Book review: Sicilia, by Ben Tish

24 June 2021 by
Book review: Sicilia, by Ben Tish

Sicilia is chef Ben Tish's love letter to the food of Sicily, in which his passion for "one of the oldest, most richly varied food cultures of Europe" is evident.

Tish, culinary director of both Norma on Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia, and of the Stafford London, relates how he developed his love for the country and his time exploring the mainland and islands off Sicily's coast – the Aeolian and the Egadi – with his wife Nykeeta.

The brightly covered book introduces the island, located just off the toe of Italy, with its history and diverse mix of cultures under various occupations, including the Romans, Normans, Spaniards, French and Visigoth Greeks.

Recipes are inspired by Sicily's produce, cooking styles and sun-soaked Mediterranean way of life. A selection of traditional dishes includes mafalda bread, typified by its golden crust and rich, nutty flavour from semolina and sesame seeds, and extravagant stuffed and braised lambs' hearts, taken from a winter visit to Taormina on Sicily's east coast.

Each of the nine recipe sections, including bread, fritti, vegetables, fish and meat, granita and ice-creams, is preceded by a short introduction, but there is a heftier explanation to making and cooking pasta. Here Tish talks about his ‘holy grail' of pasta dishes, a trip to restaurant Terra Mia, a restaurant reportedly serving the best pasta in Sicily alongside Etna wines. Here he was rewarded with a meal of homemade focaccia and sheeps' milk ricotta with local blossom honey and pistachios, and a plate of fennel salami from the owner's Nebrodi pigs. The first of two pasta courses – fresh egg pasta filled with sautéed local greens, caciocavallo cheese and dried chilli, simply served with a first-press extra virgin olive oil – was followed by a second dish of spaghetti with fresh almonds, wild fennel fronds and dried, salted grapes from a recent harvest.

Sounds like heaven to me… when can we travel to Sicily?

Get Ben Tish's recipe for Sicilian lemon cream with stewed mulberries.

Sicilia, by Ben Tish (Bloomsbury, £26)

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