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
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