Cookbook Review: Sicily: Recipes from an Italian Island

Italy’s most seductive island, Sicily, is located in the heart of the Mediterranean. Thanks to its rich history, Sicilian food has Italian as well as Greek, Spanish, French, and Arab influences. Now Italian aficionados, Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi, head to the island to immerse themselves in its diverse food scene.

Starting in the capital, Palermo, the couple come across some exciting street food that features tasty Arancini (rice balls stuffed with meat sauce and cheese) to lesser know gems such as Panelle (garbanzo bean fritters), and Sfincione, a thick Sicilian pizza, topped with tomatoes, onions, anchovies, and casciocavallo cheese. In Trapani they try a fish couscous and then head to Noto, where almonds dominate in some memorable desserts, including a classic Semifreddo and a refreshing Almond Granita (served with fresh brioche, for dunking). Nor would any Sicilian book would be complete without Pasta Alla Norma (pasta with tomatoes and eggplants) and the classic, ricotta-filled sweet delight Cannoli.

Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi are the owners of London’s Caffé Caldesi, Caldesi in Campagna, and La Cucinca Caldesi cooking school. They have taught alongside some of the biggest names in Italian cuisine, including Gennaro Contaldo, Ursula Ferrigno and Valentina Harris. This is their ninth cookbook.

Sicily: Recipes from an Italian island, by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi is available at and

Fava Bean and Fennel Seed Soup

Serves 6

Use 3 Ways

As a vegetable, soup, sliced & fried

Dried broad (fava) beans have a distinctive, earthy flavour and a velvety texture unlike their former fresh selves. Do try them, I think the taste is perfectly lovely. In the south of Italy you can find a broad been purée probably introduced by the Romans, cooked from dried like this and served with the wilted green vegetable cicoria, another wonderful combination and easily reproduced with spinach.

In Sicily, you will see the word maccu on menus all over the island; it comes from the word macare, to squash. Broad beans have been a staple of the peasant diet for centuries since they can be eaten fresh and raw in spring with young soft cheeses, boiled briefly through summer and dried for use in autumn and winter. In this case, dried broad beans are soaked overnight, then boiled and squashed to make a mash. If you use split broad beans they will have already been peeled and will take less time to cook. Leave it rough and ready like the ancient peasant soup that it was, or purée it for a sophisticated starter like our friend Marco Piraino, who showed me this recipe. He garnishes it with chopped samphire, drops of good olive oil and a little lemon zest.

To make it more filling (it’s already pretty substantial!), put toasted bread drizzled with olive oil into soup bowls and ladle the soup on top, or leave the soup a little rough and mix in some just-cooked short pasta. The maccu sets firm when cold and can be cut into slices, breaded and fried.

500 g (1 lb 2 oz/2 cups) dried broad (fava) beans, with or without skins

1 white onion, cut in half

2 teaspoons fennel seeds, roughly crushed in a pestle and mortar

1 celery stalk, finely sliced

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1.6 litres (54 fl oz/6 ¾ cups) water

4 tablespoons white wine

salt, to taste


To serve

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

a little chopped samphire or finely grated lemon zest

freshly ground black pepper


Cover the beans in cold water and soak overnight. The following day, drain the beans and discard the water. Slip the beans from their skins if not already peeled.

Put all the ingredients together in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn the heat to low and let the beans bubble away until they are tender and easily squashed, up to 2 hours, adding a little more water if necessary. Keep a couple of tablespoons of the whole beans to one side for garnish. Puree the soup as much or as little as you like with a stick blender.

Pour into warm bowls and garnish with the reserved beans, a swirl of olive oil and the lemon zest or chopped samphire.

Finish with a twist of black pepper.


As a vegetable side dish

As the beans are cooking, don’t add extra water but let the mixture become thick. Puree the mixture to a rough or smooth texture and use it as you would mashed potato. In the south of Italy you will often see this served with garlicky sauteed spinach or chard leaves on top.

For sliced maccu

After blending the soup pour it into a lined loaf tin and allow to cool. Put it into the fridge overnight and it will set firm. It can then be cut into 1.5 cm (1/2 in) slices and dipped in flour, egg and breadcrumbs (like the Chicken Parmigiana on page 180) and fried in hot oil until browned. Drain it on kitchen paper and serve straight away, dusted in a little salt.

Chickpea and Apple Soup

Serves 6

This unusual sweet-tasting and textural soup is from our chef friend Marco Piraino from Palermo.

It makes a gorgeous first course or lunchtime meal. Chickpeas are a very good source of protein, fibre and minerals and have formed an important part of the Italian diet for centuries.

250 g (9 oz/1 ¼ cups) dried chickpeas

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve

1 leek, trimmed and finely chopped

2 apples, peeled and roughly chopped

1 bay leaf

1 garlic clove, peeled, cored and crushed

3 litres (102 fl oz/12 ¾ cups) water or chicken or vegetable stock

salt and freshly ground black pepper


Cover the chickpeas in cold water and soak overnight. The following day drain them and discard the water. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the leek for 5 minutes over a medium heat until softened, then add the rest of the ingredients and stir through. Cook until the chickpeas are soft, which should take around 1 ½ hours but could be up to 2 ½ hours depending on how old they are. Add a little more hot water if it starts to dry out. You can blend the soup as much or as little as you like with a stick blender in the saucepan. Check the seasoning and adjust as necessary. Pour the soup into warm bowls and finish with a swirl of good olive oil and a twist of black pepper.

Text excerpted from SICILY, RECIPES FROM AN ITALIAN ISLAND, © 2016 by Katie & Giancarlo Caldesi. Reproduced by permission of Hardie Grant Books. All rights reserved.

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