Cookbooks about Tuscan cuisine abound, but the food of its easterly neighbor, Umbria, remains mostly unexplored. Mary Ann Esposito's Ciao Italia in Umbria meets this dearth handily. A "traveling cookbook," it showcases the region's healthy, rustic food while providing a first-person look at its restaurants, home cooks, and singular occupations, like truffle hunting. The core of the book--an offshoot of Esposito's PBS series Ciao Italia--is its 60 easy-to-do recipes, which feature the area's most notable and delicious products, including olive oil, black truffles, farro, and wine. If the relatively few formulas provided leave readers hungry for more, those offered, such as Carp with Rosemary and Fennel and Fava Beans with Olive Oil and Pecorino Cheese, couldn't be more inviting.
The recipes grow from Esposito's narratives. For example, her truffle hunt chapter yields the traditional Penne with Truffles and Cream as well as the more singular Veal with Black Truffle and Strawberry Sauce. Similarly, a section on local female chefs leads to two unusual gnocchi recipes--prune- and zucchini-filled--while one on Umbrian flatbreads offers formulas for oil-fried brustengo, spinach-filled torta sul testo, and a luscious prosciutto pie. Seafood is well represented, as are recipes for the pork delicacies of Norcia, including the delicious Sweet Pork Sausages with Grapes. Readers will also enjoy making sweets like Chocolate Spumone, exemplary strufoli (honey balls), and addictive mezzalune, almond crescent cookies. With an "address book" of outstanding Umbrian restaurants, the book provides a compelling culinary tour of a region too often neglected by cookbooks but, happily, celebrated here. --Arthur Boehm
From Publishers Weekly
Host of the PBS cooking series Ciao Italia, Esposito (Ciao Italia Bringing Italy Home) offers only about 60 recipes in her latest collection, but the book succeeds on two levels. First, the dishes from Umbria reflect a simple, rustic fare not overexposed in other Italian cookbooks. Known particularly for its olive oil and truffles, the area in the middle of Italy's boot (bordering Tuscany) specializes in such dishes as Veal with Black Truffles; Pork-Stuffed Celery, an October specialty made for the Festival of Celery and Sausage; and Pork Chops Spoleto Style, which call for kalamata and cerignola olives and dry white wine. Umbrian Ragu Sauce contains ground pork, ground beef and diced ham and requires less than an hour to prepare. Gubbian Flat Bread is made with a scoop of batter poured into a half-inch of hot oil. There is even a Chocolate Olive Oil Cake. In addition to the recipes, Esposito includes 18 personal essays recalling the visit she and her TV crew made to Umbria, when she watched a local cook make pasta, interrupted a farmer tending his garden and witnessed an elaborate race involving likenesses of saints. The brief reminiscences are charming vignettes that enable the reader (even Italophiles who have shelves full of Italian cookbooks) to feel the experience.
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