70 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2005
GOOD READ, GREAT RECIPES
How I adore this cookbook. I have a lot of cookbooks, and I always reach for this one first. First of all, you can read it like a novel. LRK's stories are wonderful, and hearing the origins -- anthropological, agricultural, familial, anecdotal --is really fun for a literary foodie type (like me).
THE SIMPLE-TO-COMPLEX CONTINUUM
But my appreciation of this book goes way beyond its bedside appeal. It's my first, best resource in the kitchen, too. I've noticed a few of the other reviewers found the recipes a little complex, and I'd like to address that. It's true that some are multi-step and use a lot of dishes. It's true that, say, the Tyrolean Pot Roast (*drool*) might take a couple tries before it comes out letter-perfect. But let me balance that by saying that:
(1) there are plenty of recipes so simple you'll find yourself using them every night. Like string beans with olive oil, salt and pepper (optional raw garlic halved and rubbed on the sides of the bowl). It's one of those foundational recipes accessible enough for a novice cook, and the technique may be applied to many vegetables.
(2) Even in Rossetto Kasper's more complicated recipes are not tricky because she explains them so well. It's really hard to take traditional recipes passed down through generations without measurements, cooking by feel, and in another language, no less -- and translate them into a coherent step-by-step set of instructions. That's exactly what Rossetto Kasper has done, though -- she takes recipes a la nonna (grandma recipes) and converts them into accessible text that any home cook can achieve if they really try.
IDIOT-PROOF (SORT OF)
(3) Most of Rosetto Kasper's recipes are really forgiving. She'll point out where you can make substitutions. For example, if you have run out of rosemary, but your basil plant is temptingly available in sun-drenched glory, chances are good that Rossetto Kasper will point out that you can switch them just fine, and that traditional Italian home cooks often do, according to the seasons, regional differences, and the whim of the cook. I've screwed up so many of her recipes the first time, and all my mistakes have been not just edible, but good. Good enough that I was more than interested in trying a second time, for even better result. Example: The Polenta Chocolate Cake. I defy anyone to make that cake not taste incredibly good -- you'd have to do something really drastic, like omit the chocolate or pour ketchup over it. The first time I made it, it was for a giant family dinner. I was stressed and goofed up the cooking time (probably three or four other things). My family moaned like they were having a giant collective foodgasm. It's just really that good. Sure, I made it correctly after that, but it's good to know if you don't always manage to color in the lines, all is not lost.
More thoughts: her authentic recipes are really authentic. I made her ring-shaped currant/anise seed bread (forget the name) a few years ago for the first time and happened to bring it when I took my grandmother to visit one of her friends. This tiny, very old Italian woman flipped out when she saw it because it reminded her so much of something her own mother made, with a recipe "from the old country." (I know it's a cliché, okay, but that's what she said! She meant it!) The she tasted it and just about cried because it was JUST like her (long dead) mother used to make. Since she never knew the recipe, she hadn't had it since the last time the last (long dead) old woman in her family made it. That's the kind of food you get from this book. Making old ladies that happy is really, really special.
I had a similar experience with the Pane Dolce di Zucca (Pumpkin Bread -- nothing like American pumpkin bread, and actually, I generally use butternut squash, per Rossetto Kasper's suggestion). My husband had colleagues from Italy here in the United States for a month or so. They were kind of homesick. I sent some of this bread in to work with my husband one day and they went wild when they tasted it -- apparently it's a country recipe that they'd all had from their families, but wasn't available commercially, and that they hadn't had in a very long time since they lived in the city now for work. They were absolutely mystified as to how this American (me) managed to figure it out. Not until they met me and heard my lousy Italian grammar did they believe my husband wasn't secretly married to a little old Italian grandmother, heh. The book is like one giant Italian Proust Madeleine.
This book really emphasizes fresh, organic, whole foods.
FOR ALL LEVELS OF COOKS
I think this book would be excellent for a novice cook or a very experienced cook (or anyone in between). I loved it for the authentic recipes I've never come across in other texts, for the stories, and for the clarity of the directions. I would have loved it as a beginner cook because there's plenty to make that's not intimidatingly complex, and there are pictures. The sections on tomato sauce, broth, and sourcing/selecting ingredients would be extremely useful for a cook who was just starting out, or perhaps just moving from survivial cooking to loftier, more ambitious cooking.
