This week’s books go along with the great recipe from Emma and Sara for an Eggplant Torta over on the In the Kitchen With column. As soon as I saw the images of the recipe, I thought “Italian”. There are a lot of Italian books out there. Some “authentic”, some “inspired by” which in the end aren’t any more “Italian” than what my grandmother from Alabama used to make for us. So I have chosen an assortment of books this week that fall into the “Italian etc.” category. If you’re wondering, personally, I think the best Italian cookbooks on the market are produced by Slow Food Editori (the publishing arm of Slow Food Italy). They cover most of the Italian regions (one per region, with a few exceptions) and there are a few monothematic ones: Fish, Vegetables, Desserts, Soups, and Recipes from the Osterie featured throughout the regional books. Accompanying the recipes are brief descriptions, in many cases, of the origin and transformations of ingredients, socio-cultural notes, regional variations, or the history of the recipe. In short, the books present a snapshot of food and its development in Italy (unfortunately there are no photos). If you happen through Italy, stop in any Feltrinelli bookstore and pick up one or two or more. Even if you don’t speak Italian, you can fumble through them just fine! People who love food always find a way to explore new and great dishes.
In celebration of the autumn season, we have included a bonus recipe today for Chocolate Hazelnut Cake (torta di gianduia) at the end of this post, an Italian dessert probably from the Piedmont region where amazing hazelnuts are grown, and gianduia was ‘invented’. If you have a favorite Italian recipe book, please share yours below! –Kristina
CLICK HERE for the cake recipe and kristina’s cookbook reviews after the jump!
Easy Tasty Italian: Add some magic to your everyday food by Laura Santtini (Quadrille Books) I’m all for easy tasty Italian food, the title of Santtini’s first book. I admit though, that while the food in it is at times tasty, it’s not so easy or Italian. Or not consistently anyway. It is a high energy Italian inspired book of recipes with “formulae” on how to transform basic recipes (Section 2) into a handful of other varieties, for example in the Basic Fresh Tomato sauce chapter, she offers alternatives which include almond and chilli, rocket and prawn, ricotta with black olive tapenade. Santtini also shows how to take a basic technique and develop other recipes based on that technique (Section 1). For example, the chapter on chopping and changing provides instructions on preparing ‘gremolata’ type dishes based on the chopping technique necessary for the preparation for a soffritto which is the finely chopped saute of vegetables– most frequently celery, carrot, and onion. All the same, the chapter called “The Top 10 classic pasta sauces of all times” is great, as is the section on Risotto, vegetable dishes, etc. Santtini’s quirky personality peppers the narrative in the book, which to some could be off putting. yet it remains oddly attractive and interesting to read. The book’s layout and styling also capture this odd mix of Italian-inspired, modern, British, quirky juxtaposition. For the curious who enjoy experimenting, and who aren’t intimidated by recipes which require a bit of effort (and money) to find ingredients for such as edible gold and silver, rose, hibiscus, or lavender flowers that you might only use once.
Stir: Mixing it up in the Italian tradition by Barbara Lynch (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) I was attracted to this book because of the promise of Italian cooking through a different lens. In her own words, Lunch’s style in this book is Italian inspired, and with the exception of the pasta dishes, perhaps the only notion of “Italian” comes from teh care and choice of ingredients and the technique in some places, which the author has learned and/or perfected in Italy. I like the voice in which the book is written- a caring gentle tone. I also like Lynch’s story of how she turned her undistinguished childhood into a cooking success, going from clerical worker to restaurateur. Many of the recipes in this book, like prune-stuffed gnocchi with foie gras sauce or crisped duck confit with kumquat marmalade, take some time and dedication, while others, like orecchiette with cauliflower, anchovies, and pistachios, or spicy tomato soup with crispy grilled cheese are quick to put together. This is a book for those who love spending extra effort for fantastic food that will be noticed.. It’s also a book which will encourage you to think more in the kitchen, as you will inevitably make variations to the recipes, such as healthier substitutes to the ubiquitous stick of butter which seems to be in many of the recipes!
Valvona & Crolla: A Year at an Italian Table by Mary Contini (Ebury Press). Valvona & Crolla is a shop in Edinburgh, I learned. I think if the recipes in the book are truly representative of what’s on offer there, it must be divine. This book has the charm of an Italy which only exists in small towns. It is, for the most part, a book of very traditional recipes from all over Italy– but don’t confuse traditional with outmoded. Traditional in this case means unadulterated, simple, seasonal dishes typical of the towns in which they are prepared. The food evokes a sense of family and togetherness and immediately inspires ideas of a great Sunday lunch with loved ones during which you all share great antipasti, primi, secondi, contorni. True to Italian cuisine, the desserts in the book aren’t as special as the rest of the food– but that’s ok, because who has room after a full meal in which you’ve inevitably eaten seconds? (An exception: The chocolate hazelnut cake!) On these pages there’s nothing pretentious, nothing fancy, nothing with a million ingredients and a super long name. Just pure good food.
Takashi’s Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi with Harris Salat (Ten Speed Press). Takashi? That sounds Japanese, you say? He is. I confess. Whenever I think of “Italian” food, I think of pasta. But of course we know that what Italians eat (spaghetti, for example) is not Italian in origin, but was brought to Italy from Asia. I thought it only fitting to include in this round up a book which includes several types of noodles, Japanese, Asian and Italian. I love Japanese food, so I couldn’t pass up a book which shows you how to make Soba, but also goes through the different broths to accompany ramen, somen, udon, and soba. If you have easy access to a Japanese or Korean grocery, you should be abl eto find all the ingredients with ease. Otherwise, you will have to adapt the ingredients to your own palate and what you can find. Most of the recipes use dried noodles, so unless you really want to make your own soba, you won’t feel as though you’re missing out on the experience if you choose dried. Wonderful recipes like Curry Udon or Spicy Oil with Chilled Ramen, or Italo-Japanese combination of Fresh Egg Pasta with Pork Loin, Chinese Eggplant, Baby Bok Choy, and Spicy Miso Sauce show the diversity of Japanese cuisine. This is a book for those days you feel like eating pasta in a hot flavorful broth.
Chocolate Hazelnut Cake
200g (7 oz, or 1 3/4 stick) unsalted butter
125g (2/3 cup) caster sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
1 tbsp grated orange zest
1 tbsp orange flower water
2 tbsp cognac
165g (1 1/3 cups) plain flour, sifted with 1 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt
165g (2 1/4 cups) ground hazelnuts
4 tbsp flaked chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)
1 tbsp milk
cocoa powder for dusting
Preheat oven to 180 c / 350 F/ Gas mark 4. Line and grease a 30 cm spring-form cake tin.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, orange zest, flower water and cognac. Mix in the flour a spoonful at a time to stop the eggs curdling.
Fold in the hazelnuts and chocolate flakes, then add the milk.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Place a roasting tin in the oven and half-fill it with boiling water. Carefully sit the cake tin in the water and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Cool in the tin for 15 minutes or so, then turn out onto a wire rack. Dust with cocoa powder before serving with a blob of cream flavored with orange flower water and orange zest.
(Note from Kristina: You may find it necessary to take greater precaution than the recipe instructions provide when putting this cake in the oven. I usually wrap my tins (on the outside only) in several layers of foil to prevent foil from getting into the spring form pan. Some of you pros may have other better suggestions! I also place the cake into an empty pan and fill it with water from my tea kettle, instead of trying to handle a roasting tin full of boiling water.)
Reprinted with Permission of Ebury Press