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

The review--- 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 exact.

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 tomato sauce.

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 parsley
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.