Cookbook Review: Sicilian Seafood Cooking by Marisa Raniolo Wilkins

Rating: ★★★★☆

The wonderful thing about modern day cookbooks is their reliance on more than fabulous recipes. It’s their reliance on travel, on culture, on a way of living . . . a reliance on heart, emotion, experience, as well as flavour texture and culinary fulfillment.

Sicilian Seafood Cooking is one such book.

Food writer and first-time author Marisa Raniolo Wilkins was born in Trieste before moving to Australia with her Sicilian parents. A passionate home cook who is well-known for her Sicilian food blog – All Things Sicilian and More – Marisa has a lifetime of experience in the traditions and techniques of Italian and Sicilian cuisine.

In her first book, Marisa’s focus on fresh, local produce is as clear as the bountiful crystal waters off the Sicilian coast. Her selection of recipes is divided into sections designed to provide a full feast-like food experience.

Begining with comu primu (first course), we are taken through comu sacunnu (second course), festa (feast), ‘u cuntuonnu (vegetable dishes) and una caponata per ogni stagione (a caponata for every season). What is a caponata, you ask? Seafood salad, of course – and Marisa goes on to explain the various versions of this dish, its cultural history and significance, and its meaning in her life.

These extra elements – the history, the vibrant local knowledge, the personal connection to every dish – are what sets Sicilian Seafood Cooking apart from other tomes packed with little more than an introduction and soldier line-up of recipes.

Marisa also associates her foodie delights with her life in Australia, where the oceans are equally bountiful – if not more so – with the frutti di mare e pesce she loves so much. In comu primu, for example, we learn that Spaghetti a vonguli evokes the fondest memories of collecting cockles from the beaches in Goolwa, Middleton and the Coorong in South Australia.

In comu sacunnu, we learn that Sicilians are permanently nostalgic for dishes of yesteryear – with a recipe from Trapani and the Egadi Islands entitled Tunnu vugghiutu d’u capu rais – or boiled tuna as the Capu Rais ate it. The head of a local tuna fishing ritual, the Capu Rais is the one who guides the fish to their capture. He is also one who likes to eat his tuna boiled or steamed, hence this culture-drenched recipe. Fascinating stuff.

With notes on the Sicilian language and on the island’s culture, history and fascinating idiosyncrasies, Marisa also takes us on a guided tour of this fascinating place. In the opening chapters of Silician Seafood Cooking, we travel to the northwest coast, the east and south coasts, sampling local seafood delicacies along the way. Part cookbook, memoir and travel guide, the book is packed with gorgeously authentic local photos of both the recipes, produce and sights.

A book like Sicilian Seafood Cooking makes you realise how enormous, resplendent and effulgent our world really is. Sharing the treasures of her passion and Sicilian history is pure pleasure, and yes, I am now hankering to be flouncing around on a fishing boat in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, in my mind, I’m already there. Good books do that to you.

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  1. Bob Evans says

    I am not unbiased since I am responsible for most of the location photographs of Sicily in Marisa Raniolo Wilkins’s book Sicilian Seafood Cooking, but I DO like the way the reviewer, Tania McCartney, has picked up on the blend of history, vibrant local knowledge and personal connection – the photos of her aunt making pasta for example – as the book’s strength and point of difference.