Made in Sicily
by Giorgio Locatelli, Sheila Keating
Publisher: Fourth Estate, Country: UK
ISBN: 9780007433698, Year: 2011
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Giorgio Locatelli is often referred to as one of the world’s best Italian chefs, or words to that effect. He comes from a family of chefs, cooks and restaurateurs and has a long pedigree of his own including a much praised Michelin starred restaurant, ‘Locanda Locatelli’, in London, two television series (‘Pure Italian’ and ‘Tony and Giorgio’) and two previous books Made in Italy and Tony and Giorgio (the book of the television series). It goes without saying that he knows a thing or two about Italian food. Giorgio hales from northern Italy, so his discovery of Sicilian food began in the 1990s when he started visiting the island. In this book he takes the reader on a similar journey as he explores and explains the traditions and history of Sicilian food.

Review

For many years Mary Taylor Simeti’s Sicilian Food (originally published as Pomp and Sustenance. Twenty-five Centuries of Sicilian Food) has been regarded as the definitive resource for learning about Sicilian food, but if you thought that your knowledge was complete because Simeti could tell you all you needed to know, you might have to think again. Why? Well for one thing Simeti’s Pomp and Sustenance was first published in 1989, and whilst Sicilian cuisine hasn’t changed much in the last twenty years, Sicily has.

Locatelli is able to talk about the influence of the Slow Food Movement, the role of the Mafia and the state of agriculture and food production in Sicily as it is right now. Simeti’s approach is literary and historical. Her work is overtly scholarly, rich in quotations and provides a lengthy bibliography beginning with Aristophanes and Apicius. Locatelli on the other hand is more conversational and he draws more from contemporary authors such as John Dickie (Cosa Nostra), Peter Robb (Midnight in Sicily), Andrea Camilleri (author of the Inspector Montalbano series) and of course Simeti herself. That is not to say that Made in Sicily is not very well researched and thorough – it is – but it’s just a bit more laid back. Locatelli is also able to bring a different perspective: that of a northerner learning about a part of his own country which is both familiar and unfamiliar, Italian and yet not Italian, and that of a chef. His interest in growers and producers, for example, stems at least in part from his quest to source ingredients for his own restaurant. Thus, although they both cover similar territory Locatelli adds another layer to the ground work done by Ms Simeti.

I am usually put off by an author going on about how special the local ingredients are – how the flavour of the tomatoes/artichokes/peppers/fish/olives/olive oil is like nothing you can ever have imagined – for fear of substituting the obviously inferior produce which is likely to be available to me locally. As Mary Taylor Simeti puts it ‘the dish will be immeasurably diminished by using ingredients that cannot claim the peculiar intensity of flavour that the island’s merciless sun induces’. But Locatelli is very persuasive in his promotion of the dishes he presents. Despite being a tad more personal than is perhaps necessary (I don’t always want to know what wonderful holidays/meals/friends other people have), Locatelli’s voice and his enthusiasm make his book very engaging. It’s a good read and provided me with more inspiration to actually cook than the rather more formal Ms Simeti.

As befits a book about the cuisine of people who ‘have remained resilient in the face of any influences that feel false to the flavours they love’ there is nothing chef-y or fussy or difficult about any of Locatelli’s recipes. The emphasis on very simple dishes tends to convince me that the flavour combinations, something like Locatelli’s ‘Pasta con le sarde’ (with sardines, saffron, sultanas, pine nuts and wild fennel) or the cauliflower salad with black olives, are worth experimenting with even though the end result may not be quite what is intended. How good a substitute local cauliflower is for the bright green, intensely flavoured Sicilian variety or pecorino is for caciocavallo or tomato paste is for ’strattu you might only ever learn if you visit Sicily (or perhaps dine at Locanda Locatelli). However, with the exception of the aforementioned cheese (caciocavallo), the sun dried tomato purée (’strattu) and perhaps wild fennel, there aren’t too many ingredients which don’t have some sort of local equivalent.

Made in Sicily is a stylish, sophisticated production – very white, with well chosen photographs which complement the text rather than just illustrate the recipes. Each recipe is well laid out with thorough instructions and the book includes dishes from all parts of the island. The chapters move from antipasto to verdure, cuscus e zuppa and then pasta to pesce, carne and dolci which might be a tad unimaginative but does make it an easy book to use – if you want to cook fish you go to the fish chapter. Simeti on the other hand moves in more mysterious ways with chapter headings such as ‘…And the Stuff of Dreams’ (for a chapter largely but not entirely about pasta) so that finding recipes in her book requires regular resort to the index.

If you don’t have a book on Sicilian food already but you think you should have then Made in Sicily would be a very good choice. If you already own Mary Taylor Simeti’s Sicilian Food then you should put Locatelli’s book on your wish list. If nothing else, you will spend many happy hours comparing the recipes, cross referencing, and making a list of the dishes you must try when you do finally get to Sicily. I am still a little perplexed by Simeti’s description of caciocavallo ‘moulded into large bricks, as much as two feet long’ versus Locatelli’s of a cheese ’shaped like dumpy pouches’, a mystery which I feel sure can only be properly solved by personal investigation. And I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to check out the bright green cauliflower either.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 5. Highly recommended
Visual appeal: Beautiful
Suitability as a gift: Likely to be strongly appreciated
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Made in Sicily, Giorgio Locatelli | 2011 | UK, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

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