A Reading List for Sicilian Cuisine

Barrie Kerper, the author of The Collected Traveler series of travel books, introduced to two incredible Sicily cooking schools in our October issue. Here she shares her reading list to immerse yourself in Sicilian cuisine:

Two excellent books that generally cover Sicilian cuisine are Pomp and Sustenance: Twenty-Five Centuries of Sicilian Food, Mary Taylor Simeti and Sicily: Culinary Crossroads, Giuseppe Coria.

But a more focused read is Cucina Paradiso: The Heavenly Food of Sicily, More than 175 Luscious Recipes Reflecting the Rich Arab Heritage of Sicilian Cuisine by Clifford Wright. Wright’s fascination with the history of Arab culinary influences in Sicilian cuisine has produced an interesting book with great recipes. A Sicilian gastronome and author he met, Tommaso d’Alba, shared a Sicilian proverb with him: Scratch the skin of a Sicilian and you will find an Arab.” D’Alba went on to note, “Make no mistake: the Arabs produced a true and proper revolution in the food habits of Sicily.”

(Even In Mary Taylor Simeti’s other wonderful book, On Persephone’s Island, she writes about Sicilian panelli, saying they are, “as far as I know, the only dish in all of Italian cooking that requires chick-pea flour, and they are made only in Sicily, no doubt a legacy from the Arabs.” )

I was especially interested to read about the origin of some Sicilian desserts, like cannoli, which has an Arab heritage, and cassata, a cake, which is derived from the Arabic word qa’sat, a kind of large baking pan. Zeppole (or zippula in Sicilian) comes from the Arabic word zalabiyah, soft fried dough. Wright also informs us that a 14-century Egyptian writer, Al-Maqrizi, wrote in his book entitled Al-Mawa’iz, that the Sicilian sweets traditionally made for religious celebrations – Easter, Christmas, Lent, and all those many saints’ days, as numerous then as now – were exactly the same as those made for Ramadan in Cairo.

Photo by dottorpeni, flickr.com