by Don Baratta
Baratta delivers a charming, rustic debut cookbook reflecting the influences of the Arabs, Moors and Greeks who occupied the Italian island of Sicily. Interspersed with anecdotes, Old World wisdom and explanations of Sicilian customs, the book is written in the lively syntax of Baratta’s father, the “Sicilian gentleman” from whom Baratta inherited these recipes (“I know of a musically inclined young man who would sing an aria from Turandot at the sight of a ripe melon, but this demonstration of exuberance I feel to be misplaced”). Baratta relies on traditional Sicilian ingredients like luscious plum tomatoes, lean ground beef, Marsala wine and local Romano cheese. From the versatile Beef and Bread Crumb Filling and the traditional Veal Scaloppine to Pasta with Eggplant, the flavors conjure an atmosphere of rural, sun-drenched simplicity that is echoed by the design of the book, a straightforward layout enlivened with elegant line drawings. Dishes range from antipasto to pastry, including rich soups, traditional pastas, local seafood, chicken and meats. Vegetables are also given their own section with much emphasis placed on stuffing, “an old Arab trick we became addicted to.” Recipes like the Roast Peppers, the traditional Basil Sauce (Pesto) and the Baked Fillet of Sole in Wine Sauce are clear-cut and easily manageable by cooks of any skill level.