Sicily – Culinary Crossroads is one of a series of books on Italy’s food culture by Oronzo Editions. They are a publisher that specialises in translations of Italian cookbooks and they certainly seem to have filled a gap in the market with this volume. This is the second in the series and takes a look at a cuisine that is rather unique.
Sicily is not only at a culinary crossroads but a crossroads in every sense. It has been invaded by those who chose to settle, it has been invaded by others who passed through at speed, being pursued by the next wave of invaders who might linger longer. Those lingerers left their mark on language and tradition, and have played a part in providing Sicily with its diverse nature.
Its geographic position ensured that it was never going to be overlooked by its more powerful neighbours. In fact anyone with a boat has made for Sicily. Greeks praised it, Romans coveted it, Arabs settled it, even Armenians and Spaniards stayed for a while or stayed for good. Each added to the food culture to a greater or lesser extent.
This book has its focus on old family recipes. It considers dishes that are possibly in danger of being lost. Globalization has tended to put at risk anything that is regional and different, and paints everything with the banality of International food. Don’t look here for Italian food. Yes, there are meatballs but they are Sicilian. Pasta is present but served with a Sicilian sauce.
Sicily – Culinary Crossroads is divided into four provinces and each of those has chapters covering first courses, fish dishes, meat dishes, vegetables, cheese, fruits and sweets. Each section starts with an overview of geography, history and food anecdotes. Don’t feel tempted to skip these preambles, they add much to the charm of the book.
I marvel at the simplicity of the recipes – very few with lengthy lists of ingredients. Pasta a la Norma only has eight ingredients and one of those is salt. It’s a celebrated dish named after an opera by Bellini, who came from Catania. This is pasta dressed with a tomato sauce and garnished with aubergine (eggplant) and salted ricotta (salata ricotta). Not a fussy dish and all the better for it.
Pasta Siracusa-Style is the last word in easy, flavourful and traditional cooking. Few ingredients but each of those being essential to the success of the dish. Anchovies and olive oil are not new companions, but add some toasted bread and it’s comfort on a plate.
There are delightful pastries, many of which trace their origins to convents. St. Clair’s Big Face hails from the convent of St. Claire at Noto. It’s an amusing name for a delicious confection of sponge, lime marmalade, almond paste, chocolate frosting and an angel. A paper angel can be used if a real one is unavailable.
This island isn’t so much a borrower, it’s more a borrowed from. It’s been famed for its fine food and expert cooks since classic Greek times. Sicilians have had a wealth of delicious ingredients at their disposal and they have known how to use them to best advantage. Sicily – Culinary Crossroads charts the history of these people and helps to safeguard their extraordinary culinary heritage. A great addition to any serious cookbook collection. An archive and masterwork.
Cookbook review: Sicily – Culinary Crossroads
Author: Giuseppe Coria, Translated by: Gaetano Cipolla
Published by: Oronzo Editions
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018