The cuisine in Siracusa makes extraordinary use of local products from both the land and the sea. Many dishes include produce grown in the province, including eggplant, tomatoes and peppers, which are featured in the delicious Vermicelli alla Siracusana. The city’s proximity to the Ionian Sea makes seafood a staple, often finding its way into sauces and dishes using a wide assortment of fish, such as tuna, sea bream, sea bass, cuttlefish and swordfish. Mussels and sea urchins are also quite popular. Fruits such as blood oranges are used in sweet, fresh desserts, as are sugary sweets like marzipan which can be found in all of the local pasticcerie in Siracusa, while Occhi di Santa Lucia are found in every bakery on the days leading up to the Feast of Santa Lucia in December.
Vermicelli alla Siracusana
Vermicelli with Roasted Peppers and Eggplant
1 lb vermicelli pasta
1 eggplant (3/4 lb), peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
3 tbsp plus ½ tsp salt
2 yellow peppers, halved, stemmed and seeded
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 anchovies coarsely chopped (preferably white anchovies)
1 tbsp salted capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 lb plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cut into long, thin strips
12 basil leaves
12 black olives, pitted and chopped
1/4 lb Caciocavallo or Pecorino Romano cheese, coarsely grated
Toss the eggplant with 1 tablespoon of salt in a colander set over a bowl. Set the eggplant aside for at least 30 minutes to allow the salt to reduce the eggplant’s natural bitterness. Rinse and blot dry with paper towels. Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. Place the pepper halves, cut side down, on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. Broil with a drop of oil on each until blackened, 15-20 minutes. Wrap the peppers in the foil and allow to cool for about 15 minutes. Unwrap the peppers, then peel and cut into strips.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over a medium-high flame. Add the eggplant and sauté, stirring frequently until softened, about 10 minutes. Fold in the anchovies, capers and garlic. Cook for 3 minutes, while constantly stirring. Stir in the tomatoes, basil, olives, roasted pepper strips and cover. Reduce the flame to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Add a little olive oil if the sauce appears to be drying out.
Cook the vermicelli and drain, reserving ¼ cup of the pasta cooking water. Toss the vermicelli with the hot eggplant sauce in a large serving bowl. Slowly add some pasta water until the desired consistency is reached. Sprinkle with the Caciocavallo or Pecorino Romano cheese and serve immediately.
Tonno alla Siracusana
Tuna Siracusa Style
1 (2lb) fresh tuna
2 cloves garlic, slivered
1 large red onion, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp capers, rinsed
4 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
salt to taste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp dried oregano
black pepper to taste
Make slits in the tuna at regular intervals and fill with garlic slivers and set aside. In heavy pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the chopped red onion over a medium flame until translucent, about 6-7 minutes. Add the tuna and brown on each side (4- 5 minutes per side). Add the capers and stir in the tomato. Season with salt to taste. Cover and cook on medium-low flame for 20 minutes, turning gently one time. Pour the vinegar over the fish; sprinkle with oregano and season with pepper to taste. Cook for another 15 minutes or until fish is cooked through. Many like tuna rare so cut cooking time to your liking. Allow the tuna to cool for 10 minutes, then cut into slices. Place the slices on a serving platter, spoon the sauce over it and serve.
Occhi di Santa Lucia
This traditional dessert is prepared for the Feast Day of Saint Lucy, December 13. But it is delicious anytime of the year and translates to the ‘Eyes of St Lucy.’
For the occhi
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
For the icing
1 pound confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup water
Add the olive oil and wine to the bowl of a stand mixer and combine the ingredients using the lowest setting. Add the flour to the bowl and mix until the ingredients are completely incorporated and the dough becomes firm, 12-15 minutes.
Remove the dough from the bowl and place onto a floured work surface. Working with small pieces, roll each piece of dough in a long rope, about 3/8-inch thick. Keep the remaining dough covered while working the pieces. Cut the rope into pieces 1″ long and then connect the two ends, pressing them together with your fingers.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Once all of the occhi have been made, place on a parchment-lined baking tray and bake for 25-30 minutes, until slightly golden.
While the occhi are baking, prepare the icing. Add 3/4 cup of water to a sauce pan and begin to heat over a medium flame. Add the sugar, while stirring and bring to a boil. Continue stirring until the mixture gains body, about 6 minutes. Once the bubbles no longer disappear when you stop stirring, the icing is ready.
Add some of the icing to a mixing bowl and some of the occhi. Tumble gently with a wooden spoon to coat and allow to dry on a large cutting board. Repeat until all of the occhi are iced. The icing should be completely dry and white, so allow the icing to set for at least three hours before serving.