The province and metropolitan city of Messina are located in the northeast corner of Sicily on the Strait of Messina and sits on two different seas. It is also the 3rd largest city on the island of Sicily and the 13th largest city in Italy. Messina was originally founded by Greek colonists in the 8th century BC. In 1908, a devastating earthquake hit Messina, along with a tsunami, which destroyed much of the historical architecture of the city. One of the major landmarks lost to the earthquake was the 12th century Cathedral of the City, which was rebuilt in 1919. The city was also victim to significant damage from bombing raids during the Second World War.
Among the top attractions of Messina are the Cathedral of Messina, the Orologio Astronomico (the Bell Tower with an Astronomical Clock) and the Annunziata dei Catalani Church. The cathedral has largely been rebuilt following the earthquake damage and the bomb damage but some of the original building still remains, including a 15th century Gothic doorway and some 14th century mosaics. The attractive Bell Tower is home to one of the world’s largest astronomical clocks and its motorized figures emerge every day at noon to depict scenes of local history. Also, in the Piazza Duomo is the 16th century Fontaine de Orione.
The province’s main resources are its seaports (commercial and military shipyards), cruise tourism, commerce and agriculture (wine production and cultivating lemons, oranges, mandarin oranges and olives).
Just off the coast are the Aeolian Islands, a volcanic archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea, and they are a popular tourist destination in the summer, attracting up to 200,000 visitors annually. There are beaches and coves with black sand, pumice stone and tiny pebbles, steaming craters, bubbling mud baths, sulfur springs, strange-shaped grottoes, crystal-clear turquoise waters, craggy cliffs, and archaeological sites on the coastline and the adjacent islands.
Fish: fried, baked or grilled, is the province’s most popular food. The preparation can vary, but what matters most is its freshness. Swordfish from the Messina Strait is cooked in multiple ways. Crustaceans and mussels make a popular soup and are often used as a topping for rice and spaghetti.
Vegetables and fruits are important components of Messinese cooking. Caponata, eggplant with cheese and potato fries are three of the best known local vegetable dishes.
Dairy products include canestrato cheese in sweet or spicy versions, sheep pecorino cheese and provola cheese, all made according to ancient traditions.
Olive oil, honey, hazelnuts and pistachios are all part of the cuisine.
Local pastries are well-known classics: cannoli, cassate, almond paste, martorana fruit and pignolata.
The D.O.C. wines of Etna, the Malvasia di Lipari and citrus liqueurs are all produced here.
Sciusceddu ( Meatball and Egg Soup)
“Sciusceddu” is a dish that comes from the city of Messina in Sicily, where it is traditionally served at Easter. There are two theories for where the name “sciusceddu” comes from. One suggests that it derives from the Latin word “juscelleum,” meaning soup, and the other is from the Sicilian verb “sciusciare,” meaning to blow.
4 cups meat broth
7 oz veal or beef meat, chopped
2 oz breadcrumbs
3 ½ oz caciocavallo cheese, grated
3 eggs, divided
3 ½ oz ricotta cheese
Salt and pepper
Combine the minced meat, one egg, breadcrumbs, half of the grated Caciocavallo cheese (or Parmesan), chopped parsley and a little water; then form meatballs about the size of a small egg.
In another bowl, beat the remaining 2 eggs with the ricotta cheese, the remaining Caciocavallo cheese and a dash of salt and pepper.
Bring the broth to the boil in a saucepan and drop the meatballs into the broth.
Cook for about twenty minutes, then add the egg/ricotta mixture, stirring vigorously for a few moments. Remove from the heat and serve the “sciusceddu” piping hot.
Pesce Spada alla Messinese (Swordfish Messina style)
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 lb (600 gr) swordfish cut into palm-sized pieces slices
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 spring onions, chopped
20 capers (if salted, rinse well first)
10 black olives, chopped
4 anchovy fillets
1 cup white wine
2 cups tomato passata (sauce)
15 oz can chopped tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
A pinch of crushed dried chili pepper
Brush the swordfish slices with olive oil and set aside.
In a skillet heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the spring onions, garlic, capers, olives, chili pepper and anchovy fillets and cook until the anchovies melt into the oil and the onion is soft.
