Book Review: Southern Italian Desserts

Title: Southern Italian Desserts
Author: Rosetta Costantino (with Jennie Schacht)
Format: e-ARC from NetGalley
Genre: cookbook
Rating: 3.5/5

What really hurt this book’s rating was it’s photography, or rather lack thereof. There were some really beautiful photos of the regions discussed in this book, but quite a few of the recipes (especially the more unusual ones) lacked photographs. For me, this is a big problem in a cookbook, because being able to see what the finished product looks like helps me figure out if what I’ve got in front of me is close at all to what the recipe is supposed to make. It’s an even bigger problem in something like a dessert book, since prettiness really does matter with sweets. I understand that too many photographs can push up the price of a book, but I feel like there were some lost opportunities to show me what some of those more unusual dishes looked like. Of course, it’s possible they looked ugly, but tasted divine and that might be why there weren’t photos. The author does explain that many of these dishes grew out of peasant food!

So apart from the lack of photographs, I thought this was a really interesting book. There was a general introduction to the history and culture of southern Italy, and each chapter opens with an introduction to that region’s history and culture, especially food culture. I pulled out some examples of recipes that sounded good to me, although I did leave out cannoli and gelato – don’t worry though, not only are there recipes for cannoli and gelato, there is a recipe for cannoli and gelato.

Sicilia: Biscotti Eureka (almond filled spiral cookies), Cassata Siciliana (decorated ricotta filled sponge cake), Pasticcini di Mandorla (soft almond cookies)

Campania: Il Migliaccio Dolce di Carnevale (semolina cake for carnevale), La Pastiera Napoletana (easter pie with wheatberries and ricotta), Pastiera di Spaghetti (easter pie with spaghetti), Melanzane al Cioccolato (eggplant layered with sweetened ricotta and chocolate sauce)

Calabria: Chiacchiere (sugar dusted fried pastry strips), Crostata del Diacolo (sweet and spicy pepper tart), Sospiri (little cakes filled with pastry cream)

Puglia and Basilicata: Dolci di Noci (walnut cookies), Pezzetti di Cannelle (little cinnamon cookies), Grano dei Morti (cooked wheat topped with chocolate, nuts, and pomegranate seeds)

There’s a really interesting mix of fancy desserts, homey desserts, and some dishes that many Americans might raise an eye at. But don’t worry! I’m pretty sure that chocolate eggplant dish is delicious! A local restaurant offered something similar a while back and everyone said it was amazing. This would be a great book for an Italian food enthusiast or someone really into ethnic baking. I also think it would be a really great addition to any library that has a strong dessert cookbook collection or a large Italian population. It’s not a must have for every public library, though.

Also, excuse any typos in the Italian names for dishes! Italian is not a language I ever studied (although I did do a couple years of Latin), so it’s hard to tell if I made any mistakes! I did double check my notes, but if you’ve ever seen my handwriting you know why I’m adding this!

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