Title: The Southern Italian Table
Author: Arthur Schwartz, 2009
256 pages; Hardcover $32.50 US/$39.95 CDN
Publisher: Clarkston Potter, New York, NY
Reviewed by, Chef John Vyhnanek, December, 2009
I remember growing up and spending time with a neighboring
family whose roots were in Southern Italy. What great ragu the grandmother made,
full of pork chops, meatballs, sausage and pepperoni. The flavor of the sauce
was fantastic, although I only liked the meatballs, spaghetti and bread. Later
in life I met Little Mamma, my brother-in-law's grandmother, also from Southern
Italy. She made the best Melanzane alla Parmigiana I have ever had! And then there is
Bruno's Easter pie, wow, he's from guess where, Southern Italy, Naples to be
When I received a review copy of The Southern Italian Table by Arthur Schwartz,
I immediately took notice. The cover picture of meatballs, gravy (as tomato sauce
is known to some from Southern Italy) and rabe is beautiful. Inside the
book is a fantastic array of photographs of Southern Italy, foods of the area,
its people and more importantly pictures of most of the recipes. The quality of
the paper and the printing style with different colored fonts is very nice
indeed. But what about the recipes?
I tried three, starting with Pasta e Lenticchie alla Siciliana, Fritelle di
Ricotta and Bavarese di Ricotta. The Pasta and Lentils Sicilian Style is sort of
a lentil soup/stew with broken bits of spaghetti and a good dose of extra-virgin
olive oil. It was very easy to make, used water and no stock and had a nice zip
from crushed red pepper flakes.
The Ricotta Pancakes are not what you serve for breakfast, instead they are
probably meant to be part of an antipasto presentation or a nice bar snack.
Ricotta is mixed with flour, eggs, either Parmigiano or pecorino cheese and then pan fried in oil
until golden and crispy edged. They were right up my alley served with a bit of
The Ricotta Bavarian recipe has been reworked by the author from a recipe that a
member of the National Italian-American Federation gave him. The crust was
changed to graham crackers instead of vanilla wafers and the American form of
gelatin was used. As it turned out, you won't hear any complaints from me; it
was very good. One note: I've had a similar dessert, using crushed amaretti
cookies for the crust and then hazelnuts and finely minced citron folded into
the cream base. It would be quite easy to add/substitute these into the book's
recipe if you want to try it this way.
Bottom line on this book is it gets 4 stars from me. It's quality all the way
through and will continue to inspire for years to come. It would make a great
holiday present for anyone into cooking, even for a restaurant chef!
One of the Recipes tested---
Fritelle di Ricotta: Ricotta Pancakes, Marsala, Sicily
Makes nine or ten 3 1/2-inch pancakes
This is one of many versions of fried ricotta, a delicate pancake with grated
cheese and parsley, from I Bucanieri, a restaurant just down the road from the
famous Florio Marsala wine cellars in Marsala. Other versions of fried ricotta
usually count on the ricotta to be firm enough to slice, as most Italian ricotta
is. This recipe works perfectly with looser American supermarket ricotta. Still,
if you can get your hands on firmer ricotta, or sheep's milk ricotta, all the
better. I like to serve these as an antipasto, with or without tomato sauce, in
which case one or two a person is plenty. As a fine vegetarian second course,
serve a larger portion.
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta (1 3/4 cups)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 1 heaping tablespoon finely shredded flat-leaf
2 large eggs
1/3 cup grated pecorino, Parmigiano, or grana Padano cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
Combine the ricotta, flour, parsley, eggs, cheese, salt, and pepper in a large
bowl and mix well with a wooden spoon.
Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of a large skillet by 1/8 inch. Start frying
when bubbles form around the handle of a wooden spoon.
Using a 1/4-cup measure, drop the batter into the hot oil. It'should sizzle
immediately, but not frantically. Adjust the heat as necessary so the pancakes
brown nicely on one side in 2 1/2 to 3 minutes.
Using a metal spatula combined with a fork to hold the pancake in place on the
spatula, carefully flip the pancakes and fry them about another 2 minutes, until
the second side is nicely browned. Drain on paper towels.
Serve immediately or at room temperature.