cover image Sweet Myrtle & Bitter Honey: The Mediterranean Flavors of Sardinia

Sweet Myrtle & Bitter Honey: The Mediterranean Flavors of Sardinia

Efisio Farris, with Jim Eber, photos by Laurie Smith and Rohan Van Twest. . Rizzoli, $39.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-8478-2992-7

With his first cookbook, Farris leaps into the front ranks of culinary regionalist and troubadour. He's a transplant to Texas, a restaurateur and importer, but his taste buds still twinkle to the lusty, muscular primal cuisine of his ancestral Sardinia. He stirs up an appetite for simple pasta dishes in which the sauce determines the shape of the macarrones, and any number of compositions featuring spiced and herbed lamb, artichokes, olives and various seafood stews enriched with bottarga . The author first tasted this “Sardinian caviar,” the roe of gray mullet, at age three on a cherished expedition to catch and cook fish on the beach with his father and uncle. He balances sentimentality with frank delight in testing the reader's mettle. Roasted eels, pictured in full slither, are only a start. Anyone for abbamele , the honey and bee pollen reduction? Raw sea urchin under the full moon? Then there is casu murzu , rotten cheese, which owes its creamy texture to maggots. Our intrepid guide, who “cannot resist its charms,” admits that even for him it was a childhood gross-out. Beautifully illustrated, often eminently cookable, the book also has the charms of a picaresque novel. (Oct.)