Sicilian Food: Recipes from Italy’s Abundant Isle
by Mary Taylor Simeti
Publisher: Grub Street/Wakefield Press, Country: UK
ISBN: 9781902304175/9781862548503, Edition: reprint, Year: 2009
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

A buzz of joy courses through some readers when they discover certain books of special note. Sicilian Food by Mary Taylor Simeti had this effect on me. The author’s prose has that rather stiff, knowledgeable and cheekily irreverent prose familiar in parts from writers like Elizabeth David or MFK Fisher. From discussion of the probable diets of different classes of people in classical times to descriptions of contemporary foodsellers to notes about making your own tomato extract, Simeti captures the culinary atmosphere, context, attitudes and flavours of deepest, hottest Sicily.

Full review

If you’ve been to Sicily, you’ll remember it vividly as you read. If you haven’t, you might well start fantasising about a journey. The author doesn’t waste words on gushing travel-brochure descriptions, and nor are there photos to help your imagination. This is straight text, with commentary about Sicilian culinary traditions and history (starting with the classical tale of Odysseus), anecdotes about origins of dishes, some literary quotes, and numerous authentic recipes to keep you busy for many months.

First published in 1989 as Pomp and Sustenance: Twenty-five Centuries of Sicilian Food, Simeti’s work has now been republished by Grub Street and Wakefield Press as Sicilian Food: Recipes from Italy’s Abundant Isle. It’s a pity that the new title hides the historical focus of the book, as Simeti tells the story of the development of this unique cuisine, in a place where so many cultures were present at various times. There is much discussion of where dishes come from and how they might have changed, but the recipes are still those of contemporary, traditional Siciliy. The book concludes with an appendix of places to eat “today” (1989 — time moves slowly in Sicily, so some places still exist) and an excellent bibliography. Although elements of the book are the author’s speculations (based on some impressive research and curiosity), this provides stimulation rather than evoking scepticism (as some speculative works can do).

This isn’t a book for people who dislike works with a scholarly edge and a tendency to detailed explanation or imagery. Sicilian Food is a book for reading (at first) for pleasure and imagination, and for exploring the joy of the recipes and their back-stories. Few cuisines have benefited from such an insightful and enjoyable description in English. Simeti apologises for mixing Sicilian and Italian names for dishes (perhaps it would have been better to have both, where relevant), but the inconsistency is a small blemish on a work of such quality.

Cuccìa can be prepared in a number of different versions. The most archaic calls for vino cotto, a thick, molasses-like syrup made from sieved grape must boiled down to a third of its original volume, which is the “condensed wine” of the Apician recipe, and which, together with honey, was a basic sweetening agent in classical cooking. Later versions require that the soaked and boiled wheat berries be mixed with ricotta cream or with a corn flour pudding known as biancomangiare, and liberally decorated with bits of chocolate, candied fruit, and abundant cinnamon. In either case the result is as sweet and gooey as only a true Sicilian could wish.
“… The right quantity is difficult to determine: most Sicilians feel that since cuccìa, like Christmas, comes only once a year, one should make a lot. I am inclined to think that the quantities that I have given will satisfy the appetites of ten to twelve non-Sicilians.”

“The best-known kind of cookshop is a the friggitoria, the fry-shop, which sets out before the hungry passer-by a wide variety of fried delights, each wrapped in a golden-brown crust, to eat on the spot or take home as a quick first course: slices of breaded aubergine, arancine, and trays of finger-shaped croquettes also known, with what the reader will recognise by now as typical Sicilian humour, as cazzilli — “little pricks.”"

“Sicilians are very fond of this combination of orange and fish, which they also employ in sarde a beccafico, a dish to be found on every list of traditional Palermo specialities. The beccafico is a songbird that grows fat and sweet on a diet of figs, as fat and as sweet as these filleted sardines rolled about a filling of breadcrumbs, currants and pine nuts, and baked with orange juice and bay leaves.”

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 5. Highly recommended
Visual appeal: Unimpressive
Suitability as a gift: Likely to be strongly appreciated
Rate this review
OkayQuite helpfulVery helpful/interesting (Rating: 3.00/3, 2 votes)
Loading ... Loading ...
VN:F [1.9.7_1111]
Rate this book
Rating: 3.5/5 (2 votes cast)
Sicilian Food, Mary Taylor Simeti | 2009 | UK, 3.5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings

More reviews and announcements that might be interesting:


 

Click for all book news

New release: White Bread

cover

How did white bread, once an icon of American progress, become “white trash”? In this lively history of bakers, dietary crusaders, and social reformers, Aaron Bobrow-Strain shows us that what we think about the humble, puffy loaf says a lot about who we are and what we want our society to look like.

[read more...]

New release: Making Soy Milk and Tofu at Home

cover

Why make tofu yourself? Because experiencing tofu’s flavors and textures at its peak–freshly made, creamy, and subtly sweet–is the best way to explore this treasured staple. With minimal equipment required and Nguyen’s clear, encouraging step-by-step instructions, making soy milk and tofu from scratch is a snap for cooks of all levels.

[read more...]

Worth a look: Limoncello and Lemon Water

cover

Much-loved author Tessa Kiros celebrates the heritage of Italy. This whimsically feminine book is a tribute to the women in our lives – mothers, mothers-in-law, grandmothers – and the important lessons we learn from them.

[read more...]

Worth a look: Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales

cover

Discover the flavors of Mexican street food in your own kitchen. Americans are having a love affair with the taco. What began as affection for the fast-food version—that hard yellow shell filled with ground beef and mysterious yellow cheese—has blossomed into an all-out obsession for the real thing

[read more...]

Visit our Buying Books page to find out how to support this site

Worth a look: The Aesthetics of Wine

cover

The Aesthetics of Wine shows that discussing wine within the framework of aesthetics both benefits our understanding of wine as a phenomenon, while also challenging some of the basic assumptions of the tradition of aesthetics.

[read more...]

Worth a look: Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee

cover

In 1784, Thomas Jefferson struck a deal with one of his slaves, 19-year-old James Hemings. The founding Father was traveling to Paris and wanted to bring James along “for a particular purpose” – to master the art of French cooking. In exchange for James’s cooperation, Jefferson would grant his freedom.

[read more...]

Worth a look: Turkey

cover

Turkey’s culinary customs are as rich and varied as its landscape, and award-winning food writer Leanne Kitchen does justice to them both with more than 170 glorious photographs of the country’s foods and people that make readers want to drop everything and board the next plane.

[read more...]

New release: I’m Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas

cover

This is the perfect holiday baking guide, packed with 72 seductive and decadent chocolate recipes. Offering perfect inspiration for chocolate lovers and holiday do-it-yourselfers, the book includes tips and advice on ingredients and cooking techniques, as well as on packaging and shipping holiday food gifts.

[read more...]

New release: The Complete Nose to Tail

cover

Now Fergus Henderson’s books are joined together in a compendious volume. With a dozen new recipes on top of 250 existing ones, more than 100 quirky photos and exceptional production values, The Complete Nose to Tail is not only comprehensive but extremely desirable.

[read more...]

New release: The Country Cooking of Greece

cover

The Country Cooking of Greece captures all the glory and diversity of Greek cuisine in one magnum opus from Greece’s greatest culinary authority, Diane Kochilas. More than 250 recipes were drawn from every corner of Greece, from rustic tavernas, Kochilas’ renowned cooking school, and local artisans and village cooperatives.

[read more...]

Visit our Buying Books page to find out how to support this site
Click for all book news

website uptimeNEWSITE