Corsica: The Recipes

Corsica, The Recipes by Nicolas Stromboni, Smith Street Books 2017, hardcover $40.00, 320 pages

Bisogna fa di forza legge

Make a virtue out of necessity

Corsican proverb

And what a virtuous collection this is! Corsica is a mountainous island contested through history primarily  by the French and Italians. Today is is a French department but its foodways remain stubbornly of this place.

But the Corsican necessity that created distinctive ingredients is our luxury. To cook from this book you’ll have to create plausible substitutes for brocciu cheese (a rennet-set ricotta), seasonal honey varietals, and arba barona (a wild caraway thyme). Unless you lived a blessed climate, you won’t be able to leave your tomato paste to dry outside and you’re unlikely to find fresh myrtle berries to make liqueur. Exquisite torture!

But, your farm market will supply what you need for Vegetable Tartare, Ratatouille, or Murtoli Tart. Or you could make a citrus salad dressed with saffron and lemon liqueur. While you may not be able to exactly replicate these dishes (and exactly replicating any dish is a whole other discussion), the recipes will refocus your cooking on simplicity. An Omelet with Brocciu Cheese, made with your own homemade ricotta and flavored with a generous amount of mint relies on good cheese, farm eggs, and fresh mint. Likewise, Finuchjetti, a type of pretzel, is nothing more than yeast, flour, water, salt, and aniseed. They’re a fundamental flavor–resist the temptation to doll them up–or at least make them plain first.

Along with the unique ingredients and recipes, Stromboni, the owner of the island’s largest wine cellar that was voted best wine shop in France, profiles the people who keep these foodways alive. Stromboni’s descriptions are…poetic. So we meet Jean-Louis Guaitella, a fisherman who is a missionary for the ocean, Bastienne Corazzini, “who could be the grandmother of every Corsican,” and Paul Salini, the meticulous modern cattle farmer.

He also profiles the Corsican knife (because, be honest, what you know about Corsica is Napoleon and bandits), it’s elegant wood or antler haft and its fire-honed blade. It is a tool, not for vendetta (which doesn’t exist on the island), but for hunting, fishing, gathering,  a reminder of traditional life on the island.

The Mediterranean continually throws up culinary riches. There are repeated basics–an  herb pie of fresh greens or stuffed zucchini to deal with summer’s glut–but each dish is really a technique adapted to local produce, which is really the best way to cook. So call on this book to inspire your farm-market finds.

About Appetite for Books

read, cook, eat, repeat
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