Plant-Based Eating in Sicily

Sharon Palmer

Ahh, Sicily. Where warm sunny skies meet cool Mediterranean breezes. Charming, historic villages are the color of terracotta and stone. Happy locals have a true zest for life. And the landscape of olive trees, vegetable gardens, and wheat fields are directly interpreted into the rustic cuisine of the island. The vibrant history of Sicily—positioned between Africa and Europe in the Mediterranean Sea—has influenced its food culture tremendously, with traces of North African, Spanish, Greek, and Italian foodways imprinted on the plate. The Mediterranean climate means that the region boasts a true Mediterranean diet, based largely on grains, vegetables, pulses, and olives. So, what does that mean to plant-based devotees? Nirvana!

I spent a lovely week in a rented farmhouse in Modica, Sicily, eating my way through the south eastern region of the island. I followed the local traditions and pretty much focused my entire life in Sicily around eating. A quick country breakfast with fresh bread and olives in the farmhouse, on the road to visit a village and stroll its quaint streets before partaking of its food and wine, sightseeing in the afternoon, an afternoon espresso at a shaded table, and another café with more food and wine in the evening. Yep, that’s the beauty of Sicily, because you don’t really need to do much more than that. And everything is truly local—down to the recipes of a particular small village.

I’m sharing some of my favorite plant-based eats in this beautiful, sun-drenched land.

Lunching on a Grilled Vegetable Plate

I enjoyed this lovely lunch on my very first day at a café in Modica. It’s very common to find an assortment of Mediterranean vegetables at a cafe, and you can choose among a variety of these. So, I got a cabbage salad, fava beans, artichoke hearts, and grilled vegetables. Pure plant-based eating heaven, right?

Sicilian Tomatoes

A small vegetable stand sold these gorgeous Sicilian tomatoes, which I brought home for my farmhouse kitchen. They are some of the best tomatoes you will ever taste—small, intense, and sweet.

Dried Oregano

Mediterranean herbs are a big part of Sicilian food culture. At the food stand, they sold oregano dried in bouquets—which I’d never seen before. While fresh oregano is wonderful, it becomes more intense when it is dried.

ReBuffe Organic Food, Modica

On our first night, we wondered high up on the winding alleys of Modica, and discovered this charming, small restaurant in a small street. It was one of our favorite meals of the entire trip. I enjoyed my first caponata in Sicily, a very traditional dish made with simmered eggplant, tomatoes, and olive oil. It is served at just about every meal, and it was one of my very favorites—just dip some good, rustic bread in it, and you are in heaven.

Red Rice Risotto

I also enjoyed this delicious red rice risotto, with celery and red peppers. So easy to eat plant-based at this restaurant.

Vegan Lemons with Carob

I even got a vegan dessert! It was a traditional lemon gel, topped with carob chunks. Both of these ingredients are part of the local food system, which is so cool.

Plant-Based in the Market

It was interesting to see what types of plant-based foods were available in a local market such as this brand I tried. If you’re staying in Sicily, it’s more fun to get a small apartment where you can cook a few meals, so make sure to check out a local supermarket.

Charming Streets, Modica

You will get your steps in walking these winding, charming streets each day!

Café in Noto

This beautiful, Baroque town boasts creamy-golden facades and a vivacious art scene. I even bought a painting steps away from this café, where we enjoyed a quick meal and a crisp glass of Sicilian white wine—which is so good.

Legumes

This sign proclaims that the legumes are grown in Modica—truly embodying the power of pulses in the Mediterranean diet. Make sure to enjoy plenty of this if you visit Sicily. 

Olives, Olives, Olives

The other thing you have to eat at each meal is olives. Olives grow all over this sunny island, and you will taste a variety of them as appetizers in cafes, a true experience.

Cavati co pesto ra putia, Modica

This was one of my very favorite meals—it was a local, non-touristy restaurant that featured many Sicilian classics, like this house-made pasta with fennel, basil, almonds, and sun-dried tomatoes. Enough said. 

Fava Bean Soup, A Putia Ro Vinn

This was another classic dish served at this restaurant; the menu had a whole page of these soups made with different types of beans, vegetable broths, and home-made dumpling-like noodles. This was so flavorful.

Grilled Vegetables

When in doubt, order grilled vegetables at any café!

Farm in Sicily

The south east region of Sicily is just filled with farms, such as this. Old stone farmhouses, olive orchards, vegetable farms, grain farms, vineyards—so pretty.

Vineyards, Sicily

This region is famous for its Nero D’Avola wine, which is actually named after the town Avila.

Olive Orchards

What did I tell you about the olives? They are everywhere.

Charming Farms of Sicily

Stop and enjoy the countryside too.

Aperol Spritz, Pachino

You simply must stop in a village along the Mediterranean Sea, such as this quaint spot, and sip an Aperol Spritz with a light lunch—arugula with Sicilian tomatoes and local olive oil with rustic bread.

Sicilian Granita

While in Sicily, try a granita—a local fruit ice which will cool you on the hottest day. This shop served avocado and lemon granita, but you can find all sorts of flavors, including orange and pomegranate.

Eggplant with Romesco Sauce and Capanata

One interesting dish was this eggplant cutlet, served with romesco sauce and capanata with bread on the side. So good with a chilled Sicilian white wine.

Classic Spaghetti with Tomatoes

There is something to be said for simplicity—a wonderful spaghetti with Sicilian tomatoes, herbs, and olive oil.

Capers

Capers flourish in Sicily. They are basically a weed, sprouting out of rocks with little in the way of nutrition or water. Yet they produce one of the most unique food products. The capers are the small flower buds on the plant before they open. These are then fermented to produce the capers that we love in Mediterranean food.

Vegan Lemon Gelato

Most gelato shops in Sicily have one or two vegan flavors. Lemon is usually the most common, and sometimes the dark chocolate is dairy-free too. A must-taste experience.

Sicilian Espresso

You can get hooked on this stuff quite quickly. Sip it at café every day while people watching.

Charming Streets of Syracusa

Moon, Plant-Based Restaurant, Ortigia

How lucky was I to stumble upon this plant-based restaurant while walking around the adorable village of Ortigia?

Cashew Mozzarella, Ortigia

I can’t even tell you how wonderful this nut-based cheese—served with freshly baked bread and good Sicilian olive oil—really was.

Creamy Vegan Pasta with Black Truffles, Moon, Ortigia

This creamy pasta was just divine, served with bread crumbs and generous slivers of black truffles.

Pistachio Ravioli, Moon, Ortigia

So pretty, right? Equally satisfying and delicious—all featuring the local foods of Sicily.

Local Foods in my Farmhouse

On my last day, I cooked a simple lunch in the farmhouse in Modica—these are all foods that are part of the traditional, local foodways: grilled eggplants, zucchini, and peppers, a fresh green salad with beans, olives, and tomatoes, freshly baked bread from Sicilian wheat, local melons and apricots, white wine.

Frozen Almond Cream, Ragusa

This might seem like some new-fangled plant-based treat, but this is actually a recipe that has been produced for many years here, as almonds grow locally in this region.

Pasta ala Ragusa

On our last day, we wandered into the town of Ragusa. I enjoyed this local traditional pasta dish, which was one of my very favorites. It’s spaghetti noodles served with pistachio nut cream, sun-dried tomatoes, chilies, olives and breadcrumbs. Completely plant-based, yet it’s a local food tradition.

Farewell Sicily!

Here I am outside my farmhouse in Modica. I can’t wait to return again!

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