Monday, November 26, 2012

Italian Country Cooking by Loukie Werle

Title: Italian Country Cooking: The Secrets of Cucina Povera
Author: Loukie Werle
Photographer: Alan Benson
Publisher: Fall River Press (owned by Barnes & Noble, which would explain why I found this lovely book in a remainder stack for $12.98)
Copyright: 2007

Although I spend quite a bit of time reading and daydreaming about France and Paris when it comes to food (especially cheese), wine, fashion, art, history and scenery, when I read a book like this, I can't help thinking that perhaps I should daydream about using Italy as a home base for visiting France rather than the other way around.  Not that I haven't also long been a fan of Italian food, wine, fashion, history, art and scenery, but the daydreams usually have me somewhere in Paris and/or rural France.

The first section of Italian Country Cooking is devoted to pasta, which is probably my second favorite food after cheese, so I was hooked right from the start, and I want to make just about every recipe in the chapter.  Meanwhile, the gorgeous photographs make me want to shop for vintage rimmed soup bowls in which to serve these fabulous dishes.

The recipes in the second section focus on rice and grains.  Another win, given that I love risotto, with the bonus of a few farro recipes I want to try out with the farro I purchased before I really had any idea of what I would do with it.  Polenta falls into that category too, and now I have ideas for that as well, namely Lasagna di Polenta (polenta lasagna with three cheeses).  The Bomba di Riso (rice cake with provolone and sausage) is also on the "to try" list, once I figure out which pan I can use.

Moving on to beans and legumes, the Pasta e Ceci (chickpea and pasta soup) is a beautifully written example of how to really build a soup, layering in the flavors for a hearty result, and while I am very proud of my "improv" lentil soup, the Minestra di Riso e Lenticchie (lentil and rice soup)looks as if it could be equally good.  (Incidentally, I have discovered that the secret to really good lentil soup is to cook it longer than you think you should.)

Salads and vegetables are up next, and I dare you to resist the Asparagus Gratinati (asparagus and provolone gratin).  You will probably learn a thing or two about leafy greens.  I know I did.

La Vignarola (Roman springtime stew) has a detailed description for preparing artichokes which almost has me convinced that I can do it, but they still scare me a little, especially since the author does not offer suggestions of what to do with the outer leaves and so called "hairy choke."  I am wondering if I could maybe cheat and just buy artichoke hearts, except that I really want to try to cook something starting with a whole, raw artichoke.  If the artichokes do get the best of me, I could always console myself with Torta di Patate (potato pie with smoke mozzarells and salami).

Having cleansed the palate with salad and veggies, it's on to eggs and cheese.  Frittata al Forno (frittata with scamorza) offers incentive to (learn to) use the broiler, even in the midst of summer when tomatoes are at their peak.  Or perhaps try the recipe for a baked omelette which sounds more like a crepe.

Moving from the land to the sea, recipes for fish and other seafood, especially mussels and clams, are up next.  There is a swordfish recipe which promises to be "very lemony, herby and garlicky," and all I could think was "Sign me up!"

As an aside, the author does show a strong penchant for rosemary, which I don't care for, but I think a substitution could be made without undermining the recipes.  The same is true for chiles.  In fact, I think that almost all of the recipes could be adapted with ease to individual preferences and tastes, not to mention to what is actually available to hand.

Other meats follow in the next two chapters -- chicken, beef, veal, lamb, including several recipes for offal, and even a couple of recipes for rabbit and one for oxtails.  The final two chapters round out the meal, er, book with bread and pizza and desserts.

There are recipes simple and complex, vegetarian and meat loving.  Anyone with a love of hearty, classic Italian food should find recipes in this book to make, enjoy and share.

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