There is nothing like Roman cuisine. The incredible simplicity of cacio e pepe, with just four ingredients. The perfection of the crisp bacon in a carbonara. However, if there is one other cuisine that gives it a run for its money, it’s Sicilian. Who can resist this vegetable-focused medley of flavors with its north African influences? Not I.
Some of the highlights of Sicilian food include deliciously crunchy rice balls known as arancini which are usually stuffed with cheese and ground meat, like beef or pork, or even vegetables such as peas and onions.
One of the island’s best-known pasta dishes—alla Norma—involves eggplant, which is as much a Sicilian staple as it is a frequently used item in North African dishes. Keep in mind this island is closer to Tunisia than mainland Italy.
Sardines also get a lot of play on this island. Pasta con le Sarde is delicious. Sardines are generally fried, chopped and mixed with toasted bread.
Desserts also on another never level here, given locals’ sweet tooth and incredible ability to use sweet cream and pistachios with fantastic results. Cannoli shells are crunchy and stuffed on demand when ordered. There are cannoli festivals all over the island.
Sicilians are also great fans of street food. Everything from milza, spleen sandwiches, on the streets of Palermo to gelato in brioche, that delicious spread the Sicilians put their luscious ice cream on. So, I was particularly delighted to have found a Sicilian restaurant in Rome: Giano Restaurant at the W Hotel.
While chef Cicco Sultano, at the Giano, offers a full range of Sicilian food I was particularly interested in his riffs on street food and his brilliant trompe l’oeil desserts. Chef hails from the East Coast of Sicily where he started his career working in a pastry shop. He later collaborated with restauratuer Lidia Bastianich New York City. Since he originally returned to Sicily he has opened two restaurants in Ragusa, the town closest to where he worked in the bakery.
So, I asked chef Sultano a few questions about where he gets his inspiration. All responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Liza B. Zimmerman: Why open a Sicilian restaurant in Rome?
Ciccio Sultano (C.S.): Sicilian cuisine is international and has undergone many influences from the Greeks to Frederick II, the Byzantines, Arabs, Angevins, Aragonese, Austrians and Piedmontese.
L.B.Z.: Why are the trompe l’oeil desserts so gorgeous?
C.S.: They are wonderful, modern and luscious. They are able to bring the child out in you no matter how old you are.
L.B.Z.: Why do these nuts and fruits embody Sicily?
L.B.Z.: Do trompe l’oeil designs have any connection with Sicily?
C.S.: We are in Rome, in the eternal city, where everything is eventually transformed into an aesthetic form.
L.B.Z.: Why interpret tiramisu in the shape of eye glasses?
C.S.: Tiramisu is a recipe; its container is a choice that can change every time.
Read More: Sublime Sicilian in Rome