food” is a term that is almost impossible to define because each and every region of the country is so diverse when it comes to food and wine. Italians cook with whatever is grown or caught locally and only grow certain foods or grapes that are indigenous to a specific area. This is one of the reasons why you see a lot of rich braises and stews like Osso Bucco in the north and light seafood dishes in the south and in coastal cities.
Sicily has one of the strangest collections of indigenous ingredients and their cuisine is like a giant melting pot of cultures. Influences of Spanish, Greek, African, and Arab culture and cuisine all pop up in Sicilian food. One of the most interesting aspects of Sicilian cooking is their incorporation of sweet ingredients to their savory food.
Since they are known for their desserts, it almost seems as if they are just throwing the leftovers into their pasta dishes but the style actually comes from other cultures. Classic Sicilian dishes contain lots of citrus, sugars, dried fruits, nuts, cinnamon and nutmeg spices… all while incorporating seafood (it’s an island).
It seems really strange but some of the combinations are delicious. I chose the pistachio to work with because Sicilians use them a lot in desserts, like pistachio gelato, but I wanted to make a pasta sauce with them.
I pulsed a cup of pistachios in the food processor until I was left with a bright green pistachio dust. I made a simple cream sauce and incorporated the toasted ‘dust’ into the cream to add color and pistachio flavor. The little green nut looks like a lime jelly bean but has a buttery, almost avocado-like quality to it (they’re also very good for your heart).
I tossed the sauce with some calamari or as the Sicilians would call it ‘cuttlefish’ to add a briny component to the pasta. I chose the Farfalle pasta (bow ties) because the shape is conducive for adhering to heavy cream sauces and sprinkled some chopped pistachios on top for an added crunch.
To sop up all of the leftover sauce, I made some roasted garlic-caramelized shallot toast which fit well with the Sicilian theme. Balances of sweet and salty are what this cuisine is based on and when garlic cloves are roasted and onions are caramelized they take on a wonderful sweet quality which worked nicely with the rich, nutty sauce.
I chose a white wine from the Alto Adige region of Italy, the 2008 Terlan Terlano, which is grown in the mountains to the north. This wine is symbolic of Sicilian cuisine because it is a blend of multiple white grapes; Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay, all which come together to create something unique.
The wine was excellent with the rich pasta dish because the acidity and minerality helped cut through the creamy sauce. It is medium bodied and beautifully balanced with tons of green apple and melon flavors.
The finish was crisp and refreshing, leaving an almost yeasty, buttery feeling on my palate. I feel that a red wine would have masked the subtle pistachio flavors but rather the white made them come alive. I find it quite ironic that Sicilians are famous for their desserts but still incorporate sweet items into their food; my sweet tooth craving was cured after dinner was finished.