Sicilian Last Tipples
Updated: Jul 27, 2020
When you think of an after dinner drink in Italy it is always the famous Limoncello; each restaurant and family makes their own and it is a little treat to customers -- to leave you with a good last sip memory. But Italians truly believe in the digestivo as they linger at the table. There is a Sicilian proverb that says “At the table is the road to unify people” so I agree - have a digestivo! Many are used in all parts of Italy like grappa, amaretto, centerba, strega, genepi and sambuca. Yes, the culture is very serious – they have their aperitivos, but for health benefits to digest their meals and get the last bit of gossip, it has to be a digestivo.
But Sicily has their own array; obviously, Limoncello originally said to be from the region around the Gulf of Naples. But 62% of Italy’s citrus comes from farms in Sicily. Cedro (which is 70% pith) and Sfusto lemons were introduced to the island by the Greeks and mainly grow in the Piana di Catania. Oranges, native to southern China were introduced by the Arabs and grow in profusion around the Conca d’Oro. Mandarins were not introduced to Europe until the 1850s, but production has taken off in Sicily. The Sanguinella blood orange is used for juicing while the Tarocco Oranges is found only in Sicily because their thin skins dried too quickly. Now they are growing them in California but are highly perishable and have to be shipped overnight.
Agrumello is made with a combination of citrus fruit; lemon, orange and tangerine. There is Cioccolata a intense rich chocolate crème from Modica, which is still made without the addition of cocoa butter and flavored with peppercorns, vanilla and cinnamon, it is internationally famous and has maintained its reputation for quality since production first began in 1880. Cannella liqueur, pretty self-explanatory, 3 sticks of cinnamon, mace and zest of an orange are the base. Cinnamon was an exotic spice used by the Romans as a body fragrance and was appreciated for its sweet flavor and bittersweet taste. Today’s sciences have revealed that it is beneficial to health as a digestive and helping in controlling glucose levels.
Liquore di Nocciole was with an infusion of hazelnuts. Staying with the famous nuts of the island, the pistachio especially from Bronte on the lower slopes of Mt. Etna, these large sweet and intensely green nuts are called the Emeralds of Sicily. The pistachio nut boasts a very ancient history. It was already known by Babylonians, Assyrians, Jordanians, and Greeks. According to some theories, it comes from Psitacco, a town of Syria. The Liqueur Cream with "Bronte Green Pistachio D.O.P." is an artisanal Sicilian liqueur with its own DOP designation.
Nebrodi Mountain Myrtus made from both the red berries and the white leaves of the common Myrtle plant. It is called Mirto on the Sardinian island. Another is Bacche di Prugnolino, made with small wild plums from the blackthorn plant, Prunus spinosa. The results is a reddish, sweet liquor, although results vary by family recipes used. Bargnolino is often chilled before serving.
Ambre Rossa herbal digestive, at first the spicy cinnamon flavor dominates, but then the herbs comes through for a real taste experience. Cinnamon Red is at its best when drunk straight and chilled, but is also a great base for creating extra-ordinary cocktails. And for the reds, one of my favorites is Amara Rossa, it’s like sipping a whole grove of red oranges and wild herbs, as it slips down your throat, it takes you back to the surroundings of Mt. Etna. For me, Amara represents the quintessence of Sicily. The story is told that Salvatore Averno created it in 1868 from a recipe he obtained from the Benedictine monks, who had been making infusions for centuries. In 1895 King Umberto visited Sicily and tasted it giving it high praise.
Another Sicilian proverb “A tavula nun si 'nvecchia” -- meaning we do not age at the table. Now, I can’t think of a better reason to linger longer.
To make your own:
Limoncello- It is made from thin lemon zest (the rinds must be cut from freshly picked), alcohol, water, and sugar. It is bright yellow in color, sweet and lemony, but not sour as it contains no lemon juice. Steep in ajar for at least 20 days. Limoncello is traditionally served chilled as an after dinner digestivo.