Thursday, March 02, 2017

A Disappointing Detective Novel by Camilleri

Andrea Camilleri writes delightful police procedurals about his Sicilia detective Inspector Montalbano. The plots are usually pretty good, but above all, Montalbano is a serious eater and Camilleri has a vivid way of describing what Montalbano eats. The inspector especially loves the local fish dishes that are special to his southern-Sicilian town -- which actually is the town of Agrigento, though in the books it goes by another name.

The Wings of the Sphinx, which I read this week, is pretty good at suspense. But it really disappointed me with its lackluster food descriptions. Montalbano in the course of the book eats quite a few meals, and even talks to a fisherman who brings in the fresh fish for the local restaurant and to Enzo, the restaurant proprietor. Unfortunately the fish preparations, mostly mullet, are mentioned without much in the way of the detail that a regular reader comes to expect in this series. And I think I've read at least 10 of the Montalbano books, so I know what to expect. Just not up to the usual standard!

Here's an example of how the author just names the dishes without any of the usual mouth-watering detail: "Enzo brought him a dish of pasta with pesto alla trapanese, and as a second, piscistoccu alla ghiotta, stockfish prepared according to the Messinese recipe." (pp. 94-95)

In the entire book one very complicated recipe does appear, but overall, I'm afraid the author's heart wasn't in it this time. This recipe is the only detailed food passage in the book. The dish is "’mpanata di maiali" and we are told that the inspector obtained the recipe from the cook in a restaurant. The recipe is inserted in the text without an introduction, and it's not at all vivid compared to Camillari's usual descriptions. I guess you could cook it and find out for yourself how it tastes, but I don't feel like doing that --
“Poach a head of cauliflower in salted water, remove it when still slightly firm, and chop it into large chunks. Then season it in a skillet after you have sautéed a small onion, thinly sliced, in olive oil in the same pan. In another pan, fry up a piece of fresh sausage, and the moment it turns golden, cut it into small disks no more than an inch wide, removing the skin. Add the cauliflower to the pan with the sausage bits and oil, adding a few potatoes sliced into thin, transparent disks, some chopped black olives, salt, and spices. Stir this assortment well. Knead some leavened bread dough into a broad, flat disk and mold this into a cake tin with a tall rim; fill this with the mixture and cover with another round sheet of dough, kneading the edges together. Spread lard over the upper parts and put the tin into a very hot oven. Remove it as soon as it turns golden brown (but this will take half an hour or so).” (pp. 159-160)
I may try another of the books in the series, but I'm pretty discouraged by this encounter!

1 comment:

Jeanie said...

Well, at least the plot was good! Did I tell you I bought my first Imogen Quy? Haven't started it yet but looking forward!