February 21, 2010 |
Here are some tips gathered from my trip last fall to western Sicily: Pack cottons and sunglasses. Summer lasts six months a year and is hot and uncomfortable. Expect almost everything to be closed from 1 to 5 p.m., when Sicilians take cover from the furnace outside by clamping their windows shut and pulling down the shades. Read "The Leopard," Giuseppe di Lampedusa's elegy to the waning 19th century in Sicily; "The House by the Medlar Tree: I Malavoglia," a gaunt little classic by Giovanni Verga about the island's hopeless poor; "Fire Under the Ashes," James McNeish's 1965 biography of Danilo Dolci, the Gandhi of Sicily; "Last Godfathers," an all-too-vivid history of the Sicilian Mafia, by John Follain; "On Persephone's Island," Mary Taylor Simeti's ode to the natural rhythms of the island; and every mystery novel by Andrea Camilleri, featuring the Sicilian gourmand and gumshoe Salvo Montalbano, that you can get your hands on. Be mindful of the stories they tell, but don't be paralyzed about what people say about the dangers and hardships of traveling here.
February 21, 2010 |
The glass case at Maria Grammatico's Pasticceria del Convento in the hilltop town of Erice displays treasures worthy of a Swiss bank. Cannoli, filled with fresh ricotta, is just the best known variety. When you make a closer study, you discover a world of confections as beautiful to look at as they are sweet to eat: green cassata cakes made of almond, sugar, vanilla, buttermilk curd and candied fruit; perfectly formed marzipan prickly pears and tomatoes; lemon-flavored cuscinetti (small fried pastries)
December 2, 1993 |
When it comes right down to it, there are no simple dishes. Even pasta and broccoli, which everyone agrees is one of the standard preparations in southern Italian cooking, can be downright complicated. It's not the recipes themselves that give pause; most ask for ordinary ingredients and rudimentary cooking skills and take no more than 15 minutes. The problem is that nobody agrees on how to fix this simple dish. (Why am I surprised? This is Italian cooking, after all.
December 8, 1994 |
There are many good reasons for giving homemade Christmas presents, not the least of which is the fact that they're inexpensive. I don't know about you, but my house isn't the kind of Martha Stewart wonderland where we spend endless days spray-painting pine cones gold. When times are flush, we are as apt as anyone to send sweaters. With two parents working, time is more valuable than money, and even the couple of hours it takes to go to the store can be a luxury.
November 26, 1989 |
On every holiday shopping list there's an Uncle Max, curmudgeonly and impossible to please. This year, try expressing your affection for him with THE PESSIMIST'S JOURNAL (Little, Brown: $9.95), a handy daybook with such cheerless entries as: "Oct. 2: Stores are now decorated for The Holidays, and they've turned that music on."
November 26, 1993 |
Glance through the indexes of even a couple of the flood of Italian cookbooks you can choose from at any decent book store, and you'll quickly find that they have a lot in common. Like all the same recipes. That's not literally true, of course, but it sometimes seems that way. To help simplify your search, here is one extremely opinionated list of the Italian cookbooks with which every member of the cognoscenti should be familiar.