Holiday Cookbook Roundup
Cucina del Sole: A Celebration of Southern Italian Cookingby Nancy Harmon Jenkins
William Morrow, 464 pp., $29.95
I love reading cookbooks, and my growing collection includes lots of regional cuisines. Italian is one of my favorites, but so far I had not encountered a cookbook so engaging and informative on Southern Italy as Cucina del Sole. This collection of 200 recipes from Sicily, Calabria, Basilicata, Puglia, and Campania – known collectively as the Mezzogiorno – showcases beautifully their vibrant and varied cuisine. And although most Italian-American cooking derives from the influx of Southern Italian immigrants, that region's authentic cuisine has not received enough attention in print.
The book starts with a comprehensive introduction, followed by chapters on breads, pizza, and calzone; antipasti; first courses; main courses; vegetables and salads; and a brief chapter on desserts. With poverty an everyday reality in Southern Italy, the cuisine relies on inexpensive ingredients like beans and legumes, and the book provides several versions of pancotto (literally "cooked bread"), a hearty soup made using leftover bread and various ingredients. Vegetable stews and fresh seafood prevail (thanks to the region's location surrounded by the sea), while meat is used less frequently. Regardless, the recipes are unique and mouthwatering, and I can't wait to get my hands on things like sea bass in crazy water, black spaghetti with squid ink, and Sicilian seafood stew. Although most recipes are easy to prepare, Jenkins warns that some ingredients may be irreplaceable and difficult to find in the U.S. This delightful book is dotted with ingredient notes, anecdotes, and traveler's advice to complete its transporting effect. If you can't afford a plane ticket to Italy, this book should do for the time being.