In Sicily snails make their most
prominent culinary appearance during the Summer for the Feast of Saint Rosalie, Palermo's patron saint. The Sicilian name
for the tiny but tasty snails is babbaluci, a word that comes
to us from the Arabic. In Maltese,
actually Siculo-Arabic, the word is bebbux.
It should be mentioned that the most popular snail in Sicilian cuisine
is a small variety of Helix aspersa, the European brown snail, found
in the greener areas of the European Mediterranean and North Africa. This
is what is usually referred to as babbaluci.
A larger, but rarer, species identified scientifically only in 1832 is
its slightly larger, distant cousin, Cornu mazzullii, which thrives
in north-western Sicily between Trapani
Unlike tiny Aspersa, the Cornu is endangered and therefore
not harvested - officially at least. Outside kitchens, Cornu is what
is usually meant by the generic term "Sicily snail."
The much larger French escargot is Helix pomatia.
It is possible that ground snails became a popular food during Sicily's
Arab period, but they were certainly consumed here
long before the ninth century. Ground snail farming, called heliciculture,
is a much more recent development.
Oddly enough, babbaluci are not usually served with pasta. More often,
they are boiled in salt water, following a day soaking in cold water or
perhaps a container of flour. They are served with a condiment made of finely-diced
celery stalk, parsley, garlic and lightly sautéed in olive oil seasoned
with salt and pepper. But the Sicilian snails are not removed from their
tiny shells as easily as the French escargots. Instead, toothpicks are used.
Recipes for babbaluci abound and, yes, there are a few recipes for babbaluci
with pasta. This is one of those cases when only a local ingredient will
suffice. It's not easy to find Sicilian-type snails outside the central
Mediterranean, though smaller French ones may suffice in a pinch. Serve
them with a Sicilian white
About the Author: Roberta Gangi has written
numerous articles and one book dealing with Italian cultural and culinary
history, and a number of food and wine articles for Best of Sicily Magazine.