RECIPES I LOVE
Crackly Apply Meringue Cake, Rosemary Pear Tart, Chicken Balsamico, Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes, Pork with Peppers, Marinated Trout, Melting Cavolo Nero (Kale), Chickpea All Souls Soup (a basic recipe that can be used for many different beans), different things with Farro (wheat berries) -- and my goodness, I can't remember what all else. Suffice to say, the spine is cracked, the pages are wrinkled and stained, and it's just the best.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2001
This is so much more than just a cookbook; it is a fascinating look at all aspects of Italian "country" cooking. Lynn Rossetto Kasper's deep love for her Italian heritage seeps out of every page of this book, and you can't help but share her enthusiasm. She takes you through the basics of Italian cooking in a whole new light. For example, not only does she teach you how to make pasta, but she also unravels the mystery of how to pair pasta and sauce. Even better, she tells you which brands of dried pasta are best and exactly how to cook them. The section on tomato sauces is amazing. She doesn't just give you a few recipes - she explains the four basic varieties of tomato sauces and when to use each. Reading this book teaches you how to think about food like an Italian home cook. Once you can do that, you don't need a recipe to plan a meal, just the right ingredients and a love for great food.
41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I've been a great fan of Lynne Rossetto Kaspar's "The Splendid Table" for several years now, having prepared and enjoyed many great meals from that award winning book. Although "The Italian Country Table" is less comprehensive and detailed than "The Splendid Table," it offers an irresistable selection of recipes from the Italian countryside. The fabulous food of Apulia is one of Italy's greatest culinary secrets, and Kasper gives us a delicious sampling of wonderful Apulian dishes like Pizza Rustica, Fava Beans, and Pasta Puttenesca. My copy is already stained and soiled, the sign of a cookbook that gets a lot of use. These are recipes you'll make again and again. And Kasper is a wonderful writer as well. The book is filled with lore and stories from Italian families throughout the countryside.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2001
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Lynne Kasper writes like a dream, knows how to record a recipe, and has one of the finest palates in America. Her earlier book, The Splendid Table, was a classic that captured the heights of Italian cooking. The Italian Country Table is different: the recipes are much more approachable and suited for everyday cooking. But is it ever! I have over 100 cookbooks, and this one finds its way into my hands basically every week. What else do you need to know?
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Lynne Rosetto Kasper firmly established herself in the Italian culinary pantheon with "The Splendid Table," and this book is a worthy successor. Rather than focusing on the food of one region, in her latest volume she has narrowed the range of the recipes to cover the simple, rustic fare made in homes throughout the Italian countryside. This does not mean, however, that the food is unsophisticated! Perhaps more than any other cuisine, the food of the Italian farmhouse manages to be both robust and elegant -- perfectly suited to modern palates and sensibilities -- and Lynne captures these flavors triumphantly in clear, easy to follow recipes. Her historical and personal asides place this cuisine in a context that makes you feel as though you are a legitimate heir, bringing these dishes to your own table and families. These are perhaps not the tour de force dishes that you might present at an important dinner, but the food that will become a regular part of your life. To me, there is no higher compliment to a cookbook author than that transmission of living tradition. Brava, Lynne!
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2000
This engagingly written book captures the vibrant spirit and traditions of the Italian countryside in an enticing blend of evocative text and authentic family recipes. The hearty, down-to-earth dishes described by Lynne Rossetto Kasper range from appetizers to desserts, and nearly all of the ingredients called for in the recipes are not difficult to find. A helpful discussion of ingredients, a list of shopping sources, and appealing menus add to the book's usefulness.
Another book I recommend wholeheartedly is "Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen," by Sonia Uvezian. This culinary gem belongs in every cookbook collector's library.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2000
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to find a book like Lynne Rossetto Kasper's "The Italian Country Table".I collect cook books and books that even mention cooking. This one is a gem. It is the type where you can quickly find a particular recipe and/or the type to leisurely read in your favorite chair, underling and referencing all the while. *sigh* This is truly a work of delicious art. Thank you Ms. Kasper, thank you, thank you, and thank you.