Italy, a country half the size of Texas, is composed of 20 regions, each with its own distinctly marvelous food. In Rustico, author Micol Negrin offers 10 recipes from each region--from the Alpine Val d'Aosta to the southernmost islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Other cookbooks serve up Italian regional dishes, but few American ones, if any, provide such a sweeping tour of authentic fare. Readers will be captivated instantly by dishes such as Lombardy's Butternut Squash Gnocchi in Rosemary Butter; Emilia-Romagna's Veal Roast Stuffed with Spinach, Pancetta, and Frittata; and Latium's Pike in Velvety Egg-Lemon Sauce, among many others--appetite-whetting food that cries out to be made. The key to Negrin's success is that she has chosen her recipes beautifully, and has presented them accessibly, illuminating relevant techniques and ingredients throughout (Negrin encourages cooks to find the real stuff, but also offers sage substitution advice). She also provides fascinating cultural illustration (for example, cheese production and meat curing throughout Italy are complementary activities, as the former means excess whey which, combined with bran and corn, becomes perfect porcine nourishment).
The rustic dishes range from antipasti to dolce, and include more familiar "specialties" such as Tuscany's Summer Bread and Tomato Salad and Milan's Saffron Risotto, and the excitingly unexplored, such as Molise's Hand-Cut Pasta Squares in Asparagus Cream and Apulia's Orecchiette with Wilted Arugula and Tomatoes. Baked goods are particularly irresistible and include Basilicata's Smoked Bread with Sweet Onion, Tomato and Basil, and herb-showered Griddle Bread from Romagna. Sweet lovers will delight in the likes of Calabria's Chocolate Covered Roasted Figs and Mint-and-Lemon-Laced Cheese Pillows in Warm Chestnut Honey from Sardinia, among other simple desserts. With a section of basic recipes, a fine ingredient glossary, and photos throughout, the book is a true tour de force. --Arthur Boehm
From Publishers Weekly
As the former editor of the Magazine of La Cucina Italiana and Italian Cooking & Living, Negrin could have churned out any number of recipes for well-known classic dishes from Italy's 20 regions and left it at that. But Negrin set herself a larger challenge and succeeded admirably. She has bypassed the more familiar regional specialties to focus on lesser-known gems and has made an effort to eschew frou-frou cooking for home-style dishes. In doing so, she points up yet again why Italian cuisine is one of the world's best it offers a seemingly unending supply of surprising, fresh and delicious traditional dishes. Take a region such as Tuscany, which has been trampled by millions of tourists and has been the subject of so many cookbooks. There, Negrin finds Deep-Fried Sage Leaves, which sandwich bits of anchovy, Chestnut Flour Polenta with Sausage and Scallions, and Braised Squid with Chili, Greens, and Tomatoes. So often in regional Italian books, less glamorous regions are paired with overpowering neighbors, so that it is rare to read about the minuscule region of Molise (about a third the size of Rhode Island), but Negrin has taken the time to tease out the differences and has discovered thrifty specialties such as Hand-Cut Pasta Squares in Asparagus Cream with homemade pasta that finishes cooking in an asparagus puree. Negrin has also avoided the trap of focusing too much on Italy's deservedly famous first courses and offers in abundance antipasti (Spicy Robiola Cheese and Onion Spread from Piedmont), breads (Cheese-Stuffed Focaccia from Recco in Liguria), second courses (the Aeolian Islands' Herb-Stuffed Tuna Bundles from Sicily) and desserts (Nut-and-Fruit "Snake" of the Capuchin Nuns from Umbria). Recipes are lucid and easy to follow, and chapter introductions stylishly and accurately convey a sense of place, while sidebars offer bits of folklore. (Sept.) Forecasts: This is a truly outstanding take original enough to revive what sometimes feels like a tired subject. With this comprehensive volume her first Negrin stands poised to become an Italian expert on the level of Faith Willinger or even Marcella Hazan. Expect robust sales.
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