There are beauties in Sicily that capture the eyes, others that intrigue the most refined and curious palates, finally there are beauties that can only be discovered through the sense of smell.
The aromatic herbs, spices, wild plants used in the kitchen, all together constitute an inestimable heritage of ancient knowledge and millenary traditions which, in their own way, tell the island and make the visitor look at it from a new point of view. different.
From the Latin Rosmarinus, the name of this aromatic herb takes on different meanings, "sea dew" or "rose of Mary". The latter, it seems, is the most appropriate since it is said that its flowers were originally white and turned blue-purple like Mary's mantle after the Virgin, during the Flight into Egypt, threw her mantle on a rosemary bush. , which absorbed its color.
Used for its multiple properties already by the Greeks and Egyptians, rosemary still spreads its scent today in the Sicilian countryside and from the balconies of Sicilian housewives.
It is a shrub belonging to the Lamiaceae family. With a pungent but never banal smell, it grows spontaneously throughout the Mediterranean coast and reaches up to 200 cm in height.
In ancient times it was used as an amulet against evil and to preserve homes from bad people, but soon, when knowledge of its multiple healing properties was acquired, it was used to combat rheumatism and baldness.
Mainly used to flavor roasts, we find it in various typical Sicilian dishes, for example, in Messina-style mutton, rabbit all'arrabbiata, and in many other dishes, especially meat-based.
Another spice that we find in many typical Sicilian dishes is wild oregano.
The current scientific name, Origanum vulgare, actually comes from the Greek (òros, meaning "mountain" and ganào, meaning "I am pleased", terms that, put together, allude to the idea of "mountain delight").
Oregano is a shrub that prefers sunny and dry places and can grow up to 80 centimeters in height. With a strong but pleasant smell, it has a delicate flavor and is often used to dress salads and grilled meats.
Famous is the Sicilian Salmoriglio, a sauce composed of extra virgin olive oil, salt, vinegar and oregano that accompanies grilled meat or fish. It is also common to use a bunch of oregano to "wet" the meat to be cooked on the grill.
In Ancient Greece it was considered a symbol of prosperity and fertility and, for this reason, oregano was used as a garland to decorate the head of future spouses. Today, thanks to its antiseptic and stimulating properties, it is often used as a natural remedy for coughs and other respiratory diseases, as well as for its culinary skills.Laurel
Laurel is an evergreen plant with oval and glossy leaves. Part of the Lauraceae family, it grows spontaneously in hilly areas and in the woods.
Rich in antiseptic and digestive properties, it is used in the kitchen to prepare decoctions against meteorism or to reduce the acidity of some dishes (in fact, just add a few bay leaves in the sauce to make it lighter and more appetizing).
To make the decoction, just add a little in a saucepan with water and lemon, bring everything to a boil, let it rest for about 15 minutes, filter and serve with sugar.
In Ancient Greece, laurel was the emblem of wisdom and victory, which is why it is still used today, in an ornamental wreath, during the celebration of the Degree. It is also believed that hanging a laurel wreath, packed on a Sunday, on the doorstep seems to favor luck and good luck.
Mint is an aromatic herb belonging to the Labiate family. It prefers sunny places and can reach up to 50 centimeters in height.
With a pungent and fresh smell, it is used in many Sicilian recipes (for example, to prepare the recipe for zucchini with mint), especially to dress roasted vegetables, fish or simple salads.
Thanks to its sedative and disinfectant properties it is often used in the form of herbal tea and decoction.
Mint is a herb that has very ancient origins. It is said, in fact, that the name itself derives from Myntha, a nymph of rare beauty, who was transformed into a herbaceous plant by Pluto's jealous wife, Proserpina.
Its perfume, deep and penetrating, is precisely the gift of Pluto, created to remember it over time.
The alcohol from this plant, Menthol, is essential, which is often used to combat gastro-intestinal disorders and as a disinfectant on the skin.
The name of this aromatic plant comes from the Greek Basilikos, which means “herb of the king”. Basil is considered the "real" plant par excellence. With a sober and elegant aroma, basil gives dishes a touch of lightness and fragrance.
Coming from ancient India, it has acquired considerable importance along the coasts of the Mediterranean, so much so that it is also cultivated in Italy and used in many recipes. In addition to the famous pesto, with basil it is possible to dress salads, first courses, main courses, side dishes and so on and so forth.
In ancient times, among the Egyptians it was used during the embalming of the dead, while the Greeks and Romans jealously guarded the basil plants, because they were able to ward off curses and fatal fate.
Today, thanks to the knowledge acquired, we know that basil is rich in antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and is indicated against colds and to counteract stress. In addition, its refined scent helps concentration and relaxes the nervous system.
Capers are the edible buds of the caper plant. In addition to the buds, but more rarely, the fruits, known as cucunci are also consumed.
Capers are obtained from the Capparis Spinosa plant, belonging to the Capparidaceae family. Capers grow spontaneously in the Mediterranean area and are distinguished by white flowers. What we eat like capers are none other than the unopened buds. They cannot be eaten fresh because they have a bitter taste, so they are brined with salt and then stored for consumption.
In Sicily we have different varieties of capers, the main ones are: the Aeolian one typical of the Aeolian archipelago, the spiny one produced in the hinterland, the Iblean caper and finally the Pantelleria caper grown in Pantelleria. The latter has been awarded the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) certification because, given the volcanic origin of the soil, it has a particular flavor that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Rich in antioxidants, capers are consumed in various Sicilian recipes to give more flavour to both vegetables, fish and meat.Sage
Belonging to the Labiatae family, Salvia looks like an evergreen shrub with wide and velvety leaves. The name derives from the Latin Salvus, to be understood in the meaning of “healthy”.
Sage is a plant that boasts many healing properties and, for this reason, it was used in ancient times as a natural remedy for fever and cough. Passing a few fresh Sage leaves over your teeth is a great way to clean them when you don't have a toothbrush handy.
For the Romans, Sage was a sacred plant, the collection of which was intended for a select few through a propitiatory rite.
Today Sage is used to flavor foods and dishes, especially legumes and vegetables, or to flavor meat dishes. Salvia is also excellent fried in batter: it is a delicious and tasty appetizer.
Given its particular purifying action it is used for skin and hair care, while in ancient times it was thought that burning a few sage leaves at home eliminates negative energies in the rooms.
Red hot chili pepper
The last but not least of the most used spices in Sicily is red chilli.
Sensual and exciting, with its spicy taste, it gives the dishes body and flavor.
Imported by Christopher Columbus from America, red pepper was used in ancient times by the Indians of Peru and Mexico. It belongs to the Solanaceae family and there are several varieties, more or less different in shape and taste. The one most used in Sicilian and Mediterranean cuisine is certainly the red one.
Chili pepper is used to enrich first and second courses, but also for preserves, as it favors the preservation of the properties of food.
Rich in anticoagulant properties, chilli pepper is widely used to promote blood circulation and combat cardiovascular diseases.
Similar in shape, the chili pepper is ideally associated with the lucky horn, so much so that it was customary to hang bunches of chili peppers on the doorstep as a talisman to ward off misfortune and slander.
These spices and aromatic herbs that are used in cooking, not only give flavour and pleasure to the dishes, but are essential for our health given their beneficial and healing properties