The history of the monsù cuisine in Sicily dates back to the 17th century when French nobility traveled to Sicily, along with their chefs (the monsù), who created a fusion of elegant and refined French food with luscious, agriculturally based Sicilian dishes.
About Angela Macaluso
Angela is Sicilian born and has been living in Cefalù for the past 20 years. She is a travel designer and her company, Sicily by Experts, creates out of the box custom experiences for visitors to Sicily. In Palermo Angela organizes visits to noble palaces from the 15th and 16th centuries, with the opportunity to get to know the noble family and their Sicilian monsù cuisine. Visitors prepare local dishes with the noble family and then sit down to enjoy a meal with them.
Angela is originally from a small Sicilian mountain town near Palermo, Polizzi Generosa. It's also the hometown of Martin Scorsese's grandmother, and Dolce & Gabbana owner Domenico Dolce.
Find Angela on the Sicily by Experts website and Facebook.
The Leopard by Lampedusa
Lampedusa lived from 1896 to 1958, and The Leopard was published posthumously just a year after his death. Lampedusa was a prince and during the war his noble palace was bombed and destroyed.
The Leopard is considered to be the best of 20th century historical fiction. Throughout The Leopard Lampedusa imparts a strong sense of Sicily and its culture during the Risorgimento, from the second half of the 19th century through the first half of the 20th-century.
It's possible to visit the opulent and elegant Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi where the grand ball in The Leopard was filmed and spend time with the palazzo princess, Carine Vanni Calvello Mantegna di Gangi.
She shares her insights into The Leopard, the history of Sicilian nobility and the monsù culinary tradition. Here’s a 2015 interview with her in Elle Magazine.
The family mansion in the film is the gorgeous palazzo Villa Boscogrande, located in Mondello, a seaside resort north of Palermo.
You can rent this gorgeous palazzo for weddings and other events, plus their fabulous chef prepares wonderful meals for major holidays, as well as delicious Sicilian monsù cuisine dishes.
Have a look at Villa Boscogrande on Instagram.
Angela loves this quote from an Italy travel book she ran across that says “If you know Italy but you have never been to Sicily then you don't know Italy at all.”
Historically Sicily has been a cultural and culinary crossroads of civilizations: the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Normans, and the Arabs who brought the sweet and sour culinary tradition to Sicily.
Southern Sicily has a baroque culinary heritage, Agrigento is a Greek town, central Sicily is Roman. Palermo is a blend of Baroque, Norman and Byzantine.
Sicily is a blend of all these cultures and that’s reflected in the island’s gastronomic heritage and dishes.
One example is caponata, the wonderful Sicilian sweet and sour dish made with eggplant, tomatoes, olives, celery, capers.
In southern Sicily near Modica (famous for its chocolate production) locals add chocolate to the dish.
Find out all about Modica’s chocolate here.
If you travel to Etna locals add almonds and pistachios to their caponata.
Two events occured that changed the trend of European cuisine and gastronomy. New foods started to arrive from the New World, like tomatoes and potatoes. This, coupled with the growing political influence of France within Europe, paved the way for French cuisine to take over as the symbol of refined and elegant cuisine.
Sicily, Naples and Italy in general, began to follow and emulate France and its cuisine and gastronomic tradition.
In the 17th century princes who visited Sicily and Naples brought along their chefs, called monsieur, which translated to monsù in Sicilian dialect and monzù in Neapolitan dialect.
Sicilian (and Neapolitan) nobility looked to the French chefs, or monsù, to re-interpret Sicilian and Neapolitan cuisine with a French twist and create a fusion of the very best of these cuisines. Both Sicilian and Neapolitan cuisine are based in a rich agricultural tradition and this was combined with the elegance and refinement of French dishes.
One example is the French gateau made with potatoes from the New World. The French made a light and fluffy mashed potato dish and the monsù kitchen combined this dish with Sicilian and Neapolitan ingredients like peas and other vegetables, a ragù sauce, eggs, ham and other meats to create gattò. Here's a recipe.
Another well known Sicilian monsù cuisine dish is Timballo del Gattopardo. Timballo is a baked dish made with maccheroni, a ragù meat sauce, peas, fried eggplant, zucchini, and sometimes a béchamel sauce. It's then topped with breadcrumbs and baked. Here's a recipe.
Many regions throughout Italy, including northern Lazio where Rome’s located, refer to lasagna and other baked pasta and rice dishes as a timballo.
One of my favorite Sicilian cookbooks is Cucina Siciliana: Fresh and vibrant recipes from a unique Mediterranean island, by Ursula Ferrigno.
Here's a book of traditional monsù recipes, in Italian.
More about Sicily & Sicilian food
Read (and listen): Eating Your Way through Sicily and The Best Palermo Street Food.
If you'd like to take a deep dive into Sicily check out this Flavor of Sicily weeklong culinary and cultural trip.
If you love Italian hand-painted ceramics one of the best spots is in Caltagirone, Sicily.
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