Put the slices of swordfish in the skillet and add the white wine. Burn off the alcohol and then add the tomatoes. Mix well, cover and cook for 30 minutes on very low heat.
When ready to serve, sprinkle with parsley.
Pidoni, a popular dish from Messina. are pieces of pizza-like dough, stuffed with curly endive, mozzarella and anchovy, similar to a calzone but fried.
For the dough:
400 gr (3 cups) Italian 00 or pastry flour
200 gr ( 2 cups) bread flour
300 ml (1 and 1/3 cups) water
2 gr ( 1/2 teaspoon) active dry yeast
40 gr (6 tablespoons) olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
For the filling:
500 gr (1 lb, about 2 bunches) curly endive which is also named chicory or frisee
600 gr /18 oz diced, canned tomato
400 gr (14 oz) fresh mozzarella
6-8 anchovy fillets
Salt and black pepper to taste
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Twenty-four hours before you need it, make the dough. Mix the dough ingredients, oil the dough, cover it and let it rise in a draft-free area.
About half way through the proofing time, knead the dough briefly and cover again.
Make the filling.
Wash the curly endive thoroughly and chop it finely or pulse it in a food processor. Mix the chopped salad with the tomatoes, salt lightly and transfer in a colander for at least one hour.
It’s important to remove as much liquid as possible from the vegetable mixture, so squeeze it in a cotton towel if necessary.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl, add one tablespoon olive oil and season the filling with a sprinkle of black pepper.
Divide the risen dough into 16 equal pieces. Roll each into a ball. Place each ball on a lightly floured work surface and roll out into a thin disk of about 20 cm ( 8 inches) in diameter.
Divide the filling among the 16 disks leaving a 2.5cm ( 1 inch) margin around the edge.
Place 1 slice of mozzarella and 1/2 anchovy fillet broken in 2-3 pieces over the filling and fold the disk of dough to form a small calzone.
Preheat the oil in a deep saucepan, until a cube of bread dropped into the oil turns golden in about 25 seconds.
Seal the edges of the pidoni with a fork, drop them carefully into the hot oil and fry for 3-4 minutes per batch until golden.
Drain on kitchen towssl and set aside. Continue until all are finished. Serves 6-8
4 cups whole milk, divided
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup Pistachio Cream, recipe below
In a small bowl combine 1 cup milk, cornstarch, and sugar. Using a wire whisk, combine the ingredients to form a slurry so that all the cornstarch is dissolved and the mixture is smooth.
In a medium-size saucepan over medium heat, combine the remaining 3 cups milk and the vanilla extract.
Stirring occasionally, heat the mixture to almost a boil; stir in the cornstarch mixture and let simmer from 5 to 12 minutes to thicken, stirring constantly.
Another important tip is to stir slowly, (do not whisk) which will prevent too much air from being incorporated into the custard that will produce ice crystals.
Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the mixture to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until completely chilled, preferably overnight.
Prior to using the custard mixture, pour the chilled custard through a strainer into a mixing bowl to clear out any clumps that may have formed. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Whisk the prepared chilled Pistachio Cream into the strained and chilled custard. The gelato mixture is now ready for the freezing process.
Transfer the mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
With Gelato, it is best to not process it until it is hard. Instead, stop the ice cream maker at soft serve consistency, then put it in a container in your freezer until stiff for a delicate flavor and texture that differentiates it from ice cream.
When the gelato is done, either serve (best if eaten and enjoyed immediately, as gelato has a shorter storage life than ice cream) or transfer to freezer containers and freeze until firmer.
Makes approximately 1 quart of pistachio gelato.
1 cup hot water
8 ounces raw unsalted shelled and hulled pistachio nuts
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 teaspoons olive oil
In a medium-size saucepan, bring water to a boil.
Place the pistachio nuts, sugar and olive oil in a food processor. Blend/process, adding the hot water (1 tablespoon at a time to control the consistency of the cream) until the pistachios are a smooth, creamy consistency that spreads freely in the blender (It usually takes about 9 tablespoons of hot water).
NOTE: Stop the processor and scrape down the sides of the bowl several times during this process. When done, cover and refrigerate until ready to use in making the gelato.
Makes approximately 1 cup.