The traditional cooking of the Aeolian Islands is an especially sunny and succulent version of the Sicilian kitchen. However, seafood plays an even more prominent role in Aeolian cuisine, and recipes reflect the culinary self-sufficiency and seasonality the islands’ relative isolation once required. For centuries, almost everything the islanders ate came from their own small farms or was fished from local waters. Small and sweet cherry tomatoes; various iterations of the caper plant, including its buds, berries and leaves; herbs, such as rosemary, oregano and basil; citrus fruit; garlic; onions; and olives. Bright-tasting wild herbs are still collected by many Aeolian families, too, including finocchio selvatico (wild fennel), mirto (myrtle), nepitella (mint), ruchetta selvatica (wild arugula) and dente di leone (dandelion).
Dishes to look out for include locally caught white fish such as dentice, which is often filleted, rolled, sprinkled with breadcrumbs and baked. Mollusks appear on many menus, as do calamari and totano, its larger cousin, either stewed in a tomato-caper sauce or stuffed with a mixture of breadcrumbs, olives, capers, garlic and parsley. Seppie (cuttlefish) is often cooked in its own ink, and polpo (octopus) is usually boiled and then served as part of a salad with capers, lemon juice, olive oil and chopped flat parsley.
A popular dish for a light lunch is pane cunzatu, or seasoned bread. In much of Sicily, this implies a well-stuffed sandwich, but in the Aeolians, it is a sort of salad served atop flatbread. This usually comprises fresh or sun-dried tomatoes, chopped mozzarella, capers, garlic and giant green olives, but tuna, sardines and shellfish are also used. The bread is heated for a few minutes in an oven before being seasoned, rather like bruschetta.