The upside of the current trend of hyper-localized cookbooks: You can go to Sicily over the weekend without leaving your kitchen. The latest from Phaidon, Sicily: A Culinary Journey through Sicilian Cuisine, due on stands in about a month, is a compilation of fifty traditional recipes from the editors behind The Silver Spoon cookbook.
This is not a packed, straightforward recipe compendium like The Silver Spoon. Think of it as more of a travelogue, albeit one peppered with 50 recipes and intimate shots of chickpeas and garlic drying in the Palermo sun. The font is noticeably larger type than other recent Phaidon publications — we have a short recipe attention span these days. Even the Introduction opens with plenty of contemporary cuisine buzzwords like local, foraged and fusion (here, meaning layers of flavor added to dishes from different cultures gradually over the centuries). It's certainly accurate, as historically cuisines relied on those principles we idolize today simply as a matter of necessity.
In other words, if you're looking to delve into a Gran Cocina Latina-type extensive exploration of Sicilian cuisine, this isn't the book for you. Looking for a traditional Sicilian coffee granita that you might make for years to come, no trend du jour bells and whistles? Get more on the book, and the granita recipe, after the jump.
This is the sort of cookbook where the full-page photograph alone of those sarde a beccafico (fried sardines) could turn a sardine hater into a lover. And a simple dish of weeknight spaghetti con aglio, olio e peperoncino (spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and red chilli flakes), as stunningly rendered by London-based photographer Edward Park, looks like it deserves a $30-per-plate price tag at the latest L.A. Italian restaurant. And yet, it's really a lazy weekend cookbook, the book you grab when your friends in Marina del Rey invite you over for a spin on their new motor yacht (lucky you). There are plenty of pastas, meat dishes, vegetables and desserts to keep you busy flipping through the pages for hours. Be sure to bring some arancini (stuffed fried rice balls).
Chapters are divided by cities and their surrounding regions, from Trapani and Palermo in the north end of the island and Ragusa and Siracusa down south. Within each chapter, recipes are loosely divided by ingredients and signature regional dishes.
In the “Messina” chapter, for instance, swordfish is a featured ingredient and biscotti a highlighted dessert category (iced biscotti del convento, sesame seed-laced biscottini alla giuggiulena). In the “Agrigento” chapter, the nzuddi (almond biscotti) are included in an ingredient section on almonds, a key regional ingredient, not in a cookie section. It's a somewhat sporadic organization, jumping from ingredients to types of cuisine in various chapters, but with traditional cuisine as the subject, it oddly works. Granted, this could be our frenetic, smart phone-driven modern perspective (oh, the good old logical days of cookbook organization).
No matter, you really came for the pasta con i mascolini (pasta with fresh fried anchovies and fennel), pasticcio di pollo (chicken pot pie with a sliceable pistachio and almond-studded chicken filling), sfinci (beignet-like fritters with citrus syrup) — and a double serving of Italian caffeine.
Granita di Caffè
Makes: 6 servings
140 grams (2/3 cup) superfine sugar
1/5 liters (6 ¼ cups) extra strong coffee
250 ml (8 oz/ 1 cup) whipping cream or double (heavy) whipping cream, whipped
1. Heat the sugar with 500 ml (18 oz/generous 2 cups) water in a pan over low heat until dissolved. Add the coffee, stir and set aside until completely cooled.
2. Pour the mixture into a freezer-proof container and place in the freezer for 2 hours or just over, stirring every 20 minutes to give it a granular texture. Serve in dishes or glasses and decorate with whipped cream.
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