Photo: Courtesy of Sterling Epicure
If you’re looking for a gift for the Italian food lover in your life—and these days that description fits most Americans—grab a copy of Coming Home To Sicily. And while you’re at it, get one for yourself, too.
It’s far more than a cookbook focused on the unique food ways of the island that forms the toe of Italy’s boot-shaped country. It’s Fabrizia Lanza’s personal rediscovery of the taste treasures of her homeland. Lanza, the daughter of Anna Tasca Lanza, who opened and ran a well-known cooking school on her family’s estate in Sicily, left the island to study art history, and worked in northern Italy for many years as a museum curator, before returning home in midlife to help her mother with the school that she eventually inherited when her mother died in 2010.
With an art historian’s perspective, Lanza shares her excitement at learning how to recreate the taste memories of her youth. Just reading about making pasta reale (almond paste) from scratch, made me want to run right into the kitchen and start blanching almonds. Her orange marmalade makes you yearn for a piece of toast mounded with the glistening orange jam.
To say that the book is loaded with gorgeous photographs by Guy Ambrosino, a documentary photographer, is true, but the statement vastly understates how beautifully his pictures chronicle a way of life in which the growing, harvesting, and preparation of food form the underlying rhythm of each season. You can’t really fathom what it’s like to make Sicilian estratto, the intense, sundried tomato paste, until you see the Old World process Ambrosino captures. You can feel how hot the summer sun is in the pictures of the tomato purée spread on wooden tabletops in the courtyard to dry.
Nor did I have any idea of what the famed wild fennel—essential to pasta con le sarda (pasta with fresh sardines and wild fennel)—looked like until I saw Ambrosino’s photos of it growing on a hillside, then harvested and tied in a bundle on the back of a motor scooter, and finally in close-ups of it cooked. You just want to be there. Continue reading