Sicily's culinary treasures: the best recipes with ancient grains
Since ancient times, Sicily has always been a region rich in wheat. It is believed to date back to the 3rd millennium BC, as evidenced by the findings of everyday life tools, grindstone and pestle, in the Neolithic village of Stentinello near Syracuse. The mythological story of the abduction of Persephone in Enna, daughter of the goddess Ceres, ends with the gift of wheat that Ceres gave to the people ensuring sustenance and the development of civilization. The different wheat crops give the Sicilian landscape incredible colors, different from each other depending on the variety of wheat, the time and place of sowing. Or different colors if the crops are on hilly terrain, high or medium hill, or coastal areas. The selection of varieties of ancient Sicilian grains, the work of the Experimental Graniculture Station, the collection of samples that Ugo de Cillis classified, cataloging the varieties of durum and soft wheat, leads to the description of the main biological and cultural properties. The ancient grains grown in Sicily in the past for a long time remained only in the memory of our grandparents. Then, finally, far-sighted producers brought Sicilian ancient grains back to life, selecting grain by grain, with innovative tools, before grinding them in ancient natural stone mills. The flours produced today, unlike those of the past, are the synthesis of ancient gestures that are combined with innovative technological tools. Ancient grains are generally processed with stone grinding, producing a less refined flour than that produced with modern wheat. Among the most famous is Timilia or Tumminia wheat, an ancient Sicilian durum wheat with a dark caryopsis, already in use in the Greek period. It is a rare, precious wheat that is also very resistant to drought. With this grain, the famous black bread of Castelvetrano is produced, a Slow Food presidium, rich in special properties, with a pleasant aroma of malt, almonds, and toasted grain. Maiorca wheat is an ancient variety of white soft wheat, cultivated in Sicily for centuries. It's very tall and is found in arid and dry soils. It is a special grain for several reasons: taste, nutritional properties, versatility of use, and quick cooking. The Russello wheat, very digestible and nutritious, is a high-spike grain, which rises almost two meters from the ground, fragile, reddish in color, grown in arid soils. From this grain, a flour is obtained used for many Sicilian products, from pasta to bread. Together with the famous Tumminia grain, it is one of the 50 or more types of ancient grain that Sicily gives us. It is common to find pizzerias that use these good and valuable ancient grains of Sicily. You should try the Perciasacchi, Senator Cappelli, Bidì, and many others.
If you're considering visiting Sicily and are a food enthusiast, you cannot miss the opportunity to discover Sicilian ancient grains.
From ancient times, this region has been one of the most important wheat producers, as evidenced by the findings of everyday tools dating back to the 3rd millennium BC. While many ancient grain varieties have disappeared over time, thanks to the commitment of producers and enthusiasts, today you can taste bread, pasta, and other food products made with ancient grain kernels, selected one by one.
The Timilia or Tumminia grain is one of the most famous varieties. Already used in Greek times, it's a hard grain with a dark caryopsis, which stands up well to drought. From this grain, the famous black bread of Castelvetrano is made, a Slow Food product rich in special properties with a pleasant aroma of malt, almonds, and toasted grain.
Maiorca wheat, on the other hand, is an ancient variety of white soft wheat that grows in arid and dry soils. It stands very tall and is characterized by its unique taste, nutritional properties, and fast cooking, making it an excellent choice for preparing many dishes.
Russello wheat, on the other hand, is a high-spike reddish grain, very nutritious and digestible. Grown in arid soils, it's used in pasta and bread production throughout Sicily.
Flours made from these ancient grains are less refined than those produced with modern wheat and are generally milled with stone. This process retains the nutritional properties and the authentic taste of ancient grain, often lost during the industrial processing of modern wheat.
In Sicily, many restaurants and pizzerias use these ancient grains to prepare their products, offering their customers a unique and authentic gastronomic experience. Among the Sicilian ancient grains to taste are Perciasacchi, Senator Cappelli, Bidì, and many others.
In conclusion, Sicilian ancient grains are a culinary treasure to be discovered during your trip to this beautiful region, an experience that will take you back in time and allow you to savor the authentic flavors of Sicilian tradition.
In Sicily, ancient grains are primarily found in the island's inland areas, where the soil is more arid, and cultivation is more challenging. Among the most famous areas for the production of Sicilian ancient grains are:
The Belice Valley, in the province of Trapani, where Tumminia grain is grown, one of the oldest and most prized in Sicily.
The Monti Sicani area, in the province of Agrigento, where Maiorca and Russello grains are cultivated.
The Castelvetrano area, in the province of Trapani, where Timilia grain is grown, used to produce the famous Castelvetrano black bread.
The Nebrodi area, in the province of Messina, where various ancient grain varieties are grown, including Perciasacchi.
The Etna area, in the province of Catania, where various ancient grain varieties are cultivated, such as Senator Cappelli.
Each area has its ancient grain varieties, each with its unique organoleptic and nutritional characteristics. In any case, visiting these areas and discovering their typical products is a must-do experience for lovers of gastronomy and Sicilian culture.
Black bread of Castelvetrano
The Castelvetrano Black Bread is a Slow Food product, made with Timilia wheat, an ancient hard wheat with a dark kernel. This bread has an intense and aromatic flavor, with notes of malt, almonds, and toasted grain.
