In February skinny wild asparagus (asparagus acutifolius) shoots begin to spring from a low prickly plant that you can find among the tangle of undergrowth along riverside, seaside and mountain paths, particularly on sunny days after rain. You need sharp eyes to spot the shoots – kids tend to learn fastest – but it makes a great activity for a springtime walk. Learn to collect it with Claudio Romano, or if you don’t feel like gathering it yourself, buy it from his stall, or one of the from unofficial little stands at the west end of the market.
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Sicilian doughnuts. Traditional fillings are ricottta or anchovies, but these days you’ll find nutella zeppole as well. The San Martino festivities of early November in Ortigia centre on the Giudecca district, with music, wine, craft stalls and lots of zeppole.
Cuccia is a traditional Siracusan dessert made of chilled sweet ricotta mixed with boiled wheatberries and lots of candied fruit and chocolate chips. Sample it on 13 December, St Lucy’s Day in Piazza Duomo (where they distribute it for free) and Bar del Duomo (where they make a delicious version).
Chiacchiere are traditional carnival fare – thin, crisp strips of baked or deep-fried dough liberally doused in icing sugar. The best versions my kids and I sampled this Carnival were at Viola and Gusto (where they were dribbled with a lot of melted chocolate).
JASMINE FLOWER ICE CREAM
On the website of Sellerio, publishing house of Andrea Camilleri, creator of Inspector Montalbano, is the beguiling phrase ‘Sicily is a place where doing nothing is not seen as a waste of time, and where you can still eat jasmine flower ice cream’. Both activities are easier in summer – and although jasmine flower ice cream is traditionally from Palermo, you can find it at Bianca, on Piazza Duomo, or take yourself off to Noto for the day and sample the famous ice creams of Corrado Constanzo.
MAY AND JUNE
Shoals of tuna swim through the Sicilian seas in May and June – the optimum season for buying a glistening pink steak in Ortigia’s market.
JAN, FEB AND MARCH
Sicilian blood oranges are famous throughout the world, and attempts to cultivate them elsewhere have hitherto failed. Buy them at the morning market or on Sunday mornings from the Mercato dei Contadini.
DECEMBER AND JANUARY
NEW SEASON OLIVE OIL
Olives are harvested during October and November, and the first oil comes on sale in December and January. Often sold in simple plastic bottles (the kind usually used for water). If you want to taste before buying, head for the stalls at the Mercato dei Contadini. For superior oils from recognised estates, first point of call should be Olive.
Silk was a major Sicilian export during Roman and Arab times. These days, mulberry trees are prized for their berries – deep purple, or creamy white – which you can find at the market from June to September. However, we reckon they are best sampled at Blu whizzed up as a gremolata (with ice and sugar) or cocktail (with prosecco and ice).
NOVEMBER – MAY
RICCI DI MARE
The eggs of purple-brown sea urchins is a much-prized Sicilian delicacy, but scooping the roe out of prickly balls you collect yourself is, to say the least, hazardous. Buy little coffee cups of the red-brown roe from unofficial stalls at the west end of the market or from Onda Blu, and use it to dress a bowl of pasta.
WATERMELON WITH LEMON
Buy a slice of watermelon squeeze of lemon from the spic and span little shack on Piazzale Euripide in the new town. It’s a Siracusan summer institution.
FRESH ALMOND MILK
In spring and summer bars throughout Ortigia and Siracusa sell glasses of chilled almond milk. However, most are very, very sweet, as they are made with a prepared paste of ground almonds and sugar (you can buy this at several supermarkets and pasticcerias around town). Presently, the only place we know that make almond milk from scratch – by soaking almonds in water, liquidizing them to a mush and then straining is Bar Neri.