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Meal of the week: how to conclude Ramadan with this delicious Sicilian Couscous alla Trapani

origin 1How to make Trapani-style couscous ©Savin Mattozzi

One of the perhaps surprising attributes of Southern Italy is the influence of Arab and North African culture. This influence is perhaps most evident in Sicily. Besides being geographically close to North Africa, Sicily was occupied and established as an Islamic emirate for nearly 200 years between the 9th and 11th centuries. During that time, food and recipes were being exchanged to form his typically Mediterranean cuisine.

As Ramadan draws to a close, let’s take a look at the unique legacy that Arab and North African cuisine has had on the island of Sicily.

One of the most popular dishes in western Sicily, especially in the city of Trapani, is couscous Trapani style or simply couscous alla trapanese.

origin 1Savin Mattozzi soft couscous

Couscous is traditionally a dish eaten in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. The roots of this Sicilian dish are thought to date back to when the island was under Islamic rule.

Sicilian couscous is nearly identical to its North African cousin with only a few differences and additions. In general, Sicilian couscous is limited to using only seafood as opposed to North African recipes which include chicken or lamb.

For this dish, you should get a blend of at least 2-3 different types of seafood. I used some of the most common seafood from the region: swordfish, prawns and anchovies.

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Trapani-style couscous

Doses: about four people

Cooking time: about 20 minutes

Total time: 20-30 minutes

origin 1Ingredients for Trapani-style couscous Savin Mattozzi


500 g mixed fish and seafood

1 cup of couscous

2 cups of water

1 white onion

3-4 cloves of garlic

A bunch of parsley

2-3 bay leaves

Crushed red chillies


A teaspoon of cinnamon

Olive oil

A spoonful of tomato paste

A handful of cherry tomatoes

50 g of almonds


When they become fragrant, add the tomato purée, the diced cherry tomatoes, the chopped almonds, the chilli pepper, the parsley, the salt and the bay leaves. Mix well for about 2 minutes. Add your fish to the pan. Let the fish cook for about 2 minutes over medium heat.

origin 1Boiling fish Savin Mattozzi

Slowly add the two cups of water and turn the heat down to low. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the stew is cooked, remove it from the heat and pour the broth into a casing with a ladle.

origin 1Dry couscous goes to Savin Mattozzi

5. Pour the dry couscous into a large flat pan and slowly add the broth, stirring well and quickly until the couscous is soft and has absorbed all the broth. This process should take approximately 5-10 minutes.

Alternatively, if you’re in a hurry, you can put the couscous directly into the broth but the first method is the more traditional preferred one.

6. Once the couscous is ready, place it on a small hill in the dish and place the fish on top. Usually in Sicily the dish is eaten with a spoon but you are more than welcome to dig with your hands.

Enjoy your meal!