Ingredients for 1 loaf:
500 g of Timilia wheat flour
350 ml of lukewarm water
10 g of salt
1 g of fresh yeast
1 tablespoon of malt
1. In a bowl, dissolve the fresh yeast in the lukewarm water.
2. In a mixing bowl, sift the Timilia wheat flour and add the salt and malt. Mix well.
3. Add the water with the dissolved yeast to the flour and knead vigorously for at least 10 minutes, until you get a smooth and elastic dough.
4. Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let it rise for at least 3 hours, or until it has doubled in size.
5. Preheat the oven to 220°C (428°F).
6. Shape the risen dough into a loaf and make cuts on the surface with a sharp knife, creating a grid pattern or decorative slashes as you prefer.
7. Place the loaf on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or on a baking stone, and bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes at 220°C (428°F).
8. After the initial 10 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 200°C (392°F) and continue baking for another 25-30 minutes, or until the bread sounds "hollow" when tapped on the bottom.
9. Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack before slicing.
The Castelvetrano Black Bread is delicious on its own, or paired with cheeses and cold cuts.
Biscuits of Maiorca grain
The Grano Maiorca is an ancient variety of soft white wheat cultivated in Sicily for centuries. Its particular taste and texture make it a unique ingredient for various recipes, including cookies. Here is a simple recipe for "Biscotti di Grano Maiorca":
250g of Grano Maiorca flour
100g of sugar
100g of unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon of baking powder
A pinch of salt
Zest of 1 lemon (optional)
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or a packet of vanilla sugar
1. In a bowl, combine the Grano Maiorca flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix well.
2. In another bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy.
3. Add the egg to the butter mixture, mixing well after the addition. If you're using it, add the lemon zest and vanilla extract.
4. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing just until combined.
5. Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
6. Take small amounts of dough and shape them into balls or desired shapes. Place them on the prepared baking sheet, ensuring they're spaced adequately apart.
7. Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are lightly golden.
8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.
These cookies have a delightful rustic texture and a delicate flavor, highlighting the unique characteristics of the Grano Maiorca. They're perfect to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee.
Russello Wheat Meatloaf
Russello wheat is a high-spike, reddish grain that is highly nutritious and digestible. This recipe offers a rustic and genuine tasting meatloaf, perfect for a family lunch or dinner.
Ingredients for 4 people:
200g of Russello wheat flour
400g of mixed ground meat (beef and pork)
100g of stale bread
2 celery stalks
50g of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 teaspoon of sweet paprika
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. In a bowl, soak the stale bread in water and squeeze it out well.
2. In a pan, sauté the chopped onion, diced carrots, and celery with some extra virgin olive oil.
3. In a bowl, mix the ground meat with the squeezed-out stale bread, sautéed vegetables, eggs, Russello wheat flour, grated Parmigiano Reggiano, sweet paprika, salt, and pepper. Blend everything well with your hands.
4. Butter a baking dish and pour in the meatloaf mixture. Smooth the surface with a spatula.
5. Bake the Russello wheat meatloaf in a preheated oven at 180°C (350°F) and cook for about 45-50 minutes, until it's nicely browned and cooked through.
6. Remove the meatloaf from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes before serving.
Almond Cake Made with Perciasacchi Wheat
Perciasacchi wheat is an ancient grain grown in Nebrodi, in the province of Messina. This variety of wheat has a delicate taste and a strong aroma, perfect for making rustic pastries. This almond and Perciasacchi wheat cake is a real treat for the taste buds.
Ingredients for 8 people:
200g Perciasacchi wheat flour
200g peeled and chopped almonds
200g granulated sugar
1 sachet of baking powder
A pinch of salt
1. In a bowl, mix the Perciasacchi wheat flour with the chopped almonds, granulated sugar, baking powder, and pinch of salt.
2. In another bowl, work the room temperature butter with the eggs until you get a creamy and homogeneous mixture.
3. Add the dry ingredients to the egg and butter mixture and mix well with a spatula.
4. Pour the batter into a greased and floured cake tin and level the surface with a spatula.
5. Bake the Perciasacchi wheat and almond cake in a preheated oven at 180°C and bake for about 35-40 minutes, until golden and cooked inside.
6. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool on a rack before serving.
Busiate with Perciasacchi Wheat and Farmer's Butter
Busiate with Perciasacchi flour, fresh farmer's butter, basil, and black pepper are ready to enjoy! The Perciasacchi flour, an ancient wheat variety, gives the pasta a unique and characteristic taste, which perfectly matches with the fresh butter, basil, and black pepper. In our opinion, the best variant to fully enjoy the taste of this very special grain.
400g busiate made from Perciasacchi flour
120g fresh butter
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the Perciasacchi flour pasta following the instructions on the package.
2. Meanwhile, in a wide and shallow pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat until it becomes golden and fragrant. Set aside.
3. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and add it to the pan with the melted butter.
4. Add the fresh basil leaves and freshly ground black pepper, stirring well to combine the ingredients.
5. If necessary, add some pasta cooking water to achieve a creamy consistency.
6. Add a pinch of salt if needed and serve immediately.
Sicilian ancient grains recipes are a true culinary treasure to discover and taste! Thanks to careful selection of ancient grain varieties and artisanal processing, today we can appreciate the authentic taste and nutritional properties of these products. Whether it's a Tumminia wheat pesto pasta, a Russello wheat meatloaf, or a Perciasacchi wheat and almond cake, each dish takes us on a journey to discover the tradition and history of Sicily. All that's left is to get cooking and try new recipes with these ancient grains!