Involtini di pesce spada - swordfish rolls

Food & Cooking

Your guide to food and wine on the Aeolian Islands

Your guide to food and wine on the Aeolian Islands

Within hours of stepping foot on these Unesco-protected volcanic islands, you quickly realise that when it comes to food and cooking in the Aeolian Islands, little has changed here during the past 100 years or so. Today, Aeolian cuisine blends its ancient Greek influence and age-old fishing traditions with a happy abundance of sun-drenched aubergines, capers, tomatoes, aromatic herbs and olives.

The simple fact is that just about everything here comes from the sea or local land. The rich volcanic soil produces an incredible intensity of flavours, and the herb-carpeted hilly terrain results in some superb varieties of sheep and goats’ cheese.

Capers, Aeolian Islands

Aeolian Island capers

It goes without saying that capers are king on these islands. You’ll find them in the traditional insalata alla eoliana, alongside olives, tomatoes, onion and sometimes potato, as well as combined with nuts and mint to make an incredible pesto. At the wonderful L’Anfora restaurant on Lipari, chef Maurizio whips up a sublime pesto, blending capers with pistachio and pine nuts, mint, cheese and olive oil.

Meanwhile, on Salina, which has its very own Caper Festival, chef Carla Rando’s caper ravioli are one of many memorable dishes on offer at the restaurant she operates out of her home. If you’re on the island, try to squeeze in a visit to the Hauner winery, where capers are picked and sorted by hand and you can taste the delicious caper pâté created by Signora Hauner.

Aeolian salad | Aeolian Adventures

Seafood on the Aeolian Islands

Squid is probably the most popular seafood on the Aeolian islands – calamari, but also totani, a larger, slightly sweeter and tougher type of squid which is found in the surrounding deep waters. Served stuffed, grilled, smothered in breadcrumbs and fried, or in a salad, this is one versatile fish! You’ll also find plenty of swordfish, often used to create traditional involtini di pesce spada by rolling up thin slices of the fish around a mixture of breadcrumbs, garlic, raisins, pine nuts and parsley, and then baked.

Other favourites include orata (sea bream), plucked straight from the water and grilled, while spatola fish is baked in breadcrumbs and spiced with orange rind. Very specific to the islands, and one of our favourites, are gamberi di nassa, small red shrimps which are often served raw, in a typical lemon and olive oil dressing.

Aeolian-style stuffed squid

Traditional Aeolian Island dishes

Pane cunzato is another traditional Aeolian island dish, a type of flatbread topped with tomatoes, ricotta, olives and tuna and very typical of the Aeolian Islands.

Not surprisingly, pasta features on all menus, with sauces that make the most of the wonderful local fish as well as the homegrown vegetables. Often, simplicity is key: on Vulcano, pasta alla vulcanara is a spicy spaghetti dish with a sauce prepared with nothing more than tomatoes, anchovies, garlic, capers, basil and a hint of chilli.

While street food doesn’t have quite the same following as it does in Catania or Palermo in Sicily, there’s still plenty of opportunity to snack on arancini (stuffed risotto balls covered in breadcrumbs and fried) and feast on ricotta-filled tangy cannoli.

Pane cunzato, Aeolian Islands

Wine-making on the Aeolian Islands

The rich volcanic soil makes for fertile ground for Malvasia grapes so although Salina leads the way in wine-making on the islands, local Malvasia wine is produced on all the islands.

Wine production here goes back hundreds of years, with vineyards climbing up on steep terraces with enchanting sea views. Hauner is the best-known of the wineries on Salina, while on Lipari, military-style rows of Malvasia grapes line the mountainside with views towards Salina.

Essentially a sweet dessert wine, Malvasia is served with typical almond or sesame-based biscuits (pipparelli or sesamini) which are dipped into the wine.

Hauner winery, Salina

Aeolian Island biscuits, granita and other sweet treats

One of the best places to buy pipparelli and sesamini is at ‘da Marisa’ on Lipari, where you can stock up on a range of home-baked Aeolian biscuits with tongue-twisting names such as cassatieddi and nacatuli.

Of course, in the heat of the summer, there are few things as refreshing as a granita, usually pistachio or fruit-based. Da Alfredo, perched on the waterfront in Lingua on Salina, has become almost synonymous with the refreshing semi-frozen dessert. The first granite of the day are accompanied by brioche, the last of the day (think peach, almond and mulberry), the perfect nightcap.

Fruit granite, Aeolian Islands

Cooking holidays on the Aeolian Islands

A cooking holiday on the Aeolian Islands is the best way we know to experience the local food while you get to know the islands. In fact, when you cook alongside locals, you’ll learn as much about the islands as the food.

What you cook may depend on the catch of the day but whatever it is, you’ll discover recipes that have stood the test of time by being handed down through the generations and pick up plenty of helpful cooking tips for the future.

Join us on a Classic Aeolian Adventure or get more information here on tailor made food and wine experiences on the Aeolian Islands.

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