A love letter to the food of Sicily
By Ben Tish
There was a lot of buzz about this book when it was first published earlier this year. It seemed to crop up on ‘best of’ lists with almost predictable regularity for months. Sometimes I am immune to this kind of publicity but this looked like a good bet so I duly invested. I really wanted to love it – but it turned out not to be a head-over-heels type of relationship. Read on – sometimes a second or third date will seal the deal.
Look and feel
This book has fabulous kerb-appeal, the cover is a kaleidoscope of the colours of a Mediterranean summer. The recipes are interspersed with narrative pages – reminiscences of visits to the islands that comprise Sicily (did you know Sicily extends to a include a number of islands? I didn’t); introductions to the history of the area; accounts of how different foods feature in the local cuisine.
The chapters are divided by food type – bread, fritti (deep fried food), pasta & rice, veg, fish, meat, sweets and more. This is a tidy way to organise a cookbook and makes it easy to find something you might be in the mood for.
Almost all the recipes are accompanied by a photo of the finished article – which you will either welcome as a good thing, or hate because it will quantify exactly how far off the mark your effort is. The images, by Kris Kirkham, are stunning and the food styling team have done a wonderful job.
What sort of food is it?
Well, Sicilian obviously. In the introductory sections there is a lot of chat about spices, sweets, citrus and nuts with reference to the Arab influence on culture and food. And then comes the offal and other bits – lungs, spleen, brains and more. Well, I don’t know about you but my relationship with offal is a bit mixed; I’ll wolf down properly-done liver and I freely acknowledge the contribution a small piece of kidney can make in a steak pie. I tasted tripe once, and I mean tasted – not chewed or swallowed, and I don’t anticipate a rematch. However, despite the effusiveness of the offal-talk in the introductory sections, the book is mostly non-offal recipes, many of them offally good (sorry about that!).
I cooked the stuffed Aubergines first (pg 210). They were tasty but, despite a long ingredient list, underdelivered on flavour. Not sure why – they just underwhelmed a bit. Then I cooked the baked cod (pg 180). The courgettes were lovely but at just 200g, less than one large courgette, there just weren’t enough to make an impact. Also, the 2-3 minutes allocated to finish the dish after the rosemary leaves were added was not enough to soften them and the sauce was more broth than sauce. Notwithstanding, it was a tasty dish and I will probably do it again with some changes of my own.
I moved on to the Roasted Pork Belly (pg 214) and it was unbelievably fabulous – sticky, unctuously moreish. Then I made the Pork,Chilli and Marjoram Polpette (pg 212). We love a meatball in our house and these were stunningly good, four portions practically hoovered up by three people. I also made the pasta with Lemon, Sage Chilli and Parmesan – it too was very, very good.
Obscure equipment needed?
A deep fat fryer and an ice cream machine would be useful but apart from this I didn’t notice anything a reasonably well equipped kitchen wouldn’t have.
Ingredients easily available?
For the most part yes. Ingredients such as ‘nduja are now stocked in the larger supermarkets. Yes, there may be some harder-to-get herbs and some more unusual meat such as rabbit, tripe or heart, but generally you won’t have to go out of your way to cook most of the recipes in this book.
Who is it for?
The fish section is comprehensive with an emphasis on ingredients like squid, clams, octopus and anchovies – so I wouldn’t put it top of the list for a committed meat eater. The recipes themselves are accessible and easy to follow so if you can already cook a bit and are looking for some new directions, this would be the one for you.
It’s an attractive book with some great recipes. I wouldn’t want it to be the only cookbook I owned, but it sits nicely in a broad collection and I will dip in again and again (especially for that amazing pork belly!).
Find it on Amazon here
And from Eason’s here
Published by: Bloomsbury Absolute