Most helpful positive review
66 of 69 people found the following review helpful
A cookbook you must keep in your kitchen. Buy it!
on February 4, 2005
`1000 Italian Recipes' by Michele Scicolone is a great idea which, in other hands applied to other cuisines has produced heavy books with little or no inspiration. Ms. Scicolone has done this right. She has done it so right that it ups the ante for all new general Italian cuisine cookbooks to justify why one would want an alternate book when this excellent volume is already in your library.
The first thing which strikes the reader is the Table of Contents, which shows that Ms. Scicolone has a chapter on virtually every major category of Italian cooking, and, the Contents are divided into detailed subjects so that we don't only have a chapter on Antipasti, we have an Antipasti chapter plus sections on Cheese, Vegetable, Egg, Meat, Seafood, Dips, Bruschetta, and Fried Antipasti.
While this book makes no claims to being a work on regional Italian cuisine, it pays great attention to regionality. For starters, the end papers display excellent little maps of Italy and its twenty primary provinces. It is probably entirely excessive on my part, but a few more cities marked on the map would have been nice, but it is so much better than what you get in most other books that cite Italian regions that I am very pleased with this feature. The map is validated by the fact that the headnotes to most of the recipes cite the region to which the dish is native. Among other things, it fixes for certain that potato gnocchi is a speciality of Rome, and that it is the premier gnocchi recipe for Rome's Thursday menus.
This highlights the fact that in such a large book, you get not one gnocchi recipe. You don't even get just one potato gnocchi recipe. You get it neat, with lamb ragu, gratineed, with spinach, with seafood, and Sorrento style (with marinara sauce and mozzarella). You also get gnocchi made with squash and made with semolina. I do miss a recipe for gnocchi made with ricotta. And, these are not bare bones recipes. Potato gnocchi, like an omelet, is a relatively easy recipe with simple ingredients. But, both recipes require a lot of technique and gnocchi excellence comes only with practice. I think no amount of reading gnocchi recipes or even marathon sessions watching `Molto Mario' will make you a good gnocchi cook. You need to feel the dough and experiment with it to be sure it is just right. Here we get another symptom of how good this book is. I have read a lot of gnocchi recipes, and this is the first where I recall the writer's providing a really good test to tell when the potato gnocchi is good to go. Everyone tells you to be gentle and not add too much flour. This is the first I recall seeing a method for test cooking a gnocchi dumpling to see if you are good to go.
We see the same story with just about every type of recipe. It is no surprise to see a Pasta Puttanesca recipe. It is a surprise to see the traditional cooked Puttanesca plus an uncooked version of Puttanesca.
Another small feature that builds on all the other good things about this book is the fact that the Italian name is given for every recipe. This may not seem very important to the person who just happens to want a single very good source of Italian recipes, but to someone who owns twenty (20) recipes of Italian cuisine, the feature becomes very important in being able to compare two different versions of the same recipe where two authors may translate the traditional Italian name in two different ways. This simple consideration extends to names of classic preparations, lead by the distinction between a ragu (a meat sauce, as in Ragu Bolognaise) and a sugo, or thinner, meatless sauce. This legitimate distinction is probably the basis of the totally inconsequential Italian-American argument over `sauce' versus `gravy'.
The author is fairly clear that her recipes are based on Italian models, not Italian-American adaptations. This is fine, since there are plenty of excellent Italian-American cookbooks on our shelves now. She does note that she has leaned towards the modern Italian tendency to prefer olive oil to butter or lard in all recipes and she has catered to the American preference for lightly cooked vegetables, instead of hammering the green stuff the way most traditional Italians did in the past.
While Ms. Scicolone has wisely not entitled her book `Complete Italian Recipes', there are precious few subjects she has not given some reasonable treatment, including a very instructive section on making fresh pasta and sections on traditional breads, pizzas, and calzones. I'm especially pleased that she found room for a recipe for the Sardinian `sheet music' flat bread. Something so unusual needs to be in such a complete book. But, here is where we get the gaps that are filled by the grand dames of Italian cookbook writing such as Marcella Hazan, Lydia Bastianich, and Carole Field. Marcella and Lydia both have large chapters devoted to making fresh pasta, with excellent pictures to explain the techniques. And, Ms. Scicolone does not compete with Carole Field's excellent book on Italian bread baking, since it does not even touch the subject of artisinal baking. I would have not missed the bread recipes one bit if Ms. Scicolone had devoted some of this space to more Panini recipes. As the cuisine which has contributed most to the American sandwich, a few more Panini recipes and a bit more on the Panini press would have been a great addition. I am a dunce with wines, but I think the short chapter on Italian wines adds much to the book by supplying lots of useful information into a few pages.
While book cover blurbs are often political, I heartily agree with Mario Batali's epigram that this book is a masterpiece, easily a candidate for one of the ten cookbooks you keep in your kitchen.