A kiss to Italian cooking


Arlene Ridolfi Valentine
October 2, 2008

I read cookbooks as if they were novels. Front to back, page by page. And because I love to cook, I'm always curious about new ones.


Being fortunate enough to have been born Italian, I learned my way around the kitchen by following my mother and grandmothers as they went about their daily routine of feeding us all. They didn't use cookbooks; they relied on what they had learned from their mothers. I, in turn, learned from them. Being an avid reader, however, I couldn't help bringing cookbooks into an otherwise non-literary kitchen, an act they thought a bit strange.


By the time I grew up and had a restaurant of my own, my cookbook collection was so large it was crowding me out of my own kitchen.


Of course, what I learned from all those books was that my own teachers were masters at what they did because they understood that cooking is simple-wherever you are, something is in season at that moment, and that's what you start with. Nor are good cooks born: they have to learn somehow, and for those who don't have the benefit of an Italian nonna in the kitchen, cookbooks are the way to go.


Italianissimo, the new cookbook put out by a group of people under the banner of McRae Books, is just the kind of book I like to have in my collection. It's a forthright, direct and uncomplicated way to look at Italian cooking. I have a number of criteria for adding a cookbook to my collection, and here's how Italianissimo fared.


Layout: Large, bold typeface that makes it easy to read. Softcover binding that allows it to fully open to each page and lie flat while in use. Beautiful, full-page and full-color illustrations that are really helpful when you're making a recipe for the first time.


Recipe organization: Organized by courses and then divided into appropriate subcategories, which makes it easy to search for the type of dish you want to prepare. Very helpful introductions to each category giving some background and comparisons between the regions of Italy and their specialities.


Adherence to its goal: The book was created to present the varied dishes of the Mediterranean diet in simple recipes that feature the traditional methods of preparation from each of Italy's regions, but also highlight local adaptations. The authors have successfully completed their mission.


Recipe performance: Each of the more than 600 recipes lists ingredients, including metric conversions, detailed instructions and very helpful time notations for ingredient preparation as well as cooking time. There is also a cooking competency rating of 1 to 3 for each recipe, with 1 being the easiest to follow and 3 requiring a bit more cooking skill. The large majority of recipes in the book fall into the ‘easy' category. The recipes work and they were a big hit with the people I fed-and with me too.


Buon lavoro, McRae! Italianissimo is a kiss to Italian cooking.




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