Cover of Book

Title: Cucina del Sole: a Celebration of Southern Italian Cooking
Author: Nancy Harmon Jenkins
Hardcover $29.95 US/$37.95 CAN
Publisher: 2007 William Morrow, HarperCollins Publishers, NY, NY
Reviewed by, David Strock, November 2010

The review--- You're a fan of Italian food, but you're not sure where to go beyond spaghetti, marinara sauce, and lasagna. Nancy Harmon Jenkins has picked out a piece of her vast knowledge of Mediterranean foodways and put together a cookbook on southern Italian food, Cucina del Sole. Even northern Italians will agree that the south of Italy produces the best in Italian cuisine. I first picked up this book when I reunited with a group of friends six months after traveling to Sicily together. I had brought bottarga di tonno back with me, which I had bought in a Palermo street market. Simply put, bottarga is the salted and dried roe sack of the tuna. Jenkins' write-up of this Sicilian delicacy put us at ease and we prepared it as a wonderful antipasto.

As for actual recipes, I tried three - panelle (chickpea fritters), minestra de pasta, fagioli, e verdure (Sicilian pasta, beans, and greens), and abbachio ai carciofi (springtime lamb with artichokes). Jenkins cites Anna Tasca Lanza in her description of panelle and the recipe is similar to Lanza's, except that Jenkins adds minced parsley or rosemary to the recipe. I think the recipe is strong enough without the added herbs, but they do add a nice touch. The ingredient list for the minestra de pasta, fagioli, e verdure can seem daunting, but all are crucial to this wonderful dish. The soup is hearty and filling - just the right dish to welcome a weary traveler to your home. The trickiest part was cooking the pasta al dente and not overcooking. If this soup is not going to be served immediately, I would suggest cooking the pasta separately just before serving and adding it to the soup. Two of my favorite foods are lamb and artichokes and albacchio ai carciofi was the perfect dish. This dish required at least three hours of cooking time, so it is not a quick meal, and it must be checked up on every half hour or so. The final result, however, shows what this dish truly is - a labor of love.

Jenkins also provides interesting background on each dish and I was able to learn quite a lot about southern Italian food. With such clear descriptions and instructions, I didn't even miss the lack of pictures in this must-have collection of fabulous recipes.

Recipes tested---!
Chickpea Fritters from Palermo

Anyone familiar with panisses, the crisp, salty Chickpea flour fritters from Nice In the south France will immediately recognize their cousins in these panelle, a favorite street food at Palermo. Sicilian food writer Anna Tasca says they ate examples of "port food," food that traveled from port to port all over the Mediterranean. And they are delicious. Sicilians often eat panelle in a sandwich midmorning marenda, bull prefer them as they come from the fryer, eaten out of hand and as addictive as potato chips.

Make's about 70 Panelle

1 quart cool water
2 cups (1/2 pound) chickpea flour
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely minced flat-loaf parsley or chopped fresh rosemary
Olive oil- preferably extra-virgin, for deep-fat frying
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling

Add the water to a saucepan set over medium heat. Gradually add the chickpea flour, little at a time, stirring with a wire whisk to get rid of any lumps. By the time all the flour has been added, the water should be very hot but not yet boiling. Continue stirring, adding salt and pepper to taste. Once the porridge has come to a boil, turm the heat down to just barely simmering. Simmer about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the porridge is very dense but grill pouring consistency.

Have ready a cookie sheet measuring about 12 x IS inches, Stir the parsley into the porridge and pour it onto the cookie sheet. Use a spatula dipped in water to smooth it out to a consistent 1/8 inch thickness.

Let cool until quite firm, Cut into triangles, lozenges, or whatever shapes suit your fancy. Heat about 2 inches of olive oil in a frying pan to about 360 F. Using tongs, drop the panelle into the oil, a few at a time, and fry until crisp and lightly golden, turning once. Drain on a rack covered with paper towels. Serve piping hot, sprinkled with coarse sea salt.

Minestra di Pasta, Fagioli, e Verdure
Sicilian Pasta, Beans and Greens

A beany-greeny soup- the Sicilian take on Pasta e Fagioli is sometimes made with a mixture of erred beans and dried favas, but it's perfectly legitimate to make it with dried beans alone, and I prefer it that way. White cannellini beans or red-streaked borlotti beans are good choices, hut almost any bean will make a delicious and hearty soup. If you do use favas, be advised that It will be a much thicker soup, since they will disintegrate into a puree as they cook.

Like most uses of fennel in southern Italian cooking, this should really be flavored with the green sops of wild fennel, but if you lack a good reliable source of wild fennel (and most of us In North Amerce do), use the green tops of cultivated fennel (bulb or Florentine fennel, sometimes sold as "anise') in the produce departments of well-stocked supermarkets. I add a half teaspoon of dried wild fennel pollen to boost the fennel flavor.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 cup dried beans, soaked for 6 hours or overnight
1 medium carrot, cut into chunks
1 leek white part only- thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, cut into chunks
1 celery stalk, cut into chunks
2 bay leaves
1 piece parmigiano reggianno rind, if available
1 small dried red chili, crumbled
sea salt
1 cup coarsely chopped wild fennel fronds or cultivated fennel greens plus 1/2 teaspoon dried wild fennel pollen
1 cup slivered green chard or spinach
1 cup slivered green cabbage or kale
1 cup pasta in small shapes
such as ditallni or tubetti-- or spaghetti or maccheroni- broken into 1-inch lengths
freshly ground black pepper

Garnishes (Optional)
Toasted slices of country-style bread
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly grated pecorino or parmigiano reggliano
Minced flat-leaf parsley
Fresh whole-milk ricotta. preferably sheep's milk

Drain the beans and turn them into a soup pot preferably one made from terra-cotta, but an enameled cast-iron pot will do. Cover with about 1 quart cool water and set over medium heat. Slowly bring to a simmer, then add the carrot, leek, onion, celery, and bay leaves- Add the parmigiano rind and red chili, cover the pot, and let the soup cook over very low heat, just barely simmering, for about 1 hour, or until the beans are tender.

Remove and discard the bay leaves, then puree about half the soupyou can do this right in the pot, using a stick blender, or or remove about half the soup and puree in a food processor, blender, or food mill. Add the puree back to the rest of the soup.

In a seperate pot bring 1 1/2 to 2 cups of water to a rolling boil. Add a pinch of salt and then the fennel, chard, cabbage and the pasta. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook util the pasta is tender. Using a slotted spoon, remove the greens and pasta and transfer them to the bean soup, setting aside their cooking liquid. Stir to mix, and if necessary, add some of the cooking liquid from the greens and pasta. If you have extra cooking liquid, keep it aside and add it, if necessary, when you reheat the soup before serving. (Bean soups thicken as they coolthe liquid from the greens and pasta is good for thinning it out again.)

When ready to serve the soup, toast the bread slices and dribble with olive oil. Set the bread slice in the bottom of each serving bowl and pour the soup over it. Garnish the soup with grated cheese and parsley or add a dollop of ricotta to each bowl.