Sunday, May 06, 2007

Italian cooking

I have just acquired an old Italian cookbook by Elizabeth David. The description of the food and the history is so compelling that I want to read it more than I want to cook from it. I found out about it in Peter Robb's book, 'Midnight in Sicily'. I am into all things Sicilian. There isn't much in it about Sicilian cooking; it did give a recipe for 'Caponata'. It also mentioned 'Spaghetti con le sarde', a Sicilian dish of spaghetti with sardines and raisins. She has never eaten it and does not give a recipe for it. I have eaten it and I love it. I have the recipe for it and intend to make it at home one day. The reason I bought this old and used book (it's out of print) was for the pictures. As Elizabeth David said in this same book; she didn't put any pictures of vine covered terraces as most Italian cookbooks so often do. Instead she has Renato Guttuso's paintings- on the cover and throughout the book. She spent a year researching for this book and was depressed after it. She depression lifted when the pictures of Renato Guttuso's paintings started arriving from Rome. As I said before, I'm into all things Sicilian. Renato Guttuso was born in the Bagheria, a town just outside Palermo. In fact, my next trip to Palermo will include a trip to Bagheria to see the crazy sculptures in the garden at Palazzo Palagonia. I am into the odd and unusual.. Renato Guttuso painted the market scenes in Palermo. His pictures evoked memories of the Vucciria market; it is a covered market, with red plastic covers over all the stalls- they sell produce, meat, fish, odds and ends. It is always dark because it is between buildings that block out the sun. Light comes from the bare electrical light bulbs that hang from the ceiling. When I visited it was pretty sedate, probably because of the rain. It is supposed to be a very lively scene with each vendor singing and chanting about how great their stuff is in order to entice the customers to buy from them. I bought some tomato seeds and they are now growing in pots in my backyard. I also bought some alpine strawberries- I ate those. Renato Guttuso later moved to Rome. He started an anti-fascist organization in Rome. Brave man. He saw first hand what fascism did to Sicily.
While writing the book, Elizabeth David, had lots of detractors. When friends heard that she was writing a book on Italian cooking, their reaction was, 'all that pasta, don't we have enough stodge already'. People thought that Italian food is only pasta. What I found useful in her book were the Italian names of the dishes. In Catania, we asked the waiter what 'cavallo' was. He didn't speak English, he waved both arms like a bird and we thought it was a chicken dish. He, then, went to the kitchen and came back with some one who told us it was horse meat. They use both calamari and seppie on the menu. In some dishes they call it calamari, in others, seppie- to us they are both squid.
I researched about Sicily before I went there. Since coming back I'm still learning about Sicily.

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