by Vincent Schiavelli
In America, Vincent Schiavelli is known for his memorable turns as a character actor in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ghost, and Man on the Moon, among many films. In Italy—or, at least, in one small city in the Madonie Mountains of Sicily—he is known for his gift for home-cooking. Growing up in Brooklyn, speaking Sicilian as a close second language to English, Schiavelli savored the meals prepared by his grandfather, once a master chef, while feasting on the tales served up by both his grandparents about their magical homeland. Long after his beloved grandparents had passed away, when he was all grown up and nearly forty, Schiavelli at last experienced the wondrous reality of the "place of delicious imagination" from his childhood: Polizzi Generosa.
Vincent Schiavelli now presents an evocative, enticing tour of the town of his heritage and his heart in Many Beautiful Things: Stories and Recipes from Polizzi Generosa (Simon & Schuster). A James Beard Award-winning journalist, author of the acclaimed Bruculinu, America, and, in the view of The New York Times Book Review, "a born storyteller," Schiavelli captures the rare charm and hospitality of an ancient city, perched 3,000 feet above sea level and untouched by fire, flood, war, or sweeping change for centuries. While recounting unforgettable visits, the author shares 75 authentic Polizzano recipes, all accessible to cooks across the U.S.A. And simply delectable.
"The anchor for this book is food," Schiavelli states. "Over the centuries, Polizzi has developed a cuisine as unique as its history and as striking as its bucolic mountain setting. Millennia of occupation can be traced through the Polizzano cupboard. Olives from Ancient Greece; almonds, spices, and sugar from North Africa; and tomatoes, potatoes, squashes, beans, peppers, and prickly pears from the Western Hemisphere by way of Spain are a few examples of the many imports that fill this cornucopia of edible culture."
Written with wit, grace, and profound affection, Many Beautiful Things offers choice tidbits of folklore and delightful anecdotes about family, cooking, and eating. Along the way, Schiavelli recalls:
His first trip to Polizzi Generosa from his amazement at finding churches, streets, even specific balconies precisely as his grandparents had described them to his confounding search for a hotel, complicated by the practice of "respect," in the true Mafia tradition; from the ardent receptions of unknown relatives to the delicate matter of traveling with a woman who, despite their true love and the ruse of a ring on her finger, was not his wife.
His introduction to the annual festival of St. Gandolfo, the city's patron protector—an exhilarating mix of the sacred (a deeply reverent, prolonged procession of a 1,600-pound solid silver statue of the saint) and the profane (sexy young women dancing in tight, short mini-skirts, backed by a blasting rock group).
His encounters with Polizzi's unique culture identity, based on a blend of historical fact, apocryphal myth, and pure fantasy, with such distinguishing features as the use of family nicknames—widely recognized, rather insulting monikers (the author's favorite is the one his Polizzano cousins are known by: Canazzu, or Bulldog, for their jowly, fierce faces) .
Along the way, readers will meet an array of engaging Polizzi citizens, including the barber, the baker, and the mayor. They'll also vicariously savor the city's famed crystal clear, naturally sweet water and get a chance to sample its signature dishes at home. Ranging from savory antipasto to hearty one-course meals, Polizzi's rustic cuisine features specialties such as Pumpkin Caponata, Baked Sausages with Mushrooms, Dried Fava Bean and Chestnut Soup, and Stewed Stuffed Chicken. It also boasts a sense of playfulness. Literal translations of titles for the author's cherished recipes yield such whimsical phrases as "Cauliflower Under Siege," "Ditali with Drowned Lettuce," and "Bogus Meat Sauce." For those with a sweet tooth, Schiavelli also showcases Polizzi's pastry— Almond Love Bites, Hazelnut-Cream Torte, and Sweet Little Branches, among the heavenly selections—as well as its distinctive liqueurs, from Mulberry to Green-Walnut to Wild Fennel.
A heartfelt memoir and a mouthwatering cookbook, Many Beautiful Things offers an irresistible tour of the wonderful Polizzi Generosa, liberally sprinkled with illustrations by Santo Lipani, a noted Polizzano artist, chef, and bricklayer. For those eager to experience this exceptional city for themselves, Schiavelli culminates with a concise guide to how to get there, where to stay, what to see, and where to eat.
About The Author
Vincent Schiavelli was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He writes articles on Sicilian cuisine for Saveur, Gourmet, and the Los Angeles Times and, in 2001, won a prestigious James Beard Award for one of his pieces. He is the author of two critically acclaimed books, Bruculinu, America and Papa Andrea's Table, which received a Columbus Citizens Foundation Literary Award. He has been a guest chef at cooking schools throughout the country and was the host of The Chefs of Cucina Amore for PBS. Mr. Schiavelli is also a seasoned character actor, with more than 100 television and film appearances to his credit, most memorably in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, Ghost, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and Man on the Moon. Currently, he is immersed in co-producing and hosting a new cooking show, La Bella Vita, and writing his first novel. He lives in Los Angeles, California.
Many Beautiful Things
Stories and Recipes from Polizzi Generosa
By Vincent Schiavelli
Illustrations by Santo Lipani
Published by Simon & Schuster
$26.00; 240 pages
Information provided by the publisher.
This page created January 2003
Copyright © 1994-2017,