In 1986 Damian Mandola and Johnny Carrabba noticed the lack of a casual-yet-great Italian restaurant in Houston, so the two opened Carrabba’s Italian Grill. Almost two decades later, the duo have more than one hundred eateries under the Carrabba’s name, a PBS series, and a partnership taking the brand to Wall Street. In other words, these guys know a thing or two about food.
So it isn’t so surprising that Mandola and Carrabba penned a cookbook based on their cooking show, Cucina Sicilia. It’s difficult to write about food; no matter how vivid, how concerted the passage, the author will never textually replicate the moment a morsel hits your palate, the way your taste buds respond. But these two certainly get the excitement across. (Ciao Sicily is the second cookbook from this duo; the first is titled Ciao Y’all: Recipes From the PBS Series Cucina Amore.)
Ciao Sicily is divided into three sections: recipes, where you’ll find the likes of Cozzule alla Marinata (Marinated Mussels), Zuppa di Lenticchie e Cavolfiore (Lentil and Cauliflower Soup), and Rigatoni allo Corrao (Rigatoni With Caciocavallo and Eggplant); the Sicilian pantry, where the authors list “the most important ingredients that make up the Sicilian culinary personality” such as almonds, basil, apricots, fennel, watermelon, and pomegranates; and basics and techniques, where the two explain how to make a meat broth, prepare an artichoke, and such.
But what makes Ciao Sicily truly remarkable is its homage to family and culture. These traditional recipes, passed down several generations, tell stories, and that’s something every family—Sicilian or not—can relate to.