Reviewer says
Spring in Sicily, Manuela Darling-Gansser | 2009 | AU

reviewed by JudithM

Spring in Sicily: Food from an Ancient Island
by Manuela Darling-Gansser, Simon Griffiths (photographer)
Publisher: Hardie Grant Books, Country: AU
ISBN: 9781740667395, Year: 2009
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Spring in Sicily, the fourth book in Manuela Darling-Gansser’s series of seasonal recipe books, is a medium-sized hardback book of 260 pages filled with recipes, photographs, commentary, brief chats with chefs, market stall holders, bakers and café owners, fishermen, artisan makers of cheese and wine, and a brief overview of the rich history of Sicily and some of the nearby islands.

The text is brief, informative and a pleasure to read, while the recipes are simple but different enough from the more usual regional Southern/Northern Italian cooking of mainland Italy to be interesting.

Full review

In the introduction to Spring in Sicily, Manuela Darling-Gansser says that she was a visitor to the island as a child during summer holidays. This book is the culmination of her desire to explore more fully both the geography and the food of Sicily, and includes some specialties from nearby islands. She clearly has a deep interest and respect for Sicily, the people and the cuisine.

Simon Griffith’s attractive photography really captures Sicily, with well considered shots of people, shops, architecture, decoration and scenery, and the result is a good mix of ‘coffee table’ and practical cookery book.

Of course there will always be the odd thing in a book that jars or rubs against the grain and this book is no exception. The first irritant is the unnecessary repetition of the word ‘organic’ prefacing every egg white, egg yolk, egg or lemon in every recipe (but not meat, vegetables, oil, nuts,…). A simple statement at the start of the book would have been sufficient. After all, those cooks who always use organically grown ingredients will do so and those who don’t probably won’t.

The second irritant for me is the addition of recipes that have some faint resemblance to Sicilian recipes but were developed by the author’s grandfather, who seemingly has no connection at all with Sicily. One is a recipe using tinned tuna (developed during WWII) presented in a chapter on tuna fishing and recipes. The author argues that tinned tuna has a legitimate place in the world of food and while this may be a valid argument, I don’t think this book or this chapter of the book was an appropriate forum.

And lastly, readers unfamiliar with Darling-Gansser’s other books should be prepared for the rather author-focused story and photos (from numerous pictures of Manuela, to the laughably self-indulgent final chapter replete with pictures of her family and friends back in her hometown of Sydney).

For the uninitiated, Spring in Sicily presents a light, but fascinating introduction to the long history of invasion of Sicliy, dating from the Carthaginians through to the Normans, and the continuing influence of the Moors who settled on the western side of the island and developed it through the tenth and eleventh centuries. The Moors brought to the island plants, architecture, decoration, life style, spices and other ingredients, and their continuing influence is evident in the line up and combinations of ingredients in many of the recipes, and clearly evident in many of the architectural photographs (and if you happen to like looking at old and weathered doors, there is a whole page of images to enjoy!).

Do you know that ricotta and mozzarella cheese making are traditional to Sicily or that the island of Salina is famous for its caper production and wine? These and many other interesting food facts make for enjoyable reading.

Sicily is an island in a group of islands, so of course the cuisine will include fish and a range of seafood but there are plenty of vegetable dishes, cheese dishes, meat dishes and pasta dishes and salads, all free from fishy ingredients. And of course the sweet almond cakes and biscuits, a tasty cannoli flavoured with citrus zest, and some granitas and sorbets.

The flavour combinations in these recipes are clean and crisp with not a single tomato and basil sauce to be found. The salads have lots of green ingredients – after all it is Spring in Sicily and the best time for fresh peas and beans, celery and fennel, tomatoes, onions and garlic. For those who like sweet and sour combinations, there are sweet and sour soups and a delicious orange marmalade tart. One of the more unusual savoury recipes is for a caper and almond pesto and, in the sweet lineup, a ‘jelly’ of watermelon topped with crushed pistachio nut and chopped chocolate.

I like to ‘read’ cookery books, not only to select recipes I may wish to make but to read about the region, the local ingredients and the people so I was able to trawl through in this one and enjoy the reading at several different levels. For those readers who only want the recipes, there are approximately sixty in Spring in Sicily and these are sufficiently interesting to warrant looking at the book. In summary, a good, attractive introduction to Sicily for those who haven’t yet explored it.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 5. Highly recommended
Visual appeal: Attractive
Suitability as a gift: Likely to be appreciated
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Rating: 2.5/5 (2 votes cast)
Spring in Sicily, Manuela Darling-Gansser | 2009 | AU, 2.5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings

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