By Phaidon editors
Sicily has a fascinating food history. The first famous food writer of the Mediterranean was a Greek-speaking Sicilian, Archestratus, in the fifth century BC. He advocated simplicity in cooking style and warned his readers against Italian cooks who might put cheese sauces and pickle on their fish. Romans would hire a Sicilian chef in the same way that the aristocracy of our Edwardian era might have boasted a Frenchman in the kitchen.
There is even a connection with William the Conqueror and his invading hordes, for the Normans controlled Sicily at the time they overran Harold at Hastings. And this meant that they were familiar with and had easy access to the spices and exotic ingredients of the country. So there you have it: an island celebrated for its eclectic influences, rich aristocrats and exciting cuisine, not just Don Corleone.
The initial impression of this book was mixed. The photography is fabulous and makes you want to visit the country as much as eat the food, but this doesn't always signify great or workable recipes. The subtitle of the book is "the original fusion cuisine" a prospect that filled me with dread. Third, there is no author taking responsibility for the text or recipes.
No need to worry. There are 50 recipes, divided by region, and really interesting sub-sections on core ingredients such as tuna, anchovies and capers. These are concise and informative and they help you understand the basic flavour combinations that distinguish Sicilian food from anyone else's.
There are dishes you will know - the vegetable stew, caponata, or the super-sweet cannoli. But there will also be plenty that will be new and inspiring, such as pasta 'ncasciata, a baked pasta with aubergine and chicken livers, or coniglio, an interesting sweet and sour treatment of rabbit with wild fennel and apples.
The fusion aspect really just refers to the evolution of the country's cooking through influences from just about every major power in the Med, from the Phoenicians to the Greeks, then from Rome to the Arabs. There is of course a connection with molecular gastronomy, though. The biennial conference, which founded, developed and named this science-based exploration of cookery's wilder frontiers, has always been held in the mountain-top village of Erice.
In its early years I attended and lectured at this gathering. I loved the area and its wine and food, and this book has reminded me that it is time to return.
By Shaun Hill, chef-proprietor, Walnut Tree, Llanddewi Skirrid, Monmouthshire
If you like this, you might like these:
â- Made in Sicily
â- Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons: Travels in Sicily on a Vespa
â- The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking