Without a doubt, another fine labor of love and respect of Italian cooking from our Lidia. Knowing where to begin to describe this voluminous compilation of culinary joy is difficult, in that there is much to tell. Allow me to begin with its intention.
Lidia has covered 10 regions within the cultural offerings of her beloved Italy, and while she gives the reader a gastronomic tour, her lovely daughter, Tanya, gives the historical tour, which was an excellent melting of the two grand reasons to appreciate this culture. To be sure, Tanya has a Ph.D of Renaissance history from Oxford University, and you come away with a deeper appreciation of Italy and the recipes that her mother has offered.
This rather heavy book has superb photography of prepared dishes, ingredients in the raw, spectacular views of the Italian countryside, as well as some of the charming people that she has known along the way, and along the years. Perhaps this is something of a "family" album, if you will.
The regions covered are Istria, Trieste, Friuli, Padova and Treviso, Piemonte, Maremma, Rome, Naples, Sicily, and Puglia. In beginning each regional chapter, Lidia begins with a listing of the recipes contained within, then gives her own little introduction to the territory. As she presents each recipe, she gives another small introduction that will either give a sort of educational mention, or perhaps a cooking hint. At the end of the chapter, Tanya brings it to a close with "Tanya's Tour" in which she breaks down the region with specific areas of interest and notables, and gives the reader an incredible short education of history and information.
There are 140 recipes within this tome, and they are covered within the seven categories of:
SALADS, SIDE DISHES, and CONDIMENTS
PASTAS AND RISOTTOS
FISH AND SEAFOOD
MEAT and POULTRY
It would be a much longer review if I mentioned each specific recipe, but I believe it would suffice to say that, knowing Lidia and her passion for the true art of culinary creations, they would all be delicious. Besides, I am sure that you could find someone for each dish who would be most grateful for your labor of love, courtesy of Lidia. Having purchased all of her books, I have been most pleased to serve so many of her dishes to very happy guests, and never have I been disappointed. Lidia herself has degrees in food chemistry and such, so her fountain of knowledge is backed with science as well as love of this artform.
And to add a final note, a listing of the dishes made on her new PBS series, "Lidia's Italy", is presented at the end of the book, listing the recipes made on each show and from which region they come. You are also given her sources for some of the fine foods she uses, which include stores and websites.
As our grand dame of Italian culinary creations always tell us, "tutti a tavola per mangiare". Ciao!
`Lidia's Italy' by PBS Italian Cooking teacher extraordinare, Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and daughter, Tanya Bastianich Manuali, is another entry in one of those `little trends' in cookbooks which swirl about in eddies running off the greater currents of national cuisines (Italian, French, Mexican, Spanish, Thai, you name it), regional cuisines (mostly Italian, Spanish, and American), fast cooking (Rachael Ray and company), grilling, low carb, and what have you.
This mini-genre deals with personal tours of culinary highlights through various venues in Italy. The two earlier heavyweights in this recent trend are `Biba's Italy' by notable restauranteur and cookbook writer, Biba Caggiano and `jamie's italy' by `The Naked Chef', Jamie Oliver. Both books impressed me, but for somewhat different reasons. Caggiano gave us the insider's catalogue of recipes for great classic Italian dishes, while the effervescent Oliver gives us the brilliant outsider's enthusiasm for seeing Italian cuisine with fresh eyes. Bastianich's book is naturally more similar to `Biba's Italy', since both are professional cooks who were born and raised in Italy. All three are great foodie books, but Bastianich's book appeals to me over Caggiano for three reasons. But before I get into these, let me give you the lay of the land in `Lidia's Italy'.
While Mama Lidia does the culinary tour of ten (10) of her favorite venues, daughter Tanya, a highly educated guide of cultural tours through Italy does verbal snapshots of historical and artistic places of interest at each of these venues. I will not address Tanya's contribution except to say that while it did add value to the book, it does not contribute much to my appreciation. It may have had a bigger impression on me if pictures of the sites were included. For me, this book is primarily about the recipes of these regions.
The ten regions are:
Istria, the peninsula east of Venice and Lidia's ancestral home, which is now part of Croatia
Trieste, the Italian city at the northern end of the Adriatic, which for centuries belonged to Austria/Hungary
Friuli, the center of the second most interesting culinary venue in Italy, after Emilia-Romagna
Padova and Treviso, inland from the city of Venice
Piedmonte, with the cities of Turia and Alba, near France, and `truffle central' for the world.
Maremma, in southern Tuscany, the site of the Bastianich' newest vineyard.
Rome, the traditional slaughterhouse of Italy, and `artichoke central'.
Naples, which needs no introduction to American lovers of Italian food.
Western Sicily, including Palermo, Trapani, and Marsala, the home of the Italian sherry.
Puglia, the Italian bread basket and a heavy olive producer. Famous for its breads.
The first thing I like about the book is that seven (7) out of ten (10) of these regions are on the fringes of Italian culinary terroir, which means they reflect more outside influences than the typical `Italian-American' fare based on Tuscan, Roman, and Neapolitan cuisines. Even better, the first four (4) of these venues are in the northeastern part of the country, where the German and Slavic influences are at their strongest. Thus, we get lots of dishes with cabbage, apples, braised pork, and delicate pastries, reflecting the relatively recent 200 plus years of rule of the region from Vienna, so they feel quite familiar to my Austro-Hungarian ancestry.
The second, less personal reason is the great mix of the familiar and the new. On the one hand, we have many great familiar pasta, risotto, polenta, and gnocchi recipes from various regions (Note that Friuli and not Rome has the greatest variety of gnocchi recipes). On the other, I find recipes for at least five (5) varieties of fresh pasta (gramigna, bigoli, makaruni, tajarin, and maltagliati) which are unfamiliar to me. Another dimension that separates this from a conventional Italian cookbook is the abundance of recipes for popular Italian ingredients such as organ meats and game.
The third reason I'm fond of this book is that I have always found Lidia's recipes to be better written and easier to follow than many other restauranteur / chef / authors such as Caggiano and Batali. Her books (and `Molto Italiano') are the first I go to when I want to try a new type of Italian dish, since I have never failed to enjoy the results of following her recipes.
A potential fourth reason (which I cannot judge, since I never saw her PBS series) is that her books, unlike all the books from the Food Network celebrity hosts, closely follows her broadcast plan. That would make it doubly valuable if you happen to like her shows.
One last personal impression is that while the book does not give an `in depth' philosophy of the craft of cooking as you get from either Marcella Hazan's `Marcella Says' or the great `Chez Jacques', you are given the sense that cooking is not about these particular recipes, it's all about what you can take away from them and do for yourself. Bastianich clearly states that you simply take what works for you, with no obligation to follow the whole recipe. This is great advice, especially since the subtitle which starts with `140 Simple ... Recipes...' is just a tad misleading, as there are some recipes here which are both labor and time intensive.
On the other hand, there is nothing here which requires much in the way of fancy equipment. And, Ms. Bastianich has cleverly told us for each recipe what size and shape of special kitchenware we may need. Even better, the list of Internet sources at the back of the book is one of the best I have seen in quite some time, as it gives good sources for items specific to individual recipes. And, it even plugs the very best `latticini' (Italian cheese maker and grocery store) in Manhattan, DiPalo's on Grand Street in Little Italy.
on February 13, 2008
This book is a wonderful resource for Americans interested in cooking authentic Italian food. Organized by region, the book offers classic meat, vegetable, pasta, and dessert dishes for the various cuisines of Italy. In addition to ingredients and instructions, the book offers serving suggestions for each dish, as well as variations. The instructions are clear and detailed; and the ingredient lists, as befit authentic food, are short.
My favorite recipe is from Tuscany, and is for beef braised with peppercorns and red wine. This dish, served with polenta to soak up the juices, has already become a staple in our house.